Inger Stevens: Did You Hear the One About the Farmer’s Daughter?

Oh, how Hollywood loved blonde Northern European model/actresses in the ’60s. I knew of many of them because they were still around in the ’70s when I was a kid, women like Elke Sommer (German), Anita Ekberg, and Britt Ekland (both Swedish). This power trio had a contemporary with a similar profile, although I didn’t learn about her until years later because she died when I was not yet five years old. That was Swedish-American actress Inger Stevens (Ingrid Stensland, 1934-1970).

Stevens’ biggest credit was the lead role in the sit-com The Farmer’s Daughter (1963-66) with William Windom, based on the eponymous 1947 film which had garnered an Oscar for Loretta Young. That was before my time, but I certainly knew of several of her movies from seeing them on TV: A Guide for the Married Man (1967) with Walter Matthau was one of them. She was in an incredible five movies in 1968, all of which were pretty highly profile, and three of them westerns: Firecreek with Jimmy Stewart, Madigan with Richard Widmark, 5 Card Stud with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum, Hang ‘Em High with Clint Eastwood, and House of Cards with George Peppard.

Stevens had moved to the U.S. from Stockholm at the age of 10, to join her father, a college professor, after a separation of several years. Her mother had left the family when Inger was six; the father also left soon afterwards, and Stevens and her siblings were raised for a few years by servants. Her immigration to the States in childhood meant that, unlike her fellow Scandinavian bombshells, she had almost no trace of an accent. When she was sixteen, she ran away from home and worked as a burlesque dancer in Kansas City, and a chorus girl in New York. She studied at the Actor’s Studio and began to get TV roles in 1954. She married her agent Anthony Soglio the following year. The union lasted until 1958.

Stevens’ early films included Man on Fire (1957), Cry Terror (1958), The Buccaneer (1958), The World The Flesh and The Devil (1958). Onset affairs with coworkers Anthony Quinn and Harry Belafonte on the latter two films are thought to have led to a depression which then spawned a suicide attempt (via pills) in 1959. In 1961 she married Ike Jones, first black grad of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and TV, VP of Belafonte’s production company and producer of Sammy Davis Jr’s 1966 A Man Called Adam. (Davis’s wife at the time was also a Swedish actress, May Britt). The marriage to Jones happened in Tijuana and was kept secret until after her death for career reasons, by which time the couple had long been separated.

At the time of her death in April 1970, Stevens had just finished the first episode of a new Aaron Spelling series The Most Dangerous Game. A friend found her face down on the kitchen floor in a dazed condition. She expired a few hours later and was found to have 20-50 barbiturates and several glasses of wine in her stomach. The quantity rules out accident, but there has been chatter ever since over the question of whether her death was a suicide or a murder. The latter sound frankly far-fetched. The case people make is that A) she had everything to live for; she was just launching a brand new TV series, and had several business calls earlier in the day; and B) she had some wounds, a cut on her chin and an abrasion on her arm, suggesting foul play. The theory is that someone forced her somehow to swallow the pills. (Similar to the conspiracy theorist’s equally precarious case for the murder of Marilyn Monroe.) One of the last people to see her that day had been Burt Reynolds, her co-star in her last last film Run, Simon, Run (1970). The pair were reputed to have had an affair. The woman had previously attempted suicide over her unhappy lovelife. Suicide seems much more plausible than some elaborate homicide scheme to eliminate an inconvenient minor TV star!

At any rate, if you Google her, you will learn much more about her death than her life, which is sad, but not uncommon. Inger Stevens had acting chops and was only 36 at the time of her passing.