Actress Kaye Stevens, Margate’s closest claim to royalty, often used to post signs next to her nameplate that read “Hello, Margate” when she was on nationally aired game shows.
Now the city’s golden girl will wave hello forever more — a 5-foot-10-inch bronze statue of her with her arm extended will be unveiled Tuesday night at the park on Royal Palm Boulevard that bears her name.
“Back in the day, everywhere she [went] she promoted Margate. It’s her home, she always came back to it no matter how famous she got. This is a way to honor her memory,” said Sarah Blake, marketing manager for Margate’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Appearing on both television and the big screen, Stevens brought glamour to the neighborhood.
“She had a lot of parties,” said her friend and neighbor, Gerry Schweitzer. “Whenever I would [see] a limousine pull up I knew she had a star visit her. Michael Douglas, Connie Francis [and others]. There were tons of people that went through there. She loved to have parties, pool parties.”
But it was Margate’s lack of pretentiousness that appealed to her.
“I can still sit on my porch and watch the bluejays and woodpeckers in my back yard,” Steven told the Sun Sentinel in 1999. “And I still don’t have to be gorgeous all the time when I’m in Margate.”
Schweitzer said Stevens could let her hair down at home without makeup and nobody would bother her. In California, she had to look good because of the paparazzi.
“You don’t want them to put a bad picture in the National Enquirer,” Schweitzer said.
Stevens bought her roughly 1,200 square feet, two bedroom, two bathroom house for $9,800 on East River Drive in the late 1950s, and promoted the city in commercials at the request of the city’s developer, Jack Marquesee.
“She did that as a courtesy to him. They were friends,” said Schweitzer. “She said ‘I love it anyway.”
Stevens lived there with her husband, bandleader Tommy Amato. The pair ultimately divorced.
She lived in her first house for at least a decade and then eventually built a second house on Lake Shore Drive as a single woman. The 2,500 square feet home had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Schweitzer said the “magnificent” house that had master closet made of mirrors. Many of the rooms had Oriental rugs and paintings collected from around the world.
“She had beautiful couches, they were velvet, and a 600-year-old Chinese opium bed adorned with red pillows. It was a conversation piece,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer lived next to her at that house for 33 years.
“It was a small town and it was very friendly, you just knew all your neighbors,” Schweitzer said. “They would visit from the back fence. And that’s what she loved about it.”
Stevens once quipped on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show that the entrance and exit signs for Margate are back-to-back.
But she loved it. While appearing on The New Hollywood Squares, Password and Match Game as a celebrity contestant, she often displayed her “Hello, Margate” sign.
A singer, Stevens performed with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. She played at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and the Plaza Hotel’s Persian Room in New York City. And during the Vietnam War era, she joined Bob Hope’s troupe of entertainers in 1965.
She had some movie roles and from 1974-79 she played Jeri Clayton – a singer – on the daytime drama “Days of Our Lives.”
But, “when people see me in the supermarket,” Stevens told the Sun Sentinel in 1999, “they don’t ask me about Days of Our Lives; they ask, ‘Do you still live in Margate?’ ”
Still, her love affair with the city had one major hiccup.
Margate in 1984 said Stevens’ 5-pound poodle, Penelope Red, did its business in a city park and the actress started a fuss after a parks employee told her dogs couldn’t do that on city property.
Her version was different. Stevens said she was playing with Penelope on a park bench when a city employee cursed at her and said dogs aren’t allowed in city parks. After she complained, some of the commissioners retaliated, she said.
The feud escalated and commissioners decided to rename the city park that had been dedicated to her in 1972. The political winds changed in the early 1990s, and the city put Stevens’ name back on.
In 2004, the actress moved to Summerfield, north of Orlando, to work in a Christian ministry. She died in 2011 at age 79.
Mayor Tommy Ruzzano liked the idea of honoring her with a statue instead of a plaque or a bust because she was the “biggest thing to come out of Margate. She ran with the Rat Pack. She was very well known. She would always promote Margate.”
Schweitzer said Stevens would have loved her $32,000 bronze likeness, sitting atop a $10,800 pedestal.
“It’s her legacy,” Schweitzer said.
View a photo gallery of Kaye Stevens at SunSentinel.com/KayeStevens