William Powell
1936 portrait for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by George Hurrell
William Horatio Powell

(1892-07-29)July 29, 1892
DiedMarch 5, 1984(1984-03-05) (aged 91)
Resting placeDesert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California, U.S.
Years active1911–1955
(m. 1915; div. 1930)
(m. 1931; div. 1933)
(m. 1940)
PartnerJean Harlow (1934–1937)
ChildrenWilliam David Powell

William Horatio Powell (July 29, 1892 – March 5, 1984) was an American actor, known primarily for his film career. Under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he was paired with Myrna Loy in 14 films, including the Thin Man series based on the Nick and Nora Charles characters created by Dashiell Hammett. Powell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times: for The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), and Life with Father (1947).

Early life

Powell was born in Pittsburgh in 1892,[1] the only child of Nettie Manila (née Brady) and Horatio Warren Powell, an accountant.[2][3] In 1907, young William moved with his family to Kansas City, Missouri, where he graduated from Central High School four years later.[citation needed]


Powell in When Knighthood Was in Flower, 1922
Phillips Holmes, Powell and Fay Wray in Pointed Heels, 1929

After high school, Powell enrolled at the University of Kansas to study law, but after a week he relocated to New York City, where he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.[3][4] In 1912, Powell left the AADA, and began working in vaudeville and stock companies.[5] He also appeared on Broadway.[6][7] Powell began his Hollywood career in 1922, in a production of Sherlock Holmes with John Barrymore. He performed as Francis I in When Knighthood Was in Flower with Marion Davies.[8]

Powell remained under contract to Paramount throughout the 1920s, before signing with Warner Bros.

Powell portrayed a vengeful film director in the silent movie The Last Command (1928). His first starring role was Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929). He played Vance at Paramount Pictures four times. His strong stage-developed voice became a powerful asset when talking pictures were introduced.

Promotional photo for The Thin Man (1934) with Powell, co-star Myrna Loy, and Skippy as Asta

Powell appeared as Nick Charles in six Thin Man films, beginning with The Thin Man in 1934, based upon Dashiell Hammett's novel. This movie provided Powell with his first Academy Award nomination, in 1935[9]

Powell starred in The Great Ziegfeld, (1936), opposite his The Thin Man co-star, Myrna Loy, who played Ziegfeld's wife, Billie Burke. In 1937, Powell received his second Academy Award nomination for the comedy My Man Godfrey.[10]

In 1935, he starred with Jean Harlow in Reckless. In 1936, Harlow and Powell appeared in Libeled Lady, and they became romantically involved off-set. He gave her a handsome ring, but did not ask her to marry him, so she referred to it as her "unengagement ring". Powell had been unhappy with his previous marriage to popular actor Carole Lombard, and this apparently kept him from entering a similar arrangement with Harlow, who was a sex symbol to the film-going public during that time. They kept company but did not live together. Harlow fell ill from undiagnosed kidney failure while working on a film with Clark Gable, and died before the film was completed, from uremia, at age 26 in June 1937.[11]

Powell received his third Academy Award nomination in 1947 for his role as Clarence Day Sr. in Life with Father.[12] His last film was playing the character Doc in 1955's Mister Roberts.

Personal life

On April 15, 1915, Powell married Eileen Wilson, who was born Julia Mary Tierney. The couple had a son, William David Powell. They divorced in 1930. Powell's son became a television writer and producer before a period of ill health and depression led to his suicide in 1968.[13]

On June 26, 1931, Powell married actress Carole Lombard. They divorced in 1933, but starred in My Man Godfrey three years later. Powell was devastated by her death in an airplane crash in 1942.[14] He was romantically involved with Jean Harlow, his co-star in Reckless (1935), until her unexpected death from illness in 1937.[15][16] On January 6, 1940, three weeks after they met, Powell married his third wife, actress Diana Lewis, who cancelled her film career to be his full-time wife. They remained married until his death in 1984.[17]

A Republican, Powell supported Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election[18] and the 1948 United States presidential election.[19]


In March 1938, Powell was diagnosed with rectal cancer.[4][20] He underwent surgery and experimental radium treatment, which put the disease in full remission within two years. Given his own health and sorrow over Jean Harlow's death, Powell did not undertake any film roles for more than a year during this period.[21]


Powell died in Palm Springs, California, on March 5, 1984, at the age of 91 from pneumonia. He is buried at the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California, near his third wife, Diana Lewis, and his only child, William David Powell.[1][22]


Academy Awards nominations

Other awards

New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in 1947 for Life with Father and The Senator Was Indiscreet.[23]

William Powell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1636 Vine Street.

In 1992, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[24]

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1936 Lux Radio Theatre The Thin Man
1938 Lux Radio Theatre My Man Godfrey
1939 Lux Radio Theatre One Way Passage
1939 Lux Radio Theatre The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
1940 The Campbell Playhouse It Happened One Night
1940 Lux Radio Theatre Love Affair
1940 Lux Radio Theatre After the Thin Man
1940 Lux Radio Theatre Manhattan Melodrama[25]
1941 Lux Radio Theatre Hired Wife
1942 Lux Radio Theatre Love Crazy
1943 Lux Radio Theatre The Lady Has Plans
1944 Lux Radio Theatre Shadow of a Doubt
1944 Lux Radio Theatre Suspicion
1946 Reader's Digest Radio Edition He Fell in Love with a Picture[25]: 33 
1948 Lux Radio Theatre I Love You Again
1948 Lux Radio Theatre Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid
1949 Screen Directors Playhouse Love Crazy[26]
1953 Suspense "The Man Who Cried Wolf"[27]


Powell and John Barrymore in Sherlock Holmes (1922)
Powell as George Wilson in The Great Gatsby (1926)
Powell, Marion Shilling, Regis Toomey, Natalie Moorhead in Shadow of the Law (1930)
Lobby card with Carole Lombard in Man of the World (1931)
Lobby card with Powell and Ginger Rogers in Star of Midnight (1935)
Lobby card with Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in Libeled Lady (1936)
Lobby card featuring Myrna Loy and Powell in After the Thin Man (1936)
Carole Lombard and Powell in My Man Godfrey (1936)
Irene Dunne and Powell in Life with Father (1947)
Powell, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Year Title Role Notes
1922 Sherlock Holmes Foreman Wells
When Knighthood Was in Flower Francis I
Outcast DeValle Lost film
1923 The Bright Shawl Gaspar De Vaca
Under the Red Robe Duke of Orleans
1924 Dangerous Money Prince Arnolfo da Pescia Lost film
Romola Tito Melema
1925 Too Many Kisses Julio
Faint Perfume Barnaby Powers Lost film
My Lady's Lips Scott Seddon[28]
The Beautiful City Nick Di Silva Lost film
The New Commandment[29] Lost film
1926 White Mice Roddy Forrester Incomplete film
Sea Horses Lorenzo Salvia Lost film
Desert Gold Snake Landree Lost film
The Runaway Jack Harrison Lost film
Aloma of the South Seas Van Templeton Lost film
Beau Geste Boldini
The Great Gatsby George Wilson Lost film
Trailer extant
Tin Gods Tony Santelli Lost film
1927 New York Trent Regan Lost film
Love's Greatest Mistake Don Kendall Lost film
Special Delivery Harold Jones
Senorita Manuel Oliveros
Time to Love Prince Alado Lost film
Paid to Love Prince Eric
Nevada Clan Dillon
She's a Sheik Kada
1928 The Last Command Lev Andreyev
Beau Sabreur Becque Lost film
Trailer extant
Feel My Pulse Her Nemesis
Partners in Crime Smith
The Drag Net Dapper Frank Trent Lost film
The Vanishing Pioneer John Murdock Lost film
Forgotten Faces Froggy
Interference Philip Voaze Powell's sound debut
1929 The Canary Murder Case Philo Vance
The Four Feathers Capt. William Trench
The Greene Murder Case Philo Vance
Charming Sinners Karl Kraley
Pointed Heels Robert Courtland
1930 Behind the Make-Up Gardoni
Street of Chance John D. Marsden / 'Natural' Davis
The Benson Murder Case Philo Vance
Paramount on Parade Philo Vance
Shadow of the Law John Nelson
For the Defense William Foster
1931 Man of the World Michael Trevor
Ladies' Man Jamie Darricott
The Road to Singapore Hugh Dawltry
1932 High Pressure Gar Evans
Jewel Robbery The Robber
One Way Passage Dan Hardesty
Lawyer Man Anton Adam
1933 Private Detective 62 Free
Double Harness John Fletcher
The Kennel Murder Case Philo Vance
1934 Fashions of 1934 Sherwood Nash
Manhattan Melodrama Jim Wade
The Thin Man Nick Charles
The Key Capt. Bill Tennant
Evelyn Prentice John Prentice
1935 Star of Midnight Clay 'Dal' Dalzell
Reckless Ned Riley
Escapade Fritz
Rendezvous Lieutenant Bill Gordon
The Casino Murder Case "A new man" uncredited cameo
1936 The Great Ziegfeld Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford Dr. Lawrence Bradford
My Man Godfrey Godfrey
Libeled Lady Bill Chandler
After the Thin Man Nick Charles
1937 The Last of Mrs. Cheney Charles
The Emperor's Candlesticks Baron Stephan Wolensky
Double Wedding Charles Lodge
1938 The Baroness and the Butler Johann Porok
1939 Another Thin Man Nick Charles
1940 I Love You Again Larry Wilson a.k.a. George Carey
1941 Love Crazy Steve Ireland
Shadow of the Thin Man Nick Charles
1942 Crossroads David Talbot, a.k.a. Jean Pelletier
1943 The Youngest Profession Himself
1944 The Heavenly Body William S. Whitley
1945 The Thin Man Goes Home Nick Charles
Ziegfeld Follies Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
1946 The Hoodlum Saint Terence Ellerton 'Terry' O'Neill
The Great Morgan Himself Voice, Uncredited
1947 Life with Father Clarence Day
Song of the Thin Man Nick Charles
The Senator Was Indiscreet Senator Melvin G. Ashton
1948 Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid Mr. Arthur Peabody
1949 Take One False Step Professor Andrew Gentling
Dancing in the Dark Emery Slade
1951 It's a Big Country Professor
1952 The Treasure of Lost Canyon Homer 'Doc' Brown
1953 The Girl Who Had Everything Steve Latimer
How to Marry a Millionaire J.D. Hanley
1955 Mister Roberts Doc (final film)

Short subjects

Box office rankings

See also: Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll

See also


  1. ^ a b Interments of Interest (PDF), Palm Springs Cemetery District, retrieved March 20, 2017
  2. ^ "Pennsylvania Births and Christenings, 1709–1950", Horatio Powell, July 29, 1892, son of H. W. Powell and Nettie B. Powell; Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Record accessed via FamilySearch archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 31, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Obituaries: William Powell, star of 'Thin Man' films", Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1984, p. N6. Retrieved via ProQuest Historical Newspapers through subscription access at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, January 31, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Flint, Peter B. (March 6, 1984). "William Powell, Film Star, Dies at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  5. ^ "William Powell Biography". Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  6. ^ Nathan, George Jean (October 1922). "A Ballet of Opinion". The Smart Set. Retrieved April 16, 2024.
  7. ^ Woollcott, Alexander (August 17, 1922). "The Play". The New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2024.
  8. ^ Life, Volume 80, p. 208
  9. ^ "1935 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  10. ^ "1937 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  11. ^ Christensen et al., p. 375.
  12. ^ "1948 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  13. ^ Parish, James Robert; Stanke, Don E. (1975). The Debonairs. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House. p. 459. ISBN 978-0870002939.
  14. ^ Bryant, p. 142.
  15. ^ Di Mambro, Dina. "Portrait of Harlow: The Original Blonde Bombshell". ClassicHollywoodBios.com. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  16. ^ "75 Years Ago, Saying Good-bye to Jean Harlow". DearMrGable.com. June 9, 2012. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  17. ^ "Obituary: Diana Lewis". The Independent. January 31, 1997.
  18. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (October 21, 2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107650282.
  19. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19481024&id=hyIhAAAAIBAJ&pg=3687,1753456
  20. ^ "Surgery: How Not to Die Of Cancer". Time. May 10, 1963. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  21. ^ Bryant, pp. 127–36.
  22. ^ Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: A guide to the cemeteries and grave sites of the rich and famous. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 240–42. ISBN 978-0762741014. OCLC 70284362.
  23. ^ "Awards – New York Film Critics Circle – NYFCC". www.nyfcc.com. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  24. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  25. ^ a b "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 37, no. 1. Winter 2011. p. 32.
  26. ^ "Radio Guide". Altoona Tribune. Altoona, PA. August 16, 1949. p. 19. Retrieved November 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  27. ^ "Texas Archival Resources Online". Texas Archival Resources Online. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  28. ^ Photoplay 1925-10: Vol 28 Iss 5:124.
  29. ^ New York Daily News 17 September 1925, p. 35; Los Angeles Daily News (historic) 23 October 1925, p. 16