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William Powell Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trivia (25) | Personal Quotes (8) | Salary (2)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 29 July 1892Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of Death 5 March 1984Palm Springs, California, USA  (cardiac arrest)
Birth NameWilliam Horatio Powell
Height 5' 10½" (1.79 m)

Mini Bio (1)

William Powell was on the New York stage by 1912, but it would be ten years before his film career would begin. In 1924 he went to Paramount Pictures, where he was employed for the next seven years. During that time, he played in a number of interesting films, but stardom was elusive. He did finally attract attention with The Last Command (1928) as Leo, the arrogant film director. Stardom finally came via his role as Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929), in which he investigates the death of Louise Brooks, "the Canary." Unlike many silent actors, sound boosted Powell's career. He had a fine, urbane voice and his stage training and comic timing greatly aided his introduction to sound pictures. However, he was not happy with the type of roles he was playing at Paramount, so in 1931 he switched to Warner Bros. There, he again became disappointed with his roles, and his last appearance for Warners was as Philo Vance in The Kennel Murder Case (1933). In 1934 Powell went to MGM, where he was teamed with Myrna Loy in Manhattan Melodrama (1934). While Philo made Powell a star, another detective, Nick Charles, made him famous. Powell received an Academy Award nomination for The Thin Man (1934) and later starred in the Best Picture winner for 1936, The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Powell could play any role with authority, whether in a comedy, thriller, or drama. He received his second Academy Award nomination for My Man Godfrey (1936) and was on top of the world until 1937, when he made his first picture with Jean Harlow, Reckless (1935). The two clicked, off-screen as well as on-screen, and shortly became engaged. One day, while Powell was filming Double Wedding (1937) on one MGM sound stage, Harlow became ill on another. She was finally taken to the hospital, where she died. Her death greatly upset both Powell and Myrna Loy, and he took six weeks off from making the movie to deal with his sorrow. After that he traveled, not making another MGM film for a year. He eventually did five sequels to "The Thin Man," the last one in 1947. He also received his third Academy Award nomination for his work in Life with Father (1947). His screen appearances became less frequent after that, and his last role was in 1955. He had come a long way from playing the villain in 1922.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Spouse (3)

Diana Lewis (6 January 1940 - 5 March 1984) (his death)
Carole Lombard (26 June 1931 - 16 August 1933) (divorced)
Eileen Wilson (1915 - 1930) (divorced) (1 child)

Trivia (25)

He had known Diana Lewis only three weeks when they married January 6, 1940.
Brother-in-law of Maxine Lewis and J.C. Lewis.
Cousin-in-law of Howard Hawks and Kenneth Hawks.
Was in a relationship with Jean Harlow for two years before her death and paid for her funeral, costing $30,000. For many years Powell made sure fresh flowers were always present at her grave.
Cousin-in-law of William B. Hawks.
Parent of William Powell with his wife, Eileen.
His son stabbed himself to death while taking a shower. He left a 4-page good-bye letter to his father, with whom he was very close.
He and Casey Stengel were in the same class in Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri.
Leo Kottke composed an instrumental song entitled 'William Powell'; the studio version appears on Kottke's 1989 album "My Father's Face", and a live version on 1995's "Leo Kottke Live".
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 652-654. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Produced a Broadway play, "Revolt" in 1928, written by Harry Wagstaff Gribble. It flopped.
Although he and Carole Lombard divorced in 1933, they remained close friends until her death in 1942.
Purchased for Jean Harlow a 150-carat sapphire engagement ring for $20,000, and presented it to her for Christmas of 1936.
In 1938, Powell was diagnosed with cancer of the rectum. Rather than undergo a colostomy, he agreed to an experimental treatment where platinum needles containing radium pellets were inserted into Powell's body, where they remained for six months, by which time his cancer had gone into remission. It was many years before he publicly revealed he had had cancer. At the time of his illness and recovery, his agent explained his absence to the press first by saying he was recuperating from an eye injury, and later that he had undergone a routine abdominal operation.
He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1636 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.
His favorite singer was Jo Stafford and he collected every one of her albums.
His home in Beverly Hills was designed by James E. Dolena and decorated by William Haines.
Was a staunch Republican.
His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is featured for a brief moment on the Married with Children episode "Kelly Does Hollywood: Part 2.".
He and Myrna Loy were so often identified as a married couple, that when they were on tour and checking into a room, would often have desk clerks book them into the same room.
Powell had difficulties retaining his lines during the filming of Mister Roberts (1955), something that had not happened to him in earlier films, and this was one of the reasons why this was his final film appearance. Frail health, including bouts with cancer, plus a difficult Hawaii location shoot ultimately led to the actor's retirement decision.
If her cameo in The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) is counted, Myrna Loy co-starred with Powell fourteen times. Besides the six Thin Man films, the others were Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Evelyn Prentice (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), Double Wedding (1937), I Love You Again (1940) and Love Crazy (1941).
Powell was lured away from Paramount by Warners with a contract pf $6000 a week, but after a year or so Jack L. Warner forced Depression salary cuts on many of his stars including Powell, reducing it to $4000 per week. Powell was unhappy with the situation and left Warner for MGM, where he spent the bulk of his career.
He was the first husband of Carole Lombard while his Manhattan Melodrama (1934) co-star Clark Gable was her second husband.
Graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1912 where he studied under Joseph Adelman.

Personal Quotes (8)

[when asked how he kept so slim] "I highly recommend worrying. It's much more effective than dieting."
[speaking in 1929] "Unfortunately, or perhaps it is fortunate that I have always been forced to stand on my acting ability. I haven't a personality such as Jack Gilbert's, for instance, that attracts women and makes them like me for myself. When I am on the screen I must make them forget me entirely and think only of my acting."
My friends have stood by me marvelously in the ups and downs of my career. I don't believe there is anything more worthwhile in life than friendship. Friendship is a far better thing than love, as it is commonly accepted.
I do not hold that because the author did a bad job of writing the player need trump it with the same kind of acting. When I go into a picture I have only one character to look after. If the author didn't do him justice, I try to add whatever the creator of the part overlooked.
I have never gone into a picture without first studying my characterization from all angles. I make a study of the fellow's life and try to learn everything about him, including the conditions under which he came into this world, his parentage, his environment, his social status, and the things in which he is interested. Then I attempt to get his mental attitude as much as possible.
There is more money in being liked by an audience than in being disliked by it. The biggest thing about movie audiences is the sympathy they give characters on the screen. But the art of acting and the talent of selecting what one will act are divorced qualities.
[When asked to describe his methods for keeping so fit and trim] I give my swimming pool a long and piercing look every morning. I think a lot about tennis and talk a good deal about golf. I find I keep fit best by worrying about what I'm going to do next.
[Speaking of Myrna Loy] When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angels, and microphones. We weren't acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony. Many times I've played with an actress who seemed to be separated from me by a plate-glass window; there was no contact at all. But Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.

Salary (2)

One Way Passage (1932) $6,000 /week
The Kennel Murder Case (1933) $4,000 /week

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