Father Christmas has been very generous this year! 

Well! Look who came down the chimney!

The autograph is written in faded fountain pen but I’ve tried my best to read Bill’s writing and have deciphered the following:

“To Doris ****man

With salutations 

William Powell”

I just couldn’t make out Doris’s full last name. I wasn’t expecting any historical notes to this picture so was very pleasantly surprised to find this bit of context on the back:

As Santa’s sack also contained some Powell related reading I can now date the photograph to around 1934 – a pivotal moment for Bill as this was the time when his Warner Bros contract was coming to a close and his career seemed at an impasse. Due to falling picture house receipts caused by the Depression, Warners were cutting the pay of their major stars and William Powell’s salary was due to decrease from $8,000 to $4,000 per week. ‘The Thin Man’ was the one non-Warners picture Bill was allowed to make a year as per his contract but this then led to a two picture deal with MGM that included ‘Manhattan Melodrama’. Powell formally left Warner Bros on 1 March 1934 and those two pictures changed his career, solidifying the William Powell light comedy persona and bringing him into contact with Myrna Loy. I had to chuckle at the Streamline film blog, who describe Bill’s characters in his early career at Paramount and Warners as villains, ‘oily cads’ and ‘mountebanks’.

The photograph was taken by Russell Ball, an interesting character as he wasn’t retained by a particular studio as he preferred to work independently and did gorgeous portraits for fan magazines such as Photoplay and Motion Picture. Strangely enough Ball tended to take pictures that emphasised movement and fluidity whereas in this photograph Powell is static, although he kind of looks like he’s either on his way to somewhere or is in a ballroom looking out on the scene before him. Regardless, Bill was definitely going places when this picture was taken, whether he realised it or not.

References/Recommended Reading:

William Powell: The Life and Films – Roger Bryant

The Star Machine – Jeanine Basinger


Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Russell Ball — An Eye for Glamour


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