Call 1963 the western phase of Stefanie Powers’ career. She did an episode of Bonanza and worked alongside John Wayne in McLintock!
But maybe it was the time she spent on set at Bonanza with Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts and Dan Blocker that helped her reset her acting self.
The future Hart to Hart star said as much in a 1966 interview. “I consider television to be my savior,” Powers told the Daily News. “Ten months of it will do my career more good than years of features.”
Do you remember the Bonanza episode featuring Powers? It ran Nov. 3, 1963. And it featured a very catchy name — “Calamity Over the Comstock.” Here’s the way Bonanza described it: “Trouble with a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘C’ comes to Virginia City when Little Joe brings young Calamity Jane home to the Ponderosa after rescuing her from a deadly prairie raid.”
Yep, Powers played Calamity Jane, a real-life figure in the Old West. She was 21 when she was in Bonanza, which was set in the 1860s. Writers took some liberty with the Calamity Jane character. Mostly, Calamity Jane would’ve been much younger than Powers. After all, Martha Jane Cannary was born in 1851. Doc Holliday also made an appearance in the episode. And he, too, probably was too young to fit the 1860s timeline. But why let historical details get in the way of a good story when you can link Little Joe and Calamity Jane on the small screen.
By the time Powers appeared on Bonanza, she’d played very small roles in a bevy of movies. Columbia Pictures signed her to a contract when she was only 16. So that’s probably why she looked at TV with such affection.
And three years after Bonanza, Powers secured a starring role in the Girl From U.N.C.L.E, a spinoff from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. She portrayed April Dancer of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement for 29 episodes before the series was canceled.
She worked steadily on both TV and in the movies through the 1970s. But she never was an outright star.
“My position was that of a working actress, which was very nice,” Powers said. “Everybody thought I could do a job. But doing anything else, or expanding my horizons, was out of the question because I didn’t have the financial viabilities.”
That all changed in 1979. She got a call from a friend, Robert Wagner, telling her about a new series, Hart to Hart. It was about a glamorous married couple who lived the jet-setting life. But they’d often had to solve crimes.
Powers won over ABC and became part of the show, playing Jennifer Hart, opposite Wagner’s Jonathan. Max, the couple’s majordomo, would introduce the couple each episode.
“This is my boss – Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. He’s quite a guy. This is Mrs. H – she’s gorgeous. What a terrific lady. By the way, my name is Max. I take care of them – which ain’t easy; ’cause their hobby is – murder.“
So maybe portraying Calamity Jane on Bonanza years before gave her the confidence to pull off Hart to Hart. Powers is 79 now and still working.