Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

STARR LIGHT
by STEVE STARR
2003-10-01

This article shared 6230 times since Wed Oct 1, 2003
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


Eleanor Powell

The star was in her dressing room when her father, whom she had believed dead, appeared and congratulated her on a fine performance. Eleanor Torrey Powell was born Nov. 21, 1912 in Springfield, Mass. Her parents Clarence and Blanche divorced when she was two. Blanche felt this was a scandal, so she told Eleanor her father had died.

The family was poor, and Blanche worked as a chambermaid, waitress, and bank teller. Yet, she decided her shy daughter should begin studying ballet and acrobatic dance at age seven. During her 1924 vacation, Eleanor was doing acrobatics on the beach of Atlantic City. Entrepreneur Gus Edwards noticed her, and hired the 11-year-old to perform in his School Days Revue at the Ritz Grill in the Ambassador Hotel. There, she danced two nights a week for $7 a night. Eleanor was very good, and Gus hired her to return to Atlantic City the next summer, during which time she also made her first nightclub performance at the Silver Slipper Club. These shows led her to be hired the following summer as MC at the Martins Club, where she earned $75 a week.

Stars Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor saw her act, and encouraged the 14-year-old to try her luck in New York. At 15, Eleanor took her mother and the last of the family savings and moved to the big city. She found a job dancing at Ben Bernie's nightclub, worked private parties with the famous Bill Robinson, and landed a part in the ensemble of The Optimists, a revue in the Casino de Paris.

A talent agency advised her it was necessary to learn to tap dance. Powell had already been rejected from 10 other shows because she could not tap. Eleanor disliked the style, but learned it well while wearing an army surplus belt with sandbags attached to keep her more earthbound.

In 1929, 16-year-old Powell became a Broadway star in a small part tap dancing in Follow Through. In 1930 she made a brief dance appearance in Queen High, filmed in New York with Ginger Rogers and Frank Morgan. In 1932 she appeared on Broadway in Ziegfeld's Hot Cha! with Lupe Velez. Powell performed in George White's Music Hall Varieties, and the producer asked her to reprise her number in his Hollywood movie George White's Scandals (1935), in which it is said she covered four miles in her tap shoes.

Eleanor, surprisingly religious, disliked Hollywood. Appalled at its low morality, she rushed back to Broadway, advising her agent to turn down any future film offers. When Louis B. Mayer wanted her for the lead in the film Broadway Melody of 1936, she asked for an exorbitant salary and star billing, sure it would be rejected. He accepted, and Powell starred with Jack Benny. Mayer thought the girl was homely, and wanted her glamorized. He ordered cosmeticians to experiment on her face for days. Powell's teeth were brilliantly capped, and her brown hair was dyed red. She was billed as 'The World's Greatest Female Tap Dancer,' which was an actual 1930 citation from the Dancing Masters of America.

Then she starred in the Born To Dance (1936), with James Stewart. For the finale of the film, Cole Porter wrote a jazz-inspired song called 'Swingin' The Jinx Away.' MGM decided to pull out all the stops to make it the most lavish number of its kind. The result, as described by the production coordinator Roger Edens was, 'that really monstrous epitome of nonsense, that big half-million dollar battleship with several thousand dancers and singing sailors with sequined cannons and Eleanor Powell dancing on the decks. I don't know what to say, except that it haunts me as an embarrassment of bad taste. But the audiences loved it."

Powell's next film was Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). These were followed by two more musicals, Rosalie (1937), and Honolulu (1939). When she made Broadway Melody of 1940 (1939) with Fred Astaire, he admitted she was the better tap dancer. Their routine to Cole Porter's 'Begin The Beguine' is one of the best and most elegant filmed.

Eleanor married film star Glenn Ford in 1943, and they had a son, Peter, who became an actor. In 1949, Powell left her audience in awe when she appeared in a 40-minute non-stop tap routine in the London Palladium. In 1950, she made her final film Duchess of Idaho. In 1953, Eleanor turned to TV, teaching in a show called Faith Of Our Children. Her religious beliefs became the new focus of her life. She called herself the 'dancing preacher,' and the program earned five local Los Angeles Emmy Awards. Her marriage ended in a bitter divorce in 1959.

Powell was financially strapped. In 1961, Peter persuaded his mother to make a comeback, and Eleanor made world headlines when she announced she would return to dance nightly at the Sahara in Las Vegas and the Latin Quarter in New York. Her spectacular show was a 55-minute act assisted by four male dancers. Then, Peter worried she might have a heart attack. Later, Powell danced in nightclubs throughout the country, and made numerous TV appearances. Her Vegas show had set an audience attendance record that remained for 30 years. In 1964, at 51, she quit her dancing career for good. Eleanor soon returned to her work with a church group.

That's Entertainment in 1974, and its sequel That's Entertainment Part 2 in 1976 brought Powell back into the spotlight. She went on the lecture circuit, made appearances, and received awards . Her last public venture was at the National Film Awards Ceremony in October 1981, where she received an award named the 'Ellie'—-named in her honor—for those people who gave outstanding contributions to the world of film musicals.

Powell wrote in Dance Magazine, 'I never had the slightest idea of becoming a professional dancer when I first went to dancing school. I went because mother thought it might be a good way to cure me of my bashfulness, and it was.'"

Powell died of ovarian cancer Feb. 11, 1982. In 1985, the film That's Dancin' brought her talent back to the screen.

Sources: They Had Faces Then by John Springer and Jack Hamilton; The Great Movie Stars-The Golden Years by David Shipman; The MGM Story by John Douglas Eames; The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema Edited by Ann Lloyd and Graham Fuller; Gotta Sing Gotta Dance—A Pictorial History of Film Musicals by John Kobal; Eleanor Powell Web sites

Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect—Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications. A designer and an artist, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in original Art Deco photo frames, furnishings and jewelry, and celebrating its 36th anniversary in 2003.

Visit the studio at 2779 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago where adorning the walls is Steve Starr's personal collection of more than 950 gorgeous frames filled with photos of Hollywood's most glamorous stars.

Photo of Steve Starr March 4, 2003, by Doug Birkenheuer.

E-mail Steve at SSSCHICAGO@Ameritech.net


This article shared 6230 times since Wed Oct 1, 2003
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Superman, TheWrap, Oscar Wilde, Billy Porter, Cher, 'Dragula' 2021-10-17
- The ongoing comic Superman: Son of Kal-El, by writer Tom Taylor and artist John Timms, launched in July and saw Jon Kent officially take up the mantle of the Man of Steel now that his father, ...


Gay News

Wizard World Comic Con returns to Chicago 2021-10-17
- After being canceled last year because of the COVID pandemic, Wizard World Comic Con Chicago returned to Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on Oct. 15-17—and thousands of people attended. People ranging from attendees to vendors ...


Gay News

Jury selection in Smollett trial starts Nov. 29 2021-10-15
- The Jussie Smollett saga continues. Almost three years since out actor Jussie Smollett (TV's Empire; the film Alien: Covenant) was allegedly attacked in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, Cook County Judge James ...


Gay News

CIFF, featuring LGBTQ+ films, running through Oct. 24 2021-10-15
- North America's longest-running competitive film festival, this year's event expands throughout Chicago with presentations at venues across the city, including at AMC River East 21; the Music Box Theatre; the Gene Siskel Film Center; special drive ...


Gay News

MOVIES Holiday comedy short centers on Muslim family and BIPOC queer relationship 2021-10-13
- The short film The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night follows Noor, a Muslim queer woman, and her experience with bringing her Puerto Rican partner home to meet her family for the first time. When Noor's ...


Gay News

THEATER 'A Rocky Horror Picture Party' at The Den on Oct. 30-31 2021-10-12
- Haven is presenting Science Fiction / Double Feature: A Rocky Horror Picture Party—an immersive Halloween experience that brings to life in vivid technicolor the world of the cult-classic film—directed by ...


Gay News

PBS to air queer documentary 'Things We Dare Not Do' Oct. 25 2021-10-12
- American Documentary | POV announced the national broadcast premiere of Things We Dare Not Do (Cosas que no hacemos), the second feature film from Mexican director and cinematographer Bruno Santamaría, as part of POV's 34th season. ...


Gay News

Madonna's latest concert film, Madame X, now out 2021-10-09
- The concept film to Madonna's acclaimed Madame X Tour has debuted in the United States Latin America, Australia, the Nordics and Canada exclusively on Paramount+, the streaming service from ViacomCBS. Fans outside these markets can watch ...


Gay News

MOVIES Colman Domingo to star in Bayard Rustin biopic 2021-10-09
- LGBTQ+ actor Colman Domingo—who has been in movies such as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Candyman, and TV shows ranging from Fear the Walking Dead to The Big Gay Sketch Show—has landed the lead role the ...


Gay News

Filmmakers Bennett Singer, Patrick Sammon talk new documentary Cured 2021-10-07
- Producer-directors Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon have created a new LGBTQ documentary: Cured. The film tells the story of the LGBTQ activists, allies and events surrounding the American Psychiatric Association's ...


Gay News

Sisters in Cinema, DocuClub providing consulting opportunities to filmmakers 2021-10-07
- Sisters in Cinema—a Chicago-based 501(C)3 that aims to center and celebrate Black girls, women and gender non-conforming media makers—and DocuClub, a work-in-progress screening series, have entered into a strategic partnership ...


Gay News

Int'l Film Fest to premiere queer Muslim film directed by Chicagoan Fawzia Mirza 2021-10-05
--From a press release - LOS ANGELES CA - THE SYED FAMILY XMAS EVE GAME NIGHT will have its U.S. premiere at the 57th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival running October 13 - 24, 2021. This comes on the ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'Queer/Art,' sports items, Kevin Bacon, Indya Moore 2021-10-03
- Queer|Art—New York City's home for the creative and professional development of LGBTQ+ artists—announced the fall season of Queer|Art|Film, returning in person through Dec. 13, a press release noted. The line-up ...


Gay News

WORLD Movie items, tennis survey, German politics, Thai court 2021-10-03
- Kenya's Film Censorship Board (KFCB) banned I Am Samuel, claiming the documentary—which has a gay protagonist—contravenes Kenyan values, Human Rights Watch noted. In a statement, the KFCB denounced the film ...


Gay News

Pritzker Military Museum, Library to screen TransMilitary doc, Q&A with special guests 2021-09-28
--From a press release - CHICAGO, IL (September 27, 2021) On Thursday, Sept. 30, at 5:30 p.m., the Pritzker Military Museum & Library will host the screening of the 2018 SXSW Audience Award Winner for Best Documentary TransMilitary. The program will ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 

Sponsor


Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.