Born on November 14, 1904, in Arkansas, Dick Powell starred in many of Warner Bros. most renowned musical productions, including 42nd Street and Footlight Parade and Dames. Powell's transition to film noir roles in the 1940s revamped his career and established him as a multifaceted actor, especially adept at playing tough heroes. Starting in the late 1950s, Powell focused his career on television production and directing.
Actor, singer, director, producer and television show host Richard Ewing "Dick" Powell was born on November 14, 1904, in Mountain View, Arkansas. Powell spent most of his youth in the nearby town of Little Rock, where his vocal talents were recognized by the community. He sang with the local orchestra and choir, forming his own band, Peter Pan, by the age of 17. Shortly after, Powell and his band went on the road, appearing in such states as Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, while learning to play the coronet, clarinet, saxophone and piano.
By 1930, Dick Powell garnered recognition as a traveling entertainer and he became the master of ceremonies at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh. Warner Bros. owned the Pennsylvania theatre and studio executives, aware of his talents, offered Powell a part in the musical Blessed Event (1933). Delighted with his performance, the studio presented him with a long-term contract. Powell starred in many of Warner Bros. most renowned musical productions including 42nd Street (1933), Footlight Parade (1933) and Dames (1934). Powell was also featured in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), in which he starred opposite Olivia de Havilland.
Many of the films, which featured the choreography of Busby Berkeley, paired Powell with actress Ruby Keeler. Powell and Keeler shared a film chemistry and, at the time, were recognized as cinema’s most popular romantic couple. The musical duo made seven films together including Gold Diggers of 1933 and Will Rogers, both produced in 1933, and their last production, Colleen (1936).
In 1940, Powell moved on to straight comedy starring in Preston Sturges's Christmas in July. During the early '40s, he took a number of supporting roles in unsuccessful films and, as a result, his career suffered. In 1944, he began to develop his acting skills with a darker range of themes and characters.
His portrayal of private detective Philip Marlowe in the thriller Murder, My Sweet (1944)—an adaptation of the novel Farewell, My Lovely (1940)—earned him critical acclaim. This transition to film noir revived Powell's struggling career and established him as a multifaceted actor, especially adept at portraying tough heroes. Critics were quick to praise his performances in other noir thrillers such as Cornered (1945) and Pitfall (1948).
Powell directed a number of unremarkable films in the 1950s, making his directorial debut with 1953's Split Second. He also directed The Conqueror (1956), which starred John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead. Powell's last directorial feats were in the war thrillers The Enemy Below (1957) and The Hunter (1958); both were poorly received by critics and audiences.
Shortly after, he became president of the Four Star TV production company. For the duration of his career he focused his efforts on television production. From 1952-56, Powell produced and appeared regularly on TV's Four Star Playhouse and from 1961-63 he hosted and produced The Dick Powell Show.
Personal Life and Ilness
In 1945, Powell ended his 11-year marriage with actress Joan Blondell. Shortly after the divorce, Powell married Hollywood star June Allyson, whom he directed in the feature, You Can’t Run Away From It (1956). Powell remained married to Allyson until his death from cancer on January 3, 1963.
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