Marie Powers was an operatic contralto who enjoyed a starring career on the Broadway stage from the mid-'40s into the early '60s, and one leading role in a feature film as a result. Born in Pennsylvania in 1902, she aspired to a career as an opera singer from an early age, and in 1919 she went to Italy to study singing. She won a small role at La Scala under Toscanini and later married an Italian count. Over the two decades that followed, she made her career exclusively in Europe, but the death of her husband, just as the Second World War was about to break out, left her destitute. Powers returned to the United States with barely a cent to her name and lived hand-to-mouth for the next few years, taking whatever roles she could find to support herself. A joint recital at New York's Town Hall and an audition for the Metropolitan Opera proved to be dead ends, and within a year she was part of touring opera productions.
Fate finally took a hand when she was seen in an operatic role in Seattle by a friend of the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who was in the process of bringing his opera The Medium to Broadway. He cast Powers in the central role of Madame Flora and she became a huge star on-stage in the resulting production . By her own estimate, she played Madame Flora in over 2,300 performances that followed around the world, and when it was adapted into a film in 1951, she was also the star of that production. Her later career included performances on-stage in Menotti's The Consul, as well as a late '50s revival of Carousel, and also appeared in two late-'40s installments of Studio One on television (one of them a small-screen adaptation of The Medium). Without doubt, however, her strangest acting credit had to be her appearances as the villainous Zydereen, the Witch of Neptune, in three episodes of the early-'50s television series Flash Gordon, starring Steve Holland ("The Witch of Neptune," "Flash Gordon and the Brain Machine," "Struggle to the End"). And, ironically, because of that series' public-domain copyright status, and its resulting wide distribution in unauthorized DVD editions, those shows represent Powers' most widely available work to modern audiences. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi