Powers in 1955
Mary Ellen Powers
December 20, 1931
|Died||June 11, 2007 (aged 75)|
Burbank, California, U.S.
Powers was born in San Francisco, California. In 1940, her family moved to Los Angeles. Her father was an executive with United Press. Her mother was a minister. Powers later told a reporter, "I've worked in show business since I've been seven."
In the summer of her relocation, Powers attended the Max Reinhardt Junior Workshop, where she enjoyed her first role in a play before a live audience. She continued with her drama lessons, and a year later she auditioned and won a part in the 1942 Little Tough Guys film Tough as They Come.
At the age of 16, Powers began working in radio drama, before becoming a film actress in 1950.
Powers' first movie roles were in Outrage and Edge of Doom in 1950. That same year, Stanley Kramer signed Powers to star opposite Jose Ferrer in what may be her most-remembered role, as Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her part in this movie.
While on a USO entertainment tour in Korea in 1951, she contracted a blood disease and nearly died. She was treated with chloromycetin, but a severe allergic reaction resulted in the loss of much of her bone marrow. Powers barely survived, and her recovery took nearly nine months.
She began working again in 1952, including the lead in Rose of Cimarron (1952) and co-starring roles in City Beneath the Sea (1953) and City That Never Sleeps (1953), although she was still taking medication.
Following her recovery, she appeared in Bengazi (1955) and B-movie westerns, such as Rage at Dawn (1955), The Storm Rider (1957), and Sierra Baron (1958), and science fiction films, among them The Unknown Terror (1957), The Colossus of New York (1958), Flight of the Lost Balloon (1961), and Doomsday Machine (1972). She also had large roles in Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) and Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969).
She appeared in more than one hundred television series episodes, including Appointment with Adventure, Crossroads, The Restless Gun, Bourbon Street Beat, The Rebel, Maverick (in an episode called "Dutchman's Gold" with Roger Moore), The Everglades, Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, Bewitched as Adrienne Sebastian, The Wild Wild West, The Silent Force, Cheyenne episodes "Alibi for the Scalped Man" (1960) and "Trouble Street" (1961), and in the Wanted: Dead or Alive episode "Till Death do us Part", with Steve McQueen.
In 1962, she portrayed the part of Loretta Opel, a woman with leprosy, in the episode "A Woman's Place" on CBS's Rawhide.
On CBS's Perry Mason courtroom drama, Powers made five appearances in the 1950s and 60s. She was cast as defendant Clair Allison in the 1959 episode "The Case of the Deadly Toy". She also played defendant June Sinclair in the 1960 episode, "The Case of the Crying Cherub". Her most memorable role was as defendant Susan Brent, friend of Perry's secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale), in the 1962 episode "The Case of the Weary Watchdog". In 1964 she portrayed murderer Helen Bradshaw in "The Case of the Frightened Fisherman", and in 1966 she played murder victim Elaine Bayler in "The Case of the Scarlet Scandal".
Powers played the recurring character of Mona during the final season of Hazel (1965-66).
Powers trained directly under Michael Chekhov for many years during her time in Hollywood in both group and private sessions. Over this period of time, Powers and Chekhov grew very close, and after his death she was named executrix of the Chekhov estate. She took it upon herself to continue the development and proliferation of the Chekhov Technique throughout the United States and the world. Powers was instrumental in publishing Chekhov's books On the Technique of Acting, To the Actor, and The Path of the Actor. She also published Chekhov's audio series "On Theatre and the Art of Acting", to which she added a 60-page study guide. She co-narrated with Gregory Peck a documentary on Chekhov entitled "From Russia To Hollywood" which was co-produced by her colleague Lisa Loving.
From 1993 to 2006 Powers taught the Chekhov Technique during the summer acting program at the University of Southern Maine for the Michael Chekhov Theatre Institute, training actors and teachers of acting. It was during this time that Powers co-founded the National Michael Chekhov Association (NMCA) with teaching colleagues Wil Kilroy and Lisa Dalton, who continue to teach the curriculum developed by the trio in Maine.
Powers died from complications of leukemia on June 11, 2007, at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. She was survived by her son, Toren Vanton. Shortly before her death, she had been on a lecture tour at universities.
She was patron of the Michael Chekhov Studio in London. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6360 Hollywood Boulevard. She was cremated at the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park and her ashes returned to family.