Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jane Powell

I didn't quit movies. They quit me.
-Jane Powell

Happy Tuesday!
 On April 1st, I did a blog on one of my favorite actresses. Today, I'm writing about another. Not only did they both come out of the Hollywood studio system, they both share an April birthday. They sometimes even played sisters. 

Jane Powell (born Suzanne Lorraine Burce; April 1, 1929) is an American singer, dancer and actress.
 Jane Powell was singing and dancing at an early age.
Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds both often played the good girl next door. Debbie Reynolds, who I wrote about earlier, got somewhat of a head start on Jane Powell, whom I'm writing about today. 
Jane was the 50s answer to another operetta star from the thirties, Jeanette MacDonald.

Young Perky LIZ TAYLOR Jane POWELL Robert STACK Date with JUDY
Jane was brilliant in everything she did. Unfortunately, she arrived at MGM as the studio system was ending. After rising to fame as a singer in her home state of Oregon, Powell was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer while still in her teens.
Once there, the studio utilized her vocal, dancing and acting talents, casting her in such musicals as Royal Wedding, with Fred Astaire, A Date with Judy, with friend Elizabeth Taylor (Elizabeth was a brides maid when Jane got married the first time), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, with Howard Keel.

In the late 1950s, her film career slowed, only to be replaced with a busy theater and television career.
In 1958, she starred in The Girl Most Likely choreographed by Gower Champion.This was the last film that RKO produced. It was a musical remake of Tom, Dick, and Harry which the studio had produced in 1940. It was released almost two years after its completion, much to Gower's displeasure. It recounts the story of a rather flighty young woman, played by Jane Powell, who is engaged to three men-real estate salesman Tommy Noonan, boat mechanic Cliff Robertson, and millionaire Keith Andes-and her quandary as to which one she should marry. This year's Lifetime Award recipient for the Bistro Awards Kaye Ballard (replacing original choice Carol Channing who received this award last year!), dancer Kelly Brown, Judy Nugent, Una Merkel, and Frank Cady guide Powell in choosing the man she really loves, the mechanic; Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine crafted the tuneful score, which was effectively blended with Nelson Riddle's arrangements and Gower's choreography.
Director Mitch Leisen and producer Stanley Rubingave Gower a free hand in creating and shooting the musical numbers, which, in comparison to the rest of the film, have a style completely their own.
My life is focused around things I’m passionate about. ~ Jane Powell

 As of 2010, Powell lives with her fifth husband, former child star Dickie Moore, in New York City and Connecticut, and is still active in television and theater.
For the record,  she is not related to actors William Powell, Dick Powell, or Eleanor Powell.  The only child born to Paul E. Burce (a Wonder Bread employee) and Eileen Baker Burce (a housewife) in Portland, Oregon, Powell began dance lessons at the age of two. Powell was born a brunette, with straight hair.
In an attempt to liken her appearance to Shirley Temple, Powell's mother took her to get her first perm the same year she began dance lessons.
 It wasn't until she starred in Technicolor pictures that she became a blonde.

 At five, she appeared on the children's radio program Stars of Tomorrow. She also took dance lessons with Agnes Peters, and it was there that the Burce family met Scotty Weston, a talent scout and dance instructor.
 He convinced the family to move to Oakland for Powell to take dance lessons, in hopes of her being discovered. However, Weston's lessons were held in a large, dark, damp ballroom packed full of other starlet hopefuls, and after three months of living in a hotel room and eating meals cooked on a hot plate, the family moved back to Portland. Paul Burce had quit his job of 14 years to move to Oakland, and was unable to get it back when they returned. The family moved into an apartment building owned by friends, and Paul soon became the manager after the friends left. While there, and while helping her father take the garbage out, Powell would sing. Tenants insisted that Powell should take lessons, and after saving their money, began singing lessons for her.

At 12, Powell had her career taken over by a local promoter, Carl Werner, who helped her get selected as the Oregon Victory Girl. She traveled around the state for two years, singing and selling victory bonds.

It was during this time that she first met Lana Turner. Powell presented her with flowers and sang for her. Years later, when they met again at MGM, Turner did not remember her. According to Powell, even after meeting her many times, Turner never remembered who she was.
During her time as the Oregon Victory Girl, Powell had two weekly radio shows.

During the first, she sang with an organ accompaniment, and during the second, she sang with an orchestra and other performers.
She had attended Beaumont Grade School in Portland and Grant High School.
During the summer of 1943, Paul and Eileen Burce took their daughter on vacation to Hollywood. There, she appeared on Janet Gaynor's radio show Hollywood Showcase: Stars over Hollywood.
The show was a talent competition, and among the other contestants were Kathie Lee Gifford's mother, Joan Epstein. Powell won the competition, and soon auditioned with Louis B. Mayer at MGM as well as David O. Selznick.
Without even taking a screen test, Powell was then signed to a seven-year contract with MGM.

Within two months, Powell had been loaned out to United Artists for her first film, Song of the Open Road.
Powell's character in Song of the Open Road was named Jane Powell, and it was from this that her stage name was taken.
 In 1945, Powell sang Because at the wedding of Esther Williams and Ben Gage.
 Within her first few years at MGM, Powell made six films, appeared on radio programs, performed in theatre productions (including The Student Prince) and even sang at the inauguration ball for President Harry S. Truman on January 20, 1949.

Three Daring Daughters
 When not making films, Powell traveled to theaters around the country doing a vaudeville act, which she hated.
Powell's second film was Delightfully Dangerous, which Powell called the "worst movie she's ever made."
During her third film, Holiday in Mexico, Powell met her future friend, Roddy McDowall.  
Holiday in Mexico was her first Technicolor film; her first two films had been black and white.
Powell's charm and spunk made her stand out in her follow-up vehicle Three Daring Daughters, originally titled The Birds and the Bees, in which she co-starred with Jeanette MacDonald, who took the young performer under her wing.

 The film proved another hit and she was given top billing in a string of Joe Pasternak-produced musicals including A Date with Judy (1948) with schoolmate Elizabeth Taylor. She made Luxury Liner, a 1948 romantic musical comedy film, and Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) with Ann Sothern.
 Powell worked side by side with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951), when she was brought in to replace June Allyson, who had become pregnant, and then Judy Garland, who dropped out due to illness. According to film historian Robert Osborne, in a six-minute scene in the movie, Powell and Astaire match witty banter, sing and dance in a performance that showcased the actress's energy and talent.
 "We can also see her comic ability, in that number", Osborne said. "She's hilarious—chewing gum, swinging her hips, and acting like a 'tough broad'. It's too bad MGM didn't capitalize more on her comedic side."Her best-known film is probably Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), opposite Howard Keel, which gave her the opportunity to play a more mature character than previous films. Her other films include: Rich, Young and Pretty (1951), Small Town Girl (1953), Three Sailors and a Girl (1953), Athena (1954), Deep in My Heart (1954), Hit the Deck (1955), and The Girl Most Likely (1957). In 1956 Powell recorded a song, "True Love", that rose to 15 on the Billboard charts and 107 on the pop charts for that year, according to the Joel Whitburn compilation. This was her only single to make the charts.
Wikipedia was the main source for this blog. 

A testimonial

The very first day I worked on a soap opera (LOVING ABC-TV)  in the 1980s, Jane was working on.
I was just doing extra work, but sat quietly watching every scene - taking it all in. Jane noticed me, (obviously looking like a newbie), and welcomed me and said to have fun.
It meant the world to me. She was a HUGE star in my book and I was thrilled to just be watching her work. To be acknowledged by her was the icing on the cake.
Lou Ursone
Executive Director
Curtain Call, Inc.

Take Jane home with you:The Fred Astaire/Jane Powell Collection

Thank you, Jane,  so much for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world.
Your devoted fan,

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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!
Tomorrow's blog will be..Alan Eichler's Memories of Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

This Blog is dedicated to Al Koenig! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!


  1. Jane had the daunting task on several occasions of stepping into Eileen Fulton's shoes as the scheming Lisa on "As The World Turns". Jane played the role beautifully when Eileen was on sick leave. Jane was also a delight on the summer stock circuit in 1981 starring in "The Marriage Go Round" with David Hedison. I remember visiting with her after a performance and she was charming, gracious and genuine as well as delighted at the crowds that were turning out to see her.
    Paul E. Brogan

  2. Richard, with all the theatre work that Jane did in summer stock and road shows, etc., how is it that she never had a crack at HELLO, DOLLY!? She would have been the most adorable Dolly Levi imaginable -- probably like a cross between Mary Martin and Ruta Lee?