Eleanor Powell

Eleanor Powell (21 November, 1912 - 11 February, 1982) was an American actress and dancer of the 1930s and 1940s, known for her exuberant solo tap dancing.

Eleanor Torrey Powell was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. A dancer from childhood, she was discovered at the age of 11 by the head of the Vaudeville Kiddie revue, Gus Edwards. At 17, she brought her graceful, athletic style to Broadway, where she performed in various revues and musicals. During this time, she was dubbed "the world's greatest tap dancer" due to her machine-gun footwork.

In 1935, the leggy, fresh-faced Powell made the move to Hollywood, where she did a specialty number in George White's 1935 Scandals. Immediately thereafter, she was signed by MGM, which groomed her for her future stardom without making many changes in her makeup and conduct. She was well-received in Broadway Melody of 1936 (in which she was carefully supported by Jack Benny's comedy and Frances Langford's singing), and went on to delight 1930s audiences with her endless energy and enthusiasm, not to mention her stunning dancing.

Powell would go on to star opposite many of the decade's top leading men such as Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Fred Astaire, George Murphy, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. Films she made during the height of her career in the mid-to-late 1930s co-starred these men and others and included Born to Dance (1936), Rosalie (1937), Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Honolulu (1939), and Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940). Most of these movies featured her amazing solo tapping, although her increasingly huge production numbers (each one more "spectacular" than the ones that preceded it) got to be a bit silly. Broadway Melody of 1940, in which Powell starred opposite Fred Astaire, featured a brilliant musical score by Cole Porter. Together, Astaire and Powell danced to Porter's "Begin The Beguine", which is considered by many to have been the greatest tap sequence in film history.

In the 1940s, things changed somewhat for the worse, at least as far as her career was concerned. 1941's Lady Be Good gave Powell top billing, but really it was Robert Young and Ann Sothern who carried the movie. The same happened with Red Skelton in Ship Ahoy (1942) and I Dood It (1943). She parted with MGM in 1943 after Thousands Cheer, in which she did a specialty number, and the same year married classic Canadian lead actor Glenn Ford. She danced in a giant pinball machine in Sensations of 1945 (1944), but this picture was a large disappointment, and Powell retired from the movies to concentrate on raising her son, actor Peter Ford, who was born that year.

In 1950, Powell returned to MGM just once, to guest star in The Duchess of Idaho, starring Esther Williams. She divorced Glenn Ford in 1959, and that year started a highly-publicized nightclub career, maintaining her figure and pretty looks well into middle age. In her later years, she became profoundly interested in religion, and was actually ordained a minister of the Unity Church. She also hosted a brief Sunday morning TV program for children entitled The Faith of Our Children (1953 - 1955), the first of its kind west of the Rocky Mountains. Her son, Peter Ford, was a regular on this show.

Eleanor Powell died of cancer on 11 February, 1982.


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