Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Happy Birthday, Tyrone Power!

The strikingly handsome matinee idol of Hollywood's Golden Age was born Tyrone Edmund Power, Jr. on May 5, 1914 in Cincinatti, Ohio, into an illustrious theatrical family. His Irish great-grandfather, William Tyrone Power, had achieved great success throughout the world as a comedian in the 19th century, while his father, Tyrone Power Sr., was a well-known Shakespearian actor who moved into silent films the year Ty was born. His mother, Patia, was also a respected stage actress and drama coach. Encouraged by his family's tradition, Ty grew up with a determination to follow his father's footsteps and pursue an acting career. Upon his graduation from Purcell High School in 1931, he travelled to Hollywood to try his luck at the movies, but struggled to find work. After appearing as an extra in Tom Brown of Culver (1932) and Flirtation Walk (1934), he decided to go to New York to get experience as a stage performer under the tutelage of the prestigious actress and theater producer Katharine Cornell.

With Madeleine Carroll in Lloyds of London
Ty's big break came when Cornell cast him in her landmark production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which premiered in Los Angeles in 1935. On opening night, he was approached by a talent scout from Universal Pictures, who offered him a standard seven-year contract. Cornell, however, advised the 21-year-old actor to gain more stage experience before giving Hollywood another chance, so he declined the offer in favor of a lead role in her revival of George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan. At the end of the season, 20th Century Fox called on him and invited him for a screen test, which he passed with flying colors.

Power's first assignment at Fox was Girls' Dormitory (1936), starring Herbert Marshall, Ruth Chatterton and French actress Simone Simon in her American debut. Although given just a few lines at the end of the picture, Ty captured the hearts of many women across the nation, including the powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who claimed to have sat through the film twice just to learn the dashing young actor's name. After a slightly larger part in Edwin H. Griffith's Ladies in Love (1936), which marked the beginning of a highly successful screen partnership with Loretta Young, Ty was finally given an opportunity to shine when director Henry King cast him in the big-budget costume drama Lloyds of London (1936). Though fourth-billed, he had by far the most screen time of any other actor in the film and was at last able to showcase his talents. Lloyds of London eventually became Fox's biggest moneymaker of that year and turned Tyrone Power into a bona fide Hollywood star.

In a publicity still for Jesse James
The following year, Ty's career reached another high point when he appeared opposite Don Ameche and Alice Faye in the Best Picture-nominated drama In Old Chicago (1937). After reuniting with Ameche and Faye in the musical Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), also a Best Picture nominee, Fox agreed to loan him out to MGM to be Norma Shearer's leading man in W. S. Van Dyke's lavish costume drama Marie Antoinette (1938). Realizing that his biggest star was virtually a supporting player in the film, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of production at Fox, vowed never to loan Power out again not even to play Ashley Wilkes in David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind (1939).

Upon his return to Fox, Power was assigned to yet another historical drama, Suez (1938). One of his leading ladies in the film was French actress Annabella, whom he soon became romantically involved with. Much to Zanuck's chagrin, Ty and Annabella were married in April 1939. The union, however, was marred by his infidelities and her inability to give him the son he had always wanted, which eventually led to their separation in 1946 and divorce two years later. In the meantime, with the massive success of Jesse James (1939), his first Technicolor picture, Rose of Washington Square (1939) and The Rains Came (1939), Power became one of America's top box-office draws, surpassing established stars like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. In 1939, Ty and Jeanette MacDonald were voted "King and Queen of Hollywood" in a nationwide newspaper poll.

With Linda Darnell in The Mark of Zorro
Ty began the 1940s playing the title role in what is arguably the most iconic film of his career, Rouben Mamoulian's The Mark of Zorro (1940), based on Johnston McCulley's story about the apparently foppish Californio nobleman Don Diego Vega who moonlights as a defender of the common people as the masked outlaw Zorro. Co-starring Linda Darnell, his leading lady in four pictures, The Mark of Zorro was a smashing success, sealing Power's status as a swashbuckling hero, an image he soon revisited in Blood and Sand (1941), Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942) and The Black Swan (1942).

In August 1942, Power enlisted as a pilot in the U. S. Marine Corps, but was sent back at the request of 20th Century Fox to appear opposite Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter in the patriotic war film Crash Dive (1943), which served as a vehicle to increase the number of volunteers for military service. On January 1, 1943, he finally reported for active duty at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. As he had already logged 180 solo hours as a pilot before enlisting, he was able to do a short, intense flight training program at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. In mid-1944, after earning his wings and a promotion to First Lieutenant, he was assigned as a transport pilot to the Pacific Theater of war, where he flew perilous missions carrying supplies in and wounded soldiers out of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. For his efforts during World War II, Power received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars and the World War II Victory Medal. He stayed with the Marines until 1951, retiring as a Captain in the reserves.

Lieutenant Power getting a cup of coffee at the Omura Naval Air Station in Japan in October 1945

Power's first film after the war was Edmund Goulding's The Razor's Edge (1946), with Gene Tierney and Anne Baxter. This powerful adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's best-selling novel of the same name was a hit among audiences and critics alike and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. With his status as "King of the Fox Lot" still secured, Power next begged Zanuck to let him star in the gritty film noir Nightmare Alley (1947), which he believed would not only challenge his acting abilities, but also present him to the public in a completely different way. Although the film failed to make an impact at the box-office, due to the studio's lack of promotion, Ty's role as an ambitious and scheming carnival worker earned him the best reviews of his career and became his personal favorite.

Around the same time as his divorce from Annabella was being  finalized, Ty decided to embark on a goodwill trip across the world piloting his own plane, "The Geek," a name intrinsically associated with Nightmare Alley. During a visit to Italy in 1948, he fell in love with Linda Christian, a 25-year-old MGM contract player who happened to be staying at the same hotel. Ty and Linda had briefly met in early 1947 while doing location shooting in Acapulco, Mexico for Captain from Castile (1947) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), respectively. They had been introduced by Lana Turner, who was carrying an affair with Power at the time and had just worked with Linda in Green Dolphin Street (1947). Following a whirlwind romance, Ty and Linda were married in the Church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome on January 27, 1949, in a ceremony worthy of European nobility. Although the  marriage was short-lived, ending in 1955, it produced two children, daughters Romina and Taryn.

With O'Hara in The Long Gray Line
By the early 1950s, Power was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the film projects he was being given, such as American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950), Diplomatic Courier (1952) and Pony Soldier (1952). For first time in over a decade, he failed to rank in the top 10 of U.S. box-office attractions. As an enticement to renew his contract a third time, Fox offered him the lead role in Henry Koster's CinemaScope spectacle The Robe (1953). Power, however, turned it down and instead left on a national tour with John Brown's Body, a staged dramatic reading of Stephen Vincent Benét's epic war poem, for which he received critical acclaim. 

Upon his return to Hollywood, Power secured Zanuck's permission to seek his own roles outside Fox, on the condition that he fulfill his fourteen-film commitment to them in between his other projects. His first feature for a different studio in fifteen years was The Mississipi Gambler (1953), a Technicolor adventure drama directed by Rudolph Maté for Universal Pictures. Co-starring Piper Laurie, the film was a success and Power, having made a deal to receive a percentage of the profits, eventually earned over a million dollars from it. Following the release of Untamed (1955), his last film under contract with Fox, Power regained his box-office momentum with John Ford's The Long Gray Line (1955), co-starring Maureen O'Hara, and George Sidney's The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), with Kim Novak, both produced by Columbia Pictures.

On the set of Solomon and Sheba
When Power returned from England after playing the lead role in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, Zanuck persuaded him to appear opposite Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn in The Sun Also Rises (1957), based on the Ernest Hemingway of the same name. His next project, Billy Wilder's suspenseful courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution (1957), gave him a rare oportunity to play against type as an accused murderer. Co-starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, this adaptation of Agatha Christie's play was a box-office success and Ty's performance was applauded by critics as "magnificent."

Although he vowed that he would never marry again after his second divorce, Ty wedded Southern Belle Deborah Ann Minardos in May 1958. A few weeks later, the couple received the news that Deborah was expecting their first child together. In September of that year, Power and his wife travelled to Madrid, Spain, where he was scheduled to film King Vidor's historical epic Solomon and Sheba (1959) with George Sanders and Gina Lollobrigida. Power had completed about 75 percent of his scenes when, on November 15, he complained of a pain in his left arm and abdomen during a physically demanding duelling scene with Sanders. With no doctor on the set to assist him, he was rushed to the hospital, but it was already too late; he died of a massive heart attack within the hour, aged 44. His father had succumbed to same disease 27 years earlier on the set of The Miracle Man (1932). Ironically, Power had filmed a public service announcement about the dangers of heart disease shortly before he left for Spain.

During the making of Henry King's King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), Power had confided to his co-star Terry Moore that the two things he wanted the most in life were to have a son that would carry on his name and to die on stage. As faith would have it, he did die on stage and two months after his untimely death, Deborah gave birth to the son he had always wished for. Decades later, Tyrone William Power IV would carry forth his father's prestigious name when he and his wife welcomed a baby son they named Tyrone Keenan Power. In the end, Tyrone Power got everything he ever wished for. Not many people are lucky enough to say the same.

Ty was everybody's favorite person, and all agreed that he was that great rarity a man who was just as nice as he seemed to be. With his flashing good looks, graceful carriage, and easy laughter, it was no surprise that he was a Pied Piper to women they followed him in droves wherever he went but Ty was a simple person, with a great down-to-earthness and modesty about himself.
(David Niven)

The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger (2009) | The Encyclopedia of Hollywood, Second Edition by Scott Siegel and Barbara Siegel (2004) | Tyrone Power: The Last Idol (1996) | Tyrone Power's offical website


  1. I only wish Ty had a chance to meet his son :( He wanted one so desperately, he would've been an incredible father. Wonderful write-up! Happy Birthday Ty! <3

    1. I know. And the fact that Ty died just two months before the boy was born makes it even more heartbreaking.
      Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)