Dick Powell
Dick Powell in 1962
Richard Ewing Powell

(1904-11-14)November 14, 1904
DiedJanuary 2, 1963(1963-01-02) (aged 58)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
  • Actor
  • musician
  • producer
  • director
Years active1930–1963
Mildred Maund
(m. 1925; div. 1932)
(m. 1936; div. 1944)
(m. 1945)
Children4, including Norman Powell
Dick Powell

Richard Ewing Powell (November 14, 1904 – January 2, 1963)[citation needed] was an American actor, singer, musician, producer, director, and studio head. Though he came to stardom as a musical comedy performer, he showed versatility and successfully transformed into a hardboiled leading man, starring in projects of a more dramatic nature. He was the first actor to portray private detective Philip Marlowe on screen.

Early life

Powell was born the middle of three sons of Ewing Powell and mother Sally Rowena in Mountain View,[1][2] the seat of Stone County in northern Arkansas. His brothers were Howard (the eldest) and Luther (the youngest). The family moved the boys to Little Rock in 1914, where Powell sang in church choirs and with local orchestras and started his own band.[3] Powell attended the former Little Rock College before he started his entertainment career as a singer with the Royal Peacock Band, which toured throughout the Midwest.[citation needed]

During this time, he married Mildred Maund, a model, but she found being married to an entertainer not to her liking. After a final trip to Cuba together, Mildred moved to Hemphill, Texas, and the couple divorced in 1932.[3] Later, Powell joined the Charlie Davis Orchestra, based in Indianapolis.[3] He recorded a number of records with Davis and on his own for the Vocalion label in the late 1920s.

Ruby Keeler and Powell in Footlight Parade (1933)
Dick Powell in a trailer for Dames (1934)
Dick Powell and Inez Asher
Guest stars for the premiere episode of The Dick Powell Show, "Who Killed Julie Greer?" Standing, from left: Ronald Reagan, Nick Adams, Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Rooney, Edgar Bergen, Jack Carson, Ralph Bellamy, Kay Thompson, and Dean Jones, seated, from left, Carolyn Jones and Dick Powell.


Dick Powell in 1934

Powell moved to Pittsburgh, where he found great local success as the master of ceremonies at the Enright Theater and the Stanley Theater.[3]

Warner Bros.

In April 1930, Warner Bros. bought Brunswick Records, which at that time owned Vocalion. Warner Bros. was sufficiently impressed by Powell's singing and stage presence to offer him a film contract in 1932. He made his film debut as a singing bandleader in Blessed Event.[4]

He was borrowed by Fox Film to support Will Rogers in Too Busy to Work (1932). He was a boyish crooner, the sort of role in which he specialized for the next few years. Back at Warner Bros., he supported George Arliss in The King's Vacation, then was in 42nd Street (both 1933), playing the love interest for Ruby Keeler. The film was a massive hit.

Warner Bros. (WB) got him basically to repeat the role in Gold Diggers of 1933, another big success. So too was Footlight Parade (also 1933), with Keeler and James Cagney.

Powell was upped to star for College Coach (1933), then went back to more ensemble pieces including 42nd Street, Convention City (both 1933), Wonder Bar, Twenty Million Sweethearts, and Dames (all 1934).[3]

Happiness Ahead was more of a star vehicle for Powell, as was Flirtation Walk (both 1934). He was top-billed in Gold Diggers of 1935 and Broadway Gondolier (both 1935), both with Joan Blondell. He supported Marion Davies in Page Miss Glory (1935), made for Cosmopolitan Pictures, a production company financed by Davies' lover William Randolph Hearst, who released through WB.

WB gave him a change of pace, casting him as Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).

More typical was Shipmates Forever (1935) with Keeler. 20th Century Fox borrowed him for Thanks a Million (1935); back at WB, he did Colleen (1936) with Keeler and Blondell. Powell was reunited with Marion Davies in another for Cosmopolitan, Hearts Divided (1936), playing Napoleon's brother.

He made three films with Blondell, Broadway Gondolier (1935), Stage Struck (1936) and Gold Diggers of 1937. 20th Century Fox then borrowed him again for On the Avenue (1937).

Back at WB, he appeared in The Singing Marine and Varsity Show (both 1937), Hollywood Hotel, Cowboy from Brooklyn, Hard to Get, Going Places (all 1938), and Naughty but Nice (1939). Fed up with the repetitive nature of these roles, Powell left WB and went to work for Paramount Pictures.


At Paramount, Blondell and Powell were cast together again in the drama I Want a Divorce (1940). Then Powell got a chance to appear in another non-musical, Christmas in July (1940), a screwball comedy which was the second feature directed by Preston Sturges.

Universal borrowed him to support Abbott and Costello in In the Navy (1941), one of the most popular films of 1941. At Paramount he had a cameo in Star Spangled Rhythm and co-starred with Mary Martin in Happy Go Lucky (both 1943). He supported Dorothy Lamour in Riding High (1943).

In 1944, he was in a fantasy comedy directed by René Clair, It Happened Tomorrow, then went over to MGM to appear opposite Lucille Ball in Meet the People, which was a box-office flop.

During this period, Powell starred in the musical Campana Serenade, which was broadcast on NBC radio (1942–1943) and CBS radio (1943–1944).[5]

"Tough guy"

By 1944, Powell felt he was too old to play romantic leading men anymore,[citation needed] so he lobbied to play the lead in Double Indemnity. He lost out to Fred MacMurray, another Hollywood nice guy. MacMurray's success, however, fueled Powell's resolve to pursue projects with greater range.

Powell's career changed dramatically when he was cast in the first of a series of films noir, as private detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944), directed by Edward Dmytryk at RKO. The film was a big hit, and Powell had successfully reinvented himself as a dramatic actor. He was the first actor to play Marlowe – by name – in motion pictures. (Hollywood had previously adapted some Marlowe novels, but with the lead character changed.) Later, Powell was the first actor to play Marlowe on radio in 1944 and 1945 and on television in a 1954 episode of Climax! Powell also played the slightly less hard-boiled detective Richard Rogue in the radio series Rogue's Gallery beginning in 1945.

In 1945, Dmytryk and Powell reteamed to make the film Cornered, a gripping post-World War II thriller that helped define the film noir style.

For Columbia, he played a casino owner in Johnny O'Clock (1947) and made To the Ends of the Earth (1948). Also in 1948, he stepped out of the brutish type when he starred in Pitfall, a film noir in which a bored insurance-company worker falls for an innocent but dangerous woman, played by Lizabeth Scott.

He broadened his range appearing in a Western, Station West (1948) and a French Foreign Legion tale, Rogues' Regiment (1949). He was a Mountie in Mrs. Mike (1950).

From 1949 to 1953, Powell played the lead role in the NBC radio theater production Richard Diamond, Private Detective. His character in the 30-minute weekly show was a likable private detective with a quick wit. Many episodes ended with Detective Diamond having an excuse to sing a little song to his date, showcasing Powell's vocal abilities. Many of the episodes were written by Blake Edwards. When Richard Diamond came to television in 1957, the lead role was portrayed by David Janssen, who did no singing in the series. Prior to the Richard Diamond series, he starred in Rogue's Gallery. He played Richard Rogue, private detective. The Richard Diamond tongue-in-cheek persona developed in the Rogue series.

Powell took a break from tough-guy roles in The Reformer and the Redhead (1950), opposite wife June Allyson. Then he was back to tougher movies: Right Cross (1950), a boxing film with Allyson; Cry Danger (1951), as an ex-convict; The Tall Target (1951), at MGM directed by Anthony Mann, playing a detective who tries to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

He returned to comedy with You Never Can Tell (1951). Powell had a supporting role in MGM's popular melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). His final film performance was in a romantic comedy Susan Slept Here (1954) for director Frank Tashlin.

Even when he appeared in lighter fare such as The Reformer and the Redhead and Susan Slept Here, he never sang in his later roles. The latter, his final onscreen appearance in a feature film, did include a dance number with co-star Debbie Reynolds.


By this stage, Powell had turned director. His feature debut was Split Second (1953) at RKO Pictures. He followed it with The Conqueror (1956), coproduced by Howard Hughes and starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan. The exterior scenes were filmed in St. George, Utah, downwind of U.S. above-ground atomic tests. The cast and crew totaled 220, and of that number, 91 had developed some form of cancer by 1981, and 46 had died of cancer by then, including Powell and Wayne.[6]

He directed Allyson opposite Jack Lemmon in You Can't Run Away from It (1956). Powell then made two war films at Fox with Robert Mitchum, The Enemy Below (1957) and The Hunters (1958).


In the 1950s, Powell was one of the founders of Four Star Television,[1] with Charles Boyer, David Niven, and Ida Lupino. He appeared in and supervised several shows for that company. Shortly before his death, Powell sang on camera for the final time in a guest-star appearance on Four Star's Ensign O'Toole, singing "The Song of the Marines", which he first sang in his 1937 film The Singing Marine. He hosted and occasionally starred in his Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater on CBS from 1956 to 1961, and his final anthology series, The Dick Powell Show on NBC from 1961 through 1963; after his death, the series continued through the end of its second season (as The Dick Powell Theater), with guest hosts.

Personal life

June Allyson and Dick Powell in 1962

Powell was the son of Ewing Powell and Sallie Rowena Thompson.

He married three times:

Powell's ranch-style house was used for exterior filming on the ABC TV series, Hart to Hart. Powell was a friend of Hart to Hart actor Robert Wagner and producer Aaron Spelling. The estate, known as Amber Hills, is on 48 acres in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles.

Powell enjoyed general aviation as a private pilot.[7]

Illness and death

On September 27, 1962, Powell acknowledged rumors that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. The disease was originally diagnosed as an allergy, with Powell first experiencing symptoms while traveling east to promote his program. Upon his return to California, Powell's personal physician conducted tests and found malignant tumors on his neck and chest.[8]

The marker on Dick Powell's niche in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, incorrectly identifies his year of death as 1962. Powell died at the age of 58 on January 2, 1963.[9]

It is speculated Powell developed cancer as a result of his participation in the film The Conqueror, which was filmed at St. George, Utah, near a site used by the U.S. military for nuclear testing. About a third of the actors who participated in the film developed cancer, including Powell, who directed the film, John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead.[10] However, in a 2001 interview with Larry King, Powell's widow June Allyson stated that the cause of death was lung cancer due to his chain smoking.[11]

During the 15th Primetime Emmy Awards on May 26, 1963, the Television Academy presented a posthumous Television Academy Trustee Award to Dick Powell for his contributions to the industry. The award was accepted by two of his former partners in Four Star Television, Charles Boyer and David Niven.

Dick Powell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard.[12]


As actor


Year Film Role Director Notes
1932 Blessed Event Bunny Harmon Roy Del Ruth
Big City Blues Radio Announcer Mervyn LeRoy Uncredited; voice only
Too Busy to Work Dan Hardy John G. Blystone
1933 The King's Vacation John Kent John G. Adolfi
42nd Street Billy Lawler Lloyd Bacon
Gold Diggers of 1933 Brad Roberts Busby Berkeley
Footlight Parade Scotty Blair
College Coach Phil Saegent William A. Wellman
Convention City Jerry Ford Archie Mayo Lost film
1934 Wonder Bar Tommy Busby Berkeley
Twenty Million Sweethearts Buddy Clayton Ray Enright
Dames Jimmy Higgens Busby Berkeley
Happiness Ahead Bob Lane Mervyn LeRoy
Flirtation Walk Dick "Canary" Dorcy Frank Borzage
1935 Gold Diggers of 1935 Dick Curtis Busby Berkeley
Broadway Gondolier Richard "Dick" Purcell Lloyd Bacon
Broadway Hostess Quartet member Frank McDonald Uncredited
Page Miss Glory Bingo Nelson Mervyn LeRoy
A Midsummer Night's Dream Lysander Max Reinhardt & William Dieterle
Shipmates Forever Dick Melville III Frank Borzage
Thanks a Million Eric Land Roy Del Ruth
1936 Colleen Donald Ames Alfred E. Green
Hearts Divided Capt. Jerome Bonaparte Frank Borzage
Stage Struck George Randall Busby Berkeley
Gold Diggers of 1937 Rosmer Peak Lloyd Bacon
1937 On the Avenue Gary Blake William Seiter
The Singing Marine Bob Brent Busby Berkeley
Varsity Show Charles "Chuck" daly William Keighley
Hollywood Hotel Ronnie Bowers Busby Berkeley
1938 Cowboy from Brooklyn Ellyn Jordan / Wyoming Steve Gibson Lloyd Bacon
Hard to Get Bill Davis Ray Enright
Going Places Peter Mason
1939 Naughty but Nice Prof. Donald Hardwick
1940 I Want a Divorce Alan MacNally Ralph Murphy
Christmas in July Jimmy McDonald Preston Sturges
1941 Model Wife Fred Chambers Leigh Jason
In the Navy Thomas Halstead Arthur Lubin
1942 Star Spangled Rhythm Himself Paul Weatherwax Segment: "Hit the Road to Dreamland"
1943 Happy Go Lucky Pete Hamilton Curtis Bernhardt
Riding High Steve Baird George Marshall
True to Life Link Ferris
1944 It Happened Tomorrow Larry Stevens René Clair
Meet the People William "Swanee" Swanson Charles Reisner
Murder, My Sweet Philip Marlowe Edward Dmytryk released in the UK as Farewell, My Lovely
1945 Cornered Laurence Gerard
1947 Johnny O'Clock Johnny O'Clock Robert Rossen
1948 To the Ends of the Earth Commissioner Michael Barrows Robert Stevenson
Pitfall John Forbes Andre de Toth
Station West Haven Sidney Lanfield
Rogues' Regiment Whit Corbett Robert Florey
1949 Mrs. Mike Sgt. Mike Flannigan Louis King
1950 The Reformer and the Redhead Andrew Rockton Hale Norman Panama & Melvin Frank
Right Cross Rick Garvey John Sturges
1951 The Tall Target John Kennedy Anthony Mann
Cry Danger Rocky Mulloy Robert Parrish
You Never Can Tell Rex Shepard Lou Breslow
1953 The Bad and the Beautiful James Lee Bartlow Vincente Minnelli
1954 Susan Slept Here Mark Christopher Frank Tashlin

Short subjects

As director

Radio appearances

Powell was the first actor to play private detective Philip Marlowe on radio, in 1945.[citation needed]

Lux Radio Theatre appearances:

Date Episode Cast
December 21, 1936 Gold Diggers Joan Blondell, Dick Powell
May 19, 1941 Model Wife Dick Powell, Joan Blondell
January 18, 1943 My Gal Sal Mary Martin, Dick Powell
May 22, 1944 Springtime in the Rockies Betty Grable, Dick Powell, Carmen Miranda
June 26, 1944 Christmas In July Dick Powell, Linda Darnell
November 20, 1944 It Started With Eve Charles Laughton, Dick Powell
June 11, 1945 Murder, My Sweet Dick Powell, Claire Trevor
May 12, 1947 Johnny O'Clock Dick Powell, Lee J. Cobb
November 8, 1948 Pitfall Dick Powell, Jane Wyatt, Lizbeth Scott
May 23, 1949 To The Ends Of The Earth Dick Powell, Signa Hasso
April 24, 1950 Mrs. Mike Dick Powell, Gene Tierney
June 25, 1951 The Reformer and the Redhead Dick Powell, June Allyson
January 11, 1955 Island in the Sky Dick Powell, Lamont Johnson
May 17, 1955 Little Boy Lost Dick Powell, Gladys Holland
Year Program Episode/source
1945–1946 Rogue's Gallery played detective Richard Rogue
1949–1953 Richard Diamond, Private Detective played Richard Diamond (NBC radio theater production)
1948 (Premiere) Johnny Dollar played insurance investigator Johnny Dollar
1952 Stars in the Air The Bride Goes Wild[13]

Partial list of recordings


  1. ^ a b "Film World Mourns Dick Powell; Jack Carson". St. Petersburg Times. January 4, 1963. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  2. ^ "Dick Powell". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Richard Ewing Powell." Dictionary of American Biography (1981) Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
  4. ^ "Dick Powell." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers Vol. 3. (2000) Gale, Detroit
  5. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  6. ^ Olson, James (2002) Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer and History, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland ISBN 0-8018-6936-6
  7. ^ "A Plane Crazy America". AOPA Pilot: 79. May 2014.
  8. ^ "Powell acknowledges cancer treatments" (PDF). Broadcasting: 9. October 1, 1962.
  9. ^ Pathé, British. "U.S.A.: Dick Powell's Funeral". www.britishpathe.com. Retrieved January 9, 2023.
  10. ^ "The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents". People. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  11. ^ "Transcripts". CNN. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  12. ^ "hollywoodusa.co.uk". Archived from the original on June 7, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  13. ^ Kirby, Walter (February 24, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 38. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  14. ^ Orodenker, M.H. (March 7, 1942). "On the Records". Billboard. p. 66.
  15. ^ Grudens, Richard (1998). The Music Men: The Guys who Sang with the Bands and Beyond. celebrity profiles publilshing. ISBN 978-1-57579-097-8.
  16. ^ Nash, Jay Robert; Connelly, Robert; Ross, Stanley Ralph (1987). The Motion Picture Guide. Cinebooks. ISBN 978-0-933997-00-4.