R.I.P. Jane Powell, star of ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ and many other Golden Age musicals

She also sang on The Ed Sullivan Show and boarded The Love Boat.

The Everett Collection

Read to Me

In the early 1930s, the Portland, Oregon, radio show Stars of Tomorrow featured a five-year-old with a powerful voice that lived up to the show's name. Young Suzanne Burce wowed listeners even then and just a few years later began touring the state as an Oregon Victory Girl promoting the sale of war bonds during WWII.

In 1943, at the age of 14, Burce signed a contract with MGM to star in the studio’s many teen musicals. Her first role came a year later as a loan-out to United Artists in the film Song of the Open Road. She played a child actor who leaves Hollywood to become a farm worker. Her character’s name? Jane Powell — a moniker she decided to keep for herself.

Powell showed off her unexpectedly commanding singing voice in numerous MGM musicals throughout the 1940s and early '50s, including Three Daring Daughters, Luxury Liner and A Date with Judy, the latter alongside Elizabeth Taylor. Powell married her first husband, figure skater Gearhardt Anthony Steffen, in 1949 with Taylor in attendance as a bridesmaid.

Powell played Fred Astaire’s younger sister, despite their 30-year age difference, in 1951’s Royal Wedding, set during Elizabeth II’s 1947 marriage and famous for Astaire’s solo dance from the floor to the wall and then eventually the ceiling.

In 1954, Powell won her most famous role as Milly in the beloved musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She played the wife of the oldest brother, whose engagement inspires his six younger siblings to get hitched as well. The film is remembered for its lively acrobatics and stunning scenery as much as its catchy songs. According to the AP, Powell recalled in 2000 that Seven Brides was originally seen as an underdog. “The studio didn't think it was going to do anything,” she recalled. In the end, her musical was the one shown at one of America’s most famous theaters, then still regularly playing films. “"MGM thought that Brigadoon was going to be the big moneymaker that year. It didn't turn out that way. We were the ones that went to the Radio City Music Hall, which was always such a coup.”

The same year Seven Brides was released, Powell played the title character in Athena, a musical about seven sisters. Debbie Reynolds played one sister, Minerva, and the other five — Niobe, Calliope, Aphrodite and Ceres — also all had ancient Greek names. The quirky film, a satire of lifestyles and fads, pits the girls’ nutrition-obsessed grandfather against their “carnivore” suitors he deems literally unfit.

Powell transitioned to television in the late 1950s, appearing in anthology productions like Alcoa Theatre and The DuPont Show with June Allyson. She also sang on The Ed Sullivan Show and showed off her comedy chops in multiple episodes of The Red Skelton Show.

In the 1970s and '80s, Powell guest starred in Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. She also had a recurring role as Grandma Irma on the sitcom Growing Pains. She played Alan Thicke’s mother, who is first introduced in the episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” where she meets her new fiancé on a cruise ship. Later that season, she returns in a two-part episode titled “The Looooove Boat” for her wedding.

For anyone keeping track, Powell starred in the 1948 musical Luxury Liner, appeared in two episodes of The Love Boat and guest starred in multiple cruise ship storylines on Growing Pains. Boats bookended her long career.

Jane Powell passed away this week at the age of 92.

 
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JamesB 18 days ago
Jane Powell performed in so many great films and TV. One of her early roles, "Luxury Liner" (1948) is a fun picture that is better than many of the musicals of the era.
rayforhorror 25 days ago
I fondly remember Jane Powell from Seven Brides For Seven Bros., as well as Royal Wedding. A beautiful and very talented lady; she will be deeply missed. RIP Jane Powell.
LH 29 days ago
She was so pretty and petite
Runeshaper 1 month ago
R.I.P. Jane Powell. She did so much with her life and really left a nice legacy behind (-:
15inchBlackandWhite 1 month ago
Personally I prefer the Monty Python version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

"Do you four boys take these two girls to be your seven brides?"
Coldnorth 1 month ago
Me tv please put The Ghost and Mrs Muir on. Haven’t seen it for so many years
Kelley1 1 month ago
Me, why don't you get some of those classic Hollywood movies, and air them on weekends? That way, wonderful movies such as Jane's could be seen by a new generation and maybe one of them would realize what real talent is. Jane Powell remains a good example of real talent, even posthumously through her wonderful films and TV appearances. RIP, dear Jane.
Michael 1 month ago
Marvelous actress. Hollywood has lost another true talent! I loved her in royal Wedding (one of my favorites) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Thank You Ms. Powell for sharing your talent with us..
LargeActor 1 month ago
Jane Powell , Such A Special Actress At Least In My Mind She Appeared In Many Roles All Thou I've Never Had The Pleasure Too Meet Her , However She Left A Legacy Behind And Will Be Endured By All Of Her Fans.!! And For That Reason Too Me Is Why I Loved Jane Powell.!! {AMEN}.
LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Another legend no longer with us. I loved the quote from her biography;
" The only thing I knew was MGM, where I had worked since I was 14. Unions were not even a part of my vocabulary. SAG meant a gravity problem. EQUITY meant owning a house."
KJExpress LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Unfortunately, as I'm getting older, I'm finding all about SAG. 😕

I really enjoyed Jane Powell in "Seven Brides...." I should make an effort to see it again and some of her other movies I have not seen before. Thank goodness stars of the past live on because of film preservation and DVD'S, etc.
LalaLucy 1 month ago
Loved her so much, especially as the spunky Milly. Pretty lady with a voice to match. So few Golden Agers left...
BobZayas 1 month ago
I saw Jane Powell on a stage in Detroit 60 years ago where she starred in a revue called Twenty and Me. The Twenty referred to the 20 young men that she was appearing on stage with. It was a long standing joke with Jane Powell that she was always being mistaken for Debbie Reynolds.
justjeff 1 month ago
Once more we mourn the loss of one of Hollywood's Golden Age performers whom we will never see the likes of again...
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