The Jane Powell Story: The Girl Next Door and How She Grew
By Jane Powell, Penguin, 1990
A Most Unusual Day
Born Suzanne Burce in Portland, Oregon, Jane Powell was a talented dancer and performer from the age of two. She became a local radio celebrity and was chosen at age 12 to become Oregon's "Victory Girl." The title had her traveling around the state, singing and dancing for the war effort and appearing on two weekly radio programs.
While on vacation in Hollywood at the end of her tenure as Victory Girl, Jane entered a talent contest (as you do on vacation) on Janet Gaynor's radio show, Hollywood Showcase: Stars Over Hollywood and won. This earned her an audition at both MGM and Selznick International Studios and she was signed by MGM to a seven-year contract. Her first picture was the fun little musical, Song of the Open Road (1944) in which she played a precocious performer with an overbearing stage mother who runs off to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. The studio gave her the name "Jane Powell," the name of the character she plays in the film.
Thus at age 15, she began a steady career in movie musicals that lasted for a little over 12 years. The parts began to dry up as musicals became less of a draw and her "girl next door" image began to fade; by then she'd been married twice (of an eventual five times) and had three children. Powell left pictures and embarked on a very successful stage and television career throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Her most recent appearance was on an episode of Law & Order: SVU (the new Murder She Wrote) in 2002. Ms. Powell has been happily married to former child star Dickie Moore since 1988.
I got to see Jane Powell interviewed on the recent Turner Classic Movies Cruise last December. At 84, she was charming, delightfully candid, and beautiful. She spoke frankly about the hard work and relative loneliness of being a child actor and contract player in the studio system, but only by way of explaining that that was the job and that's how it was done then. No complaining; strictly work ethic.
She also had a few choice words about Howard Keel's ego.
So a very happy birthday to Suzanne Burce; she said she always preferred the name Suzanne and wondered why the studio wanted yet another Powell. Ah well.
Many happy returns.