There are a number of websites that have short biographical essays about Inger's life that can be readily found on the internet: Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, and Find A Grave are but a few. Visitors should keep in mind that while many of the key events of her life have been substantiated, Inger herself in later interviews would often exaggerate and/or minimize other details and events, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, other times in the best interest of her public persona. Our abbreviated biography here serves only as a summary. Anecdotes and other details have been deliberately omitted in the interest of privacy and brevity. Some of the images shown here are courtesy of the Junker family and Bill Patterson's photo collection.
She was born Inger Stensland on October 18th, 1934 in Stockholm, Sweden, the oldest of three children born to Per and Lisbet Stensland. When she was 6, her parents separated and she along with younger brother Ola went to live with an aunt and uncle (Karin and Bengt Junker), while youngest brother Peter lived with Lisbet and her new husband, Harald Rubinstein. At the age of 10, Inger and Ola came to the United States via a steamship that arrived in New Orleans, and then travelled to New York and finally onto Cape Cod where they met up with Per. Per Gustav Stensland was a university professor and scholarship winner who had already moved to the United States. He had also remarried by this time, to Carol Buswell, of Fresno, California. The family ultimately settled in Manhattan, Kansas, where Per had a teaching position at Kansas State. Her teen years were turbulent, marked by strict supervision, constant disagreements with her stepmother, and family arguments. At one point she ran away to Kansas City and found herself performing as a chorus girl in a burlesque show. Soon after, her father found her and brought her back home. In high school, she was active in several school activities and productions and found solace in singing and performing. At about the time she graduated from Manhattan High School in 1952, Per, Carol, Ola (who by now was using the name "Carl"), and half-sister Lucy then moved to Lubbock, Texas since Per had been offered a teaching position at Texas Tech. Inger chose to stay behind on her own, finding work at the local Montgomery Ward, and later at Conde's Music Store. Eventually in 1953 she made her way to Kansas City again, taking modelling classes and working fashion shows. From there, she went to New York in search for a cinema career. While in New York, Inger worked in the garment district and started studying drama with Lee Strasberg of the Actors Studio. She did a variety of odd jobs, including modelling, phone operator, and cashiering while finding time to go out on auditions. She also worked for a short time as a chorus girl at the Latin Quarter. She eventually began making her first appearances on television doing commercials, which eventually led to roles on Studio One, Goodyear TV Playhouse, Mr. Peepers, Kraft Televsion Theatre, Crunch and Des, The Crusader, Conflict, and The Millionaire, among others.
In 1955 she married her agent, Anthony Soglio, who put her under contract and changed her professional last name to "Stevens". Soglio managed to get Inger a number of her early television roles and her first film role. However, their marriage only lasted six months and they were divorced soon after. As part of the settlement, Soglio was entitled to a percentage of her earnings thru 1966. She moved to Hollywood to film her first movie, Man on Fire (1957) starring Bing Crosby. Aside from her making her film debut in the film, Inger made more Hollywood headlines when she and Crosby began dating; however, the relationship ended when Crosby married actress Katherine Grant instead. In the same year, during the shooting of Cry Terror, she and other members of the crew (including co-star Rod Steiger) suffered fume intoxication during scenes being filmed in a subway tunnel. Within a short period of time, she added additional film credits to her growing resume: major, leading roles in MGM/Paramount films The Buccaneer, with Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston; and The World, The Flesh, and The Devil with Harry Belafonte and Mel Ferrer.
In 1959 she moved back to New York, and on New Year's Day, 1960 feeling despondent after attending a party, she tried to kill herself, taking sleeping pills. She was found three days later, unconscious, with significant swellling in her legs, and remained blinded for two weeks, according to the news reports at the time. Nevertheless, her recovery from this incident was surprising: only two months later she was back at work, guest starring on several television series. Though Inger never subsequently discussed the reasons for this suicide attempt in any great detail, she would always claim that she was a stronger, wiser person as a result; that she characterized her actions as being among "...the stupidest things I've ever done..." Her resilience and ability to bounce back would be tested again soon enough: in 1961 she was the last person to exit from a plane which exploded a few seconds later, in Lisbon, Portugal.
On November 18, 1961 she married Isaac "Ike" Jones, an African-American producer/business associate of famed singer Nat King Cole, in Tijuana, Mexico. At the time, Inger and Ike decided to keep their marriage a secret, due to the potential negative backlash and damage to Inger's career. In hindsight, given the social climate of the time with the growing discontent regarding civil rights and that interracial marriage was not common and even deemed illegal in some states, Inger and Ike's decision to keep their marriage hidden seems prudent and certainly understandable, from a business perspective. However, this decision would have far-reaching consequences: Inger Stevens, whose public image was the self-sufficient, refreshingly frank and direct, up-and-coming single actress, had suddenly acquired a career-threatening secret, a double-life, one that she had to hide from the inquisitive general public. Only her family and closest friends knew of the marriage. It was only after The Farmer's Daughter ended and into production of A Time for Killing in 1967 did she overcome the fear of being found out, and invited Ike to join her on location on subsequent films. Ike often demurred, due to scheduling conflicts and being an acute bussinessman, he quite likely better understood the effects of negative press and public reaction. To paraphrase Ike in an interview he gave in 1970, it was not that they were not ready to make their marriage public, but the world was not ready to accept them. Inger's publicists were adept at steering interview questions away from her personal life, so the subject of Inger's marital status was never seriously explored by the tabloid press, a much less invasive group than today's paparazzi. Given these conditions, with Inger on location and Ike away on business, their work schedules were nearly impossible to coincide. It was inevitable that the time spent apart began to take a toll on their relationship. Inger and Ike would fight, separate for weeks at a time, then get back together. During the periods of separation, Inger would stay at one residence while Ike lived at a second residence. Separation and reconcilliation became a cyclic pattern in their lives. The volatility of the bond between Inger and Ike only contributed to the marriage's fragility, and the temptation and likelihood of extramarital affairs certainly did not help.
While separated, Inger became romantically linked to co-star Dean Martin in 1968 while filming Five Card Stud and then to Burt Reynolds in early 1970. According to Ike, in the spring of 1970 after completing Run, Simon, Run, Inger returned to Los Angeles and left him a note saying she needed time alone to sort out her feelings. When she reappeared some ten days later, she told Ike she wanted to stay at the Woodrow Wilson house and that he should live at their second home at the beach. Ike agreed. In the subsequent weeks, as Inger made the press rounds for her upcoming series, she was often seen with Reynolds and it appeared the two were seriously dating. Reynolds would later tell mutual friend Aaron Spelling that the two had broken off the relationship some time before Inger's eventual demise. This contradicts Inger's roommate's later testimony that she was planning to marry Reynolds. In any case, regardless of her relationships with Martin, Reynolds, and any other rumored suitors, it was Ike who stepped forward at the end, making the final arrangements. Again, to paraphrase Ike from the same interview mentioned earlier, "...it was always Inger and Ike..."
Throughout the late 1950's to early 1963, Inger also guest-starred on a number of television programs, game shows and commercials: Zane Grey Theater, Armstrong Circle Theater, Playhouse 90,Checkmate, Hong Kong,, Adventures in Paradise, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Route 66 were but a few of her many appearances. Through these appearances, her reputation as actress began to take shape: a tireless professional who was always prepared and ready for work. She was also known for researching her roles: to better understand how a character moves about while pregnant, Inger once wore a weight around her waist prior to filming; prior to playing a nurse, she spent time at a Los Angeles hospital accompanying the nursing staff on their rounds and assisting whenever she could. Because of these efforts, she began receiving critical acclaim for her work: an Emmy nomination as the unwed pregnant immigrant with co-star Peter Falk in The Price of Tomatoes; her memorable, iconic Nan Adams in The Hitchhiker episode of The Twilight Zone; and her poignant, heartwarming portrayal of Emily Pennington, a woman who falls in love with Hoss Cartwright in The Newcomers episode of Bonanza.
Finally, after 2 1/2 years of guest roles on shows and commercials, she caught her big break: Inger was signed to be the star of her own television show on the ABC network. From 1963 to 1966, she starred in the very successful ABC-TV series, The Farmer's Daughter, an adaptation of the 1947 film that starred Loretta Young. For the next three years, audiences followed the comedic on-screen lives of Katy Holstrum and Congressman Glen Morley (played by William Windom), their courtship, and their on-screen wedding. At a time when the American public was reeling from the television images of the Kennedy assasination, the escalation of conflict in Vietnam, and the domestic violence surrounding civil rights, the gentle, unassuming half-hour comedy show was a welcome respite from the sights and sounds of the day. "Katy Holstrum" and Inger became synonymous in the television audiences' mind; it ultimately became the signature role for which Inger will always be remembered.
Despite her professional success as an actress, Inger harbored a lingering sense of self-doubt, often wondering if her work as an actress was sufficiently fulfilling and personally satisfying. She spoke of quitting acting to devote more time and resources to her favorite charities. Sentitive to human suffering, and having two cousins mentally retarded, she spent long hours working with handicapped children. Inger was appointed chairwoman of the California Council of Retarded Children and also appointed to the Advisory Board of the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute at the UCLA Medical Center by then-California governor Edmund Brown. She was actively involved in many fund-raising projects in this particular area, most notably organizing a travelling celebrity art exhibit. Her interest in this area was undoubtedly fueled by her close relationship with her aunt, Karin Stensland Junker, a noted researcher/author/scientist in the field.
After her stint in the television series ended, Inger resumed her film career in earnest. From 1966 to 1969, she starred in several successful movies with many of the leading names in film, such as Madigan with Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda. In 1967 she starred with Don Murray in The Borgia Stick, one of the first made-for-television films. Other films during this period included (in no particular order): A Time for Killing with Glen Ford and George Hamilton; A Guide for the Married Man, with Walther Matthau and Robert Morse; Firecreek, with James Stewart and Henry Fonda again; 5 Card Stud with Dean Martin, Roddy McDowall, and Robert Mitchum; House of Cards, with George Peppard and Orson Welles; and A Dream of Kings, with Anthony Quinn. In the last mentioned film, she received strong, positive reviews for showing greater range and depth for her role. Her future seemed bright and her film work now seemed to showcase her acting abilities and expanded range, much more than what she had shown on television. Moving easily from drama to comedy to mystery/adventure, Inger seemed to be reaching her artistic stride. In hindsight, this stage of her career seems truly remarkable, given the near effortless transition she made from being a film debutante to televison actress to major motion picture star. Even today, television celebrity and small screen notoriety do not automatically translate to big screen success for many actors and actresses; the roadside is littered with the careers of TV screen "stars" who tried to make the jump to film and failed. Like Inger, another example of television success jumping to feature film success would be actor Steve McQueen: from his role as Josh Randall in the television western Wanted: Dead or Alive, McQueen went on to become an iconic "movie star" in the 1970's to early '80's.
In early 1970, after concluding the filming of Run Simon Run, an ABC made-for-television Movie of the Week presentation, Inger agreed to return to weekly television in a new series by producer Aaron Spelling. On the morning of Thursday, April 30, 1970, she was found lying unconscious in her kitchen by her hairstylist/houseguest, Lola McNally. Rushed to a nearby local hospital, she was declared dead on arrival at 10:30 a.m. From initial appearances and later confirmed by toxicology testing, the immediate cause of death was from an overdose of barbiturates. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office eventually ruled her death as a suicide. However, at the time of her death and even thru today, her family and her friends could not/do not accept the notion of suicide. There were no overt signs that she was depressed or despondent: on the contrary, she was excited about her return to weekly television, she had just purchased clothes she would wear for the show, and she had made a number of short term plans for the coming weeks (she had in fact made plans to attend the first MGM studio auction on the next Sunday, May 3, 1970). Her overall disposition seemed positive. However, in cases of apparent suicides where there are no witnesses, there is always room for speculation, justifiable or not, surrounding the circumstances of her death. As this website is a tribute to Inger's life and career, comments about Inger's passing will be limited, out of respect for her family.(More Info)
Immediately after her death, Ike stepped forward and identified himself at the Coroner's office as her husband to claim the body and the estate. A small memorial service was held in private a few days later on May 4th at publicist Ben Irwin's home. In keeping with her preference for small, intimate gatherings, only a small number of Inger's family and friends were invited. She was cremated and her ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. She and Ike had no children.
As of this writing (Fall 2008), the surviving members of her immediate family include her brothers Ola (an accomplished painter/artist; see dkartpublishing.com for samples of his work) and Peter (a noted musician residing in Sweden), and her half-sister Lucy (advisor and former president of the Federation of American Womens Clubs Overseas [FAWCO], one of the largest service/advocacy groups for overseas Americans), along with many cousins, nieces and nephews from all sides of her extended family (the Rubinsteins, Erikssons, Wahlstroms, et. al). One of Inger's nieces, Athena Ashburn, is also an award-winning actress and film producer. Ms. Ashburn recently launched a web series, 20 Dollar, an anthology program quite reminiscent of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. In fact, an episode of Athena's new show pays homage to her aunt's classic appearance in The Hitchhiker. Another nephew, Samuel Rubinstein, has recently contributed a desktop wallpaper to our website in honor of his aunt. Visitors to our website are encouraged to explore and learn more of Inger's relatives' individual contributions and accomplishments in their respective fields (including Karin Junker's efforts with disabled children). The Stensland and Rubinstein family trees and all of their branches have a rich tradition of artistry, academia, talent, and service; Inger was no exception.