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|Also Known As:||William Horatio Powell||Died:||March 5, 1984|
|Born:||July 29, 1892||Cause of Death:||natural causes|
|Birth Place:||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor|
Best remembered as Nick Charles of the "Thin Man" series, the usually mustachioed Powell was the epitome of the suave, urbane yet streetwise Hollywood leading man. He first appeared on screen in 1922's "Sherlock Holmes", opposite John Barrymore, and played a variety of roles in silent days, a sizable number of them as villains in Westerns and many of them "ethnic" in nature, before he began playing leading roles near the end of the silent period (as in Josef von Sternberg's "The Last Command" 1928). William Powell really became an important new star (and, not coincidentally, fully "Americanized" in a mainstream way) though, after the advent of talkies. A key player of his era, always most comfortable wearing a dinner jacket and brandishing a martini, Powell represented a midway point between the tough-talking Lower East side grittiness of James Cagney and the smooth, upper class sophistication of Fred Astaire and Noel Coward. With his crisp, staccato line delivery, Powell made a very smooth transition to sound, stardom and a full-fledged star persona alike with successes at Paramount as roguish but often honorable playboys and roles in films like "Street of Chance" (1930) and "Ladies Man" (1931). A brief stay at Warner Bros., meanwhile, played up his debonair side in "Jewel Robbery" (1932), his wisecracking ability in "Lawyer Man" (1932), and his surprisingly romantic sincerity in the brisk but moving "One Way Passage" (1932). With MGM for most of his career after 1934, Powell starred opposite some of Hollywood's most glamorous leading ladies, including Joan Crawford ("The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" 1937), Marilyn Monroe ("How to Marry a Millionaire" 1953), Jean Harlow ("Libeled Lady" 1936) and Hedy Lamarr ("Crossroads" 1942). An especially well-remembered landmark came when he co-starred with Carole Lombard, to whom he had been married from 1931 to 1933, in the influential if slightly overrated screwball comedy, "My Man Godfrey" (1936), with Powell in fine form as a sane butler mixed up with a family of wealthy lunatics. Powell's most famous screen teaming, though, was of course with ideal co-star Myrna Loy, who played Nora Charles, descended from money but eager for adventure, and always pushing ex-detective Nick into murder cases. The duo made 13 joint appearances between 1933 and 1947; besides getting tipsy while solving mysteries as Nick and Nora, the team shared credits including such non-"Thin Man" comedies as "I Love You Again" (1940) and "Love Crazy" (1941) and the solid drama "Evelyn Prentice" (1934). Great friends off the set as well, Powell and Loy brought an intelligently wry, offhandedly affectionate nature to their romantic banter. Their maturity (Powell was nearly 40 before he became a major star) often led to their being cast as a married couple, and together they delightfully suggested that wedlock need not be mutual henpecking or mere plot resolution but rather something bracing, romantic and fun in and of itself. One of Powell's most notable performances came late in his prolific and durable star reign, as the crusty, authoritative yet affectionate father in the sweetly nostalgic but not cutesy "Life with Father" (1947). It brought him his third Oscar nomination as Best Actor (after "The Thin Man" and "My Man Godfrey") and reaffirmed just how good an actor Powell was, much more than a man with a patented snappy delivery and a sharp demeanor who sometimes got good dialogue to recite. Powell continued in films into the mid-1950s with important roles in "The Girl Who Had Everything" (1953) and "Mister Roberts" (1955) and subsequently led a very quiet retired life with wife Diana Lewis.
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