Friday, June 16, 2006
My mother’s all-time favorite actor was Dick Powell. From a very early age, she told me about how handsome he was and about the great military musicals he starred in. I knew she wasn’t just making it all up but, at the same time, no local stations ever showed any of his pictures so I had no personal frame of reference. The year my mother died, Cincinnati’s Channel 64 picked up the Warner Brothers package and suddenly the floodgates broke. In short order, I discovered not only Powell but Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Frank McHugh and the rest of the early thirties Warner stock company. Before long, I got to see Powell in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL, FLIRTATION WALK (my mother’s favorite) and a whole bunch of GOLDDIGGERS films. I enjoyed Powell and his singing quite a bit and Warner Brothers quickly became my favorite studio. Then one day another channel ran MURDER, MY SWEET with Powell as Raymond Chandler’s iconic, tough as nails detective Phillip Marlowe. What the hell had happened to Dick Powell??? A little research turned up the fact that Powell had successfully accomplished a mid-career image makeover and that most of his films from the mid-forties were tough guy performances that out-Bogarted Bogart!
Powell’s new persona appeared on radio also, replacing the boy singer of years earlier. He was the original JOHNNY DOLLAR as well as the title character in ROGUE’S GALLERY. Ultimately, Blake Edwards (future film comedy king and husband of Julie Andrews) fashioned the perfect series for Powell in RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE. The show successfully combined both aspects of the actor’s image. Diamond was boyishly charming, funny, tough as nails when he needed to be and even sang a song at the end of nearly every episode!
The good, consistent supporting cast included Ed Begley (Sr!) as the hero’s police pal (later played equally well by the voice of Elmer Fudd, Arthur Q. Bryan) and Virginia Gregg as Diamond’s uptown girlfriend.
By the time the show moved to television a few years later, Dick Powell had settled into yet another successful new career as a producer, leaving the TV role to a young David Janssen. The gimmick of the songs was replaced by the gimmick of Mary Tyler Moore’s legs as an unseen secretary named Sam.
I’ve been enjoying quite a few Richard Diamond radio episodes lately and I can’t help thinking that my mother would be happy to know that Dick Powell is now a favorite of mine, too.