Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Late Great Jane Powell

Jane Powell is one of those stars from the Golden Age with whom I have been familiar since childhood. I saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) on broadcast network television and, like so many before me, I fell under Miss Powell's spell. As I grew older I would see more of her movies, including A Date with Judy (1948) and Royal Wedding (1951). In every role she played, she simply lit up the screen. It is to understand why she was one of the most successful stars of musicals in the Forties and Fifties. Sadly, Jane Powell died today, September 16 2021, at the age of 92.

Jane Powell was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce on April 1 1929 in Portland, Oregon. Her parents were instrumental in leading her to pursue a career in entertainment, seeing in her the potential for her to become another Shirley Temple. During World War II, when she was still a child, Jane Powell was already playing night clubs. Eventually she received her own weekly radio show. It was in 1943 that her family went on vacation in Hollywood. While there she appeared on a talent contest on Janet Gaynor's radio show Stars Over Hollywood. As a result she came to the notice of MGM, who signed her to a contract at $225 a week. At age 15 she was loaned to United Artists to appear in what would be her first movie, Song of the Open Road (1944). In the movie her character was named "Jane Powell," which she adopted as her stage name.

Jane Powell's second movie, Delightfully Dangerous (1945), would also be for United Artists. Her first film for MGM was Holiday in Mexico (1946). She was one of the three female leads in Three Daring Daughters (1948) and with A Date with Judy (1948) she received her first role as the primary lead. In the late Forties she also appeared in the movies Luxury Liner (1948), Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) and Two Weeks with Love (1950).

Jane Powell began the Fifties with one of her most famous roles, that of Ellen Bowen in Royal Wedding (1951). It was in 1954 that she appeared in what may be her most famous role, that of Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. During the decade she appeared in the films, Rich, Young and Pretty (1951), Small Town Girl (1953), Athena (1954), Deep in My Heart (1954), Hit the Deck (1955), The Girl Most Likely (1957), The Female Animal (1958), and Enchanted Island (1958).  She made her television debut in an episode of Producer's Showcase in 1957. She guest starred on the shows Goodyear Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, and The Dupont Show with June Allyson. In 1959 she played Esther in a television production of Meet Me in St. Louis.

In the Sixties Jane Powell's career shifted from movie to appearances on stage. In 1964 she played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Los Angeles' Valley West Theatre. She also played in productions of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Boy Friend, and The Sound of Music. She appeared frequently on television during the decade, including several appearances on The Red Skelton Show. She also guest appeared on the show The Dick Powell Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Tim Conway Hour. She appeared in the TV movies Hooray for Love and Feathertop. In 1961 she starred in an unsold pilot, The Jane Powell Show. In the pilot she played an actress and singer who marries a math professor who lives in a small California town.

In 1974 Jane Powell made her only appearance on Broadway in the production Irene. She also appeared on stage in productions of I Do! I Do! and South Pacific. She the voice of Celeste in the animated feature film Tubby the Tuba. During the Seventies she guest starred on the TV show Fantasy Island. She appeared in the TV movies Wheeler and Murdoch, The Letters, and Mayday at 40,000 Feet.

In the Eighties Miss Powell played the recurring role of Irma Seaver, the mother of lead character Dr. Jason Roland Seaver (Alan Thicke), on the sitcom Growing Pains. She guest starred on the shows Fantasy Island; Love Boat; and Murder, She Wrote. She appeared in the movie Marie (1985). In the Nineties she was a temporary substitute for the role of Lisa Grimaldi usually played by Eileen Fulton on the soap opera As the World Turns. She appeared in the mini-series Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder and in the TV movie The Sandy Bottom Orchestra. She appeared in the movie Picture This (1999). In 2002 she guest starred on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Jane Powell had very close ties with Turner Classic Movies. In fact, she was tied to the cable channel from the very beginning, as one of the people present at TCM's launch on April 14 1994, along with Robert Osborne, Ted Turner, Celeste Holm, Van Johnson, and Arlene Dahl. She attended the TCM Classic Film Festival and also sailed aboard the TCM Classic Cruise.

Quite simply, Jane Powell was one of the greatest musical stars of all time. She had an incredible voice that served her well in multiple movies and stage musicals. What is more, she had an effervescence and charisma that made her irresistible. Many think of Jane Powell's roles as always being that of the girl next door, but she actually did play much more. Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was strong willed and stubborn enough to go head to head with seven mountain men. In The Girl Most Likely she played a woman who becomes engaged to three men at the same time. On Murder, She Wrote, she played the mother superior of a convent. Jane Powell was one of the last stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. What is more, she was ever inch a star.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Yes, indeed Jane was every inch the star. I enjoyed your lovely tribute as it brought back happy memories of seeing Jane on stage with Howard Keel in productions of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and South Pacific.