Her face and form set her apart from the crowd and launched her film career, but it also handicapped Stella Stevens in being taken seriously. Her early movies had names like Man-Trap, but occasionally in vehicles like Too Late Blues, she would show she was talented, too, a view advanced mightily when she came to Nevada and gave a standout performance as an Old West prostitute in the widely admired The Ballad of Cable Hogue for director Sam Peckinpah, the first of two films she made in the state. She visited Reno last month for the Reno Film Festival. She said the attention she got from Cable Hogue almost didn’t happen because the corporation didn’t promote the movie.
Did you realize at the time that The Ballad of Cable Hogue was the kind of a movie that was going to develop a following?
I did not, but I love the words, and I loved the idea that people do love it. And we never knew because Warner Brothers was so mad at him for the money he’d spent on it—Peckinpah, yes—and because of that, they just let it leak out. They never had anything good, they put it with other pictures on the second [bill]. … It was just terrible. They didn’t do anything for it. And they also have not been nice to me since that. But now they have new people that are working in there, and they also know how wrong they were about doing that. If you do have a crazy person like Sam Peckinpah, you have to let that slide. You have to only look at the work he does on screen and if that makes you love that film, he had something.
What was it like filming in Valley of Fire?
I like it there in the Valley of Fire. At one time I had been on the lake there and stayed there for a couple of months by myself. I was painting and writing, and people thought I was crazy.
During Cable Hogue, it seemed like you seemed to be enjoying yourself, like the balcony scene with the chamber pot. Can you have fun and still stay in your mind in a role?
I never get out of the role if I’m in it, and she [the character] was very upset. So she could put this pot and throw it at them, and the whole [revival] tent goes down, and she liked it.
How is playing a lady of the evening different from other roles?
Well, it was the first time that I was able to play one like that. … Shady ladies are truthful more than other women. Don’t you know that? Yes. They just spit it out. They just spit it out. And other women are very prim and proper and wouldn’t dare say things like that or do things like that. I learned a lot watching them. … They know what they’re doing and how dangerous it is.
Jason Robards [her co-star in Cable Hogue]?
You didn’t even ask how good he was in bed or anything. … I loved that man so much. I had seen him, he was one of my favorite, favorite actors and I was just—“I’m getting to work with him!” I was so excited. He didn’t know that. You know, I would get real cool and sit there [laughs]. But I’m so proud that I got to work with him.
Can you tell me about Elvis?
I don’t know too much about Elvis. We worked together [on Girls! Girls! Girls!] five days only, and then I never saw him again. So I can’t talk about him very much, but he was beautiful. He was handsome and wonderful and beloved, is still beloved by people everywhere.