Talking ’Royal Wedding’ With Jane Powell
The Turner Classic Movies Road to Hollywood tour has been raging on for about six months now, sating film nerds with special 35mm screenings of American classics in cities throughout the country.
Thus far the series has brought prints of such titles as "Forbidden Planet," "On The Waterfront," "Cabaret," "Rio Bravo" and "Metropolis" in Pittsburgh, New York, Dallas, Washington DC and the Kennedy Space Center.
Tonight it makes a long-awaited stop in the Boston area at Cambridge’s historic Brattle Theatre.
MGM musical star Jane Powell will be on hand to present Stanley Donen’s Royal Wedding, a lesser-known 1952 gem from the Arthur Freed era at the studio. It was Donen’s second film as a director. He would subsequently team with Gene Kelly on "Singin’ In The Rain," arguably the greatest MGM musical of all time.
Joining Powell is film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who will be on hand to moderate a pre-screening Q & A.
Set in 1947, the script (by Alan Jay Lerner) uses the real royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh as a backdrop. (Elizabeth was to ascend to the throne in 1953 as Queen Elizabeth II.) Lerner also wrote lyrics to songs by Burton Lane, which includes the standard "Too Late Now" and a number -- "You’re All the World to Me" - that featured Astaire dancing on the walls and the ceiling of his London hotel room.
EDGE was lucky enough to speak with Jane and Leonard after their arrival in town this morning. Though 84, she’s still spry, snappy, and not afraid to dismiss the majority of her film work as "stupid" (when I ask her if she feels any sense of authorship over the films she worked on, she chortled and snapped, "who would want to feel that for most of those films?")
And she’s also not afraid to stir the pot either - though Stanley Donen directed tonight’s film, she was quick to note that choreographer Michael Kidd deserves more of the credit. You can’t get anything past her!
EDGE: What is it about "Royal Wedding" that endures, that makes it preferable to some of the other movies you’ve made over the years, that makes it still entertaining to sold out theatre crowds all these years later?
Jane Powell: Well it’s wonderful people still like seeing it on the big screen, rather than just in the [VHS/DVD] box. I think you’re more surrounded, more present [in a theater,] because you don’t have all of the other things distracting you.
Leonard Maltin: I think people are genuinely amazed sometimes to see an older movie on the screen. People who aren’t used to repertory cinema, or don’t have access to repertory cinema in their town. They just see so much more - or even, feel like they experience so much more. As simple as it sounds, it’s a revelation to a lot of people.
EDGE: Do you have a favorite dance partner, or leading man?
Jane Powell: Well, for dance partner, I’d really have to say Fred Astaire. He truly was a dancer. And Gene Nelson, was a wonderful dancer. Really, all of them were good - you had to be, or else you wouldn’t be in movies! And I think being at MGM, or just being in the studio system - everybody had to be professional. That’s what you were hired to do. I was an employee; you do what you’re told. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong, but they’re right more often than not.
EDGE: So were the MGM musicals the most challenging work of your career?
Jane Powell: Actually, I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done was a soap opera! That was unbelievable, because they don’t care about the actors! They only care about the technical side of things. I think what daytime actors do on television is unbelievable. It really is. I just found that if you flubbed your line, they would let that go; but if the light wasn’t in the right place, they would stop! That was very difficult for me.
EDGE: Do you wish you had been able to branch out into other genres during your career, or do you love being seen as primarily a musical star?
Jane Powell: I would’ve loved to have done more comedies, if they would have let me do that! I ended up traveling around the country [on the stage] to do it on my own. They wanted to keep me a teenager, you know. I was 25 years old with a couple kids. They wanted to keep me in the box.
Royal Wedding will be screened on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA. For more information, visit this website.
For upcoming dates in the Turner Classic Movies Road to Hollywood series, including screenings in Chicago, Ann Arbor, San Francisco and Albuquerque, the Turner Classic Movies website.