Thursday, December 1, 2011

Star of the Month: William Powell.

William Powell (July 29, 1892 – March 5, 1984). After Powell graduated from AADA and performing on the Broadway stage, he began his Hollywood career in 1922, playing a small role as Professor Moriarty in, Sherlock Holmes with John Barrymore.

His best known role in silent movies was with Emil Jannings, as a fallen general in the film, The Last Command (1928). A story about a Russian officer, Grand Duke Sergeus Alexander, who has just put revolutionary Leo Andreyev (William Powell) in prison and taking up with his mistress. She plans to kill him, but changes her mind when she learns that he loves Russia as much as she does. While helping him, she is killed.

Many years later, Sergeus Alexander is making a small living as a Hollywood extra. A director, which turns out to be his old adversary Leo Andreyev, recognizes him and wanting to humiliate him, casts him as a Russian general in a battle scene. He is told to give a speech to a group of actors playing his soldiers. Slowly.. he loses his grip on reality.

His performance in this film, led to Powell's first starring role as amateur detective Philo Vance in, The Canary Murder Case (1929). A crime/mystery, directed by Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle.

It was the first film in the series of Philo Vance films adapted from the novels, starring William Powell, Louise Brooks and Jean Arthur.

The story is about why a nightclub singer, that goes by name "the Canary" ends up dead. All the suspects had a motive to see her dead. The only witness to the crime has also been killed. Only detective Philo Vance, can solve the case.

Powell's most famous role was that of Nick Charles, in six Thin Man films and he received his first Academy Award nomination for The Thin Man. Myrna Loy played his wife, Nora, in each of the Thin Man films. They performed in 14 films all together.

Please click to read the post : Great On Screen Couples William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Please click here to read Manhattan Melodrama(1934) post.

Please click here to read Libeled Lady(1936) post.

Powell and Loy also starred in, The Great Ziegfeld(1936). A fictionalized biography of Florenz Ziegfeld, from his show business beginnings to his death. It showcases many musical performances. Due to financial problems at the studio at the time, the entire production, including some already constructed sets and musical arrangements were sold to MGM. Universal wanted to keep Powell, which resulted in his performance in the classic comedy, My Man Godfrey, where he received his second Academy Award nomination, for his performance.

My Man Godfrey (1936). A comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava. The story is about a socialite who hires a guy down on his luck to be her family's butler, only to fall in love with him, which means only trouble for him. William Powell, gives a perfect performance as Godfrey Parke, the hobo-turned-butler. Carole Lombard, also gives a perfect performances as Irene Bullock, the spoiled socialite who really just wants to live a normal life.

Please click here to read My Man Godfrey(1936) post.

In 1935, he starred with Jean Harlow in the film, Reckless. A musical film directed by Victor Fleming. The story was based on the scandal of the 1931 marriage between singer Libby Holman and tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds and his alleged suicide. One week before production Harlow replaced Crawford, as David O. Selznick had decided that Powell's real-life romance with Harlow would help to publicize the film. Harlow died at the age of 26 in June 1937, before they could marry. His distress over her death, as well as his own battle with colon cancer, caused him to accept fewer acting roles.

In 1947 he received his third Academy Award nomination for his performance in the comedy film, Life with Father. It tells the true story of Clarence Day, a stockbroker who wants to be the head of his household, but finds his wife and his children have plans of their own. In keeping with the autobiography, all the children in the family (all boys) are redheads.

His last film performance was, Mister Roberts (1955), with Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon. The story is about how Mister Roberts, who is working in the Pacific during the Second World War. He wants to leave his boring life on a ship to join in the "action". The captain of the ship does not want to sign Roberts' transfer request.

William Powell admires Gary Cooper's duesenberg


  1. I'm really excited about Powell being the star of the month. I'm looking forward to discovering some "new to me" movies.

    I especially adore him with Myrna Loy. Wow, did they have fabulous chemistry.

    Wishing you a lovely evening,

  2. Patti, It is going to be a great month on TCM. I wish I had the time to watch "all" of William Powell's movies that TCM is going to show. I do not think Powell could give a bad performance.

    Please let me know the "new to you" movies that you enjoy most.

    Have a great week end.

  3. Dawn, being a big fan of William Powell myself, I was looking forward to reading your post, and you did a wonderful job! William Powell has been a favorite of mine since I first saw THE THIN MAN, and since then I've rarely seen a film of his that I didn't like! I was especially moved by your accounts of Powell's battle with cancer and the star-crossed romance between Powell and Jean Harlow. (I'm told Harlow's mother was at least partly to blame for her death, as her mother was apparently a Christian Scientist who didn't get Harlow proper medical attention until it was too late -- no offense to other Christian Scientists who WEREN'T wrong-headed.) Great post -- looking forward to catching up with even more William Powell movies!


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