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30 May 2016

A Gallant Gentleman -- Tyrone Power

Marine Private Tyrone Power
When World War Two broke out, Hollywood studios faced a  dilemma -- it was a public relations problem if their handsome, athletic male stars didn't serve in the military. But if they did serve, they were lost to the studio for for the duration, which meant no box office takings, and for all the studio execs knew the public would forget all about them. (This didn't actually happen,  but no one knew that ahead of tims.)
The stars themselves also faced problems. Some action stars were actually not physically fit to serve -- Errol Flynn's secret health problems, which included untreatable malaria, tuberculosis, and a damaged heart, made him 4-F; Ray Milland, John Wayne and Gary Cooper had old injuries that prevented their service. James Cagney was past enlistment age. All of these stars devoted much of their time supporting the war effort via training films, raising money for War Bonds, and entertaining troops both in training facilities here and overseas. Cagney also teamed up with Bette Davis to found and run the Hollywood Canteen, a free, star-staffed venue for servicemen that stayed open throughout the war years.
On the other hand, several British stars, such as David Niven and Ian Hunter, hurried right back to Britain and served throughout the war there. But even those who wished to serve were sometimes pressured to stay home and do publicity. The studio bosses argued that their famous faces and images  would do more good promoting the value of military service; but many resisted this suggestion; Robert Taylor, Henry Fonda, Robert Stack, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Robert Montgomery all became commissioned officers in the Navy, Clark Gable, Burgess Meredith, and James Stewart joined the Army Air Corps,. and Gilbert Roland and Tyrone Power enlisted in the Marines.
It meant a great deal to these men -- and probably the men who served with them -- to go through basic training and be treated like anyone else. Acting -- and especially being a "movie star" -- was (and is) not considered the most manly of professions. These men wanted to show that they could server their country in whatever way they were called upon to do so. And it meant a lot to their fellow servicemen to know that no one was too privileged to defend their country.
Ironically, Tyrone Power's extreme good looks, which admittedly helped him up the ladder of movie stardom, also made it more difficult for him to be taken seriously. This despite the fact that he was not only a fine actor, but one with stage experience from his teens, and the scion of an acting dynasty. He was not just a pretty face; he knew what he was doing. He was a hard worker, always prepared, and with what more than one co-star called a wicked sense of humor. He was extremely well-liked and easy to get along with, but his easygoing manner made it easier for his talent to be taken for granted.
When the war came, Power was determined to commit himself to military service. Already a licensed pilot, he joined the USMC and, though overaged for combat (at 31!), was trained and assigned to be a transport pilot. As always, his co-workers had nothing but praise for him both as a person and as a professional. From a unit based on Kwajalein, Power's duties involved not only taking supplies into the Iwo Jima and Okinowa South Pacific combat zones, but taking the wounded out. According to fellow marines, he was an exemplary pilot, extremely cool under fire. He was injured ditching a plane on one run into Iwo Jima.  

Tyrone Power held the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, and the World War II Victory Medal. He remained on active duty until January, 1946. When he returned home, like many of the others who had been away, he was determined to do more serious work. And he did, both on stage and on the screen. People who knew him still called him a perfect gentleman, but he was also respected as a combat veteran.
I love the way Power looks in these candids taken during his military years; for once, he is freed from the need to be handsome, elegant, and well-groomed; he doesn't care what he looks like, and neither does anyone else. He could even grow a mustache! He's one of the guys.

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