Jane Powell, musical star of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, dies at 92
Jane Powell, the effervescent star of Old Hollywood musicals such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Royal Wedding, died Thursday at her home in Wilton, Conn., of natural causes. She was 92.
Her spokesperson Susan Granger confirmed the news to EW. Powell had shared the home with her late husband, the actor and publicist Dick Moore, until his death in 2015.
Powell was one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, having made a name for herself in musicals with her operatic voice and sunny girl-next-door image. Her career flourished in the 1940s and '50s, when she appeared in musicals with the likes of Fred Astaire and Howard Keel. As her film career waned in the late '50s, Powell returned to the stage and continued to perform well into her later years.
Jane Powell was born Suzanne Lorraine Bruce on April 1, 1929, in Portland, Ore. She began dancing at 2 years old, with her mother determined to turn her into a child star in the mold of Shirley Temple.
Powell began her showbiz career in radio, appearing on Portland's children's program Stars of Tomorrow by age 5 and singing on local station KOIN beginning at age 12. She toured the state as the "Oregon Victory Girl," singing and selling victory bonds, and also had two weekly radio shows designed to showcase her soprano voice.
Just before beginning high school, Powell won a talent contest that landed her a seven-year contract with MGM. She made her screen debut on loan-out to United Artists in Song of the Open Road, portraying a child performer named Jane Powell.
Powell immediately found success at MGM, appearing in films including Three Daring Daughters, Delightfully Dangerous, Holiday in Mexico, Luxury Liner, Nancy Goes to Rio, Two Weeks With Love, and A Date With Judy. She also sang at the inauguration ball for President Harry S. Truman in 1949.
In 1951, Powell was cast in her star-making role opposite Astaire in Royal Wedding, replacing Judy Garland in the part (who herself had taken over for June Allyson). The Stanley Donen film featured Powell as Astaire's sister, mimicking his own start in show business. Her character would fall in love with an English actor while performing overseas with her brother.
Powell took on several more musical roles, including Rich, Young, and Pretty, Small Town Girl, and Three Sailors and a Girl before landing her most iconic role, that of Milly Pontipee in Donen's classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Powell starred as one of the titular brides, who caught the eye of mountain man Adam (Howard Keel) and helped civilize his siblings so they could land brides of their own, unwittingly convincing them to kidnap their desired love matches and then standing up for the girls once the plot was enacted. Alongside Keel, she delivered musical classics like "When You're in Love" and "Goin' Courtin'."
Other films of this era included Hit the Deck, Athena, Deep in My Heart, and The Girl Most Likely. One of her last great roles, a rare dramatic part, came in 1958's The Female Animal.
After that, Powell turned predominantly to the theater, touring around the country in shows such as My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Carousel, and Brigadoon. She made her Broadway debut in 1973 as the title character in Irene, taking over for Debbie Reynolds.
In the 1970s and '80s, Powell branched out into television, guest-starring on shows like Growing Pains, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. One of her final screen roles was guest-starring in a 2002 episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit as a nursing home patient and victim of elder abuse.
Powell maintained a close relationship with Turner Classic Movies, as a friend of original prime-time host Robert Osborne. She was present for the launch of the channel in the 1990s and even filled in for Osborne as a guest host during his medical leave in 2011.
Powell was married five times and is survived by her three children, Geary Anthony Steffen III, Suzanne Steffen, and Lindsay Cavalli, and two granddaughters, Skye Cavalli and Tia Cavalli.