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Stevens in 1960
Gail Shikles Jr.|
July 8, 1918
Liberty, Missouri, U.S.
May 10, 2000 (aged 81)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Alexis Smith (1944–1993; her death)|
Craig Stevens (born Gail Shikles Jr.; July 8, 1918 – May 10, 2000) was an American film and television actor, best known for his starring role on television as private detective Peter Gunn from 1958 to 1961.
Stevens was born in Liberty, Missouri to Marie and Gail Shikles. His father was a high school teacher in Liberty and later an elementary school principal in Kansas City, Missouri. He studied dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1936. Later, in the early 1940s, he also majored in theatre at The University of Kansas at Lawrence.
Acting with the university's drama club prompted him to halt his studies to audition in the Hollywood film industry. Under the name Michael Gale" (a play on his first name), his first screen role was a sailor in Coast Guard. After his debut in a small role in 1939, he adopted the stage name Craig Stevens. For the next period of his film career, he played mainly secondary parts.
Stevens signed a contract with Warner Bros. In 1941 and later that year he and his future wife, Alexis Smith, were cast in Dive Bomber, although they shared no scenes in the film. He and Smith starred in Steel Against the Sky also released in 1941. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Corps' First Motion Picture Unit based in Culver City, California acting in propaganda and training films. That unit came to be known as "The Culver City Commandos".
On October 29, 1954, Stevens guest-starred on the 1953–1955 ABC sitcom with a variety show theme, The Ray Bolger Show. Ray Bolger portrayed Raymond Wallace, a song-and-dance man who repeatedly arrived for his performances barely on time. Stevens portrayed a novelist interested in Ray's girlfriend, Susan, played by Marjie Millar.
In 1958, after 19 years working in films, Stevens gained national prominence for his starring role in the private detective series Peter Gunn, which ran on NBC from September 1958 to September 1960 and then moved to ABC, where it continued for another year. The series was produced by Blake Edwards, who also wrote and directed many of the episodes. The iconic theme music for the series was composed by Henry Mancini.
During the late 1950s, Stevens appeared three times on Rod Cameron's syndicated western-themed crime drama State Trooper, once on the CBS sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve with Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, and on the syndicated military drama The Silent Service.
On May 7, 1959, Stevens was a guest star on the NBC variety series The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. He and Tennessee Ernie Ford did a comedy skit based on Peter Gunn. He sang on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show with Dinah Shore.
After Peter Gunn ended, Stevens was called on by Sir Lew Grade of ITV to move to London, England, to play the lead role in the television series Man of the World in 1962. In 1964, Stevens followed this series with Mr. Broadway, the 13-week CBS drama in which he starred as Mike Bell, a New York City public relations specialist. Horace McMahon played his assistant and police contact, Hank McClure. The series was produced by David Susskind.
In 1967 Stevens and Blake Edwards brought Peter Gunn to the big screen with the feature film Gunn. Though advertised as "Gunn-Number One", no sequels followed. Stevens co-starred with David McCallum in The Invisible Man for a single season on NBC during 1975-1976. Other roles included the television movie Killer Bees (1974) with Gloria Swanson and guest appearances on several popular series including Rich Man, Poor Man, Quincy, M.E., The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Happy Days, Hotel and Murder, She Wrote.
Stevens worked with Blake Edwards again in the comedy film S.O.B. (1981) and was featured with his wife Alexis two more times in Joseph Losey's drama La Truite and Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Holiday Affair (1988) starring Robert Young. This was his final acting appearance.
Stevens did a considerable amount of stage work, making his Broadway debut in the 1963 Meredith Willson musical Here's Love opposite Janis Paige. He also recorded the original cast album for Columbia Records. He later starred as Professor Higgins in a national touring production of My Fair Lady with Jane Powell. He also made lengthy national tours in the musical Plain and Fancy and Cactus Flower, co-starring again with his wife in both productions.
On June 18, 1944, Stevens married actress Alexis Smith at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn. They were married for almost 50 years. The couple remained together until her death in 1993. They had no children.
In 2000, at age 81, Craig Stevens died of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. The year after Stevens's death, funds were granted by his estate to The University of Kansas to endow The Alexis and Craig Stevens Performing Arts Scholarship in the school's theatre department. The scholarship provides financial aid to undergraduate and graduate students who are studying theatre.