Las Vegas Review-Journal
Powell, golden-age musicals star, dies
She began performing around age 5
LOS ANGELES — 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.
Powell died Thursday at her Wilton, Connecticut, home, longtime friend Susan Granger said. Granger said Powell died of natural causes.
“Jane was the most wonderful friend,” Granger said. “She was candid, she was honest.”
Granger was a youngster when she met the then-teenaged Powell, who was making her film debut in 1944’s “Song of the Open Road,” directed by Granger’s father, S. Sylvan Simon.
She performed virtually her whole life, starting about age 5 as a singing prodigy on radio in Portland, Oregon. On screen, she quickly graduated from teen roles to the lavish musical productions that were a 20th-century Hollywood staple.
Her 1950 casting in “Royal Wedding” came by default. June Allyson was 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 Judy Garland was cast, but was withdrawn because of personal problems.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.
“The studio didn’t think it was going to do anything,” she recalled in 2000. “MGM thought that `Brigadoon’ was going to be the big moneymaker that year. It didn’t turn out that way. We were the ones that went to the Radio City Music Hall, which was always such a coup.”
Audiences were overwhelmed by the lusty singing of Keel and Powell and especially by the gymnastic choreography of Michael Kidd.
“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.”
After 13 years at MGM, though, Powell quit the studio, reasoning that she was going to be fired “because they weren’t going to be doing musicals anymore.”
“I thought I’d have a lot of studios to go to,” she said in 2000, “but I didn’t have any, because no one wanted to make musicals. It was very difficult, and quite a shock to me. There’s nothing worse than not being wanted.”