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William Horatio Powell


Born: July 29, 1892 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Died: March 5, 1984 - Palm Springs, California (cardiac arrest)

Spouses: Eileen Wilson (1915-1930, divorced); Carole Lombard (1931-1933, divorced); Diana Lewis (1940-1984). Had one son with Wilson.

Biography: William Powell was on the New York stage in 1912, but his film career did not begin until 1924. He was employed by Paramount Pictures, and played in a number of interesting films, but stardom was elusive. He did attract attention with The Last Command (1928) as Leo, the arrogant film director. Stardom finally came with his role as Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929), where he investigates the death of Louise Brooks, "the Canary".
Unlike many silent actors, sound boosted Powell's career. He had a fine, urbane voice, and his stage training and comic timing greatly aided his introduction to sound pictures. However, he was not happy with the type of roles he was playing at Paramount, so in 1931 he switched to Warner Brothers. He was again disappointed with his roles, and made his last appearance as Philo Vance in The Kennel Murder Case (1933). In 1934 Powell went to MGM, where he was teamed with Myrna Loy in Manhattan Melodrama (1934). While Philo Vance made Powell a star, it was another detective, Nick Charles, that made him famous. He received an Academy Award nomination for The Thin Man (1934), and two years later he starred in the Best Picture winner, The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
Powell could play any role with authority, whether in a comedy, thriller, or drama. He received his second Academy Award nomination for My Man Godfrey (1936), and was on top of the world until 1937.
His first picture with Jean Harlow was Reckless (1935); they clicked offscreen as well as onscreen, and shortly became engaged. While he was filming Double Wedding (1937) on one MGM sound stage, Harlow became ill on another and finally went to the hospital, where she died. Her death greatly upset both Powell and Myrna Loy, and he was off the movie for six weeks to deal with his sorrow. After that he traveled, and did not make another MGM film for a year. He filmed four sequels to "The Thin Man", with the last one being made in 1947. He also received his third Academy Award nomination for his work in Life with Father (1947). After that, his screen appearances became fewer, and his last role was in 1955.

- Biography courtesy of IMDb