William Powell

  1. George Brent, The Keyhole, 1932.    One suave leading man for another, as Brent inherited Powell’s shamus falling for Kay Francis who is twice wed – at the same time! The first hubby  is blackmailing her because he lied about divorcing her and she is, thus, a bigamist. So it flows. On a slow boat to  Cuba. Francis abnd Brent made six films together; he also  clocked up 11 with one-time lover Bette Davis.
  2. Warren William, Lady For A Day, 1932.         Super-director Frank Capra wanted Warners’ James Cagney. Or Metro’s Powell  as  Dave the Dude.  Capra never got who he wanted for his 1961  remake, Pocketful of Miracles –  ruined by Glenn Ford on  and off-screen.
  3. Lyle Talbot, Girl Missing, 1932.        Powell and Londoner Murray Kinnel were among the chose who did not, in the end, make the the early talkie quickie – shot in two weeks. Never mind. Between them they won 167 other screen roles.
  4. Cary Grant, Blonde Venus, 1932.  The Cary Grant Bteakthrough. Part One…   None  of the top male stars wanted to mess with this Marlene Dietrich-Josef von Sternberg  first of a three film package deal.   Powell went so far as to insist on  a codicile to his contract – that he would never have to work with the German director
  5. Warren William, The Dragon Murder Case, 1933.      Four films as SS Van Dine’s (actually, Willard Huntington Wright’s) snobbish, cynical, bored, supercilious, dilettante detective Philo Vance was enough for Powell… Raymond Chandler was no fan of “the most asinine character in detective fiction.” And funny poet Ogden Nash added: “Philo Vance/
Needs a kick in the pance.”
  6. Paul Lukas, The Casino Murder Case, 1934.       Naturally, Powell also refused this one, despite MGM planning it for him and Myrna Loy. (They were tons better as The Thin Man and his wife). His exit put Metro into a panic. Did they have another Philo? Well, Basil Rathbone had Vanced once in 1929 (and was Sherlock Holmes, opposite Powell’s Vance in Paramount on Parade, 1929). But that was then, this was now… Otto Kruger topped the list, followed by Columbia’s magician-actor Fred Keating, Warren William (he had Vanced the previous year), Ricardo Cortez and, finally, Lukas – with Ted Healy succeeding Eugene Pallette as Sergeant Heath of the NYPD.
  7. Spencer Tracy, Whipsaw, 1935.     Next, he lost the government agent falling for Myrna Loy’s jewel thief but got Loy to himself – as the debonair Nick and Nora Charles – in  The Thin Man series, 1934-1947.  The first was shot by director “One Take Woody” Van Dyke in 12 days!
  8. Clark Gable, Wife versus Secretary, 1935.     Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy were  always The Secretary and The Wife, but Powell was first pegged for The Husband called…Yes, well, what was he called?  Apparently, Van Sanford, although often referred to as  Mr Stanhope while Loy called him Jack… 
  9. Clark Gable, China Seas, 1935.    Powell proved far too busy to skipper the freighter with £250,000 in hidden gold aboard. Anyway, the teaming of Gable-Jean Harlow-Wallace Beery would sell more tickets. (And did.)
  10. John Barrymore, Romeo and Juliet, 1935.  
    Absolutely preposterous…!!  The 13-year-old Juliet was played by Norma Shearer, who was 36,  opposite Leslie Howard playing Romeo…  at 43.  “It is comical watching these middle-aged folks act as high school sophomores,” said web critic Matthew M Foster at Foster on Film.com. “But even more ridiculous is Romeo’ hotheaded, class clown friend, Mercutio, portrayed by the 54-year-old John Barrymore!”  Worse,  Barrymore was drinking. Heavily. But William Powell refused orders from producer  Irving Thalberg  (Shearer’s dying husband) to replace Barrymore.  Powell remained loyal to the star responsible for his first Hollywood break.

  11. Conrad Veidt, Under The Red Robe, 1936.   It’s the time of D’Artagnan, of Cyrano De Bergerac… and for a switch  from Powell to Veidt as Gil De Berault, the feared duellist known as The Black Death, saved from a death sentence by Cardinal Richelieu to quell a rebellious Huguenot duke, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Powell had beren  the Duke of Orleans  in the second  Red Robe movie in 1922… as William H Powell. 
  12. Cary Grant, The Toast of New York, 1936Move over Powell…  Realising what he had missed by refusing to join her on Border Flight, Cary Grant rushed to co-star with Frances Farmer.  If Grant and Edward Arnold were the toast, Frances was the jam – based on the scandal couple of the 1860s Wall Street’s gold market: “Big Jim: Fisk (Arnold) and his mistress, Josie Mansfield. Frances being Frances, wanted to play Josie as she was – a tough cookie hooker. No, no, said RKO suits, arguing for days.  “I just don’t understand why you want to plaster sweetening  all over the character when it’s so much more interesting to tell the truth.” She was right. The film was RKO’s biggest failure in 1937.
  13. Ronald Colman, The Prisoner of Zenda, 1936.     The shock death of MGM’s house genius, production chief Irving Thalberg,   changed his US pairing of Powell-Myrna   Loy for the UK’s Colman-Madeleine Carroll.

  14. Edmund Lowe, Espionage, 1936.    Lowe inherited reporter Kenneth Stevens opposite Madge Evans in a terrific MGM B, OK?
  15. Melvyn Douglas, Arsène Lupin Returns, 1937.  For the sequel to 1931’s  version (when John Barrymore’s Lupin was hunted by brother  Lionel as the Paris police chief), MGM dreamed up Powell chased by  ex-FBI man Spencer Tracy. Plus Powell’s 1934-1947 Thin Man series co-star, Myrna Loy, as the gal in the middle.   Final trio was Douglas, Warren William, Virginia Bruce.
  16. Cary Grant, Suzy, 1937.       Powell, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery,  Robert Taylor, Spencer  Tracy, Robert Young  –  they were   too important to play third fiddle to Jean Harlow (minus panties) and Franchot Tone. MGM went shopping at  the Paramount superstarmarket..
  17. Melvyn Douglas, Ninotchka, 1938. “Garbo Laughs!” (Her laughter was dubbed by another actress said the Hollywood Reporter in 1980). In fact, shooting began without Garbo having found a leading man.   And she combed through  Cary Grant, Robert Montgomery, William Powell and Spencer  Tracy before agreeing to Doiulas. Two years later, he was second choice for her trite finale, Two-Faced Woman, 1940. Two years later, Douglas did the tale in  reverse when, as a Communist,  He Stayed For Breakfast.
  18. Laurence Olivier, Rebecca, 1939.
  19. Melvyn Douglas, Two-Faced Women, 1940.    Two years after Ninotchk, Douglas was also second choice for Grabo’s silly finale.  Powell had been  first for the trite comedy which New York’s Archbishop Spellman condemned as a danger to public morality! “Witnessing this picture maybe an occasion of sin”!!   (“Witnessing?”  “Maybe?? He wasn’t sure?) No wonder, having completed her MGM contract, Garbo upped and quit movies for (sadly) ever more.  That hardly stopped directors, producers, scenarists, stars begging her to return. 

  20. Joseph Cotten, Shadow of a Doubt, 1942.    
    Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t  get Cary Grant or William Powell to be Uncle Charlie and neither sister, Olivia De Havilland or Joan Fontaine, as his niece, also Charlie. who finds he’s a killer of widows. And yet this always remained Hitchcock’s favourite Hitchcock movie. ‘We all know that,” I said when we finally met…. Hitch looked like he was nodding off  on me after his good lunch.  Help!  What do I do.?  “Hey,” I said, “but what’s your second favourite?” He woke up, didn’t even take time to blink.   “The Trouble With Harry,” he cried.  .“But,” I yelled, “that’s my favourite!” From then on he loved me. The interview was a breeze – a terrific experience!. Much of Doubt  was shot in Santa Rosa, next door to San Francisco  – where years later I would interview another idol. Schulz.  The father of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest.  Happy daze.

  21. Ronald Colman, Kismet, 1943.   For the much-filmed 1911 Edward Knoblock play – sheer Arabian Nights kitsch – Powell was first offered the wandering poet and self-styled King of the Beggars, vowing that his daughter will become Queen of Bagdad.
  22. Rex Harrison, Anna and the King of Siam, 1945.   A memo, dated March 8, from  from Fox  production chief Darryl F Zanuck to producer Louis D Lighton revealed DFZ wanted Powell as King Mongkut…and maybe Myrna Loy as Anna. Thereby nearly having Siam ruled by The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles!  Also in the Majesty mix were  the British James Mason, Ralph Richardson, plus Hollywood’s Robert Montgomery.

  23.  Gene Kelly, The Pirate, 1947.     
    MGM snapped up SN Behrman’s play for… let’s see now, more stars than in the heavens above…    So how about them Minivers: Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon? Or, Garson or Myrna Loy plus Cary Grant plus Charles Laughton (as Don Pedro Vargas!)…  Or, the Notorious Grant and Ingrid Bergman couple…  or William Powell and Hedy Lamarr?  Hey, we’re MGM!  Why not a musical? With Judy Garland and… er… John Hodiak? They got on real swell in The Harvey Girls. He can’t really sing ‘n’ dance? No prob – Judy and Gene Kelly! And so it came to pass. Uneasily… The Minnellis (an imploding Judy and her director  father Vincente) were at each other’s creative throats. LB Mayer ordered the Judy-Kelly Voodoo number was  too torrid! (Judy-Kelly were torrid?).      In fact, LB Mayer hated it all, calling it high-brow and extremely pretentious. Which it was. But that’’s Kelly  – and Minnelli – in a nutshell. Whatever I did looked like fake Barrymore and fake Fairbanks,” said Kelly Metro lost $2m. Including for the first time in any Hollywood budget, paying a shrink. For Judy.

  24. Charles Bickford,  A Star Is Born, 1953.
  25. Desi Arnaz, Forever Darling, 1955.  The five-year-itch pair was always for one screen couple or another. From William Powell-Myrna Loy to Spencer Tracy-Katharine  Hepburn to America’s biggest TV stars… Lucy and Desi!  Big as they were, Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz couldn’t swing Cary Grant as their marriage-saving angel –  a fun part for James Mason.
  26. Robert Stack, Great Day in the Morning, 1955.    After  Richard  Burton passed on his first (and only) Western offer in February, producer Edmund Grainger, aimed for Powell or (the 25-years younger!) Robert Mitchum to play Owen Pentecost. Stack was two years younger than Mitchum.
  27. Edmond O’Brien, The 3rd Voice, 1960.     Alan Ladd and Joseph Cotten also passed.


 Birth year: 1892Death year: 1984Other name: Casting Calls:  27