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Jane Powell-A Date with Jane

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Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 12:00 am

In the 1940s and '50s, tickets to the ebullient, tune-filled musical comedies of MGM were almost like tickets to heaven. To those millions of us who loved these movies, it is no exaggeration to say that the people who made them were our angels, and one of these people even looked like an angel. Possessing an exquisite soprano voice, she could caress operatic arias, popular songs, and bluesy ballads with charm and grace. In addition, she had a vivacious personality expressed often in her graceful dancing, and an acting ability highlighted by a flair for comedy. In short, she was exactly what movie fan magazines called a "delightful musical leading lady." A petite blonde, blue-eyed beauty, it's little wonder she was so popular. She was a sweetheart-a lovely little girl named Jane Powell.

Starring in a succession of hits, Jane soon was typecast as MGM's version of the "girl next door" even though no girl next door was ever so extraordinary. On screen, we saw Jane enjoying great wealth, wearing fabulous clothes, and falling in love, often with a teen crush on a handsome older man. Usually someone's precocious daughter, she could handle most of her problems simply by breaking out into song.

MGM knew a good thing when they saw it, so the studio kept its golden girl playing the perennial adolescent. After a few years of this, Jane yearned to grow up and handle more challenging parts, especially non-singing roles. Finally in 1954, the studio cast Jane in a mature role in the musical classic, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, in which she delivered an exceptional performance filled with warmth and sophistication.

After two more entertaining musicals in the "girl next door" mode, and a guest appearance in an all-star MGM musical, Jane asked the studio to release her from her contract. Hoping to secure more mature parts in musicals and dramas as a freelancer, Jane found instead that movie musicals had lost their audience and the studios had almost completely stopped producing them. After only three more unremarkable films, Jane Powell's movie career came to an abrupt halt in 1958. At age 29, Jane had become one of the casualties of the musical's decline.

The story wouldn't end there, however. The irrepressible Jane would move from triumph to triumph in nightclubs, touring shows, television, and Broadway. This multi-talented singer and actress would continue to delight her audiences for decades to come.

From Hollywood's golden age into a new century, Jane Powell has become a show business legend. As a small child, my first date with Jane began when I walked into the dark auditorium of a great movie palace and heard a heavenly voice from above fill the darkness with beauty. The first golden note was the beginning of a lasting love. Over the years, her movies have provided me with a lifetime of happy memories. Once, I even met Jane in New York City after a performance of her Broadway musical success, Irene. As any Jane Powell fan can well understand, it was a moment I'll never forget.

She was born Suzanne Burce in Portland, Oregon, on April 1, 1929, the only child of a Wonder Bread company employee and his wife. Paul Burce had relocated to Portland from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Canada. In Portland, Paul met and married Eileen Baker who had moved there from Tacoma, Washington. The couple were wed in May, 1928.

Almost from the beginning, the marriage was an unhappy one. Mrs. Burce soon became bored and discontented with her life as a housewife, and the couple quarreled frequently. Jane would recall long "silent times" when her mother refused to talk to her father. Eventually, the Burces would divorce and each would remarry.

Mrs. Burce would confess later she had never wanted a child. Despite this, Jane was close to her mother. However, after Jane grew up, the two would be estranged for long periods. In her autobiography, "The Girl Next Door And How She Grew," Jane revealed that as a child she often dreamed of her mother trying to suffocate her with a pillow. When Jane would struggle and scream, her mother would stop and then hug her and cry. Jane believes this event actually might have occurred.

Jane would associate her father with some of the more pleasant times of her childhood and recall his "happy, smiling face". Despite the problems, Jane admits she did enjoy parts of her childhood even though it was not always what she referred to as the "happy, carefree days of summer".

At an early age, little Suzanne demonstrated a natural talent for singing and dancing. Blonde, curly-topped Shirley Temple was all the rage, and many mothers fancied their moppets, no matter how untalented, as capable of following in Shirley's steps to stardom.

Eileen Burce jumped on the bandwagon. Her all-consuming ambition was to turn Suzanne into another Shirley Temple. The first step was to enroll her two-year-old girl in dancing lessons. Jane recalls classes in acrobatic, tap and ballet. Later, voice lessons would be added.

In an attempt to imitate Shirley, Mrs. Burce had her brunette, straight-haired girl taken in for her first permanent. Suzanne now had the curls but it would not be until she starred in her first Technicolor MGM movie that she would become a blonde.

At age five, Suzanne appeared on Stars Of Tomorrow, an amateur children's radio show. She soon became a regular on the program and performed Hit Parade tunes like "On The Good Ship Lollipop" popularized by Shirley Temple, of course.

While on the show, a talent scout convinced Mrs. Burce that Suzanne belonged in Oakland, California. There he would give the girl dance lessons (not for free) to prepare her for a movie career. So the family moved to Oakland in pursuit of Mrs. Burce's dreams.

The dance lessons were conducted in an enormous, dark and cavernous ballroom filled with many other young hopefuls and their mothers. After about three months, the talent scout disappeared and the Burces ran out of money. The family returned to Portland where Mr. Burce found he could not get his job back at Wonder Bread. He would struggle for years to find another good job. Still, Suzanne's musical lessons would continue.

After a long "dry spell", Suzanne's career was taken over by a local promoter. At age twelve, Suzanne was selected as the Oregon Victory Girl during the Second World War. Her job was to travel around the state singing and selling victory bonds. For almost two years, Suzanne would perform at war bond rallies, army camps, naval installations, veterans' homes and hospitals. She would also perform at Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs.

Soon, Suzanne was featured on two local KOIN radio shows of her own. On the first she performed with an organ accompaniment once a week. Later, she did an hour show on Sunday nights with an orchestra and other performers. At the time, it was unusual for someone of Suzanne's tender years to headline her own radio show.

In June 1943, the Burces traveled to Hollywood where the president of Portland's KOIN had arranged for Suzanne to appear on actress Janet Gaynor's CBS radio program, Hollywood Showcase: Stars Over Hollywood, a talent competition. On this edition of the show, Suzanne performed the aria, "Il Baccio." With her lilting two-and-a-half octave range, she easily won the competition.

The very next day, an agent with the Music Corporation of America (MCA) contacted CBS and arranged for Suzanne to audition for MGM production head Louis B. Mayer. Janet Gaynor also set up an appointment with noted producer David O. Selznick to hear Suzanne sing. Having only been in Hollywood for two days, Suzanne had two important auditions scheduled for the same day!

The meeting with Selznick was pleasant, and he was impressed. The independent producer signed Suzanne for one picture a year, but as it would turn out, he never exercised his option. Meanwhile, producers Joe Pasternak and Arthur Freed, and studio boss Mayer himself, were captivated by Suzanne's singing. Without even a screen test, Suzanne was handed an MGM contract, starting at $225 per week and escalating to $1,250 a week over seven years. In her memoirs, Jane confessed she didn't realize the importance of the MGM offer. Preferring to go back to Portland and enter high school, she signed with the studio only because of her parents. She simply couldn't let their years of sacrifice go for nothing.

So, Suzanne and her parents relocated to Hollywood where their lives would be changed forever. Hollywood in the 1940s was a magical kingdom dominated by seven major and several minor studios. These "dream factories" produced hundreds of motion pictures each year to satisfy the insatiable demands of audiences who flooded the nation's movie theaters each week while the world was at war, and the nascent television industry was kept on hold for the duration. While our fighting men and women served their country overseas, Hollywood studios did their patriotic duty by providing morale-boosting films to them and to the folks back home. The studios not only made their own films, they also owned their own chains of theaters, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the largest and mightiest of these entertainment empires. MGM was constantly scouting, testing and grooming new talent to join its glittering roster of stars and contract players. To be with MGM was to achieve the pinnacle of success.

MGM seemed obsessed with Deanna Durbin. In the mid-1930s, MGM had signed golden-voiced Edna Mae Durbin to appear in a proposed movie project. The studio changed her name to "Deanna" and began grooming her for stardom. When the proposed film was canceled after six months, Durbin was snatched away by Universal.

After her debut at Universal in Three Smart Girls (1936), Deanna became a box office sensation, raking in millions for the rival studio. Even though MGM had Judy Garland, the studio felt stung by this blunder and kept searching for another Deanna Durbin. They finally found her in Suzanne Burce.

The name, however, was a problem. MGM felt "Suzanne" was too long for a marquee, while "Burce" sounded odd. While MGM pondered this, Suzanne was loaned to United Artists to make her screen debut in Song of The Open Road (1944). Before production of the movie began, Suzanne received an important telephone call from MGM. "Jane Powell" the name of the character she would portray in Song Of The Open Road, would be her new name!

Produced by Charles R. Rogers (who had also been one of Deanna Durbin's early producers) and directed by S. Sylvan Simon, Song Of The Open Road was a rather juvenile black-and-white musical about a rich, young child movie star (Jane) who rebels and runs off to be with "regular kids." She joins a group of youthful crop pickers who also happen to be blessed with an abundance of musical talent! The kids include Bonita Granville, Peggy O'Neill, Jackie Moran and Bill Christy.

At first, the kids dislike the newcomer; but Jane later saves the day, and an orange crop as well, with the aid of her Hollywood friends. The movie's highlight is the big musical show in which W.C. Fields, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Sammy Kaye and his orchestra, and the Condos Brothers who guest star as themselves. Song Of The Open Road has a lot of musical numbers, several of which are performed by Jane. Although she wore a blonde wig for the film's early scenes, Jane's hair remained brown in the movie.

Although Jane loved making the movie, the critics didn't like it, but saved most of their praise for Jane herself. The New York Daily News said, "Jane Powell, called a second Deanna Durbin, does sing remarkably well, in a high, clear, true voice but Song Of The Open Road is just too naive in theme and haphazard in presentation for adults to take comfortably."

To promote the film, Jane and her mother traveled to 26 cities in 46 days. Jane also appeared as Charlie McCarthy's "girlfriend" on radio's Chase and Sanborn Hour. At this time, Jane was also attending classes at MGM's Little Red Schoolhouse and singing at benefits arranged by the studio.

Since MGM was still searching for the perfect vehicle in which to showcase its new star, the studio again loaned her to United Artists to star in Delightfully Dangerous (1945). One of Jane's numbers, "Too Much In Love" (music and lyrics by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon) performed with Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra received an Academy Award nomination as 1944's Best Original Song. In addition, Song Of The Open Road was also nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.

If ever a movie was misnamed, it was Delightfully Dangerous, which was neither "delightful" nor "dangerous." In this uninspired, black-and-white musical, Jane played Cheryl Williams, a sedate music student, who believes her older sister (Constance Moore) is a Broadway star, but in truth she's a burlesque queen. Being a little "Miss Fixit", Cheryl not only manages to rectify her sister's profession but contrives to marry her off to a big musical producer (Ralph Bellamy), who then stars both ladies in one of his shows.

The movie's tedium disappeared whenever Jane sang such numbers as "Once Upon A Song", "Mynah Bird", and a medley of songs by Johann Strauss. Again produced by Charles R. Rogers and directed by Arthur Lubin, the picture featured Arthur Treacher and Louise Beavers (playing butler and maid, respectively), Ruth Tobey and Morton Gould and his orchestra. Critical reaction was kind to Jane, but negative to Delightfully Dangerous labeling it "a mild trifle at best."

Returning to MGM, Jane was assigned to producer Joe Pasternak's musical unit at the studio. Pasternak had come to MGM in the early 1940s from Universal where he had successfully produced several of Deanna Durbin's movies. The Pasternak unit was famous for entertaining crowd-pleasing musicals that were less sophisticated and less pretentious than those of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM.

In the 1940s, MGM acquired famed Spanish-born orchestra conductor-pianist-composer Jose Iturbi for its contract stable to add "prestige" to its musicals. Iturbi's virtuoso piano pyrotechnics encompassed everything from classical numbers, to concertos, to the latest popular songs. So important was Iturbi's image, he only appeared on screen playing "Jose Iturbi."

MGM also acquired the services of flamboyant, Spanish-born, Cuban-raised Xavier Cugat. Along with his orchestra of skilled musicians, singers, dancers and breathtaking beauties in striking, colorful outfits, Cugat added an irresistible Latin spice to MGM musicals.

It seemed a terrific idea to showcase both these unique personalities in Jane's first MGM assignment for Pasternak, Holiday In Mexico (1946), a lavish Technicolor musical comedy directed by George Sidney. The movie's exotic Mexican locations were recreated on the MGM backlot. The studio introduced Jane in the movie's opening credits as "Your Young Singing Star," even though it was her third screen appearance.

Jane played Christine Evans, the teenaged daughter of widowed American ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Evans (Walter Pidgeon). Christine not only runs her father's household, but also tries to run his love life (with Ilona Massey) while finding time for a crush on fiftyish Jose Iturbi, much to the disapproval of boyfriend Stanley Owen (Roddy McDowall). And, of course, she also sings like an angel.

Amid Holiday In Mexico's cornucopia of musical numbers, including Iturbi's solos and Xavier Cugat's sambas, Jane performed the lovely "I Think Of You"; the romantic Leo Delibes' "Les Filles De Cadiz" (The Maids of Cadiz,); and Victor Herbert's lively "Italian Street Song". She also dueted with Walter Pidgeon to Ray Noble's "Goodnight Sweetheart." One of Jane's numbers, the cheery "Why So Gloomy?" was filmed but not included in the final cut.

Holiday In Mexico's lavish finale, supposedly staged at the Hollywood Bowl, but filmed on a huge MGM soundstage, includes Jane's beautiful rendition of Schubert's "Ava Maria" stunningly photographed with the singer dressed in an exquisite white gown in front of Iturbi's orchestra. One critic dubbed this sequence a "Eucharistic Congress staged by famed showman Billy Rose."

Holiday In Mexico was an auspicious MGM debut for Jane and a popular box office success. The critics praised Jane's acting and lovely singing voice, but some groused about the movie's excessive 127-minute length. In the film, we see the hairdressers begin to lighten Jane's brown hair. Over the years its color would progress from honey blonde to near platinum.

Jane Powell had now appeared in her first big Technicolor musical. Officially an MGM star, she posed on the cover of "Life" magazine's September 9, 1946 issue, at the tender age of seventeen. At last, MGM had overcome its Deanna Durbin fixation!

Although Jane's official occupation was now "movie star", in between films MGM kept its "girl next door" constantly busy with other projects. There were radio appearances on the Hedda Hopper and Frank Sinatra shows. Jane frequently guested on such popular programs as Stars Over Hollywood, Maxwell House Coffee Time, Lux Radio Theater, and The Railroad Hour. Jane recorded for Columbia Records; starred in a production of The Student Prince at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles; sang at the actual Hollywood Bowl; appeared with the Portland, Oregon and Kansas City, Missouri Symphony Orchestras; performed at "Movie Star" baseball games at Wrigley Field (Los Angeles); and even sang at the inauguration ball for President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D. C. on January 20, 1949.

There were also publicity tours in which Jane would perform a vaudeville act at Loew's theaters (MGM's parent company) across the country promoting her own and other MGM films being shown there. This involved a grueling schedule of seven or eight shows per day, seven days a week.

Jane was back before the cameras in Three Daring Daughters (1948), a Technicolor musical pastiche designed by Pasternak as a "comeback" vehicle for the lovely Jeanette MacDonald, who was returning to MGM after a six-year absence. Three Daring Daughters was directed by Fred M. Wilcox and was more than a little reminiscent to Pasternak's 1936 Universal production Three Smart Girls starring Deanna Durbin. The movie presented MacDonald (in her next to last film) as Louise Morgan, a longtime, divorced mother and workaholic fashion magazine editor. Louise had divorced her incompatible, globe-trotting newspaper reporter husband, but neglected to tell her three daughters the truth about their father. The daughters, Tess (Jane), Ilka (Ann E. Todd), and Alix (Mary Eleanor Donahue) are convinced that Dad is a "knight in shining armor." So when Louise finds a new love interest (Jose Iturbi), the girls try to spoil the romance.

As with many MGM musicals of the period, the plot is secondary to the musical performances. Three Daring Daughters is filled with musical highlights. The glorious Jeanette MacDonald sings several numbers. Iturbi performs both solo and in two twin-piano duets with his real-life sister Amparo Iturbi. The movie features one cheery pop ditty by Sammy Fain and Howard Dietz, "The Dickey Bird Song," charmingly performed by Jeanette, Jane, Ann E. Todd (dubbed by Pat Hyatt), and Mary Eleanor Donahue (dubbed by Beverly Jean Garbo). The song was reprised several times during the movie and became a Hit Parade favorite. Jane also delightfully performed Victor Herbert's "Fleurette" and Gounod's "Je Veux Vivre" (Juliet's Waltz from Romeo and Juliette).

Although Three Daring Daughters did well at the box office, the critics were not impressed. Bosley Crowther described Jane as "attractive and melodius," but called the movie "downright embarrassing in some of the stickier scenes." Time magazine added the whole production seemed "hardly worth the trouble." At times, the "daring daughters" seem merely silly and meddlesome. Worst of all is the complete miscasting of short, balding Jose Iturbi as the "perfect husband" for the sophisticated Jeanette MacDonald.

Next up, Luxury Liner (1948) a sprightly Technicolor confection set aboard a lavish ocean liner bound for South America. Produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Richard Whorf, the movie offers a boatload of comedy, romance, a bright mixture of popular and classical music, and a passenger list of top-notch entertainers. In other words, it's MGM glamour set to music on the high seas.

Polly Bradford (Jane) is a spunky music student at an exclusive girls' school. Polly desperately wants to accompany her widowed father, ocean liner Captain Jeremy Bradford (George Brent) on a cruise to Rio hoping to showcase her singing talents to voyaging opera star Olaf Eriksen (Wagnerian tenor and MGM's "prestige" performer Lauritz Melchior), who is also accompanied by operatic soprano Zita Romanka (Marina Koshetz). When the Captain refuses, Polly, who always seems to be "dramatizing" decides to stowaway on dad's ship.

Enlivening Luxury Liner is a shipload of musical numbers by Lauritz Melchior, Marina Koshetz, Xavier Cugat and his band, and the Pied Pipers' swinging version of the old standard, "Yes We Have No Bananas!" Jane's numbers include an incredible operetta at the music school set in old Vienna. Cast as the shows "leading man," a handsome, uniformed hussar, Jane sings "Spring Came Back To Vienna" and enacts an innocent "love scene" with the leading lady. The sound of Jane's glorious voice emerging from an Austrian hussar is rather disconcerting!

Jane also offers lovely renditions of "The Peanut Vendor" and "Gavotte" (from Massenet's Manon). In the ship's kitchen, she and the crew sing and dance to the French-Canadian folk song, "Alouette," which somehow includes the always delightful character actress Connie Gilchrist in a bit role. Jane also pays homage to Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda in the "Alouette" number, complete with a basket of fruit atop her pretty head! For the movie's finale, Jane and Melchior reprise a spirited version of "Spring Came Back To Vienna."

It was smooth sailing for Luxury Liner at the boxoffice. "Variety" labeled the movie, "Pleasantly diverting froth."

In her memoirs, Jane described George Brent as "so goodlooking, and fun, and had a wonderful sense of humor." She developed a teen crush on the 44-year-old Brent, but this evaporated after filming ended. Years later, Brent reentered Jane's life when he attended a performance of South Pacific in which she starred. Brent confessed he had always loved Jane since Luxury Liner, but couldn't pursue her then because of her age, and someone was always with her. He had never forgotten her. In her memoir, Jane stated George asked her to marry him, but she refused since she loved him as a friend and was not "in love" with him.

Senior class dances, chocolate sundaes at the drugstore soda fountain, and the trials and tribulations of teen romance are among the ingredients of MGM's delightful "accent on youth" Technicolor musical, A Date With Judy (1948), based on the popular, long-running radio series which premiered in 1941. About the only thing absent from this idealized look at high school life in the 1940s, a la MGM, is any classroom activity! Instead Director Richard Thorpe substitutes the talents of a superlative cast and a tuneful musical score. In addition to Jane, the movie boasts eccentric Wallace Beery, the ravishing teenage beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, handsome Robert Stack, the exciting rhythms of Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, and outlandishly costumed and fabulous Carmen Miranda.

A Date With Judy begins with Jane rehearsing a number for the senior dance. "It's A Most Unusual Day" composed by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh would become one of the numbers most closely identified with Jane throughout her entire career. Jane's other numbers included a lively duet with Scotty Beckett to "Strictly on The Corny Side" and "Judaline" performed with a male chorus. She added dramatic finesse to the seductive "Love Is Where You Find It" and nostalgic charm to "Through The Years" by Vincent Youmans and Edward Heyman. A Date With Judy closes with Jane superbly reprising "It's A Most Unusual Day."

A Date With Judy would become Jane's third successful movie of 1948. "Variety" stated, "Talented young Jane Powell registers appealingly with vocals."

Unlike her fond memories of George Brent, Jane described Wallace Beery in her autobiography as her "least favorite dad." Jane recalled Beery ignored everybody and everything. He never said hello. He never said goodbye. He never smiled. He was a notorious scene stealer.

Jane remembered Elizabeth Taylor "got to wear green eye shadow, show her figure in a tight sweater, and look sexy" even though she was younger. Jane admitted she was a little jealous, not of Elizabeth, but of the green eye shadow!

On November 5, 1949, Jane married Geary Anthony Steffen, Jr. The ceremony was a huge, lavish MGM-style extravaganza with five hundred invited guests. Jane had worked with MGM designer Helen Rose to create her bridal gown. Elizabeth Taylor was one of Jane's bridesmaids. Jane had met Steffen two years earlier when he was Sonja Henie's ice skating partner. The fan magazines, which had always lavished attention on Jane, now became ecstatic over the fairy tale wedding of The Girl Next Door and the athletic, All-American boy. Once again, Jane pleased both MGM and the public by living out her fans' fantasies.

Jane was then off screen for nearly a year. During 1949, Columbia Records released two of Jane's albums, "Romance" and "A Date With Jane Powell."

Jane began the new decade with two highly-successful movies. Producer Joe Pasternak acquired the remake rights from Universal for the popular Deanna Durbin vehicle, It's A Date (1940), now retitled, Nancy Goes To Rio (1950). Director Robert Z. Leonard turned it into a Technicolor glossy carnival of romance and music with a cast of MGM favorites. Although set in Brazil, the production was lensed on the MGM lot, with a few stock footage shots of the glamorous Rio de Janiero added as background.

In the film Jane plays a talented seventeen-year-old would-be actress (three years younger than the real Jane) who becomes a rival to her mother, a famous Broadway star, played by Ann Sothern. Rivalry would divide the two not only on stage, but in love as well. Although the plot is rather familiar, Nancy Goes To Rio is quite entertaining. Both Jane and the wonderful Ann Sothern are beautifully photographed in lush close-ups by cinematographer Ray June. Helen Rose's costumes are breathtaking. As with most Pasternak musicals, the score is wonderful.

Jane, Ann Sothern and Louis Calhern (as Jane's grandfather) perform a delightful song and dance to the Nora Bayes-Jack Norworth classic, "Shine On Harvest Moon," excellently-choreographed by Nick Castle. Jane exquisitely performs "Magic Is The Moonlight" both as a solo and a duet with Ann Sothern. Jane's other numbers include a lovely version of the Gershwins' "Embraceable You" and the lilting "Musetta's Waltz" from Puccini's La Boheme. The movie concludes with a lavish production number featuring Jane and a chorus of male dancers performing "Love Is Like This." Nancy Goes To Rio was exactly the kind of sprightly entertainment Jane's fans wanted, and its boxoffice success kept MGM happy, too.

Two Weeks With Love (1950) is one of the most thoroughly charming pieces of musical nostalgia MGM ever produced. Jane regards it as her personal favorite. This fan wholeheartedly agrees having seen the movie as a child in its initial release, and a dozen times since.

Produced by Jack Cummings and directed by Roy Rowland in lush Technicolor, Two Weeks With Love was Jane's first period musical and featured an outstanding depiction of the early 1900s. Again a 17-year-old, Jane plays Patti Robinson who is about to accompany her parents Horatio and Katherine Robinson (Louis Calhern and Ann Harding), her perky younger sister Melba (Debbie Reynolds) and her two rambunctious younger brothers McCormick (Gary Gray) and Ricky (Tommy Rettig) on the family's annual two-week summer vacation at a Catskill mountains resort. Patti is anxious to turn eighteen and wear her first corset, then considered a badge of femininity. At the resort, Patti develops a crush on an older man, the handsome Cuban Demi Armendez (Ricardo Montalban), who is also desired by a more mature woman (Phyllis Kirk).

Two Weeks With Love is an entrancing musical. The period sets and costumes are splendid and the performances of Louis Calhern, Ann Harding, Carleton Carpenter, and especially Debbie Reynolds are excellent. Casting handsome Ricardo Montalban opposite Jane was an MGM stroke of genius. Ricardo's manly charm and Latin flair are the perfect complement to Jane's luscious blonde beauty. In a wonderful sequence, Jane dreams she's a femme fatale. She wears a pink satin corset with long, black silk stockings, long white kid gloves, shoes with rhinestone buckles, and a large pink-tulle picture hat. She twirls a pink ruffled umbrella and has a beauty mark painted on her face. She thrillingly sings "My Hero" while she and Ricardo waltz and he lifts her in the air. This Freudian dream sequence was staged by the famed Busby Berkeley and was used in the movie's advertising campaign.

Jane performed the nostalgic numbers, "A Heart That's Free" and "By The Light Of The Silvery Moon". One of her most memorable numbers was her terrific rendition of the ragtime classic, "The Oceana Roll," sung and danced in the hotel lounge with a group of youngsters, including Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter. It's simply delightful! The movie's big song hit, though, was "Aba Daba Honeymoon," effervescently performed by Reynolds and Carpenter, who nearly stole the picture.

Jane loved making Two Weeks With Love, and she's wonderful in it. She can make you laugh one minute, cry the next, and long for the idealized "good old days." Her singing is simply irresistible.

Jane's next assignment would be her most prestigious role to date. For the first time, MGM allowed Jane to leave her teen years behind and portray a character her actual age. Royal Wedding (1951) co-starred Jane opposite the inimitable Fred Astaire, and was conceived by esteemed producer Arthur Freed who was responsible for some of MGM's greatest musicals. Freed based the film on incidents that paralleled Fred Astaire's real-life partnership with his sister Adele Astaire. The Astaires were a wildly successful dance team until Adele ended the act to marry a British nobleman.

Freed commissioned Alan Jay Lerner, fresh from his Broadway triumph with the musical Brigadoon to write the screenplay and the film's score with Burton Lane. Nick Castle was assigned the film's choreography. The Technicolor production was directed by Stanley Donen.

Freed had initially envisioned Vera-Ellen as Astaire's sister in the film. However, when production started, June Allyson had been assigned the part. Allyson had begun rehearsing the dance routines with Astaire when she learned she was pregnant and had to drop the role. MGM replaced June with Judy Garland. Garland and Astaire had successfully teamed in Easter Parade (1948), so they seemed an ideal combination. Fred started teaching Judy the dance numbers, but she was fired by the studio for missing a rehearsal.

Jane was finally set for the role. She was thrilled to be working with Fred Astaire in a movie that offered a more adult role, with sophisticated costumes and musical numbers. Jane had to learn the dance routines in a record three weeks because so much time already had been lost during the casting changes. Since Astaire had already taught the routines to June and Judy, Jane spent most of her time rehearsing privately and spent little time actually rehearsing with Fred.

Royal Wedding features Astaire and Jane as Tom and Ellen Bowen, a successful Broadway dance team who bring their hit musical to London amid the frantic preparations for the wedding of Crown Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip Mountbatten. (The actual ceremony took place in November 1947.) The London production is a huge success and each of the Bowens unexpectedly fall in love. Astaire is enchanted by Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill, real-life daughter of Sir Winston Churchill), a dancer in the show. Jane is romanced by an English nobleman Lord John Brindale (Peter Lawford). Despite a few misunderstandings, the movie's finale finds both couples marrying on the same day as the royal wedding of Elizabeth and Philip. And just like Fred and Adele Astaire, the Bowens break-up their act. Jane will remain in London, while Fred will go solo, perhaps eventually teaming with Churchill.

Jane and Astaire performed four dance routines together in Royal Wedding. The movie opens with a production number from their Broadway show. Astaire, complete with crown, plays a rather bored monarch who sings "Every Night At Seven" as he pursues pretty chambermaid Jane around the throne room. The couple dance briefly and as the number ends, the chambermaid now wears a queen's crown!

Sailing for England, the Bowens are invited to perform a ballroom routine for the ship's passengers. The number begins with Jane singing the lovely waltz, "Open Your Eyes." As they dance, the ship encounters rough seas and the number turns comical with Fred and Jane struggling to maintain their balance as they are tossed around the dance floor. The dance ends with the couple unexpectedly being swept off their feet by an ambulatory sofa!

Many musical films of the 1940s and '50s featured a tropical Latin-themed production number complete with singing and dancing "natives" in colorful costumes. Royal Wedding is no exception. Astaire sings a clever samba, "I Left My Hat In Haiti," complaining about leaving his "blue-gray fedora" with a "Haitian dilly who has the prettiest hat I own." He soon finds himself in a Haitian never-never land where the native women are all wearing fedoras. Fred encounters his "Haitian dilly" Jane who is not wearing a hat. They perform a spirited, exotic dance that ends with a monkey jumping into Fred's arms and giving him back his hat!

The fourth and best of the Astaire-Powell numbers is a raucous vaudeville-style routine, "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life." In this six-minute number, Astaire plays a shady character in a floppy zoot suit who is every bit the liar of the title. Jane is his gum-chewing, flashy gal in a tight-fitting skirt, sweater and close-cropped black wig.

The two sing, dance and toss off witty banter in a coarse, lowdown style, each trying to upstage the other. Jane gets the best of Fred after he confesses his infidelities as he wriggles off stage. Jane is delightful in this number as she swings her hips like a tough cookie and demonstrates a hilarious comic ability. Astaire drops his usual elegant style, while Jane is miles away from her "girl next door" image.

In addition to her dance routines, Jane performed two lovely ballads in Royal Wedding, "The Happiest Day Of My Life" and the now-classic love song, "Too Late Now," sung to Peter Lawford. "Too Late Now" became a huge hit and was nominated as the year's best original song. Jane's rendition is both tender and wistful.

The British government had filmed a Technicolor documentary of the actual wedding ceremony in 1947. MGM arranged to obtain actual background footage to include in Royal Wedding. Since the documentary was also titled Royal Wedding, MGM had to change the name of their Royal Wedding to Wedding Bells in their British release version.

Jane received wonderful reviews for the picture. Critics found the film "engaging," and "quite pleasant." Royal Wedding grossed over $4 million in its initial release.

With the huge success of Royal Wedding, Jane now hoped MGM would offer her more mature roles. Unfortunately, Metro failed to capitalize on the comedic and dancing skills she had demonstrated opposite Astaire. Instead, the studio cast Jane in an entertaining piece of fluff in which she played another teenage lass (though a slightly older one). Titled, Rich, Young and Pretty (1951), the Technicolor musical comedy found Jane back working for producer Joe Pasternak under Norman Taurog's direction.

In the movie, Jane portrays the "rich, young and pretty" Elizabeth "Liz" Rogers, the daughter of wealthy Texas rancher turned United Nations diplomat Jim Stanton Rogers (Wendell Corey). Liz and the family housekeeper Glynnie (Una Merkel) accompany Mr. Stanton on a diplomatic trip to Paris for a speaking engagement. Once in Paris, Liz meets the charming and handsome Andre Milan (Vic Damone in his first leading role) and after a night on the town in Paris, Liz and Andre fall in love. When Liz and Andre visit a fashionable nightclub, they meet the beautiful French chanteuse Marie Devarone (Danielle Darrieux) and her singing partner Paul Sarnac (Fernando Lamas) who are performing there. Marie, it seems, has arranged this meeting since she learned that Jim Stanton and his daughter were in Paris. As it turns out, Marie has a very special reason for wanting to meet Liz.

Rich, Young and Pretty boasts a bevy of musical numbers, which compensate for a plot that's little more than a feather light souffle. An attractive score by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn joins a group of old favorites.

Arriving in Paris, Jane charmingly sings the lilting "Paris". At a French restaurant, Jane joins Wendell Corey for "Deep In The Heart Of Texas." Jane duets with Damone on the lovely "I Can See You," "The Old Piano Roll Blues," and they reprise "We Never Talk Much", sung delightfully earlier in the movie by Danielle Darrieux and Fernando Lamas.

After a late night date, Jane and Vic are joined by the popular vocal group The Four Freshmen on the novelty number, "How Do You Like Your Eggs In The Morning?" (Since Jane was pregnant at the time, this number did not have a pleasant effect on her stomach.)

Another hit song emerged from Rich, Young and Pretty. Both Jane and Vic Damone performed the beautiful love ballad, "Wonder Why" together and separately. "Wonder Why" was also nominated for an Academy Award as best original song, making it the second tune from a Jane Powell musical to be so honored in 1951. Neither number was awarded an Oscar, which went to "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening" from Here Comes The Groom.

The New York Times called Jane's performance "fetching" and cheerful. Jane indeed looked "rich, young and pretty" in the sumptuous costumes designed by Helen Rose. Vic Damone proved to be an excellent co-star for Jane. The two would appear in three more MGM movies together.

On July 21, 1951, Jane gave birth to her first child, Geary Anthony Steffen III. The Steffens would call the boy "G.A." (pronounced Jay).

Small Town Girl (1953) offered Jane yet another girl-next-door role. The Technicolor production produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Leslie Kardos was a musical remake of the 1936 romance starring Janet Gaynor and Robert Taylor. The update was set in the small hamlet of Duck Creek, New York, not too distant from the bright lights of Broadway. Cindy Kimbell (Jane) is the twenty-something daughter of judge Gordon Kimbell (Robert Keith) and his wife (Fay Wray). She also has a cute younger brother named Dennis (Bobby Hyatt). Cindy is employed at Papa Eric Schlemmer's (S. Z. Sakall) Emporium, an establishment which features everything from a soda fountain to the latest ladies' fashions. Papa's talented son Ludwig (Bobby Van) is Cindy's suitor who longs for a career singing and dancing on Broadway, even though Papa wants him to take over the business and marry Cindy.

When rich and handsome big-city playboy Rick Belrow Livingston (Farley Granger) is arrested for driving 85 miles per hour through Duck Creek on a Sunday morning, he attempts to buy his way out of a speeding ticket. Judge Kimbell sentences Rick to 30 days in jail. It's only a matter of time before Cindy and Rick are thrown together in a whirlwind romance, which conveniently frees Ludwig to pursue his true ambitions.

Small Town Girl's simple plot was enlivened by songs composed by Nicholas Brodszky and Leo Robin. Jane's numbers included "Fine Fine Fine" performed with Bobby Van and chorus; "Small Towns Are Smile Towns," "The Fellow I'd Follow", and in the church choir, "Lullaby Of The Lord."

The highpoints of Small Town Girl, however, were the dance sequences staged by the legendary Busby Berkeley and excellently performed by Bobby Van and Ann Miller, who plays Jane's romantic rival. Berkeley's dance numbers added musical magic to a film that needed that extra something to elevate its routine musical comedy romance.

Although Small Town Girl was highly entertaining, it left Jane's fans yearning for more of the brassy comedy and excellent dancing skills she displayed in Royal Wedding. The Los Angeles Examiner felt the movie "Captures the romantic imagination of young, old and inbetweens."

Jane's second child, a daughter, Suzanne Ilene Steffen (known as Sissy) was born on November 21, 1952. Meanwhile, the fan magazines featured Jane and Geary as "Hollywood's dream couple, with dream babies and a dream house." They predicted the "dream" would never die. But already cracks were beginning to appear in the "perfect marriage."

A few months after the birth of her second child, MGM loaned Jane to Warner Brothers to appear with Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson in the Technicolor musical, Three Sailors And a Girl (1953). Soon, it became clear that the film had precipitated a drastic change in Jane's life.

The story was partially based on the George S. Kaufman play, The Butter And Egg Man, which had previously been filmed in 1928, 1932, and 1937 under various titles. The most recent incarnation of the Kaufman play had been Warners' An Angel From Texas (1940). Directed by Roy Del Ruth, Three Sailors And A Girl allowed Jane to portray a character her own age.

When their submarine docks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs, three sailors, "Choirboy" Jones (MacRae), "Twitch" (Nelson) and "Porky" (Jack E. Leonard) and the crew are given 30 days shore leave and eight months' back pay. The gobs are persuaded by impoverished producer Joe Woods (Sam Levene) to invest $50,000 in a Broadway show starring talented singer Penny Weston (Jane). Woods convinces Penny to romance Choirboy so the gobs will put their money in the show.

With a sprightly score by Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain and flashy choreography by LeRoy Prinz and Gene Nelson, Three Sailors And A Girl is a breezy, tune-filled "let's put on a show" movie. The standout number is the energetic, "The Lively Song" performed several times by the four principals. Jane and Gordon MacRae duet to several numbers including, "There Must Be A Reason," "My Heart Is A Singing Heart," "Show Me A Happy Woman," and "When It's Love," a number adapted from a Viennese waltz.

Jane performs a knockout burlesque-style song called, "Kiss Me Or I'll Scream" in revealing black tights. Poured into a succession of short dancing costumes, figure-flattering tights and midriff-baring costumes, Jane displays a shapely pair of gams and is sexier than she'd ever been on screen.

The movie's big finale, "Home Is Where The Heart Is," performed by Jane, Gordon, Gene, and company is a showstopper which allows Jane to appear in several different locales, including Mexico and Siam (Thailand) in colorful and exotic native costumes.

Three Sailors And A Girl features a top-notch supporting cast, including Paul Burke, Merv Griffin, the always-delightful Veda Ann Borg and Burt Lancaster as a Marine in an uncredited cameo.

Gordon MacRae was Jane's on-screen romance in Three Sailors And A Girl. Off-screen Jane had fallen in love with her co-star Gene Nelson. The "dream" marriage of Jane and Geary Steffen ended in a burst of shock and disbelief. Suddenly, MGM's "girl next door" and Warner's top male dancing star found themselves involved in a major scandal that shook Hollywood. Jane filed for divorce on August 6, 1953, as did Gene's wife Miriam Nelson after a marriage of eleven years and one child.

In her memoirs, Jane stated her difficulties with Geary were caused by their different attitudes: "I was trying to grow up-maybe he was trying hard not to." Jane's relationship with Gene Nelson came at a critical time in her life and marriage. The fan magazines were now filled with stories about the couple. "Could divorce wreck Jane Powell's career?" one magazine asked. Another debated, "Is Jane Powell Heartless?" And still another asked, "What Price Love?" Movies magazine summed it all up: "Another black eye for Hollywood, another decent young girl gone haywire." One publication featured photos of Jane and Gene under the headline, "Heedless Hearts," and commented, "Three small children feel the deepest hurt."

Amid all the turmoil, Jane performed at the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Hollywood with Gene Nelson present to offer support. The engagement was a tremendous success for Jane, who dazzled the critics in a bright, fire-engine red Helen Rose gown. Jane had wanted to convince MGM she really had grown up. In its review of Jane's act, The Hollywood Reporter raved, "Sensationally unbelievable."

Jane eagerly awaited their divorces becoming final so she could marry Gene, but as suddenly as the affair began, the Powell-Nelson romance ended. In late 1953, Gene Nelson stated he was not sure and wanted to think about their relationship. Jane was embarrassed and angry: "Angry with myself to think I had been so foolish. I had broken my image, all right. I had broken up a lot of things I cared about."

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) would become one of MGM's most-popular films and Jane Powell's best remembered musical. Produced by Jack Cummings and directed by Stanley Donen, the film was based on Stephen Vincent Benet's story, The Sobbin' Women. Set in the Oregon Territory of the 1850s, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers was lensed in CinemaScope and AnscoColor. The musical featured a terrific original score by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul, with Michael Kidd's brilliant choreography.

Rugged frontier farmer and the eldest of seven unmarried brothers Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) rides into a small Oregon town to claim himself a bride. Adam sets his romantic sights on Milly (Jane), a pretty waitress at the town's cafe. Attracted to the handsome farmer, Milly accepts Adam's marriage proposal unaware their love nest will be shared with Adam's six siblings.

When Milly arrives at the Pontipee farm, she meets her six bewhiskered and unkempt brothers-in-law, all with biblical names, Benjamin (Jeff Richards), Caleb (Matt Mattox), Daniel (Marc Platt), Ephraim (Jacques d'Amboise), Frankincense, called Frank because there were no "F" names in the Bible (Tommy Rall), and Gideon (Russ Tamblyn). Angered at first, Milly sets out to teach the brothers cleanliness and manners, but has her work cut out for her.

At a barn-raising, the Pontipee brothers become smitten when they meet a bevy of young girls. The brothers show off by engaging in a brawl with town boys who try to humiliate them. The young ladies, Dorcas (Julie Newmeyer, later Newmar), Alice (Nancy Kilgas), Sarah (Betty Carr), Liza (Virginia Gibson), Ruth (Ruta Kilmonis, later Lee) and Martha (Norma Doggett), are attracted to the wild Pontipee boys.

Returning home, the brothers pine for the girls, and Adam tells them about the "sobbin' women" - that is the Sabine women of ancient Rome who were abducted. Adam advises the boys follow the example of their Roman predecessors, slip into town and nab the girls.

Although Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is remembered fondly for Michael Kidd's robust choreography of the film's highlight sequence, the barn raising dance number with acrobatics and the choreographed fight that follows, the film contains some splendid vocal delights. For sheer high-spirited exhilaration, Jane's beautiful singing of the joyous "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" would be difficult to top. Performed in a breathtakingly-rendered MGM soundstage "meadow" on their wedding day as Milly and Adam stop to rest on the way to the Pontipee farm, "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" is an emotional highlight.

Equally exhilarating is the foot-stomping "Goin' Courtin'" sung and danced by Jane and the six Pontipee brothers as Milly attempts to teach them the art of courting a girl. Petite Jane and tall and rugged Howard Keel proved a surprisingly-adept romantic team and their duet of the lovely "When You're In Love" is enchanting. Jane also joins the Pontipee brothers and their brides in the sprightly "Spring, Spring, Spring" number, celebrating winter's end.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers was a spectacular hit for MGM opening at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall on July 22, 1954. In its initial 1954 summer release, the musical grossed an impressive $6,298,000.

Reviews of the picture were uniformly excellent. The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture of 1954, Story and Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, and scoring of a Musical Picture, for which Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin took home Oscars. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers placed fifth on the "New York Times" Annual Ten Best List. It was also listed in The Annual Top Moneymaking Films of 1954.

In Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Jane's spunky, ebullient portrayal of Milly Pontipee proved the excellent reviews she garnered for Royal Wedding were no fluke. When the right material presented itself, Jane Powell was as splendid a performer as any of MGM's great musical stars. Sadly, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers would be the last movie really worthy of her incredible talents.

Following her disastrous affair with Gene Nelson, Jane met and later married businessman Pat Nerney on November 8, 1954. The Nerneys would welcome a baby girl, Lindsay Averille, on February 1, 1956.

Jane's next musical comedy, Athena (1954), was proclaimed by MGM, "The Musical With Young Ideas!" In truth, Athena was a sprightly, unique confection that satirized calisthenics, the body beautiful, health foods, numerology and astrology as keys to romance and happiness. Produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Richard Thorpe, the breezy Technicolor movie featured an excellent and tuneful score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

Just as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers included seven male siblings with Biblical names, Athena starred seven charming sisters all named after Greek goddesses. Jane played Athena Mulvain, the eldest sister, with the others being Virginia Gibson as Niobe, Nancy Kilgas as Aphrodite, Dolores Starr as Calliope, Jane Fischer as Medea, Cecile Rogers as Ceres, and Debbie Reynolds as the youngest sister, Minerva. The sisters are the granddaughters of eccentric grandparents, Ulysses Mulvain (Louis Calhern) and Salome Mulvain (Norma Varden), whose regimen consists of exercise, natural foods such as vegetables, nuts, and berries, a firm belief in numerology and the stars, and meditation with the spirit of "Narda", who seemingly governs their lives.

When Athena, an Aquarius, meets handsome but stuffy Adam Calhorn Shaw (Edmund Purdom), a Sagittarius, she's convinced that love can change the stars, even though their astrological signs suggest the opposite. Meanwhile, Athena's youngest sister Minerva (Debbie Reynolds) is pursued by handsome television crooner Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone). In no time, Athena and Minerva have Adam and Johnny consuming healthy foods, lifting barbells, breathing lots of fresh air and stargazing in an effort to convert them to the Mulvain concept of the good life.

Complicating Adam's and Athena's romance are his society girlfriend Beth Hallson (Linda Christian) and her overbearing Grandpa Mulvain, who insists Athena marry her would-be suitor, bodybuilder and "perfect specimen" Ed Perkins (Steve Reeves, Mr. Universe of 1950, and later Hercules in the Italian sword and sandal films).

Jane sings some wonderful numbers in Athena. Her opening song, the joyous "Vocalize", is pure delight. Jane joins Debbie Reynolds and her other sisters in the exuberant "I Never Felt Better". Perhaps Jane's two finest vocal selections are the movie's main love theme, the unsung gem, "Love Can Change The Stars" and her brilliant rendition of the operatic aria, Gaetano Donizetti's "Chacun Le Sait" from Daughter Of The Regiment. A duet with Edmund Purdom (dubbed by Victor Marchese) a reprise of "Love Can Change The Stars", was cut from the final film.

Jane was quite fond of Athena, even though most critics were not. Perhaps Athena was ahead of its time and may have been better reviewed twenty years later when health-food faddists, positive thinkers, numerologists and psychics were more in vogue. Despite this, Athena has gained a cult following due to the appearance of future Hercules star, Steve Reeves.

Deep In My Heart (1954) was an excellent biography of Hungarian-born composer Sigmund Romberg (effectively played by Jose Ferrer), whose operettas and musical shows dazzled Broadway from the early 1900s to the 1940s. The movie chronicled Romberg's rise to prominence from musician in a modest Second Avenue cafe to Broadway eminence, along with the courtship of his wife Lillian (newcomer Doe Avedon who had previously been seen in John Wayne's The High and The Mighty as a flight attendant. She exhibited little star quality as Mrs. Romberg and seems to have disappeared from the screen soon after).

Also featured in the cast were the lovely Merle Oberon as lyricist Dorothy Donnelly, Walter Pidgeon as Broadway impresario J. J. Shubert, Paul Henreid as the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld, Tamara Toumanova as French musical comedy star Gaby Deslys and to add that "touch of class" so dear to MGM's heart, Metropolitan Opera Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel as Romberg's friend and confidant Anna Mueller.

Since Sigmund Romberg's life and career were hardly the stuff of high drama, MGM decided to stress the entertainment inherent in the composer's music and theatrical productions. Produced by Roger Edens in the opulent MGM style, Deep In My Heart was directed by Stanley Donen and photographed in Eastman Color with prints by Technicolor.

To perform the immortal Romberg melodies, MGM assigned just about every musical performer at the studio to appear as guest stars in the picture. The star-spangled assemblage included Rosemary Clooney (Mrs. Jose Ferrer), Gene Kelly and his brother Fred, Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Howard Keel, Tony Martin, William Olvis, James Mitchell and Joan Weldon.

Jane and Vic Damone appear in an excerpt from Maytime (1917), one of Romberg's greatest and longest-running successes. In a lush garden setting, beneath trees filled with falling pink and white May blossoms, Jane and Damone sing the enchanting "Will You Remember (Sweetheart)" ending in a passionate kiss. Listed in the cast as playing Ottilie van Zandt (Maytime's original leading lady), Jane is resplendent in a lovely white period gown and picture hat. "Will You Remember" is one of her finest screen accomplishments and makes one wonder why MGM did not star Jane in more of its 1950s operetta remakes.

MGM advertised the movie as containing 22 hit songs from eleven Broadway shows. When released in December 1954, Deep In My Heart proved a popular boxoffice attraction. Deep In My Heart would also be the last of MGM's all-star composer biographies so popular with audiences of the 1940s and 1950s.

In her memoirs, Jane relates she was originally selected to star in Love Me Or Leave Me as famed 1920s torch singer Ruth Etting, but was replaced by Doris Day. Jane says she always regretted losing the role, especially since Ruth Etting herself told an interviewer that she had wanted Jane to play her. Had Jane played Etting in the dramatic musical biography, the course of her career might have changed dramatically. Instead, Jane would be cast in Hit The Deck (1955), a frothy Joe Pasternak production photographed in CinemaScope and Eastman Color and directed by Roy Rowland.

Based on the 1922 Hubert Osborne play, Shore Leave, and the later musical comedy Hit The Deck by Herbert Fields, with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Clifford Grey and Leo Robin, the story had previously been filmed several times. A 1925 silent film featured Richard Barthelmess. A 1930 musical based on the stage musical starred Jack Oakie. Then in 1936, RKO used the Osborne play as an inspiration for the hit Astaire-Rogers musical, Follow The Fleet, with a new score by Irving Berlin.

MGM acquired the remake rights from RKO. Metro's lavish musical production retained some aspects of the original stage story, while updating the script to highlight the considerable talents of a powerhouse cast. MGM also retained Vincent Youmans' sparkling score.

In addition to Jane, Hit The Deck's impressive cast included Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone, Ann Miller and Russ Tamblyn. Popular song stylist Kay Armen was selected to play Vic Damone's mother, even though they were approximately the same age! Appearing in non-musical roles were veterans Walter Pidgeon (again cast as Jane's father for the first time since 1946's Holiday In Mexico), Gene Raymond and J. Carrol Naish.

Three sailors on 48-hour shore leave in San Francisco, Rico Ferrari (Damone), Danny Xavier Smith, the Admiral's son (Tamblyn) and Chief Boatswain's Mate William F. "Bill" Clark (Martin) pursue three lovely ladies, Susan Smith (Jane), the Admiral's daughter, showgirl Carol Pace (Reynolds) and saucy nightclub entertainer Ginger (Miller). After some romantic complications are solved, and the boys escape the consequences of a nasty brawl, each boy ends up with his own girl just in time for a gargantuan finale.

MGM pulls out all the stops in a stupendous production number which features the three sailors and their girls and Kay Armen and what appears to be the entire U. S. Pacific Fleet singing and dancing to Vincent Youmans' rousing anthem, "Hallelujah!" All this and Hermes Pan's sensational choreography too!

Jane's other musical numbers included "Lucky Bird", a novelty tune in which she's accompanied by a toy penguin. Jane performs the delicious "Sometimes I'm Happy" both as a solo and later as a duet with Damone. "I Know That You Know" is a second lively pairing of Jane and Vic. Jane, Debbie and Ann perform the wistful "Why Oh Why", while Jane joins Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Russ Tamblyn (dubbed by Rex Dennis), Tony Martin and Kay Armen for the Italian-flavored "Ciribiribin".

Despite the star power and the familiar score, Hit The Deck was not the smash hit MGM had hoped for. The film premiered at New York's Radio City Music Hall on March 3, 1955. In many ways, Hit The Deck represents the end of an era. It would be MGM's last big all-star movie musical. Although the studio would release other musicals in the future, they were not like the joyous "feel-good" musicals Jane had appeared in. Hit The Deck would also be Jane's last film for MGM. Hoping another studio might offer her more challenging roles in more varied projects, Jane asked to be released from her MGM contract. At age twenty-six, Jane Powell officially left MGM in November 1955.

Although she had been announced for other MGM projects, including a proposed musical version of Robin Hood opposite Howard Keel, Jane later learned MGM had planned to "fire" her in about six months, since the studio was curtailing musical production. New MGM studio head Dore Schary, who replaced Louis B. Mayer in 1951, had promised change, but led the studio deeper into decline. In 1956 Schary would be fired, too, and the studio's glory days were over. The 1948 Supreme Court decision, which forced the studios to dump their theater chains, and the rise of television, had a disastrous effect on studios like MGM. The Golden Age was over, and the movie musical faded away with it.

In 1956, Jane recorded Cole Porter's "True Love", an Oscar nominated song from MGM's High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story (1941). "True Love" rose to number fifteen on the "Billboard" charts and number 107 on the pop charts. "True Love" would be Jane's only-charted single. Also in 1956, Jane recorded "Can't We Be Friends?", an LP for Verve Records.

Jane's first film after leaving MGM was the scintillating RKO Technicolor musical, The Girl Most Likely (1958), directed by Mitchell Leisen. A musical remake of the classic RKO comedy, Tom, Dick and Harry (1941) starring Ginger Rogers, George Murphy, Alan Marshall and Burgess Meredith, The Girl Most Likely would be the final feature filmed entirely on the RKO lot before the studio ceased film production.

Filmed in lush Technicolor with original songs written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, The Girl Most Likely is set in the picturesque Southern California town of Balboa, where there are "two girls to every man and all wearing little more than a healthy tan." The film's title song was composed by Nelson Riddle and Bob Russell and performed on the soundtrack by 1950s pop group The HiLo's.

In addition to Jane, the movie's terrific cast includes Cliff Robertson, Keith Andes, Tommy Noonan, Una Merkel, Frank Cady and Judy Nugent. The fabulous Kaye Ballard as Jane's gal pal Marge proves the perfect comic foil. The Girl Most Likely's dances and musical sequences are choreographed by the brilliant Gower Champion.

Jane stars as Dodie, a young girl who is so in love with love that when three men propose to her within a week, she says "yes" to all three. Her suitors are: eager young real estate agent Buzz (Noonan); Pete (Robertson), a penniless mechanic; and Neil Patterson, Jr. (Andes), a rich playboy with a spectacular yacht. Since Dodie seems obsessed with marrying money, Neil Patterson seems the right mate for her, but Dodie will know she's making the right choice only when a "pink cloud" appears after she kisses Mr. Right.

Early in The Girl Most Likely, Jane charmingly performs the plaintive soliloquy, "I Don't Know What I Want," with lyrics that perfectly express the movie's basic theme. In a couple of highly-entertaining dream sequences, Jane fantasizes about what life would be like with Buzz and Pete. "We Gotta Keep Up With The Joneses," performed by Jane and Tommy Noonan satirizes Buzz's ambition to be as successful as other 1950s American young married couples. When Pete confesses that his hometown is Crazy Horse, Oklahoma, Dodie fantasizes herself as an American Indian woman married to a rather laid back Chief Crazy Horse (Pete). Jane is delightful performing "Crazy Horse," while a sprightly group of kids sing and dance along with her.

A few miles drive from Balboa is the Mexican town of Tijuana, where Neil takes Dodie for a fiesta of song and dance. In a local bazaar, Jane, Keith Andes, Kaye Ballard and her sailor date Kelly Brown are accompanied by an ensemble of pseudo-Mexicans who sing and dance and romp through "All The Colors Of The Rainbow," a revolt against the American gray-flannel approach to living.

The Girl Most Likely's musical highlight is a real Gower Champion extravaganza, an elaborate ballet performed in the shallow water of the beach where Jane, Cliff Robertson, Kaye Ballard, Kelly Brown and an ensemble of bathing beauties and muscle men sing, dance and cavort in the surf performing the stupendous production number, "Balboa." This number was actually filmed on an RKO soundstage with terrific special effects that make it difficult to tell the performers are not splashing and diving in Balboa bay itself!

The Girl Most Likely completed filming in late-1957, but was released by Universal over a year later in October 1958, after RKO had ceased producing feature films. The picture received little publicity from Universal. The New York Times dismissed the movie as a "messy little picture that seems determined to fritter away a dandy array of talent, including the glorious voice of Jane Powell as a pinhead heroine to end them all." This appraisal, while harsh and unfair, is a fair indication that the day of the Golden Age musical had passed. Today, we can better appreciate its terrific Gower Champion choreography and the sparkling talents of its leading lady. To a modern viewer, The Girl Most Likely has a certain nostalgic charm, especially considering that it was Jane Powell's last big-screen musical.

Jane then turned to concerts, nightclubs, television and summer stock appearances still hoping the "right picture" would come along. A very successful Hollywood Bowl concert before an audience of 20,000 proved how well Jane could handle performing before live audiences.

On February 3, 1957, Jane appeared in the delightful NBC-TV Producers' Showcase musical special, Ruggles of Red Gap costarring Michael Redgrave, Peter Lawford, Imogene Coca and David Wayne. Jane was a recurring regular on NBC-TV's Alcoa - Goodyear Theatre during 1957-58.

Hollywood beckoned again when Universal signed Jane to appear as aging movie queen Vanessa Windsor's (Hedy Lamarr) adopted daughter Penny in the rather lurid melodrama, The Female Animal (1958). Penny is a rebellious, hard-drinking, sexually-agressive young woman who has been ignored by her famous mother. Mother and daughter are on a collision course when both become romantically involved with handsome movie extra Chris Farley (George Nader) after Vanessa engages him to become "caretaker" of her luxurious beach house.

The Female Animal is a surprisingly frank Hollywood story, which offered Jane her first non-musical role. Under Harry Keller's direction, Jane proved adept at handling a straight dramatic role. Unfortunately, Hollywood failed to take advantage of Jane's new image. The Female Animal would be Jane's next-to-last starring role.

In her memoirs, Jane said she was thrilled when she signed to do Enchanted Island (1958) because it offered a "different kind of role" with a death scene, which she felt would establish her as a serious actress. Filmed on location in Acapulco, Mexico in Technicolor, Enchanted Island was based on the Herman Melville novel, Typee, and co-starred Dana Andrews, Don Dubbins, Arthur Shields and Ted de Corsia.

In the exotic South Seas adventure set in 1842, Jane portrays a princess of the Typee tribe named Fayaway, complete with tropical body makeup, black wig and sarong, a role Dorothy Lamour might have relished in the 1940s. The Typee tribe supposedly are cannibals (although no evidence of this is ever shown in the movie). Fayaway's blue eyes are explained by the presence of an Irishman on the island years earlier.

Although interesting in the role, Jane seems rather miscast as a monosyllabic native girl. One wonders how the film's producer Benedict Bogeaus failed to include Jane performing a native song and dance. And Jane didn't die in the movie, as Bogeaus felt her fans would not allow it. One thing did die in Enchanted Island, however. The film is a sad swan song to Jane Powell's wonderful movie career.

Directed by screen veteran Allan Dwan for RKO, Enchanted Island was later distributed by Warner Bros. Jane would later state, "I didn't quit movies, they quit me!"

Jane enjoyed a flourishing television career in the 1950s and 1960s. On April 26, 1959, Jane played a beguiling Esther Smith in the TV special, Meet Me In St. Louis, which featured an all-star cast including Jeanne Crain, Tab Hunter, Patty Duke, Ed Wynn, Reta Shaw and MGM stalwarts Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy.

Other TV specials included Young At Heart, Feathertop, Hooray For Love, The Danny Thomas Show, The Victor Borge Show and her own special, The Jane Powell Show, which featured guest stars Gwen Verdon, Art Carney and Steve Lawrence.

All the major variety shows of the period welcomed Jane as a guest star. A partial list includes The Perry Como Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Red Skelton Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Judy Garland Show, and others too numerous to mention.

Jane appeared on the popular Sunday night game show, What's My Line?, both as a "mystery guest" and as a guest panelist. She also starred in a failed TV pilot for a situation comedy called, The Jane Powell Show. Among her dramatic TV guest spots were The Dick Powell Show and The June Allyson Show.

While performing her cabaret act in Australia, Jane appeared as a guest on that country's variety shows. Back in the USA, Jane's very successful nightclub act played some of the top nightspots in New York, Las Vegas, and other cities.

After nine years, Jane's marriage to Pat Nerney ended in divorce on may 8, 1963. Two years later, Jane married producer and public relations man James Fitzgerald in Sydney, Australia, on June 27, 1965. Fitzgerald had produced Jane's 1964 musical revue, Just 20-Plus Me, which he had hoped to bring to Broadway. Just 20-Plus Me toured the country but never made it to Broadway. Fitzgerald soon became Jane's manager.

Another successful aspect of Jane's career found her starring in road show and summer stock productions of popular Broadway musicals. Among her most popular were Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, The Boy Friend, Brigadoon and The Sound Of Music.

Jane's appearance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Melodyland Theater in Anaheim, California, had established the highest gross in summer theater history, according to "Variety" of August 21, 1963. Jane became one of the most successful actresses in road show musicals and generally received outstanding reviews. The Hollywood Reporter of September 15, 1964 wrote, "Jane Powell's My Fair Lady established a double record gross for a West Coast production of Lerner-Loewe classic as the top attraction for the Valley Music Theater."

The 1970s found Jane working almost non-stop. In addition to more TV appearances, Jane toured with former co-star Howard Keel in productions of I Do! I Do!, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and South Pacific, the latter two of which I was privileged to see when they played Kansas City.

Jane also starred in three made-for-TV movies. Wheeler And Murdoch (ABC-TV 3/27/72) featured Jack Weston and Christopher Stone as the title characters and costarred Jane, Van Johnson, Diane Baker and Dewey Martin. The Letters (ABC-TV 3/6/73), a dramatic trilogy, starred Jane, John Forsythe, Lesley Ann Warren, Gary Dubin and Trish Mahoney in the Andersons episode. Barbara Stanwyck, Leslie Nielsen, Dina Merrill, and Ida Lupino were among the players in the other two episodes. Mayday At 40,000 Feet! (CBS-TV 11/12/76) starred David Janssen and Don Meredith. Jane was part of a cast that included Broderick Crawford, Tom Drake, Ray Milland and Christopher George.

Jane also lent her voice to the character of Celeste in the animated Tubby The Tuba in 1975. In February 1974, Jane replaced Debbie Reynolds in the Broadway production of Irene. Irene was Jane's first Broadway show, and was a successful revival of the 1919 musical classic. The 1970s revival was originally directed by Gower Champion; but when Jane assumed the role, her director was Stuart Bishop. Featured in Irene's cast were Patsy Kelly, Ruth Warrick, Ron Husmann and George S. Irving.

Jane played Irene O'Dare, a poor Irish girl from Ninth Avenue in New York who acquires sophistication from couturier Madame Lucy (Irving) and wins a handsome socialite boyfriend (Husmann). The lovely song, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" was put into the show especially for Jane to perform and became one of Irene's highlights.

Jane received rave reviews for Irene. In her big number, the enchanting "Alice Blue Gown" Jane appeared in a luminous blue gown which moved critic Donald Brooks to rhapsodize, "She shimmers like the Blue Fairy." Jane continued to play to packed houses through September 1974. She also would tour with Irene later.

Despite her success, Jane faced monumental personal problems. She would lose her lovely singing voice for a two-year period due to tired vocal muscles brought on by improper vocal training with various coaches. Jane could sing only four notes! She wrote in her memoirs, "losing my voice was like losing my soul." Jane also discussed openly for the first time her son, G.A.'s, drug addiction problems while co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show in 1970.

Marital problems with James Fitzgerald would result in the couple's divorce in 1975. Then on October 21, 1978, Jane married David Parlour, whom she described as a "producer/ writer/ adventurer/ jack-of-all trades." Jane admitted the marriage was a mistake later. They separated after a year and divorced in 1981.

During the 1980s, Jane guested on such TV shows as The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also appeared on Murder She Wrote, the very successful series starring Angela Lansbury. Then in a sharp change of pace, Jane played the recurring role of Rebeka Beecham on the ABC-TV soap opera, Loving, in 1985. Rebeka was the rich matriarch of the 4-B ranch in Wyoming who interferes in her youngest son's (Brian Robert Taylor) life. Jane loved playing a determined, no-nonsense woman she described as "a short Barbara Stanwyck, a strong matriarch overseeing the ranch." She would appear in Loving approximately nine months.

Jane returned to movie screens in Marie (1985), a drama starring Sissy Spacek, Jeff Daniels and Morgan Freeman. Jane was featured briefly as a singer at a political rally.

In 1987, Jane starred in a fitness video, Jane Powell Fights Back With Fitness, an exercise tape for people with arthritis. Jane did not suffer from the disease herself.

Jane also toured with her one-woman show, Jane Powell Inside Out-Her Story Live. The show gave her a chance to recall her show business career, and present it in story and song.

Jane was one of the former MGM stars who graced the Academy Awards presentation in 1986, along with June Allyson, Marge Champion, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, Esther Williams, Debbie Reynolds, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller. It was a truly nostalgic reunion for "Leo The Lion's Ladies."

In 1982, Jane met Dickie Moore, the former child star turned public relations executive, who was writing a book on child stars titled, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star-But Don't Have Sex Or Take The Car." Moore was researching the book and wanted to interview Jane. Dick and Jane soon developed a romantic relationship and she relocated to Manhattan where they moved in together. Moore's long career goes back to his early childhood when he began appearing in films in 1927. A couple of his more memorable roles include playing Marlene Dietrich's little boy in Blonde Venus, and the deaf-mute youth in Out of the Past.

Although Jane had been quoted at the time of her fourth divorce as saying, "no more marriages, no more babies, and no more puppies," Jane wed Dickie Moore on May 21, 1988. The couple live happily in Manhattan and Connecticut.

Jane's memoir, "The Girl Next Door And How She Grew," was published in 1988. That year, Jane joined the cast of ABC-TV's Growing Pains in which she played Alan Thicke's widowed mother. Her character married Robert Rockwell in a 1989 segment. Jane remained on Growing Pains until the beginning of the 1990s. Jane temporarily replaced Eileen Fulton as Lisa Grimaldi in the soap opera, As The World Turns, in 1991, 1993 and 1994.

Jane was the initial star to appear on the TCM series Private Screenings then called Reel Memories in 1995. She discussed her life and career with TCM host Robert Osborne. In 1999, Jane appeared on movie screens in Picture This which featured Melissa Errico, Christian Camargo, Valerie Perrine and Michael Nouri in the cast.

Jane's career continued into the 21st Century with supporting roles in two TV movies. The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (2000) featured Jane as Delia Ferguson and a cast that included Glenne Headly, Tom Irwin, Richard McMillian and Madeline Zima. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenet And The City Of Boulder (2000) dealt with the real-life mystery surrounding the death of child model JonBenet Ramsey. The film's cast included Kris Kristofferson, Marg Helgenberger, Ronny Cox, Ken Howard, John Heard, Ann-Margret and Dyanne Iandoli as JonBenet. Jane played a dance instructor.

Jane appeared in the off-Broadway production, Avow, in 2000. She received excellent notices in a role that showcased her splendid comedic talents. In a 2002 episode of the highly-successful TV series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Vulnerable", Jane turned in a superior performance as an Alzheimer's victim physically abused by a psychotic male nurse's aide.

In 2003, Jane returned to the stage playing Mama Mizner in the Stephen Sondheim musical, Bounce. Although she garnered great reviews, Bounce was not a critical success and failed to reach Broadway. Jane appeared as herself in the film, Broadway: The Golden Age (2004), a cavalcade of Broadway's heyday, the 1930s through the 1960s. The movie included interviews with Jane and more than one hundred Broadway veterans, as well as archival footage of New York City and rarely seen performances.

On December 31, 2007, Jane returned to her hometown of Portland, Oregon, for a one-evening performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter And The Wolf, with Pink Martini, a band that draws its inspiration from classic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s. Jane would also appear with Pink Martini on March 9, 2008, at New York's Avery Fisher Hall. She sang a duet of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" from Two Weeks With Love with lead singer China Forbes.

Jane is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Actors' Fund of America. For her 80th birthday on April 1, 2009, husband Dickie Moore and TCM host Robert Osborne organized a party at a New York City hotel for a large group of her family and friends. It was a lovely night to remember for a magnificent lady.

Jane continues to perform in her early eighties. She frequently can be found at nostalgia events and on television, recalling the films and stars of Hollywood's glorious past. Even today she is still making dates with her fans. Recently, college counselor and film buff Mike Lambert attended a concert and informed Classic Images of a very pleasant surprise: "When I saw the name Jane Powell in the list of guest artists who would be appearing with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl on a recent summer evening, I thought, 'Oh, that's interesting. There must be a new young performer who has the same name as the show business legend.' So it was an incredible and delightful surprise when, half-way into the show, Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini's lead singer, announced, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, for the first time in at least 40 years, back at the Hollywood Bowl, please welcome the lovely, the incredible, Miss Jane Powell.' Even more delightful was to see Jane breeze onto the stage, exuding her trademark joy and radiance. Launching right into "It's a Most Unusual Day," she lit up the stage, and the better part of the entire Hollywood Hills. Tanned, toned, youthful and adorable in a yellow shoulderless gown, when she sang "It's a most unusual day, feel like throwing my worries away," I felt like throwing mine away, too. I think everyone in the house did. It takes a lot for a cynical curmudgeon like myself to feel that all's right with the world and that life can actually be fun and light. That's what Jane Powell brings to an audience, after all these years." Clearly, the Powell magic lives on.

Hollywood's Golden Age practically required the creation of great stars like Deanna Durbin and Jane Powell. Not surprisingly, their careers flourished during the peak of the studio system, but as the studios declined, the costly screen musical also declined. Some like Deanna left Hollywood for personal reasons. Others, like Jane, tried to stick it out, but it was no use. The Golden Age was over, and it was time for Jane to move on.

In her films, Jane projected beauty, and refinement-qualities sorely missing from today's movies. Fortunately, the image of an elegant and beautiful woman with an exquisite soprano singing voice performing the marvelous music of the 1940s and '50s will endure as long as she keeps performing, and as long as we keep watching classic films.

Thanks, Jane, for a lifetime of incredible memories!