Venetia Stevenson, Once ‘the Most Photogenic Girl in the World,’ Dies at 84

Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Venetia Stevenson, the actress whose publicity machine propelled her onto magazine covers, movie screens, and a stage to accept an award for being “the most photogenic girl in the world,” has died, her family confirmed Tuesday.

Her brother, the actor Jeffrey Byron, shared news of Stevenson’s death on his Instagram page. “This was not unexpected since she had not been well for quite some time,” he wrote, adding that she had “lived a glamourous [sic] and busy life.”

Byron told The Hollywood Reporter that his sister had died in Atlanta on Monday, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. Stevenson was 84.

“If you’ve ever seen a dream walking,” the legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote in 1959, “it’s Venetia Stevenson.”

Born in 1938, Joanna Venetia Invicta Stevenson was the daughter of Robert Stevenson—who would eventually be known as the Oscar-nominated director of Mary Poppins—and Anna Lee, the John Ford muse nicknamed the “British Bombshell.” The family moved to Hollywood when their daughter was less than a year old, its patriarch having freshly inked a contract with mega-producer David O. Selznick.

Venetia was 14 years old when she was scouted on a beach by pinup photographer Peter Gowland, according to The Hollywood Reporter. A frequent fixture on magazine covers and in fanzine spreads in years to come, Stevenson had secured a contract with RKO Pictures by 1956.

Relegated largely to television appearances for the first few years of her acting career, Stevenson nabbed her first starring role in a movie in 1958, appearing alongside Peter Brown and James Garner in Darby’s Rangers. She would go on to appear in films like 1959’s Island of Lost Women and the 1960 Christopher Lee vehicle Horror Hotel.

Even before making her way onto the silver screen, Stevenson had quickly established herself among Tinseltown’s glitterati. In early 1956, she married MGM star Russ Tamblyn—17 years old to his 21. They divorced a little over a year later but remained friends. Later, she would be romantically linked to co-star Audie Murphy as well as rock ‘n’ roll god Elvis Presley.

Stevenson was also good friends with Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter, with Stevenson acting as a confidante for him as he worked while closeted, not-so-secretly dating Psycho star Anthony Perkins. “I suppose I was a beard,” she mused in the 2015 documentary Tab Hunter Confidential.

In September 1957, Popular Photography magazine plucked Stevenson from a pool of 4,000 girls, designating her “the most photogenic girl in the world.” She accepted the award on CBS’ The Ed Sullivan Show, where she met a handsome, harmonizing rocker, Don Everly of the Everly Brothers.

Stevenson and Everly were wed in 1962. She formally retired from acting around the same time; her final film role was in 1961’s little-known The Sergeant Was a Lady. The couple had three children—Edan, Erin (who would go on to marry Guns N' Roses’ Axl Rose, serving as inspiration for “Sweet Child O’ Mine”), and Stacy—and split eight years later. Stevenson never remarried.

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