Certainly one of the most talented and able actors during Hollywood’s Golden Age, William Powell personified the image of the sophisticated man about town ready to disarm with the perfect quip.
In My Man Godfrey (1936) the classic screwball comedy in which he starred opposite the great Carole Lombard, Powell found the ideal vehicle as a down at the heels victim of the Great Depression who ends up as Lombard’s wise butler.
Powell inhabits his role as Godfrey with astonishing aplomb.
But like all great performances, what looks effortless on-screen is the result of hard work and fractious collaboration.
In his 1948 memoir, It Took Nine Tailors, Adolph Menjou, one of Powell’s best friends, gives us a witty glimpse into the creative process between Powell and ace director Gregory LaCava.
During the making of My Man Godfrey, one of LaCava’s best pictures, he and Bill Powell disagreed on how Powell’s part should be played.
“You haven’t found Godfrey yet!” exclaimed LaCava.
This led to a nightlong discussion of the character of Godfrey over a bottle or two of Scotch. As the two parted in the early morning hours, they had finally reached a perfect accord on the character that Powell was playing.
Next morning LaCava arrived at the studio with a terrific headache but determined to get in a good day’s work. However, the star of the picture failed to appear. Finally, a telegram from Powell was delivered to LaCava.
It read: we may have found godfrey last night but we lost powell. see you tomorrow.