Sad news for fans of classic film musicals: One of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era, Jane Powell, passed away Thursday of natural causes at 92. Powell had a very long career in movies, stage and TV, but is most famous for the classic MGM musicals “Royal Wedding” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Some of her other notable films include “Hit The Deck,” “Small Town Girl” and “A Date With Judy.”
Powell became a star at a time when operatic sopranos such as Jeannette McDonald, Deanna Durbin and Kathryn Grayson could actually become movie stars. She never learned to read music, but despite being only 5-foot-1, she had a powerful coloratura voice. I assume she must’ve had to stand on a pretty tall box to do love scenes with Howard Keel. I had the honor of meeting him once. I’m 6-1, and I had to look up at his face as I shook his hand.
Younger readers might know Powell for her many TV appearances, including a recurring role as Alan Thicke’s mother on “Growing Pains.” Powell’s career spanned 67 years, from her first movie, “Song of the Open Road,” in 1944 to her final guest-hosting stint on Turner Classic Movies in 2011. She even performed in concert with the hot lounge group Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl in 2010.
Fun Fact: even though she was so famous as the sunny “girl next door” that her autobiography was called “The Girl Next Door and How She Grew,” she was married five times. I guess she lived next door to a lot of people at one time or another.
If you’d like to check out Jane Powell at her best, stream “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a fantastic musical with a wonderfully politically-incorrect plot. Or pick up a copy of “Royal Wedding” (the movie in which Fred Astaire dances up the wall and across the ceiling.) It’s out of copyright, so you can find very cheap DVDs. Just make sure you get a good transfer since some of them look like you’re watching it at the drive-in through a dirty windshield