If Tyrone Power were alive today, the dark-eyed Hollywood luminary and one-time University of Dayton student would surely be dogged mercilessly by camera-toting paparazzi. After all, the dashing star not only starred in scores of hit movies but rode motorcycles, dated his co-stars and was married three times. His uncle even skimmed money from his film royalties, leaving the actor destitute and financially reliant — gasp — on his second wife, herself a film starlet.
Indeed, in a fall 1939 issue of the Exponent, UD’s student magazine, a survey of coeds listed Power as their fourth most-favorite movie actor. (He was bested by Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper.)
Those fans may have had the right idea. Power made dozens of films and was, during a 44-year tenure in Hollywood, called mystical, darkly handsome, a glorious matinee idol and rather tragically, “forgettable,” said Kevin Sandler, associate professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University. “He was an enormous star that few people remember,” Sandler said.
Born in 1914 in Cincinnati, the scion of an acting dynasty that included his father, Tyrone Sr., and his comedian grandfather, Power attended for one year at St. Mary’s Institute for Boys, UD’s preparatory school.
Although he eventually graduated from Purcell High School in Cincinnati in 1931, his days in Dayton weren’t forgotten. When the Flyer football team traveled to California in November 1939 to face the St. Mary’s Gaels, Power hosted the contingent. Wrote longtime Dayton Daily News sports editor Si Burick, “… that was a great party that Alumnus Tyrone Power gave the boys on the Twentieth Century lot in movieland.”
Power’s father helped him land a small role in The Merchant of Venice in 1931, but it wasn’t until 1936, when Power appeared onscreen in the movie Girls’ Dormitory, that his wild good looks snared the attention of a legion of swooning fans. 20th Century Fox saw the writing on the wall and signed Power to a multiyear contract.
He began landing roles in swashbuckling films like Jesse James and The Black Swan. But Power languished still. In a review of his performance in 1940’s The Mark of Zorro, writer Bosley Crowther said, “Mr. Power rather overdoes his swishing, and his swash is more beautiful than bold.”
“He didn’t transcend the limitations of his movies like other good-looking actors from that era,” Sandler noted. Power joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 and served for several years as a pilot flying cargo in for troops fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima. “He was, however, impressive in that right,” Sandler said.
After his stint in the military, Power returned to Hollywood and married his second wife, Linda Christian. They had two children, Romina and Taryn. In 1958, Power suffered a massive heart attack while filming a sword-fighting scene for Solomon and Sheba. He died en route to the hospital.
“Ironically, he earned his best reviews for Witness for the Prosecution,” Sandler said. “It was the last movie he completed before he died.”
Tyrone Power would have turned 100 years old this year.