July 29th, 2007

carole lombard 03
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Happy birthday, Bill Powell!



Today marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of William Powell, Carole Lombard's first husband and co-star in three films: "Man Of The World" and "Ladies' Man" (both 1931) and the screwball gem "My Man Godfrey" (1936).



Of course, Bill's most renowned co-star was Myrna Loy, whom he first teamed up with in "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934), also the only time both of Lombard's husbands (Powell and Clark Gable) appeared in the same film.



Powell and Loy made 13 more movies, including six in the delightful "Thin Man" series based on Dashiell Hammett's wry detective couple Nick and Nora Charles.



Powell's career was long and varied, even though he retired in 1955 and stayed away from acting until his death in 1984; best known for his urbane comedic skills, a talent in which only Cary Grant arguably rivaled him, Powell also excelled in dramatic roles (during the silent era, he was more often than not cast as a villain). His manner and classy speaking voice has long made him a favorite of revival audiences. (Incidentally, comedian Don Adams' clipped delivery was designed as an exaggeration of Powell's style. Nick Charles a spiritual antecedent of Maxwell Smart? As the Chief himself might have said, I find that hard to believe.)

One fascinating Powell artifact I have yet to come across was a radio appearance he made with his third and final wife, Diana Lewis, on CBS, the Gulf Screen Guild Theater of Jan, 18, 1943 -- an adaptation of "To Be Or Not To Be," presumably with Powell and Lewis in the roles Jack Benny and Carole Lombard portrayed on screen. (For some reason, probably its darkly comedic aspects, Ernst Lubitsch's film was never adapted for "Lux Radio Theater," the leading program of its kind.) One guesses from the date of the performance that it was designed as a tribute to Lombard on the first anniversary of her death.