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Try and Stop Me!—Tyrone Power

Tyrone Power sent me a letter from Guam, along toward the end of the war. “Looks like this scrap’s going to be over soon,” he wrote. “Have you read ‘Captain From Castile’ yet? My feelings will sure be hurt if that isn’t my first picture when I get out.”

Well, it wasn’t Tyrone Power’s first picture after he got out. Captain From Castile wasn’t ready, so he did The Razor’s Edge. But when Ty once gets his mind on anything, he never forgets it. I’ve been his friend and director for a long time, and I know.

I was off in Mexico chasing locations in my plane, while Ty flew away on his Latin-American trip. Before he left, I handed him the Captain From Castile script, finished at last. He called me long-distance from Rio.

He wanted to know what locations I’d found, and when did he start.

In Mexico, Ty surprised me with several unsuspected talents. He organized a baseball team from the location crew and east, and played Mexican ball teams twice, in Morelia, and again in Uruapan, charging admission, and turning over the boxoffice receipts to a Mexican hospital. He holds down a fast first-base.

At Acapulco, Ty disappeared one morning when he didn’t have a call, returning that night with an impressive swordfish he’d caught in the bay. I didn’t know he knew a fish from a fan letter until then. He played a perfect host at a New Year’s party for our whole gang, too, and though several years had passed since he’d been in Mexico City, he knew and could call by name all the Mexicans he’d met before.

That’s my boy, that Power. When you direct a star in seven pictures, you get to know him pretty well. By now, I should ‘know enough about Ty to send him to jail—only I don’t know anything bad.

Ty first came into my office back in 1936 when I was preparing Lloyd’s of London. He was after a job, and he had two big strikes against him. The job was practically filled in my mind, for one; for two, it was practically filled in the mind of my studio boss, Darryl Zanuck.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by Ty’s bright, alert personality, clean-cut, handsome face, by his intelligence and ambition. He had little acting to his credit—only one minor picture part. He didn’t have a name. But I thought he had something people everywhere would respond to.

I must have been rooting for Tyrone Power to get that part all the time. I had him come to my office two days, with his makeup, wig and costume. I coached and rehearsed him and I didn’t know why I did. But when I ran off the test before Zanuck and his board, they said, “No.” I said, “Yes.” Darryl Zanuck said, “Why?”

“Because,” I remember answering automatically, “I’ll stake my reputation that this young man has more promise than any young man in Hollywood. If he’s as good in the picture as he is in the test, you’ll have a new star—and a big one.”

“Put him in the part,” said Zanuck. “Henry’s right.” And I was. I wish I could always be as right about things as I’ve been about Tyrone Power.

Many are called but few are chosen in Hollywood. The way Ty fastened on to that break like a young bulldog, proved right away that he had what it takes to come through in the toughest race in the world. From the very beginning, he’s concentrated all his energies and talents on the job. He did that first time. After two weeks of work I got a call from Darryl Zanuck.

“I’ve set aside $75,000 extra on Lloyd’s budget,” he said, “to invest in Tyrone Power. I’ve watched his rushes and he’s the greatest star bet I’ve ever had. I don’t want you to hurry any scene he does; I want to be doubly sure he clicks.”

I concentrated on Ty, and he clicked. Lloyd’s of London spoke for itself—and Tyrone Power, too—in a loud voice. I discovered at once that Ty, like myself, loved to work. One night after a stretch of 14-hour days—all with Ty in his uncomfortable costume, under the biggest strain of his life, I suggested a trying, thankless job most actors would have balked at.

A big, good-looking Englishman had strolled on the set that day, sightseeing. He said, casually, he was an actor, but he had nothing to prove it—no credits, not even a professional photograph. There was a part coming up in the picture that he seemed to me to walk right into. “Like to make a screen test for me?” I suggested.

“Oh, yes, by Jove! Like to very much,” he agreed. Time was rushing. “All right, tonight,” I told him.

I told Tyrone about it. “All his part, practically, is with you.” I explained. “I think you ought to do the test with him.” Ty was about ready to drop in his socks then, but he didn’t hesitate a minute. “Thanks,” he said, “I’d like to.”

We did the test that night with Ty and the dark horse. He came through and got the part. He’s done pretty well, too, ever since. His name was George Sanders.

the tender desperado . . .

The thing I’ve always admired about Tyrone is that he’s met a challenge in almost every picture. In Old Chicago was his second picture, and he took over a star part planned for the then current king of Hollywood, Clark Gable. In Jesse James, Ty played the classic desperado of U.S. history, even though he was still very young and tender. I was surprised, myself, at how menacing Ty’s good looks could become when he went to work on them.

Ty was up for a pirate part in The Black Swan and again I had a complex about his unholy good looks. Musing on this problem, I took a photograph of Ty and doodled on a mandarin pirate moustache, curving wickedly down around Ty’s handsome chin. I showed it to him the next day. “Here,” I said, half-joking, “grow one of these and that’s all the makeup you’ll need.”

A couple of weeks later, Ty walked into my office. He had my identical dreamed-up Oriental moustache, exactly as Id drawn it, as black as my ink, and curving like a couple of scimitars. He looked pretty mean. In fact, when I trotted him over to Darryl Zanuck, he was so shocked he said, “What are you doing to Ty, anyway? In that get-up, you’ll ruin him with the women!”

Well, The Black Swan turned into the most popular picture Ty ever made. It’s still packing them in, six years later. We found it running in Mexico, while there making Captain From Castile and Ty ran across it going great guns in Uruguay on his recent South American air tour.

The most outstanding and valuable asset of Tyrone Power as a screen star and a person, in my opinion, is adaptability. He had to speak a few lines of French in Lloyd’s of London, I remember. It wasn’t much, and the validity of his accent wasn’t an important item to American audiences. Besides, he was playing an Englishman, not a Frenchman. We hired the best French language teacher in Hollywood, Georges Jomier, to coach Ty, who knew no French at all. In a few days Georges announced, to my surprise, that Ty was ready for the French language scenes. “And On-ree,” he assured me, “Ty ees playing thees with a Frenchman’s accent.” He was, too. Nor did he stop there. Intrigued, he kept up his studies on the side, and today he speaks very good French.

Ty is always surprising me with his capabilities. I had a very dangerous horseback ride coming up in Captain From Castile on location in Mexico. I knew Ty could ride a horse, but I had a double on hand for this scene. Night before the scheduled shooting, my rough rider fell seriously ill. I was chasing around trying to scare up another, and happened to mention my jam to Ty.

“Why can’t I do it myself?” he asked. “You don’t think I’m going to be stupid enough to get myself hurt, do you?”

I discovered next day that he was a damned fine horseman. No professional trick rider could have done more expertly.

Next to directing pictures, the love of my life is aviation. I’ve been flying since 1918, and for many years I have been chasing down remote picture locations in my airplane. I flew all over Mexico, finding outdoor sets for Captain From Castile, while Ty, as I mentioned in the beginning, was scooting around South America for his second hemispheric good-will hop. I can say without laying it on a bit, that Ty is one of the safest, sanest and all-around best pilots I’ve ever flown with. His Marine Corps training didn’t hurt any, of course. The same adaptable capacity which made him a great star has made him a very fine pilot. I was pretty much mixed up in the start of that flying career of Ty’s, too. So I know what I’m talking about. He made his first cross-country plane hop with me in my Waco.

Ty had been up a time or two, riding with me on my location chasing air-junkets, but he’d never had his hands on the controls until we took off for Missouri on our Ozark mountain location for Jesse James. I’m afraid l’d pounded Ty’s ear at great lengths on the joys of flying and its usefulness—not always, I suspect, to the studio’s joy and comfort. There was a

rule back then that no star or director—that was me—could fly. I flouted it for years because I believed the airplane had a real and important purpose in our way of life. I liked Ty and wanted him to share my enthusiasm. I knew he’d get the fever.

they fly by waco . . .

We were starting out for the Ozark mountains. “What would you rather do, Ty,” I asked him, “ride the train or fly back in the Waco with me?”

“The Waco,” Ty replied, “of course.” He looked at me and we grinned at each other guiltily. I think our studio had given up on me by then. But Ty was starting a new star worry problem and I’m afraid I was an accomplice. The studio manager summed it up when he sighed at the news, “Well, I guess we’d better warm up a new star and director for Jesse James. It wasn’t quite that bad, though.

By the time we made A Yank in the RAF, Ty had his own plane. We had a mock-up Spitfire on that set, fixed to roll and loop, and poor Ty spent so many hours spinning dizzily on that prop that he finally grinned, “When I get through this one, I’ll have enough hours for my wings!”

He didn’t win his wings that way, but the hard way, through Marine training later on.

I’ve been trying to think, before I wind up this impression of Tyrone Power, if there’s anything halfway bad I can tell on him—just to make him human. The closest I can come is to report that he sometimes falls for a popular jingle and drives most of us on the set wild with it until he’s had his fill. We had to steal his record of “Open the Door, Richard,” after he’d played it at least fifty times a day.

Tyrone likes life and he knows how to live. He’s interested in people, and he does the things people write about and long to do. He’s ambitious but he’s real. He keeps himself in fine physical and mental trim.

He’s not conceited, and never has been. If anything, Ty is supremely grateful for the good fortune he’s had. I asked him, right after I’d shown him the finished print of Captain From Castile, “Are you happy about it, Ty?” It’s by long odds the toughest picture I’ve ever made, the toughest for Ty, too.

“Henry,” he assured me, “I was never so pleased in my life. But it’s beyond me in its bigness.”

Ty was flattering me, maybe, about the picture I’d made, but I don’t have to flatter him. It’s a pleasure to confess that the most enjoyable moments I’ve had in Hollywood are taking that natural charm he has, ploughing it into a character, and watching it come to life on the screen.

I can express my opinion of Ty best, perhaps, in the same words I used to introduce him not long ago. The Airport Commission of Los Angeles asked me to make a speech, once, about why that great city should have a municipal airport. They asked me to bring an influential studio star with me to lend it emphasis. “Okay, I’ll bring one,” I agreed. The one I thought of first for that occasion was Ty.

After my speech, I introduced him. “I want you to meet Tyrone Power,” I said. I hadn’t prepared an introduction, so I said next what came naturally to my lips. “I hope my own boys will grow up to be as him.” That was sincere then and it still is.





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