Jane Powell Had 'Grit and Spunk'

Star had leading roles in the golden age of musicals
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 16, 2021 6:50 PM CDT
Star Danced With Astaire in Royal Wedding
Jane Powell, left, Fred Astaire and Greer Garson pose for a photo in Los Angeles in 1953.   (AP Photo/Ellis Bosworth, File)

(Newser) – Jane Powell, the bright-eyed, operatic-voiced star of Hollywood's golden age musicals who sang with Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and danced with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding, has died. She was 92. A friend said Powell died Thursday at her Wilton, Connecticut, home of natural causes, the AP reports. Powell performed virtually her whole life, starting about age 5 as a singing prodigy on radio in Portland, Oregon. She made her first movie at 16 and graduated from teenage roles to costarring in the lavish musical productions that were a 20th-century Hollywood staple.

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Her 1950 casting in Royal Wedding came by default. June Allyson was first announced as Astaire's co-star but withdrew when she became pregnant. Judy Garland was cast but was withdrawn because of personal problems. Jane Powell was next in line. "They had to give it to me," she quipped at the time. "Everybody else is pregnant." Also among the expectant MGM stars: Lana Turner, Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, and Jean Hagen. Powell had just turned 21 when she got the role; Astaire was 50. She was nervous because she lacked dancing experience, but she found him "very patient and understanding. We got along fine from the start."

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers proved to be a 1954 "sleeper" hit. "MGM thought that Brigadoon was going to be the big moneymaker that year," she recalled in 2000. "It didn't turn out that way." Audiences were overwhelmed by the lusty singing of Keel and Powell and especially by the gymnastic choreography of Michael Kidd. Seven Brides achieved classic status and resulted in a TV series and a Broadway musical. "Blonde and small and pretty, Jane Powell had the required amount of grit and spunk that was needed to play the woman who could tame seven backwoodsmen," John Kobal wrote in his book Gotta Sing Gotta Dance: A Pictorial History of Film Musicals.

Powell quit MGM when the studio stopped making musicals. By the late 1950s, she was past teenage roles, per Variety. Powell transitioned to television, appearing in anthologies, variety shows, and even a 1959 production of Meet Me in St. Louis, taking the role Judy Garland played in the film. She toured during summers in musicals, and reunited with Keel for revivals, including Seven Brides. She also did soap operas. Her last TV appearance was in an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002. (Read more obituary stories.)

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