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Venetia Stevenson, a model, actress and daughter of Hollywood luminaries who appeared in films including Darby’s Rangers, Island of Lost Women and Horror Hotel after being labeled “the most photogenic girl in the world,” has died. She was 84.
Stevenson died Monday at a health care facility in Atlanta after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, her brother, actor and photographer Jeffrey Byron, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Stevenson’s parents were Robert Stevenson, the Oscar-nominated director of Mary Poppins who earlier helmed King Solomon’s Mines and Jane Eyre, and Anna Lee, who starred in How Green Was My Valley and portrayed the matriarch Lila Quartermaine for a quarter-century on General Hospital.
The screen siren was married to actor Russ Tamblyn from Valentine’s Day 1956 until their divorce in April 1957 and to Don Everly of The Everly Brothers from 1962-70 and was romantically linked to Elvis Presley, Audie Murphy — her co-star in 1960’s Seven Ways From Sundown — Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins.
She also was Axl Rose’s mother-in-law for about a year; her daughter, Erin Everly, was married to the Guns N’ Roses frontman from April 1990 until their marriage was annulled in January 1991.
In Warner Bros.’ Darby’s Rangers (1958), directed by William Wellman and starring James Garner, Stevenson portrayed Peggy McTavish, one of the Scottish women who wind up being paired with American soldiers (in her case, Peter Brown‘s Rollo Burns) during a World War II training mission.
She, Diane Jergens and June Blair played daughters of a nuclear scientist (Alan Napier) in Island of Lost Women (1959), and in Horror Hotel (1960), starring Christopher Lee, she was a student who heads to a spooky town to do research for a school paper about witchcraft.
Joanna Venetia Invicta Stevenson was born in London on March 10, 1938. Soon after, her dad signed a contract with producer David O. Selznick, and the family was off to Hollywood.
When she was 14, Stevenson was spotted on a beach in Malibu by photographer Peter Gowland, who was famous for his pin-up pictures. She posed for Gowland and his wife and wound up on lots of magazine covers, including one for Esquire.
“I started getting recognized after my pictures started coming out in magazines,” she said in a 2016 interview. “It was a strange feeling. Somebody would run up to you and say, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ I’d want to say, ‘Why would you want my autograph? I haven’t done anything.'”
An agent at Famous Artists agency signed her, leading to a contract at RKO Radio Pictures in 1956 as she and Ursula Andress took tap-dancing and fencing lessons together.
Represented by powerful agent Dick Clayton, Stevenson signed next at Warner Bros. and would appear for the studio on episodes of Cheyenne, Colt .45, 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot and Lawman.
Nineteen months after marrying Tamblyn at the Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes — she was 17, he was 21 — Popular Photography magazine named her “the most photogenic girl in the world” out of 4,000 contestants in its September 1957 issue.
Stevenson accepted her award on CBS’ The Ed Sullivan Show, where the newly divorced model first met Everly, who was there to perform with his brother, Phil. The next year, when Darby’s Rangers hit theaters, her face appeared on cans and bottles of Sweetheart Stout, made in Scotland.
(Stevenson also was discovered on the cover of Oh LàLà magazine by Marty McFly in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II.)
Her big-screen résumé also included two films with her mom, Jet Over the Atlantic (1959) and The Big Night (1960); Day of the Outlaw (1959), starring Robert Ryan and Tina Louise; Studs Lonigan (1960), featuring Jack Nicholson; and The Sergeant Was a Lady (1961). She quit acting after marrying Everly.
Later, Stevenson served as a script reader for Burt Reynolds’ production company (they appeared together on a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents); as a vice president at the production company Cinema Group; and as a manager who represented the likes of director Renny Harlan.
In the 2015 documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, Stevenson said that she served as “a beard” when she was photographed around town with Hunter and Perkins.
“She lived a glamourous and busy life,” her brother said.
In addition to Byron and her daughter — Erin was the inspiration for the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — survivors include another daughter, Stacy, and a son, Edan; her sister, Caroline; brother Steve; and four grandchildren.
“I’ve never really known anything but Hollywood,” she once said. “I don’t think I could relate to a physician or an accountant. What would we talk about? I guess, when I really stop and think about it, I have lived a very narrow existence, because movies are all I know.”
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Samuel L. Jackson