Stella Stevens of ‘The Nutty Professor,’ former Playmate of the Month, dead at 84 after long illness

LOS ANGELES — Stella Stevens, a prominent leading lady in comedy of the 1960s and ’70s who is perhaps best known for playing the object of Jerry Lewis’ affections on The Nutty Professor, has died. She was 84.

Stevens’ estate said she died in Los Angeles on Friday after a long illness.

Born Estelle Caro Eggleston in 1938 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, she married at 16 and gave birth to her first and only child, actor/producer Andrew Stevens, in 1955 at 17, divorcing two years later. She began acting and modeling while at Memphis State University and made her film debut in a supporting role in the 1959 Bing Crosby musical Say One for Me, but she considered Li’l Abner her big break.

“The public relations director at Paramount basically turned me into a worldwide sex symbol,” Stevens told FilmTalk in 2017. “He had me do a lot of layouts with photographers — inside, outside, here and there — that featured different locations, the best restaurants, meetings with wonderful actors and directors… these were Hollywood’s golden years. It was a very exciting time.”

Soon after, she won the New Star Golden Globe, became Playboy’s Playmate of the Month, and landed a deal with Paramount Pictures, leading to film work and Girls! Girls! Girls! with Elvis Presley, which she only agreed to because she was promised a Montgomery Clift film if she did. It was a miserable six days of shooting, she said, due to director Norman Taurog’s temper, though she said Presley was nice. The Clift picture didn’t pan out either, at least not with her promised co-star. This became John Cassavetes’ “Too Late Blues” with Bobby Darrin.

“Bobby was a very good actor, but as you can imagine, he wasn’t Montgomery Clift,” she said.

Next came The Nutty Professor as Lewis’ student Stella Purdy, with whom he is in love.

“Jerry Lewis had told the Paramount bosses he wanted to cast the prettiest naïve person who works in the studio – or something like that – and that’s how I got the job,” she said. “We all tried to make the characters he created in the script special, wonderful and unique – and if you ask me, I think that’s why the film still holds up after all these years.”

At Columbia Pictures she appeared in The Secret of My Success, The Silencer with Dean Martin and Where Angels Go Trouble Follows as a nun opposite Rosalind Russell. Other notable roles include Slaughter, starring Jim Brown, the TV movie The Battle of Cable Hogue by Sam Peckinpah, and The Poseidon Adventure, in which she played Linda Rogo, Ernest Borgnine’s character’s wife.

Stevens worked steadily in television throughout the 1970s and ’80s, appearing in the pilots for Wonder Woman, Hart to Hart, and The Love Boat, as well as series such as Night Court, Murder She Wrote, and Magnum ,PI”

In 2017, she would say that her favorite director to work with was Vincente Minnelli on 1963’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. She also directed several films, the never-released documentary “An American Heroine” and “The Ranch.” In 2010 she retired.

In a 1994 interview, Stevens said she was concerned that she had failed to get the best out of her directors and that her ambitions had changed.

“I wanted to be like my favorite actresses: Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. I wanted to be like a burst of youth, and then when I got a little bit of crow’s feet or old age, I’d be off the screen,” she said. “But I also had plans to be a director… I saw (Bob Hope ) at 83 cracking jokes and having fun. I said at the time that I never wanted to stop. I want to be like this man. I want to keep going forever. I want to die on a movie set.”

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Stella Stevens of ‘The Nutty Professor,’ former Playmate of the Month, dead at 84 after long illness

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

Related Articles

Back to top button