Today is the 128th anniversary of the birth of William Powell, my favorite classic era actor, embracing Carole Lombard, my favorite classic era actress, at the time of their honeymoon in June 1931. While their marriage was relatively brief, ending in August 1933, their affection and friendship remained until Lombard's death in 1942, a tribute to their special relationship.
My fandom for him now has encompassed slightly more than half my lifetime; until the 1980s, if someone said "Powell" to me in a movie context, my first thought probably would've been "Dick." But while I was introduced to Bill via his ties to Carole, I've come not only to appreciate, but admire him for his comedic skill in films such as "Libeled Lady," which hit movie screens in October 1936, mere weeks after his triumph in "My Man Godfrey":
Turner Classic Movies has dozens of Powell films in its library and frequently plays them, introducing new generations of fans to his artistry. Now there's a way Powell's urbane army can learn more about him.
The Internet Archive and its progeny has been a godsend to researchers, especially those such as me who are passionate about film history. For more than a decade, the Media History Digital Library (https://mediahistoryproject.org/) has been invaluable to Carole & Co. and other sites. Part of the material that's been compiled is a colossal index of fan magazines (https://mediahistoryproject.org/fanmagazines/index.html), publications that provide insight into public perception of studios and their stars. To be sure, much of the material must be viewed as puffery, but you can get a feel for the industry's legends by reading between the lines.
Last year, someone decided to assemble a book compiling some fanmag pieces on Powell:
More on the book can be found on its rear cover:
It collects some 31 pieces of Powell, from well-known titles such as Picture Play, Photoplay, Screenland, Modern Screen, The New Movie Magazine -- even, the obscure, short-lived Talking Screen. Several of the stories are Lombard-related, dealing with their marriage, even the post-divorce period when some observers thought they'd reunite ("That Funny Divorce" from Elizabeth Wilson, Silver Screen, April 1934).
The first article is from 1925, when Powell was an up-and-coming silent actor renowned for playing villains, and extends to December 1934, when Myrna Loy had replaced Kay Francis as his best-known leading lady. Alas, there are no articles from Powell's peak year of 1936, when he not only starred in "Godfrey" and "Libeled Lady" but "The Great Ziegfeld" (Best Picture Oscar winner), "After The Thin Man" and "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford." Might copyright issues be a factor?
A softcover edition of "William Powell: Vintage Movie Magazines Revisited" is available for $34.95. Learn more at https://www.amazon.com/William-Powell-Vintage-Magazines-Revisited/dp/1092103287.
A fascinating premise -- perhaps it's time for a Carole Lombard version.
To close, Powell's magnificent fishing scene from "Libeled Lady," where he tries to pass himself off as an expert angler: