Eleanor Powell was 8 years old, a third grader at Liberty Street School in Springfield, when she enrolled in a dance studio on Worthington Street.
By 1923, at the age of 11, she was performing a buck and wing dance on stage at the Ambassador Recreation Club under the name Torrea Powell.
Little could she have imagined that she would grow up to become one of MGM Studio’s top dancers and the wife of Hollywood screen great Glenn Ford, who starred in such films as “Gilda,” The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” and “Blackboard Jungle.”
Their only son, Peter Ford, has penned a biography of his famous father, “Glenn Ford: A Life,” published by University of Wisconsin Press.
The book focuses on Ford’s film career, but includes details of his 16-year marriage to Powell.
His celebrity parents married in October 1943. At the age of 33, Eleanor Powell gave up her career as a Hollywood dancer-actress to focus more attention on being a wife and mother.
She never really returned to films because her family was more important to her than her career, Peter Ford said in a telephone interview from his southern California home.
“I was so lucky to have her as my mother,” he added.
“She was dedicated to whatever was placed before her,” Ford said. “It was the same work ethic … It was probably her Massachusetts-inspired roots that ran thickly through her blood.”
Powell, the only child of Clarence and Blanche (Torrey) Powell, was born in Springfield on Nov. 21, 1912. Her film career began after she was discovered by Gus Edwards, dancing on an Atlantic City beach. She appeared in 14 motion pictures between 1930 and 1950, including “Broadway Melody of 1940” and “Born to Dance.”
“She was dedicated and focused on her craft,” Peter Ford said.
In 1959, nine years after her last feature film appearance, Powell’s 16-year marriage ended in divorce.
While Glenn Ford wed three times more, Powell never remarried.
Peter Ford’s biography of his father features behind-the-scenes tales of his famous father’s 60-year acting career. It has exclusive interviews with dozens of his co-stars including Ernest Borgnine, Sidney Poitier, Evelyn Keyes, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Jones, James Whitmore, Carl Reiner and Angela Lansbury. Directors such as Vincent Sherman, Delbert Mann and Richard Donner offered insight into his naturalistic, yet dynamic acting style.
Ford’s examination of his father’s personal life includes personal recollections and conversations with family members and longtime friends, as well as a vast collection of diaries, letters and unpublished interviews.
Early career struggles are detailed as well as Glenn Ford’s love life, including his publicized affairs with Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Hope Lange and Connie Stevens, and lesser-known romances with Joan Crawford and Maria Schell.
Peter Ford, the father three, is now retired. He and his wife, Lynda, live in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Asked if he would now turn his attention to a biography of his famous mother, Peter Ford replied, “I want to so much … but don’t know if I will have the time.”
According to Ford, his mother’s ninth great grandfather was a passenger on the Mayflower, so “the lineage of my mother is very, very distinguished.”
But fortunes were lost through the years, and by the time his divorced grandmother was raising her soon-to-be-famous daughter, she had to work as a chambermaid.
It was while she was working as a chambermaid in Atlantic City that her daughter was discovered, and the pair left Springfield.
Eleanor Powell did return to the city of her birth in 1964 and visited old friends and places significant to her childhood. She appeared at a Storrowton Music Fair in West Springfield, and she took her son to Allen Street in Springfield where she was born and showed him places she remembered.