Tyrone Power VI: Lana Turner & Sonja Henie + Janet Gaynor & Film Legacy

Annabella, Tyrone Power, Anne Power
Annabella, Tyrone Power, Annabella's daughter Anne, whom Power adopted

Tyrone Power, Linda ChristianTyrone Power V: Sexual Orientation Rumors

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.

Tyrone Power, Linda Christian

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.

Tyrone Power, Anne (Annabella's daughter)

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.

Gene Tierney, Tyrone Power in The Razor's EdgeA 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, Deborah Minardos on set of Solomon and Sheba
Tyrone Power, wife Deborah Ann Minardos on the set of Solomon and Sheba. Power suffered a fatal heart attack during filming.

Tyrone Power Photoplay coverWhy do you think that Tyrone Power isn't as well-remembered today as, say, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and several other top stars of the studio era?

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.

Gregory Ratoff, Tyrone Power

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.

Tyrone Power in Jesse JamesWhat 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.]

Tyrone PowerIf 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.

Tyrone Power VI: Lana Turner & Sonja Henie + Janet Gaynor & Film Legacy © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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17 Comments to Tyrone Power VI: Lana Turner & Sonja Henie + Janet Gaynor & Film Legacy

  1. Lomond Handley

    Somewhere there is or was, a son of Tyrone Power who was born to one of the young women involved in the film in which he starred and it was said that she was local to the area where it was filmed.

    Despite his intense efforts, Tyrone Power never succeeded in tracing his son and there must be others who know his identity.

    Tyrone Power had a beautiful family of whom he was so very proud.

    His elder son whom he never managed to trace is likely to bear a strong resemblance to his siblings as well as his father and may well have descendants.

    Somewhere, someone knows the truth although it's possible that Tyrone's son doesn't or didn't know the identity of his dad because the knowledge was kept from him, but DNA of him and/or any possible descendants would reveal answers.

    I believe one day the truth will come to light. I hope so, because Tyrone Power was obviously very upset not to have been able to trace his elder son, who was adopted and whose mother was believed to have lived in the area where the filming took place.

    The Power family are talented and distinguished. A proud heritage which spans many generations. How sad that Tyrone was unable to find his elder son and how proud he must be of all his children.

  2. Kirk Van Allyn

    Where are the missing mutals of a statistical romance?
    “Power's Glass Wall Tells All.” LOOK 12,2,52
    I'm amelerating as “Double-Bind Bachelor Poster Child of 42'.
    I believe that I'm the subject of this mural, not Romina.

  3. MITCHELL

    Great series of articles about a great movie star and great actor. I stumbled across this series while watching my dvd copy of the Mark of Zorro. I've seen the movie dozens of times and that was before I owned the dvd. I truly believe the actors from the golden age of Hollywood were the best! I learned about these actors and their films from my father, a WWII veteran of the Marine Corp. Needless to say Tyrone Power had a place in my fathers heart as a result of his Marine Corp service(along with Ted Williams). My father was born in 1927 and first became a fan of Power in 1939 after watching Jesse James in the local theatre in his hometown of Jellicoe Tennessee. That's also where he became a fan of John Wayne after watching Stagecoach! As as result of my dads tutoring I'm a fan of all those golden age stars. My personal opinion is that Fredric March was the most talented although I have a special weakness for Robert Mitchum! He was one of only two celebrities that my father would let off the hook for smoking grass(the other being Willie Nelson)! Thank you SO MUCH for setting the record straight(if you'll excuse my use of that word)!

  4. Jbacks3

    No mention of Ty's illegitimate son from when he was on location on that Jesse James movie in '39? I heard he spent a small fortune trying to find him…

  5. Janet Jones

    I have seen all of Tyrone Power's films and he was a very good actor. Unfortunately because he was so beautiful (yes - beautiful) as Jeanine Basinger repeats many times in her book “The Star Machine”, he never got the chance to do any real acting until later in his career. He did as much stage work as he could and actually did that to get away from the mediocre films he was being offered. He had to fight Zanuck to make Nightmare Alley, and then Zanuck did nothing to promote it - hoping it would just go away. He didn't want his “product” compromised. I wish he had lived longer as I believe once he left the confines of Fox and could call the shots he would have chosen wisely and would have been a terrific character actor.

  6. advance2go

    I heard an interview with Tyrone Power Jr., He was shocked how little is known of his dad! His words. Ty Sr., was never given the artistic freedom he longed for. He had to fight Daryl Zanuck ferociously to make “Nightmare Alley”. Zanuck kept him on a tight leash. Ty once remarked: “I became a movie star before I became an actor” It was a allusion to his fabulous looks which were a double-edged sword. Gave him roles but overshadowed his acting acumen, therefore he was underrated. I believe he would have dethroned Clark Gable as King of Hollywood if given the freedom he longed for. He was much better looking, more charming, better actor, and a beautiful speaking voice. Tragic loss.

  7. Sherrie

    Thank you Andre. I will look into Fox Movie Channel for sure. I miss real TV. Today movies are not the same and the actors are not as good as they used to be. Tyrone Power …those eyes…that smile! :)

  8. Andre

    Sherrie,
    For Tyrone Power, you should try checking out the Fox Movie Channel.

  9. Sherrie

    I love watching old movies. I hardly ever watch new ones and NEVER watch reality TV. My Tv remains on TCM. Tyone Power is a gorgeous talented man and I loved him in all his movies. He died way too young. He is missed.

  10. Loren Ruhl

    I most certainly am a fan of Tyrone Power..partly because he was my friend and our paths crossed many times in many places of the world. It was a sad day for me when I learned of his death in 1958!

  11. Maria

    So very true, and thank you for bringing that up. You are correct!

  12. Arnie

    SUEZ wasn't very good, but Annabella is really delightful in the Rene Clair film, Le Million.

  13. Daniel Camargo

    Great that you replied Maria. No matter what, Tyrone power was great and it's good to know that you are sharing all you discoveries and thoughts about him with us. Any nice story of Tyrone Power in Rio?

  14. Maria

    One more thing, Daniel. The trip he took with Cesar Romero - it was not just the two of them, it was a whole group of people, including people from Fox, as Fox okayed the trip. Ty Jr. tells a wonderful story about Tyrone and Eva Peron on that trip which ends with “and she ended up in his bed.” Eva was exactly his type.

    You have to also remember that Cesar was known to be gay - if Tyrone had any insecurities, or if there had been rumors - he was still at Fox, remember - he would have avoided Cessar, not hung out with him in public ever. Part of William Eythe's problem with Zanuck was a “friendship” Eythe had with Lon McAllister.

  15. Maria

    This is the type of thing I'm talking about. I have Maureen O'Hara's book. She says that she went to Columbia for costume sketches for The Long Gray Line and walked into Ford's office and saw what she saw. Tyrone Power was in New York working at the time Long Gray Line was in pre-production. The movie was made at West Point as well. Columbia did many films a year, and I'm sure a lot of people were there filming and doing pre and post-production. She doesn't identify the man, although people assumed it was Power and that actually has been posted that it was. Well, it wasn't. Even if I hadn't seem timelines for the film and for him, the polite greeing she and the actor exchanged, you knew it wasn't Tyrone. He was a friend and former co-star and always joked and laughed with her.

    I've never understood why John Ford didn't lock his door.

  16. bluegardenia

    Actually I just have a small disagreement with your comment about being a movie buff or not. Some people who call themselves “movie buffs” only watch mainstream stuff…like Will Farrell, Transformers, The Hulk..crap like that. A real movie fan knows who all the old stars are…Power, McCrea, Hedy Lamar on and on and on…These kids don't get to see real movies they don't want to watch “black and white” stuff. They're only into the high tech pretend kinda movies or the cartoon movies…or stuff like The 300…etc etc. Ok that's my rant.

  17. Daniel Camargo

    Well, I heard there is this story on a Maureen O'Hara autobio that she entered John Ford's office (probably at Columbia) and cought him kissing a man who was a great leading man. But wasn;t Power under contarct with Fox in 1954/55? I've herard a lot of stories regarding Ford's sexuality. Maybe the guy was Robert Francis, but he never was a great leading man, was him?
    About the Power - Romero “affair”, I also read somewhere that they both went to Rio during the war and they had a great time overhere.
    Anyway, as the author mentioned, rumors do increase as the years go by.
    I always liked Tyrone Power and the q&a was really awsome.