Venetia Stevenson, the actress whose publicity machine propelled her onto magazine covers, movie screens and a stage to receive an award for being “the most photogenic girl in the world,” has died, her family confirmed Tuesday.
Her brother, actor Jeffrey Byron, shared the news of Stevenson’s death on his Instagram page. “This was not unexpected as she had been down for quite some time,” he wrote, adding that she was “a glamorous [sic] and busy life.”
Byron told The Hollywood Reporter that his sister had died Monday in Atlanta, after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. Stevenson turned 84.
“If you’ve ever seen a dream walk,” wrote legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1959, “it’s Venetia Stevenson.”
Born in 1938, Joanna Venetia Invicta Stevenson was the daughter of Robert Stevenson – who would eventually become known as the Oscar-nominated director of Mary Poppins-and Anna Lee, John Ford’s muse nicknamed ‘British Bombshell’. The family moved to Hollywood when their daughter was less than a year old, the patriarch had signed a new contract with mega producer David O. Selznick.
Venetia was 14 years old when she was scouted on a beach by pin-up photographer Peter Gowland, according to The Hollywood News reporter. Stevenson, who would appear regularly on magazine covers and in fanzine spreads over the next few years, had landed a contract with RKO Pictures in 1956.
The early years of her acting career, largely relegated to television appearances, Stevenson landed her first starring role in a film in 1958, co-starring Peter Brown and James Garner in Darby’s Rangers. She would later appear in movies like 1959’s Island of Lost Women and Christopher Lee’s 1960 vehicle Horror hotel.
Even before the silver screen, Stevenson had quickly established himself among the glitterati of Tinseltown. In early 1956, she married MGM star Russ Tamblyn, aged 17 to 21. They divorced a little over a year later, but remained friends. She would later be romantically linked to co-star Audie Murphy and rock and roll god Elvis Presley.
Stevenson was also good friends with Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter, with Stevenson acting as a confidante to him while working while in the closet, dating not-so-secretly psychosis star Anthony Perkins. “I suppose I was a beard,” she mused in the 2015 documentary Tab Hunter Confidential.
Sept 1957, Popular Photography magazine picked Stevenson from a pool of 4,000 girls and labeled her “the most photogenic girl in the world.” She accepted the award on CBS’ The Ed Sullivan Showwhere she met a handsome, harmonizing rocker, Don Everly of the Everly Brothers.
Stevenson and Everly married in 1962. Around the same time, she formally retired from acting; her last film role was in 1961’s little-known The sergeant was a lady. The couple had three children – Edan, Erin (who would marry Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose, who inspired “Sweet Child O’ Mine”), and Stacy – and separated eight years later. Stevenson never remarried.