Jane Powell, who appeared on screen with W.C. Fields and danced with Fred Astaire’s Royal Wedding, was one the seven brides for Fred Astaire’s seven brothers. She also sang “Buttons and Bows,” at President Harry S. Truman’s Inaugural Ball, and was a bridesmaid in Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding. Jane Powell died today from natural causes at her Wilton, Connecticut home. She was 92.
Susan Granger, a friend and spokesperson for the family of Powell, said to Deadline that Powell passed away peacefully in the home she shared with her husband, actor and publicist Dick Moore. Moore died in 2015.
Powell was one of Hollywood’s last stars in the Golden Age. She continued to perform on the stage well into the 21st Century making her career one of the most successful of her generation.
Powell was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in Portland. She was already a successful local singer. Powell had previously toured Oregon as an “Oregon Victory Girl”, selling World War II bonds. When she moved to Hollywood, she signed on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a contract player. In 1944, Song of the Open Road was her film debut. She played a fictionalized character of herself as a teenager singer who joins forces with show-biz stars like Charlie McCarthy (Edgar Bergen), Sammy Kaye (Big Band leader Sammy Kaye) and W.C. Fields. In what is believed to have been an improvised exchange Fields gives Powell a microphone with the immortal phrase, “Here you go, little kumquat.”
Powell’s popularity and increasing fame was cemented by roles in 1945’s Delightfully Dangerous and 1948’s A Date With Judy. In 1951, she played the role of a brother-sister dancer in Royal Wedding. (One of their musical numbers features the longest song title in any MGM musical, “How Could You Believe me When I Said That I Loved You When You Know that I’ve been a liar all my life ). Powell was the replacement for Judy Garland who was ill, and June Allyson herself.
Many musical films were made, and Powell was cast as Milly Pontipee in the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Powell was paired with Howard Keel, who served as the primary bride and brother. She performed standout musical numbers such as “Goin’ Courtin’,” and “When You’re in Love.” She would return to the stage, partnering with Keel.
Powell appeared in films like Athena, Deep In My Heart, and Hit the Deck throughout the 1950s. She soon moved to television. Powell starred in Meet Me in St. Louis, a TV adaptation (again in a Garland role), and a pilot for her 1961 show, The Jane Powell Show. There were also many appearances on The Red Skelton Hour, as well as other variety shows. In the late 1970s, she made several appearances on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. She also recurred on Growing Pains throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s as Jason Seaver’s mother.
She was credited for her last TV appearance in 2002’s Law & Order: SVU. In that episode, she played an elderly resident at a nursing home.
One of her many stage credits included a leading role in 1973 Broadway’s production of Irene and in 2000 in the Off Broadway production Bill C. Davis comedy-drama, Avow. Powell was a star in national touring productions such as Chapter Two, Same Time, Next Year, Marriage-Go-Round and Same Time.
Powell was seen in Chicago’s 2003 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Bounce. The musical had been originally performed Off Broadway as Wise Guys four years prior. Bounce, a Chicago production of the Goodman Theatre’s musical, was directed and choreographed in Chicago by Harold Prince. It starred Richard Kind and Howard McGillin as well as Powell, Gavin Creel, Powell and Michele Pawk.
Powell and the rest from Chicago soon traveled to Washington, D.C., for reviews. Bounce did not open in New York. However, the Public Theater staged a rewritten version of the show, renamed Road Show in 2008. Alma Cuervo took over the role previously played by Powell.
Since 2007, Powell has performed occasionally with Pink Martini, a cross-genre orchestral group. They have appeared with them in Portland, Oregon as well as at New York City’s Lincoln Center, and the Hollywood Bowl.
Powell, a former child star and long-time publicist Moore, married in 1988. This would be Powell’s fifth and longest marriage. After his death, Powell and Moore moved permanently from their Manhattan apartment into their Wilton home.
She is survived by her children, Geary Anthony Steffen III and Suzanne Steffen.