It’s been 61 years since Coleen Gray starred opposite Tyrone Power in the celebrated film noir “Nightmare Alley,” but her memories of the legendary actor are as clear as if they had worked together yesterday.
“He had an aura about him,” recalled Gray, especially in the scenes in which she played his assistant in a phony mentalist nightclub act.
“He was wearing a tuxedo, and when he was walking across the stage, I swear his feet didn’t touch the floor,” she said in a recent interview. “I swear around him was a cocoon of light. There was an envelope, you could almost say of glory, that contributed to his nobility. He was gentle. He was kind.”
From 1936 through 1958, the incredibly handsome Power was one of Hollywood’s favorite leading men. Romance novelist Barbara Cartland once said, “We didn’t need sex. We had Tyrone Power.”
He excelled in everything, including romantic dramas (“The Razor’s Edge”), swashbucklers (“The Mark of Zorro,” “The Black Pirate”) and comedy (“Love Is News”). Every once in a while, Power got a chance to play against type, as in “Nightmare Alley,” in which he costarred as an ambitiously ruthless carnival worker, or in Billy Wilder’s 1957 mystery thriller “Witness for the Prosecution,” which cast him as a charming murderer.
This weekend, the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre is paying tribute to the actor with a three-day retrospective, “Tyrone Power: Everybody’s Darling Boy.”
Screening tonight is “Nightmare Alley,” arguably Power’s best film; on tap for Saturday evening -- the 50th anniversary of his untimely death at the age of 44 -- is the Oscar-winning 1946 romantic epic, “The Razor’s Edge.” Rounding out the festival Sunday evening is a double bill of the 1937 screwball romantic comedy “Love Is News” and the dazzling 1940 adventure “The Mark of Zorro.”
Power’s children Tyrone Jr., Romina and Taryn and several actors who worked with him, including Gray, Piper Laurie, Terry Moore and Jayne Meadows, are scheduled to talk about Power at the “Razor’s Edge” screening.
“They picked a very good random sampling of his movies,” said his son, who was born two months after Power’s death of a heart attack in Spain while shooting “Solomon and Sheba.” “He did a lot of various things, mostly the heroic leading guy, but in different costumes and different guises. Those were the days when the hero was really just a hero. There wasn’t a lot of introspection. The good guy was going to win and get the girls.”
As with many actors from the golden age of Hollywood, Power’s talented are often underrated.
“When you are good it looks easy,” Power Jr. said. “And it’s hard to make it look easy.”
Chicago-based writer Maria Ciaccia, who complied the series with Bryan Cooper and the Cinematheque’s Chris D, is also bringing Power memorabilia for display in the lobby, including costumes from “Lloyds of London” and “Suez,” signed Playbills from the different plays he did in the 1950s and even paper dolls of Power and his frequent costar Linda Darnell.
Ciaccia, who has been a fan since she was a young girl, believes the actor captured the imagination and hearts of moviegoers not only because of his good looks but also because of his striking voice.
“People who saw him on stage said it was like being alone with him in a room -- he was that magnetic.”
Ciaccia contends that Power could have had an even more versatile career if his boss, 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, would have picked more challenging roles for him.
Though Zanuck lent him to MGM for 1938’s “Marie Antoinette,” he kept his golden boy on a tight leash.
“He was being considered for Ashley in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ” Ciaccia said. “He was the No. 2 box-office star in the world. You can imagine that every studio had something they wanted him to do for them. But he could only do what they gave him at the studio.”
In the case of “Nightmare Alley,” the actor fought to play the part, which has him ending up an alcoholic geek in a carnival.
“It was his baby,” Gray said. “Zanuck didn’t want him to do it, and the publicity department cooperated with Zanuck.”
So the film was released without any fanfare. “It was at Grauman’s Chinese,” Gray recalled.
“I went and took a picture of the marquee. And then after that, it kind of disappeared and nothing was done from Fox or any place to promote it. Now it’s the cream of the crop.”
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
‘Tyrone Power: Everybody’s Darling Boy’
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (323) 466-FILM, www.egyptiantheatre.com