Dashing Facts About Tyrone Power, The First Action Star

Bearing one of the greatest names in Hollywood history, Tyrone Power was the Tom Cruise of his day. Known for his incredible looks, Power was a diverse actor but was most famous for his swashbuckling action flicks. Over two decades in Old Hollywood, Power’s star shone high amongst his peers, and was made all the more legendary by his tragically early death. If any of that sounds intriguing to you, or if you wanted a refresher on who this man was, here are 45 dashing facts about Tyrone Power.

1. Family Tradition

Contrary to what you might think, Tyrone Power’s name wasn’t a stage name trying to compensate for anything. He really was born with the name “Tyrone Power,” and he was actually the third man in his family to have that name! His great-grandfather had been the first “Tyrone Power,” while Power’s father had been similarly named.

2. Descended from Thespians

Tyrone Power was born on May 5, 1914, in Cincinnati. Through his father, he was descended from an Irish family which was long associated with acting in the theater. It was arguably inevitable that Power would also take up entertainment as a career.

3. Oh Child, Where Art Thou?

Allegedly, during the production of the 1939 Western Jesse James (one of Power’s most successful films), Power had an affair with a woman who lived close to the filming locations in Missouri. The affair led to a baby boy, which the woman put up for adoption. Power spent a significant amount of time and money looking for the child, but he was unsuccessful.

4. When Networking Doesn’t Work

In contrast with his subsequent status as a movie star, Tyrone Power spent the early 1930s struggling to get any kind of work, despite his father’s reputation. Throughout that time, Power was only able to get bit parts in Flirtation Walk and Tom Brown of Culver. Things were so sparse for Power during the early 30s that he actually gave up trying to make it in films and turned to Broadway instead.

5. Acting Isn’t All I’ve Got!

Power wasn’t just limited to acting when it came to the filmmaking process. No fewer than 11 of Power’s films featured his voice on the soundtracks. He was also a producer for three of the films he was involved with, though he was uncredited for all three.

6. Grim Parallel

Aside from sharing a name with his father, Power also shared a similar fate. Both men would die of fatal heart attacks while working on film productions.

7. As Told by Lana

In her autobiography in 1982, film star Lana Turner revealed that she had gotten pregnant by Power in 1946. Power’s wife, Annabella, refused to grant Power a divorce, and the prospect of an illegitimate child was a threat to both Power and Turner’s careers. As a result, she was pushed into undergoing an abortion.

8. Old Hollywood Whitewashing

Despite his Irish ancestry, Power was often cast as characters with Mediterranean or Latino background. In both Blood and Sand and Captain from Castile, Power portrayed Spanish characters. He also portrayed an Italian character in Prince of Foxes, as well as the Mexican figure Zorro in The Mark of Zorro.

9. Better Than Sex?

A fitting tribute to Power’s status as a sex symbol came from romance novelist Barbara Cartland. At one point in her life, she was asked how she could have written such gripping romance novels when she herself had still been a virgin. Cartland replied that “We didn’t need sex. We had Tyrone Power.”

10. How it Began

In 1936, Power’s big break into Hollywood finally arrived. However, like so many other big breaks in film history, it came at someone else’s expense. When Power caught the eye of director Henry King, he pushed to have Power cast in the lead role of King’s film Lloyd’s of London. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck was reluctant to give the role to an unknown figure like Power, partly because the role was already cast with established actor Don Ameche.

King, however, managed to persuade Zanuck that Power was the better man for the part. King’s efforts proved worthwhile, and Power became an overnight star when the film premiered.

11. Win Some, Lose Some

Coincidentally, Power would co-star with Don Ameche in the hit musical In Old Chicago. Ameche and Power actually portrayed brothers in the film, which we can assume means that there were no hard feelings between them!

12. Early Employment

As a teenager, Power worked in Cincinnati’s Orpheum Theater as an usher. His subsequent career on the stage and screen could arguably be seen as him climbing the ladder from there!

13. Zero Out of Five?

Throughout his career, Power appeared in five different films which were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. These films were In Old Chicago, The Razor’s Edge, Witness for the Prosecution, Flirtation Walk, and Alexander’s Ragtime Band. None of them won the award, though is it safe to assume that one of those films’ titles inspired an AC/DC album?

14. Part of Pop Culture

Like many film stars, Power has been mentioned in a number of fiction films. The most recent of these was Flags of Our Fathers, the World War II film about the Battle of Iwo Jima. One of the characters is so handsome that his friends nicknamed him “Tyrone Power” as a result. This is particularly fitting, given Power’s involvement at the same battle during his life.

Earlier than that, two films from 1950 name-dropped Power in dialogue. These films were Sunset Blvd. and All About Eve.

15. Light Up?

Throughout his life, Power was a heavy smoker. His daily intake was three to four packs of cigarettes, plus a significant amount of pipe tobacco as a bonus. Unsurprisingly, his heavy smoking has long been listed as a possible factor in his fatal heart attack.

16. You’ve Looked Better

Speaking of Power’s bad habits, they had seriously caught up to him by the time that his film The Sun Also Rises was released. Responses at the time were often shocked at how old and weary Power looked in the film, since he was only in his early 40s at the time. In addition to his heavy smoking, Power was also struggling with alcoholism and was only sleeping for three hours per night due to the effect of pills.

17. Cultured Collaborator

One of Power’s friends and frequent collaborators was British actor George Sanders, best known as the voice of Shere Khan in the animated Disney film The Jungle Book. Sanders and Power acted in five films together, though one didn’t quite work out the way they intended.

18. Called to Arms

When the United States entered the Second World War, Power was one of many Hollywood stars who abandoned filmmaking to enlist in the military. In 1942, Power joined the Marine Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943.

19. Promotion

Even before he ever joined the military, Power learned to fly planes, and became an amateur pilot in his spare time. This paid off when he was able to count all those hours of flying when he enlisted. All that remained for him to do was complete a short training program to earn his wings and a first lieutenancy.

20. Brother-in-Arms

Despite his success in training, Power was deemed too old to fly in active duty. However, Power volunteered to fly cargo planes instead, hoping that he would still be able to join combat through those means. Power flew missions delivering cargo to battlefields and bringing wounded Marines to safety. In particular, Power showed daring and courage at the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima in this task.

21. Gotcha!

During the filming of The Mark of Zorro, Power was the subject of a rather cruel prank by producer Darryl F. Zanuck. It was Power’s custom to go for a morning swim during the production, and he made sure that the pool’s water was pre-heated prior to his entry. One day, Zanuck arranged for the heating to be canceled. Power didn’t find out until he dove in.

He later claimed that he nearly had a heart attack from the cold water.

22. Vengeance be Mine!

Power quickly found out who was behind the pool prank and made sure to get revenge. Zanuck was a dedicated producer who insisted on watching the footage shot for the film, known as dailies. One day, while he was reviewing the dailies of a stagecoach robbery by Zorro, Zanuck was astonished to see that instead of making a “Z”, Zorro made a “DZ,” and one of the actors shouted “Zanuck!” instead of “Zorro.”

His prank achieved, Power turned to the camera and announced, “Let that be a lesson to you, damn it!”

23. Not My Cup of Tea

To prepare for his role as a bullfighter in Blood and Sand, Power attended a bullfight to see what it was all about. The event left a much different impression on him than he probably expected; he was so distressed by what happened that he was violently ill! Surprisingly, this didn’t stop him from acting in the film anyway.

24. The Mystery of Tyrone

The last film that Power completed before his death was the 1957 crime drama Witness for the Prosecution. Following the film’s completion, Power admitted that it was one of just three films in his career that he was proud to have worked on. He never revealed what the other two films were, so feel free to speculate and debate amongst yourselves.

25. En Garde!

One of the most famous roles that Power played during his career was that of Zorro in the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro. The film was a smash hit, in no small part to the sword-fighting scenes which remain to be acclaimed action scenes to this day. Power himself was a highly skilled swordsman, to the point that his co-star, Basil Rathbone, called him the most skilled swordsman that he’d ever seen before a film camera.

26. Eddy and Ty

In 1956, Power starred in the Oscar-winning film The Eddy Duchin Story. The film followed the life of American pianist and bandleader Eddy Duchin, who had died tragically five years before. Power and Duchin had actually been good friends when Duchin was alive, making Power’s casting as him in the biopic a labor of more than just business.

Sadly, Power died two years after the film was released, in his early 40s, just like Duchin.

27. You’ll Go Far

During the production of the 1951 film Rawhide, Power helped launch a remarkable film career. Following an actress’s complaints about one of her co-stars, a young struggling actor was given one of his first film roles in a small part. Power liked the young man and persuaded Darryl F. Zanuck to give the young man a contract with 20th Century-Fox.

That young man was Jack Elam, the character actor whose career spanned nearly 50 years and included Once Upon a Time in the West, The Twilight Zone, The Cannonball Run, and High Noon.

28. This One Grows on You

One of the most controversial films of Power’s career was the film noir Nightmare Alley. Coming back from the Second World War, Power wanted to break out of his typecasting in swashbuckler and romance films. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck was reluctant to let Power act in such a dark and unpleasant story but relented to Power’s wishes.

The film was ahead of its time, with contemporary reviews being put off by the gritty subject matter while the film has since become hailed as being one of the best films of its genre.

29. What a Guy!

While he was filming The Razor’s Edge, Power was approached by his director, Edmund Goulding, with a bizarre request. Goulding wished that Power would refrain from sexual relations to better get into the role of his character. Surprisingly, Power agreed to do so, agreeing that “chastity intensely enhances the power of the spirit.”

Later, Power was greatly amused to learn that Goulding actually made that request of all his male leads. Power named Goulding as his favorite director to work with.

30. Seedy Stan

Despite the initial dislike and alienation faced by Power’s The Razor’s Edge, it had a rather bizarre aspect to its legacy. The film starred Power as a mentalist named Stan Carlisle who works in a carnival. Following the film’s release, charlatans and grifters would identify each other with the question “Are you a friend of Stan Carlisle?”

31. There I Am!

Power is one of several people who have the privilege of appearing on the album jacket of the Beatles’ iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

32. Sonny Boy

With his third wife, Deborah Minardos, Power had a son, whom he named after himself. Known as Tyrone Power Jr., he became an actor like Power, though somewhat without Power’s success. Among his acting highlights were the hit film Cocoon and appearances on the TV series The Bold and the Beautiful and Cheers.

33. In Dad’s Footsteps

Aside from his son, Power had two daughters with his second wife, Linda Christian. Taryn and Romina Power both became actresses, with Taryn co-starring in the acclaimed television film The Count of Monte Cristo in 1975.

34. Singer and Scholar

Power’s eldest daughter, Romina Power, is best known as being half of the music duo Al Bano and Romina. These two were a highly successful Italian pop band, achieving great success across Europe. You might be surprised that an American woman would sing in Italian, but that’s just a fraction of Romina’s achievements in language.

She is a highly accomplished polyglot who can speak Spanish, English, French, Italian, and Dutch.

35. Art and Reality Blended

On the set of The Razor’s Edge, Power fell head over heels with Gene Tierney, the woman who portrayed his love interest in the film. Power made no secret of his interest in her, which fuelled rumors that the two were a romantic couple. This wasn’t the case, however, as Tierney was preoccupied with a failing marriage and an affair with a pre-political John F. Kennedy.

Power didn’t get the message until he bought her a scarf with “Love” embroidered into it and Tierney directly asked him to back off.

36. Duly Lauded

For his services during the Second World War, Power won a number of military honors. These included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.

37. Do We Salute?

Although Power was released from active duty in January 1946, he remained with the reserves for the rest of his life. By the time of Power’s death, he had reached the rank of major.

38. Who’s Going to Play Him Onscreen?

Power was one of several movie stars who inspired the appearances of characters in the Captain Marvel comic series. The character of Ibis the Invincible was based on Power, specifically how he appeared in the 1939 film The Rains Came. In case you think we’re just making a guess based on similar facial appearances, cartoonist C.C. Beck personally confirmed the inspiration on the Marvel Comics website.

39. A Star is Killed

In September 1958, Power traveled to Spain to film the historical epic Solomon and Sheba. On November 15, Power had filmed the majority of his scenes and was shooting a fight scene with his co-star, George Sanders. However, he was struck down with a heart attack, which killed him. He was 44 at the time. Despite most of his scenes being completed, he was replaced by actor Yul Brynner for the final product.

40. Hollywood Forever Cemetary

Power was laid to rest in the cemetery known today as Hollywood Forever. His tombstone’s inscription (“Good night, sweet prince…”) is an iconic quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In case that quote isn’t enough to convince you of Power’s legacy, his tombstone is also decorated with masks of Comedy and Tragedy, which anyone in theater will know the significance of.

41. Panic On Set

Power was about two-thirds of the way through filming Solomon and Sheba in Spain when he suffered from a heart attack and died. The film crew panicked, and multiple rumors have flown around about what happened in the moments following his death. There’s a story where he died on the way to the hospital in a co-star’s car, and another where the crew smuggled his body out of his trailer, attempting to make him look alive in case his wife were around. Either way, Power died on November 15, 1958, at the age of 44.

42. Hey, Shorty!

In case you thought we were exaggerating by comparing Tyrone Power to Tom Cruise, the two men also share a famous trait. Like Cruise, Power exaggerated his height to appear more appealing as a film star. Though it was long assumed that Power stood six feet tall, it was later revealed that this was largely a trick through platform shoes.

It’s been estimated that Power actually stood around 5’10” tall. To be fair, that still towers over Cruise!

43. Bereaved Son

Power’s father was meant to act in the 1932 film The Miracle Man when he died during the production. Power himself was on hand, as he was meant to make his film debut alongside his dad. Power’s father died in his son’s arms, putting an end to their participation in The Miracle Man.

44. Heartbreak After Heartbreak

After a string of broken relationships and marriages, Tyrone Power vowed to never marry again. That is, until he met Deborah Ann Minardos in 1957. They were married on May 7, 1958, and she became pregnant soon after with the son Power had always wanted—but tragically, their union was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Power died two months before their son, Tyrone Power Jr., was born.

45. Spookily Ironic

Hauntingly, the last complete work that Power did before his death was a PSA for television on how to identify the early signs of a heart attack. The video also encouraged people to go to the hospital if a heart attack was happening. If only Power had taken his own advice…

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

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