Matinee idol Dick Powell enjoyed a long and far-ranging career that brought him great success in music, film, and television. Born in Mountain View, AR, on November 14, 1903, Powell regularly sang in both school and church choirs as a child, his soprano voice eventually becoming a tenor; at the same time, he also learned to play a number of instruments, including the saxophone, cornet, and banjo. In his late teens, he joined Kentucky's Royal Peacock Orchestra, and during the late '20s sang and played with Charlie Davis, with whom Powell made a number of early recordings. By the early '30s, he had relocated to Indianapolis to serve as master of ceremonies at the Circle Theater, later assuming the same duties at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theater; there Powell was discovered by a Warner Bros. talent scout, and quickly signed to a movie contract.
Powell made his film debut in 1932's Blessed Event, but he shot to stardom a year later alongside another Hollywood newcomer, Ruby Keeler, in the classic Lloyd Bacon/Busby Berkeley backstage musical 42nd Street, which included such classic Harry Warren and Al Dubin compositions as "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," and the title song. The picture established Powell as a leading musical star, and in the years to follow, he starred in such smashes as Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, and On the Avenue, often appearing in the company of Keeler and wife Joan Blondell; among the songs his movies popularized were "We're in the Money," "I Only Have Eyes for You," "Lullaby of Broadway," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and "Jeepers Creepers."
At the same time, Powell was very active in radio, regularly appearing on programs including Hollywood Hotel, Old Gold (with the Ted Fio Rito Band), and Hollywood Party; from 1942 to 1943, he also hosted his own broadcast, Dick Powell Serenade. During the early '40s, he turned more toward comedy and dramas, and in 1944 switched gears entirely to successfully portray world-weary gumshoe Philip Marlowe in the Raymond Chandler adaptation Murder, My Sweet. From that point on, Powell was firmly established as a tough guy, and he was as popular in these roles as he had been in musicals; by the early '50s, he was also directing and producing pictures. Powell also served as founder and president of Four Star Television, a pioneering TV production company, and from 1959 to 1961 he presented the popular series Dick Powell Theater. He continued working regularly until his death from cancer on January 3, 1963. ~ Jason Ankeny