Dick Powell (1904 - 1963)

Dick Powell
Dick Powell
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Dick Powell was an exceptionally talented and versatile performer, whose career can conveniently be divided into three parts. Firstly, the young song and dance man, who started as a romantic juvenile lead in Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930's with Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. He then re-invented himself in more mature, darker roles in films noir of the late 1940's. The third and final part of his career was as a movie and television director with his own, highly successful company, Four Star Productions.


He was born Richard Ewing Powell on November 14th, 1904, in Mountain View, Northern Arkansas. He showed great vocal talent as a young man, singing with the local choir and orchestra and eventually forming his own band, called Peter Pan, when he was 17. In the 1920's he toured with the midwest band, the Charlie Davies Orchestra, and recorded some successful records with them on the Vocalion label, before becoming master of ceremonies at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, which was owned by Warner Brothers. He was signed up by the studio in 1932, and was given his movie debut as a singer and bandleader in 'Blessed Event' in the same year.

He had two quite separate and distinct film acting careers. In the 1930's he was the cheerful juvenile romantic lead in some of Warner Brothers' most successful musicals, a little wooden in the romantic scenes but singing expertly as hundreds of dancing girls took part in Busby Berkeley's choreographed spectaculars. These productions included '42nd Street' and 'Footlight Parade' in 1933 and 'Dames' in 1934. In many of the films he was paired with Ruby Keeler and the couple became very popular in movies such as 'Gold Diggers of 1933' in 1933 and 'Colleen' in 1936.

After being miscast as Lysander in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in 1935 he continued to rely on sweetness and geniality in his movie roles until the mid-1940's, when he actively sought more challenging roles in more mature, edgier movies. In 1944, after giving the movies' first Philip Marlowe performance in 'Murder, My Sweet', directed by Edward Dmytryk, which was a big success, he changed his image entirely and reappeared onscreen as a new Bogart, a tough guy who was not ashamed to feel emotion.

In 1945 Powell teamed up with Dmytryk again to make 'Cornered', a film noir thriller, and he thereafter became a popular "hard man" leading actor, receiving critical acclaim for his performances in movies such as 'Johnny O'Clock' in 1947, 'Pitfall' in 1948, and 'Cry Danger' in 1951.

He alternated his new image with lighter roles, as in 'It Happened Tomorrow' in 1944, and 'You Never Can Tell' in 1951, as well as playing historical action roles. So in 'Station West' in 1948 he played a spy in the U.S. cavalry and then he appeared as a bodyguard to the president in 'The Tall Target' in 1951.

For four years from 1949, Powell worked in radio, playing the lead role in 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', a National Broadcasting Company weekly production.

In the 1950's Powell changed course again and began a new phase of his career producing and directing movies rather than appearing in front of the camera. Most of his output was 'B' movie fare such as 'Split Second' in 1953, and 'The Enemy Below' in 1957, which won an Academy Award for Special Effects. He also directed John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead in 'The Conqueror' in 1956. His last film as director was the war film 'The Hunter' in 1958 which fared badly with both critics and public.

During the 1950's Powell embraced the new medium of television, once again playing Philip Marlowe in 'The Long Goodbye' in 1954. In partnership with three other Hollywood stars, Charles Boyer, David Niven, and Ida Lupino, he formed the Four Star Television production company and during the early 1950's he appeared in several programs made by the company. He also hosted as well as occasionally starred in his 'Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater' on CBS during the last years of the 1950's.

His last appearances on the big screen were in 'The Bad and the Beautiful' in 1952 with Gloria Graham and then in 1954 in 'Susan Slept Here' when he did a dancing sequence with Debbie Reynolds, but he never sang on film again.

Powell wed three times, firstly to Mildred Maund in 1925, then to actress Joan Blondell from 1936 to 1944, and then to actress June Allyson from 1945 until his death. He had two children with each of his last two wives.

Powell died on January 2, 1963 from lymphoma. He was 58.

Dick Powell Academy Awards

No Nominations

Dick Powell Filmography

Blessed Event
Big City Blues (voice) (uncredited) Too Busy to Work
The Road Is Open Again
Just Around the Corner
The King's Vacation
42nd Street
Hollywood on Parade No. A-9
Gold Diggers of 1933
Footlight Parade
Football Coach
Convention City
And She Learned About Dames
Wonder Bar
Hollywood Newsreel (uncredited)
Twenty Million Sweethearts
Happiness Ahead
Flirtation Walk
A Dream Comes True
Gold Diggers of 1935
Broadway Gondolier
Page Miss Glory
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shipmates Forever
Screen Snapshots Series 15, No. 3
Thanks a Million
Screen Snapshots Series 15, No. 5
Hearts Divided
Screen Snapshots Series 15, No. 11
Stage Struck
Gold Diggers of 1937
On the Avenue
The Singing Marine
Varsity Show
Screen Snapshots Series 17, No. 2
Hollywood Hotel
Breakdowns of 1938
Screen Snapshots Series 17, No. 5
For Auld Lang Syne
Romance and Rhythm
Hard to Get
Going Places
Hollywood Hobbies
Naughty But Nice