Dick Powell


Actor, Singer
Dick Powell

About

Also Known As
Richard E. Powell
Birth Place
Mountain View, Arkansas, USA
Born
November 14, 1904
Died
January 03, 1963
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

A romantic singing lead in a number of musicals throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Dick Powell traded in his tenor voice and good guy image to take on a more hard-boiled persona following a career-transforming performance as Phillip Marlowe in the classic film noir "Murder, My Sweet" (1944). Prior to that film, Powell was a bankable star in several big screen extravaganzas like "Footlight P...

Photos & Videos

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) - Scene Stills
Johnny O'Clock - Movie Posters
Johnny O'Clock - Lobby Card Set

Family & Companions

Joan Blondell
Wife
Actor. Second wife, married 1936-45.
June Allyson
Wife
Actor. Married until his death in 1963.

Biography

A romantic singing lead in a number of musicals throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Dick Powell traded in his tenor voice and good guy image to take on a more hard-boiled persona following a career-transforming performance as Phillip Marlowe in the classic film noir "Murder, My Sweet" (1944). Prior to that film, Powell was a bankable star in several big screen extravaganzas like "Footlight Parade" (1933), "42nd Street" (1933) and "Dames (1934). Having worked many times with famed choreographer-director Busby Berkeley, the actor cemented his place as a go-to leading man in lighthearted musical comedies, along the way forming notable onscreen pairings with Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell, the latter of whom he married in 1936. Despite his success in films like "Happiness Ahead" (1934), "Broadway Gondolier" (1935) and "Hollywood Hotel" (1937), Powell craved the opportunity to branch out into other roles. Preston Sturges gave him the lead in the Capra-esque screwball comedy "Christmas in July" (1940), but the actor remained unsatisfied. After unsuccessfully lobbying for the lead in "Double Indemnity" (1944), he landed the Marlowe role in "Murder, My Sweet" and propelled his career in an entirely new direction with bleak noirs like "Cornered" (1945), "Johnny O'Clock" (1947), "Pitfall" (1948) and "Cry Danger" (1951). Powell turned to directing in the mid-1950s, but found greater success as the president of Four Star Television. Though his life ended prematurely, Powell radically transformed his career through a combination of talent and sheer will.

Born on Nov. 14, 1904 in Mountain View, AK, Powell attended Little Rock College before starting his entertainment career as a singer for the Charlie Davis Orchestra, with whom he recorded a number of hit records during the 1920s on the Vocalion label. After moving to Pittsburgh, PA, he found success working as the MC at the Enright Theater and the Stanley Theater, which lead to Warner Bros. noticing his talent for song and dance, and offering him a contract in 1932. Powell made his feature debut as a bandleader in the Roy Del Ruth showbiz comedy "Blessed Event" (1932) and was a radio announcer in the crime drama "Big City Blues" (1932), featuring a pre-fame Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role. He soon graduated to more prominent parts, playing the protégé of a wealthy woman (Ruth Donnelly) in the classic musical "Footlight Parade" (1933), starring James Cagney, and was top billed alongside Bebe Daniels and Ginger Rogers in the Busby Berkeley-choreographed extravaganza "42nd Street" (1933). By the time he starred in "Dames" (1934), Powell had formed a popular onscreen pairing with dancer Ruby Keeler, but was already desperately yearning to branch out beyond musicals.

Powell shouldered on with more musicals like Mervyn LeRoy's "Happiness Ahead" (1934), "Flirtation Walk" (1934) and "Shipmates Forever" (1935), both with Keeler, and "Broadway Gondolier" (1935), which co-starred Joan Blondell, whom he married in 1936 and had two children. He finally received his wish to branch out when he was horribly miscast as Lysander in the adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), the one and only Shakespeare outing of his career. Powell returned to musicals with "Gold Diggers of 1935" (1935), "Stage Struck" (1936), "Hearts Divided" (1936) where he played the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte (Claude Rains), and "Gold Diggers of 1937" (1937). Following "On the Avenue" (1937) and "The Singing Marine" (1937), Powell was a saxophonist in a jazz band who wins a talent contest in Busby Berkeley's lighthearted "Hollywood Hotel" (1937), which was notable for the iconic number "Hooray for Hollywood." He went on to star in the titular role of "The Cowboy from Brooklyn" (1938), before playing a store clerk who poses as a race jockey in "Going Places" (1938). After stagnating a bit with "Hard to Get" (1938) and "Naughty But Nice" (1939), Powell moved on to straight comedies with the charming Preston Sturges effort, "Christmas in July" (1940), where he played a head-in-the-clouds office clerk duped into believing he has won a slogan contest.

Powell once again attempted to break the mold with a second-billed role in the Abbott and Costello comedy "In the Navy" (1941), before returning to musicals with "Star Spangled Rhythm" (1942) and the Western-themed "Riding High" (1943). Having lobbied hard to play the lead in "Double Indemnity" (1944) - a role he lost to Fred MacMurray - he forever changed his career after playing hard-boiled detective Phillip Marlowe in Edward Dmytryk's classic film noir "Murder, My Sweet" (1944). Powell's performance as the sharp-tongued private eye transformed his image, erasing his wholesome persona in favor of a tougher, grittier one. With his voice a bit rougher and his callow juvenile charm intriguingly hardened, Powell more than reinvented himself in such bleak noirs as Dmytryk's "Cornered" (1945), "Johnny O'Clock" (1947) and "Pitfall" (1948), co-starring noir queen Lizabeth Scott. By this time, Powell had divorced Joan Blondell in 1945 and married "American's Sweetheart" June Allyson later that year. Meanwhile, he continued along his new career trajectory with leading roles in the adventure drama "Mrs. Mike" (1949), the romantic comedy "The Reformer and the Redhead" (1950) which co-starred Allyson, and the boxing drama "Right Cross" (1950), co-starring Ricardo Montalban.

Powell returned to the gritty world of noir with "Cry Danger" (1951), a classic crime thriller where he played a recent parolee released from prison after a robbery conviction who uses his newfound freedom to bring justice to the real guilty party. From there, he starred as a 19th century detective who tries to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on a train in Anthony Mann's "The Tall Target" (1951), and followed up with a leading role in the comedy "You Never Can Tell" (1951). Also at the time, Powell turned to radio as the star of "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (NBC/ABC/CBS, 1949-1953), a light-hearted detective drama where he displayed a quick wit and sang to his girlfriend at the end of every episode. Meanwhile, after a supporting role in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and starring in the romantic comedy "Susan Slept Here" (1954), Powell turned to directing and producing several largely unexceptional B-films, though his best was also his first, the taut crime thriller "Split Second" (1953).

After helming the misguided Ghengis Khan biopic "The Conqueror" (1956), "The Enemy Below" (1957) and "The Hunters" (1958), he made a successful venture into television, becoming a notable executive with his own production company, Four Star Television. The company produced shows like "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (CBS/NBC, 1957-1960) starring David Janssen as the hard-boiled Diamond, minus the singing; "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor" (ABC/NBC, 1959-1962), "The Westerner" (NBC, 1960) with Brian Keith; "Wanted: Dead or Alive" (CBS, 1958-1961) starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall; and "The Dick Powell Show" (NBC, 1961-63), an anthology series that featured a number of prominent guest hosts like Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Jackie Cooper, Robert Mitchum, Rock Hudson and David Niven. The series also launched the careers of several notable actors and directors, including Aaron Spelling, William Friedkin, Blake Edwards and Robert Vaughn. But on Jan. 2, 1963, just one day after his final appearance on his anthology series, Powell died from stomach cancer at 58 years old. His illness was widely considered to be the result of exposure to atomic test radiation in Utah, where he had filmed "The Conqueror" seven year prior. Along with many members of that cast - Susan Hayward, John Wayne, Agnes Moorhead, even Hayward's young twins sons who visited their mother on the set - all contracted severe cases of cancer and often premature death, leading to an investigation by the families into how much the government knew about the safety of filming in that area of the desert. Ultimately Four Star was taken over by David Charnay and was successful in syndication, but went through several owners until its catalogue was absorbed by News Corp.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Hunters (1958)
Director
The Enemy Below (1957)
Director
You Can't Run Away From It (1956)
Director
The Conqueror (1956)
Director
Split Second (1953)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Big Show (1957)
Susan Slept Here (1954)
Mark Christopher
The Bad and the Beautiful (1953)
James Lee [Bartlow]
You Never Can Tell (1951)
Rex Shepard
Cry Danger (1951)
Rocky [Mulloy]
The Tall Target (1951)
John Kennedy
The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)
Andrew Rockton Hale
Right Cross (1950)
Rick Gavery
Mrs. Mike (1949)
Sgt. Mike Flannigan
Pitfall (1948)
John Forbes
To the Ends of the Earth (1948)
Mike Barrows
Rogues' Regiment (1948)
Whit Corbett
Station West (1948)
[Lieutenant John Martin] Haven
Johnny O'Clock (1947)
Johnny O'Clock
Cornered (1945)
Lawrence Gerard
Meet the People (1944)
Wm. "Swanee" Swanson
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Philip Marlowe
It Happened Tomorrow (1944)
Larry Stevens
Star Spangled Rhythm (1943)
Himself, "Hit the Road to Dreamland" number
Happy Go Lucky (1943)
Pete Hamilton
Riding High (1943)
Steve Baird
True to Life (1943)
Link Ferris
Model Wife (1941)
Fred Chambers
In the Navy (1941)
Tommy Halstead [also known as Russ Raymond]
I Want a Divorce (1940)
Alan MacNally
Christmas in July (1940)
Jimmy MacDonald
Naughty but Nice (1939)
Professor [Donald] Hardwick
Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938)
Elly Jordan [also known as Wyoming Steve Gibson]
Going Places (1938)
Peter Mason [later known as Peter Randall]
Hollywood Hotel (1938)
Ronnie Bowers
Hard to Get (1938)
Bill [Davis]
On the Avenue (1937)
Gary Blake
The Singing Marine (1937)
Bob [Arkansas] Brent
Varsity Show (1937)
Charles "Chuck" Daly
Hearts Divided (1936)
Captain Jerome Bonaparte
Stage Struck (1936)
George Randall
Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)
Rosmer "Ross" Peek
Colleen (1936)
Donald Ames, 3rd
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
Dick Curtis
Broadway Gondolier (1935)
Dick Purcell
Thanks a Million (1935)
Eric Land
Shipmates Forever (1935)
Richard John Melville III
Page Miss Glory (1935)
Bingo Nelson
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Lysander, in love with Hermia
Wonder Bar (1934)
Tommy
Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934)
[Buddy] Clayton
Dames (1934)
Jimmy [Higgens]
Happiness Ahead (1934)
Bob Lane
Flirtation Walk (1934)
Dick "Canary" [Richard Palmer Grant] Dorcy
Merry Wives of Reno (1934)
Customer
A Very Honorable Guy (1934)
Waiter
Girl in Danger (1934)
Lieutenant
42nd Street (1933)
Billy Lawler
The King's Vacation (1933)
John Kent
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Brad [Roberts also known as Robert Treat Bradford]
College Coach (1933)
Phil Sargeant
Convention City (1933)
Jerry Ford
Footlight Parade (1933)
Scotty [Blair]
Blessed Event (1932)
Bunny Harmon
Too Busy to Work (1932)
Dan

Producer (Feature Film)

The Hunters (1958)
Producer
The Enemy Below (1957)
Producer
You Can't Run Away From It (1956)
Producer
The Conqueror (1956)
Producer
Mrs. Mike (1949)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Hollywood Ending (2002)
Song Performer
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Song
The Wedding Planner (2001)
Song Performer ("Mr & Mrs Is The Name")
In the Gloaming (1997)
Song Performer

Cast (Special)

Ruby Keeler, The Queen of Nostalgia (1998)
Squadron (1962)
Colonel Luke Harper
Amos Burke: Who Killed Julie Greer? (1961)
Amos Burke

Producer (Special)

Colossus (1963)
Producer
Luxury Liner (1963)
Producer
Safari (1962)
Producer
330 Independence S.W. (1962)
Executive Producer

Cast (Short)

World News - 1954 (1954)
Himself
Hollywood Hobbies (1939)
Himself
A Dream Comes True The Making of an Unusual Motion Picture (1935)
Himself
Things You Never See on the Screen (1935)
Himself
Hollywood Newsreel (1934)
Himself
And She Learned About Dames (1934)
Himself

Misc. Crew (Short)

Three Cheers for the Girls (1943)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1932

Feature acting debut, "Blessed Event"

1933

Established as star with his appearance in the Busby Berkeley musicals, "42nd Street", "Golddiggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade" at Warner Brothers, all of which teamed him with Ruby Keeler

1933

First film Powell made which also featured future wife Joan Blondell, "Golddiggers of 1933", in which their characters were not romantically teamed; was first of ten films the two would act in together

1935

Made exhibitors annual poll of top ten boxoffice stars two years in a row, placing 7th and 6th, respectively

1936

Last of seven films made opposite Ruby Keeler, "Colleen"

1941

Last film opposite Joan Blondell, "Model Wife"

1944

Career turnaround began when he starred as Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe in "Murder, My Sweet"

1953

Feature directorial debut, "Split Second"

1956

First feature producing credit, "The Conquerer"

1956

Directed his second wife, June Allyson, in the feature, "You Can't Run Away from It", a remake of the classic, "It Happened One Night"; Powell did not act in the film

1958

Last feature effort, directing and producing "The Hunters"

1963

Last TV producing credit "Colossus"

Photo Collections

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from the all-star Warner Bros. production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle.
Johnny O'Clock - Movie Posters
Johnny O'Clock - Movie Posters
Johnny O'Clock - Lobby Card Set
Johnny O'Clock - Lobby Card Set
Johnny O'Clock - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Johnny O'Clock - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Susan Slept Here - Movie Posters
Susan Slept Here - Movie Posters
Christmas in July - Publicity Stills
Christmas in July - Publicity Stills
Gold Diggers of 1937 - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), starring Joan Blondell and Dick Powell. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Murder, My Sweet - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills taken for Murder, My Sweet (1944), starring Dick Powell and Claire Trevor. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Murder, My Sweet - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for Murder, My Sweet (1944), starring Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe.
Dames - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from the Warner Bros. musical Dames (1934). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Meet the People - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from MGM's Meet the People (1944), starring Lucille Ball and Dick Powell. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Twenty Million Sweethearts - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from First National's Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Reformer and the Redhead - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for The Reformer and the Redhead (1950), starring Dick Powell and June Allyson. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Dick Powell and June Allyson - Publicity Stills
Here is a series of publicity stills featuring husband-and-wife Dick Powell and June Allyson in domestic situations. They were taken in connection with their co-starring film Right Cross (1950), produced at MGM.
Wonder Bar - Scenes Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Wonder Bar (1934), starring Al Jolson and Kay Francis.

Videos

Movie Clip

Station West (1948) - He Picks A Good Fight Emerging from an Arizona saloon, sometime after a military gold robbery, Dick Powell, who’s still pretty much a stranger to us, follows a soldier (Steve Brodie) with whom he argued, when some neat exposition introduces Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Caslon, and Tom Powers as Capt. Iles, in Station West, 1948.
Station West (1948) - I Like The Way You Sing Casing the saloon in the Arizona town where he’s arrived after the death of two soldiers in a gold shipment robbery, Dick Powell, whose name we haven’t learned, observes the almost implausibly attractive singer (Jane Greer), then meets a testy Army man (Steve Brodie) and a barkeep (John Doucette), in Station West, 1948.
Station West (1948) - I Ain't Dead Yet Straight from a Burl Ives vocal under the credits, the aftermath of a gold robbery and Dick Powell arriving in town, the exterior certainly Sedona, Az, probably day-for-night, where Burl as the innkeeper resumes the song, opening director Sidney Lanfield’s taut, overlooked Western, Station West, 1948, also starring Jane Greer.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - The Boston Bluntingtons Joan Blondell as jobless showgirl Norma is sitting out her friends’ hunt for generous men-folk on the train from Atlantic City but winds up having to flee a hoarde of hungry insurance salesmen, taking refuge in a sleeper where she meets aspiring musician and for-now salesman Rosmer (Dick Powell, Blondell’s new husband at the time!), early in Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - All's Fair In Love And War Busby Berkeley’s dance direction at last with some scale in the finalè number, Dick Powell and Lee Dixon, with Joan Blondell and Rosalind Marquis, in a Harry Warren/Al Dubin original composition for Warner Bros., in what was technically the 5th film in the series (counting the lost silents), in Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - Life Insurance Song From director Lloyd Bacon and Warner Bros., opening with William Davidson as the insurance big-wig pulling bons vivants Rosmer (Dick Powell) and sidekick Oglethorpe (Lee Dixon) to the Atlantic City convention stage for a nutty original by Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, in Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936, also starring Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - The Broker Ripped His Pants From the opening at an Atlantic City insurance salesman’s convention, to the train station where chorus girls Genevieve and Norma (Glenda Farrell, Joan Blondell) lament the collapse of their musical, with Irene Ware as “Irene” and Rosalind Marquis as Sally, and Iris Adrian as snooty Verna, the first appearance for all, in Warner Bros.’ Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - Speaking Of The Weather Dick Powell and Joan Blondell, who married in September of 1936, before this picture was released December 26, with as cute a number as any they did, another Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg original, begun after she, the newly hired secretary, ribs him, the dilettante insurance salesman, for not finding her a job, in Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936.
Right Cross (1950) - Nice Future Picking Lettuce Injured boxer Johnny (Ricardo Montalban) is sharing about family back in Mexico with writer pal Rick (Dick Powell) when his girlfriend Pat (June Allyson, who was also Mrs. Powell), the daughter of Johnny's manager arrives, bringing some tension, in MGM's Right Cross, 1950.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935) - Our Brief Summer Season A dazzling though delicate opening by Busby Berkeley, to an untitled tune by Harry Warren, no vocals and no stars but remarkable design, shooting and editing, leading to Grant Mitchell addressing his hotel staff, in Gold Diggers Of 1935, 1935, starring Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935) - Name The First One After Me At the “Wentworth Plaza,” various staffs discussing tipping, Ray Cooke with bellhops, George Beranger with waiters, Nora Cecil with maids and Arthur Aylesworth with bartenders, then manager Grant Mitchell with Dorothy Dare and Dick Powell as couple Dick and Arline, early in Warner Bros.’ Gold Diggers Of 1935, 1935.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 - Lullaby Of Broadway Just a portion, featuring dancers "Ramon & Rosita" then the company, from Busby Berkeley's giant production of Lullaby Of Broadway by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, in Gold Diggers of 1935.

Trailer

Christmas In July (1940) -- (Video Trailer) Dick Powell is an unemployed dreamer who thinks he's won a big radio contest in Preston Sturges' Christmas in July (1940).
King's Vacation, The - (Original Trailer) George Arliss abdicates to find the wife he had to divorce for the crown in The King's Vacation (1933).
Twenty Million Sweethearts - (Original Trailer) A promoter (Pat O'Brien) neglects his wife to make a singer (Dick Powell) a radio star in Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934).
Susan Slept Here - (Original Trailer) A Hollywood screenwriter (Dick Powell) takes in a runaway girl (Debbie Reynolds) who's more woman than he can handle. Directed by Frank Tashlin and narrated by an Oscar statuette.
Singing Marine, The - (Original Trailer) A young Marine (Dick Powell) develops an inflated ego after winning a talent contest in The Singing Marine (1937), the movie that gave the U.S. Marines their theme song.
Naughty But Nice - (Original Trailer) A college professor (Dick Powell) turns songwriter and falls for his lyricist in Naughty But Nice (1939) co-starring Ann Sheridan.
Hard to Get - (Original Trailer) An unemployed architect falls in love with an heiress in Hard To Get (1938), the musical that introduced the song, "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby."
Going Places (1938) - (Original Trailer) Louis Armstrong is the only one who can calm a difficult racehorse who is Going Places (1938) in this Warner Brothers musical.
Flirtation Walk - (Original Trailer) 42nd Street stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler head a musical salute to West Point in Flirtation Walk (1934).
Cowboy from Brooklyn, The - (Original Trailer) A singing cowboy (Dick Powell) turns out to be a tenderfoot. Co-starring Pat O'Brien, directed by Lloyd Bacon.
College Coach, The - (Original Trailer) Pat O'Brien may end up giving Ann Dvorak for the Gipper as The College Coach (1933) co-starring Dick Powell.
Broadway Gondolier - (Original Trailer) Joan Blondell and Adolphe Menjou cut up with Frank McHugh in the trailer for the "radio romance" Broadway Gondolier (1935).

Family

Dick Powell Jr
Son
Actor.

Companions

Joan Blondell
Wife
Actor. Second wife, married 1936-45.
June Allyson
Wife
Actor. Married until his death in 1963.

Bibliography