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Eleanor Powell

Female 1912 - 1982  (69 years)    Has no ancestors but one descendant in this family tree.

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  • Name Eleanor Powell 
    Birth 21 Nov 1912  Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Female 
    Death 11 Feb 1982  Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I372505  Geneagraphie
    Last Modified 31 Mar 2002 

    Family Glenn Ford,   b. 1 May 1916, Sainte-Christine, Portneuf county, Quebec, Canada Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 30 Aug 2006 (Age 90 years) 
    Marriage 1943 
    Divorce 1959 
     1. Living
    Family ID F147563  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart
    Last Modified 30 Mar 2002 

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  • Notes 
    • only child of divorced parents. As a shy little eleven years old girl she was sent to dancing lessons (acrobatics and ballet - but none in taps!) by her mother in order to make her more sociable. She did well there, and next summer, when she and her mother were visiting relatives in Atlantic City, she was spotted while practising one of the numbers she learned in dancing school on the beach by Gus Edwards, an important producer of children shows, who was doing a show at the Ambassador Hotel. He asked her mother, if her daughter was interested in performing there. They accepted his offer andso twelve year old Eleanor Powell made her stage debut, two nights a week witha gage of seven dollars the night.
      The next two years she spend the summer there, too, and appeared im more evening shows. Then she asked her mother, if she could try her luck in New York. During her apperances in Atlantic City she had met band-leader Ben Bernie, who had offered her a stint at his own night-club if she would ever come to New York. He hired her imedationaly, which helped her to find an agent. Due to this, she got a part in the unsucessful Broadway show "The Optimists" in early 1928, which closed after 24 performances. After this show, she was asked in every audition she went to if she could tap, so she decided to take ten lessons a $3.50 in the dancing school of Jack Donohue, the husband of the Broadway star Marilyn Miller. Surprisingly she had great problems with this kind of dancing, so she decided not to come to the second lesson. Jack Donohue missed her, phoned her and asked why she left and offered her his help. She described this lessons later with following words:
      "My problem was, that I was very aerial with my dancing, very turned out. The first thing he did, was sit on the floor in front of me and hold my ankles, explaining that tapping is done with the feet and not with the whole body. At the next lesson he turned up with some kind of army belt and two sandbags. He hung the bags on either side of the belt and I was riveted to the floor. I could barely move, which is the way I later danced so close to the foor. That's how I learned to tap without raising my foot."
      Suddenly she got it and for the rest of the lessons she was the Donohue's assistant. After this ten lessons Eleanor Powell was one of the best tap dancers in New York, and in January 1929 she became a star on Broadway with her small part as Molly in the show "Follow Throu", where she tapped to stardom to the tune of "Button Up Your Overcoat". The show closed after 403 performances. After this, the show was made to a movie musical with some of the original Broadway cast members, but sadly for the movie audiences, she wasn't among them - she did not like the idea of being filmed. She appeared on Broadway in late 1930 and 1931 as Miss Hunter in the show "Fine and Dandy", which wasn't that sucessful as "Follow Thru", it came "only" to 255 performances (in a time when a show usually had a run of about 50 performances, this was a smash hit). Between the showesshe appeared with big bands in New York,e.g. with Paul Whiteman's orchestra. With him she was the first tap- dancer, who did an apperance in Carnegie Hall. In 1932 she starred in Florence Ziegfeld's production "Hot-Cha!", and an evening with Maurice Chevalier. George White signed her for his production "George White's Music Hall Varieties" and she toured the US with the production of "Carzy Quilt".
      George White made in 1934 a movie at the Fox studio, "George White's Scandals" also known as "George White's 1934 Scandals" which featured Alice Faye and was invited to do another movie the following year. This time he wanted Eleanor Powell to be in it, but she was thinking of touring Europe, where, she belived, dancing was more appreciated than in the US, but George White convinced her about acting in the movie. She got the part of the other-woman in "George White's 1935 Scandals", the stars of it were James Dunn and Alice Faye. But she didn't like the way the movie was made and she, a little bit puritain nature was offended by the Hollywood way of life. Besides, the filming of her dance wasn't the best. Due to this experience she didn't like the idea of being featured in an other movie. Such an offer came. The MGM studio was looking for until now unused musical talent, after RKO's Astaire/Rogers musicals and Warner's Busby Berkeley spectales proofed to be the great box-office hits. So MGM offered her a dancing part in its musical project "Broadway Melody of 1936". Eleanor Powell told her agent to turn that offer down by asking for an exorbitant salery and the female lead. She belived, that the studio would not meet her demands due to the fact, that she had no reputation as a movie star, but surprisingly for her MGM accepted. She was going to star in "Broadway Melody of 1936", a movie about the feud between a Manhattan columnist (Jack Benny) and a Broadway producer (Robert Taylor) who wants to put on a show, but finding it difficult to get another leading lady than his backer, a rich young widow (June Knight). Eleanor Powell played the stage-struck classmate of the producer, who wants to get a part in his production. But the producer does not believe in her abilities, but with the help of his secretary (Una Merkel) and two vaudevillians (Buddy Ebsen and his sister Vilma Ebsen), she ends up as the leading lady and the producer's fiancee. The cast included also singer Frances Langford , dancer Nick Long, jr. and writer Sid Silvers. She had four dances in this movie, one tap number to the song "Sing Before Breakfast", a ballet number to the tune of "You Are My Lucky Star", a tap number to the same tune, most of it a cappella, and of course the finale to the song "Broadway Rhythm". The movie was nominated for an oscar as best picture and best script, it won an oscar -surprisingly- for Dave Gould's choreography of the number "I've Got the Feeling You're Foolin'" - and this in the year when Busby Berkeley choreograhed his numbers "The Words are in My Heart" and "Lullaby of Broadway" in his movie Gold Diggers of 1935.
      After finishing shooting, MGM offered her a long term contract, but she refused and went back to New York to star in the show "At Home Abroad" wich run for 198 performances. After enjoying her success in this show (she did at least two numbers in it, one as British aristocrat in black tie, the other as a spy in a Balkan country, where she taps the messages out, something she did later in the movie Ship Ahoy again) and seeing at the same time the people lining up on the box-offices of the cinemas, where "Broadway Melody of 1936" was shown, she startes thinking about MGM's offer. She also got a contract for a weekly radio program, which brought her tapping and singing (she did all the singing in the movies herself, she was never dubbed), she even made records for Victor. The result of this was logical: She collapsed of physical exhaustion and needed some time to recover. After this she accepted the seven-year-contract with MGM after they included a clause which gave her three months a year with no shooting for rehearsing and creating dances. Her next movie, "Born To Dance" was made in 1936. It had easily be called "Broadway Melody of 1937", exept for the fact, that the music by Cole Porter didn't faeture Nacio Herb Brown's song "Broadway Melody". It was the only MGM movie she made, in that she had a solo top billing. It was Cole Porter's first original movie musical score (in movie musicals before they used the music he wrote for stage shows) and it is said, that it is his best. Porter wrote the music even before the script was written by B.G DeSylva, Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers. The original idea for it was about two sailors who meet two girls in a New Yorker lonley heart club, and a third girl to threaten the relation of Eleanor Powell and her leading man. In a early state of production the numbers of sailors were increased to three, the numbers of girl to four. MGM thought of following cast: The sailors Alan Jones, Buddy Ebsen and Sid Silvers meet the girls Eleanor Powell, Judy Garland and Una Merkel, Frances Langford was the girl to threaten the Powell / Jones combination. But then they made some changes: Alan Jones and Judy Garland were stiken from the cast list. The part of Frances Langford was given to Virginia Bruce, Frances Langford replaced Judy Garland and the leading man became James Stewart. Sid Silvers and Una Merkel added lots of comic lines like in "Broadway Melody of 1936", for the singing helped also again Frances Langford. Eleanor Powell, played once again a stage-struk youngster waiting for her big chance. They even made James Stewart to sing in his very own voice the song "Easy to Love". Three songs written for the movie weren't used in it, but there are some stills from a dancing scene with Stewart and Powell, perhaps it still aviable in the studio's archive. In her next movie for MGM, "Broadway Melody of 1938", her leading man was, once again Robert Taylor, her dancing partners were the later senator of California, George Murphy and, once again Buddy Ebsen, the singers were Charles Igor Gorin, Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland, who stopped the show with the song "Dear Mr. Gable", her version of the 1913 hit "You Made Me Love You", that was in this version originally written as a birthday present for Gable and sung by Garland on his birthday party. Mayer liked the song so much, that he promesed her to have her sing it in the next big musical- Broadway Melody of 1938. It was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who also directed her previous MGM films, the dances were staged once more by Dave Gould. The rest of the music was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, the plot, written by Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers, who doesn't apear in the movie this time, concieled about a young Broadway producer (Taylor), who wants to put on his show, with a youngster (Powell), he has meet taking care with two former vaudevillians (Murphy and Ebsen) of the backers (Raymond Waldburn and Binnie Barnes) racing horse. But the backer wants a famous star, so the horse, purchased by Powell has to finace the show by winning a race. Eleanor Powell had three wonderful dances, two of them - "Follow in My Footsteps" and "I'm Feeling Like a Million" have similarities with ones showed in 1952 in "Singin' in the Rain". As in the movies for MGM before, she had another breath-taking finale, something that would change for her next movie. When they shot her dances, she always had a great audience, of other stars and studio executives. For her next movie "Rosalie" she was co-star to Nelson Eddy - she belived, the studio got the idea seeing him watching shooting one of her numbers. The plot was after an old Broadway musical from 1928, which was inspired by Lindbergs non-stop flight from New York to Paris and the visit of the Rumanian Royal family in the US. Cole Porter wrote a new score for the movie, the plot written by WM Anthony McGuire was about a West Point football player and flyer (Eddy) who falls in love with a co-ed (Powell) who turns out to be Princess of a very small European kingdom. Naturally she is promised to somebody else, who himself loves the princess' best friend (Illona Massey). The cast included Ray Bolger as the fyer's best pal and Frank Morgan as the king of the country. The movie was directed by W.S. van Dyke, the dances were staged by Albertina Rasch. The movie turned out to be too long, so almost all dances by Ray Bolger and at least one number of Eleanor Powell were cut to reduce the runningtime two 121 minutes. The main number of this movie was the so-called "Drum Dance", an impressive dance of her on gigantic drums in front of a cast of thousands.
      MGM realized, that an overexposure of her talent would reduce the possible box-office success of hers and limited the production of her movies to one per year. They probaly noticed that there were other talents, who could reach to her perfection, but the dancer, who came nearest to her, and became later her successor, Ann Miller, had a slight handicap. She had the same agency like Eleanor Powell, which limited Miller's dancing opportunities. In 1938 Eleanor Powell shot her next movie "Honolulu". Her co-stars were Robert Young, George Burns and Garcie Allen. The plot is about a movie star (Young), who wants to have some vacation, but his agent (Burns) and his studio have arranged an Personal apperance tour in New York. Per chance he meets a Hawaiian pineapple farmer (also Young), who looks exactly like him. They change their personalities and the movie star is on his double's way to Honolulu. On board of the steamer he falls in love with a nightclub danceer (Powell), who is with a friend (Allen) on her way to Honolulu. Difficulties arise due to the fact, that his double is engaged with the daughter of one of the richest men there, and it is impossible for him to reach the real farmer who is held up by his fans in a New Yorker hospital. Naturally, he is able to marry the dancer, after he arraged the plantaion owner's marriedge, too. In this movie Eleanor Powell had three dance numbers, a forth was cut during production, the sound of Eleanor Powells tapping wasn't recorded. (This number is aviable via TCM", perhaps it is included in new Laserdisk versions or video releases). The movie included Eleanor Powells only dance in black face, like Fred Astaire's only black face number in "Swing Time", this was a tribute to Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, the best tap dancer in Harlem. Eleanor Powell knew him in New York and they danced together on parties there, but the censor regulations of the Hayes Office made it impossible for him as a black to dance with a grown up white lady on the silver screen, as he did with Shirley Temple. The great dance number was her version of a native drum dance, a Hula, done barefeet and then - naturally - in
      Her next movie "Broadway Melody of 1940" was planed to be shot in Technicolor, and for the first time she was going to have a partner in her final number, the best man MGM could sign: Fred Astaire, who had not signed a second contract with RKO, after his first one was over. Fred Astaire had at first some objections to this project; he was used to work with partners he could lead in the dances, now he was going to dance with somebody, who also was dominat in her dances, and almost as tall as he. In the first three weeks of rehearsals on that picture they had so much respect for each other, that it was 'Mr. Astaire' and 'Miss Powell', almost like 'two scientists in a laboratory', as Eleanor Powell told later about it. The first day of rehearsals, they were with a pianist in a rehearsing room, they started rehearsing early the morning. Long time later suddenly her stomach started to sound, she remembered later, so she asked Fred for the time. He didn't know and they looked at the pianist: He didn't have a watch either, but on the piano were three full ashers. It was very late in the afternoon then. From the next day on, they used a big alarm-clock for remembering the lunch break. The way they meet on the dance floor gave the background for a scene in the movie. The other stars of the movie were George Murphy, Frank Morgan, Florence Rice and Ian Hunter. Due to the outbreak of World War II in Europe on September 1, 1939 the studio executives deceided to shoot the movie in black and white. For the first time in a Broadway Melody movie, Eleanor Powell wasn't the newcomer waiting for her break, she was a Broadway Star in need of a new partner. Fred Astaire and George Murphy were a aspiring dancers waiting for their break. Fred Astaire is dicoverd as a possible new partner for her, but because of some missunderstandings the part is given to his partner, who's problems with alcohol endangers the show. Powell finds out about the man who teaches her partner all the steps and after more complications Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dance to Cole Porter's "Begin th Begunie". This dance is one of the best dances ever filmed. Technically it is absolut perfect, but still something is missing: the spark, that has been there between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - that is the only reason why this number is not the non-plus-ultra of dance in movies. The problem about the dance team Astaire / Powell is: both had class and style, but both lacked of sex-appeal (it is said about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, that he gave her style and she him sex-appeal). After this sucess, MGM thought of another movie with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, but "Broadway Melody of 1940" was their only cooperation in movies, probably none of them really wanted another one. Then there she was planed for the movie "Ziegfeld Girl", but she became ill and needed a long time to recover fully. Her next movie "Lady Be Good", released in summer 1941, gave her a top billing, but her role was in fact only a supporting one. The plot concieled about the troubled relation of song writer team Ann Sothern and Robert Young, who couldn't live with and without each other, Powell's part was Sothern's best friend, a famous Broadway star, who wants Sothern to marry Sothern's former husband and still co-songwriter Young again. The plot gave her the opportunity for two completly different dances: one dance to the tune of "Lady Be Good", with a dog, the other one to the song "Fascinating Rhythm". This one was choreographed by Busby Berkeley, who made it a very impressive number, with one of the longest single takes in a musical (As far as I know only the final take of the production number "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" from MGM's oscar winning "The Great Ziegfeld (1936)" is longer.). The opening take of her dancing has a running time of more than three minutes, starting with a close up on her feet and ending with a total of the complete set. The number ended with her tossed head over heel over-and-over down a corridor made by the men. Her next movie was smaller, after the minor starring role in "Lady Be Good", her co-stars in "Ship Ahoy" were from MGM's second row. The working title of that movie was "I'll take Manila", but after the Japanese inavsion of the Philipines, it was changed to "Ship Ahoy", her co-stars were comics Red Skelton and Bert Lahr, Virginia O'Brian and Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra with a young singer named Frank Sinatra. The Plot concerned about spies who use a pulp-autor's books as inspirations for their operations on board a ship, on that are also as passengers that csertain autor and his girl friend. The plot gave Eleanor Powell opportunities for several dances, among that were a bull-fight dance and her second Hawaiian Number.
      In 1943 her seven years contract with MGM was going to it's end, she wasn't very interested in renewing it, especially afterr their was a change in her personal live, at the age of 31 - an age were some other stars made plamns for their third divorce - she was going to marry the actor Glenn Ford. The year brought also her last starring role for MGM in the obscure movie "I dood it" - this tite was a line comic and co-star Red Skelton used often in his radio program. The movie was made in a hurry, director Vincete Minnelli expected his call to arms and wanted to finish it before. It was a remake of a Buster Keaton movie from the 20s, the plot was about a clerk at a laundry shop who falls for a Broadway star, who surprisingly marries him, but only to hurt her co-star. But it turnrs out, that her co-star and the owner of the laundry shop are Nazi agents, who want to blow up a ammounition dump next to the theater. Her other co-stars in the movie were Richard Ainley, Lena Horne, Hazel Scott and Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra. The movie featured only one new dance of hers, a rope dance in a western setting - practising that number turned out to be dangerous, the first time she tried it, the fast moving larriat knocked her out - she continued practising with the protection clothing of a foot-ball player. To give the audience more of her dancing, they included footage from "Honolulu" and "Born To Dance", but the movie didn't do very well at the box-office. Even her contract had ended, she accepted in appearing in MGM's all-star Parade movie "Thousands Cheer", her first movie in Technicolor. She did a short dance routine in it. Due to the fact, that her husband Glenn Ford joined the armed forces, she accepted the offer of independent producer Andrew L. Stone to star in his movie "Sensations", in spite of the fact that she was of the oppinion that in a couple only one person should be a star, but obviously she didn't liked the idea of sitting alone at home. The movie's plot was about a Broadway star who has also to organize her own public relations, for that she did the craziset things, like a faked atemped to kill her. Besides some notable specialty numbers from Sophie Tucker or Cab Calloway, it naturaly featured some exquiste dance numbers, one in the setting of a pin-ball machine and one with a horse. This movie was her last starring role. In 1945 she gave birth to her son Peter, her only child. This and the stronger growing career of Glenn Ford lead to her retirement, she was 32 and for almost 20 years active in business. But in 1950 MGM poroducer Joe Pasternak persuaded her to do a specialty number in the Esther Williams /Van Johnson musical "Dutchess of Idaho", her last apperance in a movie. But once in showbiz, always in showbiz, she couldn't stay at home and started a new career in TV in 1953 with giving Sunday school lessons in her TV show "Faith of Our Children", she enjoyed being, as she said a "dancing Preacher".
      But in her personal life she wasn't lucky. Her marriage with Glenn Ford was a flop, and they divorced in 1959. This divorce was bitter for her, especially on the finacial side - she lost quite a lot of money. She spend chrismas with her son Peter in Las Vegas, where she was discoverd in the audience of a night club by the show's star Pearl Bailey, who introduced her to the audience, asked her for doing some steps and made a comment about getting back in showbiz. She said afterwards about this: "I was 47 and had no great desire to be in the spotlight again, but I was out of shape and had overwight, and that bothered me for quite a while." Because of this and the fact, that her sonm was interested in her career, she worked for nine month to get back in form, put an act together, and was booked by the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for a week. This week was hughe success, so the contract was extended to three and other clubs invited her, too- a remarkable comeback for a woman in her late 40s a dancer - Ann Miller stayed active from her last movies untill the mid 80s. Eleanor danced in the top nightclubs all over the US, setting a audience record in a Las Vegas Nightclub, that lasted for over 30 years. But in 1964 she had enough, and decided to quit definitly. Then she did a lot of social work, especially with childern and advised also stagestruck youngsters. After the success of "That's Entertainment" she appeard occasional at lecture for film groups discussing her movies. Her last public appearance was in October 1981 at the National Film Ceremony. She recieved an award named in her honor, "The Ellie Adward", that was given to outstanding contributors to the art of Filmmusical.

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