Eleanor Powell

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Eleanor Powell
1930s French postcard Eleanor Powell.jpg
1930s publicity photo
Born
Eleanor Torrey Powell

(1912-11-21)November 21, 1912
DiedFebruary 11, 1982(1982-02-11) (aged 69)
Resting place Hollywood Forever Cemetery
OccupationDancer, actress
Years active1928–1953
Spouse(s)
Glenn Ford
(m. 1943;div. 1959)
Children Peter Ford [1]
Signature
Signature of Eleanor Powell.svg

Eleanor Torrey Powell (November 21, 1912 – February 11, 1982) was an American dancer and actress. Best remembered for her tap dance numbers in musical films in the 1930s and 1940s, Powell began studying ballet aged six and began dancing at nightclubs in Atlantic City before she was a teenager. From the age of sixteen, she began studying tap and started appearing in musical revues on Broadway, before making her Hollywood debut as a featured dancer in the movie George White's Scandals (1935).

Tap dance tap dance

Tap dance is a type of dance characterized by using the sounds of tap shoes striking the floor as a form of percussion. The sound is made by shoes that have a metal "tap" on the heel and toe. There are several major variations on tap dance including: flamenco, rhythm (jazz) tap, classical tap, Broadway tap, and post-modern tap. Broadway tap is rooted in English theatrical tradition and often focuses on formations, choreography and generally less complex rhythms; it is widely performed in musical theatre. Rhythm tap focuses on musicality, and practitioners consider themselves to be a part of the jazz tradition. Classical tap has a similarly long tradition which marries European "classical" music with American foot drumming with a wide variation in full-body expression. Post-modern or contemporary tap has emerged over the last three decades to incorporate abstract expression, thematic narrative and technology.

George White's Scandals were a long-running string of Broadway revues produced by George White that ran from 1919–1939, modeled after the Ziegfeld Follies. The "Scandals" launched the careers of many entertainers, including W. C. Fields, the Three Stooges, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Ethel Merman, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell, Bert Lahr and Rudy Vallée. Louise Brooks, Dolores Costello, Barbara Pepper, and Alice Faye got their show business start as lavishly dressed chorus girls strutting to the "Scandal Walk." Much of George Gershwin's early work appeared in the 1920–24 editions of Scandals. The Black Bottom, danced by Ziegfeld Follies star Ann Pennington and Tom Patricola, touched off a national dance craze.

Contents

She was known as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's top dancing stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood in a series of musical vehicles tailored especially for her talents, such as Born to Dance (1936), Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) and Rosalie (1937). In 1965, she was named the World’s Greatest Tap Dancer by the Dance Masters of America.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer American media company

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of feature films and television programs. One of the world's oldest film studios, MGM's headquarters are located at 245 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, California.

<i>Born to Dance</i> 1936 film by Roy Del Ruth

Born to Dance is an American musical film starring Eleanor Powell and James Stewart, directed by Roy Del Ruth and released in 1936 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The score was composed by Cole Porter.

<i>Broadway Melody of 1938</i> 1937 film by Roy Del Ruth

Broadway Melody of 1938 is a 1937 American musical film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Roy Del Ruth. The film is essentially a backstage musical revue, featuring high-budget sets and cinematography in the MGM musical tradition. The film stars Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor and features Buddy Ebsen, George Murphy, Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Raymond Walburn, Robert Benchley and Binnie Barnes.

Early life

Powell was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to Clarence Gardner Powell and Blanche Torrey. A dancer since childhood, she was discovered at the age of 11 by the head of the Vaudeville Kiddie revue, Gus Edwards. When she was 17, she brought her graceful, athletic style to Broadway, where she starred in various revues and musicals. During this time, she was dubbed "the world's greatest tap dancer" due to her machine-gun footwork, and in the early 1930s appeared as a chorus girl in a couple of early, minor musical films.

Springfield, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts

Springfield is a city in the state of Massachusetts, United States, and the seat of Hampden County. Springfield sits on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River near its confluence with three rivers: the western Westfield River, the eastern Chicopee River, and the eastern Mill River. As of the 2010 Census, the city's population was 153,060. As of 2018, the estimated population was 155,032, making it the third-largest city in Massachusetts, the fourth-most populous city in New England after Boston, Worcester, and Providence, and the 12th-most populous in the Northeastern United States. Metropolitan Springfield, as one of two metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, had a population of 692,942 as of 2010.

Road to Hollywood

In 1935, the leggy, fresh-faced Powell made the move to Hollywood and performed a speciality number in her first major film, George White's 1935 Scandals , which she later described as a disaster because she was accidentally made up to look like an Egyptian. The experience left her unimpressed with Hollywood and when she was courted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, she initially refused their offers of a contract. Reportedly, Powell attempted to dissuade the studio by making what she felt were unreasonable salary demands, but MGM agreed to them and she finally accepted. The studio groomed her for stardom, making minimal changes in her makeup and conduct.

Hollywood Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Hollywood is a neighborhood in the central region of Los Angeles, California, notable as the home of the U.S. film industry, including several of its historic studios. Its name has come to be a shorthand reference for the industry and the people associated with it.

<i>George Whites 1935 Scandals</i> 1935 film

George White's 1935 Scandals is an American musical film, written by Jack Yellen and produced in 1935 by Fox Film Corporation. It was a follow-up to the 1934 release, George White's Scandals.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Film stardom

She was well received in her first starring role in 1935 Broadway Melody of 1936 (in which she was supported by Jack Benny and Frances Langford), and delighted 1930s audiences with her endless energy and enthusiasm, not to mention her stunning dancing. According to dancer Ann Miller, quoted in the "making-of" documentary That's Entertainment! III , MGM was headed for bankruptcy in the late 1930s, but the films of Eleanor Powell, particularly Broadway Melody of 1936, were so popular that they made the company profitable again. Miller also credits Powell for inspiring her own dancing career, which would lead her to become an MGM musical star a decade later.

<i>Broadway Melody of 1936</i> 1935 film by W. S. Van Dyke, Roy Del Ruth

Broadway Melody of 1936 is a musical film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935. In New York, the film opened at the Capitol Theatre, the site of many prestigious MGM premieres. It was a follow-up of sorts to the successful The Broadway Melody, which had been released in 1929, although, there is no story connection with the earlier film beyond the title and some music.

Jack Benny American comedian, vaudeville performer, and radio, television, and film actor

Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television and film actor, and violinist. Recognized as a leading 20th-century American entertainer, Benny often portrayed his character as a miser, who obliviously played his violin badly, and ridiculously claimed to be 39 years of age, regardless of his actual age.

Frances Langford Singer, actress

Julia Frances Langford was an American singer and entertainer who was popular during the Golden Age of Radio and also made film appearances for over two decades.

Powell would go on to star opposite many of the decade's top leading men, including James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Fred Astaire, George Murphy, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. Among the films she made during the height of her career in the mid-to-late 1930s were Born to Dance (1936), Rosalie (1937), Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Honolulu (1939), and Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940). All of these movies featured her amazing solo tapping, although her increasingly huge production numbers began to draw criticism. Her characters also sang, but Powell's singing voice was usually (but not always) dubbed. (This would also happen to one of Powell's successors, Cyd Charisse). Broadway Melody of 1940 , in which Powell starred opposite Fred Astaire, featured an acclaimed musical score by Cole Porter.

James Stewart American actor

James Maitland Stewart was an American actor and military officer who is among the most honored and popular stars in film history. With a career that spanned 62 years, Stewart was a major Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player who was known for his distinctive drawl and down-to-earth persona, which helped him often portray American middle-class men struggling in crisis. Many of the films in which he starred have become enduring classics.

Robert Taylor (actor) American film and television actor

Robert Taylor was an American film and television actor who was one of the most popular leading men of his time.

Fred Astaire American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer and television presenter

Fred Astaire was an American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer and television presenter. He is widely regarded as the most influential dancer in the history of film.

Together, Astaire and Powell danced to Porter's "Begin the Beguine", which is considered by many to be one of the greatest tap sequences in film history. According to accounts of the making of this film, including a documentary included on the DVD release, Astaire was somewhat intimidated by Powell, who was considered the only female dancer ever capable of out-dancing Astaire. In his autobiography Steps in Time, Astaire remarked, "She 'put 'em down like a man', no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself." In his introduction to the clip, featured in That's Entertainment , Frank Sinatra said, "You know, you can wait around and hope, but I tell ya, you'll never see the likes of this again."

Decline in popularity

Ship Ahoy poster, 1942 Ship Ahoy poster.jpg
Ship Ahoy poster, 1942

Following Broadway Melody of 1940 Powell was sidelined for many months following a gall stone operation and things changed somewhat for the worse, at least as far as Powell's movie career was concerned. Lady Be Good (1941) gave Powell top billing and a classic dance routine to "Fascinatin' Rhythm". The same happened with Red Skelton in Ship Ahoy (1942) and I Dood It (1943), although in Ship Ahoy her character nonetheless played a central role in the story, and Powell's dance skills were put to practical use when she manages to tap out a Morse code message to a secret agent in the middle of a dance routine. In another routine from Ship Ahoy , she dances to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Buddy Rich on drums and the two perform a great musical partnership with the number "Tallulah". She was signed to play opposite Dan Dailey in For Me and My Gal in 1942, but the two actors were removed from the picture during rehearsals and replaced by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Later, production of a new Broadway Melody film that would have paired Powell with Kelly was also cancelled.[ citation needed ]

She parted with MGM in 1943 after her next film, Thousands Cheer , in which she appeared only for a few minutes to perform a specialty number (as part of an all-star cast), and the same year married actor Glenn Ford. She danced in a giant pinball machine in Sensations of 1945 (1944) for United Artists, but the film was a critical and commercial disappointment. Her performance was overshadowed by what was to be the final film appearance of W. C. Fields. She then retired to concentrate on raising her son, Peter Ford, who was born that year. She appeared in a couple of documentary-style short subjects about celebrities in the late 1940s. Overseas audiences did get to see one additional Powell dance performance in 1946, however: the compilation The Great Morgan included a number that had been cut [2] from Honolulu .

In 1950, Powell returned to MGM one last time in Duchess of Idaho , starring Esther Williams. Appearing as herself in a nightclub scene, a hesitant Powell is invited to dance by bandleader Dick Layne (Van Johnson). She begins with a staid, almost balletic performance until she is chided by Layne for being lazy. She then strips off her skirt, revealing her famous legs, and performs a "boogie-woogie"-style specialty number very similar to the one she performed in Thousands Cheer seven years earlier. Williams, in her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid, writes of being touched, watching Powell rehearsing until her feet bled, in order to make her brief appearance as perfect as possible.

Later career: TV and stage

After Duchess of Idaho, Powell returned to private life. In May 1952, she emerged as a guest star on an episode of All Star Revue with Danny Thomas and June Havoc. Around this time, she was ordained a minister of the Unity Church and later hosted an Emmy Award-winning [3] Sunday morning TV program for youth entitled The Faith of Our Children (1953–1955). Her son, Peter Ford, was a regular on this show and would later find his own success as a rock and roll singer and as an actor. In 1955, Powell made her last film appearance when she appeared in Have Faith in Our Children, a three-minute short film produced for the Variety Club of Northern California in which Powell asked viewers to donate to the charity. The short, which other than its title had no relation to the TV series, marked the only time Powell appeared on screen with Glenn Ford.

Powell divorced Ford in 1959, and that year, encouraged by Peter, launched a highly publicized nightclub career, including appearances at Lou Walters' Latin Quarter in Boston. She maintained her good figure and looks well into middle age. Her live performances continued well into the 1960s. During the early 1960s she made several guest appearances on variety TV programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace . She made her final public appearance in 1981 at a televised American Film Institute tribute to Fred Astaire, where she received a standing ovation.

Death

Eleanor Powell died February 11, 1982, of ovarian cancer, aged 69, and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood in the Cathedral Mausoleum, Foyer Niche 432, Tier 3.

Reintroduction

Powell was reintroduced to audiences in the popular That's Entertainment! documentary in 1974, and its sequels That's Entertainment Part II (1976) and That's Entertainment! III (1994) and the related film That's Dancing! (1985) which spotlight her dancing from films such as Broadway Melody of 1940 , Lady Be Good , and Born to Dance . She is one of only a few performers to be the subject of spotlight segments (as opposed to being included in a montage with other performers) in all four films. That's Entertainment! III is notable for including behind-the-scenes footage of her "Fascinatin' Rhythm" routine from Lady Be Good.

Powell's films continue to be broadcast on television regularly by Turner Classic Movies, with most released in the VHS video format in 1980s and 1990s. North American DVD release of her work has been slower in coming. Aside from clips from her films being included in the aforementioned That's Entertainment! trilogy, plus clips that were featured in other releases such as the 2002 special edition DVD release of Singin' in the Rain , it wasn't until the 2003 DVD release of Broadway Melody of 1940 that a complete Powell film was released in the format. In February 2007, Warner Home Video announced plans to release a boxed DVD set of Eleanor Powell's musical films by year end. [4] This did not occur; instead, on April 8, 2008 Warner released a third boxed set in the Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory series, with nine films, four of which star Powell: Broadway Melody of 1936, Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1938, and Lady Be Good. The films are expected to be released in individual two film sets (the two Broadway Melody films in one set, Born to Dance/Lady Be Good on the other) later in the year. Since 2007 several other Powell films have emerged on DVD, including Rosalie, I Dood It and Sensations of 1945.[ citation needed ]

Filmography

Features

Short films

See also

Notes

  1. "Eleanor Powell, Tap Dancer of Stage and Films, Is Dead". The New York Times . 12 February 1982. p. B6. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  2. Schultz, p. 25
  3. "Ellie wins an Emmy", Screen Stories June 1955, p. 66
  4. Live Chat with Warner Home Video at the Wayback Machine (archived June 24, 2009), February 26, 2007. (archived from the original on 2009-06-24)

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