Dick Knew What He Wanted (1947) 🇺🇸

Dick Knew What He Wanted (1947) 🇺🇸

November 17, 2021

Movieland’s Blue Ribbon Interview — He knew what he wanted

by Robbin Coons

It took time to convince Hollywood that he could be a tough guy but Dick Powell proved his point

Dick Powell calls himself a “frustrated salesman.”

“My father was a selling man,” he says, “and I come from a family that just likes to add things up.”

The affable Dick — full name Richard Ewing Powell — is noted around Hollywood as one of the colony’s most successful business men and promoters. Even-tempered and relaxed, without any great fuss of frantic activity or high-pressure zeal, he is able to turn an honest dollar entirely apart from his pleasant acting income. When he’s on a deal he believes in — and he believes in it before he’s on it — he can convince the coldest of skeptics.

And yet the toughest selling job he ever did, with a “product” in which he had limitless faith because he knew it better than anybody else, was the job of selling Hollywood a “new” Dick Powell.

He made the sale and today Powell, already happy in his marriage to June Ally son, is happier than ever before.

With a career set to his liking, he has time, too, to do more flying, his favorite relaxation.

“If I hadn’t sold myself,” he grins, “I’d have been a dead Joe, running people out of theaters.”

This is exaggeration. But Powell, if not box-office poison in those days before “Murder, My Sweet,” was scarcely a sensational drawing card. He had been around a long time. He sang well. When producers had a musical to cast, they thought of him. To Dick’s way of thinking, that was the trouble. The years, he knew, have a way of dealing with crooners — unless their name is Crosby. Actors, on the other hand, can laugh at time for a while. Dick decided the shrewd approach was to prove that he could act.

That, oddly, is almost as hard for a musical star as it is for the newest extra. Dick’s name was tied to musicals and light comedies. For anything heavier, sterner, or rougher, he simply wasn’t considered the type. That was his answer at Warner Bros., and later it was the same at Paramount. Dick, amiably doing musicals like “Happy Go Lucky” and “Riding High,” used to go to Buddy DeSylva, then production chief, with his arguments in favor of a change of pace for Powell.

DeSylva was friendly, but a production boss has other people to please, people like producers and directors. When Paramount was planning Double Indemnity, Dick made his final sales talk, was rebuffed and quit to take himself and his idea on the open market.

“You’re right in your idea,” said DeSylva in parting, “but you’ve got a heck of a job cut out for you.”

The executive was right. To studio after studio, producer after producer, Dick tried to peddle his pet “product” — his idea of Powell in a tough, straight acting role. None could see it, although they gave him some good “typical Powell parts.”

Charlie Koemer at RKO was practically Dick’s last hope. Dick must have known his sales-talk by heart by that time. He went in to Koemer and talked about type-casting, and what he wanted to do, and why he could do it. It was one of Koemer’s best decisions, before his death, to give the guy his chance. He handed Dick that rough and scrappy piece of Raymond Chandler’s, “Farewell, My Lovely.” Hollywood, when it read the news of this casting, choked over its morning coffee. “A mistake, surely,” was the almost unanimous reaction, “not Dick Powell for that slugging part, not Dick Powell for a Bogart role!”

Ever since the first preview of that film, re-titled “Murder, My Sweet,” Hollywood has recognized a genuinely “new Dick Powell” — the one Dick had been talking about. The roles he used to seek in vain now are seeking him. Since “Cornered”, he has done “Johnny O’Clock” and the big adventure piece, “Assigned to Treasury.” ‘Next on his schedule is “The Pitfall,” and somewhere ahead He a couple of choice vehicles called “Stations West’’ and “Mr. Miracle.”

The latter is by his friend Milton Holmes, who wrote “Mr. Lucky,” and the pair of them are planning to produce it independently — Dick’s first venture in the business end of pictures.

All this success, gratifying as it would be to any actor, is especially so to Powell. He’s a stubborn fellow, actually, and when he sets his mind to a job he likes to see it done. He’s now Hollywood’s most distinguished ex-crooner, and he still has ’his voice. He’ll use it, too — when a song fits into a story. At 41, he’s happy to be independent of the musicals.

The Powell-Allyson marriage, two years old next August, is very much a mutual admiration society. June thinks Dick is the most wonderful male that ever happened, and Dick “June is the same at home as she is on the screen — has that same cute, honest quality,” he says. “She’s wonderful.”

Furthermore, he’s sure that soon she’ll be one of the screen’s greatest stars.

He’d like to co-star with her in a picture if it could be arranged with M-G-M, June’s studio.

The Powells live in a small English country house in Brentwood. “Smallest actor’s home in Hollywood,” claims Dick. He could well be right. There are a combination living-dining room, and two bedrooms, a kitchen, a maid’s room and that’s all. No pool, no court and no fussy formality. The decor is simple, warmly colorful, bright and gay. They had the same decorator as Ingrid Bergman — “because I always liked her house,” says Dick, “but our house looks just like June.

We’re always doing something to it. When we can get materials. I’m going to turn the garage into a den, remodel the kitchen and build another garage.”

As his own business manager, Dick is a stickler for order and system in handling his affairs. June, too, has a passion for neatness and good housekeeping but her great disinterest in signing checks and keeping up her correspondence has called forth some of Dick’s firmest tutelage.

“She’s improving,” he reports happily.

June’s slight inefficiencies seem to amuse Dick rather than otherwise. “After all,” he says, “if a’ woman becomes too efficient and business-like, she’s likely to lose some of her charm.”

Dick’s principal sideline business now is a distribution company for trailers, stoves and freezing units. He also keeps his eye on “a few pieces” of real estate — a commodity in which he once invested heavily — and is considering going into the airport business. His one rule on a business venture is: “Know all about it, yourself, before you go in — or you may lose your shirt.”

Presumably, Dick knows the airport business — or he’ll acquire any information he doesn’t have now. He has been flying since 1928, when he soloed in Pittsburgh after 100 minutes of instruction, a record then.

Powell always has been a hobbyist. Next to flying, boats are another off-screen interest. Before sailing, it was polo and motorcycles.

“I got through the motorcycle phase all right,” he recalls, “and I gave up polo when, after playing five years, I was thrown off my pony. Got to thinking maybe I’d get hit in the face with a ball and have to take up another business.”

Dick has owned more boats, probably, than anybody else in Hollywood. He has skippered eight, ranging from the 63-foot yawl Galatea to the 55-foot yawl Santana, with a cruiser, a ketch, two Rhodeses and two speedboats in the time between. “And a whole bunch of canoes and rowboats besides.”

You gather from Dick that his Junie’s seamanship left much to be desired. One day she was at the tiller of the Santana when a small boat loomed across her path.

“You turn it to the right,” suggested Dick helpfully.

“I know, I know,” said June confidently, and then suddenly they were hard on the smaller craft.

June screamed: “What do I do now?”

Dick couldn’t reach her in time. “Hit it, darling, hit it,” he said calmly.

She did.

June liked the Santana, according to Dick, as long as they stayed inside the bay, but on the open sea... well, they’ve sold the vessel to the Bogarts.

And that left the way open to aviation. First Dick got an Ercoupe, and now he has a single-engined, four-passenger Navion.

June doesn’t like flying, but she conquers her jitters and goes along, with Dick with a great show of bravado.

It is plain that Dick appreciates this, and he has hopes that he’ll yet turn her into a flier.

“On one flight we took,” he relates, “a perfectly smooth ride all the way, June was calm until we landed. But I know it had been a strain, because then — and only then — she became violently ill.”

Dick is talking about a flying trip to South America late this year or early in 1948, a project about which his Junie is almost certain to take a dim but gallant view.

And the chances are, with the “new Dick Powell” or the old, she’ll go along.

June Allyson tosses an admiring glance at hubby Dick Powell. They’ve been wed nearly two years.

Claire Trevor and Dick reminisce about roles in “Murder My Sweet,” Dick’s first “tough guy” part.

“Assigned to Treasury,” Dick’s newest picture, finds him a government agent fighting crime.

The roles Dick used to seek are seeking him now: in “Johnny O’clock,” he’s big-time gambler.

“What did Junie write about me?” Dick Powell asks Robbin Coons. Dick won’t see her handwritten comments on Blue Ribbon Interview until he gets May Movieland.

CollectionMovieland MagazineJune 1947