The Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series is back in action! Join us on Sept. 18 when we kick off our second season with a 50th anniversary screening of 1964′s Goldfinger.
The following is a video I made a few years ago. I used a rare audio recording of King Kong co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, which was in my possession. Anything related to the original King Kong is of great interest to me, so I thought I’d share this with you on our website. It’s a wonderful piece of cinema history, and I hope you will enjoy listening to it. (NOTE: For better image quality, please adjust the resolution under Settings.) ~M.H.
“Try for beauty and truth in all you attempt.” ~ Tyrone Power, Sr., to his son, Tyrone Power III
Searching For My Father, Tyrone Power, written by his elder daughter, Romina Power, is a work of love that his fans will certainly love. Before the publication of Romina’s memoir/biography, there had only been a couple books on Power that did him any justice. The first was The Films of Tyrone Power by Dennis Belafonte and Alvin H. Marill. Released in 1979, this mostly pictorial record was another in the series of “The Films of…” which Citadel Press published. The second book– also released in 1979– was Fred Lawrence Guiles’ exceptional Tyrone Power: The Last Idol. Since the late ’70s, however, the only major work on Power has been Romina Power’s biography which has had two manifestations. It was first published in Italy several years ago. Unfortunately, unless you read Italian, the book was not available to many fans on this side of the ocean.
However, in May of 2014, the English-language version of Searching For My Father finally made its American debut at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, IL. Limited to a 1,000 copies, this was a first edition available only at centennial events honoring Tyrone Power. Considering that Power himself was an avid collector of first edition books, this was a nice homage to him. (The mass market version is expected to be out by the end of 2014.) Though it took years to see the light of day in this country, I can tell you that it’s been worth the wait. This is a beautifully written and compiled book for the global fans of Tyrone Power.
Though I had been fortunate to see excerpts of the book prior to its release, it wasn’t until weeks after the May 1 event at the Pickwick Theatre that I was able to read the entire book. From the very beginning, the reader is pulled in emotionally. Romina writes of hearing her father’s voice for the first time. Since she had grown up in Italy, she had only seen her father’s films with his voice dubbed. But when Romina bought a record album of him reading the poems of Lord Byron, she was struck not only by the sound of his voice, but by the message he seemed to be conveying to her through the expanse of time. The poem was My Daughter. Though it was Byron addressing his own daughter, Allegra, the words seemed to speak to Romina and to her own sense of loss of not having her father in her life. She was only seven when he died. Romina immediately shared this recording with her younger sister, Taryn. This would be the first of many discoveries and revelations for them. The book is Romina’s decades-long search to find out who her father was through the people who knew him best.
Though Tyrone Power lived only 44 years, his life touched so many others. He was a worldwide movie star, but over the decades, Hollywood has forgotten him; many years have passed since his death in 1958. So many people from that era have since passed on. Fortunately, Romina Power took the initiative to find out what she could before it was too late. Many of the most important characters from her father’s life were interviewed back in the 1970s and 1980s when names like Henry Fonda were still with us. It’s no easy task by any biographer to try and present a total picture of someone, but what Romina has created is a stunning mosaic made up of many pieces. Each has their own value and points to a larger picture.
The book is structured around dozens of interviews with those who knew him– close friends like Watson Webb or Cesar Romero– and family members like Tyrone’s sister, Anne. It is not your typical, linear biography due to Romina’s jumps in time, but the narrative cross-cutting is chronological and follows the arc of her father’s life and career. What unfolds is a fascinating record and oral history that is a piece of invaluable research. Mixed into the biography is family history in which Romina talks about her acting heritage. There are also her own accounts of visiting places like Ireland, the home of her ancestors on her father’s side, and her poignant and difficult trip to Spain. It is here where her father had died so many years earlier while making Solomon and Sheba. These almost poetic impressions and evocations of place are important to the tone of the book; they give it an intimacy other biographies lack. As readers, we never forget that this is a daughter’s search to understand the father she never really knew.
There are recurring traits and themes– most notably Tyrone’s humor and generosity. He was a very giving person, and reading this book I couldn’t help but wish I had known him. Tyrone comes across as someone who was genuinely good– by no means perfect as none of us are, but someone who was able to make time for another despite the demands of his profession. The characteristics that were so attractive onscreen, which had made him a hero to millions, inspired confidence in those around him off-screen. “His smile conveyed that everything would be okay.”
There are many examples of Tyrone making time for others. Whether it was going to a friend’s synagogue in order to read a passage from Scripture or helping a studio security guard pay for his wife’s operation, these are little-known incidents that reveal the quality of his character. There was a fundamental decency about Tyrone Power. There are so many stories of this generosity that I’m sure most people were never aware of until now.
Romina Power is an artist who finds expression through many forms, whether it’s singing or painting or writing. This expression manifests throughout the 320+ pages. She never inserts herself into the interviews, instead allowing the subject to unfold their recollections uninterrupted, but her reactions and how she describes them afterward are heartfelt. There are surprises here, both good and bad. It is a story that is sad and haunting, but also uplifting as we feel Tyrone’s presence– not as a distant memory or as shadows on a movie screen– but as a real presence in the lives of those who knew and loved him.
One of the many strengths of Romina’s book is her inclusion of letters her father had written reflecting his concerns and passions. Many are from his war years and contain thoughts of home. An example that stands out to this reader is one he wrote as a U.S. Marine during World War II. His description of Yokohama, Japan, in the aftermath of its defeat is especially vivid. Tyrone’s humanity comes through in all these letters whether they’re about the war or directed towards a loved one. Additionally, Romina includes a fascinating and revealing “novel” that Power had started between flying missions but which he never finished. In the excerpt that she includes, Tyrone takes on a character named “Fred,” perhaps to obscure the autobiographical nature of his own story. (The Fred Guiles biography also recounts this novel while providing commentary on what Tyrone was saying about himself. Here, Romina includes more of the unbroken text.)
Tyrone Power was a seeker not unlike the character he portrayed in The Razor’s Edge (1946)– a seeker of knowledge and of meaning in life. His intelligence is another trait that recurs throughout the book. We see this in the passionate letters he would write. They harken back to those Tyrone Power, Sr., had written to his wife, Patia, which are also included. A form of expression that seems antiquated in this impersonal age of texting and emails, these articulate letters depict a more literate time when people knew how to write and express themselves. With Tyrone, they reveal someone trying to understand the world and his place in it.
Tyrone Power’s interest in philosophy and religion and his own views on life (which he expressed in an article in 1945) are elaborated. But unlike today’s “stars,” Tyrone never tried to foist his views onto others. He never professed to be an expert on anything political and never used his status as a star to get on a soapbox. But quietly, he was continually searching. It’s also noteworthy to see the kinds of books that influenced his outlook. One in particular was Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 book The Prophet.
Tyrone’s life and the choices he made were also shaped by his relationships. There were many women in his life. It was said by one of those interviewed that Tyrone was “in love with the idea of being in love.” He always needed to have someone in his life, going from one relationship immediately into the next. This led to a great deal of personal turmoil when it became apparent that neither was compatible with the other for the long-term. Despite these frustrations and entanglements, Power never became a bitter man. He never directed anger in the direction of others. There was a lot he kept bottled inside.
We gain a sense of who these women were in his life. In fairness to his three wives– as well as to those he knew in-between– we don’t have the full picture of who they were as individuals, although his first wife, Annabella, seemed to be the most open about her years with Tyrone. There are moments in the telling when its easy to make snap judgments on them, such as when something is said that puts one of them in a negative light. But it’s important to understand that there is another side we’re not seeing completely. It’s evident that these women who were closest to him– Annabella, Linda Christian, and Debbie Minardos– all clearly loved him and were important to him during each stage of his life.
Remote impressions of her childhood seem to be all that is left for Romina. She recalls a home and a garden where she played, but her father was an elusive figure in these recollections. In her adult consciousness, she reached back into pre-memory, but her father was always just out of reach. He was blocked out perhaps by the trauma of losing him and only attainable in dreams, appearing to his daughter as a figure in white. This sense of loss is deeply moving. It’s the underlying theme that brings a soul to the book. Despite this gap in her personal timeline, there is a degree of solace for Romina- of acceptance of what was taken from her. There is a final realization and understanding that Tyrone still lives through her, through her sister Taryn, and through their brother Ty– as well as through all the people he has touched then and now.
Tyrone Power was a complex man who had to reconcile his public self with his private life. Despite this complexity, you feel closer to understanding who Tyrone Power was when you read Searching For My Father. The reader makes these discoveries with Romina. This is her personal journey towards truth, and in this day when other biographers rely on sensationalism to sell copies, truth can be an elusive thing. Romina’s intent is to tell a sincere story and leave as accurate a record as possible of a man who was more than a movie legend.
“I drifted into acting and drifted out. Acting is not everything. Living is.” ~ Irene Dunne
Irene Marie Dunne (1898-1990) was one of the great Hollywood stars from the 1930s and 1940s. She had been a Broadway actress prior to a career in movies. She appeared opposite some of the most famous screen legends of her day including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Roberta), Cary Grant (My Favorite Wife), and Charles Boyer (Love Affair), among others. Though she began as a star of dramas and musicals, she is best known today for the screwball comedies she appeared in such as Theodora Goes Wild– a role, ironically, she did not want to do. Throughout a career that spanned 42 films, Irene Dunne received five nominations for Best Actress.
This past Thursday night, the Park Ridge Public Library was honored to have Irene Dunne’s granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich, as a special guest prior to our screening of Theodora Goes Wild (1936).
After the prize drawing and our introductions, Ann-Marie Streibich came to the podium and spoke at length about her grandmother– “Mimi,” as she has called her ever since she was little. She had lived with Irene in her later years and provided us with wonderful insights into the kind of woman Irene Dunne was, both on and off the screen. In the words of Jimmy Stewart, whom she quoted, she was “a woman of patrician beauty poised with regal grace.”
Ann-Marie, and her brother Mark, who also lived with Irene, have been deeply affected by their grandmother’s presence in their lives. “She spoke of having a purpose greater than herself; of living life ‘in a state of grace’ as though she could live as an instrument by which other lives might be improved through a form of divine will combined with the best of human intent.” Irene Dunne had a positive affect on other people’s spirits– “in a wavelength way beyond charisma.” Ann-Marie told us that Irene’s personal integrity has been a guiding light in her own life. Her Mimi is still with her in a very real way.
Ann-Marie spoke of her grandmother’s upbringing in the genteel South. Irene’s was influenced by the philosophy and wisdom of her parents. Both of whom shaped the character of the woman she would become. Her father was a steamboat inspector and her mother taught music, which opened a door to the arts. When her father passed away when she was only eleven, the family re-located to Madison, Indiana, which was the hometown of Irene’s mother. (For more about Madison and these early influences, please refer to our entry, “The Irene Dunne Pilgrimage.”)
Ann-Marie said that Irene eventually left Madison to take a job teaching music in East Chicago. There, she lived with a cousin. “One morning she saw the Chicago Tribune on the breakfast table; she saw an ad for a scholarship for singing at the prestigious Chicago Musical College. She took the ad and went to go prepare for the audition. She won! The head of the school was Dr. Ziegfeld of the Ziegfeld Theatre in Chicago, where she would perform to get stage experience.”
Dr. Ziegfeld gave Irene a letter of recommendation to give to his son, the famous Florenz Ziegfeld of New York City. (This connection helped her two years later when she landed her first role in Hollywood.) It was in New York, too, where she would meet her future husband, Dr. Frank Griffin, in 1924. “He was her partner, co-manager and best friend,” said Ann-Marie. “In the early years of marriage, she was in Hollywood crafting her career and he was a successful businessman in New York City. They were a bi-coastal married couple for six years before he moved to Los Angeles, when it became apparent that her career had taken off.”
Irene Dunne’s first major role– and the first of her Best Actress nominations– came for her performance in the Western Cimarron (1931). She became a huge star for RKO but negotiated an independent contract that allowed her to work at other studios. Much in demand throughout the 1930s, Irene appeared in many dramas (‘women’s pictures’ like Back Street and Magnificent Obsession) and musicals (Sweet Adeline). She reprised her stage role of Magnolia in the definitive, 1936 version of Show Boat directed by James Whale. In 1937 she teamed up with Cary Grant for Leo McCarey’s screwball comedy The Awful Truth, and in 1939 she was on an ocean voyage with Charles Boyer in the romantic hit Love Affair, also directed by McCarey. In the 1940s, Irene appeared in two of her best-known films: Life With Father (1947) and I Remember Mama (1948).
Irene Dunne retired from films in 1953. In the wake of her movie stardom, she devoted herself to various Republican Party causes and Catholic charities. In 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her as an alternate delegate to the 12th General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1985 she was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors. According to Ann-Marie, Irene was thrilled when she was given the lifetime achievement award. This was an event in which she was able to accompany her grandmother.
Some of Irene’s closest friends included Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria, Rosalind Russell, Loretta Young, the Bob Hopes, and others. “I used to sit in my closet peering down through a lighting hole at her guests at the dining table. They could include any or all of these people and of course many, many others. I was often invited to come down during the cocktail portion of a dinner party and say my polite hellos. At the end of the night, there would always be my Mimi singing, to the delight of her friends.”
Irene Dunne received the gifts of life her father had wanted her to have. “With her strong sense of self-reliance and independence, her father’s creed governed her actions for her family and herself until the day she died. When she drew her last breath she indeed fulfilled every word of the ethics of life he whispered to her on his dying breath.”
Ann-Marie clearly takes pride in promoting the sterling image Irene Dunne has left behind. Besides presenting us with stories and answering audience questions, she brought a wonderful photo album. Inside were many movie stills from Irene’s early films. Ann-Marie also had a very old scrapbook that featured many brittle newspaper clippings. Despite its delicate condition, it was important to her that this be shared. I know our audience was very grateful to her for bringing her grandmother to us in this way.
Irene Dunne is a name young people should remember. Though she’s been gone for nearly twenty-five years, Irene Dunne can still be a role model to today’s generation– especially young women– because of how she lived her life with dignity and intelligence. Her film career, likewise, is a legacy that can inspire younger people. Besides reminding us of the unique qualities that make a star, the films themselves offer viewers such happiness and cheer. Unfortunately, many of her early films are unavailable on dvd while others have been turned into lesser remakes. But these handicaps shouldn’t stop anyone from rediscovering the many talents of Irene Dunne.
And here is the interview with Radio Hall of Famer Chuck Schaden that I referenced on Thursday night…
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For more on Ann-Marie Streibich’s visit to the Park Ridge Public Library:
On May 29, 2014, the Park Ridge Public Library will remember actress Irene Dunne with a visit from her granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich. Ann-Marie will speak about Irene’s life and career and will answer questions from the audience prior to a screening of Theodora Goes Wild.
The following was originally published in The Rediscovered movie blog:
To walk down West Second Street is to travel back into time. It’s a street like many others in Madison: historic and nostalgic. However, there was one thing that separated it from the other streets. My whole reason for driving 300 miles from Chicago into southeastern Indiana was to see one particular house. It’s not that this house is any more spectacular than others in town. It was simply a matter of who had lived there.
“Could you tell me where the Irene Dunne home is?” The question must’ve been asked enough times because the lady behind the desk in the Visitor’s Center made only the slightest pause. She told me to walk up Vine Street (where the Center is located) and continue past West First Street until I got to Second, then make a left and continue on until I got to the 900 block. The home was within walking distance.
So many homes in the rivertown of Madison are of architectural interest. You see this immediately when you drive into the downtown district. Sections of it seem to be isolated in time. Madison was settled back in 1809 when Indiana was still a territory, so there is a lot of history everywhere you turn. In fact, Madison prides itself in having “the largest historic district in Indiana and the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark District in the US.” One hundred and thirty three blocks of it to be exact. Many stately homes lined the avenues. Dense gardens and mossy statuary filled the backyards. These homes were designed in every style– from Colonial and Georgian to the Italianate and Greek Revival. As I walked down West Second Street, it was like being in small-town Victorian America. For many, I suppose, that conjures up musty tradition. For me, I felt a sense of belonging.
I heard music that took me back to what it must’ve been like at the turn of the century. I couldn’t tell at first where it was coming from. I know I didn’t imagine it. It was like the music from an ice cream truck that never came around the corner. It just floated there in the air, in one place. The music was different though. That much I could tell. It was like calliope music. I knew it must’ve been coming from somewhere down by the river.
The Ohio River was only a few blocks away from where I was. A couple blocks to the left and you’d be at the riverfront. Though I never found the source, I remembered the lady in the Visitor’s Center had told me a steamboat was visiting. I gathered the music was from that excursion boat, which must’ve been making its stop on a tour of the river. Before the Civil War, Madison boomed in business. It was a main thoroughfare for riverboats.
The Madison-Indianapolis railroad, which had been built during the 1830s and 1840s, passed through what was then a prosperous town. But after the war, as more avenues in commercial trade opened up, the town slowly diminished in relevance and became overlooked by the decades; its glory days of the steamboat passed into history. The railroad itself is gone now, but one can still find the old tracks in a park near the riverfront. Today, there is a railroad museum, and of course, all the popular attractions of the river. It took the tourist trade of the 20th century to bring the town back.
Irene Dunne’s father, Joseph J. Dunn, had been a steamboat inspector. Her mother, Adelaide, a talented pianist. Both were natives of Kentucky. It was in Louisville, in 1898, where their only daughter was born. A son, Charles, would follow two years later. The family story goes that one of Irene’s four aunts had suggested her name. The riverboat had been especially important in the life of Irene Dunne. She was almost born on one while the family was on their way to Madison, where Adelaide’s family resided. Instead, the Dunns had to disembark in Louisville. One of Irene’s fondest memories as a child was riding on the steamboat with her father, “Captain Dunn,” as he was known from one end of the Mississippi to the other.
“I will never forget a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans with Father and Mother in one of the old river boats. We had the captain’s suite and because of my father’s position everything imaginable was done to make us feel important. I was so excited. I loved the boat and the lazy river…”
Her father was a positive influence in her life, and he instilled in her a strong sense of morality– something that she would carry with her for the rest of her life. She was that rare breed who exhibited character both on and off screen. There was a reason why she became known as the “First Lady of Hollywood.” There was always a quiet dignity about her. There were no scandals. No divorces. She stayed married to the same man, Frank Griffin, until his death. She never remarried. She knew the value of marriage and what it meant to make a commitment. Her values can be traced back to the example her father had set.
“Happiness is never an accident,” her father had told her. “It is the prize we get when we choose wisely from life’s great stores. Don’t reach out wildly for this and that and the other thing. You’ll end up empty handed if you do. Make up your mind what you want. Go after it. And be prepared to pay well for it. I hope that you’ll go after the rooted things– the self-respect that comes when we accept our share of responsibility. Satisfying work. Marriage. A home. A family. For these are the things that grow better with time, not less. These things are the bulwarks of happiness.”
Irene was only fourteen when her father died. Afterwards, her mother moved the family to Madison, which is situated about 55 miles northeast of Louisville. In those days, according to a 1910 census, the population was nearly 7,000. Here, Irene’s family lived next door to her grandparents and other relatives on her mother’s side. In these years, Adelaide helped develop her daughter’s singing with music lessons.
While in Madison, Irene was still connected to the river life she had known with her father. Those memories they had shared never left her. A hundred years later you can imagine tracing her steps to Vaughn Drive and the banks of the Ohio. In her time, there were show boats with entertainers that passed through. “We used to sit on the hilltops and wait for them to come ’round the bend in the river with the calliope playing the popular tunes.” Her life would be entwined with the lore of the steamboat years later in her professional career.
Of course, there were glaring reminders that times had greatly changed. At the corner of one block was an electrical power station. Further along, in the far distance of the valley, one could see the chimneys of the Clifty Creek Power Plant. It was built in the 1950s with two of the tallest chimneys in the world. It’s not a proud distinction since the power plant is also ranked as one of the dirtiest in the country. But by and large, the neighborhood has been preserved. I learned that the Irene Dunne home was recently sold. We hope it will be left as it is. Her birthplace in Louisville, on the other hand, hasn’t been as fortunate. Her first home at 507 East Gray Street is now a parking lot.
I was very happy when I found the house on West Second Street. The emotion was clearly reflected in the number of pictures I took of the home from my vantage point on the sidewalk. I’m sure that had I been anywhere else, this might’ve caused some curiousity from neighbors, like the man sitting on his steps across the street. But I’m sure they’ve seen it before. It’s a testament to a star’s legacy that there are still fans who turn up to sightsee and take pictures. We continue to reach up to those stars of the past. Even if their names are half-forgotten and their films never play on cable, there is still a glow where they had once been. It shines brighter than what has taken their place in the here and now. I don’t think a hundred years from now anyone will have interest in where Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie grew up.
There was a plaque near the doorway that read: “Homeplace Irene Dunn 1898-1990.” That was not an error because her family name is originally spelled Dunn; the “e” was first associated with the name around the time of high school. Besides the house and the street, I also took a photo of the nearby tree that towered overhead. I pictured that aged tree a hundred years younger when it stood before the Dunn household.
“We lived a leisurely life in that small town. There was time for everything. Time for me to dream my dreams under the Heaven Tree that stood in our yard, time for music around the piano in the evenings, time for reading wonderful books, time for friendship.”
When I returned to the Visitor’s Center, I stopped in the adjacent research library where the custodians provided me with a file on Irene Dunne. There were many press clippings and articles, including a copy of an article in Modern Screen (December 1938) called: “Irene Dunne’s True Life Story With Her Exclusive Childhood Pictures.” In the folder I saw the business card of Wes Gehring, author of the most recent biography on Irene called Irene Dunne: The First Lady of Hollywood (2006). When I was finished, the archivist asked if I was from out of town. I mentioned that I was from Park Ridge, Illinois, and then he told me he had lived in Norwood Park in Chicago. After I left I realized that this gentleman must’ve been Ron Grimes, co-author of one of the books in the “Images of America” series. He had written a book called Madison, and I remember reading that he now worked in Madison’s research library. Ron had suggested I talk to the owner of the Ohio Theatre, who himself was an avid collector and admirer of Irene Dunne.
The Ohio Theatre can be found at 105 E. Main Street in the heart of the historic downtown district. It was originally built in 1938. Irene Dunne had returned to Madison that year for the grand opening of the theatre. But its days of premieres were now in danger. The theatre is in need of a renovation. In fact, there is a current “Save the Ohio” campaign with the goal of upgrading the theatre. They hope to gather enough funds to convert the film projection to digital. I spoke to the owner, Tony, who, like the other townspeople I had met, was very friendly and helpful. He mentioned the support the town had received from Irene’s grandson, Mark Shinnick, who had donated some of the items to the historical society. I mentioned to Tony that I was planning to have Irene’s granddaughter– Mark’s sister, Ann-Marie– as a special guest in Park Ridge in 2014.
I asked him whether he currently had any Irene Dunne items on display in the lobby, but he did not. He does have a large collection of Irene Dunne memorabilia, but in my eyes his greatest contribution to the memory of Irene Dunne is not a prop or personal item. It’s the marker in front of his theatre. It was installed in 2006 by the Indiana Historical Bureau and the Friends of Irene Dunne. The text reads:
Born in Louisville, Kentucky 1898; after father’s death, moved with family to Madison. Graduated from Madison High School 1916. After voice training in Indianapolis and Chicago, began singing professionally. Won lead in road show of Florenz Ziegfeld’s Show Boat 1929. Began Hollywood career 1930; in 42 films; nominated for five Academy Awards…
Dunne maintained ties with Madison, which has honored her; she helped with restoration of Broadway Fountain 1976. She received Laetare Medal from University of Notre Dame 1949. President Dwight Eisenhower named her an alternate delegate to United Nations General Assembly 1957; was Kennedy Center Honors Awardee 1985. Died 1990 in Los Angeles.
Some of those 42 films include The Awful Truth (1937), My Favorite Wife (1940), and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). When she was acknowledged in 1985 at the Kennedy Center Honors, James Stewart told the audience that Irene was the only actress to be nominated three times for three different genres. Unlike some of her equally talented contemporaries, Irene could shine in period melodramas, screwball comedies, or modern musicals. My personal favorite is the 1936 version of Show Boat. I had played this musical on film when I operated the LaSalle Bank Theatre revival house in Chicago. For the film, Irene Dunne recreated the role of Magnolia Hawks, which she had played in the first road tour of Show Boat in 1929. The tour proved to be her catapult for Hollywood. Those who are familiar with the film will always think of her when they hear “You are Love.”
Downtown Madison is a place of carriage rides, street performers, confectioners, and ice cream parlors. It reminded me of Galena, Illinois, near the Iowa border. There is much to see here– so much that I almost didn’t notice what was directly under my feet. Outside the theatre box office was a Hollywood Walk of Fame-style star on the sidewalk. It commemorated the filming of Some Came Running. This 1950s melodrama starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and was directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli. The film had been shot in Madison, but it was only an afterthought to me. Perhaps if I had more time, I would’ve visited the locations seen in that film.
Looking for movie locations is one thing, but I was more interested in the things that made Irene Dunne the person she became. Throughout her lifetime, she reflected those tenets of her Christian faith with kindness, generosity, and charity to others. This is a woman who was awarded the Laetare Medal by Notre Dame, which is the highest honor given to a Catholic lay person. Practically no one in the entertainment world is given such an honor.
And so I visited St. Michael the Archangel Church where she had attended Mass with her family. Like the theatre, it was in need of a renovation. It’s no longer active as a place of worship. I thought back to the days when people like Irene made up the congregation that filed through its open doors. Founded in 1837, St. Michael’s is one of many churches in town. In Irene’s time, the church was a respected institution– providing a framework intended to uplift society. She was strongly influenced by its moral guidance and by the spiritual comfort it provided. A hundred years later, we’ve become a more secularized society with modern definitions of family and God, so it’s harder for some to appreciate the value of religion as it was then in small-town America.
Another church I visited was the First Baptist Church, which was established in 1807. Built in the style of the Greek Revival, it was located at the corner of Vine and West Third Street– kitty-corner from John Paul Park (named after the founder of Madison). Like St. Michael’s, the doors of the church were locked, but there were still services here every Sunday. The well-maintained garden and the fresh flowers that hung on the door attested to the fact that it still flourished. It was here where for the first time Irene earned some money for her singing.
Intersecting with Main Street is Broadway. In the middle of it, you will find one of the town’s most striking monuments: The Broadway Fountain. The fountain dates back to 1876 when it made its debut during the Philadelphia Centennial. It was later presented to Madison in 1886. I sat on a bench in front of it for a time with my mother in the late afternoon. Like the town itself, one felt a sense of comfort being there. The Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church was across the street from us on our left. Though it was quiet when we were there, the fountain is often the center of activity, whether it’s a farmer’s market or a Dixieland concert. In the 1970s Irene Dunne helped restore the fountain with a $10,000 donation. It is through her generosity as well as through the contributions of others that the statue still spouts water. And visitors such as myself can still make wishes with lucky pennies.
We stayed at the Hillside Inn, which overlooks the downtown section. It was a wonderful view from the third floor balcony. Off in the distance you could see the general area where her home is situated, surrounded by other homes that have changed little. Steeples and spires could clearly be seen. Closer to the inn, down the steep hill below, were the old frame buildings. Pick-up trucks and motorcycles were always riding through. Around the bend from the inn was Telegraph Hill where, through the years, children have gone sledding in the winter. At one end of the panoramic view before me I could see the Ohio Bridge stretching across the river into Milton, Kentucky. On the other end, in the direction of West Main Street, there was the smoke stack which, like an active volcano, continuously released a slow-moving cloud.
At dusk, a haze settled over the valley. It was the kind of active view you could watch for hours while reflecting on the history. As the night slowly descended on the rivertown, the old buildings of Madison stood in silent silhouette like black ghosts. The hum of cicadas, which seemed to blanket the residential section, took on a different sound when heard from above; it seemed more like a roaring mass with the individual call drowned out. The atmosphere of the environment soaked in. I became more attuned to the world as it once was a century ago.
You feel a presence in that town. Irene Dunne’s been gone for twenty-three years, and her final resting place is on the other side of the country in California, yet part of her is still there. When she died in 1990, she took with her all those happy experiences she had as a child and as a teenager: riverfront walks, 4th of July celebrations, social dances, high school drama performances, moonlit evenings under the Heaven Tree… and so many other memories lost now in time.
Something had compelled me to come here, to drive five hours through Indiana into the Ohio River Valley. By doing so, I gained a better understanding of a time and place that shaped Irene Dunne. She is still remembered and loved by people generations removed. I don’t think anything is greater than being remebered like that. It’s a special kind of legacy to leave behind.
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There are only two books on Irene Dunne, but both are insufficient as biographies. One is a bio-bibliography that is rather short in length, and the other is not very well written. (Dunne merits a Scott Eyman-type of author who can write the kind of narrative she deserves.) Instead, we encourage you to visit the ultimate Internet source on all things Irene Dunne: http://www.irenedunnesite.com/
On May 8, 2014, I was honored to be a guest of the Tyrone Power family in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city was the birthplace of Tyrone Power III. This second centennial event on the nationwide tour was held at the historic 20th Century Theatre, a beautiful Art Deco theatre now converted into a live performance venue. The evening’s program was organized by Movie Memories.
There was a private reception in the lobby and upstairs where fans could chat with the Power family. Prior to the start of Blood and Sand, Taryn, Romina, and Ty all appeared together onstage to each answer a question from the moderator, Maria Ciaccia. After the film screening, there was a book signing for Romina’s Searching For My Father, Tyrone Power.
For me, this was my first time meeting Romina Power and Ty Power IV. It was great to be able to talk to them and to sit next to all three during the screening. The entire family has been kind and generous not only to me, but to all the fans who have come out to support the memory of their father.
(Photos courtesy of Sara Fenwick/Matthew C. Hoffman)
We’d like to thank the 414 people who came out on May 1 to support the Tyrone Power Centennial. This was a record turnout for the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series. It was also a good sign to see that a classic film (with Tyrone Power) could outdraw a modern blockbuster at the box office! (Only 25 attended The Amazing Spider Man 2 playing at the same time in the rear theatre!)
There are many people I’d like to thank for this special night, including Nick Digilio of WGN Radio, Steve Darnall of “Those Were the Days” (90.9 FM), Jay Warren of the Silent Film Society of Chicago, Nina Metz with the Chicago Tribune, Dann Gire of the Daily Herald, and also the Park Ridge Journal.
A huge thank you to Turner Classic Movies who listed our event on their website, and to WTTW! Thank you to Liz Ishoo and Sara Fenwick for taking so many wonderful photos, and to The Park Ridge Civic Orchestra and Marc Hansen for their help with the technical set-up. And I am indebted to Evelyn Eman Delmar for all her help with the book sale and the many details she advised me on. Evy’s enthusiasm guaranteed a successful night.
Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank the families of Tyrone Power and Michael Butler for their kindness and generosity. Ever since Taryn Power’s visit at the Park Ridge Public Library in the spring of 2013, I’ve wanted to honor her father with a centennial event. I am thrilled that not only were we able to pull it off, but that it became our most successful show ever at the Pickwick Theatre.
The following are some photos from the first half of that wonderful evening. We will be posting many more as they come in. Also, visit our Photo Archive for even more great images!
On April 23 and 24, author Christina Rice visited the Chicagoland area on an Ann Dvorak book tour! On April 23, she appeared at the Patio Theatre in Chicago and introduced The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932). This presentation, sponsored by the Northwest Chicago Film Society, featured a 35mm print from the Library of Congress. Over 250 people welcomed Christina while saying goodbye–temporarily, we hope– to the Patio Theatre. (Due to building expenditures, the theatre has gone dark.)
Then on April 24, Christina visited the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge. We had 148 come out to see her introduce our screening of Scarface (1932). Christina also took questions from the audience– including one about a George Raft Alka-Seltzer commercial!?!
Both the Northwest Chicago Film Society and the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series were honored to have Christina as a special guest. Both film programs love Ann Dvorak. We hope our “double dose of Dvorak” will be the first of many more revivals around the country.
For more on Christina’s April visit, check out the only Ann Dvorak website: Click here!
Women adored him. Men respected him. And kids wanted to be like him. He was a matinee idol like no other…
WHAT: The Tyrone Power Centennial Event
WHEN: May 1, 2014 7:00 PM (Doors open at 6:30 PM)
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
WHO: Honored guests Taryn Power-Greendeer and Michael Butler. With a special appearance by Jay Warren of the Silent Film Society of Chicago!
Admission: $7; $5 for seniors (60+)
A hundred years ago, Wrigley Field had its first home opener. Charlie Chaplin debuted his Little Tramp, and the world witnessed the start of a Great War. In the spring of 1914, on the fifth day of May, a baby was born in Cincinnati named Tyrone Edmund Power III. He was the son of a great stage star, Tyrone Power II, and his wife Patia. In time, young Tyrone would carry on his father’s acting tradition. He would become one of the biggest stars in the world before his untimely death in 1958 at the age of 44.
Nearly fifty-six years have passed since his death during the making of Solomon and Sheba, but Tyrone Power is still remembered by legions of film buffs. Our May 1 Centennial at the Pickwick Theatre is for the fans who have kept Tyrone Power’s memory alive throughout the decades. But as each generation passes, the name Tyrone Power becomes a little dimmer in our collective memory. We hope events such as these will spark renewed interest in the younger generations, that they may be inspired by the life and work of one of cinema’s screen legends. Tyrone Power is a reminder of what makes a great star.
Every year gives birth to its fair share of noteworthy people. Also born in 1914 were such screen greats as Alec Guinness, Richard Widmark, and Ida Lupino. And next year will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles, and so on. All these actors and actresses certainly deserve their own centennials; we’re not interested in saying such and such person should be remembered more than someone else. But to those of us whose lives have been touched by Tyrone Power– especially the family who has kept his memory alive– it is Tyrone Power’s time to again be in the spotlight. It’s time to look back and celebrate his life and legacy– not just as an actor, but also as a father and a man who served his country with distinction in time of war.
With this double feature, our intent is to make Power’s films accessible and to keep the name alive in a society that too often fixates on the ephemera of pop culture. There is permanence in what Tyrone Power left behind. His was a legacy that transcends time. Tyrone Power’s name still matters. But too many stars whose names are familiar to us only elicit a “Who?” from kids who don’t look further back than to last weekend’s blockbuster. Many stars– once famous to millions– have been relegated to “ancient history” by younger generations unwilling and unmotivated to rediscover our great heritage.
Many senior citizens have told me their kids and grandkids have never heard of Tyrone Power. Or a young mother might say to me, “Oh, he was my mother’s favorite.” It’s as though people feel you have to be 60 years old to appreciate him. This perception is something we’d like to change. He was one of the biggest stars in the world and a king of the box office at his own studio, 20th Century-Fox. Those types of honors speak of his great popularity, but what does that mean for us today? Popularity in itself is not enough. There has to be something more, something that turns a famous actor of his era into a movie legend.
Like the famous John Barrymore, Tyrone Power represents a great heritage of acting in America. It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years to the 18th century. The acting dynasty continues to this day and we hope, into tomorrow. Though his father, Tyrone Power Sr., died while performing on the stage in 1931, the elder Power lived to see his son follow in his footsteps. Young Ty was blessed with exceptional good looks which got him typecast early in his career. He was often cast as a “pretty boy” playboy in roles that offered little characterization. But it wasn’t long before Power broke away from this cardboard mold and showed that he was an actor of great force. Films like The Razor’s Edge, Nightmare Alley, The Long Gray Line, and Witness For the Prosecution show an actor of tremendous range and humanity. His best films are as relevant today as when they were released.
In Old Chicago, which is the first film we’ll be screening, was actually recommended by our guest, Taryn Power-Greendeer. In my first conversation with Taryn over the phone in 2013, she recalled a trip she had made to Chicago. While on a boat tour of the Chicago River, she thought how references to In Old Chicago could’ve enlivened her tour guide’s spiel. Though the film was made entirely at the Fox studio, the assistance of the Chicago Historical Society added to the detail and atmosphere of the production. Whether it’s references to streets like Madison or places like the Palmer House, the stockyards or the river itself, the film recreates a place Chicagoans would appreciate.
Capitalizing on MGM’s disaster movie San Francisco (1936), 20th Century-Fox decided to unite Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche in a period drama about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Alice Brady, in an Oscar-winning performance, is Mrs. O’Leary, a widow raising her family in the vice-filled neighborhood known as “the Patch.” One of her sons, Dion (Power), gives her almost as much trouble as the cow out back in the barn. Dion builds a saloon with singer Belle Fawcette (Faye) as his star attraction. Growing in influence, Dion uses underhanded schemes to get his brother Jack (Ameche) elected mayor. But Jack is reform-minded and won’t allow anything to get in the way of his mission to clean up the Patch. Though the human drama is largely fictitious, this is Hollywood history done on a grand and entertaining scale. Henry King, a specialist in directing American history, would collaborate with Power for a total of eleven films–including the second half of our double bill.
Jesse James, made the following year in 1939, is a fictionalized account of the Old West’s most famous bandit. The film presents Jesse as a folk hero– the “Ozarkian Robin Hood” of the 1800s. Tyrone Power, in his first Western, plays the younger James and Henry Fonda is his brother, Frank. Despite this second billing, Fonda has some of the best lines in the movie. Together, they’re striking back against the corrupt railroad men who have swindled the farmers out of land. The James boys become masked outlaws, holding up trains, robbing banks, and outracing the town lawmen on horseback.
Shot in gorgeous Technicolor and beautifully filmed on location in Missouri, this was Power’s first truly great film– with an ending that still has the power to shock. John Carradine (as the coward Bob Ford), Nancy Kelly, Randolph Scott, and Henry Hull also star in one of the most memorable films of 1939– and 20th Century-Fox’s biggest money-maker of the year. A sequel, The Return of Frank James was directed by Fritz Lang the following year.
No one-day centennial could possibly cover the spectrum of an actor’s career, so we decided to play two films from a time when Power was emerging into a superstar at his home studio. If we had wanted to get more kids interested in Tyrone Power, we could’ve easily shown The Mark of Zorro. Film noir enthusiasts would’ve appreciated a screening of Nightmare Alley. Power appeared in many genres, from screwball comedies to musicals to war films. For our centennial kickoff, we selected two historical dramas about America’s past that remain incredibly popular with audiences to this day. We hope this will encourage others to seek out the films of Tyrone Power.
It’s not often that this kind of film history passes through Park Ridge (or anywhere, for that matter). We hope our residents, especially, realize the value of this event and come out– not only to honor someone they should know, but to support our new classic film program.
***A Pickwick Theatre Exclusive*** We will be selling limited edition copies of Romina Power’s memoir, Searching For My Father, Tyrone Power. This book was previously published only in Italian and will now be available exclusively at centennial events. The Pickwick Theatre is honored to have the American debut of a book fans will love.