Craig Stevens (actor)

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.

Craig Stevens
Stevens in 1960
Gail Shikles Jr.

(1918-07-08)July 8, 1918
DiedMay 10, 2000(2000-05-10) (aged 81)
Years active1939–1988
Alexis Smith
(m. 1944; died 1993)

Early life

Stevens was born in Liberty, Missouri to Marie and Gail Shikles.[1] His father was a high school teacher in Liberty and later an elementary school principal in Kansas City, Missouri.[1][2] He studied dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1936.[3]

Later, in the early 1940s, he also majored in theatre at The University of Kansas at Lawrence.[4]

Acting career

Early roles

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 (1939). 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.

He could be glimpsed in Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939); Alice in Movieland (1940), a short at Warner Bros; Those Were the Days! (1940); Argentine Nights (1940); Lady with Red Hair (1940) at Warners ; and I Wanted Wings (1941), at Paramount.

WWII service

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".[5]

Warner Bros

Stevens signed a contract with Warner Bros. They put him in Affectionately Yours (1941), then in Dive Bomber (1941); the latter starred his future wife Alexis Smith, although they shared no scenes in the film.[6]

Stevens had a support role in Law of the Tropics (1941) and the lead in a short, At the Stroke of Twelve (1941). He was in The Body Disappears (1941) and was third billed in Steel Against the Sky (1941), with Smith top billed.[7]

Stevens' first lead in a feature was Spy Ship (1942), a B movie. He followed it with leads in two other "B"s, Secret Enemies (1942), and The Hidden Hand (1942). He and Smith married in August 1942 just before he entered the army.[8]

He appeared in films like Three Cadets' (1943), Learn and Live (1944), and Resisting Enemy Interrogation (1944). He also appears in the training film "How To Fly The B-26 Airplane (1944)."

Stevens had a small role in Since You Went Away (1944) for Selznick and The Doughgirls (1944) for Warners. He played himself in Warners' Hollywood Canteen (1944) and had the lead in Plantation Melodies (1945) playing Stephen Foster.

Stevens had support roles in Too Young to Know (1945), God Is My Co-Pilot (1945), Humoresque (1946), The Man I Love (1946), That Way with Women (1947), Love and Learn (1947), Night Unto Night (1948), and The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949). He left the studio.

Post Warners

Stevens appeared on an episode of The Lone Ranger, then had support parts in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), Blues Busters (1950), Katie Did It (1951) and The Lady from Texas (1951).

Stevens guested on shows like Stars Over Hollywood, The Bigelow Theatre and Hollywood Opening Night as well as appearing in films like Drums in the Deep South (1951) and Phone Call from a Stranger (1951).

Increasingly Stevens was focused on TV: The Unexpected, Gruen Guild Theater, Fireside Theatre, and Chevron Theatre.

Stevens had a lead role in the low budget Murder Without Tears (1953) and was the romantic male lead in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). He was down to support in The French Line (1953) and Duel on the Mississippi (1955).

Stevens was in The Revlon Mirror Theater, The Lineup, The Star and the Story, The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater, Private Secretary, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Whistler, The Millionaire, Science Fiction Theatre, Matinee Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Chevron Hall of Stars, The Ford Television Theatre, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre , The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna, Mr. Adams and Eve, The Silent Service, Lux Video Theatre, Studio 57, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Loretta Young Show, Schlitz Playhouse, and State Trooper.

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.[9]

In 1956 he and Smith toured the country in a musical Plain and Fancy.[10] They later appeared in King of Hearts.[11]

Stevens had the lead in The Deadly Mantis (1957) and was second billed in Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).

Peter Gunn

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.[6][12]

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.[13] He sang on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show with Dinah Shore.

During the run of Peter Gunn Stevens guest starred on Special Agent 7, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and The Chevy Show. He shot a pilot called The Mighty O that was not picked up in 1961.

After the show ended he and Smith toured in a 13-week run of Critic's Choice from 1961-62.[11]

Man of the World and Mr Broadway

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.[14]

From 1963 to 64 he appeared in a Broadway musical Here's Love which ran for 334 performances.[15]

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.[16]

In 1965 he and Smith toured on stage once more in a production of Mary, Mary.[11]

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.

TV guest star

Stevens shot an unsold pilot The Best Years, and guest starred on several televion series' including The Name of the Game, The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, McCloud, My World and Welcome to It, The Governor & J.J., My Three Sons, To Rome with Love, Bracken's World, The Virginian, Marcus Welby, M.D., Alias Smith and Jones, Medical Center, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, The Rookies, Here's Lucy, Love, American Style, The Snoop Sisters, Circle of Fear, Search, Faraday and Company, and Chase.

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 Cactus Flower, co-starring again with his wife .

The Invisible Man and later career

Stevens co-starred with David McCallum in The Invisible Man for a single season on NBC during 1975-1976.

When the series ended he guest starred on Starsky and Hutch, Gibbsville, Police Woman, and Project U.F.O.. He had a role in Secrets of Three Hungry Wives (1978) and could be seen on The Incredible Hulk, Flying High, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, David Cassidy - Man Undercover, B.J. and the Bear, Dallas, Quincy M.E., Happy Days, Fantasy Island, Hotel, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, and Supercarrier.

He was in the film S.O.B. (1981) for Blake Edwards and La truite (1982) directed by Joseph Losey. He was in the TV movie Condor (1985).

His last appearance was in the TV movie Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Holiday Affair (1988)

Personal life

On June 18, 1944, Stevens married actress Alexis Smith at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn.[17] They were married for almost 50 years.[18] The couple remained together until her death in 1993. They had no children.[6]

Death and legacy

Craig Stevens died of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California on May 10, 2000 at the age of 81.[19] 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.[4]

His physical features and performance in the TV series Peter Gunn were the inspiration for the Dutch comics character Agent 327 by Martin Lodewijk.[20]

Partial filmography


  1. "Fourteenth Census of United States: 1920", Liberty Township, Clay County, Missouri, enumeration date January 3, 1920. FamilySearch; retrieved October 11, 2017.
  2. "Movie Stars Leave For Honeymoon", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 19, 1944.
  3. Obituaries; Craig Stevens; Actor's 'Peter Gunn' Helped Create New Television Genre: [Home Edition] Los Angeles Times 12 May 2000: 6.
  4. "Alexis and Craig Stevens Performing Arts Scholarship", Department of Theatre, website of The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas; retrieved October 12, 2017.
  5. "Craig Stevens - Reviews",; accessed July 2, 2017.
  6. "Craig Stevens, the Suave Star Of 'Peter Gunn,' Dies at 81", obituary, The New York Times, May 13, 2000; retrieved October 11, 2017.
  7. Craig Stevens: American actor played TV's Peter Gunn: [Final Edition] Times of London. Calgary Herald 20 May 2000: OS5.
  8. Alexis Smith, Actress, Craig Stevens, to Marry The Washington Post 24 Aug 1942: 5.
  9. "Where's Raymond?" Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine,; retrieved March 14, 2011.
  10. Stevens Top Gunn Los Angeles Times09 Nov 1958: G2.
  11. Teamwork Sets the Stage for Partnership By Elizabeth Shelton Washington Post Staff Writer. The Washington Post, Times Herald 25 Aug 1965: E3.
  12. HE MET HER AT...: Peter Gunn Digs a Canary--That 'Way Out' Lola Albright Chicago Daily Tribune 27 Dec 1958: b7.
  13. 7, 1959 The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Archived January 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine,, May 7, 1959; retrieved November 25, 2010.
  14. Looking at Hollywood: Craig Stevens Leaves for British TV Series Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune23 Dec 1961: 13.
  16. A Double Header for Craig Stevens Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 9 Sep 1964: F8.
  17. "Alexis Smith Wed to Actor", The New York Times, June 19, 1944.
  18. Maltin 1994, p. 824.
  19. "Craig Stevens; Actor's 'Peter Gunn' Helped Create New Television Genre", obituary, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2000; retrieved October 11, 2017.
  20. "Martin Lodewijk".


  • Maltin, Leonard (1994). "Alexis Smith". Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia, New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
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