Jane Powell, one of the last surviving actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has passed away on September 16 at the age of 92. She died of natural causes at her Wilton, Connecticut home, as confirmed by longtime friend Susan Granger. Jane was mostly known for her roles in musicals such as Royal Wedding and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She is survived by her three children and two grandchildren.
Jane, born Suzanne Burce, was groomed for stardom: her parents saw the new Shirley Temple in their cute little girl. Her mother even gave her toddler a perm to look more like the famed child star. At the age of 5 Jane was already a singing prodigy on radio shows in Portland, Oregon. She later toured the country singing for radio shows and in 1943 she won Janet Gaynor’s radio talent show in Hollywood. This won her an audition at famed studio MGM and the 14-year old was offered a contract on the spot. Though Jane really wanted to go back home and go to high school, this was not an option for her overbearing mother. Her first role, Song of the Open Road, was a musical and she adopted her character’s name Jane Powell as her own. She went on to do teen-centered musicals, like A Date with Judy with her on-set schoolmate Elizabeth Taylor.
Jane’s big break was Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire in 1951, she replaced Judy Garland who had to withdraw due to personal problems. In that same year the newly married 22-year old Jane gave birth to her first child Geary, followed by her daughter Suzanne in 1952. She got divorced in 1953. Meanwhile her career was taking up steam as she was cast in one musical after the other to rave reviews. The highlight came in 1954 with the classic feature Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Again, she was cast in more musicals like Hit The Deck and Deep in My Heart, usually playing teenagers. Jane was getting frustrated, as she was on her second marriage and had given birth to her third child Lindsey, while still playing teenage roles. By the late 1950’s musicals were going out of style and her more dramatic roles were not well received. She turned to musical theatre and starred in titles like The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady.
As television started to take over, Jane found a new career. She featured in shows like Red Skeleton Hour, Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote and had a recurring role on Growing Pains in the late 80’s. She married three more times. Her last marriage was to fellow child star Dick Moore in 1988. They met while he was doing research for his book on child stars, as she was also working on her autobiography The Girl Next Door and How She Grew.
The couple stayed together until his death in 2015. As her voice started getting weaker in her 70’s, she changed her theatre career from musicals to drama. She was still on television as well: her last role was in the Showtime film The Sandy Bottom Orchestra in 2003.
Following the death of her husband in 2015, she sold their Manhattan appartment and moved to their second home in Wilton, Connecticut. In an interview with Ctpost in 2017, she said she was content living alone with her cat and dogs. ‘I’ve never been entirely free. Someone’s always told me what to do, not that Dick did, but I’m so happy doing what I’m doing right now. I’m so enjoying myself. It’s a surprise to me, too.’ She is survived by three children, Geary Anthony Steffen III, Suzanne Steffen and Lindsay Cavalli, as well as two granddaughters, Skye Cavalli and Tia Cavalli.