Nationality: American. Born: Richard Ewing Powell in Mountain View, Arkansas, 14 November 1904. Education: Attended high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, Little Rock College, one year. Family: Married 1) M. Maund; 2) the actress Joan Blondell, 1936 (divorced 1945), daughter: Ellen, adopted son: Norman; 3) the actress June Allyson, 1945, adopted daughter. Career: Singer with his own band from age 17; also played baritone horn; toured with the Royal Peacock Band, then with Charlie Davis's orchestra, Indianapolis; 1930—singer, comedian, and master of ceremonies at Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh; also sang on radio; 1932—film debut in Blessed Event ; contract with Warner Brothers; also sang on radio series
; 1940s—changeover to dramatic roles in films; contracts with
Paramount and RKO; on radio series
The Band Wagon
, 1945–46, and
The Front Page
, 1948; 1952—co-founder, with Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino, and David
Niven, Four Star Productions for television, and regular actor in series
Four Star Playhouse
, 1952–56; host,
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre
, 1956–61, and
The Dick Powell Show
, 1961–63; 1953—first directed film,
2 January 1963.
Blessed Event (Del Ruth) (as night club owner); Too Busy to Work ( Jubilo ) (Blystone)
The King's Vacation (Adolphi); 42nd Street (Bacon) (as Billy Lawler); The Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy) (as Robert Treat Bradford/Brad Roberts); Footlight Parade (Bacon); College Coach (Wellman); Convention City (Mayo)
Dames (Berkeley); Wonder Bar (Bacon); Twenty Million Sweethearts (Enright); Happiness Ahead (LeRoy); Flirtation Walk (Borzage)
The Gold Diggers of 1935 (Berkeley); Page Miss Glory (LeRoy); Broadway Gondolier (Bacon); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Reinhardt and Dieterle) (as Lysander); Shipmates Forever (Borzage); Thanks a Million (Del Ruth)
Colleen (Green); Hearts Divided (Borzage) (as Jerome Bona-parte); Stage Struck (Berkeley); The Gold Diggers of 1937 (Berkeley)
On the Avenue (Del Ruth); The Singing Marine (Enright); Varsity Show (Berkeley); Hollywood Hotel (Berkeley)
Cowboy from Brooklyn (Bacon); Hard to Get (Enright); Going Places (Enright)
Naughty but Nice (Enright)
Christmas in July (Preston Sturges); I Want a Divorce (Murphy)
Model Wife (Jason); In the Navy (Lubin)
Star Spangled Rhythm (Marshall) (as himself); Happy Go Lucky (Bernhardt)
True to Life (Marshall); Riding High (Marshall)
It Happened Tomorrow (Clair); Meet the People (Reisner); Murder, My Sweet (Dmytryk) (as Philip Marlowe)
Johnny O'Clock (Rossen)
To the Ends of the Earth (Stephenson); The Pitfalls (de Toth); Station West (Lanfield); Rogue's Regiment (Florey)
Mrs. Mike (King)
The Reformer and the Redhead (Panama); Right Cross (John Sturges)
Cry Danger (Parrish); The Tall Target (Anthony Mann); You Never Can Tell (Breslow)
The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli)
Susan Slept Here (Tashlin)
The Conqueror (+ pr)
You Can't Run Away from It (+ pr); The Enemy Below (+ pr)
The Hunters (+ pr)
Thomas, Tony, The Dick Powell Story , Burbank, 1992.
Current Biography 1948 , New York, 1948.
Thomas, Anthony, "Dick Powell," in Films in Review (New York), May 1961.
Obituary in New York Times , 4 January 1963.
Corneau, E., "The Crooner Who Turned Tough Guy," in Classic Film Collector , Fall 1972.
Landrot, Marine, "Plus business que show," in Télérama (Paris), 27 October 1993.
Classic Images (Muscatine), November 1993.
* * *
Dick Powell was a rare performer in the motion picture business. While other, more talented performers came and went, Dick Powell managed to hang on as a star for more than two decades, evolving from boy crooner in the 1930s to tough guy in the 1940s. By the 1950s he was able to move directly into television and became a top producer. Powell understood his own limitations: "I started out with two assets: a voice that didn't drive audiences into the streets, and a determination to make money."
During the 1930s, beginning with 42nd Street , Powell functioned as the leading man in innumerable Warner Brothers musicals. Cherubically smiling, he chased Ruby Keeler through such films as The Gold Diggers of 1933 , Dames , and Footlight Parade . Powell's performances were workmanlike, and helped boost him into the Motion Picture Herald's list of top stars in 1935 (seventh place) and 1936 (sixth place).
From 1939 on, Dick Powell strove to break his image of adolescent singer. He moved to Paramount and took on different roles, including comedies for Preston Sturges ( Christmas in July ) and René Clair ( It Happened Tomorrow ). But only another move to RKO gave Powell the chance to develop an altogether new screen image. In Murder, My Sweet he became an active participant in the film noir cycle of the 1940s. Other films of this genre that starred Dick Powell include Cornered , Johnny O'Clock , and Pitfall . For the 1940s there was a "new, rough tough Dick Powell," popular but never reaching the fame of the boy crooner of the 1930s.
In the 1950s, Powell began to direct and produce television. He formed Four Star Television with David Niven, Ida Lupino, and Charles Boyer, but it was Powell who ran the corporation, producing such hits as The Rifleman , Wanted—Dead or Alive , and The Detectives .