Lessons From a Full and Useful Life

Dick Powell - Moundville, Arkansas
Broadcast during the 1950s
Dick Powell

Though Dick Powell was well-known in Hollywood, his core beliefs were rooted in his Mountain View, Arkansas, childhood. Just as his beliefs were taught to him as a young boy, Powell ponders on sharing the things he has learned with his toddler son who will soon be old enough to start his journey in a full and useful life.

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As I watch my young son crawling on the floor, trying to learn to walk, I am filled with a desire to help him. Not with just a steadying hand. I want to pass on to him as he grows up some practical, workable philosophy of life that will make his steps sure and strong in the face of the next fifty years. I’d like to give him something new, something startling, something even atomic in its originality. But I don’t know any new sure-fire philosophies with a lifetime guarantee.

I can and will pass on to him those things I’ve believed in during my attempt to live a full and useful life. Even they are not original; others passed them on to me. I won’t mind repeating, and I hope he won’t mind hearing—over and over again, all the quotations, rules, proverbs, even bromides that I live with. “Honesty is the best policy.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” And including by all means, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and many others.

I’ll try to make them sound as little like slogans as possible. This won’t be easy. They have been repeated so often in such a ponderous and sanctimonious manner that their sharp, true meaning seems to have been dulled. But I’ll tell him these things because I believe in them. I believe in them because they are truth and are the results of the thinking and living of thousands of God-fearing people before me. Some of these thoughts were even from people who had no organized religion but realized the necessity of them if they were to live successfully in a group.

As a boy, I sang in the Catholic children’s choir. After my voice changed into what the neighbors called the loudest tenor in the city, I sang in every choir in town—Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Jewish synagogue, the Masonic Hall and many, many others. I belonged to the First Christian Church but I never sang there because I was too busy elsewhere. I like to think that I had a liberal religious education even if it was from the choir lofts.

I learned to believe that not all men are good, but that most men want to be good. I believe in God, and whether I try to have Him hear me through the temples, the churches, or even from the sidewalks of the street, it is to the same end. I want always to try to be vigilant, to help see to it that man shall forever have the right to worship God and call to him whenever and wherever he pleases, within the bounds of the society he lives in.

My son will soon walk. He will start living in society the minute he starts playing with the boy next door. I know that these things I believe will help him live better with the boy next door, the thousands in the state, the millions in the country, and yes, even the billions in this great world.

Dick Powell was a versatile musician, actor, producer, and director who was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—one each for motion pictures, television, and radio. Powell died in 1963.