Born Gail Shikles, Jr., in Liberty, Missouri, his father was a high school teacher. Stevens studied dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1936. Acting with the university’s drama club prompted him to halt his studies and instead to audition in the Hollywood film industry. After first using “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. During World War II, Stevens served in the United States Army Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit based in Culver City, California, acting in propaganda and training films. The 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 was repeatedly barely on time for his performances. Stevens portrayed a novelist interested in Ray’s girlfriend, Susan, played by Marjie Millar. After nearly 20 years in film, in 1958, Stevens gained national prominence for his starring role as private detective Peter Gunn, a television series which aired on NBC (and later ABC.) The series was produced by Blake Edwards, who also wrote and directed many of the episodes. The theme music for the series was composed by Henry Mancini and helped establish his early fame.
During the late 1950s, Stevens appeared three times on Rod Cameron’s syndicated western-themed crime drama, State Trooper, and 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 also sang on the 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 TV series Man of the World in the early 1960s. 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 (1906–1971) played his assistant and police contact, Hank McClure. The series was produced by David Susskind. Stevens and Blake Edwards brought Peter Gunn to the big screen with a feature film called Gunn (1967). 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 1975-6. Other TV roles included the 1974 TV movie Killer Bees 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 1981 comedy film S.O.B. and was featured with his wife two more times in Joseph Losey’s drama La Truite and the 1988 Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Holiday Affair starring Robert Young. This was his final acting appearance. Stevens did a considerable amount of stage work, including lengthy national tours in the musical Plain and Fancy and Cactus Flower, both co-starring his wife Alexis Smith. He made his Broadway debut in the Meredith Willson musical Here’s Love opposite Janis Paige and recorded the cast album for Columbia Records. He later toured as Professor Higgins in a production of My Fair Lady with Jane Powell. On June 18, 1944, Stevens married prominent Canadian movie actress Alexis Smith at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn. They were married for almost 50 years. Foregoing parenthood, the couple remained together until her death in 1993. In 2000, at the age of 81, Stevens died from cancer, in Los Angeles, California.
- July, 08, 1918
- Liberty, Missouri
- May, 10, 2000
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death