Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance
By Paula Broussard & Lisa Royère
Published by University Press of Kentucky
To be released August 8, 2023
About the Book
Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance is the first in-depth look at the life and career of America’s most famous female tap dancer. Raised by a single mother in a poor family, Powell moved seven times before her tenth birthday, and dance lessons proved a dramatic solution to her crippling shyness. Discovered as a child doing acrobatics on the beach in Atlantic City by kiddie-show producer Gus Edwards, she then went to New York at age 15. After being reluctantly forced to learn to tap, she discovered a natural affinity for this dance style and was soon touted as the “Kid of Broadway,” lauded as its most talented female tapper. Taken under the wing of the iconic Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who, due to the times, was only able to share the stage with her at private parties of the wealthy, Powell developed a personal style so unique and skilled that even Fred Astaire was challenged to match her. After their one film together in 1940, Astaire privately admitted being too intimidated to do another. Revered in the industry for her commitment to quality, even under adverse production conditions, she maintained her image as a strong innovator who stuck to her vision in a time when women had to struggle to establish their voice.
The star of twelve MGM musicals at the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the sole female star to ever be permitted to choreograph her own dances, Powell gave up her career at its height to marry actor Glenn Ford. While navigating a tumultuous marriage and raising a son, she spearheaded and hosted a children’s Sunday School TV program that, despite facing attacks for its racial diversity in 1950s society, won five Emmys.
When her rocky marriage to Ford ended in 1959, she fought her way back to performing through a grueling year of self-motivated physical training, gathered a production team, and produced an inspirational one-woman show that placed her again at the top of her field. In 1974, the release of That’s Entertainment caused a new generation to rediscover her talents, and interest in her career remains until this day.
After a short battle with cancer, she passed away in 1982 at age 69.
In Paula Broussard and Lisa Royère, Eleanor Powell has the biographers she deserves. Their Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance is a warmhearted account of Powell’s ascent from childhood poverty to international stardom, a journey reliant on both Powell’s immense talent and her relentless perfectionism. The authors combine vivid descriptions of Powell’s fabulous tap dance sequences with behind-the-scenes accounts of the painful physical and emotional costs she endured to achieve them.
Sydney Ladensohn Stern, author of The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics
Eleanor Powell was without a doubt the premiere tap-dancing film star of all time… her legendary performances graced such MGM motion pictures as Born to Dance and Rosalie, and her “Begin the Beguine” number with Fred Astaire from Broadway Melody of 1940 will never be duplicated… Powell has long deserved a good biography. Her life and career should never be forgotten.
Stephen Michael Shearer, author of Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life
What a unique treasure trove this long-awaited biography is for film buffs, students of the dance, and of course fans of the ever-fascinating MGM musical! An inspiring story, too. This wonderful book is a not-to-be-missed celebration and keepsake of the truly one-of-a-kind Powell.
Michael Troyan, author of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot
With Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance, authors Paula Broussard and Lisa Royère pay an overdue tribute to one of Hollywood’s most mesmerizing dancers with this engaging and detailed biography. Despite Royère’s personal connection to Powell, the book presents an objective and balanced portrait of an entertainer who reluctantly traded in her pointe shoes for tap and made film history.
Christina Rice, author of Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend
This book is a loving and faithful tribute to one of Hollywood’s great dance icons. Well-written and thoroughly researched, it will be indispensable for anyone interested in Eleanor Powell and the art of tap.
Brian Harker, author of Sportin’ Life: John W. Bubbles, an American Classic
Finally, thanks to Paula Broussard and Lisa Royère, we have the definitive and long-overdue bio of the “Queen of Tap.” This book is an important addition to the history of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
David Fantle and Tom Johnson, authors of Hollywood Heyday and C’mon Get Happy: The Making of Summer Stock
Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance is a vital book. Paula Broussard and Lisa Royère have crafted a thoughtful biography about an important figure in film history that deserves this recognition. Their decades of hard work and thorough research is evident, as is their love for Eleanor Powell. A highly enjoyable read that gives this remarkable woman her long-awaited due, and will no doubt encourage new fans to discover her work.
Alicia Malone, Turner Classic Movies host
Eleanor Powell was arguably the best female dancer in an era that included Hayworth, Rogers, and Miller; unlike most of her contemporaries, she usually danced solo, though her partners included Astaire, George Murphy, Buddy Ebsen—and, surprisingly, one of her most enjoyable, Gracie Allen.
Eleanor Powell: Born to Dance takes us on an entertaining trip from Broadway to movies to early television to Las Vegas, to Powell happily riding the crest of the nostalgia wave at the end of her life (as well as her rocky marriage to fellow star Glenn Ford).
The authors are also refreshingly honest about what worked and what didn’t work in Powell’s films and performances. Her challenging childhood, her surprisingly swift rise to fame, along with some great juicy (and often amusing) backstage gossip. . . It’s about time someone wrote a bio of Powell, and after this book, there is no reason for anyone to write another!
Eve Golden, author of Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It and Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez