Eleanor Powell was an actress and dancer best known for her assertive and aggressive style of tap dancing. She was not usually cast against male dancers because of her dominant style and virtuosity but was cast in roles that showcased her virtuosity in solo dances.
During the 1930s and 1940s, she performed several tap dance numbers in films. Dance Masters of America selected her as the ‘World’s Greatest Tap Dancer’ in 1965. Despite her immense popularity, she only acted in 14 movies during her entire career.
At the age of six, Powell began studying ballet and dancing at nightclubs. She had danced at various nightclubs in Atlantic City when she was a teenager. Upon turning 16, she learned tap dancing and soon joined ‘The Optimists’ at Casino de Paris theater in New York City.
Her dance style developed while studying tap, and she eventually brought it to Broadway. Powell’s powerful footwork earned her much recognition at this time, and in 1935 she moved to Hollywood. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, she was known as one of the top dancing stars at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
She made her screen debut with ‘George White’s 1935 Scandals’ in 1935. Additionally, she performed in many musicals in the 1930s that were specially tailored to her talent, such as ‘Born to Dance (1936)’, ‘Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937)’, and ‘Rosalie (1937).’
Powell showcased her tap dancing skills in the 1940 film ‘Broadway Melody of 1940’, part of the Broadway Melody film series. The movie’s tap sequence ‘Begin the Beguine’ went on to become one of the greatest tap sequences in Hollywood. In 1943, she left MGM after performing only one specialty number in the film ‘Thousands Cheer.’ Powell performed her athletic dance moves in ‘Sensations of 1945’ a year later. Unfortunately, the film was not a commercial success. In the late 1940s, she also appeared in a few documentaries. The romantic comedy ‘Duchess of Idaho’ was her last collaboration with MGM. She practiced day and night to ensure that it looked perfect on-screen despite her brief appearance in the musical.
Her last film appearance was in the 1955 short film ‘Have Faith in Our Children.’ In 1974, a documentary called ‘That’s Entertainment’ and its sequels titled ‘That’s Entertainment Part II’ and ‘That’s Entertainment!’ reintroduced her to film audiences. III.’ Powell made her last public appearance in 1981 during a televised celebration of Fred Astaire, where she received standing ovations.
Eleanor Torrey Powell appeared as a guest artist in an ‘All-Star Revue’ episode in May 1952. Furthermore, she hosted the Emmy Award-winning television show called “The Faith of Our Children.” Her son also appeared in the front. Additionally, she appeared on a few other television shows such as ‘The Hollywood Palace’ and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’
Eleanor Powell married Canadian-American actor Glenn Ford in 1943. The couple had a son named Peter Ford, who became an actor and singer. After the couple divorced in 1959, she reportedly moved in with her son.
Eleanor Powell’s death
Powell died of ovarian cancer at the age of 69 on February 11, 1982. She was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She is survived by her son, Peter Ford.
Below are some gorgeous photos of the legendary Tap Dancer when she was young.