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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

The Dancing Minister, Part 2

Among dance authorities, Eleanor Powell is considered the best female dancer to ever grace the silver screen.

Not a few consider her the best dancer of either sex, like the late Fayard Nicholas, half of the famed Nicholas Brothers: "I don't think of [Eleanor Powell] as the world's greatest female tap dancer. I think of her as the world's greatest dancer."

Fayard would find little argument from long-time choreographer and dance instructor Jim Taylor: "In my 50 years as a professional tap dancer around the globe, I have never seen anyone capable of accomplishing the feats that were exclusive to Eleanor Powell" (emphasis added).

Even the iconic Fred Astaire had such respect for Powell that he deferred to her artistic decisions in Broadway Melody of 1940. It is a little known fact that it was Powell, not Astaire or his personal choreographer, Hermes Pan, who was the principle creative influence in that film.

Love and family

For eight years, Eleanor Powell reigned as queen of the Hollywood musical. Then, in 1943, her life took a sharp turn after falling in love with Glenn Ford. At the time, Powell was a huge star and Ford a little known "B" actor, with a little known "B" actor salary. Nevertheless, Eleanor walked away from the fame and fortune of stardom to become a devoted wife and homemaker.

In October that same year, Eleanor married Ford and, 15 months later, gave birth to their one and only child, Peter. When asked whether she would come out of retirement, she dismissed the notion. As a professed "old-fashioned mother," Eleanor was adamant that the interests of children are best served when at least one parent is home to give love and nurture. She would be a stay-at-home mom.

Soon she began volunteering in her church—first in the nursery and later teaching her son's Sunday school class. That led to another role for the former Hollywood star turned-wife-and-mom—host of a first-of-its-kind television program for children, Faith of Our Children.

Breaking ground

Faith of Our Children first aired in 1954. It was a weekly non-denominational, public service program aimed at the spiritual formation of children, complete with Bible stories, skits, and guest entertainers.

Powell hosted and scripted each show, fashioned after her Beverly Hills Presbyterian Sunday school class. (In a studio still, Powell is shown teaching Matthew 22:37 to a group of young children.) When asked about her new role, Eleanor replied, "I'm surrounded by children whom I love...I feel that my work as a dancer in the past was just a prologue to the work I am now doing."

Faith of Our Children was groundbreaking, and not just for being the first children's religious show on TV. During an era of growing racial tensions in the country, Faith of Our Children featured multi-racial guests and an audience of multi-racial children. And that didn't set well with some viewers... Continue reading here.