Hollywood actress Stefanie Powers is keeping alive the African legacy
of the late film star William Holden, who established a well known game
ranch and sanctuary in Kenya. Powers is president of the William
Holden Wildlife Foundation, and she spoke with VOA's Mike O'Sullivan
about her work on behalf of animal conservation in East Africa.
the slopes of Mt. Kenya, thousands of schoolchildren arrive throughout
the year at the William Holden Wildlife Education Center, where they
learn about the animal and plant life of the region.
which is adjacent to the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, carries on the
legacy of Hollywood actor William Holden. He fell in love with East
Africa after going on safari there in the 1950s.
In 1959, he
became co-owner of a famous resort, renaming it the Mt. Kenya Safari
Club, and in the 1960s he and his partners set up the Mt. Kenya Game
Ranch. Within a few years, it would house a sanctuary for orphaned
After Holden's death in 1981, his partners and
actress Stefanie Powers co-founded the William Holden Wildlife
Foundation, which operates the educational center. She says it
re-introduces African students to nature away from Kenya's bustling
towns and cities.
"We do not allow boom boxes. We do not allow
portable telephones. That all is left at the door," she says. "This
is a natural experience. It is for students to come and understand
nature, and to do so, you cannot have headphones on."
37 species of wildlife on the preserve adjacent to the center, and the
foundation offers programs on animal conservation and environmental
protection. Powers says it also reaches out to youngsters through the
"We combine our curricula, which is specifically
adjusted to their level of education and understanding, as well as
onsite programs, which we install, such as lessons on composting, what
to do with biodegradable waste, how to create agro-forestry, where
trees and crops can be grown harmoniously in a companion planting
method where nitrogen-producing plants can actually enhance the soil."
Powers divides her time between Hollywood and Kenya,
and says her globe-trotting activism comes naturally. When she was a
child, her family collected exotic birds and her stepfather bred
racehorses. As a young woman, she owned dogs and acquired her own
exotic animal, a Malaysian Sun Bear.
She recalls breaking the news to her boyfriend, who later became her husband.
was really not my most subtle moment," she says. "The little bear was
in the kitchen playing with my Yorkshire Terrier. My boyfriend came
home and I poured him a very stiff drink, and I said, 'You like bears,
do not you?' I very subtly broke the ice."
Her fascination with
animals outlasted her marriage. She was divorced in the early 1970s
and found a new love in her life, one of Hollywood's top stars, William
Holden. He had appeared in nearly 80 movies, including the classic war
films Bridge on the River Kwai and Stalag 17, for which he won an
Oscar. At this point in his life, he spent much of his time in Kenya.
Powers says that even before she met him, she loved to travel.
consumed every bit of free time I had by going off to some place, and I
spent a lot of time in Central and South America, and Mexico," she
says. "And I had traveled extensively through North Africa. But I had
never been to sub-Saharan Africa, and certainly not to East Africa,
which is where the game was. So Bill introduced me to his part of
Africa, as he used to call it. And I was already in love with the man,
so it was very easy to be in love with where he hung his hat."
has appeared in films and on television since she was a teenager in the
1950s. She is best known for the popular series Hart to Hart, in which
she costarred with Robert Wagner, playing husband and wife detectives,
from 1979 to 1984.
But she has always spent time at her second
home in Kenya, and has even been adopted by the local Kikuyu people.
She says Africa is her passion, as it was for a British adventurer she
once portrayed in a television movie.
"Oh, gosh, I guess I was
bitten by the bug," she says. "And it is beyond me, now. I am
helpless. It is part of my cells. You know, I think it was Beryl
Markham who wrote, 'I will always remember Africa, but will Africa
remember me?' I do not think Africa will remember me, but I will
always remember Africa."
She says that whether working with
preservation groups in Hollywood or with youngsters at Mt. Kenya, she
is helping endangered species in a part of the world she loves.