He would become a television writer, whose work was seen on such series as 'Bonanza,' 'Death Valley,' 'Rawhide,' and '77 Sunset Strip.' He served as an associate producer at Warner Brothers Studios and at Universal Studios as well as holding a position at NBC.
After ill health precipitated his resignation, he was diagnosed with hepatitis and kidney ailments. His lifelong struggle with depression deepened, and at the age of 43, he wrote his father a four page farewell stating that he was "... going where it's better," stepped into a shower, and stabbed himself to death on March 13, 1968. His father never revealed anything else about the letter except the end of it. He was laid to rest at Cathedral City's Desert Memorial Park in Riverside County, California.
William Powell Sr retired from Hollywood in 1955 after filming a great role in the comedy Mister Roberts. Powell had difficulties retaining his lines during the filming of Mr. Roberts, something that had not happened to him in earlier films, and this was one of the reasons why this was his final film appearance. Frail health, including bouts with cancer, plus a difficult Hawaii location shoot ultimately led to the actor's retirement decision. He reportedly never got over his only child's death. The elder Powell died at the advanced age of 91 on March 5, 1984.
A sad but interesting story, David. Thanks for posting it.ReplyDelete
Not Powell's only trajedy. He lost a very young Jean Harlow in the 1930s.Delete
yes he did, I wondered why they just said only tragedy.Delete
There is some evidence that at the time of her death, Powell and Harlow were no longer in a personal relationship, because he had on several occasions postponed marrying Harlow. That would not have impacted the extent of Powell's grief at her untimely death.Delete
And while they were divorced by then, he apparently was devastated by Carole Lombard's death in '42. One tragedy? Keep counting.Delete
Sorry, didn't realise he had been married to Lombard before gable was.Delete
Lombard was the one to end their relationship, prior to Gable. It was reported that there was a pregnancy that resulted from his relationship with Jean Harlow that was aborted. Although they never married, he was devastated by her death and paid all funeral and burial expenses when she died.Delete
He married Lombard and said to Harlow that he was jealous of her! So with Harlow, he told her he wouldn't marry her since his marriage to Lombard filled him with his jealousy over her stardom!!!. a famous friend overheard this conversation and wrote about it! what an Ego!Delete
His ego was just fine. He was a big star when he married Lombard. She hadn't really attained stardom yet. Powell did a lot to help her with her career even after they divorced. He wouldn't take the role of Godfrey in My Man Godfrey if they didn't hire Lombard. He really had nothing to be jealous of while they were married. Actually, his modest ego allowed many young actresses/actors to benefit from the Powell's kindness. Whether allowing better billing for a newcomer, spending extra time with a teen to help her learn her lines and tips on delivery or having extreme patience with a young actor who kept flubbing his lines.Delete
Was the conversation by famous friend (some friend) written in a book or in an interview? I'd love to read it. I've never seen anything negative written about him. His kindness, intelligence, humor, generosity & sweetness was always what you would hear about him. Whether by a famous star or an average person who was lucky enough to have an encounter with him.
@cc Thank you for your comments concerning Mr. Powell. Your thoughts are much more believable than the person who commented previous to you.Delete
How awful! I never knew about William Powell's son. So sad.ReplyDelete
So sad. He lived quite a long time after his son died. I've always had a soft spot for William Powell. He had so much tragedy in his life, but always carried on with such dignity.ReplyDelete
An american actor, William Powell is paired in many films with Myrna Loy.ReplyDelete
His son's suicide was perhaps William Powell's greatest tragedy in his life, but a look at this man's fascinating life and career show so much more heartbreak for him. Jean Harlow's death devastated him, shortly after he, himself, came so close to death with illness. So many stars were there for him and not too many years after resuming his career he lost both his ex-wives, becoming a single parent. The one ex was Carole Lombard, who stood by him when he was so ill, and her death was also heartbreaking for him. With such crushing blows to this man, it wouldn't have been surprising if he had become one of the self-destructive Hollywood sad stories. He seemed to have such a rare strength and dignified character. His great partner, Myrna Loy, has so many wonderfully loving quotes about how sweet, kind and intelligent he was. There are so many other wonderful words or respect and admiration for this man from the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, Rosalind Russell, and Marilyn Monroe to name a few. These quotes show him to be a rare kind of man. He was always among the favorite to work with by all his leading ladies. It's so amazing that his career started on the stage in the 1910s! His career was so outstanding. Unfortunately, his career is underrated. It's a career that should have long ago been honored in some way. What this man did in the year of 1936 is truly amazing. The quality of everything he did that year is unbelievable and he even passed on the opportunity to take over John Barrymore's role in Romeo & Juliet. You'll never see that again. Sorry for the rant, but I have such a soft spot for him and it really does seem unfair.ReplyDelete
I too feel as you do about William Powell. 1 quote sticks in my mind about him, from Lombard.."the sob was acting, even in his pyjamas!" True or not, who cares..it's William Powell! Your tribute was lovely by the way!Delete
This wasn't a rant, it was a very well-considered and well-written tribute to a great actor and a fine man. Thank you for taking the time to write it.Delete
The baby pictured with William Powell was not his son. It is child actor, William Poulsen, not William David Powell.ReplyDelete
I too concur that William Powell should have been awarded some type of tribute for his work in the entertainment industry during his lifetime. He could play it all -- and well. His movies were hits with the public and brought into the studio coffers much coinage, yet he was never properly thanked for his work by his peers in the industry. Shameful.
I thought that child looked like the one who played Nick Jr in one of the Thin Man movies. Good catch! I love William Powell also...I had an uncle who looked just like him too!Delete
Bette Davis stated to Dick Cavett in a 71 interview (I think her best ever) if you go into this business expecting lots of gratification and thank yous for work well done you'll be very disappointed. She went on to say on her last day on Warner's lot it was just her and some asst carrying all her stuff to her car that night and tere were no farewells or jobs well done or anything like it and she'd basically Warner's main meal ticket some 17 years, so I wasn't surprised reading Powell received little to no recognition. That's Hollywood.Delete
Powell didn’t receive the recognition he deserved, but did remain beloved and remembered by his famous colleagues. Many would visit him at his Palm Springs home. He was often called one of Palm Springs favorites residents.Delete
"The son was plagued by emotional problems." Yep having narcissistic parents will do that to you. Shucks!ReplyDelete
THANK YOU for your honest analysis of this very sad situation! This story is NOT about William Powell and the kind of actor he may have been, it's about a lonely child who had a tough time growing! The funny thing is I could not find a picture of him as a grown up but plenty of his father.Delete
Because the father worked in front of the camera for decades, the son behind it. "Honest analysis" of a stranger. Myrna Loy mentions in her memoirs that Powell Sr. was also prone to depression. Powell is possibly the only actor to star in a classic comedy with his ex-wife. After surviving Harlow & Lombard, he married a starlet, a union that lasted to his death (decades after beating cancer - why he missed starring opposite Garbo in Ninotchka. That would have been a fun duo!).Delete
Powell & his son were close. There's no evidence Powell was a narcissist parent. People can be plagued by emotional problems no matter what their relationship with their parents.Delete
What an ignorant comment. You know absolutely nothing about how he was raised, yet here you are spewing catty, hateful (untrue) comments. You are a pathetic soul.Delete
There is a picture of him and his child.Delete
William Powell was anything but narcissistic. His son adored and admired his father. Powell tried very hard to shield his son from Hollywood when he was growing up. Bill, Jr. said his father wanted him to be liked for who he was and not Bill Powell’s son. Jr admitted to being a little devil and that his father was very patient with him, but not a pushover. The two would become even closer after Powell became a single father to his son after the boy’s mother died. Powell’s film output is noticeably light during that time. Jr proved to be as highly intelligent as his father. Graduating with honors from Princeton. Jr knew how proud his father was. Jr served in WWII and The Korean War (where he contracted the hepatitis that would become debilitating). He loved talking to his father long into the night on his visits to Palm Springs. His father would serve as his best man in his 1956 wedding at his Palm Springs home. There are pictures of father and son. Some very sweet ones when Bill, jr. Was young. William Powell was a very caring father.Delete
You too huh?!ReplyDelete
William Powell was most certainly a Class Act.I also find it rather odd that there is no picture of his son.It adds a bit of question as to 'WHY ?'ReplyDelete
Yes, why no pictures of William Powell Jr.? After all, he did work in the industry. Maybe he was more reclusive because of his emotional disability? // William Powell is/was one of my favorites. Discovered his movies once I started watching Turner Classic. He seems to have been well liked by peers. Even his exes had nice things to say about him. Seems he and his first wife made many attempts at reconciliation during their time together. Was the short marriage to Carol Lombard a rebound relationship, considering his 3rd marriage lasted for 40+ years? // If he were indeed, narcissistic it would more than likely showed up while working with other artists he spent a good amount of time with such as Myrna Loy. No one had a bad word about him, it seems. Pretty hard to hide that trait. By all indications, he had a great relationship with both his father and stepmother. Whose to say what causes emotional distress, depression for each individual? No easy answers. //ReplyDelete
William Powell remains one of the greatest film actors of all time. He was an excellent dramatic actor, but his ability to play light comedy was unsurpassed. His partnership with Myrna Loy is among the best comedy ever put on film. He, like his closest counterpart, Cary Grant, could play anything including hilarious physical comedy (see Love Crazy, 1941). Like Grant, Powell was always suave, sophisticated, graceful, and debonair, even when he was playing wacky slapstick. For me, he and Myrna Loy were even better than Tracy and Hepburn (great as they were). Where Tracy/Hepburn were usually in competition and their banter always came with a sting, Powell and Loy's couples always seemed to be deeply bonded, held together by love and unreserved trust in one another. Tracy and Hepburn seemed to like to play at war; Powell and Loy seemed to savor playing at play. I have been in love with William Powell and Myrna Loy since I was a child. I never get tired of watching Nick and Nora Charles and their witty banter, just as I never tire of watching Cary Grant because all three of these actor (Powell, Loy, Grant) NEVER EVER let you see them Acting. They always made it look absolutely effortless. I knew about Powell's devastation at the loss of Lombard and Harlow, but I never knew about this life was so hounded by tragedy. I appreciate so much your sharing this story about his life. I don't understand why there isn't a statue of Powell and Loy in front of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. If anyone wants to learn what great acting is, these are the ones to study.ReplyDelete
Well said! I couldn't agree more. William Powell was such a fantastic actor. My favorite of them all. The smoothest, most debonair man who ever graced the screen. No one else even compares. He should be mentioned in the same breath as Gable, Grant, Cooper and all the other powerhouse stars of that era.Delete
Another actor who I find very underrated is a young Robert Montgomery. His movies of the 30's are gems.
Apparently Hitchcock thought Powell was the greatest practitioner of physical comedy on screen, perhaps from watching him try to fish in Libeled Lady. Also his elevator & drag antics in Love Me Again. Hitch wanted to cast him as gigolo serial killer Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt, MGM wouldn't release him. Later he wanted to cast Loy as the mother in Marnie (she'd have been heartbreaking). Only Hitchcock could look @ Nick & Nora Charles & see a serial killer & broken down old whore!Delete
Treat yourself to Powell playing a Uncle Charlie on Lux Radio Theatre’s adaptation of Shadow of a Doubt from Jan 3 1944. Also starring Teresa Wright from the film cast. He’s one of my faves too. He’s in lots of other Lux adaptations including The Thin Man, After The Thin Man with Loy(!) and My Man Godfrey with Lombard! These were broadcast in front of a live audience and it’s nice to hear them speak as themselves after the show too. He was so amazing!!Delete
I adored William Powell in every movie from the Thin man right to mr Roberts. I enjoyed him with Kay Francis in One Way passage and a favorite was the great Ziegfeld. I could watch them over and over again. He was debonair, handsome and a real gentleman. I loved his voice as well. Sorry for the sadness he experienced.Delete
William Powell is one of my favorite actors, and I would bet his personality wasn't too far from his character portrayals, being witty,intelligent, and very easy going...I really enjoyed the film "Heavenly Bodies" with Hedy Lamarr.ReplyDelete
I saw him recently in the silent film " When Knighthood was in flower" 1922 with Marion Davies. He had presence even then. He was a great actor with such an interesting face.ReplyDelete
One of the greatest! Narcissistic? You mean like a slug that comments about a man he never knew. Judge people much? His career was amazing and he was a by all accounts, a great manReplyDelete
I agree............ when he played Ziegfeld I was just entranced................Delete
William Powell narcissistic? I don't think so. He was greatly loved in Hollywood and known for his generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness and so many more wonderful traits. He was extremely close with his son. His son said as a child he was as charmed by his father as everybody else was. As an adult, William David talked about how, as a child, he acted out and felt more important than he was because he was William Powell's son. He dropped out of college and joined the marines, served in WWII and upon discharge came home and re-enrolled in college. Princeton. He graduated with honors. He started a successful career as a writer and associate producer. He spoke lovingly about his father. He poked fun at his ratty robes he wore, old car he drove and the old hats he loved. He loved spending time at his father's home with his wife. He and his father would stay up all night talking. His father was also his best man. WDP contracted hepatitis during his marine service in the Korean War. William Powell, in a letter to a friend, after his son's death, said that the hepatitis had become debilitating, causing him to have to leave his job. From the time William Powell brought his ex-wife and son to Hollywood, he kept did his best to keep them out of the public eye. I think William Powell was a fascinating man. He was incredibly intelligent, witty, charming and just a very decent and sweet man. He was also very modest, gracious and was very grateful for his fans. He was quite the Hollywood treasure and it's a shame that they have never acknowledged or honored him as he should be.ReplyDelete
It's to bad actors today aren't as great.Delete
A true star of the silver screen. Totally believable in every role no matter how theatrical. Miss his presence.Along with Cary Gtant, my all time favorites.ReplyDelete
Sheila - Agreed! I got completely immersed in every role he participated in bec it was incredibly believable! Powell, Cary Grant, and the much underrated supporting actor Edward Everett Horton are my all time favorites. I was born in the wrong era for sure. How I WISH a time machine would be a reality - I’d hightail it back to 1930 and stay.ReplyDelete
I always get William Powell and Melvyn Douglas mixed up.ReplyDelete
Me too! Is it because they look similar?Delete
I love William Powell. He was a great actor and he got everybody's attention when he was on screen. Him and Myrna Loyd were so matched perfectly in the Thin Man movies. Years go by and these great actors pass away, but will always still be with us through their good works on this earth and in their filmsReplyDelete
What a SAD and TRAGIC ending!!!! Of COURSE WIlliam Powell NEVER got over his son's passing!!!! Why on EARTH WOULD HE?!ReplyDelete
As I sit and watch My Man Godfrey at least the 12th time in my life time.Such a wonderful movie William and Carole was a great pair.I so wished they would of stayed together more than the 2years but the she wouldn't of been with Clark Gable.Would she of been on that plane coming home if she was still married to William.William was a great actor in his time and deserved more recognition for the fine work he did and whatever company he wwas making money for. My greatness wish is more actors with these greats from the 30's 40's where men were men I was born in the wrong era to be born and having a chance to experience Hollywood in this wonderful past era the Golden Age. Hollywood will never be the same.ReplyDelete
There is a pic of him as a young man on IMDBReplyDelete
I was lucky enough to have grown up knowing Bill snd Mousie innPalm Springs . He was already retired before I was born . He and Mousie were both incredible and philanthropic people! He use to watch me ride , he even nick named me VV for Viking Venus ! They were close personal friends of my parents in the desert , I was the lucky kid who got to hang out with them !ReplyDelete
you are Lucky, wish I had known such a wonderful human.Delete
Any insightful stories from your childhood time with the Powell’s? I’ve seen various comments on just how likable he was. Very captivating man, even in his retirement.Delete
Definitely a big fan of the Great William PowellReplyDelete
I agree with everyone's comment on the title of the article. I have decided to change it.ReplyDelete
whats wrong with the title?Delete
The original title was William Powell and His Only Tragedy. He had a lot of tragedy in his life like the death of Jean Harlow so I changed it.Delete
William Powell has been one of my very favorites for over 50 years! He was so debonair, suave; and the epitome of cool; and a gifted and talented actor! I read that He dated Norma Shearer (I hope I got that correct); and during their courtship, he gifted her with a beautifully hand-carved mahogany cabinet full of bottles of every exquisite perfume you could think of! Also, who could forget that 100 plus carat Blue Star Sapphire ring he gave Jean Harlow?!?! Gosh darn. ..he was an extraordinary man!!!!ReplyDelete
William Powell was one of my favourite actors. He exuded sophistication mixed with easy going charm . So sorry to hear of his son's tragic ending .ReplyDelete
WilliamPowell was a fantastic actor and one of the coolest, sexiest,smoothest actors of the 30s and 40s. Always dressed to kill, no actor looked more tantalizing and denonair than he did in his impeccably fitted 3-piece suits and tux and tails. Dont forget his signature Fedoras. When he walked into a room, everybody noticed. I was surprised to learn that he and Jean Harlow had dated offscreen,but they had great chemistry onscreen in the 2 movies they made together.In "Libeled Lady" I could tell there was some fire brewing between them. Reportedly William and Jean were deeply in love and wanted to marry, but their movie studio forbid it. What a hreat power couple they would have made.ReplyDelete
So sad that William had such personal tragedies with the deaths of his 1st wife, 2nd wife Carole Lombard, his lover Jean Harlow, and then his son's suicide. What a remarkable man!
TCM will have his movies on all dayReplyDelete
today, celebrating his birthday. He is truly one of my favorites!
Can't think of any role he like the man wasn't great atReplyDelete
He has always been one of my favorite actors, and his pairings with Myrna Loy are some of the most enjoyable films ever. I love the charming intelligence he brings to each role. Does anyone know if there was ever a good biography written about him?ReplyDelete
I don't know if it's good, but a chap by the name of Charles Francisco wrote one. Not long after he died. Almost a year later.. Entitled 'Gentleman: The William Powell Story. Wish for anyone who reads this to have a lovely day/night/moment. Also watch a William Powell if you are feeling down <3Delete
But I think that if we dig enough we can find tragedy in everybody's lives.
I’m just 45, but I watch “golden oldies” more than anything. They’re a breath of fresh air. Most definitely William Powell helped make them that way.ReplyDelete
William Powell was the quintessential Golden Hollywood Star, a class act and a pleasure to watch. There’s none who come close. I love old Hollywood. I wish it still existedReplyDelete
Jean Harlow died of uremic poisoning as a result of infected kidneys. How bitterly ironic that Powell's son should suffer kidney problems.ReplyDelete
I cannot imagine anything more devastating for a parent than the death of a child.
After watching tonight "Another Thin Man", I researched little Nicky Jr., Willian A. Poulsen, and stumbled upon this article. It was a pleasure to read it, along with the above comments. I agree that William Powell was an exceptional actor, and tonight, I learned that he was an exceptional man as well. His life was marked by tragedies, yet he retained his dignity and will to live. I too wish that I could transport myself into the times of real Hollywood, the 30s, 40s and 50s. Even for a week or so ;)I am not American, but I lived in the US for about 13 years, where I became familiar with old Hollywood and old America from movies and documentaries. William Powell did not receive the recognition he deserved, and that's such a shame. He was a rare breed which personally, I don't find among today's actors. Violence, nudity and foul language rule today's Hollywood, and that's why I don't bother watching any movies done after the Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies. And what actresses during Powell's day...We can only watch all those wonderful movies and dream about a bygone era. I am binging on old classics during quarantine times, as a form of escapism. It makes me forget for a while about the way our world has come to.ReplyDelete
Me too! I have enjoyed classic movies for the first time ever and I am 75 years old. It is a great escape and I am so appreciative of the great William Powell whose talent in my book is unsurpassed. My Man Godfrey and Life with Father are my too favorites!Delete
All commentators here were delighted by his class.Delete
It is a bygone era because we have surrended.
Life is full of tragedies.
It takes time and hard working to not let what is worthwhile to vanish.
Also courage, maybe mainly courage. Is it why we are in a decayed world?
please dont mention the matrix and harry potter in the same breath as vintage hollywoodDelete
Class, a peek into how was life before inventions, and so on.ReplyDelete
But who would guess I would find more. In "Double Harness":
"Ever think of wanting children?"
Then I pick up the morning paper and read that the basic cause...of most of the misery and present world depression is overpopulation."
A 1933 movie, guys.
So, it is a pattern, not a real problem.
Since there is too much questions unanswered and censored, I am obliged do doubt the Chinese virus pandemia.
William Powell does have a second son.ReplyDelete
I am so in love with William Powell, what a great actor, I can't get enough of watching his classic films. He is so very handsome and seems like a very loving character. I will surely want to meet him in Heaven someday. I wish I was alive during his heyday. I really was so sad for him when I found out his son had died. Death is such a sad thing. Love you much Mr. Powell, maybe when I meet you someday I can be your true love....ReplyDelete
Someone said in the comments that Williams son killed himself because he was the victim of Narcissistic parents...while this comment doesn't even deserve a reply it is indictive of the writer of such an untruthful comment being the victim and perpetrator himself of narcissism in his lifeDelete
One comment indicated that in retirement Powell was well regarded in Palm Springs. That must have been true, one of the main thoroughfares in Palm Springs is called "William Powell Blvd."ReplyDelete
When Palm Springs made their Walk of Stars, William Powell was one of the first ones honored. He was called one of Palm Springs most beloved residents.Delete
I loved William Powell with Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series. He was also great in "I Love You Again" and "Mr. Roberts." He was one of those stars who really reflected the ideals of the golden age of films. Powell, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy...we just don't have that variety and depth today. The Brits do, but their actors don't specialize and they do a number of things. Look at Hugh Laurie's career from goofy prince in Blackadder to "House". And he is a great musician too!ReplyDelete
Love William Powell. I’m watching him now on TCM! Their personal lives are what they are and we’re! I think he was a very private man and the pain and loss of his son and his son’s struggles were probably more than he want to share. I looked for pictures and thought I would be the same if it was possible being so famous! What a great actor he was and very charming! I love that generation! They had class!ReplyDelete