William Powell


Actor
William Powell

About

Also Known As
William Horatio Powell
Birth Place
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Born
July 29, 1892
Died
March 05, 1984
Cause of Death
Natural Causes

Biography

The very picture of cinematic suavity, William Powell (1892-1984) was arguably the screen's most polished light comedian. Immaculate in dress and acting style, he perfected his man-about-town image in the Thin Man movies and evolved into a character actor most at home playing perfectly groomed lawyers and businessmen, with several sleek detectives thrown in for good measure. Powell's st...

Photos & Videos

The Great Ziegfeld - Publicity Stills
Love Crazy - Movie Poster
Lassie Come Home - Behind-the-Scenes Stills

Family & Companions

Carole Lombard
Wife
Actor. Married 1931-1933.
Jean Harlow
Companion
Actor. Engaged at time of her death in 1937.
Diana Lewis
Wife
Actor. Married 1940; died in January 1997 at age 77.

Biography

The very picture of cinematic suavity, William Powell (1892-1984) was arguably the screen's most polished light comedian. Immaculate in dress and acting style, he perfected his man-about-town image in the Thin Man movies and evolved into a character actor most at home playing perfectly groomed lawyers and businessmen, with several sleek detectives thrown in for good measure. Powell's starchy screen presence found perfect outlets in his Oscar®-nominated roles as the debonair detective in The Thin Man (1934), the dignified faux butler of My Man Godfrey (1936) and the domineering but lovable patriarch of Life with Father (1947).

William Horatio Powell was born in Pittsburgh, the son of a public accountant, and briefly studied at the University of Kansas before heading for New York City and the stage. By 1920 he was acting in a successful Broadway production, Spanish Love, which led to an offer to play the villain opposite John Barrymore in a silent-film version of Sherlock Holmes (1922). Powell remained in films for the next four decades, appearing in close to 100 pictures.

Powell?s onscreen villainy continued in such films as Romola (1924), in which he was nasty to the Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy; and Dangerous Money (1924), in which he threatened Bebe Daniels. The latter film was made at Paramount, where Powell was awarded a seven-year contract. He was constantly busy throughout the rest of the 1920s, most often playing the bad guy and attracting particular attention as an arrogant film director in The Last Command (1928). But stardom did not arrive until he played detective Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929), The Greene Murder Case (1929) and The Benson Murder Case (1930). Unlike many silent-film actors, Powell flourished after the advent of sound with his resonant, stage-trained voice. He developed into one of Paramount?s top romantic leading men, playing opposite such female stars as Kay Francis and Carole Lombard, who became his second wife in 1931 and remained a close friend even though they were divorced two years later.

In 1931 Powell switched to Warner Bros., where his pre-Code films included the drama The Road to Singapore and the crime caper Jewel Robbery in both of which he plays the suave seducer of other men?s wives. Kay Francis, who costarred in the latter film, had accompanied Powell to Warners and also acted opposite him in the romantic drama One Way Passage (1932), his biggest hit during this period. His Warners comedies of the period included High Pressure, in which he is a cheeky promoter pushing a new product, synthetic rubber; and Lawyer Man, in which he plays the dapper title role with Joan Blondell as his brassy secretary and unlikely love interest. At RKO Powell was a playboy in the romantic comedy Double Harness, one of a series of films from that studio that were considered ?lost? until rediscovered and restored by TCM in recent years. Powell?s final film under his WB contract was The Kennel Murder Case (1933), in which he reprised the Philo Vance role.

Powell moved to MGM beginning with Manhattan Melodrama, in which Powell and Clark Gable play old friends on opposite sides of the law, with Myrna Loy as the woman both of them love. The director of that film, W.S. Van Dyke, recognized the romantic chemistry between Powell and Loy and cast them in The Thin Man (1934), a low-budget crime caper that became a surprise smash and elevated Powell?s stardom to a whole new level. Powell and Loy repeated their roles as the glamorous sleuthing couple Nick and Nora Charles in After the Thin Man and four more sequels. Altogether this witty and sophisticated pair appeared in 14 films together including The Great Ziegfeld (1936), an Oscar-winner as Best Picture; Libeled Lady, a star-heavy comic romp costarring Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy; Double Wedding, another fun comedy whose making was shadowed by the death of Harlow, Powell?s lover and Loy?s close friend; I Love You Again, a farce in which Powell plays a mixed-up amnesiac with Loy as his confused wife; and Love Crazy, a screwball adventure in which they are a married couple beset by outlandish problems. Powell, who had costarred opposite Harlow in Reckless (1935), teamed with such other glamorous leading ladies as Rosalind Russell (Rendezvous, 1935), Ginger Rogers (Star of Midnight, 1935) and Jean Arthur (The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, 1936). In My Man Godfrey (1936), as the bum-turned-butler, he enjoyed a roaring success along with that Oscar® nomination, playing expertly opposite Carole Lombard (by now the ex-Mrs. Powell). Powell was cast opposite Hedy Lamarr in two MGM films, Crossroads, a mystery in which he has an unusually serious role as an amnesiac who may have been a thief in his former life; and The Heavenly Body (1944), a farce in which he returns to top comic form as an astronomer who?s jealous of his gorgeous wife.

Powell?s last star part in a top box-office hit came with Life with Father (1947), an adaptation of the Broadway success in which he played the crusty Father to Irene Dunne?s warm-hearted Mother. Critic Howard Barnes considered Powell?s performance ?the greatest of a distinguished career.? After a few minor vehicles Powell then eased gracefully into character parts, playing Elizabeth Taylor?s attorney father in The Girl Who Had Everything and Lauren Bacall?s aging suitor in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). His final film role was that of ?Doc,? the quick-witted ship?s doctor in Mister Roberts. Powell, who had a son with first wife Eileen Wilson, married his third wife, Diana Lewis, in 1940. He enjoyed three decades of retirement before his death.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

It's Showtime (1976)
Himself
Mister Roberts (1955)
Doc
The Girl Who Had Everything (1953)
Steve Latimer
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
J. D. Hanley
It's a Big Country: An American Anthology (1952)
Professor
The Treasure of Lost Canyon (1952)
Doc Homer Brown
Dancing in the Dark (1950)
Emery Slade
Take One False Step (1949)
Andrew Gentling
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)
Mr. [Arthur] Peabody
The Senator Was Indiscreet (1948)
Senator Melvin G. Ashton
Life with Father (1947)
Father [Clarence Day]
Song of the Thin Man (1947)
Nick Charles
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
The Great Ziegfeld
The Hoodlum Saint (1946)
Terry Ellerton O'Neill
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
Nick Charles
The Heavenly Body (1944)
William S. Whitley
The Youngest Profession (1943)
Crossroads (1942)
David Talbot
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
Nick [Charles]
Love Crazy (1941)
Steve Ireland
I Love You Again (1940)
Larry Wilson/George Carey
Another Thin Man (1939)
Nick [Charles]
The Baroness and the Butler (1938)
Johann Porok
Daughter of Shanghai (1938)
Carib waiter
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937)
Charles
The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
Baron Stephan Wolensky
Double Wedding (1937)
Charlie Lodge
Libeled Lady (1936)
Bill Chandler
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
Dr. Lawrence Bradford
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Godfrey [Parke]
After the Thin Man (1936)
Nick Charles
Reckless (1935)
Ned Riley
Rendezvous (1935)
[Lieutenant] Bill Gordon
Star of Midnight (1935)
Clay Dalzell
Escapade (1935)
Fritz [Heideneck]
Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
Jim Wade
The Thin Man (1934)
Nick [Charles]
The Key (1934)
Captain [Bill] Tennant
Fashions of 1934 (1934)
Sherwood Nash
Evelyn Prentice (1934)
John Prentice
Double Harness (1933)
John Fletcher
The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Philo Vance
Private Detective 62 (1933)
[Donald] Free
Lawyer Man (1933)
Anton ["Tony"] Adam
One Way Passage (1932)
Dan [Hardesty]
Jewel Robbery (1932)
Robber
High Pressure (1932)
Gar Evans
Ladies' Man (1931)
James [Jamie] Darricott
The Road to Singapore (1931)
Hugh Dawltrey
Man of the World (1931)
Michael Trevor, assumed name of Jimmie Powers
Paramount on Parade (1930)
Shadow of the Law (1930)
John Nelson/Jim Montgomery
Street of Chance (1930)
John B. Marsden ["Natural" Davis]
Behind the Make-Up (1930)
Gardoni
The Benson Murder Case (1930)
Philo Vance
For the Defense (1930)
William Foster
Interference (1929)
Philip Voaze
Pointed Heels (1929)
Robert Courtland
The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Philo Vance
The Greene Murder Case (1929)
Philo Vance
The Four Feathers (1929)
Captain Trench
Charming Sinners (1929)
Karl Kraley
Feel My Pulse (1928)
Her Nemesis
Partners in Crime (1928)
Smith
The Dragnet (1928)
Dapper Frank Trent
Beau Sabreur (1928)
Becque
The Vanishing Pioneer (1928)
John Murdock
The Last Command (1928)
Leo Andreiev
Forgotten Faces (1928)
Froggy
Paid To Love (1927)
Prince Eric
Time To Love (1927)
Prince Alado
Love's Greatest Mistake (1927)
Don Kendall
Nevada (1927)
Clan Dillon
Señorita (1927)
Ramón Oliveros
She's a Sheik (1927)
Kada
Special Delivery (1927)
Harold Jones, a get-rich-quick artist
New York (1927)
Trent Regan
Beau Geste (1926)
Boldini
The Great Gatsby (1926)
George Wilson
White Mice (1926)
Roddy Forrester
Desert Gold (1926)
Landree
Sea Horses (1926)
Lorenzo Salvia
The Runaway (1926)
Jack Harrison
Tin Gods (1926)
Tony Santelli
Aloma of the South Seas (1926)
Van Templeton
My Lady's Lips (1925)
Scott Seddon
Faint Perfume (1925)
Barnaby Powers
The Beautiful City (1925)
Nick Di Silva
Too Many Kisses (1925)
Julio
Romola (1925)
Tito Melema
Dangerous Money (1924)
Prince Arnolfo da Pescia
The Bright Shawl (1923)
Gaspar de Vaca, a Spanish captain
When Knighthood Was in Flower (1923)
Francis I
Under the Red Robe (1923)
Duke of Orléans
Outcast (1922)
De Valle
Sherlock Holmes (1922)
Forman Wells

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

It's Showtime (1976)
Other

Life Events

1922

Made film debut in "Sherlock Holmes"

1926

Worked primarily for Paramount Studios

1934

Made first film opposite Myrna Loy, "Manhattan Melodrama"

1934

Teamed with Loy for the first time as Nick and Nora Charles in "The Thin Man"

1937

Made annual nationwide exhibitors poll of top ten box office stars; placed fifth

1947

Made last "Thin Man" film, "Song of the Thin Man"

1955

Last film, "Mister Roberts"

Photo Collections

The Great Ziegfeld - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to publicize MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Love Crazy - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for MGM's Love Crazy (1941), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Lassie Come Home - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Lassie Come Home (1943), starring Lassie and Roddy McDowall.
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney - Lobby Card Set
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney - Lobby Card Set
Life with Father - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Warner Bros' Life with Father (1947), starring William Powell, Irene Dunne, and Elizabeth Taylor. 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.
I Love You Again - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for I Love You Again (1940), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Manhattan Melodrama - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Manhattan Melodrama (1943), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
After the Thin Man - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from MGM's After the Thin Man (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. 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.
After the Thin Man - Publicity Stills
Here are some stills taken to publicize After the Thin Man (1934). These particular shots feature Asta the dog in addition to stars William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Libeled Lady - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes of MGM's Libeled Lady (1936), starring William Powell, Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and Myrna Loy.
The Thin Man - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are few behind-the-scenes photos taken during the shooting of The Thin Man (1934), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
The Thin Man - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from The Thin Man (1934), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy (and Asta!). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
My Man Godfrey - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from My Man Godfrey (1936). 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.
Double Harness - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of RKO's Double Harness (1933), directed by John Cromwell and starring Ann Harding and William Powell.
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), starring William Powell.
The Kennel Murder Case - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from The Kennel Murder Case (1933), starring William 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.
Crossroads - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a behind-the-scenes photo taken during production of MGM's Crossroads (1942), starring William Powell and directed by Jack Conway.
Reckless - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Reckless (1935), starring Jean Harlow and William Powell and directed by Victor Fleming.
Crossroads - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Crossroads (1942), starring William Powell and Hedy Lamarr. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
The Thin Man - Movie Posters
Here are a variety of American Movie Posters produced for The Thin Man (1934).
Double Harness - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to publicize RKO's Double Harness (1933), starring William Powell, Ann Harding, and Lilian Bond. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
One Way Passage - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Warner Bros' One Way Passage (1932), starring William Powell and Kay Francis.
Double Harness - Movie Poster
Here is a Window Card from RKO's Double Harness (1933), starring William Powell and Ann Harding. Window Cards were mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation.
Crossroads - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Crossroads (1942), starring William Powell and Hedy Lamarr. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
After the Thin Man - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of After the Thin Man (1934), starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, and James Stewart.
Double Harness - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for the American release of RKO's Double Harness (1933). Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.
(Pressbook images courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
The Thin Man Goes Home - Title Lobby Card
Here is the title card from The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. 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.
Another Thin Man - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release American movie posters for MGM's Another Thin Man (1939), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
The Thin Man Goes Home - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Double Harness - Scene Stills
Here are a number of scene stills from RKO's Double Harness (1933), starring Ann Harding and William Powell.
The Great Ziegfeld - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Videos

Movie Clip

High Pressure (1932) - No Romance In Sewage Rescued from a bender, promoter Gar Evans (William Powell) meets buddy Mike (Frank McHugh) and entrepreneur Ginsberg (George Sidney), early in High Pressure, 1932, from a play by Aben Kandel.
Kennel Murder Case, The (1933) - The Well-Known Fancier Opening scene, introducing William Powell as sleuth Philo Vance, also Robert Barrat as "Archer Coe," Mary Astor as his ward "Hilda," Paul Cavanagh as English "Sir Thomas," plus exposition, from Warner Bros.' The Kennel Murder Case, 1933.
Manhattan Melodrama (1934) - Skip it, Kid Old pal and gangster Blackie (Clark Gable) visits the new D-A Jim (William Powell), with lots of catching-up to do, in W.S. Van Dyke's Manhattan Melodrama, 1934, from a script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Oliver H.P. Garrett.
Lawyer Man (1932) - I'm A Charter Member Feeling frisky after an unexpected offer to join a fancy uptown law firm, Lower East Side lawyer Tony (William Powell) is surprised to find the babe he’s ogling is his own savvy secretary Olga (Joan Blondell), their dinner date ensuing, William Dieterle directing, in Warner Bros.’ Lawyer Man, 1932.
Lawyer Man (1932) - He Could Hide Behind A Circular Staircase His career apparently soaring, as a new partner in an uptown firm, lawyer Tony (William Powell) with barkeep Mike (John Sheehan) gets buttonholed by Gilmurry (David Landau), whom he just skewered in court, then gets his head turned by showgirl Jenny (Claire Dodd), Sheila Terry her wing-gal, in Warner Bros.’ Lawyer Man, 1932.
Lawyer Man (1932) - It Takes A Good Man After beating uptown corporate lawyer Bentley (Alan Dinehart) in court, William Powell, a shade less suave than usual as Lower East Side lawyer Tony, is surprised to be invited to visit, and still more to be offered a gig, early in Warner Bros.’ Lawyer Man, 1932, also starring Joan Blondell, from a Max Trell novel.
Kennel Murder Case, The (1933) - Someone Miscalculated Beginning his detective work, Philo Vance (William Powell) with Sergeant Heath (Eugene Pallette), D-A Markham (Robert McWade) and Wrede (Ralph Morgan), secretary to the deceased, considering possibilities, in The Kennel Murder Case, 1933.
Ziegfeld Follies (1946) - Love (Lena Horne) A relatively modest production number, in MGM’s three million dollar musical, based on the premise of deceased impresario Florenz Ziegfeld imagining the show he could stage with MGM talent, Lena Horne with an original tune by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, in Ziegfeld Follies, 1946.
Mister Roberts (1955) - Preferably Aboard A Destroyer A hefty first scene, from the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan, for the title character (Henry Fonda) discussing his dilemma with wise Doc (William Powell), from Mister Roberts, 1955, in a segment directed by Mervyn LeRoy, who replaced John Ford.
Key, The (1934) - There's A Character In Dickens Hard to make a better scene for a William Powell entrance, as British officer Bill Tenant, arriving in 1920 Dublin, Arthur Aylesworth his aide, Dawn O’Day (actually the young Anne Shirley) the flower girl, and Arthur Treacher flakking for the general, Halliwell Hobbes, who is secretly an old pal, early in The Key, 1934.
Key, The (1934) - What Makes You Think I'm English? Terrific craft with Michael Curtiz directing, William Powell as Brit officer Bill newly detailed to 1920 Dublin, feeling wistful over an old flame, hiding his uniform under a legit Ulster coat, meets a sly barmaid (Gertude Short) and inquisitive O’Duffy (J.M. Kerrigan), in The Key, 1934.
Key, The (1934) - Fancy Me Forgetting You? Deciding to take a room because of a tune heard upstairs, Willliam Powell as British officer Bill, newly assigned to Dublin, 1920, finds out his neighbors are old friend Andy (Colin Clive), an intelligence officer, and wife Norah (Edna Best), whom he also knows, in The Key, 1934.

Trailer

My Man Godfrey (1936) - (Re-issue Trailer) A zany heiress (Carole Lombard) tries to help a tramp (William Powell) by making him the family butler in My Man Godfrey, 1936, directed by Gregory La Cava.
Girl Who Had Everything, The - (Original Trailer) Elizabeth Taylor is The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) in this remake of A Free Soul (1931).
Lawyer Man - (Original Trailer) When a Lower East side lawyer (William Powell) moves uptown, he becomes Lawyer Man (1933) co-starring Joan Blondell.
Jewel Robbery - (Original Trailer) A jewel thief falls for a tycoon's wife in Vienna in the pre-Code romantic comedy, Jewel Robbery (1932), starring Kay Francis & William Powell.
Crossroads (1942) - (Original Trailer) A French diplomat (William Powell) who's recovered from amnesia is blackmailed over crimes he can't remember.
How to Marry a Millionaire - (Original Trailer) Three models pool their resources to rent a posh penthouse in hopes of snaring rich husbands in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) starring Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe & Betty Grable.
Evelyn Prentice - (Original Trailer) MGM playing up The Thin Man angle with Myrna Loy and William Powell, in the original trailer for the melodrama Evelyn Prentice, 1934, co-starring Rosalind Russell.
After the Thin Man - (Original Trailer) Married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles try to clear Nora's cousin of a murder charge in After the Thin Man (1936).
Ziegfeld Follies - (Original Trailer) Legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld imagines the kind of Follies he could produce with MGM's musical stars in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) starring Judy Garland.
Road to Singapore (1931) - (Original Trailer) A woman's life falls to pieces when she's caught cheating on her husband in The Road to Singapore (1931), starring William Powell.
Shadow of the Thin Man -- (Original Trailer) Nick and Nora Charles find murder at the race track in Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941), the fourth of the "Thin Man" comedy mysteries.
Libeled Lady - (Original Trailer) When an heiress sues a newspaper, the editor hires a gigolo to compromise her in Libeled Lady, 1936, starring Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and William Powell.

Promo

Companions

Carole Lombard
Wife
Actor. Married 1931-1933.
Jean Harlow
Companion
Actor. Engaged at time of her death in 1937.
Diana Lewis
Wife
Actor. Married 1940; died in January 1997 at age 77.

Bibliography