Eleanor Powell was a onetime Broadway hoofer whose dazzling tap dances made her a major film star during the 1930s and 1940s.
She worked steadily on stage and in movies from the time she was 13 until she married actor Glenn Ford in 1943. Then she made a brief, although successful, nightclub comeback in Las Vegas and New York two years after their divorce in 1959.
Powell's long-legged, rapid-fire tap numbers often were more to be remembered than the films that featured them. Although she appeared in only 13 pictures, moviegoers of the era loved seeing her dance on top of a huge drum set or some other spectacular prop.
She starred in Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, including the "Broadway Melodies" sequels, "Rosalie" and "Born to Dance."
Powell's tap dancing talent was a casting director's dream at the height of the genre's popularity. Starring in "Broadway Melody of 1936" alongside Jack Benny made her a star. She went on to success in the 1938 sequel costarring Robert Taylor and in the 1940 sequel, where she gained notoriety dancing with Fred Astaire.
Powell's role in "Born to Dance," the 1936 film costarring James Stewart, is considered one of her finest roles, with a title suggestive of her natural, early talent. She began her career at age 13, when a producer of children's revues saw her doing acrobatic dancing on the beach at Atlantic City, N.J. Eventually she went to New York, where she studied tap dancing and performed in Broadway musicals.
Powell said in a 1944 interview — a year after she married Ford and retired from show business — that she had been allowed to do little in films other than "dance, dance, dance." The public, she said, "probably began to think of me as a sort of tireless, automatic Amazon — a spinning, tapping top, rather than a real human being."
The 1950s brought her an accomplishment for which she was proud, her "Faith of Our Children" religious television series. It was an outgrowth of her real-life role as a Sunday school teacher. She won five local Emmy awards for the series.