Connie Stevens began her career in music by forming her own vocal group, The Foremost. In 1954 she formed an all-female trio. She first achieved success not as a singer, but as an actress. In 1957, she landed minor roles in B-list movies. Then Jerry Lewis cast her in his 1958 film, Rock-a-Bye Baby. A year later, she landed her most famous role to date, on the TV show Hawaiian Eye.
Actress and singer Connie Stevens was born Concetta Rosalie Ann Ingolia on August 8, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Eleanor McGinley, was a singer. Her father, Peter Ingolia, was a jazz musician. Stevens' father performed under the stage name Teddy Stevens, and she later decided to adopt his stage surname as her own.
Stevens endured a tumultuous childhood marred by divorce, death and natural disaster. Her parents divorced when Stevens was very young, and she was placed in the custody of her grandmother. However, her grandmother passed away when Stevens was 8 years old, and she was sent to a Catholic girls' boarding school. Then in 1951, at the age of 12, Stevens witnessed a murder on the streets of Brooklyn. Deeply disturbed by the incident, Stevens left the big city to move in with family friends in Boonville, Missouri. Shortly after she arrived in the summer of 1951, the Missouri River flooded its banks, devastating the town. Stevens was forced to move yet again, this time choosing to reunite with her father in Los Angeles.
Singing and Acting
Stevens inherited her parents' musicality and, despite her chaotic childhood, she began her career in music at a very young age. While still a child in Brooklyn, she formed her own vocal group, The Foremost, featuring three male backup singers who later became The Lettermen, a famous pop trio. After settling in Los Angeles, Stevens attended Sacred Heart Academy and, in 1954 at the age of 14, she formed another band: an all-female trio called The Three Debs.
Stevens first achieved professional success not as a singer, however, but as an actress. In 1957, Stevens landed minor roles in a pair of B-list Hollywood films: Young and Dangerous and Eighteen and Anxious. While the films were not terribly successful at the box office, they got Stevens noticed by legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, who cast her in his 1958 film, Rock-a-Bye Baby. A year later, Stevens landed her most famous role to date as the ditzy blonde photographer and nightclub singer Cricket Blake on ABC's detective drama Hawaiian Eye. While starring on Hawaiian Eye, Stevens also returned to music. She recorded two hit singles—"Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" and "Sixteen Reasons"—both of which cracked the top five on Billboard's singles chart.
While at the pinnacle of her acting and singing career in the early 1960s, Stevens entered several high profile romantic relationships. After a brief romance with actor Glenn Ford, she began dating one of the most legendary musicians of all time, Elvis Presley. Stevens was on the set of Hawaiian Eye when Presley called her and asked her out on a date. "I didn't believe it was him at first," Stevens remembers. Although they dated only sporadically for a year, her relationship with Elvis made a deep impact on Stevens. She says, "He was one of the loves of my life. I could have spent a lifetime with him."
After moving on from her flings with Ford and Presley, Connie Stevens married actor James Stacey in 1963. The couple divorced in 1966, and a year later she married singer Eddie Fisher. They had two daughters, Joley and Tricia, before divorcing after only 18 months of marriage.
Typecast as an airheaded blonde due to her role in Hawaiian Eye, Stevens initially struggled to land more mature roles. Nevertheless, she argued fiercely with producers and directors for opportunities to play serious parts. As fellow actress Hedda Hopper put it, Stevens "looks like an apple blossom but has the wham of a bulldozer." She finally gained the legitimacy she craved when she starred opposite George Burns in the ABC series Wendy & Me (1964-1965) and in Neil Simon's 1967 Broadway play, Star-Spangled Girl. Since then, Stevens has starred in dozens of films and TV shows. Her most notable credits include Grease 2 (1982), Murder She Wrote (1985), Starting From Scratch (1988-1989) and Baywatch (1996).
In the late 1980s, Stevens pursued another career makeover as a businesswoman in the cosmetics industry. She founded her own cosmetics line, Forever Spring, in 1989 and quickly landed a lucrative marketing contract with the Home Shopping Network. By 2000, Forever Spring had developed into a cosmetics empire—offering over 300 products to an estimated clientele of 3 million women while racking up more than $500 million in annual sales.
In addition to her career as an entertainer and cosmetics mogul, Stevens is a lifelong public servant and philanthropist. She accompanied Bob Hope on many of his United Service Organization tours, where she entertained American troops in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. In honor of her service with the USO, Stevens received the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, the highest military honor bestowed on civilians. Her philanthropic work includes Project Windfeather, a charity that provides scholarships to Native American children, and Dignity, a foundation that offers job training for the mentally and physically challenged.
In 2009, at the age of 71, Stevens brought her career full circle to confront the traumas of her childhood. She wrote and directed Saving Grace B. Jones, a largely autobiographical film about an 11-year-old girl who witnesses a murder in Brooklyn, and goes to spend the summer with friends in Missouri. After a lifetime keeping such memories bottled up, Stevens says, "writing the screenplay was so cathartic." The film is a reminder that after a lifetime of fame and success, Stevens is still both shaped and haunted by her troubled Brooklyn childhood. She says, "My roots are in Brooklyn, I'm an Italian street kid. I know that."
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