Tom Powers

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Tom Powers
Tom Powers in 1922
Born Thomas McCreery Powers
(1890-07-07)July 7, 1890
Owensboro, Kentucky, U.S.
Died November 9, 1955(1955-11-09) (aged 65)
Manhattan Beach, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart disease
Occupation Actor
Years active 1911–1955
Spouse(s) Meta Murray Janney
(married 1929–1955)

Tom Powers (July 7, 1890 – November 9, 1955) was an American actor in theatre, films, radio and television. A veteran of the Broadway stage, notably in plays by George Bernard Shaw, he created the role of Charles Marsden in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude. He succeeded Orson Welles in the role of Brutus in the Mercury Theatre's debut production, Caesar. In films, he was a star of Vitagraph Pictures and later became best known for his role as the victim of scheming wife Barbara Stanwyck and crooked insurance salesman Fred MacMurray in the film noir classic, Double Indemnity (1944).


Thomas McCreery Powers[1] was born in 1890 in Owensboro, Kentucky. His father, Colonel Joshua D. Powers, was a banker; his uncle was sculptor Hiram Powers. Tom Powers' mother loved the theatre and enrolled him at ballet school at age three. He entered the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at age 16, and he studied drama, wrote and produced plays, and practiced stage design in a small theatre in the attic of his home.[2] Powers apprenticed to a pantomime troupe for ten years and became a star of Vitagraph Westerns.[3] Powers appeared in over 70 silent films from 1911 to 1917 opposite such actors as Florence Turner, Harry T. Morey, Clara Kimball Young, Alma Taylor and John Bunny.

Powers had great success in his first Broadway appearance, as William Booth in Mr. Lazarus (1916). He became a star in musical comedies, and won acclaim as a leading player and character actor. His best-known roles included Gregers Werle in The Wild Duck, the captain in Androcles and the Lion, and Bluntschli in Arms and the Man — all in 1925 — and King Magnus in The Apple Cart (1930). He created the role of Charles Marsden in Eugene O'Neill's long-running drama, Strange Interlude (1928–29). In 1938 he succeeded Orson Welles as Brutus in the Mercury Theatre's debut stage production, Caesar, and in 1941 he toured nationwide in The Man Who Came to Dinner. His last significant Broadway role was in Three Sisters (1942), with Judith Anderson, Katharine Cornell and Ruth Gordon.[3][4]

His radio credits include Tom Powers' Life Studies (1935–36), a 15-minute series of true-life stories on NBC.[5][6] Powers published two books of monologues, Life Studies (1939)[7] and More Life Studies (1940).[8] He also wrote four plays and two romantic novels,[3] Virgin with Butterflies (1945)[9] and Sheba on Trampled Grass (1946).[10]

Powers moved to the West Coast after becoming ill with arthritis,[3] and became a full-time movie actor when Billy Wilder invited him to play the murder victim in the 1944 film noir classic, Double Indemnity. For the next dozen years or so, Powers appeared in over 80 film and television roles, usually playing middle-aged business men, military or police officers. His performance as Metallus Cimber in Julius Caesar (1953) is regarded as Powers' best during his Hollywood years.[3]

Personal life

Tom Powers was married to Meta Murray Janney of Philadelphia on September 7, 1929.[1] Powers died of heart disease at his home in Manhattan Beach, California, on November 9, 1955, at age 65.[3] He was interred in Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, in North Hollywood, California.

Select filmography


  1. 1.0 1.1 "She Marries Tom Powers, the Actor, in Philadephia". The New York Times. September 8, 1929. Retrieved 2015-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "In the Spotlight". The Theatre. XXV: 18. January 1917. Retrieved 2015-10-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "Tom Powers Dies; Stage, Film Actor". The New York Times. November 10, 1955. Retrieved 2015-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. "Judith Anderson, Ruth Gordon, Gertrude Musgrove, Tom Powers and Katherine Cornell in the stage production Three Sisters (1942)". The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation. Retrieved 2015-11-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Tom Powers' Life Studies". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-11-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Behind the Mike. Internet Archive. February 23, 1941. Event occurs at 22:17. Retrieved 2015-11-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links