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Jane Powell (1929–2021), star of Hollywood’s Golden Age musicals

by Linnea Crowther

Jane Powell was an actress and singer who starred in musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Hollywood career

Powell began performing as a young child, steered into it by parents who saw in their daughter the potential to be the next Shirley Temple (1928–2014). After working in radio throughout her young life, Powell auditioned for MGM when she was 14 years old, and she was immediately cast in a starring role in “Song of the Open Road” (1944). A variety of musical roles followed, with Powell typically cast in girl-next-door roles: “Holiday in Mexico” (1946), “Three Daring Daughters” (1948), and “Nancy Goes to Rio” (1950).

Powell’s breakthrough film was 1951’s “Royal Wedding,” a Stanley Donen (1924–2019) musical in which she starred opposite Fred Astaire (1899–1987). When she starred as Milly Pontipee in 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” it looked as though she was headed for career greatness, but the musical proved to be the peak of her career instead. Only a few more films followed, including “The Girl Most Likely” (1958) and “The Female Animal” (1958).

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In later years, Powell toured with productions of musicals including “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel,” and she starred on Broadway in the 1974 revival of “Irene.” On television, she had a recurring role on “Growing Pains” as well as guest spots on shows including “The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Powell on childhood stardom

“[My parents] had given up so much for me that I had to do this for them. It’s something they really wanted. I had wanted to go to a high school. That was my utopia. My mother said, ‘Well, you can always quit.’ But once you get into the system, you just don’t quit. It was finances for the family.” —rom a 2017 interview for the Connecticut Post

Tributes to Jane Powell

Full obituary: The New York Times

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