Tyrone Power and Alice Faye starred in three movies opposite each other: Rose Of Washington Square, Alexander’s Ragtime Band and In Old Chicago – and they share a birthday today May 5th, only one year apart: Power in 1914, Faye in 1915. I’ve always found it intriguing that the two biggest stars from the same studio shared a May 5 birthday. I wonder if the crew ever presented them with a duo cake and a rendition of the Happy Birthday song (you know, the song you sing while washing your hands).
Power and Faye only appeared in three movies together. The first two costarred Don Ameche and were both directed by Henry King. They were both huge blockbusters that pushed the two stars near the top of Hollywood popularity polls and box-office successes. The third one didn’t do well. By 1940, Power would place second, behind only Mickey Rooney, in the annual poll of star power as measured by actual box-office returns counted by movie exhibitors. Faye was the third in the same poll, trailing only Shirley Temple and Bette Davis.
There was also an ”almost”. For Faye’s starring vehicle Sing, Baby, Sing (1936), Power was cast in a supporting role, but director Sidney Lanfield didn’t think he was right for the part. The change in casting upset Faye, but Power was cast in an even bigger film when director Henry King suggested him to replace Don Ameche as the lead in the historical epic Lloyds Of London (1936). Head of production for Fox Darryl F. Zanuck was not big on casting an unknown in such an important movie, but King sold him on the advantages of Power over Ameche:
”This boy has the makings of a better actor. He’s better-looking. He’s young. He’s romantic. We need talent because God knows we don’t have much”.
Lloyds Of London was the first of 11 films Power starred in for King. In Old Chicago (1937) was number two, though again, that wasn’t Zanuck’s original intention. After the huge success of MGM’s disaster film San Francisco (1936) starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald, Zanuck wanted to sign Gable for his disaster movie too. Gable declined. Zanuck did borrow Jean Harlow from MGM for the female lead. King hadn’t wanted Gable, thinking he was too old. He preferred Power and managed to get Zanuck to agree. Finishing touches to the script and other pre-production took place while Fox waited for Harlow to wrap up shooting on Saratoga (1937) with Gable at MGM.
That didn’t work out. King had been warned of Harlow’s precarious health and he begged Zanuck to cast Faye. King met resistance from Zanuck, and the director had to arrange a screen test. Power enjoyed working with Faye and was grateful support while making Sing, Baby, Sing, and he was happy to do the test. Zanuck was impressed.
In Old Chicago is a fictionalized retelling of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Power and Ameche play the sons of Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow kicked over the lantern that sets Chicago ablaze. Faye plays a famous actor who both brothers fall for.
In Old Chicago was an epic hit, critically and at the box-office. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and took home two of those including Alice Brady for Best Supporting Role as Mrs. O’Leary. Power and Faye failed to receive nominations, but Zanuck knew the team was a winner and quickly reunited them with Ameche and director King in the best of their films together, Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938).
Thanks to 29 musical numbers, and because Power couldn’t sing, the movie is really Faye’s. Zanuck wanted do Alexander’s Ragtime Band after working with Irving Berlin in On The Avenue (1937), starring Faye. His idea was to do a musical based on the composer’s life and Berlin agreed on condition his name appear above the title and that the story be a completely fictionalized version of his life. In other words, pretty much the standard Fox musical, only this time with more Berlin songs, mostly sung by Faye with a few amazing tunes sung by Ethel Merman and Jack Haley‘s rousing version of Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning!.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band proved even more successful than In Old Chicago. It was the top-grossing film of 1938 and it launched Power and Faye to the top of all of those popularity polls. It received six Academy Award nominations itself including Best Picture. It’s only win for Berlin.
Rose Of Washington Square (1939) is the oddest of the three Power-Faye films thanks to third-billed Al Jolson, who spends most of the movie singing his own most popular tunes in blackface. It’s a thinly-disguised version of the life of Fanny Brice with Faye singing Brice’s signature tune, My Man. The then very much alive Brice did not approve of Rose Of Washington Square. She sued the studio, Power, Faye and Jolson for a total a million dollars for ”defamation of character, unauthorized use of her life story, and invasion of privacy”. It was settled out-of-court with Brice receiving $40,000.
The trio of Power-Faye films are typical of the type of product being created under Zanuck at Fox: Nostalgia pieces for a past that never really existed, a world that Zanuck wished were like his Midwestern youth, for an audience of the same background. The only colorful thing in the film is Jolson in blackface.
All three movies are helped by the wonderful chemistry between Power and Alice Faye. Despite that chemistry, Faye always insisted that there was never any off-screen romance between her and Power. Faye was happily married to Phil Harris for 54 years.
Power was married three times and he had three children. He had a much-publicized affair with Lana Turner and a reticent romance with Judy Garland. Power was so beautiful that everyone wanted him. His first wife, the one-name-only French actor Annabella stated:
”Ty just couldn’t say no!”
It seems that Power said yes to quite a few ladies and a bunch of gentlemen too.
According to highly readable, scintillating Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood And The Secret Sex Lives Of The Stars (2012) by the late Scotty Bowers, Power had steamy star sex with the author and joined in on three-ways with Bowers, and another man, or sometimes a girl. According to Bowers, Power was a sex machine and a sweetheart, a very winning combo, I must say.
Power had liaisons with many men during his career, including famed lyricist Lorenz Hart and elegant actor Cesar Romero. Power was so handsome that he could choose any of the most attractive men on any studio lot. Unlike other male stars of his era, Power was not afraid to be seen in the company of guys assumed to be queer: George Cukor, Clifton Webb, Reginald Gardner, Van Johnson, or notorious bisexual Howard Hughes. In Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (1980) writer Charles Higham claims that Power had an assignation with Flynn. Power was so loved by people in showbiz that they all gaily looked the other way when Power had a fling.
Yet, my research points to Power having a romantic relationship that lasted for decades with a 20th Century Fox stagehand, his one true lasting gay love affair.
Power was born for Hollywood, part of a family of English actors preceding him, while Faye was a chorus girl who found her first fame as a singer on radio. Power could do much more on the screen than Faye, but Faye could sing anything: ballads, up-tempo, swing, comedy numbers.
Power and Faye were mega-watt stars who began to distinguish themselves while working alongside each other. Faye mostly left showbiz after 1945. It wasn’t until 1962 that Faye returned to Fox, for a character role in a remake of an old Fox property, State Fair. Power continued to work until his death during filming in Spain of Solomon And Sheba (1958), taken by a heart attack at 44 years old. In his 25-year career, Power appeared in 50 films. Like most bisexual and gay stars of his era, Power lived in dread fear of being outed. Although Zanuck liked Power personally, he was afraid of losing Fox’s biggest moneymaker should the film fans discover that Power was digging having sex with guys. Sure, he had that affair with Judy Garland, but what gay male working in films of that time didn’t?
Faye died in 1998, a few days after her 83rd birthday.