Mala Powers

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Mala Powers
Mala Powers 1955.jpg
Powers in 1955
Mary Ellen Powers

(1931-12-20)December 20, 1931
DiedJune 11, 2007(2007-06-11) (aged 75)
Years active1942–2005
  • Monte Vanton
    (m. 1954; div. 1962)
  • M. Hughes Miller
    (m. 1970; died 1989)

Mary Ellen "Mala" Powers (December 20, 1931 – June 11, 2007) was an American actress.

Early life[edit]

Powers was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in Los Angeles. Her father was a United Press executive, while her mother was a minister.[1] Powers later told a reporter, "I've worked in show business since I've been seven."[2] Powers attended the Max Reinhardt Junior Workshop, where she played 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.[3] She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her part in this movie.[4]

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.[4]

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).

In 1957, she was cast in Man on the Prowl with James Best, Ted deCorsia, and Vivi Janiss.

She appeared in more than one hundred television series episodes, including Appointment with Adventure, Crossroads, Mr. Adams and Eve, The Restless Gun, Wagon Train, Bourbon Street Beat, The Rebel, Maverick (in an episode called "Dutchman's Gold" with Roger Moore), The Everglades, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (The Virtue Affair), Mission: Impossible, Bewitched as Adrienne Sebastian and Mary Jane Nilesmunster, The Wild Wild West, The Silent Force, Cheyenne episodes "Alibi for the Scalped Man" (1960) and "Trouble Street" (1961), and the Wanted: Dead or Alive episode "Till Death do us Part" with Steve McQueen.

In 1962, she portrayed 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 Janet 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 Mona during the final season of Hazel (1965–66).

In 1971, Powers was cast, along with Mike Farrell and June Lockhart, opposite Anthony Quinn in the first of the fifteen episodes of the NBC television series The Man and the City.

Powers narrated Follow the Star, a Christmas album from RCA Victor.[1]

Powers was a successful children's author of Follow the Star,[5] Follow the Year, and Dial a Story. She also revised and edited two books by Enid Blyton after the author's death.[6]

Michael Chekhov Acting Technique[edit]

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.

National Michael Chekhov Association (NMCA)[edit]

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.[7]

Personal life[edit]

She married Monte Vanton in 1954, and they had a son, Toren Vanton. The couple divorced in 1962, and in 1970 Powers married M. Hughes Miller, a book publisher who died in 1989.[8][9]

Powers was a Democrat who was supportive of Adlai Stevenson's campaign during the 1952 presidential election.[10]


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.[11] 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.[12] She was cremated at the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park and her ashes returned to family.[13]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1952 Stars over Hollywood Command Performance[14]

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b Erwin, Fran (October 27, 1977). "Mala Powers lives with words--written and spoken". Valley News. Valley News. p. 37. Retrieved June 16, 2015 – via open access
  2. ^ "Mala Powers, Film Star, Takes Out 'Job Insurance'". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. October 8, 1950. p. 28. Retrieved June 16, 2015 – via open access
  3. ^ Weaver, Tom (1991). Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes. McFarland & Company. p. 340. ISBN 978-0899505947.
  4. ^ a b Bergan, Ronald (June 27, 2007). "Mala Powers". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  5. ^ Mala Powers and Suzy-Jane Tanner (1980) Follow the Star, Celestial Arts ISBN 978-0897420464
  6. ^ Mahan, Bill (24 September 1972). "Mala Powers: Actress turns literary". Independent. Independent Press-Telegram. p. 113. Retrieved June 16, 2015 – via open access
  7. ^ "Unique Actor Training Returns to University of Southern Maine | College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences | University of Southern Maine". Retrieved 2022-08-04.
  8. ^ "Mala Powers Profile". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  9. ^ "Mala Powers, 1950s Film Star, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 14, 2007. Archived from the original on March 7, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  10. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  11. ^ "Mala Powers, star of 1940s films, dies at 76". USA Today. June 13, 2007. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  12. ^ "Mala Powers". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  13. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland & Company. p. 602. ISBN 978-0786479924.
  14. ^ Kirby, Walter (November 30, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved June 14, 2015 – via open access

External links[edit]