Best known for her role as the feisty Milly Pontipee in the 1954 musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” Jane Powell combined her petite, girl-next-door look with a memorable coloratura soprano voice at a time when musicals were booming in Hollywood.
Powell made her debut in 1944’s “Song of the Open Road,” a musical comedy about a young singer — named Jane Powell (which became her onscreen moniker) — who runs away from home.
Born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in 1929, Powell began her singing career at a very young age, appearing on the radio show “Stars of Tomorrow” and at 12 becoming the “Oregon Victory Girl,” which gave her the opportunity to sing all over the state. On a vacation in Hollywood, she won a talent competition and was soon signed to a seven-year contract with MGM.
Powell made the transition with the rest of Hollywood from black-and-white to Technicolor, appearing in such films as “Holiday in Mexico” (1946), “Nancy Goes to Rio” (1950) and “Royal Wedding” (1951), playing in the last against opposite Fred Astaire.
In her 1988 autobiography “The Jane Powell Story: The Girl Next Door and How She Grew,” Powell describes her transition as she began to outgrow her ingenue character roles, with her film career peaking in 1957.
Her career was far from over, though, as she went on to star in stage musicals, including “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady,” among others. She also performed in many variety show guest spots and had brief appearances in television shows like “The Love Boat” and “Growing Pains.”
Powell sang at Harry S. Truman’s inaugural ball in 1949, and she has sung for five U.S. presidents and the queen of England.
Powell and her fifth husband, Dickie Moore, who was also a child star, live in Connecticut.