R.I.P. Jane Powell: The Oregon Victory Girl

Tribute today to Jane Powell (1929-2021), who we have just learned has passed on at the age of 92.

She is not to be confused with Eleanor Powell or for that matter Jane Russell, Jane Wyatt, Jane Wyman or Jayne Mansfield, not is she related to William Powell or Dick Powell. In fact Jane Powell was not her name at all. She was a child performer named Suzanne Lorraine Burce who sang and danced throughout Oregon during World War II as the Oregon Victory Girl, hawking Victory Bonds in theatres and on radio.

When she was 14 years old her parents brought her to Hollywood to compete on a radio talent show called Hollywood Showcase: Stars Over Hollywood, hosted by Janet Gaynor. She won the contest, which got her the attention of major studios. She signed with MGM but her first movie was a United Artists picture, Song of the Open Road (1944), which is best remembered today as W.C. Fields’ second-to-last movie. Her character in the film was named Jane Powell — and that’s how she became Jane Powell.

She was in theatrical films for 14 years, almost all of them musicals or light comedies, most notably Royal Wedding (1951) with Fred Astaire, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1958) and The Girl Most Likely (1958). She wasn’t even 30 when she and the movies parted ways. The vogue for musicals was evaporating. But she worked constantly afterwards in touring productions of live theatre and in television — both variety shows, and dramatic parts. Some notable later roles included the all-star tv disaster movie Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976); a recurring part on Growing Pains (1988-1990) as Alan Thicke’s mother; and the true crime telefilm Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder. Her most recent role was in an episode of Law and Order: SVU in 2002.

Powell was married no less than five times. Her fifth marriage was to former child star Dickie Moore, who passed away in 2015.