Remembering William Powell, charming sophisticate

He had it all – impeccable comedic timing, an authoritative, urbane voice, looks that made ’em swoon with a manner unique to classic Hollywood, a lasting screen presence, and undeniable talent.  His career spanned four decades, starting in the silent era with a supporting role in Albert Parker’s Sherlock Holmes in 1922 and culminating with Ford/LeRoy’s Mister Roberts in 1955.  Best known for the romantic comedies in which he starred, several of which are among the best, he more than carried his own in dramas, mysteries and thrillers as well.  I don’t think he broke a mold, but rather made his own by becoming the epitome of worldly style.  He was William Powell, charming sophisticate, and this post is to celebrate him on the anniversary of his birth on July 29, 1892.

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Powell was nominated for three Oscars.

In 1934 for his portrayal of Nick Charles in W. S. Van Dyke’s, The Thin Man

“The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.”

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…in 1936 as the title character in Gregory La Cava’s, My Man Godfrey

“Tommy, there’s a very peculiar mental process called thinking – you wouldn’t know much about that – but when I was living here I did a lot of it.”

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…and in 1948 for his portrayal of the head of the family in Michael Curtiz’, Life with Father.

“They can’t keep me out of heaven on a technicality!”

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But those nominations pale in comparison to the numerous films through which he continues to charm and delight us…

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Bill had a way with a fedora…

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(Couldn’t help sneaking in a top hat!)

…and with the ladies

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He was one of a kind.

“Bill Powell is the only intelligent actor I’ve ever met.” – Carole Lombard

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You didn’t have to see him to enjoy him either (although preferred no doubt).  Here is Bill Powell in two old-time radio comedies:

The Gulf Screen Guild Theater presents William Powell and Bette Davis in “Ballerina, Slightly with Accent” from March 10, 1940. 

The Burns and Allen Show with guest star William Powell from February 1, 1944.  In this episode Gracie helps Bill with his insomnia.

“Unfortunately, or perhaps it is fortunate that I have always been forced to stand on my acting ability. I haven’t a personality such as Jack Gilbert’s, for instance, that attracts women and makes them like me for myself. When I am on the screen I must make them forget me entirely and think only of my acting.”

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26 thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for this Aurora. THIS is the best Powell post I’ve ever seen! He would be so proud of this Aurora…..and happy that you know him so well. Hubby and I just loved this. There’s so much to say here…I won’t bore you with it all…just know you made me a happy, happy, HAPPY girl tonight!

    Thanks for the tip on Saturday’s programming too. I will be there 🙂

    AND yes, Rome in August!!!!

    1. You’re too sweet. But if you like it, given you dream about the man, then all’s good with the world! 🙂

      Thank you AND Russ for being so supportive!

      Aurora

    1. So glad you liked it. I agree, but don’t quite understand it. I’ve never seen a movie he’s in that’s not fun to watch. One of the greats and certainly one of the classiest!

      Aurora

  2. I think dear Bill underestimated himself when he said he didn’t have the type of personality to attract women like Jack Gilbert did! I, for one, find him terribly attractive and even sexy. His intelligence always showed in his acting, as did his matchless sense of humor, and what could be dreamier than that? 🙂

  3. I love when Nick Charles is introduced at the beginning of “The Thin Man” when he’s explaining how to shake a dry martini, a Manhattan, and a Bronx. I’m not sure why I’ve always enjoyed that quote so much, but I do. Probably because it’s just a perfect entrance for that kind of a character. He’s just so suave. Great remembrance!

  4. Although I love Powell in his wonderful comedies (Thin Man particularly), my very favorite performance has always been of the dry, wise and hilarious doctor in Mr. Roberts. He was just fantastic, and practically stole the show from James Cagney, an almost impossible feat! Loved this tribute, Aurora…

  5. Do you have any recommendations from the TCM lineup? Between the Mary Astor tribute and the William Powell day, my PVR is getting full!

    1. Hi Susan –

      I always suggest looking at the TCM schedule on TCM.com and picking the films you haven’t seen. That’s what I do. William Powell day is featuring a list of his lesser known films so I’m concentrating on those myself and doing the same for Astor. Her films will be featured Wednesday nights. I have the same issues with the DVR. Hope that helps a bit.

      Aurora

  6. William Powell is one of the finest American actors of all time. Thank you for remembering him in this blog. My favorite movies that Mr. Powell was in are: The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), After the Thin Man (1936), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), Life with Father (1947), and Mister Roberts (1955)

  7. 32 years ago Hollywood lost a true icon. Sweet William Powell. So true, that he didn’t give his looks enough credit, He was beautiful. He was also a kind, sweet, generous, intelligent and decent man. Not your typical Hollywood type. Also, not typical, is the fact that when he retired, he was content to leave the limelight behind. He didn’t feel the need to continue seeking coverage and seemed to love just being a regular retired gentleman. He was an amazing actor who has sadly been overlooked for any kind of acknowledgement of his great contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a shame. Probably a lot of it is due to the fact that he did retire so classy and with dignity. It’s very cool and interesting to see the old stars in their older years on the late night reruns or youtube. Sometimes I admit, it is kind of sad too.

  8. March 5, 2016. 32 years ago Hollywood lost a true icon. Sweet William Powell. So true, that he didn’t give his looks enough credit. He was beautiful. He was also a kind, sweet, generous, extremely intelligent and decent man. Not your typical Hollywood type. Also, not typical is the fact that when he retired, he was content to leave the limelight behind. He didn’t feel the need to continue seeking coverage and seemed to love just being a regular retired gentleman leading a quiet and leisurely life. He was an amazing actor who has sadly been overlooked for any kind of acknowledgement of his great contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood. He was certainly quite a presence then. It’s a shame. Probably a lot of it is due to the fact that he did retire with such class and dignity. He was a modest man who went gracefully and never felt the need to hang on too long. Although, it is cool and interesting to see the old stars in their older years on late night show reruns or clips of them on youtube, it is, at times sad too.

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