Suzanne Burce (1929 - )
Jane Powell was often referred to as "Everyone's Favorite Little Sister" or "The Girl Next Door" from about 1945 to about 1955. She portrayed the ideal American girl-next-door in a delightful array of films from MGM - energetic, bubbly, beautiful and just plain irresistable! And did I mention she could sing? And dance? And how!
Born in Portland, Oregon on April 1, 1929, Jane began her singing career on local KOIN radio at the age of seven. The Burce family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s and Jane landed a part on the radio show, "Hollywood Showcase." She sang an aria from "Carmen" and knocked 'em dead. As a result, she was booked on the Charlie McCarthy radio show and offered an MGM contract.
MGM loaned her to United Artists for her first two films: Song of the Open Road (1944) and Delightfully Dangerous (1945). When Jane returned to MGM, she hit the ground running in a series of films from Holiday in Mexico (1946) to Hit the Deck (1955). Jane's big break came with the film Royal Wedding (1951), with Fred Astaire. The female lead was originally intended for June Allyson, but when time came for production June was pregnant and the role was given to Judy Garland. But Judy was too exhausted to take on the part, so it was handed to Jane. Jane may not have been first choice but she really showed her stuff, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing it any better than she did!
Then came a series of more musical comedies, including Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) and Small Town Girl (1953). In 1954 Jane landed the role of Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the box office champ of the year. Today, "7B47B," as it's commonly referred to, is probably the best-loved of all of Jane's films - in fact it's one of the best-loved musicals of all-time.
Frustrated at the limitations her MGM contract placed on her career, Jane left MGM around 1955 to free-lance. She appeared in a number of additional movies, none of which did very well. She was more successful in stage productions, including Oklahoma, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Carousel, Meet Me in St. Louis and My Fair Lady. She also appeared in a number of television productions, recorded albums, worked night-clubs and television guest spots.
I don't know if Jane ever quite found the kind of career she worked so hard for, but I'm grateful to her for just being herself in some of the most delightful musicals of the Golden Era. Here's a big kiss (on the forehead, of course) for my favorite Little Sister of the Golden Era!
Read more about Jane Powell in her autobiography The Girl Next Door and How She Grew.