Biography

Jane Powell's Movies, Life and Loves

Dancer, actress and soprano singer Jane Powell (nee Suzanne Burce) began taking dance lessons at the age two, and was soon tap-dancing on local Portland, Oregon radio stations. Singing lessons at age 10 followed and her amazing two-and-a-half octave range soon began to open entertainment doors for her.

jane powell 1951, american actress, 1950s movie musicals, 1950s movie stars, classic movies, royal wedding movie, peter lawford, american actor, jane powell younger, peter lawford younger, 1950s fred astaire films,(Jane Powell 1951 Royal Wedding)

At age 12, while still in grade school, Jane Powell was singing in two weekly radio shows and touring Oregon as the Oregon Victory Girl, selling Victory Bonds during World War II. 

During a 1943 family summer vacation in Hollywood, 13-year-old Suzanne Burce won a talent competition/radio show hosted by Janet Gaynor, Hollywood Showcase: Stars Over Hollywood. The next day she had two auditions with producers - one with David O. Selznick and another with MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed her to a 7-year contract with MGM at age 14. Although reluctant, Powell has said she felt she owed her parents for the hardships endured while they paid for her singing and dancing lessons.

She played the character of Jane Powell in her first movie, Song of the Open Road (1944), and took that as her professional name.

MGM Studios Little Red Schoolhouse With Roddy & Elizabeth

From 1944-1958, Jane Powell starred in 19 movies for MGM movie studios, and the other studios they loaned her out to.

Her second film was Delightfully Dangerous (1945), a musical in which she co-starred with Ralph Bellamy and Constance Moore. Powell played a younger sister who dreams of following her sis (played by Constance Moore), onto the stage. 

jane powell 1945, american actress, 1940s movies, 1940s movie musicals, delightfully dangerous film, jane powell younger, ralph bellamy movies, constance moore movies, jane powell films(Jane Powell 1945 Delightfully Dangerous)

As a teenager, she attended the famous MGM backstage "Little Red Schoolhouse", along with other child stars such as Margaret O'Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Dean Stockwell, and long-time friend Roddy McDowall. Frequent co-star Debbie Reynolds also attended this school. 

Below, Elizabeth Taylor’s high school graduation photo on the set of the MGM movie Father of the Bride (1950) shows the camaraderie on the MGM lot with the young stars. The "little red schoolhouse" as it was called, was the place where lifelong friendships were formed, and special occasions celebrated with friends.

dean stockwell, child actor, jane powell, claude jarman jr, elizabeth taylor high school graduation party, russ tamblyn, mgm, litle red schoolhouse, friendsFrom left: Claude Jarman Jr., Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, Tom Irish, Jane Powell, Elizabeth Taylor. (Photo: listal.com) 

In a 2011 interview with the Chicago Tribune, then-octogenarian senior Jane Powell reflected back on that time in her life at MGM

"Roddy McDowall...was like a brother to me, the same way he was with Elizabeth...We'd meet at his house most every Sunday, and we'd dance, and we'd swim, and play badminton, and Roddy's mother would make a big dinner. And that was the only socializing we did, really. We were terribly isolated...It was a lonely life."

Friends Jane Powell and Roddie McDowall appeared in the movie Holiday in Mexico (1946) together. In Holiday in Mexico, Powell plays the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador (Walter Pidgeon), who has a crush on an older man (piano virtuoso José Iturbi).

Two years later, Powell starred as Judy in A Date With Judy (1948) alongside her schoolmate and friend Elizabeth Taylor, who played Judy's boyfriend's sister. Robert Stack, Wallace Beery, Carmen Miranda, Xavier Cugat, and Scotty Beckett co-starred in A Date with Judy

jane powell 1948, american actress, 1940s movie musicals, a date with judy film stars, carmen miranda, xavier cugat, elizabeth taylor costars, jane powell younger(Carmen Miranda, Xavier Cugat, Jane Powell & Elizabeth Taylor 1948 A Date with Judy Photo: MGM)

In a 2000 interview with Rex Reed for Observer, Jane Powell reflected that,

"I made a great deal of money but I never got to spend it. My mother took everything. I don’t know what she did with it. Probably hid it under the mattress. After that, my first husband took half of everything I made. Everyone wanted to keep me young. I didn’t even know anything about sex until I was 21."

The musical Three Daring Daughters (1948), featured Jeannette MacDonald as a divorced mother of three, and José Iturbi as her love interest. Actresses Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue played Powell's on-screen sisters in Three Daring Daughters. The movie trailer below of Three Daring Daughters features Jane Powell, Elinor Donahue, Ann E. Todd, Jeannette Macdonald, and José Iturbi. 

Nancy Goes to Rio (1950 ) is a musical comedy in which Powell plays the title role of Nancy, daughter to actress Ann Sothern. Onscreen mom & daughter (both singers) are interested in actor Barry Sullivan, the movie's leading man. Carmen Miranda, Louis Calhern, and Scotty Beckett are also in the cast of Nancy Goes to Rio.

jane powell 1949, jane powell engagement, jane powell married geary steffen, jane powell first husband, jane powell younger(Jane Powell & Geary Steffen 1949 Engagement Photo: Associated Press Wirephoto)

Powell married first husband Gearhardt (Geary) Anthony Steffen, an insurance broker and former figure skater, in November 1949. Her MGM Schoolhouse friend Elizabeth Taylor was a bridesmaid.

The following year, Jane was one of Elizabeth Taylor's bridesmaids when she married Conrad Hilton, Jr. in 1950.

Jane and Gearhardt's first child, son Gearhardt Anthony (G.A. "Jay") Steffen III was born in July 1951.

Their second child, daughter Suzanne (Sissy) Steffen, was born in November 1952.

jane powell 1953, jane powell son geary steffen iii, jane powell children, jane powell daughter sissy steffen, jane powell younger, jane powell family(Jane Powell with her child in a 1953 photo: Irving L. Antler / Ambassador Hotel Photograph)

Gene Nelson And Co-Stars

Jane Powell continued acting after her marriage and starred in the first of three movies with actress Debbie Reynolds, who played her sister in Two Weeks With Love (1950); co-incidentally, both Powell and Reynolds share an April 1st birthday. 

Powell also appeared in three movies with fellow singer-actor Vic Damone during her MGM career.

jane powell 1951, american actress, 1950s movie musicals, 1950s movie stars, classic movies, royal wedding movie, peter lawford, american actor, jane powell younger, peter lawford younger, 1950s fred astaire films, (Jane Powell & Peter Lawford 1951 Royal Wedding)

The classic musical-comedy Royal Wedding (1951) had Jane Powell co-starring with Fred Astaire as his on-screen sister. Royal Wedding was set at the time of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh's wedding in 1947 London, and was very popular with audiences at the time.

jane powell 1950, american singer, actress, movie musicals, mgm

(Jane Powell 1940s-1950s Photo: MGM)

According to author Tony Benvenuto of Classic Images, after Sissy's birth, MGM loaned Jane Powell to Warner Brothers to film the movie Three Sailors and a Girl (1953).

During filming of Three Sailors and a Girl, Powell fell in love with married actor and father of one, Gene Nelson.

Their love affair brought an end to both their marriages, with both Jane and Gene's wife Miriam filing for divorce in August 1953. Jane and Gene had planned to marry when their divorces were finalized, but by late 1953 Nelson had backed away from their romance.

Powell was left furious with herself at the damage that she had wrought on her personal and professional life. 

Gene Nelson's career wasn't damaged by the affair; he acted steadily on TV and in the movies, and was also in demand as a television director in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Jane Powell co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in Athena (1954), their second movie together. Once again Reynolds and Powell played sisters.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Powell's next picture release was the classic movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), possibly the movie she is best known for. 

Jane played feisty Milly opposite Howard Keel as oldest brother Adam; and once again co-starred with a former MGM Little Red Schoolhouse actor, Russ Tamblyn, who played youngest brother Gideon in the film. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers won the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. 

Below, Jane Powell sings Goin' Courtin' in a clip from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Cast members and the titled onscreen brothers Russ Tamblyn, Jeff Richards (Benjamin), Tommy Rall (Frank), Marc Platt (Daniel), Matt Mattox (Caleb), and Jacques D'Amboise (Ephraim) sing and dance with her.

Still unhappy in her personal life, Jane Powell married a friend, automobile executive and divorced father of one Patrick Nerney, in November 1954. Many years later, in her autobiography The Girl Next Door And How She Grew (1988), Powell related her inability to be alone as something she overcame later in life.

Hit The Deck (1955) featured Jane Powell (playing Susan Smith) and Debbie Reynolds (as dancer Carol Pace) in their third film together. It also reunited Powell with her MGM schoolhouse pal Russ Tamblyn on screen, as he played Susan's younger brother Danny Xavier Smith.

Jane Powell and Patrick Nerney's daughter Lindsey Nerney was born in February 1956, and Jane's single True Love made it to #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 music charts that year.

As her contract time with MGM came to a close, Jane completed three movies that were released in 1958. In one of her last films, she co-starred with Cliff Robertson in The Girl Most Likely (1958).

Farewell to MGM & Starting Over

After 1958, Jane Powell's big-screen film career was effectively ended. Throughout the remainder of the 1950s and 1960s she guest-starred on television specials and variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show.

Powell also appeared in touring productions of stage plays and musicals, including 3 productions of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1963, 1966, and 1981), but the film role went to her formerly frequent movie co-star, Debbie Reynolds.

Patrick Nerney and Jane Powell divorced in 1963. Two years later Powell married for the third time, to James Fitzgerald, while she was touring in Australia. Below, news video footage of the wedding of Jane Powell and James Fitzgerald.

For several years the couple celebrated their anniversary in Australia. James Fitzgerald became Jane's business manager, and their marriage become more of an unhappy business relationship, according to Powell. 

After replacing Debbie Reynolds in Irene on Broadway for a 9-month run in 1974, Powell then toured with a production of the show while Fitzgerald stayed in California. Jane Powell and James Fitzgerald divorced in 1975 after 10 years of marriage, and Jane made a return to films as a voice over actress (Celeste in Tubby the Tuba, 1975).

jane powell 1973, american actress, 1970s movies, the letters 1973 movie, jane powell middle age(Jane Powell 1973 The Letters TV Movie)

Jane Powell's husband number four was writer David Parlour; he and Jane married in 1978 and were divorced in 1981.

During the 1980's Jane Powell guest starred on popular baby boomer television series like The Love Boat, and had a 9-month turn on daytime TV soap opera Loving as Rebecca Beecham in 1985. From 1988-1990 she had a recurring role on Growing Pains as Alan Thicke's on-screen mother, Irma Seaver Overmier. 

Finding Lasting Love

Friend Roddy McDowall asked Jane to grant an interview to PR firm owner and former child actor Dickie Moore of Our Gang and Little Rascals fame, who was researching his autobiographical novel Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car (1984).

Dickie Moore and Jane Powell began dating and moved in together in New York in 1982. They married in 1988 - Powell's fifth marriage, and Moore's third. Jane Powell's autobiography, The Girl Next Door...And How She Grew, was published that same year. The couple maintained homes in New York City and Connecticut during their happy marriage.

jane powell older, 2002 jane powell 2003, goodman theatre actress, american actress(Jane Powell 2002-2003 Photo: Goodman Theatre, Used by Permission)

In 2000 a septuagenarian Jane Powell returned to acting with a vengeance - starring in 4 non-musical stage plays and two made-for-TV movies. This frenetic pace may have burned her out, because by the end of 2003 she had retired from acting.

In an interview that year with Rex Reed for Observer, Jane Powell noted

My voice is not what it used to be. I can’t hit the high notes and I won’t be second-rate. I have everything I’ve ever wanted in life and more-a wonderful marriage, a beautiful home, perfect health."

Interviewer Lloyd Schwartz commented in an article for The Phoenix as recently as 2013 that octogenarian Jane Powell was in great shape, working out and taking care of husband Dickie Moore, who was then suffering from arthritis and dementia.

jane powell 1948, american singer, actress, 1940s movie musical, a date with judy(Jane Powell 1948 A Date With Judy Photo: MGM)

Sadly, Dickie Moore died in September 2015 at age 89 after 27 years of marriage (and 33 years together) with Jane Powell.

Jane Powell told The Connecticut Post in 2017 that she was learning to live alone and was enjoying her life, gardening and finding companionship with her pets (a toy poodle and cat).

She recalled her MGM schoolhouse days, close friendship with Roddy McDowall, and other stars she worked with in the studio system, such as Carmen Miranda, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, and Hedy Lamarr, whom she'd co-starred with in The Female Animal (1958): 

"Hedy didn’t like me too much because she had to play my mother and she didn’t like having to play a mother. She was such a beautiful woman, but she was so wrapped up in her beauty..."

Ever-beautiful Jane Powell will celebrate her 90th birthday on April 1, 2019. 

Note: This article was first published in 2016 with the title Celebrating Seniors - Jane Powell is 87. It has been updated with new & additional content.

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, YouTube, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

Comments

JIM RICK October 4th, 2019 at 9:15am

I REALIZ I AM 80 NOW...BUT I FELL IN LOVE WITH JANE POWELL WHEN MY MOM TOOK ME TO SEE "3 DARING DAUGHTERS" IN 1948...THAT WOULD HAVE MADE ME 10 AT THE TIME...I HAVE FOLLOWED HER CAREER EVER SINCE...I DO HAVE A COPY OF "SON OF THE OPRN ROAD" WHICH I THINK WAS PARTLY FILME AT AN ORANGE GROVE IN AZUZA, CALIFORNIA IN 1944 IF THAT PERSON WANTS A COPY///MY E MAIL IS jimrick10@att.net

Peter Goslett June 24th, 2019 at 10:39pm

I was a student at the University of New South wales when Jane Powell was there. We arranged a student prank involving the Wayside Chapel and Jane Powell. I borrowed my wife's wedding dress, unbeknownst to her, and had a fellow student wear it. I dressed formally, and we hired a limousine and instructed the driver to go up to the Wayside Chapel and wait for us. The "bride" with bouquet in hand, exited the limo and started walking up the path to t he chapel. She got part way up and called out: "No, I can't, I just can't!" She threw the bouquet to the waiting crowd and ran back down the path to the limo and we drove off. After the wedding, Jane graciously autographed a sign I had made and exhibited after the "bride" ran back to the limo.
The stunt made two column inches in the following day's New York Times. I live in Missouri now, retired, after working for The City of New York for thirty years

Alex Forrester March 28th, 2019 at 2:33pm

Hi, Jane,it is good to hear that you are in good health. I was present at your marriage to James Fitzgerald before the Rev., Ted Croft at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney in 1965. I was a guest at a later ceremony but arriving a little early I was ushered in to your wedding.
You and James looked wonderful.
Best wishes from a fan.

Arlene Hauben October 28th, 2018 at 11:19pm

Dear Jane,
I loved you so much that when I was 7 years old in the second grade, my mother took me to see you sing at the Chicago Theatre. She let me skip school just to see you. I am glad you are doing well.

Senior City Admin September 12th, 2017 at 8:10am

Sorry we don't have contact info for Jane Powell.

victoria September 12th, 2017 at 1:27am

Hi I was wondering if there is any way to get in contact with Jane, I am putting together a student documentary on my grandfather who was an Italian shoe maker and he made shoes for her. The company was called Catalano and Son, it was around during the 1950's.

Senior City Admin September 12th, 2017 at 8:10am

Sorry we don't have contact info for Jane Powell.

Senior City Admin September 8th, 2017 at 10:42pm

Thanks for catching our typo. It's been corrected now.

victoria September 12th, 2017 at 1:27am

Hi I was wondering if there is any way to get in contact with Jane, I am putting together a student documentary on my grandfather who was an Italian shoe maker and he made shoes for her. The company was called Catalano and Son, it was around during the 1950's.

Senior City Admin September 12th, 2017 at 8:10am

Sorry we don't have contact info for Jane Powell.

Barry Wrigglesworth September 8th, 2017 at 9:17pm

Jane Powell's birth name was Burce, not Bource.

Senior City Admin September 8th, 2017 at 10:42pm

Thanks for catching our typo. It's been corrected now.

victoria September 12th, 2017 at 1:27am

Hi I was wondering if there is any way to get in contact with Jane, I am putting together a student documentary on my grandfather who was an Italian shoe maker and he made shoes for her. The company was called Catalano and Son, it was around during the 1950's.

Senior City Admin September 12th, 2017 at 8:10am

Sorry we don't have contact info for Jane Powell.

Martha Utz July 17th, 2017 at 2:41am

I fell in love with Jane Powell while watching her acting and singing in movies while I was growing up. There is one song from one of her movies that I really found catchy "Aba Daba Honeymoon" and it still pops in to my mind frequently.
I still love the old musicals and thank you Jane for opening my eyes to Music!

Richard E Sloan June 16th, 2017 at 10:51am

I was an audio engineer on a half-hour ABC-TV soap opera, "Loving," and Ms. Powell was signed to play a character for about six months. She was calm, cool, collected, charming, friendly, delightful,a true professional, and a pleasure to work with. We knew we were working with a true legend, but she made us all relax. On her last day she gave us all a huge tin can of Cracker Jack!
Did you know that her very first film starred W.C. Fields?!

Reginald Sirls March 12th, 2017 at 6:32pm

You are fortunate to have grown up with this person I adore so much. I'm 59 years old and had to catch up on movies made prior to my birth. I thoroughly enjoy the older movies. I hope you are doing well at 85.

Reginald Sirls March 12th, 2017 at 6:24pm

Although Jane has had numerous projects, I can't get enough of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," one of my favorite films. I don't know if Jane receives these messages personally but I hope she's doing well and would love to meet the person who has provided entertainment joy to my life. Growing up in Compton, I didn't have many who I could share my thoughts about actors and films from the golden age of cinema. I am extremely happy for this forum and very pleased to see the rest of you appreciating this wonderful woman.

Lil Adickes March 5th, 2017 at 4:22pm

I grew up with Jane, Debbie and Elizabeth. Jane's first movie, Song of the Open Road really inspired me to sing. I've been searching for a recording of it for years, but it was not listed as one of her movies. Today, I was thinking about it again , so just came to my computer and typed in Yahoo, "Jane Powell, Song o the Open Road." and there it was! "I knew it!" I exclaimed! I was beginning to think I had made up the title. I was 12 years old and just beginning to sing. How I loved that movie! I wish I could see it again. Is there no copy of it?
Anyway, I was glad to hear Jane is alive and well! I'm 85 years old, and I'm glad I found you, Jane!

Reginald Sirls March 12th, 2017 at 6:32pm

You are fortunate to have grown up with this person I adore so much. I'm 59 years old and had to catch up on movies made prior to my birth. I thoroughly enjoy the older movies. I hope you are doing well at 85.

Jim Myer January 12th, 2017 at 2:15pm

Haven't kept up with your life, so am saddened to here of Dick Moore's passing.
I still have the Thank You letter you and he sent after sending you the two DVD's in 2006.
Glad to here you are still healthy and wish you a long and happy life.

CPO Tom Moloney October 25th, 2016 at 9:34am

Dear Jane: Just watched your 1956 appearance as the mystery guest on "Whats My Line"...You looked gorgeous (and still do I'm sure!)...May God Bless you and keep you in.good health for many years to come!--CPO Tom Moloney, US Naval Reserve (Retired)
PS: We met in TimesSquare in 1995 at the 50th anniversary of VJ Day celebration

Brian Oyler September 7th, 2016 at 2:07am

I just watched the 1954 motion picture Deep In My Heart. The selections from Maytime which Jane Powell and Vic Damone sing are marvelous. Thank you for being such a talented being, Jane Powell...

Senior City Admin September 3rd, 2016 at 7:32am

No other fan mail address that we can locate.

bethany cope September 2nd, 2016 at 11:45am

I tried using that address and I just got back the letter. It says no such number unable to forward. Is there a different address?

Senior City Admin September 3rd, 2016 at 7:32am

No other fan mail address that we can locate.

Senior City Admin August 26th, 2016 at 8:52pm

You can try reaching Jane Powell directly through her fanmail address, according to fanmail.biz: 150 West End Avenue, Suite 26C New York New York 10023-5743 USA They also say that if you want to request an autograph, and live in USA you can send a properly stamped and self addressed envelope (minimum size 8.5" x 4") with your request letter and a photo. You can include a piece of cardboard to keep the photo from bending in shipping and also add "Do Not Bend" on the envelopes. On average, there is going to be a 3+ month wait for a response.

Larry and Claire Steffen August 26th, 2016 at 8:51pm

Hi Jane…… I am Larry Steffen…..My father was brother of Geary Steffen, my uncle, and the boxer who I was close to. We were in touch with your son Geary when he was fishing for live cod many years ago and we have since moved to the Monterey Bay Area in California. My wife and I are both now retired school teachers and thought we would like to re-connect with Geary and meet Lindsey in California, if possible. Do you have an email or Facebook address for them?

We were so sorry to hear of your husband’s passing last year. We know the bonds of love as we have been married forty seven years and hope you have found some peace and happiness at this time.

Sincerely,
Larry and Claire Steffen

Senior City Admin August 26th, 2016 at 8:52pm

You can try reaching Jane Powell directly through her fanmail address, according to fanmail.biz: 150 West End Avenue, Suite 26C New York New York 10023-5743 USA They also say that if you want to request an autograph, and live in USA you can send a properly stamped and self addressed envelope (minimum size 8.5" x 4") with your request letter and a photo. You can include a piece of cardboard to keep the photo from bending in shipping and also add "Do Not Bend" on the envelopes. On average, there is going to be a 3+ month wait for a response.

Senior City Admin August 26th, 2016 at 8:49pm

Hello Larry. Senior City publish your comment without your address, telephone number, or email address (never post any of these online). You can try reaching Jane Powell directly through her fanmail address, according to fanmail.biz: 150 West End Avenue, Suite 26C New York New York 10023-5743 USA They also say that if you want to request an autograph, and live in USA you can send a properly stamped and self addressed envelope (minimum size 8.5" x 4") with your request letter and a photo. You can include a piece of cardboard to keep the photo from bending in shipping and also add "Do Not Bend" on the envelopes. On average, there is going to be a 3+ month wait for a response.

CPO Tom Moloney October 25th, 2016 at 9:34am

Dear Jane: Just watched your 1956 appearance as the mystery guest on "Whats My Line"...You looked gorgeous (and still do I'm sure!)...May God Bless you and keep you in.good health for many years to come!--CPO Tom Moloney, US Naval Reserve (Retired)
PS: We met in TimesSquare in 1995 at the 50th anniversary of VJ Day celebration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *