He was a star at 21.  He left a top career in Hollywood to serve his country in the navy during World War II, and became an even bigger star when he returned.

We were thinking about the biggest stars of the 1940’s. And that elegant, handsome fellow you see above was among the very biggest.

Tyrone Power emerged on Hollywood’s radar in the late Thirties.  By 1939, he starred in Jesse James, that year’s biggest box office hit. Power’s career took off from there, soaring in the Forties. (By the late Fifties, he was gone.)

Notable was Power’s service from 1942 to 1946 as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Before the World War II, Power was renowned for his romantic swashbuckler parts emphasizing his famously dark good looks. In addition to playing the title character in the 1940’s The Mark of Zorro with Linda Darnell, he was cast as  a pirate in 1942’s The Black Swan opposite Maureen O’Hara.

His war service changed things. Power felt he now wanted to take on more serious parts, and take firmer control of his career.

Case in point was one of his most popular hits, 1946’s The Razor’s Edge, director Edmund Goulding’s movie version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel about a wealthy Midwesterner who travels to Europe and points East to find enlightenment and sort out his romantic complications (involving costars Gene Tierney and Anne Baxter).

By 1947 Power’s star clout allowed him to take an unexpectedly grim screen turn the lead in the classic film noir, Nightmare Alley. 

It was his most challenging role — that of a carnival hustler reduced to carnival freak, biting off the heads of chickens as “entertainment.” Power’s performance is mesmerizing, making (his character) one of the most compelling characters in all film noir,” wrote Eddie Muller in his definitive 1998 study, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir.

With The Razor’s Edge and Nightmare Alley, Power had more than achieved his purpose. He was also using his star clout to secure better starring roles for himself and to lay the groundwork to even more control of his movies as a producer (he had a hand in producing at least three titles, including his last.)

In 1948, Power was having an affair with Lana Turner (above) after separating from his first wife Annabella. The actor and international playgirl and sometime actress Linda Christian met in a hotel they just happened to be sharing in Rome. Romantically speaking, Turner suddenly was history.

In January of 1949, Power and Christian were married in the Church of Santa Francesca Romana in the Eternal City, not far from the Colosseum. Power’s international fame drew thousands of fans outside the church. The event was fulsomely described as ‘the wedding of the century.’ The newly married couple was even received by Pope Pius XII.

Such grandly launched unions often turn out badly, and this one was no exception. The couple divorced in 1956.

In his 1960 book about himself — Memoirs of a Professional Cad — actor George Sanders noted that when stars became producers, their attachment to money tends to grow. They start saving, acquiring financial acumen.

This of course was not true of all of them — Ty Power’s attitude for instance was different. He spent his money freely. He had a yacht, a private aeroplane, and gave lavish parties. And women, who are usually more expensive than yachts and aeroplanes, found ways of spending his money when he ran out of ideas.

Ty didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps he had some premonition that he did not need to save for his old age.

Sanders was a Power costar in director King Vidor’s biblical epic, Solomon and Sheba, filmed in Spain and released in 1959After several strenuous sword-fight scenes with Sanders, Power — who also co-produced the picture — collapsed complaining of pains in his chest and arms.

The end came on Nov. 15, 1958, before the movie was completed.  (Yul Brynner stepped in to refilm the actor’s scenes as Power’s replacement.)

Power was just 44 when he died.

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