Diana Lewis (1919-1997) is probably best known to classic film buffs as the third and final wife of William Powell, who was 27 years her senior. But she had her own interesting film career spanning almost a decade.
Born in Asbury Park to vaudeville parents, Diana and her three siblings joined the family act as soon as they were able. By the early ’30s, vaudeville had died and the family had settled in Hollywood. Diana was 16 when she was cast in her first movie. Of her fewer than two dozens films, a goodly percentage of them were classic comedies, our prime motivation for saluting her today. Her first screen role was the annoying girl talking about Ipecac and Spirit of Squills while W.C. Fields is trying to sleep on the porch in It’s a Gift (1934). Then came roles in the Buster Keaton shorts Grand Slam Opera (1936) and Love Nest on Wheels (1937). Others included He Couldn’t Say No (1938) with Frank McHugh, Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), Forty Little Mothers (1940) with Eddie Cantor, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) with Mickey Rooney, Go West with the Marx Brothers (1940) and Whistling in Dixie (1942) with Red Skelton. Johnny Eager (1941) was one of the noir pictures later sent up by Steve Martin and Carl Reiner in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Cry Havoc (1943), with Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, and Margaret Sullavan was Lewis’s last picture. She married Powell in 1940 after knowing him for less than a month. They were together 44 years, until his death in 1984.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.