Jane Powell enjoyed a successful career in movie musicals primarily throughout the '40s and '50s -- usually typecast as an innocent, "girl next door" teenager. Born Suzanne Bruce in Portland, Oregon on April 1, 1929, the youngster began going by the name of Jane Powell at an early age as her parents signed her up for singing and dance lessons in hopes of her becoming another Shirley Temple. Powell eventually landed jobs performing at nightclubs during World War II, which led to her own local radio show. After her family relocated to Los Angeles during the '40s, Powell's career truly took off, as she appeared on further radio programs, eventually leading to a contract with MGM. Powell's movie career began in 1944, as she appeared for the next ten years or so mostly in musicals and comedies. In the late '40s, Powell launched a recording career, issuing several albums on both the Columbia and MGM labels (including such titles as A Date with Jane Powell, Alice in Wonderland, Two Weeks with Love, and Can't We Be Friends?, among others).
Powell's movie career didn't truly take off until 1951, when she appeared in Royal Wedding with dance legend Fred Astaire. But Powell continued to be typecast as the innocent teenager, until she landed a more mature role in what is probably her best-known movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in which she starred alongside Howard Keel. By the late '50s, however, it appeared as though Powell's movie career had come to a halt, which led to appearances on television, stage work, and a nightclub act choreographed by Gower Champion. Powell starred in a Broadway revival of Irene in 1973 (replacing Debbie Reynolds), which led to more work in summer stock and road shows, including The Jane Powell Show, My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Carousel, The Boy Friend, Brigadoon, and The Sound of Music, in addition to South Pacific and I Do! I Do! -- both of which featured her previous Seven Brides co-star, Howard Keel.
During the '80s, Powell landed regular work on TV shows, including Murder She Wrote, Growing Pains (playing Alan Thicke's mother), Marie, and a long running part on the daytime soap opera, Loving. Additionally, Powell also appeared in the musical documentary That's Dancing!, made a fitness video for arthritis sufferers, and was one of many '50s musical stars to appear in a special performance at the 1986 Academy Awards show. In 1988, Powell penned a revealing autobiography, The Girl Next Door and How She Grew, and during the '90s, appeared in a few documentaries -- including 1992's Nelson and Jeanette and The Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and in 1999, appeared in the movie Picture This. In the early 21st century, several compilations of her musical output from the '40s and '50s were issued, including A Song in the Air: Debut Recordings and A Heart That's Free, as well as a pair of two-for-one releases -- Hansel & Gretel/Alice in Wonderland and Romance/A Date with Jane Powell. ~ Greg Prato