Thursday, May 1, 2014

James Arness: Military Hero

James Arness in uniform. 

I wrote about James Arness once before shortly after he died. From The Thing to Gunsmoke he has always been one of my favorites actors, but I recently learned that he also had extensive military experience and was wounded in the service. 

James Arness (1923-2011) served in the U.S. Army during WW II. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but was turned down due to his height--6'7". Instead he served (rather appropriately) as a rifleman with 2nd platoon E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division of the US Army. 

Arness was wounded in the Battle of Anzio, which left him with a lifelong limp. He received a Bronze Star; Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze star devices; World War II Victory Medal; and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

Rest in peace, James Arness.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo: Hollywood Heartbreak

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, publicity screenshot for A Woman of Affairs, 1929.

John Gilbert was one of the hottest, sexiest, most in-demand actors in silent films when Greta Garbo was still in film school, but from the minute he saw her on screen, for him, it was love at first sight. For her, it almost seemed to be a game, which she played skilfully right up to her wedding day, then failed to make an appearance.  

The Devil Dodger starring Roy Stewart and John Gilbert, publicity screenshot, 1917.

John Gilbert (July 10, 1987-January 9, 1936) was an American actor and director famous in the silent film era who lost popularity after the invention of "talkies," but not for his voice as was rumored at the time. He had a dark, seductive look and a strong, rich voice that the women loved, on-screen and off. He was known as "The Great Lover." His only on-screen rival was Rudolph Valentino and when Valentino died, Gilbert ruled Hollywood as box office gold. 

Gilbert's Early Years

Gilbert was born John Cecil Pringle in Logan Utah. His parents were also actors, but unsuccessful, and like Greta Garbo he struggled with years of childhood abuse and poverty. His family moved frequently, but he eventually was able to attend the Hitchcock Military Academy in California.

John Gilbert and Joan Crawford in Four Walls, 1928, public domain.

Gilbert, like his parents, chose to be an actor and was hired on as an extra with the Thomas Ince Studios. He was liked and admired for his talent and hired to write and direct films as well as act. His early films include 1919's Heart o' the Hills with the famous Mary Pickford. 

John Gilbert and Virginia Brown Faire in Monte Cristo, 1922, trailer screenshot. 

In 1921, Gilbert signed with Fox Film Corporation as their leading man and starred in Monte Cristo and The Wolf Man. Nevertheless, it is believed that Fox Film was failing to use Gilbert to his full potential, and considering the work he completed at Ince Studios, this is likely true.

Garbo's Troubled Childhood

Swedish actress Greta Garbo was one of the few Hollywood stars to successfully transition from silent films to talkies. Her poverty-stricken childhood was riddled with painful moments, moments she later used to enhance her performances with an honesty and sincerity that many of her contemporaries lacked.

Greta Garbo, The Saga of Gosta Berlings, 1924, public domain.

On September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born to Anna Lovisa and Karl Alfred Gustaffson. She was the youngest of three children in a family so destitute they lived in near-poverty in a tenement apartment in Stockholm's then slum area of Sodermalm. Garbo graduated from school at 13.

Greta Garbo, publicity photo, 1924.

Garbo's  father became ill during the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 and she cared for him at home until he died in 1920 and she was forced to join the work force to help support her family. She started as a soap lather girl in a barber shop where she met the son of the owner of PUB (Paul U. Bergstrom) department store. She was offered a job selling hats in the department store and occasionally modeling for the store's newspaper advertisements.

Introduction to Acting

As a teenager, while still working at PUB, Garbo was asked to do a short screen advertisement directed by Captain Ragnar Ring. The advertisement short was called How Not to Dress. She was also cast in the 1922 advertising short Our Daily Bread promoting baked goods. The advertisements were seen by producer/director Erik Petschler, who offered her a part in the 1920 film Peter the Tramp.

Greta Garbo, publicity shot, 1924, public domain.

The role inspired Garbo and Petschler suggested she audition for the Royal Dramatic Theatre Academy in Stockholm. She was accepted and attended the Academy from 1922 to 1924.

The Royal Dramatic Theatre's acting school, of Sweden class of 1922-1924. From left to right: Lena Cederqvist, Karl-Magnus Thulstrup, Mona Mårtensson, Mimi Pollak, Vera Schmiterlöw, Greta Garbo, Alf Sjöberg and Håkan Westergren. 

Garbo then changed her name to Greta Garbo on the advice of Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, who cast her in the 1924 film The Story of Gosta Berling, a dramatic film based on a popular Swedish novel by Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlof.

Greta Garbo, trailer screenshot, The Joyless Street, 1925.

The Story of Gosta Berling details the love affair of a virginal countess and a troubled minister and was originally released in two parts. It was a strong professional vehicle for Garbo, garnering attention to her talent in Hollywood, but she was still considered an "unknown" to the public. Garbo continued her training in cinematic techniques with Mauritz Stiller.

Garbo and Louis B. Mayer

According to Susan Ware's Notable American Women, when Hollywood film producer Louis B. Mayer was scouting for talent in Berlin he was invited to a showing of The Story of Gosta Berling. He was impressed with Stiller's work and briefly acknowledged Garbo, but suggested she needed to lose weight before trying to make her mark in Hollywood.

Greta Garbo circa 1920, photo by Henry B. Goodwin, public domain.

Stiller and Garbo joined Metro Goldwyn Mayer in September of 1925. Garbo was twenty pounds lighter. She was immediately cast in the 1926 film The Torrent, a classic tragedy about love and rejection.She did not work with Stiller on this film. Nevertheless, Garbo's performance received good reviews. She was next cast in Temptress with Stiller as director. Stiller was replaced, but Garbo once again received great reviews.

Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller on board the S/S Drottningholm" in 1925 en route to the US.

Garbo was often cast as a troubled woman in a romantically-compromising situation. Her performance was strengthened even more when sound was introduced into the film industry and she dazzled her audience with her deep, sultry, sexy voice. She was the perfect match for John Gilbert, in the minds of the public and possibly in his mind, as well, but if this was true she apparently had other plans.

Relationship with John Gilbert

Garbo made her two most popular films--Flesh and the Devil in 1926 and Love in 1927--with actor John Gilbert as the romantic interest. As Walter Pidgeon explained in MGM Parade, Flesh and the Devil made Greta Garbo "an unequivocal box office smash."

John Gilbert publicity photo, circa 1930.

Pidgeon also stated that Garbo's collaboration with Gilbert in this film resulted in "some truly unsettling love scenes." These two films, and rumors of romance between Garbo and Gilbert, marked the beginning of the paparazzi's obsession with the actress and her romantic relationships, an obsession that plagued Garbo for the rest of her life.

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil, 1926.

Garbo and Gilbert made three films that seemed to fuel a gossip-hungry public: Flesh and the Devil; Love; and A Woman of Affairs. The titles alone were enough to draw the public to the theaters, but the rumors of romance between the two leading stars made these films instant hits.

Talkie Debut in Anna Christie

According to Susan Ware's Notable American Women, MGM executives were reluctant to take risks with their stars and Garbo made some of her most popular silent films--1927's Love, and 1928's The Mysterious Lady and A Woman of Affairs--after talkies had already been introduced to the public. She made a total of seven silent films after talkies were introduced before MGM allowed her to speak in her movies.

Greta Garbo, 1925, photo by Alexander Binder, public domain.

According to TCM Archives, Louis B. Mayer's concern was not Garbo's voice, which was silky smooth and seductively deep, but the fact that she had a strong Swedish accent. He was concerned about possible prejudice, or that her fans may have perceived her differently and would be unable to relate to her if they knew she had an accent.

Garbo's talkie debut came in 1930 with the film version of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize winning dramatic play Anna Christie, which was advertised with the catch phrase "Garbo talks!" According to TCM, Garbo was nervous about the project and told a friend "I feel like an unborn child."

Queen Christina

After an 18 month hiatus, Greta Garbo returned to the screen in 1930's Queen Christina. The role was perfect for Garbo as a reserved queen who abdicates the throne for her Spanish lover then leaves her kingdom to return his body to his native land when he dies, though it contrasted strongly with the real Queen Christina of Sweden who was raised as a prince, crowned as a king, openly bisexual, and abdicated her throne in 1654 to practice Catholicism.

Greta Garbo, trailer screenshot, Queen Christina, 1933, public domain.

According to TCM Archives, Louis B. Mayer had a tremendous amount of respect for Garbo and gave her complete control over who was hired to work on the film. Sir Laurence Olivier was originally hired for the lead in Queen Christina, but when Garbo found she could not "romantically respond" to Olivier she insisted that Mayer hire her former fiance, John Gilbert, for the role.

Sir Laurence Olivier, 1939, public domain.

In spite of the fact that Garbo was also working on the set with her lesbian lover, rumors of romance between Gilbert and Garbo were once again circulating through the tabloids fueling the romantic imaginations of her audience. If it is true that Garbo had by this time left him at the alter, that must have been an uncomfortable and emotionally painful situation for everyone involved, which makes one wonder why she insisted on having him play the role.

The Mystery of the Gilbert and Garbo Relationship

Greta Garbo's personal life was obsessively fascinating for the paparazzi who stalked her until her death. Her apparent bisexuality was of particular interest to photographers and reporters. Her performances with John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil and Love flamed the imaginations of her many fans and Gilbert's proposal of marriage made headlines around the world. It is unknown if Garbo actually left Gilbert at the alter, or if this was a publicity rumor started by the studios, which is claimed by some biographers.

Publicity still from Ninotchka, 1939, public domain.

I personally believe she left him at the alter. I do not believe the studios wanted that kind of publicity back then and one studio executive claimed that he told Gilbert outright to stop chasing after Garbo because, if he didn't, it would ruin his career. I have read many accounts stating Gilbert was obsessed with Garbo, but these were also said to be rumors.

Greta Garbo and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel 1932, public domain.

Garbo had a reputation for having numerous love affairs and at that time in Hollywood it was considered a bonus for a male star to have the reputation of a lover, but if a woman was assertive with her sex life she was considered scandalous (I could use other words here, but I won't).

Greta Garbo, publicity still, The Joyless Street, 1925, public domain.

According to TCM Archives, Garbo conceived the idea of Queen Christina with her lover, writer Salka Viertel, insisted that her former fiance, John Gilbert, play the lead, then became romantically involved during the filming with director Rouben Mamoulian. If this is true then it would seem possible that the studios started the rumor that Garbo left Gilbert at the alter, otherwise he certainly would have turned down the role, unless he felt desperate, and his career was waning, so that's possible, as well.

Greta Garbo, The Joyless Street, 1929, public domain.

Regardless, Garbo never married anyone, certainly not John Gilbert, and she had no children. In 1951, she became a naturalized United States Citizen and a few years later purchased a seven room apartment in New York where she spent the remainder of her life in near seclusion, hiding from the paparazzi who had become so aggressive that she could no longer live a life that resembled anything close to normal, or average, or even comfortable.

Gilbert was married four times, and each marriage was plagued with public scandal. His longest marriage lasted four years, to Olivia Burwell. He died while they were still married. He had two children--one with Leatrice Joy and one with Virginia Bruce.

The Legacy of Gilbert and Garbo

Gilbert and Garbo are still considered one of Hollywood's classic couples, like Bogart and Bacall, and Tracey and Hepburn. They both had fairly successful careers, even though Gilbert's did decline with the invention of talkies.

Gilbert and Garbo, public domain.

Gilbert's alcoholism was impossible to keep secret, especially since it affected his marriages in such a public way. By 1934, it had also severely damaged his reputation as an actor, and even more sadly, his health. Gilbert had a heart attack in December of 1935, but survived. He had a second, fatal heart attack on January 9, 1936. His ashes are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His funeral was attended by his wife and two ex-wives, both daughters, and many Hollywood stars, such as Myrna Loy, Gary Cooper, and Marlene Dietrich.

John Gilbert, public domain

Gilbert was generous with his family and friends, distributing his estate among his family, friends, relatives and servants. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and like his famous costar, a US postage stamp was designed in his honor by Al Hirschfeld.

During her short career, Greta Garbo appeared in two advertising "shorts" and 30 films, including Anna Karenina and Mata Hari. She was nominated for four Academy Awards, for her performances in Anna Christie, Romance, Camille, and Ninotchka. In 1954 she was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for "Unforgettable Screen Performances."

Greta Garbo, The Joyless Street, 1929, public domain.

She was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1984, but died from pneumonia on April 15, 1990 at the age of 85. She was cremated and her ashes interred at Skogskyrkogarden Cemetery near Stockholm, Sweden where she was born.

Greta Garbo's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
Photo by Henry Salomé (Jaser !) 11:13, 25 October 2006.

In 2005, a commemorative postage stamp featuring Greta Garbo was issued by the United States Postal Service. The Swedish Posten issued a similar stamp that same year. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.


  • Bainbridge, John. "The Great Garbo: A Candid Biography." Life Magazine. Jan. 10, 1955.
  • "Greta Garbo." MGM Parade. Episode 31. Narrated by Walter Pidgeon. Produced 1955-1956. Broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, January 9, 2011.
  • "Greta Garbo: Star of the Month." TCM Archives. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  • Ware, Susan. Notable Women: A biographical dictionary completing the twentieth century. Harvard University Press. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005.

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge, J is for John Gilbert and Greta Garbo.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Irving Berlin: "God Bless America"

Irving Berlin, one of the greatest American songwriters, in 1906, performing for his first music publisher at 18 years old. Photo in public domain.

If it's a snappy, happy song from a classic film, the type of song you'll never forget, it was written by Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin is the author and composer of "God Bless America," and "Easter Parade." He wrote "White Christmas" and Ethel Merman's trademark song, "There's no Business Like Show Business." If you're not tapping your feet yet, you will be by the time you finish this post! 

One of America's Greatest Songwriters 
Came From a Typical Immigrant Family

Irving Berlin (May 11, 1888-September 22, 1989) was born Israel Isidore Beilin near Belarus, Russia. He was one of eight children born to Moses Beilin, a cantor in a synagogue, and his wife, Lena Lipkin Beilin. Moses Beilin moved their family to New York City in 1893. Berlin once told a biographer that he had few memories of his childhood except for one--lying on the side of a road wrapped in a blanket, watching his home burn to ashes. The rest of his memories are all of New York City.

The family lived in the Yiddish Theater District in the Lower East Side. His father was unable to find work as a cantor, so he worked in a Kosher meat market and taught Hebrew to local students. His mother worked as a midwife, his sisters worked in a factory wrapping cigars, and Irving hawked The Evening Journal while singing songs for tips--a typical immigrant family. 

Singing for the Masses

Feeling he was more of a burden than an asset to his struggling family, Irving left his home at 14 to join the many young boys living on the streets. Berlin and a few of his friends traveled along the Bowery singing to patrons in the saloons. 

Berlin often said it was these early experiences that led him to success as he learned how to write and sing music that appealed to the immigrants in New York. Berlin teamed up with another young man singing in the saloons, George M. Cohen, who was becoming popular on Broadway and the two were an instant hit. Berlin published his first song, "Marie From Sunny Italy," at the age of 19.

It was a short time later, when Berlin was 23 years old, that he wrote the song that would make his name: "Alexander's Ragtime Band." The song was an international hit, sparking a dance craze that traveled all the way back to Berlin's birthplace in Russia. 

Irving Berlin in 1938 with Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. Trailer Screenshot for Alexander's Ragtime Band, public domain. 

It wasn't just the song that drove his fans wild, but its ragtime beat that sent dancers into a frenzy. In 1938 it was also the title song for the film by the same name starring the equally young and inexperienced Tyrone Power, Jr., Alice Faye, and Ethel Merman. 

Songs and Singers That Will Amaze you! 

Irving Berlin's list of popular songs numbers in the hundreds with so many recognizable titles it's amazing anyone else found work when he was in town! Some of his most famous tunes include "Anything you can do, I can do Better," which I remember singing with my own brothers and sisters. He wrote "Cheek to Cheek" and "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." He wrote "Easter Parade," and "God Bless America." "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "There's no Business Like Show Business" are also Berlin songs. His songs were simple, romantic, and appealed to the average American, and that was the secret to Irving Berlin's success. 

Irving Berlin in 1941. Unknown photographer, public domain.

Irving Berlin's songs were also the vehicles for success for many stars. For instance, "Blue Skies was in the first feature-length "talkie" film The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. He also wrote career-boosting songs for Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, and of course Alice Faye who sang in Alexander's Ragtime Band. His songs were light, happy, easy to follow and remember so the audience could sing along, and people loved the music and the man. 

Irving Berlin: The Man 

Like most famous Hollywood greats, Irving Berlin had a difficult life that continued beyond his childhood. He married Dorothy Goetz in 1912. Her brother was also a famous songwriter so she knew the business and it seemed a perfect match, but she died within six months of typhoid fever contracted on their Cuban honeymoon, which inspired Berling to write "When I Lost You." 

Irving and Ellin Mackay Berlin, circa 1926. Photo Public Domain.

In the late1920s he married Ellin Mackay, who came from a wealthy, socially-prominent family. She was Catholic and wealthy, he was Jewish and came from a poor immigrant family--their relationship was doomed from the start. Her father actually sent her to Europe to meet potential suitors and Berlin continued to flirt with her over the radio with songs such as "Always" and "Remember." 

When her father persisted in his attempts to come between them, they decided to elope, which must have devastated her socialite family. Berlin later insisted that they had the blessing of her mother, even though her father initially disowned his daughter. Berlin gave his wife the rights to "Always" so she would "always" have an income, no matter what, and this income was used to rescue his father-in-law during the stock market crash of 1929.

Irving Berlin's grave marker. Photo by Anthony22.

Their marriage was the one true, beautiful thing in Berlin's life. They remained married until her death at the age of 85 and had four children during their 63 years together. Their oldest died on Christmas day while still a baby, but the other three children lived long, successful lives. Irving Berlin died peacefully in his sleep on September 22, 1989 of natural causes. He was 101 years old. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the place he always considered home--The Bronx, New York. 

  • Fowler, Glenn. "Berlin's Work is Recalled With Words and Music." The New York Times. Published September 24, 1989. Accessed April 10, 2014. 
  • "Irving Berlin: Biography." Songwriters Hall of Fame. Accessed April 10, 2014.
In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge I is for Irving Berlin!

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.

  • "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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lillian Gish, Delicate Beauty

Lillian Gish, 1922, from the Lillian Gish Collection, Library of Congress, Public Domain.

The delicate beauty of Lillian Gish left her audience breathless, but she was also a diverse and complex actress whose talent was beyond compare. Life wasn’t easy for Lillian, but with dedication and perseverance she managed to create a stage and screen career that lasted 75 years.

The Early Years of Lillian Gish

On October 14, 1893, Lillian Diana Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, to Mary Robinson McConnell and James Lee Gish. Lillian made her first performance at the age of five when she and her younger sister, Dorothy Gish, started acting and modeling to help support the family.

Lillian and Dorothy Gish with their mother in 1900. Photo in public domain.

In 1902, Lillian made her first theater performance in Rising Sun, Ohio. The next two years were spent acting with her mother and sister in melodramas for $10 a week. In 1905 she danced in a Sarah Bernhardt production in New York City. By the time she was a teenager, Lillian Gish was an experienced professional.

The Dedication and Appeal of Lillian Gish

Lillian’s wide-eyed, dark beauty and delicate features gave her a look of vulnerability that served her well in silent films where she often played the orphaned victim, but Lillian’s success in films was more than just skin deep. She often subjected herself to the same extreme conditions as her characters to achieve the desired look for the screen or stage.

Lillian Gish, 1921, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain.

Her thin and fragile appearance also helped her to convince her audience that she was three years younger than her actual age--it was not until 1984 that her true birth date was made public.

Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith

Lillian and her sister, Dorothy, were friends with the popular actress Mary Pickford, and Pickford introduced them to silent film director D.W. Griffith. It was Griffith who cast Lillian in her first film. Lillian and Dorothy played orphaned sisters in the 1912 crime thriller An Unseen Enemy.

Lillian and Dorothy Gish, trailer screenshot from An Unseen Enemy.

Lillian made over two dozen films with D.W. Griffith and in her autobiography she claimed they often worked twelve hour days, seven days a week. During her time with Griffith, Lillian also directed the 1920 film Remodeling Her Husband, which starred her sister, Dorothy, and Dorothy's husband, James Rennie.

Rumors and Scandals Regarding the Private Life of Lillian Gish

Lillian worked very closely and often with D.W. Griffith and there were rumors of romantic involvement that she refused to confirm or deny. She did, however, have a relationship with George Jean Nathan, founder and editor of the literary magazine American Spectator.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish with D.W. Griffith, 1922, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain. 

She was also involved with producer Charles Duell, a relationship which was made public in the 1920s when Duell filed a lawsuit against Gish.

Lillian Gish moves to MGM Studios

In 1924, Lillian was offered an $800,000 contract with MGM Studios where she continued her remarkable performances in films such as the 1926 version of The Scarlet Letter.

Lillian Gish in The Musketeers of Pig Alley, 1912, trailer screenshot.

In the 1930s, however, her career seemed to dwindle and she returned to theater performances and occasionally performed on the radio, as well. Lillian appeared on television for the first time in 1948 and continued to appear regularly on television for the rest of her career.

The Final Performance of Lillian Gish

In the later years of Lillian Gish’s career she starred in numerous films that brought her great critical acclaim, such as her performance as Laura Belle McCanles in the 1946 Duel in the Sun, which earned her an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. She also portrayed Rachel Cooper in 1955’s The Night of the Hunter and received many positive reviews.

Lillian Gish, 1922, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain.

In 1960, Lillian portrayed Matilda Zachary in John Huston’s The Unforgiven, which also starred Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, and Audie Murphy, and again she received many positive reviews.

Lillian Gish photographed in her own apartment by photographer Allan Warren in 1973.

Her final film appearance was in 1987’s The Whales of August, a performance that many critics believed deserved an Oscar nomination. In this film, Lillian’s character, Sarah Webber, is the elderly caretaker of her blind sister, Libby Strong, played by Bette Davis. Lillian was 93 years old when she made the film and this gave her the distinction of being the oldest actress to feature in a leading role.

The Death and Legacy of Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish died of natural causes on February 27, 1993. She was 99 years old. She never married and she had no children. She was buried beside her sister, Dorothy, at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Manhattan. She left her estate to her close friend, actress Helen Hayes.

Lillian Gish card, 1915. Unknown Photographer, Public Domain.

Lillian Gish appeared in a total of 119 films during her career. In 1971, she received an Honorary Academy Award. The American Film Institute named Gish one of the greatest female stars of all time and in 1984 she received an AFI Life Achievement Award. 

Lillian Gish on the cover of the December 1921 issue of Photoplay. Public Domain.

The Gish Film Theater and Gallery in Bowling Green State University is dedicated to the works of both Dorothy and Lillian Gish and Gish gifted numerous items of memorabilia from her acting career to the theater. Lillian and her sister, Dorothy, both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California.

Lillian and Dorothy Gish, screenshot from Orphans of the Storm, 1921. 

There is also a street named after Lillian Gish in Massillon, Ohio, where she lived as a child. Lillian Gish wrote three autobiographies, including: The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me with Ann Pinchot, published in 1969 by Prentice Hall; Dorothy and Lillian Gish, published in 1973 by Charles Scribner's Sons; and An Actor's Life for Me with Selma G. Lanes, published in 1987 by Viking Penguin Press.

  • "History." The Dorothy & Lillian Gish Film Theater & Gallery. Bowling Green State University Website.
  • LillianGish. American Masters. PBS.Org.
  • The Official Website of Lillian Gish.
  • The Whales of August. Dir. Lindsay Anderson. Perfs. Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern. Nelson Entertainment, 1987.
G is for Lillian Gish!