Bill Moeller Commentary: Connections to Stardust

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A recent notice in the Sunday edition of The Seattle Times carried the information that Jane Powell had just died.

At this point, I expect 90% or more who just read that will ask, “who in Sam Hill was Jane Powell?” Well, she was primarily a singer and an actress and a frequently married movie star. She was born in Portland in 1929. In the early 1940s, she sang at just about any war bond rally in or near that city. While on a family vacation in 1943, she won a talent contest at MGM Studios and the next day she signed her first contract at the age of 14.

She also lived only about three blocks from the boarding school I was attending in Portland. The student who delivered newspapers at her home each afternoon was the most envied teenager in town.

He had no trouble finding substitutes if and when he was tied up with something else. I volunteered at times but had to make way for upperclassmen (or upper classboys). The school was named Concordia Academy and was changed to Concordia Junior College before becoming Concordia College and then Concordia University, after which it was closed for good about a year or two ago.

My father and his older brother were both graduates of the school, and would you believe that the faculty was the same when I came along more than 20 years later? But I digress.

It didn’t take more than a couple of years before Jane found herself in Hollywood, the star of many motion pictures.

But there’s one movie of hers I remember most — and that was because of a strange turn of events. The year was 1948 and I was a member of the Eleventh Airborne Division and “employed” in a radio station just outside the city of Sapporo on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Another announcer at the station — and I can’t remember his real name, only his nickname as “Haffo”— was about to finish his enlistment and be sent home when I asked him if he was going to try to find a job in radio?  He replied something to the effect that he was going to try dancing. A dancing paratrooper? Well, to each his own. Read on and you shall see how this bit of information relates to Jane.

And getting back to Powell, she began starring in movies while still a teenager. By 1951, she had developed her talent to where she was requested to make the movie “Royal Wedding” with Fred Astaire, but it was in 1954 that she had what is considered to be her biggest hit, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a musical movie set in the wilds of Oregon in 1850.

The music was great but the dancing was breathtaking. It was in the midst of one of the most strenuous dance routines I had ever seen that I saw Haffo, my friend from the Army radio station in Japan, dancing as one of the brothers! 

None of the listed names of the male dancers reminded me of Haffo’s real name, but hardly any Hollywood star is known by his or her given name anyway and I never learned the truth.

Incidentally, if you think that the title indicated a “corny” movie, the American Film Institute  named “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” as one of the greatest musicals of all time. 

And, as for Jane Powell, she eventually starred in 15 movies, recorded six albums and appeared as the star of 22 stage performances. She took to singing on cruise ships in her later years.

An interesting bit of information was that she was the bridesmaid in Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding and Elizabeth returned the favor when Jane took her vows — but Elizabeth beat Jane in the number of husbands by a score of seven to five!

On a more serious note, I, too, regretted hearing the news that our community lost Commissioner Gary Stamper. This virus continues to have such a large impact on our lives, even on some who were vaccinated, like Gary.

Please be part of the solution. Take all precautions — vaccinations, masks, whatever it takes to return to normal lives and honor those who have been victims.

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Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at bookmaven321@comcast.net.

 

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