Jane Powell, actress who appeared in several theatrical musicals, dies at 92
By Carmel Dagan | Variety
LOS ANGELES – Jane Powell, who played the role of an angelic-faced young actress in a number of MGM musicals, including “Royal Wedding” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in the 1940s and 1950s, died of natural causes. She was 92 years old.
Blue-eyed blonde Powell typically played characters with a slight mischievous streak in her musicals, but she broke the light atmosphere of her films when she sang: A surprisingly powerful coloratura would emerge from the diminutive (5ft – 1) l ‘ esp. (Interestingly, she never learned to read music.)
His producer and mentor was Joe Pasternak of MGM, who had previously developed the talents of Deanna Durbin at Universal.
Auditioning for Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick, she quickly signed a seven-year contract with MGM in 1943. Her first film, on loan, was the 1944 musical “Song of the Open Road”, in which the actress played. a child movie star who runs away. She took her character’s name, Jane Powell, as her own.
In “Holiday in Mexico”, she performed with Walter Pidgeon as well as the pianist-conductor Jose Iturbi and the conductor Xavier Cugat as themselves; in “Three Daring Daughters,” his character is threatened by a relationship between his mother (Jeanette MacDonald) and Iturbi (like himself again); and in “A Date With Judy” (Powell was Judy, the teenager from Santa Barbara), she mingled with Father Wallace Beery, whom she mistakenly believes to be having an affair with the singer of Cugat, played by Carmen Miranda .
These teen-centric musicals, with their similar storylines, started to look alike after a while, but in 1951, Powell starred with Fred Astaire in Stanley Donen’s “Royal Wedding”, the musical in which Astaire dances ( solo) on the side walls and ceiling of a room. Powell (first June Allyson, then Judy Garland had been selected for the role) and Astaire played the role of a brother and sister who went to London in 1947 at the time of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding; Powell’s aristocratic love interest was played by Peter Lawford (the storyline echoed real-life Fred and his sister Adele).
The New York Times said, “Mr. Astaire and Miss Powell are at their cutest in a ragtag-and-barrel-house affair titled ‘How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You know I’ve been a liar my whole life. In it, the couple shimmy-shammy and bang each other – and the audience – dead. After “Royal Wedding,” however, Powell returned to the genre of musicals she had been making since the mid-1940s, although “Rich, Young and Pretty” was set in Paris (her long-lost mother was played by Danielle Darrieux).
She returned to work for Donen in the highly publicized 1954 tuner “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. In this heated affair, Powell starred alongside Howard Keel (and the rest of a necessarily large cast) in a somewhat more mature role than she had played before. The Times said: “Mr. Keel, whose baritone is as large and impressive as his frame; Miss Powell, who sings and acts like the pioneers; as well as their sturdy and energetic parents – and this must include the nubile and dancing damsels they kidnap – are a pleasure to watch and hear.
Also in 1954, in perhaps his most wacky (but nonetheless charming) role, Powell played a member of a vegetarian weightlifting family who got involved in a somewhat star-studded romance with a narrow politician ( Edmund Purdom) in “Athena”.
Powell also had a small role in Donen’s “Deep in My Heart” in 1954, starring Jose Ferrer and Merle Oberon.
In 1955, she performed with Debbie Reynolds and Ann Miller in “Hit the Deck”, a musical derivative of “Anchors Aweigh” and “On the Town”.
In 1956, Powell’s recording of “True Love” reached No. 15 on the Billboard charts, and the actress sang “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” at the Oscars that year.
Powell was aging out of the teenage roles she had been deliciously well suited for – the New York Observer said she “did enough soda fountain musicals at MGM to give herself a milkshake hangover at life “- and mostly found frustration in his later 1950s film roles.
The 1958 Hollywood melodrama “The Female Animal” saw Powell’s alcoholic daughter compete with her drunken movie star mother, played by Hedy Lamarr (in a returning role), for the affection of a youngster. extra, but the film was not a success. She was misinterpreted as the daughter of a cannibal leader in “Enchanted Island”, although “The Girl Most Likely”, a musicalized remake of Ginger Rogers’ vehicle “Tom, Dick and Harry”, was relatively successful even though Powell’s character was a little dizzy.
The actress had, however, been on television for a few years by this point, appearing on anthology shows such as “Producers’ Showcase”, “Goodyear Theater” and “Alcoa Theater” and variety shows such as “The Red Hour Skeleton She appeared in a 1959 small-screen version of “Meet Me in St. Louis” as Garland.
And she spent her summers filming in musicals such as “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, “Most Happy Fella”, “The Boy Friend”, “Brigadoon”, “The Sound of Music”, “Oklahoma!”, “My Fair!” Lady, ”“ Carousel ”,“ Meet Me in St. Louis ”and“ Peter Pan. ” In 1964, Powell toured the “Just 20 Plus Me!” Musical review, featuring Powell and 20 handsome guys.
In 1974, she made her only appearance on Broadway, replacing Reynolds in the title role of “Irene”.
She and Howard Keel have also reunited for stage work in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” covers, “I Do!” I do! ”And“ South Pacific ”.
On television, Powell made rigorous stops on “Fantasy Island,” “Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote,” and had a recurring role on the sitcom “Growing Pains” in the late 1980s as as Alan Thicke’s mother.
She shot the soap opera “Loving” in the 1980s and “As the World Turns” in the early 1990s. The actress also remained prominent on television through the commercials she did for Polident, and Powell is appeared in two TV movies in 2000: “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra” by Showtime and “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” by CBS.
She always performed on stage as well.
After touring in the early ’80s in the comedies “Same Time Next Year”, “Marriage-Go-Round” and “Chapter Two”, Powell appeared with Anne Meara in the late’ 90s in Meara’s comedy “After -Play “.
In 2000, she appeared on Off Broadway in the very irreverent comedy “Avow”. Charles Isherwood of Variety said: “Powell looks radiant and chic (I suspect she’s reviving an old performing tradition and wears her own clothes) and beats her many punch lines on the stage lights. the ramp with a leprechaun charm. “
In 2003, she appeared in “Bounce,” but Stephen Sondheim’s musical was unsuccessful and failed to make it to Broadway.
Powell made her last screen appearance in a 2002 episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” but she was still making concert appearances, performing with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2010.
The actress was also a guest host of Turner Classic Movies, replacing Robert Osborne while on sick leave for a week in 2011.
Born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in Portland, Oregon, she started dancing lessons at an early age and appeared on the children’s radio show “Stars of Tomorrow” at the age of 5. The family moved to Oakland, Calif., In hopes that they would be discovered in a dance teacher’s studio there, but nothing came of it and they returned home.
During World War II, she was chosen as the Oregon Victory Girl, spurring the sale of War Bonds.
During a family vacation to Hollywood in 1943, she won the Janet Gaynor radio talent competition “Hollywood Showcase: Stars Over Hollywood” and soon after secured a contract with MGM.
Powell was a member of the board of directors of the Actors Fund of America.
Her autobiography, “The Girl Next Door and How She Grew”, was published in 1988, and she wrote the foreword to Ken Bloom’s 2010 book “Hollywood Musicals: The 101 Greatest Song-and-Dance Movies of All Time” .
Powell has been married five times, with three children from the first two marriages.
Her first marriage was to former figure skater Gearhardt “Geary” Anthony Steffen. When they married in November 1949, Elizabeth Taylor was one of her bridesmaids.
Powell married her fifth husband, former child star Dickie Moore, in 1988. Moore died before Powell in 2015. She is survived by three children, Geary Anthony Steffen III, Suzanne Steffen and Lindsay Cavalli, as well as two granddaughters. daughters, Skye Cavalli and Tia Cavalli.