One of the last greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jane Powell has died at the age of 92. The all round singer, dancer and actress was best known for appearing in a number of musicals back in the 1950s including Royal Wedding and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. In later years, she appeared on TV in numerous roles with her most notable performance coming in the sitcom Growing Pains in the late 1980s. Being one of the last of her generation, the industry loses an icon from the past that helped inspire many other generations, and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.
Born in Portland, Oregon, on April 1st, 1929, Powell very quickly gained attention as a child singer, touring as the Oregon Victory Girl until, in her teenage years, she moved to Los Angeles and was signed up by MGM. The actress’ ability to sing and dance as well as act meant she was instantly a hit with the studio and took the lead in numerous musical movies for them, making her feature debut in Song For The Open Road in 1944. She moved from black and white into Technicolor with the George Sidney-directed Holiday in Mexico in 1946, and then appears with her former school friend Elizabeth Taylor in A Date With Judy in 1948. The next few years saw Powell marry Gearhardt Anthony Steffen, the first of her five husbands, and appear in her most popular musicals as she headed into the 1950s at the pinnacle of her movie career.
Powell found herself cast in Royal Wedding in 1951 after original lead June Allyson dropped out due to falling pregnant, and Judy Garland, had to leave the production due to personal issues shortly after taking over from Allyson. The film brought out a comedic talent in the actress that was never fully capitalized on by MGM, as has been noted by many film historians over the years, as her scenes with Fred Astaire in the movie showcased her energy and talent in a way that few of her previous movies had managed. After appearing in several over movies, 1954 saw Powell take on her most high profile role in one of the movies voted among the greatest American musicals of all time by the AFI, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. The film would not only garner great acclaim, but would become her signature role as far as that part of her career was concerned.
From that point on, Powell’s work in films began to decline. In the 1960s she worked in numerous stage productions and toured in My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music among others. She played the lead in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1966, and the female lead in a production of Carousel the same year, while the next decade was a mix of TV guest appearances and theater roles in big productions like Meet Me In St Louis, Irene and South Pacific. By the 1980s, Powell had begun appearing in more TV show, such as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote. In 1988, she was cast in Growing Pains, in the recurring role of Irma Seaver, a part she would play through until 1992. Also in 1988 she married for the fifth time, to former child star Dickie Moore, who she would remain married to until his death in 2015.
Powell made a return to the stage at the turn of the millennium, appearing in the off-Broadway production of Avow in 2000, and in the Stephen Sondheim musical Bounce in 2003. One of her final appearances was in 2009, when she sang “Love Is Where You Find It” in a special show celebrating movie musicals from the Golden Age, and she also filled in for Robert Osborne as host on Turner Classic Movies in July 2011 while he was on medical leave.
Following the death of her husband, Powell moved to her second home in Wilton, Connecticut, and sold the Manhattan apartment the pair had shared. The star passed away today of natural caused, and is survived by her three children and two grandchildren. Thoughts are with the actress’ family, friends and fans.