Monday, 5 May 2014
Tyrone Power's 100th Birthday
Tyrone Power was born Tyrone Edmund Power on 4 May 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was part of an acting dynasty that went back over a century. His great grandfather was Irish comedian, actor, and stage manager William Grattan Tyrone Power (known professionally as "Tyrone Power", 1795–1841). His father was silent film star Frederick Tyrone Edmond Power (also known professionally as "Tyrone Power", 2 May 1869 – 23 December 1931). It was because of his father's fame that Tyrone Power was billed as "Tyrone Power Jr. in his earliest films. Through his great grandfather Tyrone Power was related to legendary stage director Tyrone Guthrie as well.
Given that Tyrone Power came from a family of actors, it was quite natural that he would go into acting himself. His film debut actually came while he was still a child, with a small part in the 1925 drama School for Wives. He had very small, uncredited roles in such films as Tom Brown of Culver (1932), Flirtation Walk (1934), and Northern Frontier (1935). In 1935 he also appeared on Broadway in Flowers of the Forest. In the 1936 film Girls' Dormitory Tyrone Power appeared as Count Vallais. Although eighth in the billing, the role was much more substantial than any he had received before (which often amounted to little more than being a glorified extra). It was later in 1936 that Tyrone Power received his first lead role. Although fourth billed, Mr. Power was for all extents and purposes the star of Lloyd's of London. The film would prove pivotal in his career. Lloyd's of London established Tyrone Power as a star. It was a beginning of a career that would see a great deal of success.
While today Tyrone Power is best known for his roles in swashbuckler movies, he had been a major star for a few years before he appeared in his first swashbuckling role. It was in 1940 that Mr. Power starred in the role of Don Diego Vega and his alter ego Zorro in The Mark of Zorro, a remake of the phenomenally popular 1920 silent film of the same name starring Douglas Fairbanks. Like the 1920 film, The Mark of Zorro (1940) proved to be a success, so much so that it changed the direction of Tyrone Power's career. Tyrone Power became one of the best known stars of swashbucklers, perhaps surpassed only by Errol Flynn.
Of course, while Tyrone Power may be best known for his swashbuckler films, some of his most notable achievements in acting would be in dramas. In fact, his greatest performance could well be in the 1946 film adaptation of of W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge. As World War I veteran Larry Darrell, Tyrone Power gave a nuanced yet highly powerful performance of a man trying to make sense out of life. That he was not even nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor has to be one of the great snubs in Academy Awards history. Tyrone Power also gave an impressive performance in his final role, that of accused murderer Leonard Vole in Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Tyrone Power gave outstanding performances in most of the dramas in which he starred, including Suez, Crash Dive (1943), This Above All (1942), and Nightmare Alley (1947), among others.
Like many leading men of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties Tyrone Power made more than his fare share of Westerns. Indeed, he was the star of one of the classics of the genre, playing the title character in Jesse James (1939). While the film is entirely historically inaccurate, Mr. Power does a good job of playing Jesse James, delivering a very nuanced and highly convincing performance. He also did well in Rawhide (1951), a Western with a nearly film noir sensibility (not surprising given it was a very loose remake of the 1935 gangster film Show Them No Mercy). Among Mr. Power's other Westerns were Pony Soldier (1952), and The Mississippi Gambler (1953).
Although best known for his swashbuckler films, Tyrone Power appeared in very nearly every genre Hollywood had to offer. He even starred in a film that can be considered outright fantasy (or perhaps even science fiction). The House in the Square was based on the 1926 play Berkeley Square, which was previously adapted in 1933 as the film Berkeley Square starring Leslie Howard. In The House in the Square (1951) Tyrone Power plays Peter Standish, a scientist who finds himself transported back to the year 1874. Tyrone Power plays Standish, who is very much a fish out of water, very well, giving a very subtle performance.