A Tribute to William Powell
For those who only know William Powell from films like The Thin Man, Life With Father, and My Man Godfrey, it’s a shock to discover that he began his career playing villains in silent films. However, with his role as Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929), he became a star, and moved to MGM in 1932. Manhattan Melodrama (1934) was quickly followed by The Thin Man ( also 1934), a low-budget film that surprised everybody with its popularity (and earned him an Oscar nomination). His on-screen persona had made a 180-degree turn from the days of silent villains.
And a good thing it was, too, as Powell soon became the epitome of sophistication and urbanity for audiences in the 30s and 40s. The Thin Man series, which paired him with the equally cool and sophisticated Myrna Loy – and which is being released on DVD as a complete set – became one of the most popular series of all time. In fact, it is often cited as a favorite mystery series, in spite of the fact that the films are more screwball comedies than anything else!
Powell was one of the few actors who could pull off such a hybrid performance, with his great voice and theatre training which began at an early age. But instead of becoming typecast as a tipsy sleuth, Powell showed his versatility by starring in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), which won Best Picture that year, as well as Libeled Lady and My Man Godfrey, the latter earning him a second Academy Award Nomination. He was now one of the most popular and sought-after stars in Hollywood. However, shortly after becoming engaged to Jean Harlow, he was thrown for a loop by her tragic death in 1937. He didn’t make another film for a while, then did four more Thin Man sequels between 1939 and 1947, and got his third Oscar nomination for Life with Father (1947). His last role was in 1955, in Mr Roberts, with Henry Fonda. After a long retirement, he died in 1984, at the age of 91.
A final note: After being married to Carole Lombard (his second marriage) and engaged to Jean Harlow, Powell married actress Diana Lewis in 1940, and she remained his wife until he passed away, over 40 years later.
Please enjoy this tribute, created on the occasion of what would have been William Powell’s 113th birthday, and to commemorate the release of the Thin Man DVD series, as well as Myrna Loy’s upcoming birth centennial on August 2.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find His Movies