When the ladies of Silver Scenes Classics announced this blogathon honoring MGM, I was ecstatic. MGM was the premier studio for decades of Hollywood’s history for many, many reasons. These reasons are precisely what made it so difficult to narrow down the topic of my post. There were so many options to focus on, so many things worth writing about, not the least of which is my long-term fascination with Irving Thalberg.
As I dithered about undecided, I finally had one of those a-ha! moments. Having discovered a new-found love for Eleanor Powell in the past year, I felt she was a great choice as she perfectly encapsulates for me the joy of watching MGM films; their history of producing top notch musical pictures as well as their propensity for collecting and developing talented performers, not to mention their gorgeous sets and costumes (which is another topic I seriously considered covering.)
In a career spanning two decades and only fifteen film credits Eleanor Powell certainly made a lasting impression. Though she would never win any acting awards, her undisputed talent for dance more than made up for anything she might have lacked.
In the annals of dancing actors, others may still remain more popular, but few if any could match or exceed her skill and joie de vivre on the screen. Even Fred Astaire has been quoted as saying, “Eleanor Powell, one of our greatest talents, is a bit too powerful for me.”
As a classic film fan of many decades, I still can’t believe it took me so long to find her films and then to recognize how delightful they are. Even when not dancing, she somehow exudes happiness and innocence in her performances. She’s like a ray of sunshine onscreen. And when she does dance, wow! Those nimble feet fly and she makes the expert look easy. It’s also amazing to me that her talent extended beyond the act of dancing and into choreography. Those complicated, wide-ranging dance routines were created by Powell herself and incorporated several styles of dance, making her numbers rather unique.
In honor of Eleanor and MGM I want to share some of my favorites of her dance numbers. Though I took some dance lessons as a child, I am definitely not an expert. My choices and commentary are strictly based on the enjoyment I experience when watching them.
Hawaiian Medley in Honolulu
This is my favorite of all of Eleanor Powell’s dance sequences. The first time I saw it, thought it was fire! It’s certainly the most energetic hula I’ve ever seen and also the sexiest. It’s also the sexist routine she ever danced in my opinion.
Oh, Lady Be Good! with “Buttons” in Lady Be Good
This was the first dance routine of Eleanor’s that made me sit up and take notice and whet my appetite for more. It’s rather unique in that her partner is a dog trained by Eleanor herself. Beyond the novelty of an animal partner, it’s just a lot of fun. Wearing balloon pants, she incorporates acrobatics and even a little hula. One of the cutest moments is when she challenges the dog to do the hula.
Old Hawaii Song in Honolulu
This begins as a short duet with Gracie Allen before the focus shifts strictly to Eleanor. Reminiscent of Fred Astaire’s ship board number Slap That Bass in the film Shall We Dance, I find this one slightly more entertaining as she dances around the ship deck all while skipping rope.
I’m Feelin’ Like a Million with George Murphy in Broadway Melody of 1938
The first time I saw this number I knew it would forever be a memorable one. For me, it is less about the footwork (although that is still good) and more about the overall feeling of humor and light-heartedness enveloping the performance. The park setting is fully explored and utilized. There are portions that even remind me of Liesl in the rain and the gazebo of The Sound of Music, including some of the balletic leaps the two make. And then of course there is that surprise ending which I won’t spoil, but should be seen.
Boogie Woogie in Duchess of Idaho
Do you know what I love so much about this dance? There are no gimmicks, no fancy sets or costumes, Eleanor has no partner who shares her limelight. It’s just her talent and love of dance in full technicolor. As this was her last film, this was a very fitting way for MGM to honor her contribution to the movies, they even introduce her as herself and allowed her to perform her own beautiful tribute.
Begin the Beguine with Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940
I won’t say this is my favorite of Eleanor Powell’s dances but it is certainly one of the most well-known mostly because her partner is Fred Astaire and the two challenge each other to new technical heights with their feet. I’m no tap expert, but the speed and skill with which they dance, often in unison, is mind-boggling. And it is only amplified by the fact that it all occurs on a mirrored floor, which displays their inverted feet. At one point, it seems as if they are trying to out-dance each other. It’s also a long-number at just under seven minutes, so their stamina is seriously impressive.
Eleanor Powell was quoted as saying, “Whenever you hear the beat of my feet, it is really the beat of my heart saying, “Thank You and God Bless You!”
But I would like to say, thank you Eleanor for gracing us with your talent, but more importantly, your pure love of dance.
Don’t forget to check out other entries honoring MGM’s contribution to film history which can be found here.