Hollywood decided back in the Fifties that glamour and sexiness should somehow be balanced in the public eye with nonthreatening girl-next-door accessibility. Hedy Lamarr was great, but how ’bout that Jane Powell?
She was a top star at MGM for years. She was indeed an image of the girl next door, one who just happened to possess a supple soprano voice worthy of grand opera.
Born Suzanne Lorraine Burse in the Pacific Northwest in 1929, Powell arrived in Hollywood at age 15 after multiple radio appearances, and found herself typecast as a child movie star opposite Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, W.C. Fields and Bonita Granville in 1944’s Song of the Open Road.
Powell’s early career at MGM comprised appealing turns in musicals and light romances, but by the end of the Forties things clicked into a much higher gear.
Dore Shary, the executive who succeeded mogul Louis B. Mayer as MGM head during a five year period beginning in 1951, had his ideas about stardom.
Schary felt that it was what he called a “motor” that begets the magical effects stars emanate. He felt some stars had what one might call Cadillac motors, while others, less great perhaps, were merely Fords.
Declared Schary: “This motor is not make-up or clothes or hair. It is not stature, size, kindness, or even talent. Three smaller than lifesize ladies, June Allyson, Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell, have ‘motors’.”
Motorized or not, she belied her girl-next-door image offscreen. She had a busy romantic life, grinding through five husbands in 32 years.
Ok, let’s see how much you know about Powell, who is still with us at age 89. Questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Can you name this classic musical costarring Powell in which the male lead literally climbs the walls? Can you identify this leading man?
2) Question: This 1954 musical that made Powell a big star features a gaggle of dancing young men under the tutelage of Stanley Donen. Can you name this venture’s title and Jane’s male costar?
3) Question: Can you name the title and Powell’s costar of this 1955 musical about Navy grunts in San Francisco? (Hint: He was a much better singer than actor.)
4) Question: Powell as a teenager was literally schooled at a special building on the MGM lot known as the “little Red Schoolhouse.” Which one of the following was NOT one of her classmates? a) Jackie Cooper; b) Freddie Bartholomew; c) Roddy McDowell; or d) Elizabeth Taylor.
5) Question: Powell’s fifth husband occupies a special niche among film noir fans for his affecting performance in a 1947 classic as a young deaf-mute working at a gas station. Can you name this actor? (Hint: His marriage to Powell lasted 17 years until his death in 2015.)