Tyrone Power – The Mark of Zorro
Photograph in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938)
Tyrone Edmund Power, Jr. (May 5, 1914 – November 15, 1958), usually credited as Tyrone Power and known sometimes as Ty Power, was an American film and stage actor who appeared in dozens of films from the 1930s to the 1950’s, often in swashbuckler roles or romantic leads such as in The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand, The Black Swan, Prince of Foxes, The Black Rose, and Captain from Castile.
Though renowned for his dark, classically handsome looks that made him a matinee idol from his first film appearance, Power played a wide range of roles, from film leading man to light comedy. In the 1950s, he began placing limits on the number of films he would make in order to have time for the stage. He received his biggest accolades as a stage actor in John Brown’s Body and Mister Roberts. Power died from a heart attack at the age of 44.
Power was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1914, the only son of Helen Emma “Patia” (née Reaume) and the English-born American stage and screen actor Tyrone Power, Sr. Power was descended from a long theatrical line going back to his great-grandfather, the actor and comedian Tyrone Power (1795-1841). His father’s ancestry included Irish, English, and Protestant French Huguenots (the latter through his paternal grandmother’s Lavenu and Blossett ancestors). His mother had Catholic French Canadian (through the Reaume family) and German (from Alsace-Lorraine) ancestry. Through his paternal great-grandmother, Anne Gilbert, Power was related to the actor Laurence Olivier; through his paternal grandmother, stage actress Ethel Lavenu, he was related by marriage to author Evelyn Waugh, and through his father’s first cousin, Norah Emily Gorman Power, he was related to the theatrical director Sir (William) Tyrone Guthrie, founder of the Stratford Festival (now the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) in Canada and the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
During the first year of Power’s life, he lived in Cincinnati. His father was absent for long periods due to his stage commitments in New York. Young Power was a sickly child, and his doctor advised his family that the climate in California might be better for his health. The family moved there in 1915, and Power’s sister Anne was born there on August 26, 1915. The parents appeared together on stage and, in 1917, their movie, The Planter, was released. Tyrone Power, Sr., as he later became known, found himself away from home more frequently, as his stage career took him to New York. The Powers drifted apart, and they divorced around 1920.
After the divorce, Patia Power worked as a stage actress. In 1921, at the age of 7, young Tyrone appeared with his mother in the mission play, La Golondrina, at San Gabriel, California. A couple of years later the family moved back to Cincinnati, where they lived with the family of Patia’s aunt, Helen Schuster Martin, founder of the Schuster-Martin School of Drama. Power’s mother supported her family as a drama and voice coach at the Schuster-Martin School. For several years she coached her son in voice and dramatics during her spare time. Power grew up in the Martin household with his mother’s aunt Helen, her husband William, and their two children, his cousins, Roberta and William [Bill].
Power went to Cincinnati-area Catholic schools and graduated from Purcell High School in 1931. Upon his graduation, he opted to join his father to learn what he could about acting from one of the stage’s most respected actors.
Career – 1930’s
Power joined his father for the summer of 1931, after being separated from him for some years due to his parents’ divorce. His father suffered a heart attack in December 1931, dying in his son’s arms, while preparing to perform in The Miracle Man. Tyrone Power, Jr., as he was then known, decided to continue his pursuit of an acting career. He went door to door, trying to get work as an actor, and, while many contacts knew his father well, they offered praise for his father but no work for him. He appeared in a bit part in 1932 in Tom Brown of Culver, a movie starring actor Tom Brown. Power’s experience in that movie didn’t open any other doors, however, and, except for what amounted to little more than a job as an extra in Flirtation Walk, he found himself frozen out of the movies but making some appearances in community theater. Discouraged, he took the advice of a friend, Arthur Caesar, to go to New York to get experience as a stage actor.
Power went to Hollywood in 1936. The director Henry King was impressed with his looks and poise, and he insisted that Power be tested for the lead role in Lloyd’s of London, a role thought already to belong to Don Ameche. Despite Darryl F. Zanuck‘s reservations, he decided to go ahead and give Power the role, once King and Fox editor, Barbara McLean, convinced him that Power had a greater screen presence than Ameche. Power was fourth billed 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 stayed for the remainder of his career.
Power racked up hit after hit from 1936 until 1943, when his career was interrupted for military service. In these years, he starred in romantic comedies such as Thin Ice andDay-Time Wife; in dramas such as Suez, Blood and Sand, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake,The Rains Came, and In Old Chicago; in the musicals, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Second Fiddle, and Rose of Washington Square; in the westerns, Jesse James (1939) and Brigham Young; in the war films, Yank in the R.A.F. and This Above All; and, of course, the swashbucklers, The Mark of Zorro and The Black Swan. Jesse James was a very big hit at the box office, but it did receive some criticism for fictionalizing and glamorizing the famous outlaw. The movie was shot in and around the Pineville, Missouri area and was Power’s first location shoot and his first Technicolor movie. Before his career was over, he would have filmed a total of 16 movies in color, including the movie he was filming when he died. He was loaned out once, for MGM for 1938’s Marie Antoinette. Darryl F. Zanuck was angry that MGM used Fox’s biggest star in what was, despite billing, a supporting role, and he vowed to never again loan him out. Though Power’s services were requested for the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy, Paris in King’s Row, by Harry Cohn for several films throughout the years, and by Norma Shearer herself for her planned production of The Last Tycoon to play Irving Thalberg, Zanuck stuck by his original decision.
He was named the second biggest box office draw in 1939, surpassed by only Mickey Rooney.
In 1940 the direction of Tyrone Power’s career took a dramatic turn when his movie The Mark of Zorro was released. Power played the role of Don Diego Vega/Zorro, fop by day, bandit hero by night. The role had been made famous by Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 movie of the same title. The film was a hit, and 20th Century Fox often cast him in other swashbucklers in the years that followed. Power was a talented swordsman in real life, and the dueling scene in The Mark of Zorro is highly regarded. The great Hollywood swordsman, Basil Rathbone, who starred with him inThe Mark of Zorro, commented, “Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera. Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”
Power’s career was interrupted in 1943 by military service. He reported to the U.S. Marines for training in late 1942, but he was sent back, at the request of 20th Century-Fox, to complete one more film, 1943’s Crash Dive, a patriotic war movie. He was credited in the movie as Tyrone Power, U.S.M.C.R., and the movie served as much as anything as a recruiting film.