Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hollywood's Classic Hero: Tyrone Power, Jr.

Simply irresistible! Tyrone Power, Jr., trailer screenshot from Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938.

Tyrone Power, Jr. came from a famous family of stage actors, but he fought his way through Hollywood cattle calls to build his own career as a classic film hero. He made the ladies swoon in classic films with his dark looks and mysterious gaze. Even as a child, he made my heart beat faster! He was the classic "tall, dark and handsome" women longed for in his day, and from Zorro to pirates, he never failed to impress his audience with his talent and intense acting style. 

Tyrone Power, Jr. wraps his arms around Alice Faye to keep her from swooning in this romantic kiss--and who wouldn't, Tyrone? Trailer screenshot from Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938.

Coming from a long line of performers, it's hard to imagine that he started at the bottom like everyone else in Hollywood, however, like all great Hollywood stories, Tyrone Power, Jr.'s career began with a glance from a talent scout.

Acting Was In His Blood

From the day he was born, the world of actors and backstage life was the only life Tyrone Power, Jr. ever knew. His great-grandfather, also named Tyrone Power, was a famous Irish comedian and his youngest son, Harold Littledale Power, Tyrone's grandfather, a stage actor. His paternal great-grandmother, Anne Gilbert, was related to actor Laurence Olivier, believed to be one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century.

Power's grandmother, Ethel Lavenu, and mother, Helen Emma Reaume (Patia), were both stage actresses. His mother was also famous for her portrayals of Shakespearean heroines. His father, Frederick Tyrone Edmund Power, performed in American theaters for thirty years before starting a second career as a villain in the silent films of D.W. Griffith and other great directors.

Tyrone Power, Sr., 1915

Tyrone Edmund Power, Jr., was born on May 5, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother introduced him to the stage when he was a child, but it was his father's death that bound him to that stage in an odd, prophetic way.

Tyrone Power, Sr., 1869-1931

Tyrone's parents divorced in 1920 and Tyrone lived with his mother. Tyrone Power, Jr. was introduced to the stage by his mother at the age of 14 when the two appeared together on stage in San Gabriel, California.

Three years later, he appeared on stage in Chicago with his father for a performance of The Miracle Man in December of 1931. He was 17 at the time. His father, Tyrone Power, Sr., died in his son’s arms from a heart attack. It was a memory that would haunt any young man, and it certainly followed Tyrone Power, Jr. for the rest of his short life.

Nevertheless, Tyrone was determined to follow the family tradition and become an actor. He spent the next few years hearing great praise from directors and agents and had a few small film roles, but like all young actors he struggled, searching for the role that would make him famous.

Hollywood Screen Test

I heard an anecdote from a fellow classic films writer who told me that once he reached New York, Tyrone Power met actress Katherine Cornell who was "smitten" by Power's dark eyes and charming personality and introduced him to the New York theater scene. He was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts and offered a screen test. In 1936, he signed with 20th Century Fox and assigned to Director Sidney Lanfield who thought Power was arrogant and a poor actor and fired him.

Tyrone Power, Jr. and Alice Faye in Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938.

However, considering Power's previous experience this was likely and act of insecurity. Nevertheless, it could have destroyed Power's career, but actress Alice Faye (Alexander's Ragtime Band) saw a future pirate in his dark gaze and stepped in, requesting that he be allowed to keep his role.

Hollywood Star

Power was given a minor role in the 1936 romance Girls’ Dormitory where he finally attracted the attention of the public, but he struggled to keep his studio contract.

Tyrone Power, Jr. in Lloyd's of London, 1936.

He tested for Lloyd’s of London and landed the lead role as Jonathan Blake with fourth billing. His performance in this film secured his film career and made him a Hollywood star.
Publicity poster for In Old Chicago starring Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche, 1937.

The following year he was cast in five more films, including Dion O’Leary in the 1937 critically acclaimed drama In Old Chicago, a magnificent drama that left me in tears as a young girl.

Tyrone Power, Jr. and Ethel Merman in Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938.

His performance was equally impressive in the 1938 Alexander’s Ragtime Band and as Ferdinand de Lesseps in the drama Suez.

The Swashbuckling Hero

In 1939, Power starred as Jesse James in the film by the same name with Henry Fonda as his costar.


Tyrone Power and Nancy Kelly in publicity poster for Jesse James, 1939.

Jesse James was the beginning of Power’s career as a Hollywood hero. It was also his first Technicolor film and his first film shot on location.

Tyrone Power, Jr., and Maureen O'Hara in The Black Swan, 1942.

This was the year Power was named the second biggest box office draw. He continued on the path of the Hollywood hero in 1940 when he played Don Diego Vega in the adventure film The Mark of Zorro and in 1942's The Black Swan.

Military Career

Prior to World War II, Power purchased an airplane and took flying lessons. At the time he was drafted he had 180 hours of flight time. He enlisted for active duty with the Marine Corp and logged over 1100 hours of flight time between 1942 and 1945.

Tyrone Power, publicity photo, 1940s.

He was discharged in 1946 as First Lieutenant with an American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, two bronze stars and a World War II Victory Medal. He was later promoted to Captain in the Reserves.

The Final Films

After the war, Power made 22 films, and most were far more challenging than his earlier works. In 1946 he was cast as Larry Darrell in the critically-acclaimed tragic drama and one of my all-time favorites The Razor's Edge with the equally-famous and deeply troubled actress Gene Tierney. The collaboration between Power and Tierney was intense, and there was speculation that they were also involved in an off-screen affair.

Tyrone Power, Jr. trailer screenshot, Witness for the Prosecution, 1957.

In 1956, Power and Ted Richmond started an Independent film company called Copa Productions and produced Abandon Ship! In 1956, Power starred in The Eddy Duchin Story for Columbia Pictures and in 1957 he starred in The Sun Also Rises and Witness for the Prosecution. His performances in these final films are considered to be his finest.

Power’s Troubled Personal Life

On April 23, 1939, Power married French actress Annabella. They adopted their daughter, Ann Power, and appeared to be a devoted and loving couple, but divorced in 1948. There were rumors of an extramarital affair with actress Judy Garland. Power was involved with actress Lana Turner when he met and married actress Linda Christian in 1949.

Tyrone Power, Jr. and Annabella after their wedding ceremony in 1939.

Tyrone and Linda had two children: Romina Francesca Power and Taryn Stephanie Power. Power and Christian divorced in 1956 with claims of infidelity from both sides. In May of 1958, Power married Deborah Ann Minardos. Sadly, this relationship did not last long, either. Their son, Tyrone Power IV, was born on January 22, 1959, two months after the death of his father.

Tyrone Power, Jr.'s Last Days

Like his father so many years before, Tyrone Power, Jr. died of a heart attack during the filming of Solomon and Sheba on November 15, 1958 while filming a dueling scene in Madrid, Spain. He was only 44 years old.

In spite of his many Oscar-worthy performances and the Academy Award-winning films that featured his work, Tyrone Power, Jr. was never nominated for an Oscar. He was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As an interesting footnote: The youngest child of Tyrone Power, Jr. was born two months after his father's death. He chose to follow in the footsteps of his famous family and is also an actor, appearing in movies such as Cocoon and Healer. As he shares the name of many generations of Power men, it may be confusing to discuss his career. To help you sort their identities: Tyrone Power, Sr. preferred to be called by his first name, Fred. The Tyrone Power, Jr. referred to in this post is now referred to as Tyrone Power and his actor son is Tyrone Power, Jr.

Sources:
  • "Biography: Tyrone Power." Tyrone-Power.Com: King of 20th Century Fox. Retrieved November 1, 2009.
  • M.L. Shettle, Jr. "Tyrone Power: Actor, Marine Corps Aviator." Californians and the Military. California State Military Museum. Retrieved November 1, 2009.
  • "Tyrone Power, Jr.: Biography." The Biography Channel. Retrieved November 1, 2009.
In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge, H is for Hollywood's Classic Swashbuckling Hero.

4 comments:

  1. He was excellent in many films but his good looks may have prevented people from seeing what he could do. It is a shame he died so young but maybe the heart ailment runs in the family??

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  2. I often wonder if his looks created prejudice in the same way attractive women must cope with prejudice. And yes, I agree--the heart ailment most likely runs in the family, which is very sad. His son is my age, so he is about the same age his father was when he died, but medicine has advanced so much over the years and that was probably the first question his doctor asked him--does anyone in your family have heart problems? I hope they can stop the pattern of heart problems in his family. They are great actors and have a lot to contribute to the film industry.

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  3. Really awesome post.I like this so very much

    Regards
    Igor Komar actor

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you, Igor! Tyrone Power, Jr. has always been one of my favorite actors. His commanding presence on the screen captured my imagination and held me in suspended disbelief since childhood.

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