The late Jane Powell, a musical icon of classic Hollywood, has taken her place among the stars who have left us.
Miss Powell, 92, who died on Sept. 16 left behind a number of films for us to enjoy. They are in the MGM library of Turner Classic Movies, and I have enjoyed watching them over the years. In fact, she had a long relationship with TCM, sometimes appearing with the late host Robert Osborne and others to introduce and celebrate films on the network.
Like many folks, I most recall about her big, round and deep blue eyes. You could not forget those eyes, which were on par with Elizabeth Taylor’s lavender eyes and Paul Newman’s sparkling blues. Her eyes were as memorable as her lilting soprano voice.
Miss Powell was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in Portland, Oregon — an only child to parents who believed she child might be the next Shirley Temple. She became a child star at 14 having signed a seven-year contract with MGM. Her first film found her starring alongside Edgar Bergen and W.C. Fields in 1944’s “Song of the Open Road.” She would go on to dance with Fred Astaire in 1951 in “Royal Wedding.”
Always cast as the girl next door, Miss Powell, Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were schooled together at MGM. Miss Powell had only great regard for studio boss Louis B. Mayer — she said at one point she never believed stars should blame the studio when things did not go their way. She believed actors and actresses were responsible for their own happiness.
Her biggest hit was the 1954 film musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which became one of MGM’s top musicals and grossed huge sums at the box office. She is a charming spitfire in the film, a perfect foil for star Howard Keel and a standout among the remarkable cast.
Later in life, as a widow, she lived in Wilton, Connecticut, with her toy poodle, Venus, and her Persian cat, Dusty, and she spent her days in the garden. She had been married for 28 years to the child star Dickie Moore, her fifth husband, and credited him with giving her many happy years.
She was a popular singer, so popular that Harry Truman selected her to perform at his 1949 inauguration. She also sang at the Academy Awards and at Hollywood weddings, including the nuptials of Esther Williams and Ben Gage.
Retaining lifelong friendships was a must for her. She was a bridesmaid at Taylor’s wedding in 1950 to Nicky Hilton in Beverly Hills; and she and Reynolds were solid buddies — she even replaced Debbie in 1974 as the leading lady in the Broadway show “Irene.”
Jane and Debbie lived in Manhattan for a number of years, but when demands for her talents waned, Jane moved out of the city to her weekend home in Wilton, a home that she so loved and in which she found what she called freedom.
She also had at least one Palm Beach connection. In 2003, she was cast in the original production of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical “Bounce,” playing the mother of the architect Addison Mizner and his bon vivant brother Wilson. The production toured but never made it to Broadway. The show was eventually extensively retooled and opened in 2008 in New York as “Road Show” but Miss Powell was no longer in the cast.
On a decorating note, her tastes were what one would call an eclectic mix of Americana — what I call comfortable. Art on the walls included many film posters, including some of her late husband’s "Little Rascals" one-sheet promotional posters.
She loved the outside of her country-style home, along with its one-bedroom guest house where she stored many of her theatrical costumes.
On the grounds, two bronze life-size horse sculptures pranced amongst the foliage. Nearby was a country pond-style swimming pool. The setting was idyllic, a slice of heaven for this Golden Age star.
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