JANE POWELL (1929-2021)

Forever remembered for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, Jane Powell has died at the age of 92. Known for her beautiful soprano voice, Jane shared the ‘girl next door’ image at MGM with Debbie Reynolds.

In a quote from USA Today, the petite blonde  said, “I was at MGM for 11 years and nobody ever let me play anything but teenagers.”

Born Suzanne Lorraine Burce, Jane was singing and dancing from a very young age and her parents moved  from Oregon to Los Angeles.

An MGM contract in  1943 started a series of musicals for Jane, though her first film was on loan-out to United Artists for Song  of the Open Road in which she played a girl called Jane Powell. Without consulting her, MGM informed her that this would be her stage name.

With Louis Calhern, Scotty Beckett and Ann Sothern. NANCY GOES TO RIO.

Jane played Wallace Beery’s daughter in “A Date With Judy”; Jeanette MacDonald’s daughter in “Three Daring Daughters”; and Ann Sothern’s daughter in “Nancy Goes to Rio.” (‘Rio’ was made in 1950 by which time Jane was 23 and married, but still playing teenagers.)

 

With Jeanette MacDonald. Three Daring Daughters

 

With Peter  Lawford, Fred Astaire and Sarah Churchill. ROYAL WEDDING.

When it came to ROYAL WEDDING, Jane could have easily played Fred Astaire’s daughter, but the role was that of Fred’s sister – she was 21, Fred was 50! But it worked. Their number, “How Could You Believe Me…..” is wonderful.

Not first choice for the role ( she replaced June Allyson, then Judy Garland.), Jane had a beautiful song, “Too Late Now”  which became a hit.  (Jane can be seen on You Tube singing this song at the Hollywood  Bowl in 2010.)

 

With director Stanley Donen. Royal Wedding.

In a 2017 interview in the Connecticut Post with Frank  Rizzo, Jane talked about working with Astaire:

”He was wonderful to me. I rehearsed with a stand in and didn’t do anything with him until everything was fine. But he was a very private man. I was terrified dancing with him, but I was terrified all the time anyway.”

 

With Fred Astaire.

 

With Farley Granger and Bobby Van.

 

 

Jane played the Judy Garland role in a TV version of “Meet Me in St.Louis “, with Tab Hunter (1959).

 

With Dickie Moore, whom Jane married in 1988 (her fifth marriage). They were together until his death in 2015.

In 1961, Jane filmed a TV pilot (“The Jane Powell Show”) which wasn’t picked up. It can be seen on You Tube and looks good, with Jane as a performer who leaves show business when she marries a college professor played by Russell Johnson.)

Jane reinvented her career when the film roles ( in particular musicals) dried up. She only made about 20 films. Thereafter she sang in nightclubs and did many stage appearances in My Fair Lady, The Boy Friend, Brigadoon, Carousel.

She re-united with Howard Keel in South Pacific, Seven Brides for Seven  Brothers and I Do, I Do (which I saw in Los Angeles.) And Jane took over from Debbie Reynolds in “Irene “ on Broadway.

Plus many television appearances.

 

Jane’s interviews indicate that she felt she missed out on a normal childhood ( reminds me of Dean Stockwell saying similar things.)

I must read her autobiography, “The Girl Next Door, and How She Grew.” (1988). She had such a lovely voice, it’s not clear what vocal training she had, and I wonder if she ever considered operatic roles.

She had ,over the years, appeared many times on TCM and was an excellent interviewee – one story she told was how she and Elizabeth Taylor were bridesmaids at each of their first weddings – Jane suggested it was better to stop then, in view of all their subsequent weddings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 responses »

  1. I didn’t care for Jane’s winsome image at Metro but liked her in later years . She was outstanding as a victim of elder abuse in an episode of Law And Order SVU. I love the story about her (heavily over amplified) tour of South Pacific. Her microphone was left on after an exit and she could be heard chatting to a cast member about someone who ‘ married the Texas oil millionaire and got all the money’!

  2. So glad you mentioned “Royal Wedding”. I so liked all involved, including of course the fine Lane-Lerner score. Lived in UK for many years and had such a bad falling out due in ’85 to xenophobia on their part (including after proved work from me, for fellow British Equity members in a show I’d cast) – but refuse to be bitter and much appreciate your wonderful website. Sarah Churchill of course, so good in that movie as well.
    I’ve also greatly enjoyed Noel Coward’s witty mentions of Jane Powell.
    Seems they don’t make ’em like US anymore haha! Thanks Vienna.

  3. I doubt her voice would have been right for opera. Perhaps lighter roles. Unless you have trained for that it’s difficult to take it on. Interestingly Kathryn Grayson appeared at a couple of regional opera houses. I wonder how she was received?

    • That’s interesting as I think Grayson did in fact have opera training – and was still I believe, teaching singers herself until very shortly before her death.
      Coward’s remarks were admiring of Powell, then also I think appearing in Las Vegas when he was. I imagine she’d have had just the right kind of voice for many of his operettas.

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