POWELL, William






Nationality: American. Born: William Horatio Powell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 29 July 1892. Education: Attended high school in Kansas City; University of Kansas, Lawrence, briefly; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1911–12. Family: Married 1) the actress Eileen Wilson (divorced 1931), son: William David;2) the actress Carole Lombard, 1931 (divorced 1933); 3) the actress Diana Lewis, 1940. Career: 1912—Broadway debut in The Ne'er-Do-Well ; 1913–15—in road company of the melodrama Within the Law ; then acted in the Harry Davis company, Pittsburgh, the Baker company, Portland, Oregon, the Jessie Bonsteele company, Buffalo, and others; 1918–19—with Castle Square Stock Company, Boston; 1922—film debut in Spanish Love ; 1925–31—contract with Paramount, followed by contract with Warner Brothers, 1931–34, and MGM, 1934. Awards: Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for Life with Father , and The Senator Was Indiscreet , 1947. Died: 5 March 1984.


Films as Actor:

1922

Spanish Love ; Sherlock Holmes (Parker) (as Forman Wells); When Knighthood Was in Flower (Vignola) (as Francis I); Outcast (Withey) (as DeValle)

1923

The Bright Shawl (Robertson)

1924

Under the Red Robe (Crosland) (as Duke of Orleans); Romola (King) (as Tito Melema); Dangerous Money (Tuttle)

1925

Too Many Kisses (Sloane); Faint Perfume (Gasnier); My Lady's Lips (Hogan); The Beautiful City (Webb)

1926

White Mice (Edward Griffith); Sea Horses (Dwan); Desert Gold (Seitz); The Runaway (William DeMille); Aloma of the South Seas (Tourneur); Beau Geste (Brenon) (as Boldoni); Tin Gods (Dwan); The Great Gatsby (Brenon)(as George Wilson)

1927

New York (Reed); Love's Greatest Mistake (Sutherland); Special Delivery (Goodrich); Senorita (Badger); Paid to Love (Hawks); Time for Love (Tuttle); Nevada (Waters); She's a Sheik (Badger); Feel My Pulse (La Cava)

1928

Beau Sabreur (Waters); Partners in Crime (Strayer); The Last Command (von Sternberg); The Dragnet (von Sternberg); The Vanishing Pioneer (Waters); Forgotten Faces (Schertzinger)

1929

Interference (Mendez); The Canary Murder Case (St. Clair)(as Philo Vance); The Green Murder Case (Tuttle) (as Philo Vance); Charming Sinners (Milton); Four Feathers (Schoedsack and Mendez); Pointed Heels (Sutherland)

1930

The Benson Murder Case (Tuttle) (as Philo Vance); Paramount on Parade (as himself/Philo Vance); Shadow of the Law (Gasnier); Behind the Makeup (Milton); Street of Chance (Cromwell); For the Defense (Cromwell)

1931

Man of the World (Wallace); Ladies Man (Mendez); The Road to Singapore (Green)

1932

High Pressure (Le Roy); Jewel Robbery (Dieterle); One Way Passage (Garnett); Lawyer Man (Dieterle)

1933

Double Harness (Cromwell); Private Detective 62 (Curtiz); The Kennel Murder Case (Curtiz) (as Philo Vance)

1934

Fashions of 1934 (Dieterle); The Key (Curtiz); Manhattan Melodrama (Van Dyke); The Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nick Charles); Evelyn Prentice (Howard)

1935

Reckless (Fleming); Star of Midnight (Roberts); Escapade (Leonard); Rendezvous (Howard)

1936

The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard) (title role); The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (Roberts); Libeled Lady (Conway); My Man Godfrey (La Cava) (title role); After the Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nick Charles)

1937

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Boleslawsky); The Emperor's Candlesticks (Fitzmaurice); Double Wedding (Thorpe)

1938

The Baroness and the Butler (Walter Lang)

1939

Another Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nick Charles)

1940

I Love You Again (Van Dyke)

1941

Love Crazy (Conway); Shadow of the Thin Man (Van Dyke)(as Nick Charles)

1942

Crossroads (Conway)

1943

The Youngest Profession (Buzzell) (as himself)

1944

The Heavenly Body (Hall); The Thin Man Goes Home (Thorpe)(as Nick Charles)

1946

Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli) (as Florenz Ziegfeld); The Hoodlum Saint (Taurog)

1947

Song of the Thin Man (Buzzell) (as Nick Charles); Life with Father (Curtiz) (as Clarence Day); The Senator Was Indiscreet (Kaufman)

1948

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (Pichel) (as Mr. Peabody)

1949

Take One False Step (Erskine); Dancing in the Dark (Reis)

1951

The Treasure of the Lost Canyon (Tetzlaff); It's a Big Country (Wellman and others)

1953

The Girl Who Had Everything (Thorpe); How to Marry a Millionaire (Negulesco)

1955

Mister Roberts (Ford and LeRoy) (as Doc)



Publications


On POWELL: books—

Morella, Joe, and Edward Epstein, Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow , London, 1971.

Francisco, Charles, Gentleman: The William Powell Story , New York, 1985.

Quirk, Lawrence J., The Complete Films of William Powell , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1986.

Baxt, George, The William Powell & Myrna Loy Murder Case , New York, 1996.


On POWELL: articles—

Current Biography 1947 , New York, 1947.

Jacobs, Jack, "William Powell," in Films in Review (New York), November 1958.

Hurley, J., "Nora on Nick: Myrna Loy Talks about Her Co-Star," and "Remembering William Powell," by S. Rabin, in Films in Review (New York), October 1982.

Obituary in New York Times , 6 March 1984.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 14 March 1984.

Buckley, Michael, "A Final Tribute: William Powell," in Films in Review (New York), May 1984.

William Powell with Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man
William Powell with Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man

Rickey, C., "Bittersweet William," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1984.

Winokur, Mark, "Improbable Ethnic Hero: William Powell and the Transformation of Ethnic Hollywood," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Fall 1987.

Drabelle, Dennis, "The Art of William Powell," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1993.


* * *


William Powell specialized in urbane cynicism, signifying unflappable, upper-class charm with the smallest gesture. A dependable actor at the MGM stable in the late 1930s and the 1940s, Powell, whether romantic, comic, or sinister, kept his edge of witty sophistication invariably intact.

Brief stage training in the early 1920s led to film work. His features—trim moustache, expressive eyes, close haircut—were ideal for silent picture villainy. He remained a busy supporting actor during that decade. Powell easily bridged the transition to sound, which utilized his talents fully. With the addition of his persuasive, carnival-barker voice, Powell was roguishly slick rather than suspicious, suitable for lawyer and detective parts as well as smooth criminals. One of his earliest talkie assignments, as the private eye Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case , served as a preliminary for the role most closely associated with him: Nick Charles to Myrna Loy's Nora in the screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man . Powell and Loy generated a rare, extraordinary chemistry on-screen, pioneering a concept that would become a staple in screwball comedy—marriage could be fun, a partnership. The stars paired in 13 films altogether, including five additional Thin Man outings.

His subsequent screen roles were variations on the Charles theme, igniting a succession of classic comedies— Libeled Lady , My Man Godfrey , Double Wedding . Health problems led to relative inaction in the 1940s and after, but by choosing his roles with care and accuracy, he eased into genial character parts. In Life with Father , as the irascible Clarence Day, Powell reached another career peak. He chose to retire after his warmly received portrait of Doc in Mister Roberts .

Talent and fortunate material contributed to Powell's success. He ranks among the best sophisticated comedy stars, and his work remains eminently entertaining.

—Richard Sater

User Contributions:

Martha A.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 31, 2007 @ 6:06 am
Thank you for mentioning his first wife Eileen Wilson. This man was a great actor in his personal life also. He danced through the lives of many women from my grandmother Eileen through his last marriage!

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