Fame based on his stunning looks was not Power's goal when he signed his first Hollywood contract. Yet with his brilliant smile and intense eyes, he quickly became an international sensation, and 20th Century Fox couldn't print his picture fast enough to meet demand. As author Barbara Cartland famously said, “We didn't need sex. We had Tyrone Power."
Most of Power's 22-year-career was spent at Fox performing in every genre: drama, musical, period pieces, comedy, fantasy, crime, western, film noir and finally, the swashbuckler movies for which he is most remembered today.
Power was at his best as a boyish, lovable cad who projected confidence and athleticism. After serving with the Marines in World War II, however, he wanted to challenge himself as an actor. One result was the cult classic Nightmare Alley, which at last that he was more than, as he once disparagingly put it, "everybody's darling boy."
Tyrone Power's Early YearsHe was born Tyrone Edmund Power on May 5, 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio to actor Tyrone Power Sr. and actress Patia Power, in an acting dynasty that began with his great-grandfather. Power Sr. was a famous stage actor whose work took him away from often. Since Tyrone Jr.'s health was delicate, the family moved to California, where his sister Anne was born in 1915.
Tyrone Power Sr. and Patia Power appeared together on stage and in a film, The Planter. However, the couple eventually divorced. Patia returned to her family in Cincinnati where she went to work as a drama and voice coach. After graduating from high school in 1931, Power rejoined his father in California to take up acting.
Their time together was short. Tyrone Power Sr. died of a heart attack in December, 1931 on the set of the film The Miracle Man, leaving his son devastated, alone, and broke. Using his father's name to open doors, Power did land a tiny role in Tom Brown of Culver. Discouraged, he left Hollywood for the New York stage.
Power's luck finally changed when he was chosen by the great actress Katherine Cornell to understudy Burgess Meredith in the play Flowers of the Forest. Later he was cast as Benvolio in her tour of Romeo & Juliet, and Hollywood came knocking. He wisely took Cornell's advice and instead gained more stage experience. After his appearance in Shaw's St. Joan, Hollywood called again, and Power felt he was ready. He signed with Fox in 1936.
Bad Start -- Great FinishThe usual journey through the star factory means a gradual progression from small roles to starring parts. For Power, it didn't work quite that way. He was fired from his first film, Sing, Baby, Sing, and the director, Sidney Lanfield, suggested he find another line of employment. Alice Faye, who was starring in the film, intervened, and the studio cast him in Girls Dormitory. He appears in just two short scenes at the end of the film, bit that was enough. The preview cards all mentioned him, and Hedda Hopper sat through the film again to make sure she had his name right. He was then given a larger part in Ladies in Love.
With his option about to expire, Power asked director Henry King to consider him for a role. King had him tested for Lloyds of London, in a part intended for Don Ameche. King felt Power would make it big, and urged studio head Darryl Zanuck to cast him. Though Power received fourth billing, he was the real star. Power walked out of the premiere a superstar, a perch he never left.
He delighted audiences in one screen hit after another, becoming the #2 box office star in the world and named "King of Hollywood" by the motion picture theater owners three times to Clark Gable's one. His hits included In Old Chicago (1938), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Jesse James (1939), The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand (1941), The Razor's Edge (1946), The Captain from Castile (1947), The Prince of Foxes (1949), The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), The Long Gray Line (1955), and his last completed film, Witness for the Prosecution (1957).
Power's Screen ImagePower originally was a light leading man, a likeable, charming rogue who had a way with women: Love is News (1937), In Old Chicago (1938), Daytime Wife (1939), Johnny Apollo (1940), A Yank in the RAF (1941).
After his tremendous success in 1940's The Mark of Zorro, he moved into adventure-swashbuckler roles: Blood and Sand, The Black Swan, Son of Fury, The Captain from Castile, and The Black Rose.
Power's dream was to play a dark, complex role. In 1948, he starred as Stan Carlisle in the gritty film noir, Nightmare Alley. Time Magazine said, "Tyrone Power moves into a new level as an actor."
Once his contract with Fox ended, Power sought better parts, appearing in i]The Long Gray Line (1954), Abandon Ship (1957), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). He returned to his stage roots in The Devil's Disciple, John Brown's Body, Back to Methusalah and The Dark is Light Enough.
Power met his first wife, the French actress Annabella, on the set of Suez (1938). As the “Brangelina” of the day, their 1939 marriage made the front page of The Los Angeles Times. But with Power's service in World War II, Annabella's inability to conceive, and his various flings, (including a dalliance Judy Garland), the couple finally divorced in 1949.
Power and his second wife, starlet Linda Christian, met in Rome in 1947, and married there in 1949, as 10,000 people waited outside the church. The couple had two daughters, Romina and Taryn. They divorced in 1956.
After a long affair with Swedish actress Mai Zetterling, Power married one last time in 1958 to Deborah Minardos, a young woman from Mississippi. Power died before she gave birth to his only son, Tyrone Power IV.
Tyrone Power - the Bottom Line
Dismissed as absurdly handsome early on, Tyrone Power spent his career proving his ability. With many of his films now on DVD, audiences can appreciate him as more than a matinee idol, and there has been a resurgence of interest.