Jane Powell


Actor, Singer
Jane Powell

About

Also Known As
Suzanne Burce
Birth Place
Portland, Oregon, USA
Born
April 01, 1929

Biography

With a light-up-a-room smile, mesmerizing hazel eyes, and a trademark perky demeanor, Jane Powell incarnated the last gasp of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's era of feel-good musicals and the wholesome performers who inhabited these Technicolor extravaganzas. Powell emerged from a troubled childhood to find a spot in MGM's stable of child stars, doing a string of plucky love-struck teen roles in B...

Photos & Videos

A Date with Judy - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Royal Wedding - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Father of the Bride - Elizabeth Taylor Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Family & Companions

Geary Steffen
Husband
Ice skater. Married 1949, divorced 1954.
Pat Nerney
Husband
Automobile dealer. Married 1954, divorced 1963.
James Fitzgerald
Husband
Public relations executive. Married June 27, 1965; divorced.
David Parlour
Husband
Producer, writer. Married 1978; divorced.

Bibliography

"The Girl Next Door ... and How She Grew"
Jane Powell, William Morrow (1988)

Biography

With a light-up-a-room smile, mesmerizing hazel eyes, and a trademark perky demeanor, Jane Powell incarnated the last gasp of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's era of feel-good musicals and the wholesome performers who inhabited these Technicolor extravaganzas. Powell emerged from a troubled childhood to find a spot in MGM's stable of child stars, doing a string of plucky love-struck teen roles in B-musicals of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Wielding a powerful soprano voice, she would secure a place in the pantheon of classic musicals in the lead of the 1954 film adaptation of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Though her movie glory days lasted only a decade, she transitioned into television and eventually took her penchant for classic musicals on regional theatrical tours. Grossly insecure, she would cycle through a series of marriages and struggle with severe depression, belying her longtime public image. Yet she would remain active in stage and television productions late into her life. For a generation, however, Powell would forever embody the archetype of the all-American girl-next-door, remaining a symbol of the proverbial shinier, simpler good ole' days.

She was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce on April 1, 1929, in Portland, OR, to Paul and Eileen Burce, an unhappy couple who saw in their precocious girl a chance to escape their modest means, seeing her as child-star heir apparent to Shirley Temple. They saved up to pay for dance lessons for Suzanne when she was only three, which three years later drew the attentions of a talent scout who convinced the family to move to Oakland, CA, ostensibly to be a mid-market stopover before conquering Hollywood. A promised project never materialized, the agent took a powder, and the Burces moved back to Portland - all of which was another setback exacerbating Eileen's alcohol abuse. The actress later confessed in her 1988 autobiography that she felt exploited by her mother and learned to repress her negative feelings for fear of aggravating Eileen, even to the point that after she was molested by other youthful residents in the family's apartment complex, the youngster said nothing so as not to upset her mother. Meanwhile, Suzanne added singing lessons to her regimen, earned appearances on local radio shows, and by age 11, had her own radio show on Portland radio station KOIN. When the U.S. entered World War II, she was selected Oregon's "Victory Girl," appearing across the state at war-bond drives.

In 1943, Suzanne won a spot on a radio talent show in Los Angeles. It led to a succession of radio appearances in the entertainment capital, including one on the popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy show, piquing the interest of Shirley Temple's then-studio, MGM, which signed her to a contract. The Burces moved to L.A., where she attended the studio's Little Red Schoolhouse, renowned for teaching its famed stable of child stars like Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, but she won little work and initially felt isolated and depressed. Her first two films, in fact, would be loan-outs to United Artists. "Song of the Open Road" (1944) introduced the newly christened Jane Powell, playing a young teen star named Jane Powell who, fed up with her goody-two-shoes public image, makes a musical sojourn to the real world. She followed that with "Delightfully Dangerous" (1945), a standard girl-hoping-to-make-it-big flick. It was not until 1946 that MGM put her in an in-house production, "Holiday in Mexico," an airy musical whose story basically served as padding between songs by Powell and her castmates. The film became a staging point for her; her onscreen romantic interest, a young Roddy McDowall, became a lifelong friend; producer Joe Pasternak became the shepherd of many of her projects; and the movie's formula - show folk in fluffy, interchangeable plots enabling song-and-dance in scenic locations - would become the Powell stock-in-trade.

That very same template would manifest with a series of crowd-pleasers, including "Three Daring Daughters" (1948), "A Date with Judy" (1948), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, "Luxury Liner" (1948), "Nancy Goes to Rio" (1950) and "Two Weeks With Love" (1950). Taylor would stand as Powell's bridesmaid upon her marriage to ice-skater Geary Steffen the next year. Many of the songs off her chirpy, colorful B-pictures migrated onto Powell albums issued by Columbia Records, such as 1949's A Date with Jane Powell. MGM moved her song-and-dance routine into the A-picture realm with "Royal Wedding" (1951) by pairing her with none other than Fred Astaire, with the two playing siblings in spite of Astaire being three decades her senior. Later in 1951, during the shooting of the seemingly literalist "Rich, Young and Pretty" (1951), she discovered she was pregnant by her first husband. She bore the first of her and Steffen's two children, Geary ("G.A.") Steffen III, with daughter Suzanne arriving the next year. She resumed playing to type as the disarming all-American ingénue in "Small Town Girl" (1953) and "Three Sailors and a Girl" (1953), during the making of which she began an affair with co-star Gene Nelson. They divorced their respective spouses, intending to wed, but Nelson backed out. Insecure about being alone, she married car dealer Patrick Nerney the following year, the union producing a daughter, Lindsey, two years later.

In 1954, Powell would snare her signature role as the Alpha-female in the phalanx of would-be wives in the Stanley Donen-directed Technicolor musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," opposite booming baritone and onscreen love interest Howard Keel. MGM returned her to more contemporary song-and-dance comedies in tandem with fellow sprite Debbie Reynolds in "Athena" (1954) and "Hit the Deck" (1955), yet when Louie B. Mayer, MGM's longtime champion of musical treacle, departed the studio, Powell foresaw the genre's imminent decline. She quit, she later discovered, not long before new studio chief Dore Schary had planned to cut her loose. The new free agent began turning up in guest appearances on television shows, such as "The Goodyear Theatre" (NBC, 1957-1960), "Alcoa Theatre" (NBC, 1957-1960) and "What's My Line" (CBS, 1950-1967). She was drawn particularly to variety shows that could showcase her song-and-dance skills, such as Dinah Shore, Judy Garland, Red Skelton and Andy Williams' eponymous showcases, and two big-ticket made-for-TV remakes of "Ruggles of Red Gap" (1957) and "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1959). She returned to the movies with a triumvirate of 1958 releases - two rare non-musical dramatic outings, playing Hedy Lamarr's daughter in Lamarr's final film, "The Female Animal" and a Polynesian girl-next-door in the low-budget Melville adaptation "Enchanted Island," as well as a last light-hearted movie musical, "The Girl Most Likely."

Powell continued voluminous TV guest-work through the 1960s, in addition to taking roles in touring and regional versions of Broadway plays, among them such staples as "South Pacific," "The Sound of Music," "Oklahoma!" "My Fair Lady," "Carousel" - some of the productions reuniting her with Keel. By now her relationship with Nerney had floundered and they divorced in 1963. She married Jim Fitzgerald in 1965, who took over managing her career - poorly, by her later estimate. She did, however, make her Broadway debut in 1973 in "Irene," replacing Debbie Reynolds in the title role of the plucky, blue-collar Irish woman wooed into New York high-society circles. By the mid-1970s, her relationship with Fitzgerald also deteriorated, as would her relationship with children G.A. and Suzanne - all of which led to a nervous breakdown. In 1974, Fitzgerald reportedly intervened in an attempted suicide by Powell. Though she convalesced for a time in a hospital, she did not receive psychiatric treatment until years later. Powell and Fitzgerald divorced the next year. By the end of the 1970s, she settled into a schedule of telefilms and guest appearances on TV staples of the time such as "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1978-1984), "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986), and "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), eventually taking on a recurring role as the grandmother on the popular family sitcom "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992).

After another marriage that ended in 1981, she gave an interview to fellow ex-child star Dickie Moore, who was working on a book and the two began a relationship. She moved to New York in 1982, cohabitated with Moore and married him in 1988, the same year she published her confessional autobiography The Girl Next Door and How She Grew. Still spry by the late-1980s, she teamed up with the Arthritis Foundation to appear in the exercise video "Fight Back with Fitness," specifically designed for senior citizens, In the early 1990s, she periodically stood in for actress Eileen Fulton in her long-running role on the soap "As The World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010), and continued to add to her stage résumé with a stint in a New York production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," an East Coast run in the Anne Meara-penned play "After-Play," and two 2000 productions, "Avow" and "70, Girls, 70." In 2003, she took a featured role in the Showtime made-for-TV movie "The Sandy Bottom Orchestra," and trod the boards again in Chicago and Washington, D.C. runs of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Bounce."

By Matthew Grimm

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (2000)
Delia Ferguson
Nelson And Jeanette: America's Singing Sweethearts (1993)
Host
Marie: A True Story (1985)
Mayday At 40,000 Feet! (1976)
The Letters (1973)
The Female Animal (1958)
Penny Windsor
The Girl Most Likely (1958)
Dodie
Enchanted Island (1958)
Fayaway
Hit the Deck (1955)
Susan Smith
Deep in My Heart (1954)
[performer in] "Maytime"
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Milly
Athena (1954)
Athena [Mulvain]
Jamboree (1954)
Herself
Small Town Girl (1953)
Cindy Kimbell
Three Sailors and a Girl (1953)
Penny Weston
Rich, Young and Pretty (1951)
Elizabeth Rogers
Royal Wedding (1951)
Ellen Bowen
Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)
Nancy Barklay
Two Weeks with Love (1950)
Patti Robinson
A Date with Judy (1948)
Judy Foster
Luxury Liner (1948)
Polly Bradford [also known as Polly Murphy]
Three Daring Daughters (1948)
Tess Morgan
Holiday in Mexico (1946)
Christine Evans
Delightfully Dangerous (1945)
Cheryl "Sherry" Williams
Song of the Open Road (1944)
Jane Powell

Cast (Special)

Private Screenings: Jane Powell (1995)
An Evening With Alan Jay Lerner (1989)
Happy Birthday, Hollywood! (1987)
The Eleventh Annual Circus of the Stars (1986)
The Night of 100 Stars II (1985)
Feathertop (1961)
Julie Balfour
The Jane Powell Show (1961)
Host
Ruggles of Red Gap (1957)
Clementine

Music (Special)

An Evening With Alan Jay Lerner (1989)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (International) (1955)
Herself
Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955) (1955)
Herself
Sheboygan (1950)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (2000)

Life Events

1944

Made film debut (as herself) in "Song of the Open Road"

1946

Signed with MGM; first film there, "Holiday in Mexico"

1948

Played title role opposite Elizabeth Taylor in "A Date with Judy"

1951

Co-starred with Fred Astaire in the romantic comedy "Royal Wedding"

1954

Cast as Milly in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

1955

Last film at MGM, "Hit the Deck"

1958

Last starring role in a feature film, "Enchanted Island"

1959

Kept busy during the late 50s and early 60s on TV, including a remake of the Vincente Minnelli musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), playing Judy Garland's role of Esther Smith

1973

Broadway debut in revival of "Irene"; took lead role after Debbie Reynolds left the cast

1985

Made a brief appearance in the feature "Marie: A True Story"; billed as a "rally singer"

1990

Briefly appeared on the CBS soap opera "As the World Turns" as Lisa, replacing an ailing Eileen Fulton

1991

Hosted PBS series "The Musicals," introducing classic Hollywood musicals

1996

Returned to New York stage in Anne Meara's play "After-Play"

1996

Again replaced an ailing Eileen Fulton as Lisa on "As the World Turns"

1999

Returned to feature films playing a ditsy art patron in the independent "Picture This"

2000

Appeared in a limited-run revival staging of the Kander & Ebb musical "70, Girls, 70"

2000

Returned to the NYC stage as co-star of the play "Avow"

2000

Landed featured role in the Showtime movie "The Sandy Bottom Orchestra"

2002

Guest starred on an episode of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

2007

Featured in the documentary "Royal Wedding: June, Judy and Jane"

Photo Collections

A Date with Judy - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's A Date with Judy (1948), starring Wallace Beery, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Powell, and Robert Stack.
Royal Wedding - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken during the production of Royal Wedding (1951), starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, and Peter Lawford.
Father of the Bride - Elizabeth Taylor Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here is a group of photos of Elizabeth Taylor taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Father of the Bride (1950).
Nancy Goes to Rio - Movie Poster
Here is the original-relese One-Sheet movie poster from MGM's Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), starring Jane Powell, Ann Sothern, Barry Sullivan, and Carmen Miranda.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of Publicity Stills from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Royal Wedding - Movie Poster
Here is the One-Sheet movie poster for Royal Wedding (1951) staring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell.
Two Weeks with Love - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Two Weeks with Love (1950). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Small Town Girl - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Small Town Girl (1953). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Hit the Deck - Movie Poster
Here is the insert movie poster for Hit the Deck (1955), starring Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Rynolds, and Vic Damone.
Hit the Deck - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Hit the Deck (1955), starring Jane Powell, Tony Martin, and Debbie Reynolds.
Nancy Goes to Rio - Jane Powell Publicity Stills
Here is a series of Stills taken to promote Jane Powell in Nancy Goes to Rio (1950). These Publicity Stills show Jane engaging in a variety of domestic activities.
Small Town Girl - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Small Town Girl (1953). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Girl Most Likely, The (1958) - Gotta Keep Up With The Joneses Maybe not a surprise, this vigorous fantasy number to a Hugh Martin/Ralph Blaine original is choreographed by Gower Champion, Jane Powell the title character, Tommy Noonan (dubbed by Robert Oates) one of her three suitors, in Jane’s first film away from MGM, The Girl Most Likely, 1958.
Athena (1954) - Harmonize Perturbed lawyer Adam (Edmund Purdom) at the home of mystically inclined fitness nuts, Louis Calhern as Grandpa, Jane Powell the title character, Debbie Reynolds and Vic Damone in chorus, and Steve Reeves the disdainful body-builder, another Martin & Blane song, in MGM’s Athena, 1954.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) - Wonderful, Wonderful Day Jane Powell’s first solo song, as Millie, spontaneously married to Oregon backwoodsman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), for now having no idea he has brothers, composed by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, direction by Stanley Donen, in MGM’s Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, 1954.
Girl Most Likely, The (1958) - I Don't Know What I Want Jane Powell, shot in 1956 but not released until 1958, due to finance issues at RKO, finally released by Universal, with an original by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine, as the title character, in the remake of the Ginger Rogers vehicle Tom, Dick And Harry, 1941, The Girl Most Likely, 1958.
Royal Wedding (1951) - How Could You Believe Me... Jane Powell and Fred Astaire as Brother-Sister Act "Tom and Ellen Bowen," performing the Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner tune with a very long name in Royal Wedding, 1951, choreography by Nick Castle.
Hit The Deck (1955) - A Kiss Or Two First scene and first song for Debbie Reynolds, tune by Vincent Youmans, Leo Robin and Clifford Grey, with sailor Danny (Russ Tamblyn) visiting rehearsal, concerned that his un-worldly sister (Jane Powell, not seen here) is expecting to audition, in MGM’s Hit The Deck, 1955.
Hit The Deck (1955) - Lucky Bird We’ve just met top-billed Jane Powell as San Franciscan Susan, sister of sailor Danny (Russ Tamblyn), who’s returned from his Arctic tour of duty with a present, song by Vincent Youmans, Leo Robin and Clifford Grey, in the MGM Pasternak-unit musical Hit The Deck, 1955.
Royal Wedding (1951) - Open Your Eyes Jane Powell (as "Ellen Bowen") with opera-quality soprano for Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's "Open Your Eyes," then dancing in a shipboard ballroom with brother Tom (Fred Astaire), in MGM's Royal Wedding, 1951.
Royal Wedding (1951) - Every Nite At Seven The opening number presaging the story line, Fred Astaire and Jane Powell on the Broadway stage as brother and sister act Tom and Ellen Bowen, with a Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner original, Stanley Donen directing, in the Freed Unit’s Royal Wedding, 1951.
Three Daring Daughters (1948) - The Dickey Bird Tess, Alix and Ilka (Jane Powell, Mary Eleanor Donahue, Ann E. Todd) have just been told their fashion-editor single mom (Jeanette MacDonald) needs to take a cruise, and it's settled with a song by Howard Dietz and Sammy Fein, in Three Daring Daughters, 1948, from MGM producer Joe Pasternak.
Three Daring Daughters (1948) - Never A Serious Divorce Sisters Jane Powell, Mary Eleanor Donahue, and Ann E. Todd visit publisher Nelson (Edward Arnold), guarded by his secretary (Dick Simmons), in the mistaken belief that he employs their father, Jane's song "Passepied," attributed to French composer Leo Delibes, in Three Daring Daughters, 1948.
Athena (1954) - Vocalize Nutty numerologist and amateur gardener Jane Powell (title character) has inserted herself into the household of lawyer Adam (Edmund Purdom), mulching to a Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane tune, meeting singer-client Johnny (Vic Damone) on the way out, in MGM’s Athena, 1954.

Trailer

Enchanted Island - (Original Trailer) Dana Andrews finds an Enchanted Island (1958). Unfortunately it's inhabited by cannibals! Loosely based on Herman Melville's Typee.
Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
Athena - (Original Trailer) A society lawyer falls in love with the daughter (Jane Powell) of a family of fitness fanatics in Athena (1954).
Two Weeks With Love - (Original Trailer) Two sisters (Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds) find romance during a turn-of-the-century family vacation in MGM's Technicolor musical Two Weeks With Love (1950).
Royal Wedding - (Original Trailer) A brother and sister dance act from New York perform for the aristocracy in London in Royal Wedding (1951).
Rich, Young and Pretty - (Original Trailer) A rancher's daughter visits Paris to meet her mother and find love in Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) starring Jane Powell.
Nancy Goes To Rio - (Original Trailer) Ann Sothern and Jane Powell are mother-and-daughter Broadway stars in the lightweight MGM musical Nancy Goes To Rio (1950).
Small Town Girl (1953) - (Original Trailer) Performances by Ann Miller and Nat 'King' Cole and Busby Berkeley's choreography highlight Small Town Girl (1953).
Holiday in Mexico - (Original Trailer) An ambassador's daughter (Jane Powell) falls for a famous musician on Holiday In Mexico (1946).
Girl Most Likely, The - (Original Trailer) A girl accepts three wedding proposals at once and dreams of marriage to each man in the musical remake of Tom, Dick and Harry, The Girl Most Likely (1957).
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - (Re-issue Trailer) When their older brother marries, six lumberjacks decide it's time to go courting for themselves in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).
Hit the Deck - (Original Trailer) Sailors on leave in San Francisco get mixed up in love and show business in Hit the Deck (1955), starring Jane Powell and Tony Martin.

Family

Paul Burce
Father
Eileen Burce
Mother
Geary Steffen Jr
Son
Born 1951.
Suzanne Ileen Steffen
Daughter
Born 1952.
Lindsay Averill Nerney
Daughter
Born 1955; married Richard Cavelli October 20, 1990.

Companions

Geary Steffen
Husband
Ice skater. Married 1949, divorced 1954.
Pat Nerney
Husband
Automobile dealer. Married 1954, divorced 1963.
James Fitzgerald
Husband
Public relations executive. Married June 27, 1965; divorced.
David Parlour
Husband
Producer, writer. Married 1978; divorced.
Dick Moore
Husband
Public relations executive; former child actor. Married 1988.

Bibliography

"The Girl Next Door ... and How She Grew"
Jane Powell, William Morrow (1988)