K. T. Stevens

K.T. Stevens1
Unlike many actresses profiled on this page, who saw Hollywood as a platform for money, fame or getting married, K.T. Stevens was a woman who truly didn’t need to act for any of these reasons. She was a daughter of a major director (and famous just because of it), she had the money (from her dad) and she actually chose not to wed a very wealthy man so she could do “her stuff”. Truly, she acted because she wanted to act, and did it to the very end (acting until she died). While she never became a huge star, nor is her movie career impressive, she is still a rare bird – a dyed in wool actress who cared less about the benefits of stardom and more about her craft.

EARLY LIFE

Gloria Wood was born on July 20, 1919, in Los Angeles, California, to Samuel Wood and his wife, Clara Rausch. Her father was one of the best known Hollywood directors of the 1930s and 1940s, belting out such classic like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, For whom the bell tolls, Kitty Foyle, Kings Row, Saratona Trunk. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he began his career as an actor, and worked for Cecil B. De Mille as an assistant in 1915. He became a solo director by the time Gloria was born. Her mother was an actress before marrying her father in 1908. Her older sister Jane, known in the future as actress Jeane Wood, was born on November 22, 1909, making her full 10 years older than Gloria.

Gloria’s first brush with the movie business was in 1920, when she played Gloria Swanson’s daughter. Billed as Baby Gloria Wood, she was an instant sensation and got tons of fan mail. Instead of encouraging her parents, this frightened them, and they halted all plans for any further acting jobs. Thus, at the age of 2, Gloria was retired and went on to live a normal life. That is, normal, under Hollywood standards ūüôā¬† Among her earliest memories are toddling as a tat after her father as he directed movie scenes.

Gloria grew up in splendor on the west coast. The Woods resided at a plush Beverly Hills home, and always had at least a maid and a butler. Aside from the Beverly Hills abode, the Woods also owned a beach cottage in Bel Air. Gloria spend much of her childhood with her dad’s polo ponies, and was a good rider. As she matured, it was clear that Gloria was a true knockout – a great combo of her father and mother, she had her mother’s stunning¬†figure and her father’s sharp , strong jaw that gave her face much character. Combined with her agile mind and good family background, she was a very sought after girl in the Hollywood community, dated by many eligible bachelors at places like Cirros, Coconaut Grove and so on.

Despite all the splendor surrounding her, Gloria was restless. She was bitten by the acting bug from her late teens, and had a burning desire to become an actress. However, her mother, Clara, was vehemently against Gloria becoming an actress, and her father was not that far behind. They “persuaded” her that she must at least graduate before even trying for a movie career, which Gloria did. In 1937, Gloria was signed to MGM, but got minimal publicity and never made a movie for them.

Somehow dismayed and¬†still playing the dutiful daughter, Gloria enrolled into University of South California, but her heart wasn’t in it – she only spend a year on the campus, and spend more time in the local theater than the classroom. Gloria had reached a breaking point: either she completely drop her acting pretenses, finish college and become a devoted¬†housewife and mother, or she would become an actress, against her parents wishes, and make her own way in the world. Gloria chose the latter – she persuaded her father to put her up on a stock company in Maine. She spent¬†that summer playing a string of roles with the company, the experience only cementing her desire to act. However, her parents still hoped it was a passing fancy and when it became clear it was anything but, they showed their active disapproval. Realizing it was now or never, Gloria left home for good and went to live with her older sister, who was married to her second husband, John Hiestad, and living in Los Angeles.

Gloria changed her name to Katherine Stevens, enrolled into an acting school (Bliss Hayden School) and soon landed herself a starring role in a theater production of the stock company in upstate New York. However, her “anonymous” cover was blown when her dad (by this time resignated to the fact that Gloria was a proper actress and nothing could change that) went to see the play – he was recognized instantly, and Gloria¬†came under fire for being a director’s daughter who got the role due to his connection (not true, of course). To avoid any such embarrassments, Katherine decided to try New York, away from the West coast.

Her father wrote a letter of recommendation for George S. Kaufmann, but otherwise she was on her own. Kaufman was impressed and told her to wait until his new play was written. Impatient, Katherine auditioned for a part in “Yo can’t take it with you” under her non-de-guerre, and won the part. After the play ended, she did some radio work, and then returned to the stage in “The man who came to dinner”. When the play reached San Francisco, her parents were in the first row – and her dad became her stage door Johnny.

Not long after, she changed her name to K.T. Stevens (her first acting name was Katherine Stevens, the name in honor of Katherine Hepburn, the surname from a phone book), and in a stroke of publicity genius, started lamenting to the press how she wants to succeed on her own, without the help of her esteemed papa. Her quotes reached all the major papers – and K.T. truly reached an audience who understood her craving to become a major actress without the help of her dad – yet at the same time they KNEW she was the daughter of Sam Wood. Pretty nifty stuff for sure!

In 1941, K.T. toured with My Sister Eileen, and when the run ended, she landed in Hollywood, hoping to get a movie contract. She wisely played hard to get and declined several offers, but finally signed with

CAREER

I’ll juts touch upon K.T. Movie career, which was only a minor fragment of her overall acting career. She was a theater pro and later a prominent TV actress, but I’ll just stick to the movies.

K.T. Stevens8In 1937, K.T. was signed by David Selznick, a subsidiary of MGM, but she never made any movies for him. ut, when your dad is Sam Wood, you can sure appear in his movies – K.T.’s first adult movie was¬†Kitty Foyle. Now, while I like this movie, I neither consider it a masterpiece nor Ginger Rogers an Oscar worthy winner. It’s a very good movie, don’t get me wrong, but it still simplifies¬†the choice women HAD to make back in the 1940s. Plus Dennis Morgan, who plays the male lead, is as talent-less¬†actor as you can want it! Ginger is cute and very effective, but she ain’t no top actress. However, I admit am a bit too severe in my observations, and it’s a movie¬†definitely¬†worth watching. ¬†K.T. had a unbilled¬†role as Ginger’s friend.

Then, K.T. went her own way, changed her name and gained some working experience in the theater. Then she went back t o Hollywood and made¬†The Great Man’s Lady, another female-centered movie in its core. Barbara Stanwyck plays a 100-year-old pioneer woman who recounts her story to a young reporter, played by K.T. The movie was nominally directed by the great William Wellman, and truly, when you feel his “touch” – those scenes are truly wonderful bits of film making. The rest of the movie, made by a less capable director, is a run of the mill, uninspired movie. Barbara is a very good actress, and shined here, going from 0 to 100 in a span of an hour and a half.

K.T. Stevens2K.T.¬†toured with My Sister Eileen, and then returned to New York to appear in a George Kaufman/Edna Ferber play, The Land is Bright. She returned to Hollywood in 1943, and made a few movies: Address Unknown¬†is probably the best movie K.T. ever made. Based on a truly shocking epistolary novel about two art dealing friends, one Jewish and one not, as they¬†correspond¬†in time of great peril in Germany – Hitler’s rise¬†to power and subsequently, his treatment of the Jewish population. I think you can venture to guess what happens until the end. Watching it, I was surprised how modern it feels, how seamlessly and easy it flowed, and how elegantly it was made. The director, William Cameron Menzies, pleasantly surprised me. I also have to note that, while K.T. is a vision to behold, her acting is a tad bit too theatrical – you can truly feel her place is in the theater, not on the sound stage. But the movie truly is a marvel, recommended by all accounts!

K.T. ventures out of Hollywood again, got married and gave birth to her first child by the time she was back on the sound stage. The movie was Port of New York. One reviewer on IMDB said it the best:¬†Minor film noir but not without merits. It’s a minor movie all right, but the photography, the semi documentary filming style, and Yul Brynner squarely put it into the¬†“Worth watching” category. Yes, the story is the same old, same old stories about narcotics agents and bad drug lord and yes, K.T. is more ornamental than substantial, but that’s the genre for you!

K.T. Stevens7In 1950, K.T. appeared in¬†Harriet Craig, a movie about “A strange and fascinating woman, at war with the whole world!”. Interestingly, this truly is a movie about such a complex, grey character it’s actually, in my view, more of a women’s movie that Kitty Foyle. Harriet Craig is a much more “real” woman of the 1950s, what I call the domestic decade. While the 1930s were¬†raunchy¬†(at least in the beginning), 1940s were marred by the war, the 1950s were the decade¬†of a new-found conservatism that was as good in some parts that was bad in others. Harriet Craig, a novel written much earlier, in the 1930s, translates better in the 1950s than that period, IMHO. Harriet is a woman who wants to have a clean, spotless house, a rich, well-groomed husband and a perfect life – and does ANYTHING to achieve it. Lie, manipulate, cheat. I can very well understand – for instance, some older generations in my family belong to this mindset, and their premier interest is “What are the¬†neighbors¬†gonna say?”. It’s a kind of mental state where you can literary be a thief and swindler, but as long as you are socially accepted, have a¬†family¬†and a¬†well-kept house, everything is forgiven! Women had it worse than men, as they often did. Crawford is superb as Harriet Craig. While she was always an angry, almost¬†aggressive¬†actress (and thus not the best choice for some characters),¬†this¬†personality set suits this role perfectly. Wendell Corey, who played the weakling¬†husband, and K.T. who plays her friend, fall into second plane and are hardly¬†noticeable. Most reviewers¬†didn’t even mention K.T! But yes, this is Joan’s movie all the way, and everything, including the plot, pacing and cinematography, are there to serve he, and it actually works this time. Rec!

K.T. Stevens9K.T. didn’t make another movie until 1953, when she appeared in Vice Squad, a B level film noir. Nothing extra to write about – Edward G. Robinson is always¬†compulsively¬†watchable (he plays the lead role, the prime man of the Vice squad), the¬†story is predictable, Lee Van Cleef plays the bad guy (what else), and Paulette Goddard is the head of an escort service (considering her reputation as a gold digger, this a bit tongue in cheek).¬†Tumbleweed¬†is an Audy Murphy western. As anyone who reads this blog can attest, I dislike western as a gentle, but have specific dislike for low-budget westerns. While this isn’t in the same class as Allan Lane and Richard Dix movies, it’s still nothing I would ever watch. Although¬†the cast has some good names in it – Lori Nelson, a fine and likable actress, Chill Wills, and again Lee Van Cleef. I can’t deny that it’s probably a fun romp, and that a large number of people may enjoy it, but boy, not my cup of tea! It was obvious K.T. had slipped from first class to second class in Hollywood, and she thus continued¬†Jungle Hell, a patchwork of tons of elephant footage and parts of episodes of a shelved TV series. Yes, it’s a major mess, with Sabu, K.T. and David Bruce tying but failing to do anything of any substance. Avoid.

K.T. marched the “trash genre” way with her next feature,¬†Missile to the Moon, made in 1958. It’s a spectacularly bad movie, with over the top costume design, no coherent story, and horrible performances. Yet, it morphs into a “so bad it’s good movie”, and that’s a guarantee you’ll enjoy it, if you watch it as a camp classic and not as a serious try at film making. K.T. plays The Lido, an alien queen, and wears ridiculous¬†head-gear in every scene she appears.

K.T. didn’t make a movie for a long time after that, and only returned to Hollywood in 1970 to have a small but pivotal role in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. A swinging classic (in every sense of the word!) its one of the first movies to tackle, very head on, the topic of “swapping partners.” It’s a centuries old phenomenon, but¬†Hollywood, with its¬†intense¬†distaste¬†for all things “not in the vein of a typical nuclear family”, steered clear of. Kudos goes to producer/director Paul Mazursky for taking it s step up. It’s funny, perceptive, sharp and well acted, everything you could fish from a movie.

K.T. appeared in only a few more movies (Adam at Six A.M.,¬†Pets,¬†They’re Playing with Fire¬†and¬†Corrina, Corrina), and in minor roles at that, but she acted until the very end.

PRIVATE LIFE

Gloria was allegedly a pretty popular girl in Beverly Hills in the late 1930s, turning many heads and dating a number of men, but I’ve only found name of just one beau,¬†Frank Appleton, a Harvard man.¬†However, I can sure believe she was wooed my the bucket load, just take a look at her! Beauty with attitude!

tumblr_m79r90De0T1rnodj0o1_500As a side note, K.T.’s dad, Samuel Wood, became one of the premier members of the HUAC and was a zealous anti communist. After his death, his daughter,¬†K.T.’s sister,¬†Jeanne Wood,¬†would liken his distaste for communist to an obsessive, unhealthy state, not unlike an addict, where everything in his life was dominated by this profound hatred. Wood’s reputation had been tarnished because of this, and today he’s not as nearly as known as he should be. What can I say about this? I’m politically liberal and have intense dislike for any extremes, but especially for extreme right wingers, and Sam seemed to be one of the boys in the band (John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper). So, is it fair to overshadow a man’s artistic achievement because of his political affiliations? It’s too complex a question to answer, so let’s leave it for posterity to answer this one (oh, I could go on and write and write and write about a number of topics here, but this blog is not the place for it).

Back to K.T. Her amorous adventure starts in 1941, when she was already known under her new moniker, K.T. Stevens. And in July 1941, K.T. started to date the big bingo of all bachelors, Alfred “Alf” Vanderbilt, the scion of the illustrious family. Af was born in 1912, making him 7 years older than K.T. He was married to Manuela Hudson, but separated by that time. He was making rounds in Hollywood, dating from early 1941 – his notable conquests were actresses Margaret Lindsay and Margo. But then came K.T. and everything changed!

K.T. played the cards wisely, picking dates on the side – like young actors Ronnie Brogan and Boyd Crawford. Art Jarrett also tried his best to snare the lovely K.T. from Vanderbilt. Boyd was a serious contended for some time, but finally Vanderbilt won. Interesting to note, during this whole time, K.T. was acting opposite Hugh Marlowe, who would become her husband about five years later (he was also married at the time, to Edith Atwater).
KT_vanderbiltK.T. and Al were seen everywhere in New York and seemed to have a great time together. They were both passionate gin rummy players, By late November, it was clear that only Vanderbilt’s estranged wife, Manuela Hudson, was the obstacle to matrimony. In December 1942, they visited Monte Carlo (what, during the war???) together. Vanderbilt really seemed to be “gaga” over K.T. and their relationship progressed beautifully. In early 1942, Vanderbilt seemed to be as much in love with K.T. as usual, but she encountered her first problem – his (perhaps excessive) love for horses and horse races. Without fail, Vanderbilt had to visit the track at least once a day – no matter the weather. This was simply an extent of the Vanderbilt way – both his parents and grandparents and many, many cousins were passionate horse people.

She told her friends that she’s not ready to marry him – she was neither madly in love, nor ready to compete with horses for his time. There was trouble in paradise, but Al was as ardent as always, buying K.T. expensive gifts. He finally divorced his wife in February 1942,and was free to wed K.T. By this time K.T. lived in Los Angeles, going for a short-lived movie career, and Alf followed her, only flying to New York on the weekends.

In April 1942, Alfred tried to enlist in the US army to fight in WW2, but he was several pounds underweight and K.T. helped his gain them by making apple pie (awww, how cute!).

While it’s impossible to say what exactly happened in the relationship between K.T. and Alfred, I’ll try to guess (and this is only my theoretical approach, nothing necessarily true nor concrete) – K.T. never truly loved Alfred. She was probably fond of him, liked spending time with him, was flattered by his attentions. Let’s not forget that dating and marrying ¬†a Vanderbilt is akin to dating a member of some royal house. On the other hand, Alf was crazy mad about K.T. They stuck together, but when the time came to get married, K.T. was not so sure. One thing I adore about K.T. – the girl knew what she wanted and truly went for it. She didn’t pretest that she wanted to act just to nab a wealthy husband, like many actresses of the time did – she TRULY wanted to act and act she did. She could have married Vanderbilt any time of the week, and come into one od the most prestigious families in the US, and be financial secure for the rest of her life ¬†but did she do it? No. Of course, the fact that her father was a wealthy Hollywood director probably helped her choice, but she actually seemed to want to be able to make it on her own, and have a husband who’ll be truly be her equal and her partner. That’s one of the reasons I find K.T.such an interesting actress of the time. Not only was she unusual looking, with an almost masculine jaw, but she also had her very own acting style and never crossed into starlet territory.

K.T. STevens3Alf and K.T. broke up for the first time just before Christmas 1942 – I assume she left him. Alf was inconsolable and spend a miserable and lonely Christmas. Alf was finally drafted int he Army in early 1943. How, this is only a theoretical possibility, but I think that Gloria went with the romance for Alf’s sake. He was stationed int he Pacific, ferrying a PT boat. The “wartime marriage” syndrome was very prevalent in those times – women married men they hardly knew during their brief furloughs, but with (seemingly) a good cause since a large number of those men would never return from the war. There were tons of examples in Hollywood alone – Dusty Anderson, Carole Landis, Anne Jefferys and so on. Most of the marriages failed in the long run (hm… One has to wonder why?)

Alf allegedly had more than 35 photos of K.T. in his cabin, and his only happiness came when he received the letters she wrote with zealous frequency (one a day!). A newspaper reported correctly states that “his 20 million dollars mean nothing to him here.” And K.T. was the only thing he truly cared about. Of course, what was really happening is a mystery to me, but K.T. didn’t seem to be as much in love with Alf as he was with her. She dated other man frequently during 1943. Some of her paramours were Art Jarrett (whom she dated before taking up seriously with Vanderbilt), Paul Getty, Warner Bros writer Lionel Wiggam, Lt. Frank Milan, Frank Farrell (who also served in the marines), and so on.

K.T. Stevens4By August 1943, Alf and K.T. were again in a blissful state. Since Al was in the Army, she did the town with his good fiend Johnny Hamilton, who doubtlessly kept an eye on her. K.T: may have been “promised” to Vanderbilt, but that didn’t stop other men from pursuing her. Victor Mature tried to woo her in October 1943, but ended up a good friend instead. She was also seen frequently with John Hamberlon, a Broadway stage and costume designer who worked with her on Address Unknown. In December 1943 K.T. and Alf got engaged and planed to marry when he, and if he, returned to the US for his next furlough. There was something very touching about the way K.T. spoke about it, not quite sure will Alf make it, unsure how their future would look like. (However, a columnist noted that Alf send a mere pittance to his friend, for buying K.T. a Christmas present… ??) But, 1944 brought changes that would forever separate the young couple. K.T. got the leading role in the Chicago theatrical run of Voice of the Turtle, and moved there. The run was to last about two years. While in Chicago, K.T. fell in love with Hugh Marlowe, her co-star in the play. K.T. played the lead, Sally Middleton, who falls in love with Bill Page, US Army Sargent, played by Marlowe. Controversial in its day, the plays touched upon the subjects of single girl sexuality with surprising frankness. As night by night K.T. played her part, she and Marlowe fell deeper and deeper in love.

Alf was discharged in October 1944, and after doing the rounds in New York, flew o Chicago to appraise the situation. Of course, I have no idea what happened, but I guess he got the picture. K.T. was head over heels in love with Marlowe. Alf returned to New York, and married beautiful Irish-American lass, Jeanne Murray in 1945. He would marry one more time, to Jean Harvey, and die in 1999 in New York.

Back to K.T. and Hugh. After the play ended, they married on May 7, 1946. It was a start of a long partnership, both professional and private. They often appeared together in the theater. Marlowe was born as Hugh Herbert Hipple on January 30, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and began his stage career in the 1930s at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. Marlowe was usually a secondary lead or supporting actor in the films he appeared in, but he spent more time in the theater.

Their son Jeffrey was born on July 7, 1948 in Los Angeles. Their second son Chris was born on September 28, 1951.

K.T. Stevens5The marriage went well until about 1966, when Hugh fell in love with his costar, the talented young actress Rosemary Torri. They started an affair, and in mid 1968, Rosemary got pregnant. K.T. and Hugh divorced in a quick fashion and Hugh married Rosemary right after the divorce was made final. Their son, Hugh Marlowe III, was born in February 1969. The older Hugh continued making movies until his death on May 2, 1982.

Little was written about K.T. after her divorce. She continued working, got over her divorce and her husband’s remarriage pretty quickly and generally stayed out of the limelight. She was a passionate gardener and her garden was one of the best known in her street. K.T. also¬†served on local and national boards of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists from 1978 until 1994. She was president of the union’s Los Angeles local from 1986 to 1989.

K.T. Stevens died from lung cancer on June 13, 1994, in Los Angeles, California.

 

 

 

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