TCM Film Festival: Jane Powell and Royal Wedding

Fred Astaire and the sweet and sassy Jane Powell

So it’s 12:15 in the morning and I’ve just fallen in the door from today’s first full day of the 2011 TCM Film Festival. I am overtired–operating on only 3 hours of sleep thanks to last night’s all night Royal Wedding watch. And you know what? That’s OK because so was Jane Powell.

In a feisty Q&A with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz following her 1953 musical Royal Wedding, the veteran Hollywood actress– every bit as fiery as her on-screen counterpart– confided that she stayed up until four in the morning to watch the Price William/Kate Middleton royal wedding. And, looking at the 1951 footage from her film, was happy to report that nothing had really changed at all over the years.

“You haven’t seen the movie in  a while,” Mankiewicz quipped, “they added an action sequence. Bruce Willis is in it now.”

“Oh is he,” said Powell, her toungue planted firmly in cheek, eyes bright and sparkling as she fired back at Mankiewicz’s cracks with a resounding one-two-punch.

“Oh yea, it’s a way better movie, not a bunch of singing and dancing.”

The impossibly beautiful 82 year old was every bit Mank’s match for the delightful Q&A– one of the most enjoyable I’ve had the pleasure to attend in quite some time– and their camaraderie was immediate and affable, providing the audience with a highly irreverent and wonderfully relevant look back at a truly legendary Hollywood career.

She was third choice for the role, first offered to June Allyson and Judy Garland. The latter of which was fired from the project, and the first of which became pregnant.

Powell, who was a tight buddy of Allyson’s, sighed and said “Ah, well. You know June.”

Powell, observant and objective, was full of delicious insights on her Royal Wedding co-stars. Peter Lawford “was never quite there even if he was physically there. Peter would always have rather been surfing. [The scene where] I ask him to marry me, he was barefoot in that car because he was going to beach right after the take.”

Astaire was a lovely, professional man, according to Powell, who had a marvelous swagger and choregoraphers Bob Fosse and Marge Champion had been known to try to imitate it on the lot. “He was also a very private man. When people ask me what he was like, I say I have no idea. You got to know him by his feet.”

And as for Astaire’s love interest, Sarah Churchill, Mankiwicz noted that she didn’t make many movies after Royal Wedding.

“Well,” said Powell with a mischievous smile. “I wonder why.”

The audience gasped. Sarah Churchill was not exactly your conventionally beautiful MGM starlet type, and Powell and Mank tossed around the idea that this role of a British dancer went to Churchill because her father happened to be none other than the Churchill. Whatever the reason, Powell shrugged. “Didn’t matter to me,” she said. “I’m not the one who had to marry her.”

Powell rounded up the interview by sincerely thanking TCM for creating a family of ardent classic film enthusiasts and allowing the people who made the movies– like her– to be a part of that family. “It really is the only thing I watch on TV,” said Powell. And then a pause. “Except for the royal wedding of course.”

coming up next:  The Constant Nymph, A Talk with Leslie Caron, Kevin Brownlow at the Merry Widow, and much more!

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

One thought on “TCM Film Festival: Jane Powell and Royal Wedding

  1. Excellent reportage, you must have been a journalist in a prior incarnation — made me feel like I was in the audience. Jane Powell, who was there, who knew and worked with Astaire, talking about him — someone now gone for so long, now a legendary figure of the past — the legend comes to life. Even Peter Lawford, who to me, anyway, seems like such a recent figure (must have been all the late nites I watched him on the tv talk shows . . .), makes you feel like you’re ready to tag along with him down to the beach, too. Great work!

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