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Modern ScreenTYRONE POWERby Kirtley BasketteThere was something about Ty, with his cocky grin,
Dec 1943This article is Part 1 of a 2-part story. To read Part 2,
published by Modern Screen in Jan 1944, click here.
his dark, serious eyes, that would set him apart ... place
him in the lead. You could tell that even in the beginning.
One evening, seven years ago, a slim white-faced youth of twenty-two stood silently on a Hollywood hillside terrace and gazed into the deepening dusk.
Below him spread a sight seen nowhere else in the world.
As the short Pacific twilight plunged into purple night, the earth burst into a twinkling brilliance reaching as far as his dark eyes could see. Lights -- white, yellow, scarlet, blue and emerald -- strung themselves like sparkling jewels across the valley's throat. The stars in the velvet night seemed reflected below, as in a giant pool.
Far to his right as he watched, mesmerized by the beauty, a tower suddenly glowed white from a thousand lamps. Around it a score of lavender-white rays shot up, penciling the cloudless sky with sweeping, criss-cross paths to the stars.
The young man shifted, lit a cigarette and dragged deep. The glow highlighted features familiar to few enough people at that moment. Thick black eyebrows, dark hair faintly waving back from a prominent forehead, deep eyes, a clean jaw line, a narrow, pale, sensitive face. He was smiling. His teeth flashed. He blew out the smoke.
This is it, he said to himself, but aloud, "At last -- it's for me -- Hollywood."
The door behind him jerked open suddenly.
"What in the world are you doing out there, Tyrone?" called a voice. "Hurry up and get dressed. You know how far it is to the Carthay Circle. You'll be late for your own premiere!"
Tyrone Power grinner. "What difference does it make?" he kidded to himself. Aloud, he said, "I'll be right in, Mother."
Tyrone Power was late to the Hollywood premiere of Lloyds of London. It didn't make any difference. When he strode up the surging, spotlighted, poinsettia-lined lane, his anxious mother on his arm, a half-curious few murmured "Who's that?" But photographers let their camera's dangle listlessly.
Two hours later he had to fight his way to his car. Flash bulbs blazed at him from every angle. The lobby buzzed and critics cackled. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood knew that a young, virile, magnetizing, important star was born.
And an era in the life of Tyrone Power, Jr., had begun.
That era ended and another began one day last summer when Tyrone Power stood ramrod straight, taller, stronger, more mature, but every bit as thrilled and enthusiastic, before a major of the United States Marines and swore to defend his country with his life.
At that tingling moment Ty Power put Hollywood behind him. He deliberately wiped his mind clean of the triumphs and heartbreaks; the glamour and thrills; the loneliness of fame; and what, for far more than seven years, had been the natural meat and drink of his soul -- acting.
The searchlights that once heralded Hollywood openings now probe the Pacific skies for Jap bombers. Acting is out, and fighting is in for the duration. Ty Power knew it the minute he heard the shocking news of Pearl Harbor. He was finished with Hollywood and fame from that minute on. He had a new job to do. He would up his picture program impatiently. He made Crash Dive, his last, fretful as a race horse in the starting gate. He joined up in the middle of it. When he left, he didn't even stop to clean out his crowded dressing room at the studio.
He knew when he joined the Marines what he was up against. "I'll get worked over, all right," he cracked to a pal when he left. "I'm expecting the worst - but are those guys going to get fooled!" He said the same thing when, a callow kid, he first headed for Hollywood. He had a driving ambition, impatience, a burning necessity to rise then. He still has -- it's part of him. He had a fight on his hands, then, too -- and he won it -- against youth, frail health, accidents, hostile directors, the "show me" attitude of Hollywood -- and the smothering burden of a famous father's name.
And when he swore himself into the fight for freedom, a phrase rang in his ears as the major droned the oath. It was something he'd heard -- as a young man. He had emblazoned it as the device on his secret banner, the words his mother used to say when he'd talk about his dreams:
"I don't care what you do, Tyrone. But whatever you do, you've got to be good. You've got to be the best!"
Private Tyrone Power was honor man of his entire platoon at the San Diego Marine boot camp. He came out second in his class. At Quantico, Virginia, in a group of 600 officer candidates, Lieutenant Tyrone Power was ninth man to win bars for his proud shoulders. In review a colonel paused before his trim, determined figure and inspected him from boot to barracks cap. "There," he said, "is the ideal Marine!"
What fortune the Gods of War have in store for Lieutenant Tyrone Power, USMC, is no more certain than the fates awaiting 5,000,000 other Yanks.
Perhaps all this was written in the stars when he was born, one fresh spring day at half-past five in the afternoon. That was May 5, 1914, and the dogs of war were snarling. Three months later the world was to divide and grapple at its own throat, as it is doing today. The Kaiser's World War I was brewing. In far off Cincinnati, Mid-American, German settled, smug, provincial, Patia Power had gone to have her first baby. It was in England a couple of years before that she, the bride of the great Shakespearean actor, Tyrone Power, II, had heard her husband say he wanted a son to carry on the name. And she had resolved that that should be.
It was only two months before that Patia Power had played before the footlights with her husband. That would be part of the heritage she could give her son, that acting right up to the last, if -- well -- if Tyrone Power continued to mean what it had meant since the 1700's. That was the only way his mother could hope to match the glorious heritage of his father's line.
Patia Power's real name was Helen Emma Reaume. She had rechristened herself after Aspatia, a great teacher of antiquity. She had been born in Indiana and raised in Kentucky, but her dark, handsome features and talent for the arts stemmed from her Alsatian grandfather.
family tree . . .
The first Tyrone Power took his name from the land of his birth, County Tyrone, Ireland. That was the late 18th century. He was a happy-go-lucky, reckless, witty Irishman who became the greatest Irish comedian of his day. He had blue eyes and light hair and a straight nose, and he was everybody's friend. Like his great grandson, he was restless, and he traveled all over the world. Particularly he liked America. He even wrote a book about it, "Impressions of America," in the early 1800's. ¹ It was while sailing back from New York to London in 1841 that his ship went down in the Atlantic, and he lost his life.
Tyrone Power's son, Harold, grew up to become a concert pianist and lecturer. His son, Tyrone, II, was Ty's father, a native Londoner, who became a naturalized United States citizen after he had also become one of the greatest Shakespearean classic stars of his day.
That was the heritage of brilliance concentrated in the tiny package that came to life that May fifth on Fulton Street in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was promptly christened Tyrone Power, too. He looked like his father -- the same high forehead and prominent brows. And he was, as he remained throughout babyhood, all eyes. There wasn't much else. Tyrone III was frail and sickly. Patia Power, in her secret heart, wondered if she'd ever raise him.
The doctors in Cincinnati and New York had about given him up. He couldn't eat. Malnutrition had wasted tiny Ty away to nothing. Specialists tapped and poked him and frowned. Nothing they prescribed could make him keep his food. Tyrone, Sr., then in silent New York-made movies, snapped at an offer from the Selig studios in California. "Maybe the sunshine will cure him," he argued.
Nothing worked. The last doctor told them: "This baby is slowly starving." That morning the nursemaid they had hired came to Patia Power. She found her sitting silently in tears beside Baby Tyrone. She knew why. "Mrs. Power," she said, "the doctors have failed -- will you let me try?"
Tyrone Power owes his life, perhaps certainly his tall, straight body to his baby nurse. Her name was Tracy. Pet Tracy, the Powers called her. She was a huge woman, unruffled, capable and mysteriously wise. She took Baby Ty in her complete charge, put away his medicines and junked his formulas.
Later, when he could lisp out a few words, Tyrone sensed his debt to the stolid Pet, who always called him her "Little Man". He had a favorite little dream-game he liked to play. In it he was a great man, a huge success and Pet was a little old lady living in a country cottage, poor and hungry. The big scene showed the great Tyrone coming up the lane of the country hut and rapping at the door.
"Does Pet Tracy live here?" he'd say.
"Yes," the little old lady would whisper.
"Well, I'm your 'Little Man'!" Whereupon Pet would swoon with delight, and Tyrone would make her last days wonderful. It was always the same.
without pity . . .
Tyrone's first vague kiddie memories of California spring from busy war days on Coronado Beach when San Diego was, as it is again today, a bustling war base, full of dashing sailors and marines in training. Ty never went back to stay until he donned a uniform last year. But all through childhood, he called it "the big boat town", and sailors and marines always spelled high adventure.
What became closest to a real home, however, was the small town of Alhambra, near Pasadena. There he attended his first classes at Granada School. There he met his first girl, had his first fight, and played his first starring role.
Ty's first encounter with the female sex was deadly. With his tiny sister, Ann, and neighborhood moppets, he was busy one afternoon in the favorite sport of that place and time -- an orange fight.
A little freckled-faced tomboy of the "enemy" squad heaved a rock instead of a ripe orange. It struck Ty on the side of the head, and he dropped, crying. The kids all ran home, and Ty, bloody and aching, trudged back to his own yard leading sister Ann in tow. "Don't you tell," he warned her. "Don't you dare."
He told his mother he'd fallen on a rock. He never told on the girl -- that was beneath his dignity. But he always told on himself -- that was only honest.
gloomy Sunday . . .
For instance, one Sunday, he was racing a kid around the block on his skates. Ty was a good skater and runner and, though small, was spunky. But this Sunday he was disobeying orders. The Powers have always had deep respect for religion, and if his mother had told him once, she'd told him a hundred times that there was to be absolutely no rough stuff on the Sabbath.
But Ty, jostling for the inside track, tripped, took a header on the sidewalk, ruined his clothes and practically ripped off one eyebrow. he was a sorry sight when he limped in the front door.
"You'd better punish me, Mother," he said, as dignified as possible. "I've been roughhousing on Sunday."
Mrs. Power looked at his battered face. "You've had punishment enough," she said.
He was always frank like that in his scrapes. Once a neighborhood boy, a little older than Ty, came screaming into the Powers' door, with Ty right after him. "I'm gonna tell your Mother," he yelped. "Mrs. Power, Tyrone hit me in the stomach!"
"Yes", said Ty. "I hit him hard."
Before the kid, Mrs. Power punished Ty. It was only after that was over that she got out of Tyrone the reason he had done what he did. The kid had called him an unprintable name.
The Powers had moved to Alhambra because it was closer to the Selig Studios and because in the nearby historic Spanish mission of San Gabriel, John Steven McGroarty's famous Mission Play was gaining national notice. Patia Power was engaged for the important role of Senora Josefa Yorba. Between picture parts, Tyrone, Sr. played Fray Junipero Serra. As a kid, Tyrone hung around the ancient mission until he knew the play by heart. The first part he ever played was Pablo, a Mexican boy in the Mission Play, with his mother and his father. Wrote a Los Angeles critic:
"Master Tyrone Power, Jr. made a miniature hit."
Tyrone was seven.
Pablo was his very first brush with a real stage and a paid audience and it was to be his last for some years. About then the career of Tyrone Power II went one way and the career of Patia went another direction. They separated by a mutual, amicable agreement. The actor went on to his public. Patia took the children back to Grandmother Reaume in Cincinnati. She had taught voice and dramatic expression along with her acting since she was 15 years old. The Schuster-Martin School of the Drama offered her the voice chair there as a steady thing. She gave up the professional stage and pictures and packed Tyrone away from the town he would not see again until he grew up and answered the call of his blood. Her job was to raise and educate her children.
Ty Power calls Cincinnati his home town. He came to live there when he was seven and left when he was 17. Ten years is a good-sized chunk out of any boy's life. In Cincinnati their friends called Patia Power, Tyrone and his sister, Ann, "The Three Musketeers." They were that close. Tyrone, Senior, still friendly, was a distant part of the family, dropping in now and then between stage engagements, but never staying long.
Tyrone and Ann really had three homes in Cincinnati -- their own, their grandmother's and the Schuster-Martin School. Patia Power produced plays in the Little Theater there, along with her teaching. Half the time her own children were there, not formally enrolled but hanging around or involved in the Children's Theater's little playlets. Thus never in his youth did Tyrone completely miss the dramatic aura of life. Even at home, in the evenings after dinner, his mother would say:
"Now , we're going to have a game, we three. Let's sit down, fold our hands and relax. We're going to learn how to talk correctly. We've a lot to learn."
on the distaff side . . .
Until the sixth grade Tyrone went to the same convent as his sister, St. Ursula's, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Most of the students, of course, were girls.
One spring day he came home, said nothing to his mother, walked upstairs and closed his door. For hours Ty remained there, mysteriously locked in his room. Finally he came down and told his mother he had flunked every subject but one -- religion -- at the convent and failed to pass into the seventh grade.
It was incredible! Her boy was a fine student. Mrs. Power did some sleuthing.
She inquired around and found out that the nun who taught Tyrone was a domineering sort of woman, a teacher whose word was law, who took no back-talk.
Then Patia Power remembered. Tyrone, even as a kid, couldn't be led -- by anyone. When he played with other kids, he had to lead. If it was "Knights of the Round Table," Ty had to be King Arthur, else he wouldn't play. His flunk was just a rebellion against domination. How could he let a woman run him? He had gone on strike.
Patia Power took her dilemma to a friend of hers, Father Flynn, who had written boys' books and knew them inside out. He smiled wisely. "I think," he said, "It's time to take Tyrone away from the women and put him with men."
Next semester Ty found himself in St. Xavier's Parochial School -- all boys. "Will I do the sixth grade over?" he asked the father.
"I'll say you won't," snorted the priest. "Go to the seventh and work up a sweat!"
When Ty graduated from St. Xavier's he was valedictorian of his class.
a man's world . . .
St. Xavier's was no snob's school. Tyrone lived in Fenwick Hall, a boys' home, crowded with Murphys and Kellys and Hovaks and Polettis. He came home only on weekends. In a couple of years he went on to Dayton University parochial prep school, completely away from home at Dayton, Ohio. When he came back to finish high school at Purcell, the all-boys' high school in suburban Walnut Park, Tyrone knew how to look after himself in any kind of company.
He was no athlete. He was still a beautiful string bean. That galled Tyrone. He was crazy about football and baseball. He went out for the teams regularly every year, burning with a fierce determination to make up for his light weight with desperate courage. But it was always the same. The husky kids brushed him aside like paper, and the coach dropped him from the squad after a couple of days. He busted his finger playing baseball, and it's crooked to this day.
The sport Ty could handle well was swimming. He was graceful and fast in the water, and at the big municipal pools of Cincinnati, he was a familiar sight every summer except the ones he'd spent at his aunt's in Michigan, splashing in the lake, playing tennis and turning walnut-brown in the sun. At anything he could do well Ty was impatient with others. What he did well looked like such a cinch to him. Once he was standing on the high board at a pool, trying to get Ann to dive off. It looked a million miles down there to her, and she had no intention of trying it. Suddenly she found herself pushed from the board and falling. She hit the water the best she could and came up, raging at Tyrone. He was smiling so pleasantly she forgot to be mad.
"See how easy it is?" he said.
Tyrone and his sister, Ann, were born only 16 months apart. Until he graduated and left home, they were as close as peas in a pod. For years she was his tag-along shadow, into everything Ty was. They had a black cat they dressed up in fancy clothes and wheeled around in a carriage. They stole their mother's perfume, added water and peddled it to the neighbors together. Ty brought home a fascinating, wicked pack of cigarettes when he was 12 and Ann, a year younger, helped him sample the forbidden delights. They got sick together and desperately sucked oranges to get the smoke off their breaths.
One time in deep winter, they climbed up on the crenellated roof of the Schuster-Martin School, made ice-snowballs and hurled them at cars below. When one smashed through a taxicab window and they got caught, they were hailed downstairs before their angry mother.
"Well," said Tyrone, "we did it, that's all. I'll pay for the damage."
He was getting 50 cents allowance a week then. He saved up for ten weeks. But he paid off. He was always that way, honest and frank about his mischief and not afraid to take the rap. He was always touchy and honorable, too, about money matters. Later, broke in New York and Hollywood, he'd send back the checks his mother sent him, even when he was stuffing paper in his shoes for soles. As a kid, Ty was super-canny about change.
But if Ty seemed tight that way it was not for love of lucre alone. He always had something he was saving for -- either a bountiful Christmas for Ann and his mother or something. Mrs. Power has a treasured table in her Hollywood home today. It's in the front room, and she wouldn't sell it for worlds. It cost $9. Ty saved for 20 weeks to buy it for her. He was a day student at Purcell when Tyrone landed the job jerking sodas and delivering packages at the drug store (it's called Power's Drug Store today, by the way). He worked afternoons and evenings, and he made around $8 a week. In the summer he worked all day. As he did everything, Ty did his job well. Especially he liked the speedy trips on the motorbike. In classes Patia Power would hear a roar in the street. Her pupils would titter. "There goes Tyrone, Madame Power," they'd say.
out of the frying pan . . .
Ty bought his first automobile when he worked at the drug store. It cost $20. Ty paid $20 and his Cousin Billy chipped in $20. It was a stripped down, flimsy bullet shaped flivver with no floor board and practically no motor. It was painted orange, yellow and green. It has a cut-out that sounded to Heaven. It lasted only a few weeks; then it fell apart.
This Cousin Billy was Ty's evil genius. He was two years older than Ty, full of ideas. Whenever Ty and Billy got together it was usually just too bad.
One night at the Schuster-Martin School Patia Power produced a play. Suddenly, in the middle, the audience grew restless, squirmed in their seas and began creeping out of the place. In no time at all the house was empty. The room was filled with a horrifying odor. Someone had broken stench-bombs.No one knew who did it. And maybe they'd never have found out -- but Cousin Billy gloated so about the success of his project with Tyrone that he let the truth out. It got back to Patia, and that was too bad for Ty. He nourished a gnawing desire for revenge on the perfidious Cousin Billy.
He let the thing cool off, though, then later one night he asked his mother sweetly if Cousin Billy could come and stay at night. She said that was perfectly okay.
That night Ty waited until Billy was deep in dreamland. Then he broke a flock of stench bombs under the bed, slipped out of the room and locked the door. Cousin Billy had a horrible night.
Adolescence ended Ty's boyhood escapades. And adolescence came to him almost as maturity to most boys. He was still thin, growing tall and almost too handsome. For a long time, his best girl was Ann. He took Ann to the first dances, buying her corsages out of his drug store pay. She was always home from the convent on weekends. Soon other boys began calling up. "Now look," Ty would frown, very much the man of the house, "I don't want you going out with any boys I don't know. Do you hear?" Then Ann had to tell him off.
flaxen and fluffy . . .
His first date was with Ann's convent chum, a platinum blonde, pretty and vivacious. They went to the Netherland Plaza for dancing, and Ty wore his favorite blue double-breasted jacket and white pants. He borrowed his mother's car. He didn't kiss the girl good-night. He was much too self-conscious. But there was always a girl from then on, and always they were Ty's style -- pretty, full of fun, very feminine. But the minute they started falling -- and that was easy -- that was the end.
There was a girl he met on his own, and she came as close as anyone to getting him hot and bothered.
One summer night he came home and asked to borrow his mother's car. It wasn't unusual. Mrs. Power nodded. "Where are you going?"
"Oh," he said casually. "Just going to take a girl friend home. Nothing special. "How nice!" said Mrs. Power. "Mind if I ride with you? It's awfully hot tonight. I'll sit in the back seat and get a breeze."
Ty was silent. They drove together, picked up the girl and wheeled slowly through the shady Cincinnati streets. A moon was up to make it worse. Nobody said anything. In the back seat Mrs. Power realized she was about as popular as the measles. There was nowhere to go except straight to the girl's house. Ty stopped on the opposite side of the street, and the girl ran on in alone.
"She's a sweet girl, Tyrone," said Mrs. Power weakly. "Lovely."
No answer. When they got back home, Ty climbed out, his face set.
"Okay, Mother," he said. "You win."
Patia Power never made that mistake again. If there was one thing her son insisted on, it was running his own affairs. That's just the way he was made.
Tyrone was working at the Orpheum theater then. He was an usher, and he was gorgeous in his fancy braid.
One night, with Grandmother Reaume, she came downtown to the show. Ty was standing stiffly by the door in his gaudy cape. She presented her tickets to Ty. "Well -- " she started. But, his face impassive and professional, her son interrupted her.
"This way, ladies," he said formally, as if he'd never laid eyes on them before. He marched them, stunned, down the aisle and waved them to their seats. "I hope these seats are satisfactory, Madame," he intoned majestically. Then he left.
Ty had no movie crushes or idols; he wasn't fan-struck. But he was interested. He'd rate them on charts -- Number 1, Number 2, Number 3 performance of the month, and such. He'd analyze the shows and criticize them. And his judgments were surprisingly keen.
Mrs. Power began to wonder how long this had been going on. But she really knew. It had been going on for a long time.
kid stuff . . . Signs as far back as Ty's babyhood, really, when he'd sit up in the big chair in the front room, stick his papa's strongest pipe in his mouth, grab a newspaper and pretend to read it, frowning, "Don't bodder me. I'm Mitty Power!" Mister Power -- indeed! And the time he and Ann had written their "play" -- only six year old -- out in Alhambra, "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" it was, and of course, T was Robin. And his tot triumph as "Pablo".
These things added up: The way Ty had been writing his father more and, when he showed up in Cincinnati, quizzing him raptly about every detail of his theatrical tours. The nights he spent locked up in his room lying in bed until all hours reading -- not romantic adventure magazines -- but plays.
He was only 17. Tyrone himself had said that was too young to go on to college without a year to see what the world was like, and his mother agreed. Once, the year before, he had startled her by asking calmly one evening.
"Mother, what do you want me to do when I finish school?"
And, though nonplussed, she had come up with a sensible answer.
"It's not my choice, Tyrone. You can be a fireman or a policeman or whatever you like. But" -- and then she said the line that Tyrone never forgot -- "you've got to be the best!"
It was a week before graduation that Tyrone came home early from school one day. Classes were already out at Schuster-Martin. But Purcell was still in session. Patia Power was surprised. "Ill?"
"No," said Ty. "I haven't been to school. I've been walking around," he said. "Thinking. I've made up my mind, Mother. I'm not going to college. I'm going to be an actor."
Mrs. Power was pleased. There was a lot he could learn to start him out right there in Cincinnati at Schuster-Martin. After all, he'd been only casually exposed to dramatics there. A year of hard work with her and the staff at school wouldn't hurt him. He was so young. It was fine."
"No," said Ty. "I want to go away. Do you mind?"
"Aren't you afraid for me?"
Patia Power thought a minute on that one. "No!" she said.
Ty grinned and kissed her. "That's swell!" he said. "here's my idea. I'll go wherever Father is and study. I'll learn all he knows, and then I'll be old enough to go it alone. But I want to start now."
His father's wire said to come along. He was in Canada, summering. Two days after graduation Tyrone Power was down at the station. His bag was small. He left his home town at 17, and he knew he wouldn't come back until he had made good. Patia Power knew that, too, when the train pulled out. She knew her son. So Tyrone Power, Jr. joined Tyrone Power, Sr, in a resort near Quebec. They came down to New York in the fall and took and apartment. Proudly Power, Sr., took his tall, handsome son around to the Lambs Club and the Players. To break him in, he found some small parts in his own Shakespearean plays.
They went on to Chicago for Fritz Lieber's Shakespeare Repertory at the Civic Auditorium.
One day his father came into the hotel, smiling. "How'd you like to go out to California?" he said.
His father nodded. "Paramount wants me for The Miracle Man," he explained "Won't do you any harm to get the feel of pictures yourself."
²Christmas passed -- his first Christmas with dinner at a restaurant and only telephone calls back home. He tried to shake off a vague disturbing loneliness. And then a couple of days before New Year's, December 30, Tyrone Power, Senior, went to work at the studio. He played an old man in The Miracle Man, and he did a death scene. When he got back to the club, he told Ty he felt a little tired.
In the middle of the night Ty woke up. He heard a noise from the bed across the room. A gasp. He leaped out of bed and ran across. His father's eyes were open, and he was struggling for breath.
He died in a few minutes, in Ty's arms.
But in those few minutes Tyrone Power, Jr. grew several years. He was still just 18. But next morning there was a different expression on his face. His mirror told him he was no longer a boy. He was a man. He wasn't Tyrone Power, Jr. anymore, leaning on the fame of his father.
He was Tyrone Power now -- and he was on his own.
¹ The first Tyrone Power was born in 1797; died at sea in 1841. He would have been 44 -- the same age that Ty was when he had his fatal heart attack.
² The dates on this story conflict with the other sources that say his father died December 23, 1931. Thus far, this is the only source which lists Dec 30th as the date Ty's father died.
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