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This Day in WWII 6 September 1939 - 1945

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PepperellFabricsAd-Sept1943.jpgPepperell Fabrics Ad - September 1943

 

1939: General Smuts wins cabinet battle in South Africa and declares war on Germany.

 

1939: German troops advancing through Poland occupy the former German industrial area of Upper Silesia.

 

Eleanor%20Powell1.jpg *Eleanor Powell

 

1940: The Luftwaffe bring to a close the third phase of their air offensive, having lost 308 aircraft in the last 2 weeks. However, the RAF have suffered 273 fighter losses and suffered extensive damage to their airfields and ground control systems. The official start of the London Blitz is initiated by the Germans, as they intentionally bomb the capital.

 

1940: British naval blockade lifted on all French colonies supporting General de Gaulle.

 

1940: King Carol of Romania abdicates the throne to his son, Michael and appoints Marshal Antonescu head of state.

 

Eleanor%20Powell2.jpg Eleanor Powell

 

1941: Germany announces that all Jews living in the country will have to begin wearing a Star of David.

 

1941: Hitler's War Directive No. 35 orders the capture of Moscow after the Ukraine operation has been completed.

 

Eleanor%20Powell3.jpg Eleanor Powell

 

1941: The Vilna Ghetto is established containing 40,000 Jews.

 

1941: The Japanese decide to be fully prepared for war by the end of October.

 

CrownZipperAd-Sept1943.jpg Crown Zipper Ad - September 1943

 

1942: The 4th Gebirgsjäger division of the 17th Army captures the Black Sea naval base of Novorossiysk, while six Axis divisions cross the Straits of Kerch to Taman. Heavy house-to-house fighting continues in the centre of Stalingrad.

 

1942: Rommel is back to the positions held on the 31st August, having lost 51 tanks (out of 515), 70 guns, 400 trucks and 2,865 men. The Eighth Army losses were 1,640 men and 68 tanks.

 

1942: Australians force total Japanese evacuation of Milne Bay, with just 1,000 troops surviving to be evacuated.

 

Eleanor%20Powell4.jpg Eleanor Powell

 

1943: A conference of 48 Republican governors, senators and congressmen convene at the Mackinac Island resort between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan under the chairmanship of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg to hammer out a post-war foreign policy for the party. The meeting discards the isolationist stance that Republicans adopted following World War I and adopts a cautious internationalism.

 

1943: The Red Army succeeds in separating Army Group Centre from Army Group South.

 

1943: The United States asks the Chinese Nationals to join with the Communists to present a common front to the Japanese.

 

OFMossbergAndSonsAd-Sept1943.jpg O.F. Mossberg & Sons Ad - September 1943

 

1944: Victory in the 'Battle of London' is proclaimed after 80 days of V1 bombardment with over 8,000 flying-bombs launched, with approximately 2,300 reaching London.

 

1944: The Canadians surround Calais, trapping the German garrison. Liege falls to British troops, while the U.S. First Army pushes East through Belgium, crossing Meuse. Ghent and Courtrai are liberated.

 

1944: The Russians occupy Turnu-Severin on the Danube in Romania and advance to the Yugoslav border. They also reach the eastern Carpathians.

 

1945: Japanese forces in Southwest Pacific surrender aboard HMS Glory.

 

Eleanor%20Powell5.jpg Eleanor Powell

 

*Eleanor Torrey Powell was born November 21, 1912 in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was discovered at the age of 11 by Vaudeville Kiddie revue, Gus Edwards, which led to her Broadway career in the 1920's. Her famous tap dancing earned her the title of world champion in tapping.

 

In 1935, the leggy, fresh-faced Powell made the move to Hollywood and did a specialty number in her first major film, George White's 1935 "Scandals" which she later described as a disaster due in part to her accidentally being made up to look like an Egyptian due to a mix-up prior to filming her scene. The experience left her unimpressed with Hollywood. Nonetheless, she was courted by MGM, but initially refused their offers of a contract. Reportedly, Powell attempted to dissuade the studio by making what she felt were unreasonable salary demands, but MGM agreed and she finally accepted. The studio groomed her for her future stardom making minimal changes in her makeup and conduct.

 

She was well-received in her first starring role in 1935's "Broadway Melody of 1936" (in which she was supported by Jack Benny and Frances Langford), and delighted 1930s audiences with her endless energy and enthusiasm, not to mention her stunning dancing. According to dancer Ann Miller, quoted in the "making-of" documentary about "That's Entertainment! III", MGM was headed for bankruptcy in the late 1930s, but the films of Eleanor Powell, particularly "Broadway Melody of 1936" were so popular they made the company profitable again. Miller also credits Powell for inspiring her own dancing career, which would eventually lead her to become an MGM musical star a decade later.

 

Powell would go on to star opposite many of the decade's top leading men such as James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Fred Astaire, George Murphy, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. Films she made during the height of her career in the mid-to-late 1930s co-starred these men and others and included "Born to Dance" (1936), "Rosalie" (1937), "Broadway Melody of 1938" (1937), "Honolulu" (1939), and "Broadway Melody of 1940" (1940). All of these movies featured her amazing solo tapping, although her increasingly huge production numbers began to attract criticism. Her characters also often sang, but Powell's singing voice was usually (but not always) overdubbed (this would also happen to one of Powell's successors, Cyd Charisse). "Broadway Melody of 1940", in which Powell starred opposite Fred Astaire, featured an acclaimed musical score by Cole Porter. Together, Astaire and Powell danced to Porter's "Begin the Beguine", which is considered by many to be one of the greatest tap sequences in film history. According to accounts of the making of this film, including a documentary included on the DVD release, Astaire was somewhat intimidated by Powell, who was considered the only female dancer ever capable of out-dancing Astaire. In his autobiography "Steps in Time", Astaire remarked: "She 'put 'em down like a man', no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself."

 

Eleanor%20Powell6.jpg Eleanor Powell

 

Following "Broadway Melody of 1940" Powell was sidelined for many months following a gall stone operation and things changed somewhat for the worse, at least as far as Powell's movie career was concerned. 1941's "Lady Be Good" gave Powell top billing and a classic dance routine to "Fascinatin' Rhythm", but Robert Young and Ann Sothern were the actual stars of the film. The same happened with Red Skelton in "Ship Ahoy" (1942) and "I Dood It" (1943), although in "Ship Ahoy" her character nonetheless played a central role in the story, and Powell's dance skills were put to practical use when she manages to tap out a morse code message to a secret agent in the middle of a dance routine.

 

She was signed to play opposite Dan Dailey in "For Me and My Gal" in 1942, but the two actors were removed from the picture during rehearsals and replaced by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Later, production of a new Broadway Melody film that would have paired Powell with Kelly was also canceled.

 

Eleanor%20Powell7.jpg Eleanor Powell & Glenn Ford

 

In 1943, Eleanor married classic leading actor, Glenn Ford. With his success on the silver screen and the birth of her child, Peter Ford, Eleanor retired from show business after 20 years in the business. After her divorce in 1959, she started a short but highly regarded night-club career.

 

She parted ways with MGM in 1943 after her next film, "Thousands Cheer", in which she appeared only for a few minutes to perform a specialty number (as part of an all-star cast). She danced in a giant pinball machine in "Sensations of 1945" (1944) for United Artists, but this picture was a critical and commercial disappointment, Powell's performance overshadowed by what was to be the final film appearance of W. C. Fields. Powell retired from the cinema afterwards to concentrate on raising her son, actor Peter Ford, who was born that year (although she did appear in a couple of documentary-style short subjects about celebrities in the late 1940s). Overseas audiences did get to see one additional Powell dance performance in 1946, however, when the compilation "The Great Morgan" was released, which included a number that had been cut from Honolulu.

 

In 1950, Powell returned to MGM one last time for a cameo in "Duchess of Idaho", starring Esther Williams. Appearing as herself in a nightclub scene, a hesitant Powell is invited to dance by Van Johnson's character, and she begins with a staid, almost balletic performance until she is chided by Johnson for being lazy. She then strips off her skirt, revealing her famous legs, and proceeds to perform a "boogie-woogie"-style specialty number very similar to the one she performed in "Thousands Cheer" seven years earlier. Williams, in her autobiography "The Million Dollar Mermaid", writes of being touched watching Powell rehearsing until her feet bled in order to make her brief cameo as perfect as possible.

 

Ms. Powell's last years were devoted to charitable and religious work, including a brief Sunday morning TV series for children. Although Ms. Powell did not make many films, she left an ever-lasting impression with her magnificent dancing and is still very much admired and respected today.

Eleanor Powell died February 11, 1982 (aged 69) of cancer in Beverly Hills, California.

 

TRIVIA:

Measurements: 33-23-35 (in 1935), (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)

Height: 5' 6 i/2" (1.69 m)

Her effortless machine gun-like tapping style was the result of having taken lessons early in her career and wearing sandbags that were tied to her feet.

Was acclaimed "The World's Greatest Feminine Tap and Rhythm Dancer" by the Dance Masters of America in the mid-1930s.

Due to her becoming a minister in the Unity church, her ashes are placed in a bronze replica of the bible. She is interred at Hollywood Forever cemetery just a few steps down the hall from Rudolf Valentino, Peter Finch and several other great legends of film.

 

ArmyAirForceAd2-Sept1944.jpg U.S. Army Air Force Recruitment Ad - September 1944

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