Craig Stevens

Craig Stevens
Craig Stevens

Craig Stevens had been in films for years when he won widwspread popularity on television in 1958 with his performance in the title role of “Peter Gunn”.   His films include “Dive Bomber” in 1941 where he met his wife Alexis Smith, “Since You Went Way” and “The Doughgirls”.   Craig Stevens died in 2000.   Alexis Smith predeceased him.

His “Telegraph” obituary:

American actor best known for his role as the television detective Peter Gunn

CRAIG STEVENS, who has died aged 81, played the suave private investigator Peter Gunn in the American television series of the same name which began in 1958.

Detective Peter Gunn was one of those lady-killer private eyes of the late 1950s and 1960s who existed in a world of salubrious uptown offices and sleazy night-time jazz clubs. Gunn’s own well-appointed workplace was at 351 Ellis Park Road, Los Angeles, but from time to time he would saunter over to Mother’s jazz club to watch his blonde girlfriend Edie (Lola Albright) take to the stage as resident singer.

Each episode presented Gunn with a client in a tight corner or a crime to solve. His work entailed frequent fights, but the urbane Gunn – often aided by his police lieutenant friend Jacoby – would always be standing at the end, coolly dusting down his Ivy League clothes.

The programme’s director, Blake Edwards, shot the action in a modified film-noir style. Most memorable of all was the jazzy score by Henry Mancini – later to be reincarnated in such films as The Blues Brothers, several television advertisements and the odd pop song.

Peter Gunn, which was considered exceptionally violent for its time, was broadcast on NBC from 1958 to 1960 and on ABC in 1960-61. It then came to Britain where it also proved hugely popular. It did much to launch Blake Edwards’s career, and Mancini’s score resulted in two bestselling albums for RCA, The Music from Peter Gunn and More Music From Peter Gunn.

Craig Stevens was born Gail Shikles Jnr on July 8 1918 at Liberty, Missouri, the son of a school teacher. He read Dentistry at Kansas University before deciding that acting was more for him.

Moving to Hollywood, he trained at Paramount’s acting school, worked at the Pasadena Playhouse and in 1941 signed for Warner Brothers. His first feature film was Dive Bomber, in which he played one of Errol Flynn’s co-pilots.

The film’s leading lady was Alexis Smith, and later that year Stevens was given the romantic lead opposite her as a bridge-builder in Steel Against the Sky. They married three years later. Alexis Smith went on to become a star, while Stevens languished as a dependable support. Nevertheless, the marriage endured happily until her death in 1993.

Stevens’s other credits during the 1940s included God is My Co-Pilot (1945) and Humoresque (1946), in which he was one of the gigolos buzzing around a socialite, Joan Crawford. After The Blues Busters (1950) and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953), he played the boyfriend of Jane Russell in The French Line (1954), and then the trusty sidekick of a town tyrant in the light-hearted western Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).

Although he had by then appeared in 13 films, his casting on television as Peter Gunn was his big break. After that, he played the globe-trotting photo-journalist Mike Strait in 20 episodes of the ATV series Man of the World (1962-63). Also featuring a score by Mancini, the series took Stevens to many colourful corners of the world – from south-east Asia to the Amazon – usually assisted by his svelte sidekick Maggie.

Thereafter, Stevens worked mainly in theatre, often opposite his wife, who had retired from the screen in 1959. He did, however, team up again with Blake Edwards in 1967 to make the film Gunn, and he appeared in Killer Bees (1974). His last film role was in Blake Edwards’s Hollywood satire SOB (1981). From time to time, he appeared on television shows such as Dallas.

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