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October 23, 2016
Online Originals

The Powers-full Girl From U.N.C.L.E. at 50

The ninth in our series of golden anniversaries

Herbie J Pilato

No female in the history of classic television ever pursed their lips so sensually as Stefanie Powers with her portrayal of super-spy April Dancer on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (NBC, 1966-1967). 

She was also adorned in some of the most form-fitting and stylish outfits that uniquely combined the dynamic darling appeal of Dianna Rigg’s Mrs. Emma Peel from The Avengers and Marlo Thomas’ mod wear from That Girl.  

Certainly, Powers posed various other of her assertive assets in many other roles over the years, for the big screen and small (specifically, in playing Jennifer Hart opposite Robert Wagner’s Jonathan Hart on Hart To Hart on ABC from 1979 to 1984).

But it was with The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. which she made her mark, ignited by The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which spawned the female spin-off that Powers once described as a “markedly different” show from the fraternal program that gave it birth.

In one interview, she described her Girl edition, which co-starred Noel Harrison (as fellow U.N.C.L.E. agent Mark Slate), and Leo G. Carrol (reprising his leading Man from U.N.C.L.E. role as Alexander Waverly) as “a satire,” citing as its inspirations the 1960s TV editions of Batman and The Green Hornet, the styles for which she believed were “incorporated a bit…into our show, which was adorable. 

"But it irritated NBC, who thought we looked as if we were having too much fun.  That was their big criticism."

Consequently, Girl was cancelled after only one season.  But having Powers cast in the lead was nothing but a treasure for those who appreciated the show; its early cancellation did not prevent her from attaining a loyal following that continues to expand to this day.  

A combination in allure of Joey Heatherton, Ann Margaret, and Lindsay Wagner, Stefanie’s manifold powers of charismatic persuasion are in full-force throughout each frame, smile and distant cry of U.N.C.L.E.   She had a similar effect with other performances, including a key guest-starring role in an arc of episodes between The Six Million Dollar Man and Wagner’s The Bionic Woman, the latter for which Powers was at once considered for the lead.

One of Powers’ other popular TV series roles included that of Toni Feather Danton on the Feather and Father Gang (ABC, 1976-1977), and as Jane Powers in Doctors (2001).

Before The Girl from U.N.CL.E., she appeared in feature films like Palm Springs Weekend (written by The Waltons scribe Earl Hamner, Jr.), and made countless TV guest-star appearances on shows like The Ann Sothern Show, Bat Masterson, Bonanza, and Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, and later performed in Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, The Mod Squad, The Bold Ones, Medical Center, Cannon, and numerous segments of Love, American Style.

The actress also performed in many TV-movies such as the compelling Five Desperate Women (ABC, 1971), and Family Secrets and Hollywood Wives, both of which aired on ABC in 1984.

In the mid-1990s, she reconnected with Robert Wagner for a series of successful Hart to Hart reunion movies, and recently stepped into the role of Tallulah Bankhead for her friend Valerie Harper in the live stage play Looped.

A true love of her life was famed actor William Holden, who died in 1981, after which she became President of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation and a director of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch in Kenya. 

Before acting, Powers started out as a dancer, making all the more appropriate her most famous TV character’s name (April Dancer) on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.  

She continues to perform today, on TV and film, as well as the live stage, such as in the British production of 84 Charing Cross Road, which finished its run September 17th at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in Cambridge, England.

“I act now only when and if I can enjoy it,” she has said.  “That's more important to me than any other part of this. I only care about the rewards of the work, not the celebrity. I only indulge myself in parts that I normally wouldn't have done previously. I only focus on the things that are going to give me pleasure.”

Such as the endless hours of enjoyment that countless viewers still experience by watching The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. 

This material is edited and excerpted from Herbie J Pilato’s book, Glamour, Gidgets and the Girl Next door:  Television’s Iconic Women from  the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, published by Taylor Trade/Rowman & Littlefield, and which is available here.

For more 50th Anniversary stories, click here.

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