Here are 10 things you should know about Dick Powell, born 115 years ago today. For our money, he executed one of the most impressive career reinventions in Hollywood history.
As we advised you to do, we recorded the first eleven entries in RKO’s “The Falcon” series of mysteries on TCM the other day, and by last night, we’d worked our way up to watching the third one, The Falcon Takes Over.
The Falcon movies aren’t great, but they have a certain frothy charm, the repartee’s enjoyable enough, and at least some of them feature both Allen Jenkins and James Gleason in supporting roles, and that’s a combination that’s hard to beat.
We were especially looking forward to this picture because it’s based on Raymond Chandler‘s Farewell, My Lovely. In this version, it’s George Sanders as The Falcon, not Philip Marlowe, who solves the crime, but it was fun to see a familiar story played out in a different style, a different city (NYC rather than Los Angeles) and with a different set of characters.
One recognizes the source material right away, as just two minutes in, Moose Malloy has already made an appearance, and his name is…Moose Malloy. And the lost love he’s trying to track down is named Velma.
In fact, the filmmakers didn’t bother to change many of the characters’ names: Jessie Florian, Jules Amthor, Ann Riordan and Laird Burnett are all present and accounted for.
The Falcon Takes Over doesn’t stack up to Murder, My Sweet (1944) or Farewell, My Lovely (1975); it’s an entirely different kind of picture. But it is just smidge darker than the typical Falcon picture, and we found that suited us just fine.
We’re tardy by a day, but it’s still worth noting that actress Anne Shirley was born Dawn Evelyeen Paris 98 years ago yesterday in Manhattan. Her father died while she was an infant, and her mother, struggling to provide for her family, turned to her photogenic child, then 16 months, to help pay the bills, making young Dawn available as a photographer’s model.
From there, it was on to motion pictures. Dawn made her feature debut at the age of four and was soon showing enough promise in her film work that she and her mother made the move from New York to Hollywood, where she eventually played female stars of the pictures as young girls, among them Janet Gaynor in 4 Devils (1928), Frances Dee in Rich Man’s Folly (1931) and Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932). She also appeared in a series of short subjects for Vitaphone.
As the years passed, she grew into a lovely young teenager and her roles grew in size and importance. Eventually, she emerged from hundreds who were tested to play the role of Anne Shirley in the 1934 film adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. In the years prior, Dawn had worked primarily under the name of Dawn O’Day, but she now adopted the name of the character that had made her a star, Anne Shirley. (We can think of just one other example of an actor adopting the name of a character he or she played: Byron Barr had been acting for some years under his own name when he was cast in the 1942 film The Gay Sisters as a character named Gig Young; he was known professionally by that name for the rest of his life.)
Anne Shirley kept busy throughout her adolescence, but wasn’t given another truly standout role until, at age 19, she was cast as Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in Stella Dallas (1937). Both Shirley and Stanwyck were nominated for Oscars for their work in that picture (Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress, respectively), though neither would go on to win.
Shirley was now more in demand than ever, though her career has now entered a “one step forward, one step back” phase, with her films—and the roles she played in them—being of uneven quality. Her heart had never really been in her career—she had stuck with it largely to please her mother—and after appearing opposite Dick Powell in the classic film noir Murder, My Sweet (1944), she retired at age 26, never to return to the screen.
Anne Shirley remained in Hollywood for the rest of her life. She was married three times and had two children. She died on July 4, 1993, at 75.
Happy birthday, Ms. Shirley, wherever you may be!
The great Claire Trevor was born Claire Wemlinger 106 years ago today in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She grew up in Larchmont, New York, and after graduating high school, spent six months studying at NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Art before beginning a theatrical career, first in stock theatre and later on Broadway.
In the early 1930s, Trevor appeared in short films for the NYC-based Vitaphone studios before moving into feature films in 1933. Over the next six years, she kept very busy, averaging six pictures per annum. In 1937, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Dead End.
Trevor appeared in a number of Westerns over the years, frequently costarring opposite John Wayne. In one of those oaters, 1954’s The High and The Mighty, she received the third of her three Best Supporting Actress nominations.
But it was in the genre of film noir that Trevor made her most indelible mark. In films such as Murder, My Sweet (1944), in which she costarred with Dick Powell; Born to Kill (1947), in which she appeared opposite Lawrence Tierney Raw Deal (1948), with Dennis O’Keefe, she played hard-boiled dames with hearts of gold, and her work in these dark and gritty pictures made her one of the queens of that genre. It was in Key Largo (1948), in which she costarred with Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that she earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, playing Gaye Dawn, gangster’s moll and former nightclub singer,
Trevor also enjoyed success in radio and television in a career that spanned six decades, winning an Emmy for her work in a 1957 small-production of Dodsworth. Late in life, Trevor was generous in her support of the arts, and the University of California-Irvine named its School of Performing and Visual Arts after her. Her Oscar and Emmy statuettes are on display in the Arts Plaza there.
Claire Trevor died in 2000 in Newport Beach, California, at the age of 90.
Happy birthday, Ms. Trevor, wherever you may be.