Among the romantic leading men of the studio era, Tyrone Power, 20th Century Fox's top male star from the mid-'30s to the late '40s, is my favorite. He wasn't the best actor of the bunch – I'd say that honor belongs to Gregory Peck. He wasn't the sexiest, either – I'd say that honor belongs to Errol Flynn.
Yet, in my view Power was the one who, more than anyone else, from Clark Gable to John Payne, from Laurence Olivier to John Garfield, from John Gilbert to John Wayne, came across as genuinely warm, sensitive, and unaffected. (Ramon Novarro, of whom I've written a biography, also possessed most of those qualities; Novarro, however, sometimes failed in the “unaffected” part.)
For instance, Tyrone Power is my favorite big-screen Zorro. A (very) few other actors may look as good as – but none looks better than – Power does as the doomed toreador in Blood and Sand. He delivers a surprisingly believable performance as an Indian aristocrat (!) in The Rains Came, and is just as believable as the man looking for Something More in The Razor's Edge. (I must admit I still haven't watched Nightmare Alley, in which he is supposed to be at his very best.) Power's presence helps to raise The Eddy Duchin Story from the trashy to the tragic.
Also, precious few actors then or (especially) now have succeeded in displaying passionate romanticism on-screen. Even when playful, even when playing a cad, Power was a master at that. Among Power's lucky leading ladies, at Fox and elsewhere, were:
Rita Hayworth (Blood and Sand), Joan Fontaine (This Above All), Jean Peters (Captain from Castile), Ann Blyth (I'll Never Forget You), Frances Farmer (Son of Fury), Linda Darnell (Day-Time Wife, Brigham Young, The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand), Dorothy Lamour (Johnny Apollo), and Norma Shearer (Marie Antoinette).
Also, Susan Hayward (Rawhide, Untamed), Alice Faye (In Old Chicago, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Rose of Washington Square), Myrna Loy (The Rains Came), Sonja Henie (Thin Ice, Second Fiddle, above), Loretta Young (Ladies in Love, Love Is News, Café Metropole, Second Honeymoon, Suez), Gene Tierney (Son of Fury, The Razor's Edge, That Wonderful Urge), and Anne Baxter (Crash Dive, The Razor's Edge, The Luck of the Irish).
Plus Ava Gardner (The Sun Also Rises), Madeleine Carroll (Lloyd's of London), Kim Novak (The Eddy Duchin Story), Betty Grable (A Yank in the R.A.F.), Marlene Dietrich (Witness for the Prosecution), and Maureen O'Hara (The Black Swan, The Long Gray Line).
Apparently, the only seven above-the-title female players at Fox that Power didn't make love to during his two decades at the studio were Jeanne Crain, June Haver, Vivian Blaine, Marilyn Monroe, Carmen Miranda, Shirley Temple, and Thelma Ritter.
Among Power's directors were top names like Henry King, Henry Hathaway, John Ford, Billy Wilder, Rouben Mamoulian, Clarence Brown, George Sidney, Henry Koster, and Edmund Goulding. Although Power himself was never nominated for a best actor Oscar, four of his vehicles received best picture nominations: In Old Chicago (1937), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), The Razor's Edge (1946), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).
I wrote at length about Tyrone Power on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death in November 2008. At about that time, I got in touch with Maria Ciaccia (right), who wrote the program notes for Power's tribute and who has done extensive research on Power's life and career.
Among Ciaccia's credits are research for Fox's Tyrone Power box set; assistant research for biographies on Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck, and Tony Curtis; the weekly podcast “The Golden Age of Hollywood”; the “Where are they Now” column for People magazine online; and the book Hollywood Hunks of the '50s (Excalibur Publishing), in which she talks about the likes of Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, John Derek, Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner, Farley Granger, Jeff Chandler, and John Ericson.
Additionally, Ciaccia was a Contributing Editor for Hollywood Studio Magazine and currently writes for about.com. Among her interview subjects are Zsa Zsa Gabor, James Earl Jones, Rod Steiger, Marion Ross, Steve Allen, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Beymer, Marni Nixon, Eddie Albert, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Buddy Ebsen, and many others.
Recently, Ciaccia kindly agreed to take part in a q&a (via e-mail) for Alt Film Guide. See Tyrone Power Q&A - Part I (next page).
Tyrone Power website
Photos: Courtesy of Maria Ciaccia