PART 5 – More about Eleanor Powell
In Part 5 of our exclusive interview with Peter Ford about his mother, Eleanor Powell we focus on Eleanor’s home life, charity work, her TV program, Faith of our Children and her early death in 1982.
Other than dancing what other interests did she have?
PETER: She loved to read. She had a huge library of books. She loved music and she listened to music but as far as hobbies she didn’t really have any. Later in her life, she got very involved with religion, became a Sunday School teacher and was very involved with that. When she was very, very young, she knew Bill Bojangles Robinson and they would appear at clubs together and she was very keen on civil rights back before it was popular to do. She was very animated about blacks and the inequality and racial segregation she was very much opposed to. She got a number of awards that I have, from the Urban League and other organizations that promoted racial equality and this was well before Martin Luther King. She also got involved with charities and hospitals for children. She was very much involved with the Jewish Home for asthmatic children and all kinds of organizations that tended to the needs of disadvantaged or sickly young people.
Is the 22 bedroom house where you lived as a child still standing?
PETER: Yes, that was at 1012 Cove Way (address has been changed) and the house is exactly the same as when I grew up there. They bought the house from Max Steiner, the composer.
Can you talk a bit about Eleanor’s TV program?
PETER: Yes, the children’s show that she started in 1953 called “Faith of our Children,” was a religious show on KNBC in Los Angeles and she won five local Emmy’s on that show. I was in every one of those with her. She taught a Sunday School class on camera and then they would have guests come in and she would discuss religion with them. That was a very successful show, but that happened after her career.
What was her faith; what religion did she follow?
PETER: She was Presbyterian.
What was it that caused her death?
PETER: She had cancer. It was uterine cancer and she was only 69 and died on 2/11/1982. It was quite terrible. She smoked unfortunately, and I used to yell at her about smoking but she had her little pack of cigarettes that she liked. She also didn’t eat the heathiest foods either. I guess she made up for all the years when she was such a hard worker and only ate a hard boiled egg and water all day. So, I guess she paid for it later and I think the smoking and eating bad foods might have contributed to her early death.
What would you want people to remember about your mother the most?
PETER: Well, I think that she was just such a fine person; just a wonderful human being; never said a bad word about anybody and just was an example to be held up to. She was always helping people, I never heard her swear and she was just the most sweet perfect human being aside from the fact that she was a great talent.
Basically, having almost being born out of wedlock to a gal who had no where with all; her mother is working as a chambermaid, coming from extreme poverty and she becomes one of the biggest stars at MGM for the time, makes it a real “rags to riches” tale.
She worked very hard and that’s how I got my work ethic. When I was young, I was always working and just couldn’t sit still. I guess it was just in the genes.
Eleanor Powell’s last television appearance was at the AFI tribute to Fred Astaire which was taped on April 10, 1981 and televised eight days later. She received a prolonged standing ovation when she came onto the stage. She was diagnosed with cancer the next month and passed away the following February.
Peter is very proud of his mother, and I can certainly understand why; I think she was an exemplary person who in her life’s work provided an excellent model for anyone to follow.
To learn more about Peter Ford and his family note the following:
Peter Ford interview about his biography of his father, Glenn Ford Part 1
Peter Ford interview about his biography of his father, Glenn Ford Part 2
Movie by Charmed Productions about the biography of Glenn Ford written by his only son, Peter Ford.
Trailer for: The Little Prince – At the time Peter Ford was writing his biography of his father, a documentary was made about it. Watch the full movie on YouTube for $1.99 by clicking here. Below are two trailers for the documentary.
READ THE OTHER PARTS OF THIS INTERVIEW WITH PETER FORD BY CLICKING ON THE LINKS BELOW:
- PART 1 – EARLY CHILDHOOD AND DANCING FOR HER SUPPER
- PART 2 – ACHIEVING STARDOM AND FILM CAREER
- PART 3 – MARRIAGE TO GLENN FORD
- PART 4 – ON DANCING, THE DEMISE OF HER CAREER AND MAKING A COMEBACK
- PART 5 – MORE ABOUT ELEANOR
Learn more about Eleanor Powell by visiting our section devoted to her here by clicking on the banner below: