Jane Powell was Hollywood's girl next door

LOS ANGELES • American actress Jane Powell (right), whose good looks and lyrical voice brought her Hollywood stardom before she was out of her teens - but whose movie career peaked when she was still in her 20s with a starring role in one of the last great MGM musicals, the 1954 extravaganza Seven Brides For Seven Brothers - died on Thursday at her home in Wilton, Connecticut. She was 92.

Powell, who retained the guileless features of an innocent teenager - well past adolescence - found herself typecast from the outset.

She was only 15 when her first film, Song Of The Open Road (1944), was released. She played a disenchanted young film star who finds happiness when she joins a group of young people picking crops while adult farm workers are at war.

The film is noteworthy mostly because the name of the character she played, Jane Powell, became hers as well when the movie was released. She was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce.

Her breakthrough was Royal Wedding (1951), the first movie in which she played an adult.

This time, Powell had an outstanding director, Stanley Donen; an outstanding score, by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner; and, most important, an outstanding co-star: Fred Astaire.

Set just before the wedding of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Royal Wedding centres on an American brother-sister song-and-dance act (Astaire and Powell) on tour in London.

It would be three years before she had another role of substance - but it was a memorable one. Set in a pioneer community in 19th-century Oregon, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers told the story of newlyweds (Powell and Howard Keel) whose first order of business as a married couple is to find wives for the groom's six rowdy brothers. It earned a place on many lists of the greatest film musicals of all time.

It was, Powell later said, "my last really wonderful role in a film". With musicals beginning to fall out of fashion, she had few film roles after that.

"I didn't quit movies," she once said. "They quit me."

She appeared regularly on dramatic anthology series, variety shows and musical specials, as well as in a recurring role as Alan Thicke's mother on the sitcom Growing Pains in the late 1980s. Her last television appearance was on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002.

Powell's first four marriages ended in divorce. In 1988, she married actor Dick Moore, whom she met when he was writing a book about child actors.

Moore died in 2015, and Powell died in the home they had shared. She is survived by a son, Geary Anthony Steffen III; two daughters, Suzanne Steffen and Lindsay Cavalli; and two granddaughters.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2021, with the headline 'Jane Powell was Hollywood's girl next door '. Subscribe