GENTLEMAN: The William Powell Story by Charles Francisco

GENTLEMAN: The William Powell Story

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Bland and unrevealing: a journeyman account of William Powell's quietly distinguished acting career and his mostly private private-life--which went slightly public in the 1930s, thanks to Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow. Stage-struck Bill Powell, from a middle-class Kansas City background, chose acting school over college: he ""felt guilty about letting his parents down, but he couldn't abandon his dream."" With $700 from an aunt, he went to N.Y., studied, worked on Broadway and in silents--moving to Hollywood in the mid-1920s, still relegated to ""smallish heavy roles."" Comedy and The Last Command soon showed his versatility, however; the talkies added pizazz to his so-so handsomeness. (""Even that trim mustache. . . now seemed downright classy in combination with that deep voice."") Despite his self-deprecating attitude, he became a bit of a Screen Lover, certainly a master of suave comedy--as Nick Charles and My Man Godfrey. Meanwhile, however, after an early marriage collapsed, his next two romances were also doomed: he and Carole Lombard were mismatched (he was older, more retiring), they divorced but stayed friends; Jean Harlow's insecurity and impulsiveness made an even worse combination with Powell's ""pain-bred caution""--and he resisted her marriage yearnings. So, after Harlow's shadowy death, he was lost in grief and guilt (""He had refused Jean the thing she wanted most"")--but recovered well enough to find a happy third marriage. . . while rounding off his career with Life With Father and Mr. Roberts. With only a few pages on Powell's 30-year retirement (1955-84) and only one uninformative paragraph on his son's 1968 suicide: an inoffensive but entirely uninvolving movie-star workup.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's