Thursday, February 11, 2016

Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens

Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens were married in a wedding ceremony scene at the end of their first film together, Steel Against the Sky (1941).  Their careers were just beginning on the Warner Bros. lot, and each had only played in bit parts or walk-ons up until that time.

They were married again in their next film together, The Doughgirls (1944). She played an ex-hoofer and he played a Navy airman during the war in this raucous comedy (which we really have to cover someday).  In real life, she actually was an ex-hoofer of sorts, having made her professional debut at thirteen years old as a ballet dancer at the Hollywood Bowl.  In real life, he was in the Army Air Corps, stationed in Hollywood with the First Motion Picture Film Unit making training films, which we covered in this previous post.  

By this time, in real life, they were dating.  He had just been discharged from the service, and they were actually preparing for their wedding the following month after this film wrapped.

Alexis and Craig with Dane Clark and Robert Alda

“That was one role I enjoyed playing,” Alexis commented in an interview for syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson, “We went into a clinch and I didn’t care if the director ever yelled ‘cut’.”  It was also a relief that Craig was one of her few male co-stars taller than she.  “It’s a good thing that I fell in love with a tall man.” 

“I have been in love with her ever since we appeared together in Dive Bomber,” Craig told columnist Louella Parsons in 1942.

The third time’s the charm, as they say, when their next wedding ceremony, their third, was for real.  Alexis and Craig were married before some 300 guests in a Presbyterian ceremony at the Church of the Recessional in Glendale, California, in 1944 (after Craig had asked the old-fashioned Alexis’ parents for their permission).  Errol Flynn, one of the friends of the bride, warned him to be good to her.

Today we mark Valentine’s Day upcoming this weekend with a look at one of Hollywood’s most enduring working marriages.  There were other notable long-lived marriages in Hollywood, of course, but few where both partners were actors in careers remarkable for their independence and longevity. Their tandem careers sometimes intertwined, but they allowed each other the freedom of independence when it came to acting gigs. 

They first met when they appeared in the movie Dive Bomber, 1941, which we discussed here, but had no scenes together.  In this movie, she was Errol Flynn’s sweetie.  (See this previous post on her friendship with Errol Flynn here.)  In Steel Against the Sky, like their characters, they began to date. They also appeared, though not in the same scene, in Hollywood Canteen (1944) as themselves.  Alexis is chatted up by a star-struck Dane Clark, and Craig is on KP duty, picking up trays.

Craig and Alexis also worked many times together on stage.  Their stage plays included touring in Cactus Flower; Mary, Mary; Any Wednesday; The King of Hearts, and the musical Plain and Fancy throughout the 1960s.  They were part of a troupe of Hollywood actors at a command performance in London for King George VI and Queen Mary in 1947. 

In the early 1950s, when the studio system collapsed, Craig Stevens’ film career, in which he tended to play second leads or supporting roles, came to an end.  He looked for stage work in New York and there were reports the couple had separated.  However, great things were ahead of him as he garnered the lead in the landmark television detective series Peter Gunn, for which he was nominated for an Emmy®.  He got that role through a chance meeting with writer/producer Blake Edwards, who met Craig when Craig visited his wife on the set her film This Happy Feeling (1958), which we covered in this post.  For several years, with Peter Gunn, with another series filmed in England, and with his Broadway debut in the musical Here’s Love (based on Miracle on 34th Street), Craig enjoyed enormous success and fame, and it was during this period that Alexis took a hiatus from her career and took a back seat to Craig’s. 

His hobby was woodworking, and he made much of their furniture.  She learned to become a gourmet cook. They appeared as guests on TV’s Person to Person, interviewed by Charles Collingwood in May 1960.

By the mid-sixties, she was ready to plunge back into the act, and worked with Craig on the above-mentioned plays, touring all over the country.  (One of those gigs, a summer theater atop Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts, was called the Mt. Tom Playhouse.  I’m currently writing a book on the history of theatre on Mt. Tom. You’ll hear more about that bye and bye.)

Alexis noted of working together, “He’s a joy to work with, but particularly in theater when you share a stage, you wind up being together 24 hours a day.  I don’t think that allows either of you to bring anything fresh to a marriage.  When you’re on separate projects, each of you meets new people and has different things to talk about.  That seems to work for us, at least.” 

In, 1978, in answer to yet another question on how their marriage lasted, Craig remarked, “We are lucky.  We are both understanding people.  We have been separated a lot (due to theatre engagements), but we understand that and have grown together, rather than apart, as happens to some people.” 

They also played together on television in an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., as a husband and wife in 1971, and rejoined the good doctor for a TV-movie based on the show in 1988.

Also in 1971, she had won the coveted role in Steven Sondheim’s Follies, which we mentioned in this previous post.  Craig was there in her dressing room on opening night, helping her to remain calm and focused.  She won the Tony® Award. 

She was also surprised by Ralph Edwards and the This is Your Life show for an episode on her life and career.  Her favorite guest—and conspirator to give Ralph Edwards the inside dope on her—her husband, Craig.  She wagged a finger at him as he marched out from the wings, laughing at her, wagging a finger back at her, teasingly, as the riveting theme music from Peter Gunn ushered him onstage.  In her official bio in the program for Follies, she calls her husband “her favorite leading man.”

Craig did a number of television guest appearances and starred in some short-lived series, and Alexis wanted nothing more than for him to win an Emmy.®

They both sailed on The Love Boat, and appeared in the French film La Truite in 1982, though they did not have a scene together.  Their careers sometimes separated them for days or weeks at a time, but they found it brought a sense of re-discovery and appreciation for each other. 

Photos of them as a couple through the years (and I wish I could post them, but I don’t have publishing rights) show the class and polish of their movie star years in their youth remained through middle age and into their senior years.  The camera captures them in evening clothes, her furs, his tux, her blonde hair is colored, his goes gray, but they remain trim and aging gracefully, a class act always at a play opening night, a gallery opening, a movie premiere, or just on the town going to a restaurant.

In 1982, they appeared in the walk-on menagerie of Hollywood celebrities in the television special, Night of 1,000 Stars.

Alexis died in June 1993, the day after her 72nd birthday, of brain cancer, with Craig at her bedside.  They were married 49 years.

In Women of Warner Brothers. (McFarland, 2002) by Daniel Bubbeo, the author interviewed Mr. Stevens about his late wife’s career and their life together.  He recalled of Alexis’ role on Broadway, “I said to her, ‘The luckiest thing they ever did was get you.’”

He felt the same.  Craig Stevens died before the book was published.  It is poignant that what was probably his last interview was his wife and their life together.

Truly blessed are they who find their soul mates, doubly so if they can share not only their lives, but their life’s work.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all who enjoy a good love story.
Shots from the short Alice in Movieland (1940), with special thanks to Elizabeth from the David Bruce Appreciation Society blog for pointing it out to me.

Bubbeo, Daniel, The Women of Warner Brothers (North Carolina: McFarland, p. 222)

(Milwaukee Journal July 7, 1945, p. 11 - “Tall Alexis Smith Plays Role, Mrs. Cole Porter, in Composer’s Biography” syndicated by Erskine Johnson; November 26, 1947, p. 12.)

(Pittsburg Press, December 17, 1978, “Cool Alexis in Command”, by Ed Blank, Press Drama Editor.)

(St. Petersburg Times, August 24, 1942, p 10; St. Petersburg, Florida Times, June 28, 1976 “Old Image Hasn’t Held Actor Back From New Roles,” by Marian Coe, p. 3D.)

"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 

by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at and I'll get back to you with the details.


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Silver Screenings said...

It is so refreshing to read about a celebrity couple whose marriage lasted. It sounds like they were supportive of each other's careers, which seems hard for theatrical couples to do. (So often it seems like couple becomes competitive with each other.)

Thanks for posting this, and happy Valentine's day to you too!

Caftan Woman said...

An inspirational couple, just be being themselves.

Anonymous said...

What a great twosome they were. This is a lovely tribute.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, ladies. It's a real pleasure to pay tribute to an professional acting couple extraordinary for their devotion to each other while still being able to pursue their individual ambitions. Just being themselves, as CW says.

The Metzinger Sisters said...

This was a great read. I was hoping to find a Valentines Day themed blog post. A large number of Hollywood stars had long marriages, but like you pointing out, rarely were both actors working ( Phil Harris and Alice Faye are another exception ).

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Metzinger gals. Good point about Phil Harris and Alice Faye, that's another good love story.

Phyl said...

This is such a great post! You might be interested in a blogathon I am hosting in April on Hollywood couples -

I could link to this post if you would like!

~ Phyl

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Phyl, and welcome to the blog. I'd be very pleased to have you link this post to your Star Studded Couple blogathon.

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