Born into an affluent family on June 4, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Parker Stevenson grew up in Rye, New York, and attended Princeton University. With his preppy good looks, he landed his first major role in 1972's A Separate Peace. It was his role as Frank Hardy in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, however, that catapulted him to teen heartthrob status. Though he struggled against being typecast, he continued to appear in films and television shows, most notably on Baywatch. Stevenson was married to actress Kirstie Alley for 14 years.
Actor Parker Stevenson was born Richard Stevenson Parker on June 4, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Rye, New York, an affluent suburb of New York City. Born into a wealthy family listed in the Social Register, his father, Richard Stevenson, was an investment advisor, and his mother, Sarah Meade, was an actress who had appeared on Broadway and acted mostly in commercials. Although by late adolescence Stevenson had matured into a heartthrob with handsome, all-American good looks, he claims that he was a hideous child. "I was a horrendously ugly kid," he remembered. "My mother had given me a crew cut. I had huge buckteeth because I'd sucked my thumb when I was little. My ears stuck out three inches from my head. My eyes were so close together I looked cross-eyed."
In addition to the bad haircut, Stevenson also got the acting bug from his mother. He appeared in his first commercial, a spot for Clearasil, at the age of 14 and continued to appear in commercials throughout his teenage years. "I started in show business doing commercials," Stevenson recalled. "If my mother hadn't been doing it, I might not have thought about it."
Stevenson attended the Brooks School, an elite preparatory school near Boston. In addition to excelling as a student, he acted sporadically in commercials and filmed his first movie during his senior year. A Separate Peace, the film adaptation of John Knowles' popular novel, came out in 1972, shortly after Stevenson's graduation, and established him as an up-and-coming young actor.
'The Hardy Boys'
Stevenson attended Princeton University to study architecture while continuing to pursue acting on the side. In 1974, he took a year off from college to play the leading role in the television movie Our Time. Two years later, he gained further exposure for playing a young heartthrob in the film Lifeguard. Stevenson graduated from Princeton later that year and, as he put it, "decided it would be nice to make a living at what I was already doing for fun—acting."
Thanks in large part to his preppy good looks, Stevenson landed the role of Frank Hardy in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in 1977, playing the older and wiser of the famed amateur detective duo. Almost overnight the show catapulted Stevenson to a level of celebrity he found overwhelming and somewhat uncomfortable. "Suddenly all the (publicity) machinery was cranking up: the lunch boxes, posters, T-shirts," he remembered. "And there was this teenage audience that got locked into the show… Being stared at was so uncomfortable. I couldn't go to the beach, I couldn't go to McDonald's. There were girls always hanging around my trailer."
"Now when people compliment me, it's flattering. Before it wasn't; I felt you could've taken any two kids, stuck them in the show and cranked out the same effect," he added. Stevenson worried that the show would typecast him as a clean-cut teen idol to the detriment of his future career. "I had reservations about being in the series even before I did it," he said later. "I felt I would have to fight my way out of it… After the series ended all I got was calls for Hardy Boys kind of stuff."
After the Hardy Boys went off the air in 1979, Stevenson initially struggled to find other roles, especially since he refused to accept offers for parts that cast him as another preppy teenager. In 1981, he played a rock star who has a nervous breakdown in the TV movie This House Possessed. In 1983, Burt Reynolds cast Stevenson as the villainous Aubrey James in the popular racing flick Stroker Ace. "Frank Hardy is dead!" Stevenson commented gleefully in an interview at the time. "It took me three years to overcome that image."
Since redefining himself with that role, Stevenson has gone on to television roles that have allowed him to play a wide variety of characters. After landing recurring roles on The Love Boat (1983) and Falcon Crest (1984-85), in 1986 he acted in North and South: Book II, an acclaimed miniseries set during the American Civil War. In 1988, Stevenson again struck out into decidedly different territory to play an eccentric scientific genius and crime investigator on the TV series Probe. The show won rave reviews but struggled to find a mass audience and was cancelled after one season.
In 1989, Stevenson landed the role of Craig Pomeroy—an attorney who (somewhat improbably) doubles as a lifeguard—in the inaugural season of the hit show Baywatch. Although he left the cast after the first season, Stevenson occasionally directed episodes of Baywatch, and his character was reintroduced nearly a decade later for the 1998-99 season.
Apart from Baywatch, Stevenson's career during the 1990s consisted primarily of starring roles in made-for-TV movies. They included All the Rivers Run 2 (1990), Are You Lonesome Tonight (1992), Shadow of a Stranger (1992) and Official Denial (1994). Since then, Stevenson has continued to act but with lesser frequency. He appeared in the TV movies Trapped (2001) and Terror Park (2003) as well as episodes of Judging Amy (2002) and The District (2002). He acted in the 2008 film Loaded and most recently appeared in a 2010 episode of Legend of the Seeker.
Although he remains best remembered for his role as Frank Hardy, Parker Stevenson successfully shed his squeaky clean image to move forward towards playing a variety of roles with equal skill—from a villainous NASCAR driver and a Civil War soldier to a scientific genius and a lifeguard and attorney. The turning point in Stevenson's career came shortly after the conclusion of the Hardy Boys in 1979, when he turned down teen idol roles and staked his career on redefining himself as an actor. "The person who helped break [the pattern] was Burt Reynolds," Stevenson recalled. "He said, 'You're an actor. You can do this.' And it was the beginning of playing characters who were different."
Stevenson married actress Kirstie Alley in 1983, and they remained married for 14 years before eventually divorcing in 1997.
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