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She regrets the loss of the studio system. "Thank heavens it existed. You used to feel as if you were a part of something. Now there's no one to guide anyone. No direction. Of course, I also felt that I was just an employee, and did what I was told to do. I never made waves. Sometimes I disagreed but didn't say anything. Sometimes I was right." She mentioned how much she liked Lincoln because for once a recent movie gave you enough time to get to know the characters. "It breathed."

I asked who were her favorite directors. "Directors in musicals are more like traffic cops," she said. But she especially liked working with Sylvan Simon, who directed her very first movie, Song of the Open Road (1944), in which the young Suzanne Burce played a character named Jane Powell. "It was really my screen test. I actually starred in every movie I've ever made." She also liked George Sidney, who directed her in Holiday in Mexico (1946), because he reminded her of her father. What about Stanley Donen, who directed Royal Wedding? "I'd rather not talk about him," she answered decisively.

Her most popular film was probably Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), also directed by Donen, with an enchanting original score by Saul Chaplin, Gene de Paul, and Johnny Mercer. "They [MGM] took our budget away and put money into Brigadoon. The backdrops were all badly painted. But it was a sleeper. We opened at Radio City Music Hall, and Brigadoon didn't. I don't think anyone really knows what's going to make it. They asked me if I wanted to meet all the brothers. One of them was [New York City Ballet star and choreographer] Jacques d'Amboise —he was very shy. I thought, 'That poor boy, he only speaks French.' But he surprised me when he spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. They tried turning this into a stage musical, but it didn't work. There was nothing fresh about it."

I asked about a couple of my favorite of her co-stars, like the Brazilian Bombshell, Carmen Miranda. "She was the sweetest lady — and quiet! As if she was frightened. She was a unique person —and treated so poorly by her country." And what about the great Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior, who came to Hollywood at the end of his career? "He was nice. I sang at his wedding, at his house." Then she elaborated on the story. Melchior's devoted first wife had died and Melchior arranged to marry his longtime secretary. "She was very sweet. At the wedding she wore a Blackwell gown — pea green! She was in love with a carpenter, who was at the wedding and just glared. After her honeymoon with Melchior, the marriage was over. Then she married the carpenter."

Why did Powell finally leave MGM? "I was old enough. I had three children. I do what I want to do."

Before I left her to her next interview, I asked her if she knew Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. "Yes," she said, "but I haven't seen it for years." Did she realize that the song we hear when Cary Grant innocently enters the Plaza Hotel at the beginning of the movie, before his whole life is turned upside down, is "It's a Most Unusual Day"? She hadn't noticed. "That's the song I sang in A Date with Judy," she beamed.

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  Topics: Features , Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Carmen Miranda
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 See all articles by: LLOYD SCHWARTZ