Dick Powell was born Richard Ewing Powell on November 14, 1904 in Arkansas. He attended college at Little Rock College before embarking on an entertainment career. He played several instruments by ear and wax a natural born musician, but he began his career as a singer in the Charlie Davis Orchestra. Powell recorded many songs with Davis and then on his own under the label, Vocalion label during the 1920s. During this time he met and married Mildred Maund in 1925. Little is known about the union as Powell would not discuss in later on in life. Many reports have stated that the couple divorced within 2 years but there is evidence that they stayed married until the mid 1930s. Perhaps the couple were on very bad terms or they may have decided to keep things quite for Powell's career, but their names are together on passenger lists to Cuba in 1931, suggesting that they were still vacationing together as man and wife.
His image can be seen on vintage sheet music covers of the late 1920s with boyish face and titles such as, "The One I Love Just Doesn't Want to be Bothered With Me."
Powell then found great success as the Master of Ceremonies at the Enright Theater and the Stanley Theater. Powell's charm and good looks made him a natural and engaging host. In 1930 Powell managed to impress the Warner Bros. with his singing and immense stage presence. They thought that Powell was destined to be in pictures and they offered him a contract. Dick Powell made his film debut playing a man very much as he was in real life and impersonating his own persona as a Master of Ceremonies, singing and leading a band in Blessed Event.
That was all audiences needed to see before they were demanding that Dick Powell's natural charm and fine tenor voice had a place in film. He was cast in musicals such as 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, and On the Avenue.
It was during this time that Powell met Joan Blondell. The two hit it off right away and were married in 1936. It has been suggested that Powell divorced his first wife to marry Joan, either way they had two children together, a daughter, Ellen, and an adopted son, Norman.
|Joan Blondell & Dick Powell|
Although grateful for the work, Dick Powell wanted to expand his range but the Warner Bros. did not want him to step out of his sweet, boyish character. Powell understood well that his is how actors become typecast, and moreover, he was in his 30s and could not be cute and boyish forever.
Although adorable, Powell was intelligent and thoughtful. He wanted to be his own man and refused to let his career be dictated by anyone other than himself. A lifelong Republican, Powell was one to take the bull by the horns and create his own success, and wealth, by cutting his own path. Powell still making light musicals in the 1940s, but his voice was changing due in part to his smoking and the fact that his persona was the charming boy with the high tenor voice, but it was fading fast. When he heard that the film noir, Double Indemnity, was being cast, he wanted the part of Walther, the husband killer, but another Hollywood nice guy got the part, Fred MacMurray. The film was a hit and MacMurray launched his career to new heights, and Powell was not more determined than ever to change his image.
Dick Powell met June Allyson during his treadmill years. He was just coming out of his 'singing sweetheart' years and June was just embarking on her career. Powell helped the young girl with her career and June fell madly in love with Powell, who she said was not easy to get walking down the isle a third time.
In 1944 Powell officially embarked on the second part of his Hollywood career when he was cast as Phillip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet. The Phillip Marlowe character would be brought to the screen again in more films, such as, The Lady in the Lake, but Powell's interpretation of the character turned out to be the one audiences liked best. He played the character again for radio and television, but it was certain that Dick Powell was now considered a serious actor and was officially done with singing.
|Powell with June Allyson|
Powell and Allyson married after Powell divorced the very bitter Joan Blondell in 1945. He had two children with June Allyson, Richard Powell Jr, and an adopted daughter, Pamela.
Powell, was a serious straight man in suspenseful films such as Cornered, Pitfall, and Johnny O'Clock.
After establishing himself firmly as a non singing, regular guy, Powell played an adult version of what he had began his film career being; a man to make the ladies swoon.
He was one to make lady hearts throb in The Reformer and the Redhead, and Susan Slept Here.
Besides the major change in his on screen persona, he was regularly working on radio, television, and even directing. Had Powell been dropped from the entertainment business completely he would not have fretted. Ever the entrepreneur, Powell had been making real estate investments ever since his early days in Hollywood during the 1930s.
In September of 1962 Powell announced that he was having treatment for cancer that was discovered in his lungs and neck, and dick Powell died of lymphoma at the age of 58 on January 2, 1963.