Timeless: Tyrone Power

Our Timeless throwback series and our Thursday $5 Tequila special are both meant to please.

Like many of the Hollywood hunks we've featured in this series, Tyrone Power is remembered as a gorgeous, talented, versatile young man. He was in Madrid filming the movie Solomon and Sheba when he was felled by heart attack. He was 44.

Power was born in 1914 in Cincinnati, the son of an actor with the same name. His family lineage had French, German, British and Irish connections. He had an unremarkable upbringing, but his parents divorced when he was a teen. Young Tyrone attended Catholic schools in Cincinnati and, after graduating, he decided to join his father (who had moved to Los Angeles) and pursue an acting career.

Within months of arriving in California, and a few days before Christmas 1931, the elder Power (Tyrone's father) suffered a massive heart attack and died in his son's arms. This left the young aspiring 17 year old actor to his own devices. He went door to door to movie studios asking for small roles in movies. A few directors hired him, but soon the opportunities dried up. An acquaintance urged him to move to New York to try stage acting.

He moved across the country, auditioned for roles, and most likely due to family connections and the strength of his father's reputation, he was hired for some small roles and soon was appearing on Broadway. He returned to Hollywood in 1936, was screen tested by director Henry King - attracted to Tyrone's talent and poise (mmmhmmm). King cast Power in his first movie, Lloyd's of London beating out Don Ameche for the role. Power was billed fourth in the movie but he had by far the most screen time of any actor.

He walked into the premiere of the movie an unknown and he walked out a star, which he remained the rest of his career.

He made a total of 16 films. He was extremely versatile; his roles included romantic comedies, dramas, musicals, westerns, war films and swashbucklers. His turn as the title character in Jesse James was a very big hit at the box office, but it did receive some criticism for fictionalizing and glamorizing the famous outlaw. In The Mark of Zorro, Power's swashbuckling character led to his biggest box office success.

Tyrone Power enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1942. He completed boot camp in San Diego, officer training school in Quantico, Virginia and flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was assigned to be a cargo plane pilot. A few years later he was sent to fly missions carrying cargo in and wounded Marines out during the Battles of Iwo Jima (Feb-Mar 1945) and Okinawa (Apr-Jun 1945). His military service earned him numerous medals, awards and two bronze stars.

Tyrone Power return to the silver screen in the 1947 film noir flick, Nightmare Alley. While critics loved his portrayal, the studio did not want this handsome swashbuckler to take on dark and sad movies. There was little promotion for the film and it died at the box office after a few weeks.

Twentieth Century Fox wanted him to remain a box office draw playing the handsome leading man. But Power was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his costume roles, and he struggled between being a star and becoming a great actor. He was forced to take on assignments that did not appeal to him. The most memorable films (and ones Bacchus thinks you should check out) include: Untamed (1955), The Eddie Duchin Story (1956), The Sun Also Rises (1957) and Witness For The Prosecution (1957).

With respect to his personal life, Power was one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors. He married several times and fathered two daughters and then a son.

By all accounts, he was bi-sexual. Tyrone was involved with several men during his career, among them composer Lorenz Hart (lyricist of the Rodgers & Hart song writing team) and fellow actor Cesar Romero, who provided details about Power's same sex activity in interviews after Tyrone's death. Strikingly handsome Power had affairs with many of the attractive men on the movie lots. He was often seen in public with well known homosexuals, but he was so loved by the Hollywood community, that they turned a blind eye.

Power was liked and admired by men and women alike. His group of gay friends included director George Cukor and actors Clifton Webb, Lon McCallister (and his lover William Eythe), Cary Grant, Reginald Gardner, Van Johnson and bi-sexual billionaire Howard Hughes. Books and articles written about Power relate that:

"The great gay love of Power's life was a lowly technician at 20th Century Fox, with whom he had a sexual and romantic relationship that lasted for decades."

Like most bi-sexual and homosexual Hollywood stars, Power lived in fear of being “found out.” Although studio head Darryl Zanuck liked Tyrone, he was afraid of losing Fox’s resident matinée idol and biggest moneymaker, should the truth of his homosexual activity become public. On the set of Suez (1939), Tyrone played opposite a French starlet named Annabella, who was older, self-assured and possessed of a frankness and down to earth attitude. Power liked her, and much to Hollywood's and his mother's surprise, they married. It was difficult to satisfy Zanuck, however, who was now worried that Power’s female fan base would be adversely affected by news of the marriage. Nevertheless, Power continued 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.

By 1946 he and Annabella had grown apart, and their marriage was over. He took a six week trip to South America with his on-again off-again male companion, gay actor Cesar Romero. 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 striking couple, but Tyrone could see that life with Lana would be tempestuous and, instead, married Latin starlet Linda Christian, with whom he fathered two daughters before the marriage ended in the mid-fifties.

Reports of same sex relations continued. The list or sources is long. British comedian and actor Bob Monkhouse related in his 1994 autobiography Crying with Laughter that he had rejected sexual advances from Power. The fashion critic Mr. Blackwell had romantic moments in Power’s dressing room, as detailed in his 1995 autobiography From Rags to Bitches. In his book, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, author Charles Higham reports that Power had a sexual relationship with Errol Flynn. According to William J. Mann, in his book Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969, Power was involved in numerous same sex relationships. In his book, The Evening Crowd at Kirmser's: A Gay Life in the 1940s, Ricardo J. Brown confirms that Tyrone Power and Tallulah Bankhead were among thespians and movie stars who were bisexual. In Oops, I Lost My Sense of Humor, Lois M. Santalo writes that "many stars of the silver screen, dating back to Tyrone Power," had been gay or bisexual. In Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon's Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day, Power is listed among the "Top box office stars who were gay or bisexual".

Although no one says that Power was gay; they all say he was bisexual, engaging in sexual relations with both men and women.

Although Tyrone was only in his early forties, he was beginning to look older than his years. 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 filming Solomon and Sheba, he did his own stunts and worked outside in the grueling sun, often in heavy armor. One afternoon on the set in Spain, during a dueling scene with George Sanders involving heavy swords, Tyrone collapsed. He'd suffered a massive heart attack and died before anything could be done.

Dead at 44. So young. A reminder to seize the day!
Enjoy a shot of tequila today for $5.

Another reminder about our GEAR PARTY on Saturday at 9PM and our TRIVIA NIGHT - Girlfriends Edition, Monday at 7pm. What were gal pals Jill, Kelly and Sabrina better known as? They worked for a man played by John Forsythe. He a contemporary of Tyrone Power. Did they hook up? Probably not, but they did both play the lead in Mr. Roberts - Power in the London production and Forsythe in the US touring company.