'Royal Wedding' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1951 musical, "Royal Wedding," starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell as siblings who are traveling to London after the success of their Broadway show. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "Royal Wedding" on March 23, 1951.

Jane Powell's sweet, soprano voice still echoes in the ears of musical aficionados worldwide. Cast throughout her career is the innocent, doe-eyed, girl next door, Powell epitomized wholesome Americana to audiences across the world.

Born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in Portland, Ore., in 1929, she was dubbed "Jane Powell" by MGM after the name of the character in her very first movie: 1946's "Song of the Open Road." Her role in "Royal Wedding" was originally earmarked for June Allyson, who had to drop out when she became pregnant. MGM then opted for Judy Garland, who never showed up to rehearsals, leading to the actress' third suspension at the studio. Garland actually attempted suicide shortly after.

Powell plays Fred Astaire's sister in "Royal Wedding," a film that follows a remarkably similar story line to Astaire's actual life. You can read more about Fred Astaire in a previous "Web Extras" feature here. Powell's most famous role came three years after the release of "Royal Wedding." Watch her sing, "When You're in Love," from the classic "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" below:

While Powell wasn't nominated for an Academy Award for her acting in "Royal Wedding," Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's song, "Too Late Now," did nab the film's lone Oscar nomination.

When Louis B. Mayer left MGM in 1955, the era of the movie-musical was on the way out due to the rising popularity of rock-n-roll music among America's youth, who also happened to be the nation's primary movie-goers. No single artist signified this shift in musical taste more than Elvis Presley.

Young people no longer wanted movies like "Royal Wedding." Instead, they wanted "Jailhouse Rock."

So Powell, like many others, began a long variety television career in the 1960s.
She actually shot a pilot episode for a T.V. series called "The Jane Powell Show" in 1961, but it never aired. Here's a scene:

Take a Closer Look Back

Sarah Churchill, daughter of the famed British Prime Minister, appears in "Royal Wedding." Unfortunately for MGM executives, they were expressly forbidden to mention this fact when marketing the film.

Only six years removed from V-E Day, World War II was still fresh in the memory of American society when the film was released. Los Angeles was home to many war veterans, though some were more obvious than others.

Meet Pooli, a cat who served aboard a U.S. attack transport during the war. Here's Pooli on her 15th birthday in 1959 sporting her three service ribbons and four battle stars: