Jane Powell, I am delighted to report, is still with us today, her 88th birthday. She’s been performing for more than 75 years; before she was 13, she had a singing gig on a radio station in Portland, Oregon, making music and selling Victory Bonds for the war effort. (Yes, that war.) She was Suzanne Burce back then; in 1943, after winning a talent competition, she auditioned for Louis B. Mayer of MGM, was signed to a seven-year contract, and was promptly loaned out to United Artists for the lead in the 1944 musical Song of the Open Road, not at all related to the Walt Whitman poem of that title, playing a child star named, um, Jane Powell. MGM thought this name was swell, and before the film was even released, assigned her the stage name “Jane Powell.”
Those movies didn’t reflect reality. I was at MGM for 11 years and nobody ever let me play anything but teenagers. I was 25 years old with kids of my own and it was getting ridiculous. Publicity was froth. Everything you said was monitored. With me, they didn’t have to worry. I never had anything to say, anyway.
She did, however, have things to sing:
The Girl Most Likely, a 1958 RKO picture, starred Jane as a girl who wound up engaged to three guys. Capitol issued no single from the soundtrack, though I remember “I Don’t Know What I Want”. She did have one hit single: a cover of Cole Porter’s “True Love,” from the soundtrack of High Society (1956), where it was sung by Bing Crosby with a couple of words from Grace Kelly.
Jane’s recording (Verve 2018) charted at #15, not bad at all for a one-hit wonder, but nothing was going to beat der Bingle, who claimed the #3 spot.
Jane Powell was married five times, the last time to child star turned PR man Dickie Moore, whom she met in 1984 while he was writing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: (But Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car) They had 27 years together, from 1988 until Moore’s death last year.