Tyrone Power: A Lot More Than Just a Pretty Face!

Tyrone Power 1914-1958

A fourth-generation member of a distinguished Irish-English stage family, this charming performer parlayed his arresting good looks and athletic presence into a two-decade stretch as one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men. Born in Cincinnati in 1914 to Tyrone Power, Sr. and Shakespearean actress Patia Riaume, Tyrone Power spent most of his earliest years in California, but returned to his hometown at age six after his parents’ divorce.

He developed his own taste for the stage during high school; after Tyrone’s graduation in 1931, he reconciled with his father and joined him on tour for tutelage and his first acting opportunities. It wasn’t long after that, however, that the elder Power collapsed on a Hollywood set and later died of heart failure in his son’s arms.Tyrone remained in L.A., making the rounds of casting offices. After that yielded nothing but  a bit appearance in 1932′s Tom Brown of Culver (Power’s screen debut came at 11 in the silent film School for Wives), he headed to New York in hopes of getting some seasoning on the stage. Katherine Cornell gave him successively larger responsibilities in many of her theatrical productions and deemed him ready when a Fox talent agent came calling in 1936.

Power ‘s first turn for Fox was as a debonair European count in the 1936 romance Girls’ Dormitory. With his third screen assignment, the studio successfully rolled the dice with the charismatic youngster, giving him the fourth-billed lead role in the Napoleonic Era costumer Lloyd’s of London, which followed the rise of the famed insurance company. After a pact to secure Clark Gable’s services for the  Great Fire of 1871 opus In Old Chicago, fell apart, Fox turned to Power. The end result of his screen presence with co-stars Alice Faye and Don Ameche cemented his stardom. In Old Chicago was one of five films in which he starred in 1937. The studio kept their star in light comedies, and three films appearing opposite Hollywood favorite leading lady Loretta Young–Love Is News, Café Metropole and Second Honeymoon continued the actor’s success.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band starring Tyrone Power

Also in 1937, Power provided the love interest for Fox’s skating sweetheart Sonia Henie in Thin Ice, followed by his reteaming with Faye and Ameche in 1938′s wildly popular Tin Pan Alley musical, Alexander’s Ragtime Band. In ’38 and ’39, Tyrone proceeded to turn out numerous vehicles for Fox, each as diverse as they were popular. He was loaned to MGM to play opposite Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette and was back at his own studio, and with Loretta Young again, for another historical adventure, Suez, in which he met and married his French co-star Annabella. 1939 found him cast as the doomed title outlaw in the western drama Jesse James, and in the lush adventure The Rains Came he played an Indian-born aristocrat-turned-doctor trying to fend off married Englishwoman Myrna Loy’s advances.

The 1940s brought Power to the forefront of Hollywood’s A-list of everymen, appearing in everything from musicals like Rose of Washington Square with Faye and Second Fiddle with Henie to the  Technicolor frontier sagas Brigham Young and the WWII drama A Yank in the R.A.F. He acted alongside Joan Fontaine in This Above All and paired with Dana Andrews in Crash Dive to defeat the Nazis in the North Atlantic. A remake of a silent Rudolph Valentino tale, 1941′s Blood and Sand had matador Tyrone facing death in the bull ring and torn between his love for Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth; His swashbuckling roles are legendary, as the foppish Don Diego Vega in The Mark of Zorro (1940) and as the Caribbean buccaneer in The Black Swan (1942). Power played the title role in the South Seas spectacular Son of Fury, co-starring Gene Tierney, that same year.

The string of successes only halted for his 1942 enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he served as a cargo pilot in the Pacific for the duration of WWII. He returned to Hollywood, appearing noticeably weathered and hungry for more substantive performing challenges. The early returns were promising, as witnessed by his search for the meaning of life in Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (1946), which reteamed him with Tierney, and his brilliant performance as a carnival charlatan in the noirish 1947 thriller Nightmare Alley.

Fox, however, began steering him back to blood-and-thunder fare, and Power finished the forties with Captain from Castile, an epic adventure about Hernando Cortez’s invasion of Mexico; and his travels to China in The Black Rose with co-star Orson Welles; then on the opposing side of Cesare Borgia (Welles) in Prince of Foxes. He longed for more dramatic roles and said, “I’m sick of all these knights in shining armor parts, I want to do something worthwhile like plays and films that have something to say,” but Fox couldn’t resist enlisting Power in sure-fire comedy roles such as That Wonderful Urge (1948) with Tierney and, later that year, the immensely popular The Luck of the Irish with Anne Baxter.

With the onset of the ’50s, Power starred in the psychological oater Rawhide, where he and Susan Hayward are held captive by outlaws; as a WWII Navy ensign stranded in the Pacific jungle in American Guerrilla in the Philippines; and in the love-story fantasy, I’ll Never Forget You (1951). In 1952, he found himself deep inside the world of espionage in Diplomatic Courier, followed by the action adventure Pony Soldier. In 1953, he tried to uphold honest card playing as The Mississippi Gambler; and, also in ’53, he fought a corrupt local rulers in colonial India in King of the Khyber Rifles.

At this time in his career, Power began devoting more of his energies to the London stage, including his 23-week run at the London Coliseum as Mister Roberts, which he did with Fox’s blessing until his commitment to the studio was up. With the 1955 release of Untamed, again with Hayward, he was finally a full freelancer, and the next few years saw much satisfying work, including Columbia Pictures’ biographical epic The Long Gray Line, John Ford’s tribute to West Point.

The Eddy Duchin Story Starring Tyrone Power

The Eddy Duchin Story Starring Tyrone Power

His contribution as the quintessential society band leader in The Eddy Duchin Story made the movie a huge crowd-pleaser. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Tyrone was much older than the character he was playing, which may have been why he started to show signs of wear. He was convincing in the role of a surviving crew member of a sinking ship who must decide who lives and who dies in Abandon Ship! And although he was not Oscar-nominated for his performance in Billy Wilder’s superb Witness for the Prosecution, many critics felt he should have been bestowed with that honor. Oddly enough, Ty didn’t want to take the role of Marlene Dietrich’s husband, telling Wilder he was not satisfied with his career in general and didn’t think he would ever make another movie. The director halted production because he wanted a big star like Power and, without him, Wilder didn’t see any point in continuing at that time. After the film’s producers enticed Power to come back, the project continued.

His run would have one of the saddest ends in industry history. Power’s last work was for a televised public service announcement telling audiences how to spot warning signs of a heart attack. It was filmed on the set of his latest movie, and he encouraged viewers to be checked out by a physician. However, in a twist of fate, overexertion during the filming of a swordfight scene with George Sanders for 1959′s Solomon and Sheba resulted in Power sustaining a fatal heart attack at age 44. Yul Brynner was cast for the retakes on the largely in-the-can project, and Power can be seen in the completed film’s long shots.

Power was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (then known as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery) in Southern California. Those who visit the actor’s grave will find his monument, carved in the form of a marble bench, engraved with the words, “Good night, sweet prince.”

And now enjoy Tyrone Power in the theatrical trailer for 1955′s The Long Gray Line:

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  • Wayne P.

    Every male acting great in his family going back the 4 generations died of heart failure at a younger than normal age…sad but true…his son, born after his death I believe, had a brief acting career but dont know whats become of him…good article on a fine actor from the golden age of the studios whom the camera loved, as it did Alice Faye, and his chemistry with her in their pictures together was excellent!

    • Jim S

      Wayne, thanks for sharing that info. Also Tyrone and Alice Faye were fantastic together in their movies. It’s too bad that we don’t have actors like them in today’s movies. They were the best of the best.

  • Ron

    I’m definitely waiting for two of the movies mentioned above.  One is “King of the Khyber Rifles” with Tyrone playing a half caste British soldier in India surrounded by the stuffy bias of his fellow “cuddled” British cohorts and British made “Abandon Ship” a truly lost gem with Power the unfortunate skipper of a life boat who is forced to make life and death decisions of who should survive and who won’t – a survival of the fittest, thought provoking drama.  I remember a pre-Ben Hur Stephen Boyd also in it.

    Any idea if those two are soon to be released?  Hope so.

  • Tsh41

    Where is Mississippi Gambler ?

  • Joel

    Untamed?

  • BernardS.

    KING OF THE KHYBER ROFLES was a Fox movie, so maybe we can hope it will turned up in the recent FOX FILM ARCHIVE series of DVD issues, along with “UNTAMED”.  “ABANDON SHIP” was once available on VHS tape
    format, released by Columbia Pictures. “MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” was a Universal Pictures, so hopefully
    TCM will include that in their theme-related box set DVD releases, like that “Women in Danger- 1950′s thrillers”set.
    Hope lives eternal in the hearts of all Tyrone Power fans. We are very close to owning the COMPLETE WORKS
    of TYRONE POWER on our home entertainment shelves. The above mentioned 4 titles are the ONLY missing
    works of Tyrone as of this writing. (Sept 29, 2012).

  • Gemini09

    Tyrone Power was my favourite actor of the golden years of Hollywood. I think he was underrated because of his beauty . He had the most wonderful voice – I have listened to several recordings of his stage work and it’s such a pity he did not get the chance to do  more work in the medium. I love the Mark Of Zorro and In Old Chicago but The Razors Edge is the role that showed he was capable of so much more. 

  • Fxhollywood

    Thin Ice and Second Fiddle are not available on DVD,

  • Marty

    It’s so true. Tyrone Power was more than a pretty face! Of the many roles he played, my favorite is The Razor’s Edge. I enjoyed him in Captain from Castile and Zorro among others. He was a wonderful actor. It’s sad that he passed away so soon.

  • Joel

    I still think his single greatest acting job was in “Nightmare Alley”.

    • KenR

      …..This, and “The Razors Edge’ are standouts.
      ‘Abandon Ship’ is a harrowing ordeal, but compelling.

      • Joel

        I agree, he was outstanding in the “The Razor’s Edge”.  His supporting cast of Tierney, Baxter, Webb, Marshall and Payne were excellent also.

  • Sam Fletcher

    Power turned in Oscar-worthy performances “Nightmare Alley,” “Abandon Ship,” and “Witness for the Prosecution.” Anyone who could share a scene with Charles Laughton without being upstaged is a hell of an actor.

    One thing I always admired about Power was that, like Jimmy Stewart, he paid for his own flying lessons prior to joining the military. Plus he enlisted in the Marines in 1942 while John Wayne sat out the war on a deferment for a married man with children. Wayne was a good actor, but I never bought him as a super-patriot after dodging the war to advance his career.  

    • elginman

      Ya better watch what ya say, pilgrim.

    • Croonerman

      I agree with you about John Wayne!–Also the other movie w/Tyrone Power was “Pony Soldier”–Light comedyw/Western drama, very good movie. “The Sun Also Rises”–showed him in one scene with Errol
      Flynn! Would love to have seen more movies with those two together!–Tom

  • faithful

    Tyrone Power was not only good to look at but an excellent actor who did not get a great deal of good roles.  My favorite was “The Razor’s Edge” which certainly proved his outstanding acting skill.  Never heard of some of his movies mentioned and hope they will be shown on TCM someday.  Is “Mississippi Gambler” the movie with Piper Lauri???  Thursday he is starring in “Son of Fury” made in ’48 with Gene Tierney.  Never heard of that movie and am looking forward to seeing it; never get tired of viewing his movies.  Truly, a great actor and patriot!

    • elginman

      I am right with you on that one. Ty was outstanding as was Anne Baxter, et al.

  • Percy

     The Sun Also Rises. A fine near end of career performance by Earl Flynn.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LPI5N5ZW3VVVZJNFLXM4GZOTVY Irish

    I love Tyrone Power. Certain actors and actresses have the ability to capture your heart with their ability to ensnare your attention the minute they walk in sight. They have a commanding presence and wit and charm. Tyrone had it! All of his movies were hits with me but I especially liked Love Is News with Loretta Young, Black Swan with Maureen O’Hara, The Mask of Zorro with Linda Darnell and The Long Gray Liine with the lovely Maureen O’Hara. Heck, I love all 42 of his films.

    • Croonerman

      “The Long Gray Line” is one of my all time great movies–Light comedy and a tear jeking end–WOW!

  • Marilyn

    The dance scene with Jean Peters  in Captail from Castile has to be the number one  sexiest scene  ever made!
    If your blood isn’t boiling, you’re dead.  I have 21 of his movies, but alwalys go back to it.  Wow!
    Marilyn

  • Gill Surmont

    Excellent short biography on one of Hollywood’s better actors who wasn’t often given an opportunity to show his skills…

    • fbusch

      Oddly, no one mentioned “The Naked Prey”, a mostly solo flick in old Africa,when Ty and the members of his safari are captured by less than friendly natives. after the other members are killed by several different means, Ty is given a headstart naked and must run through the jungle to reach the british outpost for safety. His manly efforts allow him to aquire some clothes, sandels, and weapons while keeping head of his antagonists. dodging various wildlife etc. Not a great movie, but, not too bad for having no dialog.

      • BernardS

        For your information, the actor in “The Naked Prey” was NOT Tyrone Power, It was
        Cornel Wilde. “The Naked Prey” is available on DVD.

        • fbusch

          Tnx, I stand corrected, but, who then, remembers Cornell Wilde?

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.jodrie Brian Jodrie

    Johnny Apollo(1940)is my pick.(Trivia)Did you know Dorothy Lamour replaced Betty Grable as Lucky?

  • Cara

    In the late 30s until December ’41 when the U.S. went to war, Robert Taylor on the MGM lot and Tyrone Power on the Fox lot were considered to be the two most beautiful men in the world. The two different studios kept trying to find vehicles that would showcase each man’s incredible good looks. It is a shame that Tyrone Power wasn’t given more roles that tested his acting meddle. Robert Taylor was a decent but basically workmanlike actor. I always thought Tyrone Power had the acting chops to be more than just a pretty face.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyn-Ferrante/100000671220210 Carolyn Ferrante

    I discovered the great Tyrone Power only a few years ago, at age 60, and wound up buying the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol collection, which features 10 of his most popular films. A friend of mine told me that Tyrone Power was a military hero for our country, as well. He deserved to live a long life, but seemed to accept his fate, in that “fey” way that the Irish have.

  • Dee,

    It’s a shame heis gone, but his son was in the movie cocoon,a great comedy about seniors .watch it if you can find it. But no one was like his father I miss him so….

  • montecristo

    Everyone seems to have mentioned most of Tyrone’s movies but no one mentioned (TheLuck Of The Irish with Ann Baxter 1948) and ( I Will Never Forget You with Ann Blyth 1951.) He never made a sword and sandal movie,when he was making Soloman and Bathsheba he got the heart

    attack. And Yul Bryner made it instead,I think he would have made a great Soloman and a great

    Count Of Montecristo which his daughter Tyrine worked in. To bad he diden’t get the chance.

    • Jim S

      montecristo, yes, The Luck of The Irish was a great fantasy movie. Anne Baxter and Tyrone were wonderful together in those roles. That movie is in one of Tyrone’s DVD collections and it can be seen in black and white and also in green tint.

  • Fred B..

    In the early 1970′s Wally Cox did a commerical for “Jockey Shorts” and the tag line was …”Outside I might look like Wally Cox, but inside, I feel like Tyrone Power”…..

  • jo

    Unbelievably handsome and a great actor too was Tyrone Power. I read a biography of him years ago and he faced a lot of challenges being so cute. His mother had wanted a girl and because he was so beautiful she dressed him up in girls clothes which caused a stigma later because the people thought he may be gay, which in those days was a real no no. Thankfully for us he grew up and out of that and became the man and fine actor he was.

  • Marilyn

    I agree with Tsh41. Will they ever release Mississippi Gambler?

  • tbsjr64

    My Grandmother used ti rave about Tyrone Power and after seeing many of his films on DVD I understand why. While he is wonderful with Alice Faye, whom I also love, to me he was best with Loretta Young. Cafe Metropole is my favorite of theirs and Second Honeymoon right after that. Matter of fact as I write this I am watching Love is News.

  • Larry Morgenstern

    I’ve been searching for decades for a copy of The King of the Kyber Rifles starring Tyrone Power. Are there no available copies?

  • BernardS

    To Marilyn and Larry Morgenstern: Just to let you two fans know–you are not alone in wishing

    for the DVD release of “Mississippi Gambler” (Universal), and 20th Fox ‘s “King of Khyber Rifles”

    both studios are taking their sweet time in putting these titles out, with Fox Archives releasing a

    lot of rare titles on MOD , lets hope “King” will show up soon. As for “Gambler”, maybe TCM can

    be persuaded to put out that another Universal Rarities type box set to include movies starring

    Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson AND TYRONE POWER. Oops, I almost forgot, there’s still Columbia’s

    “Abandon Ship!” (starring Tyrone) which was only released on VHS format years ago.

  • JoAnne McMaster

    I absolutely love Tyrone Power movies. Bought a boxed set with a movie I hadn’t seen in years, I’ll Never Forget You. One of my favorite movies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christine.harrison.75 Christine Harrison

    I think in a way Tyrone Power was so good-looking, you tended to forget what a fine actor he was – it was all too easy to dismiss him as a “pretty boy”, all looks and no talent, but this article really brought to light how varied his roles were. I really enjoyed “Diplomatic Courier” and “The Razor’s Edge”, but my favourite has to be the amazing “Nightmare Alley”, a really bleak film which was light years away from the frothy musicals he made. It would be interesting to see if any other actor had such a diverse range of parts, going from the light-hearted to the truly bizarre and shocking – it just shows how versatile he was, and his tragic early death robbed us of seeing just what he could have gone on to achieve.

  • Alma

    Thak you for writing a great and truthfull review of Tyrone’s life–especially since his birthday May 5th- is just around the corner. It’s nice to know he is remembered,I have been a fan of hiis sincce I was 12 yrs old.

  • Helen

    Nobody mentioned Tyrone’s great stage role in the epic poem “John Brown’s Body.” I have it on recordings and have recently listened to it again. Power was superb! He was my favorite since childhood.

  • GabbyThompson

    Thanks for writing this. Tyrone Power is my all-time favorite screen star. Great comments, too. I am delighted to know there are so many Ty Power admirers out there. He was simply the best…..period! A brilliant actor, stunning good looks.

    BTW, I am still waiting for “Mississippi Gambler” and ” Abandon Ship”

    • jcog

      I agree with you Gabby. Tyrone Power is great to look at and a great actor. He did come from a family acting background. I am also waiting to see “Mississippi Gambler” and did see “Abandon Ship” which was a different role for him but he wanted challenging roles; not easy during his too short lived career. Did see “This Above All” with Joan Fontaine. Never heard of that movie but it was a great performance from Ty and Joan.