Starring Tyrone Power - 4/7
Young Tyrone was a sickly child and a doctor suggested a move to California for his health. The family settled in Alhambra, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, where Tyrone made his stage debut at 7, appearing with his mother in La Golondrina, a Spanish mission play performed in nearby San Gabriel. In 1920, the Powers divorced, and Helen and the children returned to Ohio a few years later, although Tyrone continued to stay in touch with his father. In Ohio, he attended elementary school while being coached in dramatics and voice by his mother, who was now working as a drama teacher at the Schuster-Martin School.
While in high school, where he was considered too slight for the football team, Tyrone played the lead in the school play, Officer 666, and worked as a soda jerk at a local pharmacy after school. Following graduation, he went to Quebec to stay with his father and to study Shakespearian acting. In the fall, the two traveled to Chicago, and the 17-year-old Tyrone met radio personality Don Ameche; they worked on the "Little Theater Off Time Square" program together. The two would become lifelong friends and costars a few years later at Twentieth Century-Fox.
Through his father's influence, Power was given a job in Fritz Lieber's Shakespearian company, appearing in a small role on Broadway with his father in The Merchant of Venice in November, 1931. A month later, Tyrone Power, Sr., was shooting a film, The Miracle Man, in Hollywood when he suffered a massive heart attack at the studio and collapsed. His son, who was on the set that day, held his father in his arms before he was taken to the hospital and died.
Following his father's death, Power returned to Southern California and tried to get into the movies. Despite his supreme good looks, he found it difficult to find parts. Eventually, he landed a bit role in Tom Brown of Culver (1932), billed as "Tyrone Power, Jr.," a name he would use for the next four years, until Lloyd's of London (1936) made him a star. Tom Brown of Culver did nothing for his career and he went back to the theater, including a stint at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. He also worked as a chauffeur to his father's friend, screenwriter Arthur Caesar and at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, where his mother had moved. Caesar suggested that he leave Hollywood and get more stage experience before trying again to break into the movies and in 1934, he took that advice, stopping off in Chicago to visit his friend, Don Ameche, on the way to New York. That stop in Chicago lasted for several months, when Ameche suggested that Power get a job at an exhibit at the World's Fair that demonstrated how films were produced. He stayed in Chicago and worked for a stock company, but the roles were scarce. When he was reduced to reading comic strips over the radio, he realized it was time to try his luck in New York.
It was a wise career move and soon Power won the role of Benvolio in Katharine Cornell's production of Romeo and Juliet. Movie talent scouts always watched plays to look for potential film talent and since Cornell was such a huge star, the scouts came to see the show. Universal offered him a contract, but Cornell told him to get more theatrical experience. Power agreed with her and turned down Universal's offer. A few months later, while appearing with Cornell in St. Joan, 20th Century-Fox, the same studio where his friend Don Ameche was now under contract, approached Power and asked him to make a screen test. Although Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck didn't think Power was right for films, his wife, Virginia, did. She convinced her husband to offer Power a contract. This time, Katharine Cornell told Power that he was ready to go back to Hollywood, where he made another screen test with Alice Faye. The actress wanted him for Sing, Baby, Sing (1936), but director Sidney Lanfield, like Zanuck, didn't think Power would be successful and recast the role. Faye then asked Zanuck to put him in another film, and he was given a small role in Girls' Dormitory (1936). He only had a few lines at the end of the film, but soon the studio was receiving mail from film fans, wondering who the handsome Power was. He was given another supporting role in Ladies in Love (1936) before he was cast in Lloyd's of London. That film changed everything.
Despite his looks and his stage experience, the studio didn't have a lot of confidence in Power, who knew that Lloyd's of London was going to be an important film and wanted to be in it. He went to see director Henry King, who had directed his father in Hell Harbor (1930). King was impressed with Power and took the risk of going to Zanuck and suggesting Power for the lead role, even though Don Ameche was already being publicized as the star. Zanuck trusted King's opinion enough to test Power, but the other executives still wanted Ameche. In the end, Zanuck went with Power and the role made him an instant star, earning him the title of "The Best Find of 1936".
Within a year, he had a seven-year contract with the studio, his hand and footprints had been placed in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater, he was dating his fellow Fox stars Sonja Henie and Loretta Young, and, in the tradition of the studio system in the Golden Age, he was put into film after film to capitalize on his newfound success. The following year, he was loaned out to MGM to make Marie Antoinette (1938) and began an affair with the much older star Norma Shearer. The gossip columnists suggested that they would marry, but then Power met French star Annabella while filming Suez (1938) and the following year, after she divorced her husband, French actor Jean Murat, the two were married and moved to the Brentwood section of West Los Angeles.
These were the most successful days of Power's career; he starred in prestigious films like Jesse James (1939) and The Mark of Zorro (1940), the film for which he is most famous. A Yank in the RAF (1941) was released three months before the United States entered into World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor spurred Power, as it would millions of other Americans, to join the military. He enlisted with the Naval Reserves - or thought he did. Three months after he signed up, he went into a Naval recruitment office to ask when he would be called up. There was no record of his enlistment. It is believed that the studio conspired with the Navy to keep him out of the service. Instead, Power, who had earned his pilot's license in 1937, joined the Marine Corps. In November, 1942, he was being interviewed by a reporter when a friend came over and asked if he had asked for an officer's commission. Power replied, "Why in hell should I ask for a commission? What the hell do I know about being an officer?" Despite this refreshing candor, Power would eventually reach the rank of Major and served as a pilot, ferrying supplies and wounded men out of dangerous areas in the South Pacific; his duties also included delivering supplies to the Marines following the bombing of Hiroshima. During the war, Fox re-released several of his films, to keep his name in front of the public.
Following the war, Power returned to Hollywood and 20th Century-Fox, signing a new contract and starring in films such as The Razor's Edge (1946), which was the studio's biggest money-maker of the year. Power and Annabella separated and he was rumored to be dating Lana Turner. During filming of Captain from Castile, (1947), he met actress Linda Christian and they were wed when his divorce from Annabella was final in 1949. After several miscarriages, the couple would have two daughters, Romina (who later became a famous singer) and Taryn, an actress.
Power, like Errol Flynn, often discussed his desire to break away from heroic roles and in 1947 he made Nightmare Alley, in which he plays a conniving carnival barker. Power told a reporter, "I've never come across a character who was so thoroughly heartless and ruthless. He ruined women, destroyed every chance of his own for love, swindled all those who came near him, and would even have committed murder if it served his purpose. He was the perfect example of the perfect heel - an acting challenge that intrigued me. [...] I've finally gotten a chance to play a character unlike any other I've done before. That's one reason I wanted to do the part."
By 1949, his marriage was strained, as was his relationship with 20th Century-Fox, and in 1952, he asked permission to find his own roles as he was unhappy with the scripts he was being given. Fox agreed, as long as he finished the films in his contract. Power went to Universal, where he made The Mississippi Gambler (1953), which was a success and Power, with a percentage agreement, made a million dollars on the film. In 1953, he returned to the stage in John Brown's Body with Raymond Massey and Dame Judith Anderson on Broadway. It was a sell-out and went out on tour, with his Fox costar Anne Baxter substituting for Anderson. The same year, Power and Christian separated and were divorced in 1955.
Now in his forties, Power continued to make films like The Long Gray Line (1955), which was a sizeable hit, and The Eddy Duchin Story (1956). In 1957, Fox asked him to take the lead in The Sun Also Rises. Although still a handsome man, he had aged in the twenty years since becoming a star. This does not seem to have bothered Power, who had become tired early in his career of playing dashing young men of action.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) was Power's last completed film and allowed him another rare opportunity to play the villain, and he received excellent notices for his work. In March 1958, he met Debbie Minardos and the two were married only two months later. A few weeks after the wedding, she became pregnant with his only son, Tyrone Power, Jr. In September, Power and his wife flew to Madrid to begin filming Solomon and Sheba (1959) with George Sanders and Gina Lollobrigida. He began to complain of aches and pains, which he associated with being 44 and filming physically demanding scenes. On November 15th, 1958, he gave a radio interview to NBC on the set and then filmed a long dueling scene with George Sanders. At the end of shooting, he returned to his trailer and complained of pain in his arm. A short while later, just like his father, Tyrone Power suffered a heart attack on a film set. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he soon died. Ironically, he had filmed a public service announcement about the dangers of heart disease shortly before he left for Spain.
After his death Life magazine paid him a tribute of which he would certainly have been proud. "Women loved him extravagantly. Newspapers followed every turn of his heart. People forgot that he was not just a handsome matinee idol. He was more, and over the years, he gave many fine and sensitive performances in difficult roles." His friend, director Henry King said, "It seems almost incredible to me that one of the most brilliant of all screen careers could so abruptly and tragically come to a close - because Tyrone Power was a man surcharged with a love of life."
by Lorraine LoBianco
"Tyrone Power Dies on Solomon Set." The Age 17 Nov 58
"Tyrone Power Back in Movies After War." Deseret News. 16 Dec 46
"Tyrone Power is a Man of Paradoxes." Deseret News. 16 Nov 51
"A Dashing Actor's Last Duel: Tyrone Power is Buried in Hollywood After Sudden Death in Spain." Life Dec 1, 1958.
Myers, Robert. "Tyrone Power Hopes For Come-Back After the War." St. Petersburg Times 2 Dec 42.
"Tyrone Power Plays a New Role as Three-Timer Stan Carlisle." The Montreal Gazelle 8 Mar 48.
Winter, William. Tyrone Power
* Films in bold type will air on TCM