In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Peter Ford about his mother, Eleanor Powell we focus on when after much work on the stage on Broadway and dancing in Atlantic City, Eleanor Powell finds stardom at MGM when she is signed as a contract player. 

Note: This interview includes direct quotes from Peter, as well as summaries of our conversation and quotations from the biography he wrote about his father, “Glenn Ford: A Life.”.

eleanor powell 1937 - broadway melody of 1938 - by ed cronenwerth

Achieving Stardom

At the moment Eleanor achieved stardom, she was a smash hit and considered a “triple threat.” Her first film, Broadway Melody of 1936 had just premiered, she was simultaneously appearing on her own radio show while also dancing on Broadway.


Peter explains that, Eleanor was on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater and when she got off work, she would go and do the radio show. Eleanor was proud that she was doing a play at the Winter Garden Theater, had a top radio show in New York City and her movie, Broadway Melody of 1936 which opened up across the street from her theater, so, he said: “she was like a triple threat and that was the height of her career.”

warworld_radioRed Horse Tavern Radio Show – When she was back on Broadway before her film career took off, she had her own radio show, the Red Horse Tavern Radio Show. The musical variety program lasted from October 4, 1935 to September 25, 1936. Osgood Perkins (father of Anthony Perkins) was the host and Eleanor was highlighted as a “singing tap dancer.”

And prior to making it big, Eleanor had done a few films that were produced in New York while she was appearing on Broadway. One starred Charlie Ruggles, Frank Morgan and Ginger Rogers; “Queen High” a talking early musical-comedy produced by Paramount Pictures in 1930. This was Eleanor’s first film appearance in an uncredited bit part dancing on a drum in a scene. Eleanor was appearing on Broadway in a show entitled “Follow Thru” at the time, and a segment of the show was filmed for the movie and was based upon the 1926 stage musical by the same name adapted from Edward Peple’s 1914 farce “A Pair of Sixes.” The storyline loosely concerns a rivalry between two businessmen that results in a game of poker. Whoever loses the game becomes the winner’s servant for a year.

Video of Eleanor Powell dancing on the drum in the film, “Queen High”

bae2a844ec1cf21a81a9c021ac9885ffEleanor Powell’s first film in Hollywood

After seeing the small part she played in “Queen High,” she was brought out to Hollywood to do her first film, “George White Scandals of 1935.”

PETER: “November 21, 1934 Eleanor celebrates her 22nd birthday on the train on her way to Hollywood to appear in her first film. She had a nice birthday on the train, is lonesome for New York already and likes to play victrola records on her portable record player.”

The film wasn’t a good experience for Eleanor and she was lonesome for New York, so she went back. However, she was soon convinced to return to Hollywood and was signed as a contract player to do Broadway Melody of 1936. That’s when “George White Scandals” was released (March 1935) and in July of 1935 she appeared in “At Home Abroad” at the Shubert Theater and then, Broadway Melody of 1936 came out in September.

Peter enjoyed giving me this tidbit about Eleanor:

PETER: February 25, 1935 – Eleanor Powell, now in Hollywood, had to have her teeth reset and they say she is now more gorgeous that even Mrs. Roosevelt.

eleanorpowellyoungbikeWhat film of your mother’s do you like the most?

PETER: I like Born to Dance with Jimmy Stewart. To me it’s a sweet film and Mom and Jimmy were very close. In fact, he proposed to her.

Did she have other admirers?

: Al Jolson proposed to her in fact, she was quite the catch. She wasn’t interested in men, just wanted to dance. Clark Gable gave her, for her 23rd birthday, a Packard Roadster because he was trying to get to home base. She kept the car, but he didn’t get anywhere with her. When she married my father, she was a virgin. She also didn’t have any relationship with Robert Taylor during the making of Broadway Melody of 1936. But when you’re a hormonal guy and she was pretty and had a great figure they were panting after her.




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