“Forty isn’t fatal,” Linda Evans said in a 1980s TV commercial. At the time, the actress was at the height of her popularity, starring in the prime time TV soap “Dynasty.”
Now, Evans would like her fans to know that 68 isn’t fatal. The star, who has been at the center of more than one cultural moment of the past 50 years, comes out Tuesday with an autobiography.
The longtime Puget Sound resident recounts her starring roles from “The Big Valley” to “Hell’s Kitchen” and the glamorous Hollywood icons she rubbed elbows with.
She also doesn’t hold back on the men in her life, which included actor-director John Derek and New Age musician Yanni, or the controversy over her on-screen kiss with Rock Hudson.
All this dish is wrapped around dishes – the autobiography, “Recipes for Life: My Memories,” also is a cookbook. It’s an easy read of anecdotes and stories interspersed with recipes that all have ties to specific people and events in her life, from Mom’s Hot Dog Stew to John Wayne’s Chile and Cheese Casserole.
In a recent interview with The Olympian, Evans recounted the triumphs and low points of her life and what led to her putting them down on paper.
“I love to cook and I love to eat and I love people. Why don’t I mix it all together? The ups and downs and highs and lows,” Evans said.
Evans was born Linda Evenstad in 1942, the daughter of professional ballroom dancers who moved from Connecticut to Hollywood when Evans was just a toddler.
Her break into acting reads like a classic Hollywood story. While she accompanied a high school girlfriend to an audition for a ginger ale commercial, the director pointed at Evans and said he wanted her instead of the friend. Evans agreed only after the director promised that the friend would get another part.
Soon, Evans was under contract at MGM Studios and had parts in movies including 1965’s “Beach Blanket Bingo” with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. A dye job for another movie that went horribly wrong led her to become a blonde – setting her look for the rest of her career.
But it wasn’t until being cast as Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in the TV Western series “The Big Valley” that Evans rocketed to stardom.
Working with Stanwyck was clearly a highlight for Evans, who still speaks fondly of her professional and personal relationship with the veteran film star.
“There was a graciousness about the time. Screen legends were so kind to (the public) and caring. It struck me and made a difference to me, and I always wanted to do that with people,” Evans said.
MRS. JOHN DEREK
During those “Big Valley” days, Evans’ mind was focused somewhere else: on John Derek. As a teen, Evans had a picture of the handsome film star posted over her bed.
“I had fallen in love with John Derek, and he wanted me to stay home and not work.” Evans tried unsuccessfully to get out of her “Big Valley” contract. She had lost her interest in work, she says. “It was my passion to be a wife and a mom.”
Evans married Derek in 1968 and became stepmother to his two children. The marriage ended in 1974 when Derek left Evans for 16-year-old Mary Cathleen Collins, who later became film star Bo Derek.
Evans isn’t bitter about the way John Derek treated her. She continued a friendship with him until his death in 1998.
“You may not be married to him, but you don’t want to lose him, because you value him,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed a moment of it.”
Evans began working again after her marriage with Derek ended, but it was mostly guest appearances on TV series.
“Dynasty” was ABC’s answer to CBS’ mega-hit “Dallas.” Evans played Krystle Carrington, the new wife of Denver oil baron Blake Carrington, played by John Forsythe. When actress Joan Collins was brought in as Blake’s scheming ex-wife Alexis in the second season, ratings soared and the series stayed on the air for nine seasons. Catfights between Evans’ and Collins’ characters were fan highlights during its run.
Evans makes no bones about it: The series changed her life forever. She was 39 at the time (Collins was 48) – retirement age for women in Hollywood.
“That’s why it was such a gift. Aaron Spelling gave Joan Collins and I the best opportunity on TV,” Evans said. The message, she says, was, “They’re older and they’re not through. Watch them.”
Evans says she’s never been shy about people knowing her age.
“That’s why when I was 40, I did a commercial for Clairol and I said, ‘40 isn’t fatal.’”
There was something fatal in the 1980s, though. A new disease, first reported in the summer of 1981, was striking down gay men. As it became more widely known, fear and panic accompanied anyone associated with the mysterious illness, soon to be called AIDS.
During a guest appearance on “Dynasty,” actor Rock Hudson gave a passionate kiss to Evans. Hudson, who had AIDS at the time, never told Evans of his diagnosis. But she knew something was amiss with Hudson when the scene was filmed, she says.
Evans had shared a kiss with him when she appeared on his TV series “McMillian & Wife,” and she knew how passionately he could deliver them. On “Dynasty” he held back, so much so that the director insisted on take after take, finally giving up.
When Hudson revealed he was dying of AIDS in 1985, it set off a firestorm of media speculation. Tabloid headlines screamed that Hudson might have given Evans AIDS. Evans herself wasn’t concerned. “I understood that he had tried to protect me in case there was some validity to that (transmission of the virus through kissing). I saw his intention for me, and I felt that I was fine.”
LIFE IN WASHINGTON
Evans calls “Dynasty” an answer to a prayer: She was financially secure. She found new heights of fame, met the queen of England, and was a guest at the White House.
“But I found out when you get that stuff – you’re rich, you’re famous, you’re loved by people – that the best things in life are the simple things in life,” like sharing a good meal with friends on a beach, she says.
It was also at that time, around 1986, that she first became aware of JZ Knight. Evans had read a book by the Yelm-based spiritualist who claims to channel the spirit of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha.
“It was such a profound book because I was experiencing the height of ‘Dynasty’ but I realized there was something I wanted to know,” she said.
The book seemed to answer questions Evans had been asking herself: “This was definitely different, and I’d never heard of these things, but I loved the intelligence and sensibility of it all.”
Evans eventually met Knight in California and was immediately taken with her.
She hadn’t visited the Pacific Northwest before meeting Knight, but by 1987 she had purchased the Gravelly Lake residence Villa Madera. She lived there when not working on “Dynasty.”
Evans left “Dynasty” before the series was over and moved to Washington full time, essentially putting an end to her Hollywood career. “I wanted to get back my life. A real life,” she said.
Evans first heard a recording of music by New Age musician Yanni while at a Ramtha School of Enlightenment retreat in Yelm. She invited him to her Beverly Hills home.
“It was the most shocking hello I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “When I opened the door, I knew that I was madly in love with him from the second I looked at him.”
And so began a whirlwind romance. Yanni purchased a home in Tacoma, and they traveled the world together.
But Evans’ professional life was winding down and Yanni’s was getting busier. The pair eventually split.
Evans is single now and she’s loving it, she says. “I’m perfectly content and happy in my life, and it’s just a mystery to me that I could be so happy on my own.”
Evans sold Villa Madera in 2002 and now lives full time on her Rainier property. She’ll appear at Third Place Books on Oct. 17 in Lake Forest Park for a book signing and Q&A.
And, she says, it’s time to update “40 isn’t fatal” to “The 70s as being fantastic.”
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org