Tyrone Power's Acting Lineage


Tyrone Power, movie star of the 1930s to the 1950s, is known for his family's deep roots in show business, but yours truly did not know how deeply the acting bug bit the family tree until now.

Let's take a look at some of the major players in the actor's history.












William T. Power 1795-1841. Public domain image.
William Tyrone Power  was born in Waterford, Ireland on November 2, 1795 and was the first in his family to fancy acting.

William Tyrone Power's father died soon after William was born. He would never know the elder Power (a scenario which would famously play out again in his family over one hundred and fifty years later). William's widowed mother moved the family to Wales.

Young William was the first in his family to trod the boards. At around the age of sixteen, he began performing onstage for the love of show business and to be near a pretty girl who played Rosalind opposite his Orlando in As You Like It.

His mother encouraged him to quit acting and accept an appointment in the British commissariat service in South Africa, which he did. Returning to England in his early twenties, William  began acting again, playing mostly dignified comic characters of Irish descent.

He was not a success at first. Working at his craft, it would take another ten years or so before the actor would come to acclaim. By 1827, William gained enormous popularity as "the only legitimate representative of an Irishman on the British Stage," according to author William Winter.

His fame landed him an engagement overseas in New York in August of 1833. But, the sweltering heat wasn't the only cause of perspiration; the experienced actor was nervous.

"To my first night at New York... I looked with much anxiety, and not without reason, I had, contrary to the advice of many friends, given up a large income.... I had vacated my seat and quitted my country on no other engagement than one for twelve nights at New York, the profits of which were wholly dependent upon my success, as were my engagements in other cities dependent upon my reception in this...."

He had taken a huge risk coming to a strange country with only one engagement. But the gamble paid off;  his reputation preceded him and the audience enthusiastically welcomed him.

"The moment came when [I] was announced; and amidst greetings as heavy as ever I received in my life, I made my first bow to the Park [Theatre] audience...."

William attributed his overseas success to an attentive and accepting American audience, as well as to the organic nature of his repertoire:

"'[E]ach of my characters are, according to my ability, painted from nature; they are individual abstractions with which I have nothing to do; the colouring is a part of each, and I can't change it as I change my audience:- 'tis only for me to present the picture as it is; for them to like or dislike it.'"

They liked it.  And William liked the U.S. enough to write the memoir Impressions of America in which he describes his theatrical tours and also studies random people, interviews them out of curiosity and gives copious details of the marvelous sights that he has never encountered anywhere else.

 An unknown newspaper contemporary with William describes the actor as,
" ....about five feet, eight inches in height, with light hair and complexion, blue eyes, and a neat, compact figure, inclining to stoutness. His mercurial temperment, his genial but refined humor, the merry twinkle of his eye, the rich tones of his voice... his happy variations of brogue to the differenct shades of character he represented-- in fact, every requisite that nature and art could bestow, combined to make him the most perfect comedian of his class ever known on the American stage, while his personal character, so far as we have been informed, commanded the respect of all."

The actor was well-liked onstage and off,  an attribute which seems to run in the family.

William would commit to two more U.S. tours. No doubt there would have been more international tour dates, but returning home from what would be his last engagement in America, the actor was shipwrecked in the Atlantic Ocean in 1841. He was forty-six and at the height of fame.
Ethel Lavenu Power in 1863. (Public domain image.)

Harold Littledale Power (possibly born in Ireland in the early 1800s)

Two of William's sons followed in his footsteps and attempted a career in show business. Maurice Power tried acting and, according to author William Winter, failed. Another son, Harold Littledale Power  also tried his hand at show business, becoming a  successful concert pianist and actor in England.

Harold married Ethel Lavenu (born in London in 1842)  and the husband and wife team performed together. They were well-off and comfortable due to Harold's father's success on stage and due to Harold's and Ethel's own show busienss acumen, which included successful plays in London and in New York, billed as Mr. and Mrs. Power.

Their performances were "clever" and often  "humorous," according to Winter. The author recalls that he attended a Harold and Ethel stateside performance in 1877, and describes,
"...the occasion of the first appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Power in New York as one of unalloyed pleasure. The public has seen various entertainers since that time, but none more entirely agreeable."

Though not as great a hit with the public as William Tyrone Power - after all, the elder Power was considered the epitome of an entire genre of acting, thus casting a wide shadow on any descendant - still, Harold and Ethel ushered in another generation of acting success in the family.

Frederick Tyrone Power circa 1888. (Public domain image.)

Frederick Tyrone Power  was born in London in 1869.

Despite the success of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Power, they did not want their children to enter the acting profession. When at about the age of sixteen -the same age at which his grandfather showed a distinct interest in acting-  one of their sons, Frederick Tyrone Power, mentioned an interest in the stage to his favorite Uncle Fred who understood but warned him not to mention this desire to his parents.

Somehow Harold and Ethel discovered their son's bent towards acting and sent him from the exclusive Dulwich College in London to a ranch in Florida. There he was to be instructed in the business of growing oranges. Supposedly the idea was to get acting out of his blood by keeping him far away from the glittering stages and enticements of London.

Frederick was apprenticed to an abusive rancher who would often intercept the young boy's letters to his parents. With help from kind strangers, Frederick escaped to New York where, in about 1886, he embarked on a long struggle to become an actor.  The Englishman favored Shakespearean productions and, by the time the he was in his forties,  Frederick was considered a serious actor who held forth the torch of "the legitimate American stage" into the new century.



Frederick Tyrone Power circa 1912, the year in which his fist wife died. (Public domain image.)


Friend and author William Winter, describes him in 1913:
"[Frederick Tyrone] Power's physical advantages for the stage are extraordinary. His figure is massive and imposing. His face is large, with strongly marked features, and is expressive of acute sensibility. His eyes, dark and brilliant, are communicative equally of tenderness and fire. His eyebrows (distinctively the actor's feature) are black and heavy, and they almost meet.... His voice is deep, strong, copious , and of a rarely melodious, resonant tone, --- though somewhat monotonous, like the rumble of an organ....

"My reading and observation teach me that, in every period, the sceptre of leadership in the esteem of the people is bestowed on the actor who excels in the great legitimate plays....  Within the next two or three years the American public will see the most prominent English-speaking actors in the plays of Shakespeare, and foremost among them, I believe, will be Tyrone Power."

As it was with his parents, and after much honing of his craft, Frederick was well-received in the states.  Like his grandfather, Frederick was considered the epitome of an entire sector of stage acting.

Continuing the tradition of marrying an actress, Frederick wedded Australian performer Edith Crane in 1898. The two had great success in New York. Edith died on January 3, 1912 of complications from surgery to remove a tumorous mass from her chest.

Fredrick T. Power's 2nd wife, Helen Emma Reaume in 1912. (Public domain image.)
Frederick then married Helen Emma Reaume (stage name Patia Power) in the same year. The two were very attractive people both in personality and in body. Frederick's eyes, "dark and brilliant...communicative equally of tenderness and fire," would show in the next generation as well. These attributes would become a source of both success and grief in their future son.

In addition to his stage success, Frederick would also become the first in the family to make a movie, the silent feature Aristocracy, released six months after his first child was born in 1914. The husband and second wife would make one film together - The Planter (1917).

Tyrone Edmond Power in the 1930s. Click for the image source.

Tyrone Edmond Power was born on May 5, 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Tyrone Edmond Power was the first of two children born to Frederick and Helen Power. A sister- Anne- would be born the following year.

Frederick, possibly reflecting on the discouragement and pain he received from his own parents, encouraged his son's natural interest in acting. Power graduated from Purcell High School in 1931. That summer, at the age of seventeen - that certain age or thereabouts when the Power men first take acting seriously- Power followed his father, the great Shakespearean actor, around stage and film, observing show business.

Frederick and son Tyrone in 1931. Click for image source.


In the winter of that same year, Frederick Tyrone Power suffered a heart attack and died in his son's arms while in Hollywood for a movie shoot, The Miracle Man. This death would carry eerie similarities to later events.

Power was the son of a famous man, but - as was the case for his father and grandfather- family fame did not guarantee him a sustainable career in acting. After his father's death, the young man scraped around directionless in show business for years - trying bit parts in films, then radio parts in Chicago with friend and future film star Don Ameche.

Power finally went to New York, the place where his father honed his craft.  In New York, the young man was given great career guidance from the best in stage actors, including Katharine Cornell. After learning to act on Broadway,  Power received offers from Hollywood talent scouts who clamored to sign the handsome performer to a contract. 

Tyrone Edmond Power as Zorro in 1939. Click for the image source.

Power signed with Twentieth Century Fox Studios in 1936, a relationship that would last for nearly twenty years. Power became known as the "King of Twentieth Century- Fox," bringing worldwide acclaim to himself and to his studio. Today, Power might be most famous as starring in the first filmed version of the fictional masked crusader for justice in 19th century California in The Mark of Zorro (1939).

Like that of his father and great-grandfather, Tyrone Power's legacy would be one firmly rooted in a certain sector of acting. For the movie star, though he performed in a myriad of genres, his legacy would be entrenched in dramatic adventure roles.

Power seemed to prefer complex, dark and brooding characters. The lightweight, "pretty boy" roles irked him. The tenderness and fire in his eyes which he inherited from his parents distracted many people from the fact that the actor could act.
"Some day I will show all the [detractors] who say I was a success just because of my pretty face. Sometimes I wish I had a really bad car accident so my face would get smashed up and I'd look like Eddie Constantine."

His talent and inherited masculine beauty seemed to be a gift and a curse which would plague him for the rest of his life.



Deborah Ann Montgomery Minardos Power, Tyrone Power's Last Wife. Click for the image source.

Power continued the family tradition of marrying within the business. He wedded and divorced two actresses: Annabella (whose daughter,Ann, from her previous marriage Power adopted) and Linda Christian (with whom he had two daughters: Romina and Taryn). Having been "twice burned, you know," Power decided never to marry again. Then he met Deborah Ann Montgomery Minardos. She was a fetching brunette from the South who had no show business ambitions. They married on May 7, 1958 and were soon expecting a baby.

On November 15, 1958, and similar to his father's demise, Tyrone Edmond Power died in Spain after suffering a heart attack while shooting a movie, Solomon and Sheba. Like his great-grandfather, he died still famous and in his forties, while working overseas.

The actor bequeathed those famous Irish eyes to the Carrie Estelle Doheny Eye Foundation (now the Doheny Eye Institute) for transplantation.



Tyrone William Power b. 1959. Click for the image source.

Tyrone William Power

The winter holiday season of 1958 was a difficult one for the Power family with the death of husband and father, Tyrone Edmond Power. However, a fresh ray of hope came about in the middle of the cold winter. Tyrone William Power was born on January 22, 1959 in Los Angeles, California, two months after his father died. Tyrone William (like his great-great-grandfather before him,William Tyrone Power) would never know the man who bore him.
"It was really weird for me as a kid, watching his movies and trying to figure out who he was. Here I had this father I never knew. One day he's a pilot, one day he's a cowboy, next day he's romancing yet another gorgeous girl. I'd look at him on screen and ask myself, 'Now how would he have been in the Dad role?'" 

Also, like his ancestors before him, Tyrone William has pursued acting, including appearing in a small part in Cocoon (1985). Of that part the actor has said,
"I couldn't say no to working with Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, and Don Ameche, who'd all worked with my father. It was a wonderful experience."
Tyrone William has, from time to time, attended retrospectives of his famed father.

History repeated itself again when, in 1995, Tyrone William married (and has since divorced) an actress - DeLane Matthews. When nearly in his forties, the couple bore a son, Tyrone Keenan Power. The younger Tyrone will be about seventeen now, the age when the acting bug awakens the men in the family with a firm bite.

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On this, the month of Tyrone Power's birthday, we reflect on the dedication and drive that each of the Powers possess for show business. Whatever the future holds for the family, we fans appreciate their passion to be the best in their craft.



Sources

Tyrone Power by William Winter

Impressions of America by Tyrone Power

UPI news clipping about the movie star donating his eyes: "Tyrone Power Wills Eyes to Medicine"

3 Comments:

  1. Fascinating post, Java! I was completely clueless about Tyrone's ancestors. I do recall seeing his daughter Taryn (Linda Christian was her Mom) in Ray Harryhausen's SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER. She has a short-lived career as an actress.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Terrific review of the Tyrone (E.) Power's acting lineage!

    ReplyDelete

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