Janet Gaynor, Sonja Henie, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner – were those romances for real, or were they (or some of them) just publicity stunts? What were his marriages to actresses Annabella and Linda Christian (right) like?
Tyrone Power told Sonja Henie, when he wrote to her while she was out of town, that the studio asked him to escort Janet Gaynor around; whether he was telling her the truth or not, I don't know, because Sonja had her hooks into him big time. They had sex all the time in her dressing room, and as one of the scriptwriters on Thin Ice said, when they would emerge, Tyrone would look as if he was ready to keel over! They named each other's genitals – his was Jimmy – and he once wrote her a note from somewhere saying, “Jimmy thinks I'm sick or something.”
As far as Janet, she definitely got to know his family, so while he escorted her for the studio, some sort of friendship developed. He also gave her the book Forever [by Mildred Cram], which he gave all his girlfriends, because he wanted to do the movie. I'm sure they at least had a close friendship. His cousin Bill lived with him and the family from 1936-1939 and went back to Cincinnati when his mother was dying and got married. His wife Madge told me that she was in the drama school that Power's mother worked in one day and found a photo of Janet Gaynor autographed to “my darling Billy” (Ty's cousin and her new husband). Madge was jealous, so she threw it out!
He never had a romance with Norma Shearer – by the time he met Norma, he was dating Annabella and he wasn't interested, though she was. Lana Turner was the real thing totally; in fact, I own jewelry that he gave her. She had an abortion of his child. He never was going to marry her, and dumped her for Linda Christian, with whom he fell madly in love. They had a very passionate love and a very volatile relationship. She told a friend of mine that though they had just two children, she was pregnant almost the entire time they were married – she miscarried several times, and one child, a son, was stillborn.
He had a lot of affairs while he was married to Linda Christian (above), including with Anita Ekberg, whom he met when she was an extra on the set of Mississippi Gambler, and that continued for quite a few years. He also had an affair while he was separated from Linda – with Mary Roblee, an editor at Vogue, and he proposed to her. Later on, he was involved with a British actress, Thelma Faye, and then Mai. While he was with Mai, he met his third wife, Debbie. This has all been verified by On the Wing, by Nora Sayre, All Those Tomorrows, by Mai Zetterling, Two Lives in the Theatre, by Thelma Faye, that all deal with the same period, from about 1955-1958.
Annabella [above, Power with her daughter Anne] probably understood him better than anyone else, and he realized later that he was foolish to have let her go. The problem first was the breakout of the war in Europe. Power was working very hard at the studio, and Annabella was near hysterics about her family in France and under constant strain. Later on, Annabella found that she could not have another child and several different surgeries were done, including one at Mount Sinai in NYC. She wrote to him at the end of their marriage “Our little baby, why didn't he ever come? All that hoping, all that praying.” It put a terrific strain on the marriage.
He had affairs during the marriage, his big affair was with Judy Garland and over that, he gave into pressure from Judy and actually asked Annabella for a divorce. Annabella refused. After the war, he and Annabella both wanted to try again – he hadn't expected her to want to, but she did. Before he left for the war, he gave her half a heart and said, “Here is my heart.” He kept the other half.
What happened with Judy was that Mayer had hired that woman Betty Asher to be Judy's friend and report back to him. On instructions from the studio, she told Judy that Tyrone was reading her love letters out loud in the barracks. This, of course, wasn't true. But that studio-engineered breakup worked. Power wrote later that he couldn't believe how beautiful she was in The Clock, which he saw while he was in the Marines. He regretted losing her.
A lot of people think that he had an affair with Gene Tierney (right, in The Razor's Edge), but he didn't. He had a crush on her and gave her a scarf that said “Love” on it, but nothing transpired.
The best romantic story I ever heard about Power was that Lana Turner gave him a party that he did not want her to give. Corinne Calvet came to the party, and Power started following her around and talking to her. Lana walked in with a pewter coffee pot, and as she walked by Calvet, she pressed the coffee pot into her bare arm. Then she asked, “Coffee anyone?"
Tyrone Power, wife Deborah Ann Minardos on the set of Solomon and Sheba. Power suffered a fatal heart attack during filming.
I love this question because it's such bunk. That's nothing against you – I understand why it was asked, but it's not true. If you go out on the street and ask any twenty-something about any of these people, they'll tell you they don't know who any of them are. I have a friend who is a voice teacher who just recently is getting students who don't know who Barbra Streisand is.
Movie fans know who Tyrone Power is just as much as they know who Clark Gable is. If people are interested, they know. If you're not a movie fan, you probably don't know either one. Go ask a teenager. Ask a twenty-five-year-old – a non-movie buff.
If you're new to films, you won't know him because chances are you are watching Turner Classic Movies, which doesn't show Power's films. They don't own Fox movies. I think they have shown about six, and that's after unbelievable pressure was put on them. However, how unknown can a man be whose photos at auction recently fetched $14,000 – more than Gable, Garbo, or anyone – and who was the “star” of a Bonham and Butterfield auction, where a painting of him estimated for $500 went for $39,500? Somebody knows him somewhere.
There is still a memorial for him yearly, well attended 51 years later; and last year, there was a tribute at the Egyptian Theater on the 50th anniversary of his death that was packed for three nights. If he weren't known, the Tyrone Power box set released in 2007 wouldn't have sold through the roof and sent a panicked Fox into releasing 10 more films as a box set the next year, totally unplanned.
And Power is still in the news, just as he was during his life, during the '60s, and most especially during the big classic film revival of the '70s when there were magazines and books flooding the market. He was always in them.
He's most recently been mentioned in the Clint Eastwood film, Flags of Our Fathers, on The Simpsons, Mad Men, and the British soap Crossroads. The young actor Zac Efron has been said to look like him, and in fact, I have a photo of Efron that I mistook for Power; I couldn't figure out what film it was from. There's also a current play called Filthy Rich where the main character is named “Tyrone Power.” When asked where he got the name, the character says, “My mother was a romantic.” And of course there's the Batman connection. The night Bruce Wayne's parents were killed, they had just seen The Mark of Zorro.
A friend of mine recently went to the Polo Lounge wearing a baseball cap with Power's picture on it and was stopped by Russell Crowe, who said that Power was one of his favorite actors, and he pulled Vince Vaughan over, and Vince Vaughan said Power was his favorite Zorro. George Clooney told Romina Power that he modeled his whole career after Power's.
Do an eBay search of sold Tyrone Power items. I can't get near them anymore.
What you're talking about is the general public who might know Gone with the Wind, for instance, and that is the chink in the Power armor – the movies. He did not make a gigantic iconic film like GWTW or Casablanca, and that crowd will not know him.
He certainly did make classics – The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand, Witness for the Prosecution, which are niche classics, and Nightmare Alley has become a cult classic, though they're not in the Casablanca category. Nearly all of his films were tremendously popular – Jesse James (right) was #4 in 1939 – they garnered several hundred million dollars at a time when movies cost a nickel, a dime, a quarter; I think when he died the average price of a film ticket in the US was $.58. That's a huge number of people. Huge.
[Photo: Tyrone Power on the Jesse James set.]
If there is a failing in name recognition, I blame Turner Classic Movies for not licensing more Fox films. People who watch Turner think that the only stars worked for MGM, WB, and RKO. In point of fact, Tyrone Power was #5 in the world – above Gable – for the Gone with the Wind year, 1939, and #2 in 1940, and unlike Errol Flynn, who only made a top box office list once, Power stayed a mega movie star until his death, demanding a percentage of his films' gross.
If one looks at the Top Ten Reviews list, which lists actors according to box office and reviews, Power is listed as the #151st most popular actor. That list includes character people like C. Aubrey Smith and the stars of today such as Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, so it's all-inclusive. Errol Flynn is #176, Robert Taylor is #333. Just to give you a basis for comparison, Paul Newman is 120. Alan Ladd is 1,179. There are 38,421 actors listed.
Considering the prices of films in the old days, considering how long some of these guys have been dead, considering the fact that these numbers include everyone from Jack Carson to Leonardo DiCaprio, those are all great numbers. And considering, as I said, that Tyrone did not make a Casablanca, pretty darn good. Those actors were all once higher, and they'll continue to drop as more people come along.
There are some fascinating statistics – The Eddy Duchin Story, for instance, is the #4 biography of 92 in the entire 1950s, and the #1 of 10 bios released in 1956. Here's another one – Tyrone is #28 in all-time Western stars! And that includes women like Jean Arthur and Western regulars like Jack Elam – 7,025 people mentioned.
I have to think, with the teenaged fans who show up for him on message boards, that he is well remembered. But the crowd who knows Beyoncé and Paris Hilton know Beyoncé and Paris Hilton – they don't know Clark Gable or Tyrone Power, and in order for them to know Judy Garland, you have to say The Wizard of Oz.
I conducted an experiment on Flixster, which is mostly young people. I put in some photos of the legendary stars into their never-ending quiz and asked people to identify them. It didn't matter who it was, 1 percent correctly identified Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Errol Flynn, etc. 1 percent no matter who. And that's on a site dedicated to film in general where a small percentage of visitors is over 30. Obviously, on a classic-film site, the 1 percent would be for Robert Pattinson and the classic stars would get 100%!
My advice? Don't let Turner Classic Movies tell you your movie history.