Can This Be Jane Powell
You should’ve seen her on the set over at Universal the other day,” a cameraman said to a grip in the M-G-M commissary. “In a word—Wow!”
“I’ve never seen such a change in anyone,” an attractive woman whispered to a friend at Ciro’s. “I’ve known her for years, and she isn’t one bit like the girl she used to be.”
“The way she talked up to me!” a movie mogul remarked, “I had to pinch myself to believe it was really happening.”
What is this gossip all about? Jane Powell, that’s what. Yes, sweet, demure little Janie, the girl who has never been associated with anything more exciting than puppy love and spring, has been setting Hollywood on its collective ear.
There must be reasons. Of course, everybody knows that Jane, during the past few years, has put a lot of distance between herself and that sticky-sweet adolescent she used to play on the screen. Today, she is a woman of twenty-eight, mother of three and a divorcée on her second marriage. So, why all the shouting now?
To find out, you have to give it the full treatment, a real Sherlock Holmes job—the kind that works over not only the lady herself, but the people close to her.
The change in Jane hits you as soon as you walk in the door of her Pacific Palisades home. Gone are the ruffles, the chintz and Early American maple that Jane used to dote on. In their place is a living room right out of the House of Tomorrow. Not large and pretentious, mind you. But, oh, so modern.
A wall-length window looks out upon the patio. Walls and rugs are beige, and a twenty-foot contour divan overflows with red, blue and white pillows. Of course, there’s a grand piano. A beautiful turquoise seat with gold legs and a red pillow, large black coffee table, beige drapes and a black-and-white marble fireplace complete the picture.
In comes Jane. No ruffles on her, either. She looks sleek, smartly dressed. Her hairdo is short and chic.
“What’s been happening?” she laughs. “I’ve been busy. I did ‘Ruggles of Red Gap’ on television, had Lindsey last year, finished ‘The Girl Most Likely’ at RKO, sang at the President’s Press Photographers Ball, played a date at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, just cut an album, am in the middle of a new television series, and I’ve just finished working on ‘The Female Animal’ at U-I—and, I might add—it’s a dramatic role—no singing. That’s what I’ve been after, and that’s why the television series looks so good, too. Mostly, I’ll act—not sing.
“Acting is no obsession with me,” she goes on. “I’ve never had a one-track drive. I just realize that a performer has to be versatile.”
But a close friend and business associate at U-I says a lot about this that Jane doesn’t. “Jane knows exactly what she’s doing every minute,” he points out. “She’s had a burning desire to prove herself as an actress for a long time. She took the role in ‘Female Animal’ because it’s meaty. Hedy Lamarr plays her mother. Immediately you think—‘Aha, Janie is a daughter again.’ Well, there’s a difference. In this little epic, the mother and daughter are both in love with the same man and they fight it out—no holds barred. It’s Oscar bait. A woman star has to go through an alcoholic binge or dampen the scenery with tears and agony to get an Oscar bid. Well, Jane gets a chance to go hog wild in the histrionics department. A year from now the public will have forgotten all about her teenage decade. They’ll think of her as a dramatic actress.”
A close personal friend of hers explains objectively, “So you can open your mouth and break a glass at twenty paces. You can’t keep singing ‘The Bell Song’ for the rest of your life. Jane’s got a brain and she calls her shots pretty well. In the last few years, she’s established herself as a top night-club entertainer, she’s made a lot of records and has an album out with Buddy Bregman. She has a lot of movie commitments, including three for U-I and two back home at M-G-M. She has made herself a package television deal with David Niven, Charles Boyer, Jack Lemmon and Robert Ryan (notice she’s the only girl). Jane’s scheduled for five or six plays a year and an occasional spectacular. She’s spreading herself carefully through all entertainment media. She won’t saturate any one market, but her versatility will certainly be showing.”
Quite a switch for Little Miss Sunshine! Or is it? Could it be that this sharp new Janie has simply been hidden under the sugar-coating of her screen roles, right along?
Says Anne Jeffreys Sterling, “Robert and I love Pat Nerney like a member of the tribe. When he was free wheeling, we always asked him to bring his date to our backyard barbecues. When he up and said one day that Jane Powell was his date for that night, I kept a poker face, but I laughed inside. I had a sudden mental picture of little miss ickygoo, smiling that sweet, sweet smile through thousands of M-G-M musicals. I told him firmly that our bash was strictly a shorts-on, shoes-off affair, and would he please remind little Miss Powell.
“When we answered the front door that night, lo and behold! Miss Jane Powell was done up in a white satindress. B-ruther, I thought, the movie-star bit, the whole treatment. She murmured an apology about having to sing at a benefit before she came. She was pleasant enough throughout the evening, but the feline in me simply couldn’t skip that dress.
“Later when Pat insisted that he and Jane return the honors, and said Jane insisted it be informal. I dusted off the sterling silver and crown jools and dressed. So? Jane was informal and delightful and I felt like Mrs. Astor’s plush horse. It was then I began to know Jane. She’s unpretentious and as unmovie-starrish as you can get. She has a lusty sense of humor and, I’m not kidding you, there’s a smart lot under that pretty lid. She’s honest, straightforward, exuberant and bright. In short, my kind of person. Robert and I were delighted when they married. We’ve been close friends since.”
But another close friend vows that Pat Nerney is responsible for the “new” Jane Powell. “Pat has changed Jane’s life,” he says. “He has shown her the cosmopolitan side of New York, London, Paris and all of Europe. He has introduced her to art, music and culture in a way unknown to her before. In the last few years she has become very polished, urbane and sophisticated. At the same time, she is homebody enough to enjoy cooking and caring for her home. When Pat was still in the car business, Jane would come home from a day at the studio and cook a dinner for the kids. When Pat came in about ten p.m., she would have another dinner ready for him. She loves it. But the smooth, big-city personality is a far cry from little Janie, girl singer.”
It’s true that with her marriage in 1954 to Pat Nerney, Jane seems to have found the happiness and pure joy of living she lacked. With the birth of their first child, Lindsey Averill, (named after her friends, Lindsey and Averill Dalitz of the Desert Inn), the gears of her life seem to mesh for the first time.
Jane, herself, admits that Pat has changed her outlook on life. “We just met, fell in love and married,” she says simply. “As for adjustments, naturally we had the children to think of. Pat’s daughter, Mona, lives with her mother, Mona Freeman. But she visits us quite often. She’s nine, and she talks to me like a girl friend, and I love it. She’s very alert and aware, and she always wanted brothers and sisters. She’s still young enough to enjoy them and she’s mad for the baby. Of course, she’s so busy with her social life, the Brownies, tap-dancing lessons, lunch and dinner with her girl friends, that we haven’t seen much of her lately. As for Jay and Cissie, they were fond of Pat before we married, so there was no problem with them. Pat is a very understanding adult. He was aware of their needs without any discussion. I guess he was aware of mine, too. He’s opened new vistas for me. Pat is an avid art collector and he’s taught me to appreciate and enjoy paintings. We have a little Renoir, a Lautrec, a Paul Clemens, a Utrillo and a Grandma Moses. Paul Clemens is going to do the children soon.”
Paul Clemens, famous artist-husband of Eleanor Parker, is another close friend of the Nerneys. Paul, who’s known Pat for years, takes a bit of the credit for the Powell-Nerney match. “One Sunday when Pat was without a date,” he recalls, “I suggested Jane. After that first date, they were together steadily. They both have mercurial dispositions, senses of humor and are charming. Pat is bright and gay, a a Jane can be proud of. She needs that.”
And how does Jane Powell explain her transformation from a naive, unsophisticated youngster into the exciting, accomplished young woman of today?
Her career struggles to become a mature actress had nothing to do with it! Jane feels that marriage is the answer. Being so close to another person naturally creates a desire for growth. Why? Because a wife—or a husband—who is truly in love will try to improve faults and shortcomings, will try to develop to the utmost, just to make the marriage work. Then the time comes, as it has to Jane today, when a woman can look back and say, “How I’ve changed!” And the deep satisfaction that comes with that knowledge of inner growth is one of the greatest rewards marriage can give. It is something, Jane knows, that a career cannot give—and something that every married woman can achieve.
“Experience makes a person,” she says. “A woman must be aware of what’s going on around her and change with the times. Why, children do at twelve today, what I did at fourteen. I feel I’m completely normal. I work, as most women do today. And I adjust my life to the necessity of change. As for growing, I think I have normally. As for the future, I don’t make plans.”
One instance of the change marriage has wrought was her introduction to life on the briny. “I didn’t know a thing about boats, but I knew Pat loved them. When he asked which I’d prefer for my birthday—a diamond necklace, a mink coat or a boat—I chose a boat. Etoile is a forty-footer. The first time we went out it was just the two of us. We have sails but no motor. There was a storm warning up which we didn’t notice. We had all our sail up instead of reefing (half way up) as we should have. It got a bit scary but we had a wonderful time. You know, you never know your husband or wife until you’re completely alone. We were, and we still like each other. Now Etoile is a big part of our life. The whole family goes to Balboa every weekend. It’s a wonderful way for us to share un.
Now that Pat is a writer instead of a car dealer they can plan their time to enjoy the boat more. From Pat, too, she has acquired the confidence to say what she thinks. She used to bend over backwards to please. She wasn’t really an individual. Now she will analyze a situation carefully and say, yes, or no, firmly. She can be persuaded to change her mind only if the reasons are stronger than her objections. She has fortitude that shows in many ways. With those who work with her now, it is a surprise, but the end result of her efforts leaves them with glowing enthusiasm.
Jane looks ahead to the future. “I’d like a couple more children. Then, I look forward to their growing up. I think your togetherness is multiplied when they’re adults on their own and not tied so closely to you. I want to continue combining home and career with planning. With an understanding husband, that’s possible. Without one, it’s impossible, no matter what the work is. Pat knows our home is uppermost with me, so I have no problem there—” She was suddenly interrupted by her breathless young son, Jay, who, racing into the room, begged: “Can I have more television time.”
“You can have it if you . . . what?” prompted his mother.
“If my table manners are good and I take a nap,” responded Jay seriously.
“He’s coming along very well,” Jane smiled proudly.
So is Jane.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1957