Once upon a time there was a feudal kingdom known as 20th Century-Fox, and in it lived a handsome prince and a beautiful princess…
A too-fanciful opening? Maybe not, given that the prince and princess in this particular tale are Tyrone Power and Loretta Young. Talented, in the blossom of youth and blessed with storybook good looks, the two were becoming the American equivalent of royalty – Hollywood movie stars – when they first began working together in the 1930s. Under contract to Fox, the pair first shared the screen (along with Janet Gaynor, Constance Bennett, Don Ameche and Paul Lukas), if just barely, in Ladies in Love (1936), a Budapest-set precursor to 1953’s Bacall/Monroe/Grable vehicle How to Marry a Millionaire. The movie was a success, the studio deemed Power and Young a matched set, and in 1937 starred them opposite each other in three lighthearted screwball comedies in rapid succession.
Young, who began in pictures as a toddler, was being cast in adult roles by the time she was in her mid-teens. A seasoned leading lady when Fox teamed her with Power, she was nearing the end of her contract and looking forward to saying goodbye to Darryl F. Zanuck. Tyrone Power’s rise to stardom had just begun when he and Loretta became an above-the-title couple. His brief appearance in had created a stir and he was, soon after, cast as one of the male leads – the least featured but most notable – in Ladies in Love. On the recommendation of director Henry King, Power was quickly moved into a starring role on Lloyd’s of London (1936). The movie and its fourth-billed leading man were a hit and the studio could rest assured that it had a hot property in Tyrone Power.
He was top-billed for the first time in Love Is News, the first of his three 1937 pictures opposite Young. Tay Garnett (China Seas, The Postman Always Rings Twice) directed the high-speed comedy, a “brash reporter vs. spoiled heiress” romance in the vein of It Happened One Night and Libeled Lady. Power is the smart-aleck newspaperman and Young the pampered socialite whose first-reel animosity blossoms, despite countless obstacles, into third-reel love.
Steve Leyton (Power), hotshot reporter, tricks “tin can” heiress Tony Gateson (Young) into revealing details of her love life that provide him with a “scoop.” She gets even by inventing a scoop of her own by announcing to the press that Steve is her new fiancé and that she is gifting him with $1,000,000. Steve now experiences what Tony intended, that he be treated as “a public freak,” just as she has. Complications begin to pile up, one on top of the other, from this point until the final clinch.
Love is News was made quickly on a modest budget, but it’s a breezy, well-paced romp that works most of the time. Power and Young carry the leads easily, both surprisingly at home in the screwball genre, with the added appeal of their obvious rapport. They play slightly older than their years (he was still 22 at the time, she had just turned 24) – sophistication was in vogue then – and both have the self-possession and skill to carry it off. The script hits a pothole or two but is, most of the time, smart and smile-inducing. The supporting cast is solid and put to good use: Don Ameche as Power’s on again-off again boss/pal/antagonist, George Sanders as a European fortune hunter, Slim Summerville as a country judge, Dudley Digges as Young’s tycoon uncle, Elisha Cook, Jr., as a drunken cub reporter.
Three months after Love is News was released, Café Metropole arrived in theaters. This time out, Power would portray a Princeton grad adrift in Paris. He has lost what remained of his inheritance at Baccarat and is coerced by a scheming restaurateur into pretending to be a Russian prince and wooing an American heiress. Adolphe Menjou as the manager of the Café Metropole, has the plum role and the wittiest lines; Young is the high-strung heiress who’s mad for the fake prince – and more stunning than ever in a collection of fairytale gowns designed by Royer. The glamorous Parisian setting and urbane patter, along with a gossamer gloss that seems to dust the screen, all hint at an intention to suggest a touch of Lubitsch.
Café Metropole is as delectable an indulgence as fresh strawberries with a dollop of mascarpone and a glass of champagne. The viewer is treated to a daydream world of romantic fantasy and fun created around the impossibly beautiful and elegant young couple Power and Young portray. There’s very little not to enjoy and much to like – including Menjou at his most suave, adding mischief as the rascally restaurateur, Charles Winninger and Helen Westley lending gleeful comedic support as Young’s father and aunt, and Gregory Ratoff elbowing his way into the fray as the real Russian prince.
Café Metropole and Love is News are above-average examples of the old studio practice of keeping their stars busy – and visible – on moderately budgeted pictures in between larger-scale productions. Films like these gave actors the opportunity to hone their craft, develop their style and gain confidence in front of the camera as their careers continued to be guided and developed.
The Power-Young duo became immensely popular with audiences, perhaps enhanced by rumors and press reports that they were romantically involved; Young confessed decades later that she had been crazy about him and it has been written that Zanuck warned Power away from her. For whatever reason, Fox next cast Power (as a real prince) opposite skating star Sonja Henie in the musical trifle Thin Ice before reuniting him with Young. The Hollywood rumor mill would soon link Power to Henie; it seems he had a habit of romancing his leading ladies – and ladies in supporting roles and in bit parts and among the extras, but little came of these liaisons until 1938.
Second Honeymoon was the fourth Power-Young pairing in less than a year, their last romantic comedy, and maybe Fox should’ve given the formula a rest for a while. Directed by Walter Lang, best known for his colorful Fox musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s and for directing three of the later Shirley Temple vehicles, the picture is – well, chaotic. Poorly scripted and lacking a cohesive structure, it is also overstuffed with characters, some of them irritating. Briefly, it’s the story of a divorced couple (Power and Young) who run into each other in Miami not long after she has remarried (Lyle Talbot). He (a wealthy playboy) wants her back and, in the end, after endless lunatic hi-jinks, he gets her back. Had Second Honeymoon been better written, directed, and cast (the Stuart Erwin/Marjorie Weaver subplot is extraneous and both actors grate, plus Claire Trevor’s fine talent is wasted), it might’ve achieved the underrated gem status of Love is News and Café Metropole. But no. Young is shrill and not especially sympathetic through most of it. Power is…gorgeous – unbelievably so – and charming. And that’s all there is to say about Second Honeymoon.
Power need not have worried too much, he had gained self-assurance and experience and was about to move on to bigger and better things; his next film would be the disaster epic In Old Chicago (1937), nominated for six Oscars and winner of two. It was the hit film that introduced the team of Tyrone Power and his next serial co-star, Alice Faye, to the public.
In 1938 Tyrone Power and Loretta Young would star in their final film together, Suez, an opulent historical fiction about the building of the Suez Canal, directed by Alan Dwan. Power was cast as Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer who conceived and constructed the canal, and Young was cast as Countess (later Empress) Eugénie. Also featured, as the tomboy granddaughter of a French soldier in Egypt was the French actress, Annabella. She and Power became passionately involved during filming and would marry, much to Darryl Zanuck’s horror, in 1939.
In the years that Power and Young were Fox co-stars, they also posed together for many studio portraits. Theirs are some of the most glamorous and evocative Hollywood portraits of the 1930s and were shot by some of the best of the studio photographers. These dramatic photographs served to fuel and reinforce the admiration and fantasies of fans for the great stars of the age. Decades later, Young admitted that these sessions had kindled some of her own fantasies.
Though their lives and careers took them in different directions, Tyrone Power and Loretta Young remained lifelong friends. At the time of his death in 1958, she was working on her popular long-running TV anthology, The Loretta Young Show. As it happened, Power’s funeral was held on a day when she was in production on the series and, with no time to change, she rushed to the service still dressed in the Oriental costume she was wearing on the set.
The Lady Eve lives in Northern California and works in TV. Her blog posts have won CiMBA Awards from the Classic Movie Blog Association and been reprinted in newspapers and magazines. For more information, visit http://eves-reel-life.blogspot.com. This post was her entry in POWER-MAD, a May 5th blogathon celebrating the 100th anniversary of Tyrone Power’s birth.