Steve Hayes regales us each week with his dishy, funny, and informative classic movie recommendations as the Tired Old Queen at the Movies!
Of all the hunks who ended up as matinee idol of the Golden Age, probably no one was more beautiful or had a more "Hollywood Story" than Tyrone Power. Born into a theatrical family, Tyrone Power Sr. had been a huge star on the stage and was just entering pictures when his teenage son came to visit him. Prior to this, the boy had been raised by his very protective mother, Patia and seldom saw his father once his parents divorced. His father and he bonded and senior Power taught his son the rudiments of acting, having him concentrate on studying the classics and training the beautiful speaking voice, which along with his spectacular looks would become his trademark.
Not long after Ty had arrived in Hollywood, his father suffered a major heart attack on the set and essentially died in his son's arms. Devastated by the loss of the father he'd just gotten to know and yet determined to carry on the family tradition, Tyrone pursued his acting career. Eventually he landed a screen test at 20th Century Fox for Darryl F. Zanuck, who had known and admired Ty's father and had a hunch about the young actor. He asked his wife Virginia to look at the test. Her comment was; "Shave a space between his eyebrows and you'll have your next big romantic star."
Virginia saw what would eventually become evident to everyone, that Power had an immense sex appeal and an amazing effect on his female audience. Darkly handsome, with deep brown eyes, long lashes, a perfect nose and ears, Tyrone photographed spectacularly. In addition, he was also an expert fencer, athlete and dancer. He looked great in costume pictures as well as modern dress. He spoke beautifully with impeccable diction and was the personification on the screen of what he was off, the perfect gentleman who was also the nicest guy in the world.
Despite being so "pretty", straight males weren't threatened by him and took to him as well. Following his initial success in the costume drama Lloyds of London (1935), he became Fox's answer to the swashbuckling hero typified by Errol Flynn over at Warner Brothers. Although he never made the list of those "serious" actors nominated for Oscars, his pictures always made a good showing at the awards. Huge adventure dramas such as In Old Chicago (1938), The Rains Came (1939), Suez (1938), The Mark Of Zorro (1940), Son Of Fury (1942) and Blood and Sand (1942), cemented his reputation as one of the top box-office draws.
When not defending his family honor, or fighting duels of one sort or another, he was paired in light comedies with the most beautiful actresses on the lot. Alice Faye, Loretta Young, Linda Darnell, Gene Tierney, Betty Grable and ice skating star Sonia Henie all benefitted from being in the arms of the romantic Tyrone. His private life was another matter.
By the late thirties, Tyrone was still single and although seen and photographed with a number of eligible actresses, he had failed to marry. A practicing bi-sexual, he had a huge gay following and was involved with several men over the years, among them composer Lorenz Hart and actor Cesar Romero. Ty was not the only gay actor at the studio and had a affairs with many of the handsome hunks on the lot, most of whom were more than willing to bed the "Studio's Star Attraction". He was often seen in public with men who were "known" homosexuals, but he was so universally loved by the community, that they turned a blind eye. His group of gay friends included, directors George Cukor and Edmund Goulding as well as actors Clifton Webb, Lon McCallister and his lover, William Eythe, Cary Grant, Reginald Gardner, Van Johnson and bi-sexual billionaire Howard Hughes. However, with doomed character actor Laird Cregar, he drew the line. Cregar's flamboyant nature and obvious effeminate tendencies attracted too much attention in public and made Ty uncomfortable. The great gay love of Power's life was said to be a technician at Fox, with whom he had a relationship for decades.
Although Zanuck liked Ty immensely, but was afraid of losing his studio's resident hunk and biggest moneymaker, should the rumors of his gay lifestyle become public. He began putting pressure on Power to tie the knot and keep the rumormongers at bay. On the set of Suez, Ty co-starred with French import, a lovely starlet named Annabella. She was different than any actress he'd met before. She was older, self-assured and possessed a frankness, down to earth attitude and a healthy skepticism about the movie business. Power liked her immediately and much to the Hollywood's and his mother's surprise, they were wed. However, even though he was now married, he was also addicted to romance and couldn't control his weakness for other sexual partners, continuing to have dalliances with both men and women alike. For a while in the early forties, he carried on a passionate affair with the young Judy Garland, which some felt led to the first of her many breakdowns.
With the advent of World War II, Power enlisted and fought in the South Pacific. Being away and finally free from his wife, his possessive mother and Zanuck's watchful eye made a new man of him. This, combined with the drama of the war and being surrounded by so many men, helped to build his confidence and changed his life. The service matured him considerably and he returned in peacetime determined to pursue more serious roles and develop a reputation and career as a legitimate actor like his father. He negotiated a new contract with Fox and agreed to star in their hugely expensive film version of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge (1946) on the condition that he could also star in a seedy film noir called Nightmare Alley (1947). Unfortunately, the former proved to be a huge success, while the latter did not and it was back to the swashbucklers for Tyrone.
By this time, he and Annabella had grown apart and their marriage was finished. He took a long trip by plane for six weeks into South America with his on again off again lover, Cesar Romero and for the first time since the war, he was once again free to be who he was and do what he wanted without the prying eyes of everyone around him. Upon his return, he entered into a tempestuous relationship with Lana Turner, who was then the queen of MGM and between husbands. They made a beautiful couple, but Tyrone could see that life with Lana would be no picnic and instead, married Latin starlet Linda Christian with whom he fathered two daughters before the marriage ended in the mid-fifties.
Although Tyrone was only in his early forties, he was beginning to look ten years older. The busy Hollywood social life, the smoking, drinking, all night parties, and other excesses, were beginning to take their toll. He ignored the signs that he might have a weak heart like his father and continued to live as he always had.
While playing in Solomon and Sheba (1957), he was forced to do all his own stunts and work outside in the grueling sun, often in heavy armor. One afternoon, during a dueling scene with George Sanders involving heavy swords, Ty suddenly collapsed. He'd suffered a massive heart attack and died before anything could be done. History had repeated itself and the son had died, just as his father had, on the set and barely forty. Sadly, Ty had recently married his third wife, who was expecting their child, a son, born six months later and also named after his father.
Today, Power's contribution to films is much more appreciated than it was at the time. A keener knowledge by film buffs and historians of what it took to pull off the genre of pictures he starred in has made his spectacular career all the more impressive. Not every actor could have made the characters he played believable or carried off the often-ludicrous plots of his films. Tyrone, always the professional and committed to his work, made whatever the picture he was in, work in the end. This was quite an achievement and a solid epitaph for any actor. Not only was Tyrone Power the actor he always wanted to be, he was more of an actor than anyone ever gave him credit for. What a hunk!