Jane Powell

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Jane Powell
Jane Powell 1952.jpg
Studio headshot, 1952
Suzanne Lorraine Burce

(1929-04-01) April 1, 1929 (age 92)
OccupationActress, singer, dancer
Years active1944–2004 (acting)
Height5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Geary Steffen
(m. 1949; div. 1953)

Patrick Nerney
(m. 1954; div. 1963)

James Fitzgerald
(m. 1965; div. 1975)

David Parlour
(m. 1978; div. 1981)

(m. 1988; died 2015)

Jane Powell (born Suzanne Lorraine Burce; April 1, 1929) is an American actress, singer and dancer who rose to fame in the mid-1940s with roles in various Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals. She is one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.

Powell was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, where she achieved local fame as a singer, touring the state as the Oregon Victory Girl selling victory bonds. As a teenager, she relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Powell's vocal, dancing, and acting talents were utilized for lead and supporting roles in musicals such as A Date with Judy (1948, with friend Elizabeth Taylor), Royal Wedding (1951, with Fred Astaire), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, with Howard Keel) and Hit the Deck (1955).

By the late 1950s, her film career slowed, leading her to transition to theatre with performances in various touring shows as well as two Broadway productions. In 1985, Powell relocated with her fifth husband, former child star Dickie Moore (who died in 2015), to New York City and Wilton, Connecticut, where she is occasionally active in local theatre.

Early life[edit]

Powell was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce, the only child born to Paul E. Burce (a Wonder Bread employee) and Eileen Baker Burce (a housewife), on April 1, 1929, in Portland, Oregon. Powell began dance lessons at the age of two. 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.[1]

Aged five, she appeared on the children's radio program Stars of Tomorrow. She also took dance lessons with Agnes Peters, and there the Burce family met Scotty Weston, a talent scout and dance instructor. He convinced the family to move to Oakland, California 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 she should take lessons, and after saving their money, bought singing lessons for her.[2]

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 began singing live on the local Portland radio station, KOIN,[3] and traveled the state for two years, singing and selling victory bonds. During this time, 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.[2]

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.[2] At one time she was billed singing alongside Johnnie Ray, also from Oregon.[4] She had attended Beaumont Grade School in Portland.

In summer 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.[5] 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 for Louis B. Mayer at MGM, as well as for David O. Selznick. Without even taking a screen test, Powell was then signed to a seven-year contract with MGM.[6][7] Within two months, Powell was loaned to United Artists for her first film, Song of the Open Road.[8] Powell's character in Song of the Open Road was named Jane Powell, and her stage name was taken from this.[9]

In 1945, Powell sang "Because" at the wedding of Esther Williams and Ben Gage.[10]


MGM contract[edit]

Powell in A Date with Judy (1948)

Within her first few years at MGM, Powell made six films, appeared on radio programs, performed in theatre productions (including The Student Prince)[11] and even sang at the inauguration ball for President Harry S. Truman on January 20, 1949. When not making films, Powell traveled to theaters around the country doing a vaudeville act, which she hated.[12] Powell's second film was Delightfully Dangerous, which she called the "worst movie I've ever made."[2] 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,[13] 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 (1948), a romantic musical comedy, and Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) with Ann Sothern. She also starred in Two Weeks With Love (1950) with Ricardo Montalbán.

Powell dancing with Ricardo Montalbán in Two Weeks With Love (1950)
Powell in Royal Wedding (1951)

Powell worked side by side with Fred Astaire and Peter Lawford in Royal Wedding (1951), when she was brought in to replace June Allyson, who had become pregnant, and then Judy Garland, who had to withdraw due to personal problems. Film historian Robert Osborne noted that, in a six-minute musical number in the movie, Powell and Astaire match witty banter, sing, and dance in a performance that showcases the actress's energy and talent. "We can also see her comic ability, in that number"[14] 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."[7]

In 1954, Powell starred in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, opposite Howard Keel, which gave her the opportunity to play a more mature character than in 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).

Known mainly for musical comedy, Powell appeared in a rare dramatic role in The Female Animal from Universal Pictures in 1958, which turned out to be the final film of co-star Hedy Lamarr. In 1956, Powell recorded the song "True Love", which 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. Also in 1956, Powell performed the song "I'll Never Stop Loving You" at the 28th Academy Awards.[15]

Reflecting on her work in musical films, Powell said:

People are always fascinated by the so-called golden age of musicals, but it wasn't all that great. Everything was glazed. Those movies didn't reflect reality. I was at MGM for 11 years and nobody ever let me play anything but teenagers. I was 25 years old with kids of my own and it was getting ridiculous. Publicity was froth. Everything you said was monitored. With me, they didn't have to worry. I never had anything to say, anyway. It was hard work, I had no friends, no social interaction with people my age and the isolation was tough. But I had to support my family, so I did what I was told and had no other choice.[16]

Stage roles[edit]

Her roles include the touring productions of Unsinkable Molly Brown, Most Happy Fella, The Boy Friend, Brigadoon, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Carousel, Meet Me in St. Louis, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Peter Pan,[17] The Girl Next Door and How She Grew and Irene, in which she made her Broadway debut, following Debbie Reynolds in the title role.[18] Howard Keel and she also appeared on stage together in a revival of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I Do! I Do![18][19] and South Pacific.[18]

Powell also toured in 1964 in a musical review titled Just 20 Plus Me! It was done to a recorded track and featured Powell with 20 handsome "chorus boys". Asked after the performance if the production was going to be made available on a commercial recording, she said simply "No." In the early 1980s, she toured in the comedies Same Time, Next Year; The Marriage-Go-Round and Chapter Two. In 1996 and 1997, she appeared in the off-Broadway production After-Play. She also performed the role of the Queen in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella at New York City Opera. In 2000, she appeared in the off-Broadway production Avow, for which she received great reviews.


Powell plays a girlfriend to Red Skelton's "Junior" on The Red Skelton Show, 1968

During the 1950s and 1960s, Powell appeared regularly on television. These credits included guest spots on nearly all the major variety shows of the period, such as The Perry Como Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Kraft Music Hall, The Frank Sinatra Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Red Skelton Show, The Eddie Fisher Show, The Dinah Shore Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Jonathan Winters Show, This Is Tom Jones, The Garry Moore Show, The Jerry Lewis Show and The Judy Garland Show.

Powell twice appeared as one of the What's My Line? "mystery guests" on the popular Sunday-night CBS-TV quiz program as well as once as a panelist. She also was a guest on I've Got a Secret with Garry Moore and appeared on the musical quiz program Jukebox Jury. Her television specials included Meet Me in St. Louis, Young at Heart, Feathertop, The Danny Thomas Show 1967, The Victor Borge Show, Ruggles of Red Gap on Producers' Showcase and Hooray for Love. Dramatic guest spots included both The Dick Powell Show and The June Allyson Show. She also had a failed pilot for a television sitcom titled The Jane Powell Show.

Powell was a regular guest on a television variety show in Australia when she visited there to perform her nightclub act. She also had a one-off television special there in 1964.

She has appeared on numerous television talk shows and co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show in 1970. In the 1970s, she appeared in three television movies, Wheeler and Murdoch,[20] The Letters[21] and Mayday at 40,000 Feet!.[22]

In the 1980s, she guest-starred on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote. In 1985, she started a nine-month run in the daytime soap opera Loving, playing a tough mother and businesswoman. At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, she also had a regular guest spot on the comedy series Growing Pains (playing Alan Thicke's mother).

She was a temporary replacement on As the World Turns for Eileen Fulton as Lisa Grimaldi in 1991, 1993 and 1994.

In 2000, she appeared in two television movies in supporting roles in The Sandy Bottom Orchestra[23] and Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.[23]

Powell's last major television appearance was a guest star in "Vulnerable" on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit[24] in 2002.

Later years[edit]

Powell in 1998

During her marriage to Dick Moore, Powell lived in Manhattan and (since 1985) in Wilton, Connecticut. When Moore died in 2015, she sold their New York apartment and now lives permanently in Wilton. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Actors' Fund of America.[citation needed]

In 2003, she made a return to the stage as Mama Mizner in the Stephen Sondheim musical Bounce. Despite Powell's great reviews in the part, Bounce was not critically successful and did not move to Broadway. For one evening, she returned to Portland, her hometown, narrating Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with Pink Martini on December 31, 2007. She also appeared on March 9, 2008, with Martini at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City; she sang a duet of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" with lead singer China Forbes. In March 2009, she appeared and sang "Love Is Where You Find It" in a show in which Michael Feinstein celebrated movie musicals and MGM musicals in particular. She performed again with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl on September 10, 2010. Powell filled in as guest host on Turner Classic Movies for Robert Osborne when he was on medical leave from July 17–23, 2011.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Jane Powell's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Her first marriage was to former figure skater Gearhardt "Geary" Anthony Steffen. He was a former skating partner to Sonja Henie, turned insurance broker. They married on November 5, 1949, and divorced on August 6, 1953.[25][26] They had two children, Gearhardt Anthony "G.A." (pronounced Jay) Steffen III (born July 21, 1951) and Suzanne "Sissy" Ilene Steffen (born November 21, 1952).[27]

On November 8, 1954, Powell married Patrick W. Nerney, an automobile executive nine years her senior, in Ojai, California. Nerney previously was married to actress Mona Freeman, with whom he had a daughter, also named Mona.[28] Daughter Lindsey Averill Nerney (Powell states she named her for the California-based olive processor) was born from the union on February 1, 1956.[29] The couple divorced in 1963.[30] She sang the National Anthem at the 1956 Republican National Convention.[31]

Powell's fifth marriage, to former child star Dickie Moore, was her longest. Powell and Moore were married from 1988 until his death in 2015. They met while Moore was researching his autobiography Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but Don't Have Sex or Take the Car.[32] Her autobiography The Girl Next Door ... and How She Grew was published in 1988. For her 80th birthday, Robert Osborne, a film historian and host of Turner Classic Movies, and her husband organized a party at a New York hotel for 45 of Powell's friends and family members.[citation needed]



Year Film Role Notes
1944 Song of the Open Road Herself
1945 Delightfully Dangerous Sherry Williams
1946 Holiday in Mexico Christine Evans
1948 Three Daring Daughters Tess Morgan
A Date with Judy Judy Foster
Luxury Liner Polly Bradford
1950 Nancy Goes to Rio Nancy Barklay
Two Weeks with Love Patti Robinson
1951 Royal Wedding Ellen Bowen
Rich, Young and Pretty Elizabeth Rogers
1953 Small Town Girl Cindy Kimbell
Three Sailors and a Girl Penny Weston
1954 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Milly Pontipee
Athena Athena Mulvain
Deep in My Heart Ottilie van Zandt in Maytime
1955 Hit the Deck Susan Smith
1958 The Girl Most Likely Dodie
The Female Animal Penny Windsor
Enchanted Island Fayaway Also known as Typee
1975 Tubby the Tuba Celeste Voice
1999 Picture This
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There Herself

Short subjects[edit]

  • Screen Snapshots: Motion Picture Mothers, Inc. (1949)
  • 1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955)

Stage work[edit]




  1. ^ Hopper, Hedda (November 23, 1943). "Drama and Film". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165459452.
  2. ^ a b c d Powell, Jane (1988). The Girl Next Door ... and How She Grew (1st ed.). ISBN 0-688-06757-3.
  3. ^ Beaudreau, Mary Ellen (April 2008). "A Date With Jane Powell". The Juilliard Journal. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  4. ^ Wolters, Larry (March 16, 1952). "Johnnie Ray, Their Darling Cry Baby". The Chicago Tribune. pp. 8, 15. open access
  5. ^ Hopper, Hedda (September 24, 1944). "Radio Offers Springboard Into Swim of Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165556061.
  6. ^ "Jane Powell Has New Film Pact Approved". Los Angeles Times. October 26, 1946. ProQuest 165705068.
  7. ^ a b Thomas, Nick, "Wilton's Jane Powell, 80 years young", p 1B, The Wilton Bulletin (and other Hersam Acorn newspapers), September 10, 2009
  8. ^ Hedda Hopper (November 24, 1943). "Drama and Film". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Reel Memories: Jane Powell, Turner Classic Movies, 1995 (included with the DVD release Classic Musicals Double Feature: Nancy Goes to Rio/Two Weeks with Love (Warner Home Video, 2008)).
  10. ^ Williams, Esther (1999). The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography (1st ed.). ISBN 978-0-15-601135-8. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
  11. ^ "Young Star". Los Angeles Times. August 30, 1948. ProQuest 165827847.
  12. ^ Powell 1988, p. 60. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFPowell1988 (help)
  13. ^ Scheuer, Phillip K. (December 23, 1946). "Flynn Cast as '49'er; 'Van' Writes for Self". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165710334.
  14. ^ "How can you believe me when i say i love you". Bing.com. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  15. ^ Schuer, Phillip K. (March 22, 1956). "Oscar Plays 2nd Fiddle to Auto". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. ProQuest 166930981.
  16. ^ Reed, Rex (July 31, 2000). "Jane Powell on Aging, Acting and MGM". New York Observer. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  17. ^ Potempa, Phil (May 25, 2011). "OFFBEAT: Long list of notable names have stepped into flying slippers of 'Peter Pan'". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  18. ^ a b c Mahoney, John C. (October 9, 1977). "Life Just Beginning for Jane Powell". Los Angeles Times. p. R50. ProQuest 158329825.
  19. ^ "Coming Up: Powell and Keel in a Musical Comedy About Marriage". Los Angeles Times. May 23, 1980. p. SD A6.
  20. ^ Smith, Cecil (March 29, 1972). "It's Pilot Time for Networks Again". Los Angeles Times. p. G17.
  21. ^ "ABC Delivers 'The Letters' Trilogy". Los Angeles Times. March 4, 1973. p. O3.
  22. ^ "Inside TV". Los Angeles Times. April 28, 1976. p. F22.
  23. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-03-02. Retrieved 2018-06-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2018-06-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "Jane Powell Plans November Wedding". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1949. p. A7.
  26. ^ "Jane Powell Gets Decree on Cruelty". Los Angeles Times. August 7, 1953. p. A1.
  27. ^ "Singing Star Jane Powell Becomes Mother of Girl". Los Angeles Times. November 22, 1952. p. A1.
  28. ^ "Jane Powell Married to Pat Nerney in Ojai". Los Angeles Times. November 9, 1954. p. 2Jane Powell Married to Pat Nerney in Ojai.
  29. ^ "Daughter Born to Jane Powell". Los Angeles Times. February 2, 1956. p. A30.
  30. ^ "Jane Powell Gets Divorce Decree". Los Angeles Times. May 9, 1963. p. A2.
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2012-05-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (September 23, 1984). "Poor Little Tykes". Los Angeles Times. p. BR20.
  33. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (2): 39. Spring 2016.
  34. ^ "Evelyn Knight Due On Texaco Show". Billboard. March 15, 1947. p. 11. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  35. ^ Kirby, Walter (April 13, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved May 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  36. ^ a b c d 1949 Recordings: All songs recorded 1946-1947. All songs conducted by Carmen Dragon and His Orchestra.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]