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The Chemistry of Loy and Powell

The on-screen duo of Myrna Loy and William Powell is one of the most popular classic film couples ever to be recognized on the silver screen. On and off, they made fourteen films together within thirteen years, but it is not the succession of films which keeps their image alive. The chemistry and playfulness Miss. Loy and Mr. Powell exude in the scenes they share, make some of us wish this type of chemistry existed amongst actors and actresses today.

Actress Myrna Loy remembered that their first meeting was during a shoot of one chaotic scene where Miss. Loy was supposed run and get into an automobile. When Miss. Loy jumped into the car, she, hilariously, ended up in William Powell's lap. Miss Loy was quoted saying, "He [Powell] looked up nonchalantly, 'Miss. Loy I presume?' and I said, 'Mr. Powell?' And that's how I met the man who would be my partner for fourteen years."

Their first film together was "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934) starring Clark Gable alongside Loy and Powell. The story is about two friends growing up on opposite ends of the tracks, “Edward Gallagher” (Gable) becomes a racketeering criminal and “James Wade” (Powell) becomes a D.A. “Eleanor Packer” (Loy) is the woman they both fall in love with and fight over. But nobody was concentrating on the on-screen chemistry between Loy and Powell. Instead, the film reached its infamy as being the last film notorious bank robber John Dillinger saw before he was shot to death by the FBI in the back of Chicago's Biograph theater.

It was director W.S. Van Dyke who discovered that from behind the lens, Loy and Powell had something special which needed to be captured on screen again. Dyke approached MGM Studios mogul Louis B. Mayer with the idea of the duo headlining a film called “The Thin Man." The film would would be based off of the Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name. At first, Mayer refused the idea; he thought it would be a mistake to cast Myrna Loy because it would ruin her image as the “The Vamp.” However, Van Dyke persisted and eventually got what he wanted. The film was shot in just under two weeks and when it was released to theaters, MGM Studios had a goldmine on their hands. Audiences and critics loved seeing Powell and Loy as “Nick and Nora Charles” – the married couple who solves crimes together while screwball comedy follows them along wherever they go.

As a result of the public demanding more of Powell and Loy, five more “Thin Man” films were produced as well as other screwball comedies. “Libeled Lady” (1936), included Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow, amongst an all-star cast. In “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936) Powell and Loy portrayed Broadway icon Florenz Ziegfeld and his spouse, the actress Billie Burke.

In the middle of shooting their romantic comedy “Double Wedding” (1937), Powell’s fiancé and actress Jean Harlow passed away. Both Loy and Powell expressed how difficult it was for the both of them to film the rest of the picture after losing such a good friend. Their final picture together would be the last of the “Thin Man” series, “Song of the Thin Man” (1947).

As Powell was a man of few words, there is not a quote by him about how he felt during those thirteen years of working with Loy, but he is known to have lovingly called her “Minnie; his pet name for her. And Loy fondly remembered their time together as being one of the best times of her career, “I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman."

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