ELAINE STEVENS, OWNER OF STEVENS MEDIA PRODUCTIONS & CONSULTING

401386_346918762005607_1995282497_nGrowing up in a life where the biggest stars in the world are weekend guests who routinely hang out with your parents is anything but ordinary. Being the daughter of the legendary Coast supper club owner, Gus Stevens, made for a remarkable upbringing and one-of-a-kind experiences. Elaine was raised in a strict Greek home with education being the number one priority. She could actually read at the age of three! The Arts were always of great importance to her mother and performing came very naturally. Elaine took lessons in piano and dance which she thoroughly enjoyed as a youngster, but reading was always her favorite pastime. “I was always an academic but thanks to my mom, Irene, I pursued the arts as well,” Elaine said. Her drive, determination and passion developed very early on and set the tone for an extraordinary life filled with unimaginable twists and turns.
Elaine adored her father. The family life was anything but traditional, and his job kept him away from home a great deal of the time. Irene Stevens was the glue that kept the family together and provided the stability. Gus worked around the clock seven days a week. He only returned home for a brief periods after the lunch rush to grab some much needed rest, then left again until the wee hours of the morning after the floor shows concluded. Elaine said, “I admired him so. Having only attended school through 3rd grade, completely self taught, he was determined to make the Coast a tourist destination. He had the strongest work ethic and never gave up. He was daring and unafraid to push the envelope. Whatever he set out to do…he did it!” Gus Stevens began bringing live entertainment to the Coast in the late 40’s. He offered all kinds of amenities to the clientele which had never been heard of before. Word spread quickly about the Gus Stevens Restaurant and Night Club. It was where everybody wanted to be, especially the Hollywood elite. Elaine was constantly exposed to the glamour and glitz of show business and she loved it.
Gus Stevens and his family were living an almost surreal existence of fame, power and wealth well into the late 60’s. They hosted a multitude of stars who came to the Coast to perform at the supper club. It was not uncommon for them to stay awhile to soak up the sunshine and enjoy the Gus Stevens special brand of hospitality and fun. Signature entertainers were Jerry Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, Jayne Mansfield, and Tex Ritter, to name a few. Elvis Presley also walked through the doors a time or two.
Elaine was now seventeen and deeply in love with twenty year old Ronnie Harrison. The couple had plans to be married soon. In a dreadful twist of fate, Elaine lost the love of her life in the car accident that also took the lives of Jayne Mansfield and her agent, Sam Brody. Ronnie was the driver of the 1966 Buick Electra that was bound for New Orleans the night of June 29, 1967. “Suddenly everything came to a halt and a huge part of me just disappeared. I was pregnant with Ronnie’s baby and I was completely lost,” Elaine said. She lived in seclusion at a Salvation Army home until the birth of her daughter and then gave her up for adoption. During the pregnancy, Elaine sought some normalcy and needed to find a way to heal and begin again. She found joy return to her life through theater by writing scripts and producing holiday shows. Twelve years ago, mother and daughter were reunited and they remain very close to this day.
Initially, Elaine had planned to attend Ole Miss with Ronnie but when he died, the decision was made for her to go to Sophie Newcomb Memorial College at Tulane, the Liberal Arts Division. She later transferred to Millsaps College in Jackson but finished her degree at Elmhurst College in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Elaine found love again and her parents were delighted that he was from a Greek family. She graduated with a degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Literature. “The Greeks are very dramatic and over the top. Nothing is done half way, it is all or nothing. I get my fire and my passion from my ancestors and my children display the same drive that I have always had which makes me very proud,” Elaine said.
Aside from her adoring husband, Jim Smith, Elaine’s children are her greatest loves. Her daughter, Angela Marie Lathrop, lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma and son Chris Andrew Strompolos, lives in Los Angeles, California. Angela is a chemist in the Agricultural Department of Oklahoma State University. She is also studying for her Masters in Business and is a happily married step-mom of three teenagers. Chris is a composer of music, a producer and writes screenplays. He is currently on a nationwide book tour promoting “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” about his childhood production of the Spielberg film (Raiders of the Lost Ark) with his friend and now business partner, Eric Zala, formerly of Ocean Springs. Chris’ wife, Monica Leigh Rodriquez, is a couture fashion designer. The couple has one daughter, Diana Phoenix, who is the pride and joy of her “YaYa” (grandmother).
At the age of 17, Elaine had gotten her feet wet in broadcasting. She started at the WLOX radio station located in the Buena Vista Hotel in Biloxi. Many years later, she would marry the owner of WLOX, James Love III. She was the first female anchor for the television station. It was a difficult barrier to break because the men were quite flabbergasted that a woman would move into their territory, but in time she became a part of their family. Elaine had the full support of one gentleman at the station in particular, Scott Peterson. He encouraged her to stay with it and had ultimate faith in her abilities. “They eventually saw that I could handle the job and then allowed me to soar. I had great mentorship at the time. The station is known for supporting new broadcasting talent,” Elaine said. She ended up doing investigative reporting in Jackson County and set the stage for further excellence. Elaine was the first female anchor of the first all female news team in the nation. She worked side by side with Robin Roberts when their careers were new and just starting to take off. Elaine remained with the station for 7 1/2 years. Although the marriage to Love would not last, they traveled all over the world together.
“A lot of tremendously talented people started at WLOX. Whenever I look at the industry and see the worst of it, I think of Robin who is the best of it. It was such an honor to work with her. The last time we saw each other was at her mother’s wake, she gave me a big hug and told me to live every moment of my life and enjoy every moment. Not long after she began her bone marrow transplant,” Elaine said. Elaine also did a short stint on a statewide show called Mississippi News Tonight. It was a 5 part series focusing on President Bush’s Points of Light humanitarian awards to Mississippians. She won an AP award for the series.
Prior to her position at WLOX, Elaine went to New York City and was hired as the production assistant on the Dick Cavett Show which aired on public television’s Channel 13, WNET. She had the good fortune of having a cousin who worked with Lorne Michael’s on Saturday Night Live who had heard that Cavett was in need of a replacement for Cherie Fortis, his production assistant at the time. She felt that Elaine would be perfect for the job. She was responsible for audience co-ordination and research as well as setting up the green room for Dick’s celebrity guests. She had the time of her life. Often sitting in on SNL rehearsals, she witnessed the behind the scenes antics and the constant drug use of the cast. “I was in the middle of some of the most exciting and famous moments in television history while I was in New York! I look back now and can hardly believe the experiences I had. Nothing was ever planned, I just let life show me the way and it has been an amazing adventure,” Elaine said. While working in New York she met Sophia Loren, Woody Allen. Bruce Dern, Truman Capote, Ted Turner, Muhammed Ali and many other stars.
After the marriage to Love ended, Elaine went to San Diego, California and opened her own production company. “I decided I wanted to do public relations and production work. We produced videos for corporations and did a documentary on the historic Balboa Theater in San Diego,” Elaine said. After 9/11, the public relations industry began to change and Elaine decided to do more literary projects. She completed two different books, serving as the co-author for each. The first was the story of Edward Fassel, who was one of the earliest Aids patients in the United States. The title was “Chameleon Hanging By My Tail,” and the entire content was taken from his personal journals about his pain, suffering and struggles. Next Elaine wrote the biography of Art Sapanli, a Turkish American gentleman who was a very prominent hotel executive, internationally known. It was called “The True Art of Living in America.” It is the story of his journey of raising his child alone after his wife committed suicide and his love and dedication to this country. “It is unusual for a Greek and a Turk to get along but we got along famously and we had a wonderful partnership,” she said.
Elaine returned to the Coast in 2002 in order to take care of her elderly mother. She began working in the non-profit sector with the Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Non-Violence. She also worked as the development director at St. Paul Catholic School in Pass Christian right before Katrina. The next stop on her incredible journey would be working with the president and general manager, Jon Lucas at the IP Casino Resort Spa. “I never, ever would have imagined I would work at a casino! I don’t gamble, I don’t understand it or even like it but when I was hired by Jon, who had such faith in me and empowered me, I couldn’t say no,” Elaine said. Elaine served as the Public Relations Manager at the IP for 6 years and she served on 8 Boards from December 2005 to January 2012. “Jon Lucas was such a joy to work with. He allowed me to spread love and money throughout the community, and to build the image of the IP. I was so proud to be a part of the rebranding process,” she said.
During her time at the IP Casino Resort Spa, Elaine continued with her production company interests and opened Stevens Media Productions & Consulting in 2009. She produced a television show which is now in rerun status, called “Art Beat, the Heartbeat of South Mississippi.” She interviewed and showcased outstanding talent of the area from the culinary arts to the performing arts. She hopes to bring it back with new episodes in the not too distant future. In the meantime, “The Unwrinkled Heart” series television which will explore the role of caregivers and the journey of dealing with a sick and elderly parent or family member, is very near completion. It has been a work in progress for quite some time. The brainchild of Kearn Cherry of PRN Home Care in Gulfport, Elaine is producing the show. Kearn will host the program each week with a format very similar to The View. A panel of experts will offer their advice and guidance in order to help caregivers navigate through these tough decisions and responsibilities. Kearn and Elaine are breaking new ground, touching on these sensitive issues that have never been addressed on television before. Air time is being purchased and sponsorship is being secured.
In addition, Elaine is producing a documentary with her partner, Francisco Gonzales on the Port Campaign in Gulfport. Francisco is a prominent, award winning cinematographer on the Coast. They were hired by the Steps Coalition, under a grant and work began on the project last Spring. “This is an extremely complicated project and changes constantly but we could not be more excited about it,” Elaine said. The Port Campaign documentary is expected to be viewed throughout the state and at various social justice film festivals.
Two years ago, Elaine and Francisco started working on another project in the hopes that it would entice film producers from all over the world to see South Mississippi as a major focal point for shooting independent films. When Elaine was released from her position at the IP, she entered into the project with Price Hall, “Artists Die Best in Black” which is now in the prep phase of development. It is a southern murder mystery, gothic thriller. It will be shot entirely in South Mississippi and the crew is predominantly South Mississippians. Elaine is the publicist for the film and Francisco Gonzales is the director of photography. Shooting begins the end of May for a schedule of five weeks. The release date is contingent on distributorship.
Elaine’s team is comprised of Tim Wall, editor, owner and general manager of WGUD TV and Phil Richardson, videographer, who Elaine calls her musical genius. Tom Parker of Wonga Studios created the logo for “The Unwrinkled Heart: Caregivers’ Journeys,” and is an expert in the field of animation and web site design. “We are all independent contractors. We all have other businesses but we collaborate on various projects when they come about and thoroughly enjoy working together when the opportunity presents itself. I rely on Tim, Tom, and Phil for their technical expertise,” Elaine said.
Always involved and engaged in numerous organizations, Elaine is on the Board of Directors for WAMA (Walter Anderson Museum of Art) and the Bethesda Free Clinic in Ocean Springs. She is a member of PRAM (Public Relations Association of Mississippi) and GCWA (Gulf Coast Writer’s Association) and the Vice President of programs for Lighthouse Business & Professional Women. Last but not least, a proud member of the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce. The Humane Society is most near and dear to her heart. She and her husband, Jim, own several dogs and one cat. Elaine was named one of Mississippi’s Top 50 Business Women in 2011 and voted one of 2010’s Top Community Leaders of South Mississippi. She also received a number of humanitarian awards–all thanks to IP Casino Resort Spa.
Elaine is currently writing her biography and memoir, “Mermaid In The Window.” She hopes to have it finished sometime next year. Writing poetry is also a special joy in her life and she is a voracious reader who buys books all the time. Elaine is also a newly wed! She married her soul mate, Jim Smith, in November and she has never been happier

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