Job Actor, singer, producer, director
Years active 1930-63
Top Roles Philip Marlowe, Lysander, In love with Hermia, Richard Palmer Grant 'Canary' / 'Dick' / 'Dickie Boy' Dorcy, Whit Corbett, John Forbes
Top GenresComedy, Musical, Romance, Drama, Film Noir, Crime
Top TopicsPre-Code Cinema, Busby Berkeley, Romance (Comic)
Top Collaborators (Producer), (Producer), (Director), (Producer)
Shares birthday with Louise Brooks, Veronica Lake, Seena Owen  see more..

Dick Powell Overview:

Legendary actor, Dick Powell, was born Richard Ewing Powell on Nov 14, 1904 in Mountain View, AR. Powell died at the age of 58 on Jan 2, 1963 in West Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn (Glendale) Cemetery in Glendale, CA.

Dick Powell

Early Life

Dick Powell was born Richard Ewing Powell on November 14th, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas. His father, Ewing, was a machinery salesman who legend says helped introduce the gasoline engine to the state of Arkansas. His mother, Sallie, was a stay at home who encouraged her sons' love of music, giving all of them singing lesson at a very young age. In 1909, at the tender age of five, Powell made his singing debut, performing the song Casey Jones for his hometown neighbors. Three years later the family moved to the town of Berryville, where Powell received his first proper piano lessons for the instrument that had always fascinated him. The family made their final move to Little Rock in 1914, where Powell began to develop his passion for music. He and his brother, Howard, could soon be seen singing at local churches and synagogues for anyone who would listen. In high school Powell learned multiple instruments like the clarinet and the saxophone while also singing in many of the staged musical productions. After graduating in 1922, Powell attended Little Rock College and majored in the liberal arts. While in college he organized the popular dance band the Peter Pan and soon after began his career as a singer.

Early Career

In 1925 Powell began touring with Louisville, Kentucky based dance band the Royal Peacocks and traveled most the Midwest. His gig would send him to Indianapolis, Indiana where he sang with the Charles Davis Orchestra. In 1927 the band released their first records under the Vocalin Label. After leaving the Charles Davis orchestra, Powell relocated to Pittsburgh, where found himself emceeing popular events at the Enright Theatre and The Stanley Theater. Warner Brother quickly developed an interest in Powell, and offered the song and dance man a screen test. Although Powell originally didn't have any intentions on becoming an actor, he decided to chance and went west. Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Warner Brothers had Powell take a screen test. Though the studio didn't think him right for the part he auditioned for, they still like his screen presence and signed Powell to a long-term contract anyway.

Warner Brothers

In 1932 Powell made the move from Pennsylvania to Hollywood and began working in his newest medium: film. He made his screen debut in 1932 as crooner Bunny Harmon in the comedy Blessed Events and immediately followed that up with a small role as an uncredited radio announcer in the crime drama Big City Blues. He played couple more smaller roles in films such as Too Busy to Work and The King's Vacation before eventually moving on to more prominent roles. His first large role came in 1933, when he played the juvenile lead in the Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley combined effort 42nd Street opposite Ruby Keeler. The film was a tremendous success both financially and critically and earned a Best Picture Academy Awards nomination along the way. Audiences took notice of the fresh-faced crooner and Powell was quickly cast as the juvenile lead in two more backstage musicals, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade, both of which featured Ruby Keeler. He then took a break from the backstage musical to star in the sports comedy College Coach. Although the film was not a musical, Powell's talents where still highlighted as the singing chemistry teacher, Phil Sargeant. By the time 1934 rolled around, Powell once again starred opposite Ruby Keeler in Dames, and where now seen by Warner Brothers as somewhat of a team and would continue to cast them together. 

Although his time on the musical screen helped him to become one of Hollywood fasted rising stars of early 1930s, Powell hoped to try his hand at another genre. After starring in a few more successful musicals such as Gold Diggers of 1935 and Broadway Gondolier opposite Joan Blondell before Warner Brothers finally gave Powell his wish and cast him in a non-musical role. Unfortunately for Powell, he horribly miscast as Lysander in the big screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Needless to say, Powell never performed Shakespeare again. He was quickly relegated back to the musical, starring in light-hearted fair such as Thanks a Million, Hearts Divided, and The Gold Diggers of 1937. He showed his skill as both a singer and a musician in the Busby Berkeley musical comedy Hollywood Hotel. In the film Powell plays saxophonist Ronny Bowers in Benny Goodman's band, who wins a contest that gives him a two month film contract. It was until 1940 that Powell was able to step away from musicals. He first starred in the forgettable drama I Want a Divorce opposite frequent co-star and now wife, Joan Blondell. He then starred opposite Ellen Drew in the Preston Sturges screwball comedy Christmas in July.

Turn for the Dramatic

Powell continued his efforts of establishing himself as more than just a musical man. In 1941 he co-starred in the Abbott and Costello hit In the Navy. He returned to the musical for the films Star Spangled Rhythm and Riding High before starring yet another straight comedy True to Life. At this point in his career Powell felt he was getting too old to play the squeaky-clean romantic lead and lobbied for the starring role in Billy Wilder's upcoming film Double Indemnity. When he lost the part to fellow Hollywood nice guy Fred MacMurray, his resolve only grew stronger and in 1944 was cast as Philip's  career almost overnight. Thanks to his skillful performance as the vitriolic private detective, Powell successfully revamped his image from the wholesome, musical star to a grittier, more serious actor. He worked with Murder, My Sweet director, Edward Dmytryk for yet another film-noir thriller, Cornered. Once again, Powell received positive praise for his performance, solidifying his place a serious dramatic actor.

Powell continued to play the role of a big-city tough guy in films such as Johnny O'Clock, To the Ends of the Earth, and Pitfall. He returned to comedy in 1950 opposite his third and final wife, June Allyson, with The Reformer and the Red Head but quickly hoped back on the noir-bang wagon with William Parrish 1951 picture Cry Danger as a parolee set on vengeance. The next he played a supporting part in the Vincente Minnelli melodrama The Bad and The Beautiful. He returned to comedy for the 1954 Frank Tashin picture, Susan Slept Here. It would be his last feature film performance on the big screen.

Directing and Television

By the mid1950s Powell stepped behind the camera and began to direct. In 1953 he made his directorial debut with the small budget film-noir, Split Seconds. During this time Powell also began to appear on the medium of television, making his first cameo on The Red Skeleton Hour in 1953. He remained on the tube for the rest of the decade, appearing in series such as The Jack Benny Program, Lux Video Theatre, and Mr. Adams and Eve. He eventually went on to found the Four Star Television production company with Charles Boyer, David Niven, and Ida Lupino, acting as both performer and supervisor for several episodes of their television series, Four Star Playhouse. He returned to directing in 1956 with the now notorious adventure epic The Conqueror, with John Wayne starring as the great Mongol Emperor, Genghis Khan. The film was shot about 50 miles downwind from an atomic bomb testing area, thus causing all of the cast and crew to unwitting inhale large amount of contaminated air and dust. Many of those who worked on the film, including Wayne and Powell, developed cancer due to said exposure. The film itself was a massive flop, losing over three million at the box-office as well as being crucified by the critics.

Later Life

Despite the films failure, Powell went on direct three more films You Can't Run Away from It, The Enemy Below, and The Hunters. By the 1960s Powell moved exclusively to television, even getting his own series, The Dick Powell Show, in 1962. Later that year, Powell was diagnosed with cancer, just six years after having completed The Conqueror. Powell made his final performance in 1963 as Chief Richard E. Powell in Ensign O'Toole. Dick Powell died on January 2nd, 1963 due to lymphoma. He was 48 years old.


(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



He was honored with three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures. Dick Powell's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #34 on Feb 10, 1937. Powell was never nominated for an Academy Award.

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Dick Powell Quotes:

Pete Marchettis: You're whistling through your teeth.
Johnny O'Clock: So let him whistle.

Susan Beaurgard Landis: And thank you for the whistle, too, even if you didn't mean it.
Mark Christopher: I meant every pucker.

James Lee Bartlow: My first novel, on which I had labored for seven years, was just out. Surprisingly for a scholarly work on early Virginia, it was doing a brisk nationwide sale - possibly because it was liberally peppered with sex. Because, after all, early Virginia was liberally peppered with sex. Could that have been why Hollywood bought it?

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Dick Powell Facts
He was awarded 3 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard, for Television at 6745 Hollywood Boulevard, and for Radio at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.

He was yet another casualty of the 1956 film The Conqueror (1956) filmed near a nuclear test site in Utah. Many of the people involved with the film, including Powell, who directed, eventually died of cancer, either caused by, or exacerbated by, working on it. Others included actors John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Ted de Corsia, and Agnes Moorehead.

Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA.

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