On Thursday night, May 16, the Park Ridge Public Library screened The Black Swan (1942) starring Tyrone Power. Beforehand, I mentioned that we had something special planned for this particular evening, but I didn’t say what specifically. Despite the fact that I did not advertise this show or contact the media, we had our highest turnout of the series at the Library. I began by introducing my assistant, Annette Bochenek, who was going to help with the presentation. I then told my audience: “This is normally where I would talk about the star of tonight’s film, Tyrone Power, but there’s someone in the audience who knows him a lot better than I do– and that would be his youngest daughter, Taryn Power-Greendeer.”
After a very enthusiastic applause from a surprised audience, the three of us took our places and then we welcomed Taryn’s daughter, Valentina (daughter of musician Tony Sales), who was sitting in the crowd as our guest. I asked Taryn if she could share with our patrons an interesting fact concerning the other famous celebrity Valentina is related to. “I always think of it as the masks of the tragedy and comedy. Her other grandfather is Soupy Sales.” That got a nice response from our patrons as most of us remember the famous television comedian. Taryn began by telling us that she didn’t know any of the questions we were going to ask but that she was fine with improv!
We began by asking Taryn to tell us a little about herself and what life was like growing up. She told us that only in hindsight is she able to truly reflect on how life was back then. She had been raised by a lot of people other than her parents, having spent a lot of time with nannies and in boarding schools. Her life had been shaped in a very matriarchal setting. Her father had died when she was only five years old, so we asked her what were some of the earliest memories she had of him. Taryn distinctly recalled going to Tyrone’s grave shortly after they buried him. “I have the memory of standing with my sister, and there was an elderly lady not much taller than I was sobbing uncontrollably alongside us. I never saw that before in that situation and started giggling at the sight of this older lady crying.”
“It didn’t really hit me much until I was probably about fifteen and we were living in Italy at the time,” she continued. “I had been living there since I was seven. All the films I had seen of his were dubbed, but when I was fifteen I finally heard a recording of his voice on a record. It was him reading poems by Byron, and there was one talking to his daughter, and that’s when I started to miss him. And that’s when I made a big connection to his voice.”
Tyrone Power, a class act…
Taryn was amused by the idea of writing an autobiography—but the title would’ve certainly had something to do with her adventures with her mother (actress Linda Christian)– Travels with Mummy would’ve been a likely title. But wherever they traveled in the world, her mother was always viewed as Tyrone Power’s wife. That always went along with her. “People would open their homes to us immediately because they loved my dad. It was uncanny the amount of hospitality and generosity that I experienced only because I was my dad’s daughter.”
Hers was an interesting life because she grew up with an image of him that had been immortalized. At that time, most people had heard of Tyrone Power. It was an image that was always with her. As a result, she herself felt as though she were being scrutinized because of that heritage. There was a sense that she had to live up to these high expectations when she was pursuing acting professionally. Since both of her parents were movie stars, it made for a very colorful life.
Taryn has spent the last twenty years living in Wisconsin. “My dream as a kid was to live on a farm.” That was her life’s goal, so she wound up moving near Amish country. Without question, she is less known here where Hollywood is a very foreign place in the eyes of the Amish community. Taryn is very happy in Wisconsin and spends a lot of time working in schools with kids. Her daughter, Valentina, has attended school in Wisconsin and in fact has a degree in music theatre. This Midwestern environment is very much part of their makeup now. Walking in the Wisconsin woods for Taryn is a far cry from the flashes of Paparazzi bulbs that she had always known while traveling through airports with her mother. Taryn told us that it was “not your normal type of life.” But she came away with a strong belief that anything was possible in life. “Don’t let money determine your choices.”
Annette asked Taryn what her favorite memories were of her father. Taryn told us that the story at the gravesite was her first conscious one. She also said she had a vague memory of sitting on the back of a man in a swimming pool—a man who may or may not have been her father. It was more a sensory thing she felt of being in the water since Tyrone often swam with the children. A lot of what she remembers is in relation to what people have told her.
“There have been times when young women have said, ‘Oh, my mother was in love with your dad.’ I go, ‘yeah, my mom too.'”
“When I first came to Hollywood pursuing an acting career, I remember driving up through the gates of 20th Century Fox for an interview, and the guard at the gate shared a story when he saw who I was. There was a time where he had a daughter with some serious health condition. He didn’t have the money to take care of her and my dad had actually paid for it.” It wasn’t a particularly glamorous story, but it’s the kind of human story that Taryn admires about her father. She also recalled the story of Tyrone growing up in Cincinnati where he worked as an usher at a movie theatre. At this time in his life, he was not very well off financially and had to resort to stuffing newspaper in his shoes to keep his feet warm. Again, these are not the types of stories one associates with famous movie stars, but they are the kind that Taryn appreciates.
I mentioned to Taryn that I remember reading about how she had set up screenings of her father’s films at 20th Century Fox because she wanted to become more familiar with him. I asked if any films in particular resonate. Taryn said she had seen some growing up, but it was much different seeing him on a large screen with his voice. No matter if she was viewing him as a daughter or as a movie fan, “He looked gorgeous no matter how I looked at him.” She recalled witnessing his on-screen ruggedness for the first time in Jesse James. Lloyds of London and Witness For the Prosecution were other films that stood out for her. But there was one she mentioned which I myself hadn’t seen– Diplomatic Courier, which she had seen in a little movie theatre in west Los Angeles back in the 1970s. “That was a movie I hadn’t even heard of, but I thought it was really good.”
At this point, I brought up how difficult it was for Tyrone to show how good an actor he was within the studio system. Due to box office demand, he was often cast in ‘pretty boy’ roles. However, his talent was clearly evident in films like Nightmare Alley. It wasn’t until years later, when he was appearing in films like Abandon Ship and Witness for the Prosecution, that he revealed himself as a great actor like his father before him. He always wanted to stretch himself as an actor and show that he was something more than just a handsome face. In his later years he even returned to the stage. One of his greatest successes in the theatre was his performance of John Brown’s Body.
Annette asked Taryn if there were any misconceptions about her father that she wanted to clear up. We raised this subject because we knew of only two books written about Tyrone Power. Each had far different perspectives and agendas. One of which is on the trashy side with no sources to back up its claims, yet its the speculation that seems to resonate with certain segments of the public. Taryn told us that one of the authors had approached her and he was going to focus on his supposed bisexuality. Regarding her thoughts on this, “I didn’t really care. He’s not even here to say anything. It’s all heresay, whatever. It didn’t matter to me.” If anything, those claims only made him more human in her eyes and not so “squeaky clean perfect.” Taryn told us that her sister, Romina, has in fact written a book in Italian about Tyrone. Its English translation would be Looking for My Father. Romina had spent ten years plus interviewing people. Taryn had been included as the photographer in this project and collected photos of many actors like Henry Fonda and Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, much of this material was lost in a fire which the family suffered about six years ago.
“I have to say, coming into the library tonight, I thought my dad would really like this because he had three passions in life: acting, flying as a pilot, and books; he was a first edition collector.” Taryn has inherited this desire to collect books, but she confessed to never having much time to read when she was younger. She was always traveling then and learning the languages of other countries. It wasn’t until she was ten years old and in a boarding school that she finally got a chance to read her first book cover to cover: Bobbsey Twins in Rainbow Valley! She added that Tyrone would have been thrilled that this event is happening in the library and that his art is appreciated still and his memory is kept alive this way.
Tyrone Power as Jesse James
After our interview, we took some questions from the audience. She was asked about her siblings. Taryn is the middle child of three. She did not meet her brother, Tyrone Power, Jr., until she was in her late 30s. Her sister had pursued a relationship with him, having tried to reach out to Tyrone. Their half-brother had been born after their father’s death in 1958. Tyrone, Jr., was an actor in New York at the time when he finally saw Romina performing on TV with her husband. He realized that that was his sister he was seeing. Soon after he got in touch with her. Afterward, they performed together on stage since Tyrone was an accomplished keyboardist. They sang and toured as a group. Romina is entirely self-taught and is a talented musician and artist. Taryn has a very high opinion of her sister’s creative impulses. By contrast, our guest explained that she is someone who needs something to work towards. In this regard, she’s very different from Romina.
Another patron asked what qualities in her mother did she love? “Her generosity,” Taryn said. “She was unattached to physical things… and was always thinking of others and what they might like. I remember this one room in the house that was her closet with these beautiful Dior gowns, and she would give them away to friends. She was always giving things away—including our stuff while we were at school! She taught me to have a relative attachment to physical things.”
Linda and Ty with daughters Taryn (born 1953) & Romina (born 1951)
Does she have any personal items that belonged to her father? Taryn told us that her sister is the collector. Romina has even found things online that had once belonged to their father. Unfortunately, Taryn has lost some of the items she had over the years due to floods, fires, and thefts. “For instance, I had my parents’ bedroom lamps until the fire. They were alabaster; they turned into chalk in the fire. And I remember thinking, if those lamps could talk! … I have an old journal of his with his initials on it.” Mostly, though, Taryn only has what’s in her head. She’s a collector of memories rather than things.
Did she have any kind of a relationship with her father’s family? Taryn mentioned she had photos with her paternal grandmother, Patia, when she was a baby. Patia died shortly afterward, and her grandfather (the famous Tyrone Power, Sr.) had already died. Her father had a sister, Anne, living in Florida. “We didn’t really grow up with any of my dad’s side of the family. My sister went after our aunt and I did get to meet her. She was an artist. All the walls in the house were filled with paintings…” Taryn had asked her aunt why she painted so much. “I can’t help it,” Anne said. “I have to.”
I spoke a little about the film we were about to see, The Black Swan, which features an audio commentary on the dvd by Maureen O’Hara. I mentioned to Taryn that Maureen thought Tyrone was a sweetheart of a man, and that I never heard of one bad word said about him. Everyone in Hollywood seemed to get along with him– as opposed to, say, Errol Flynn, who was charming in a more superficial way. At the mention of Flynn, Taryn added,
“I have to throw in a little anecdote at this point. It was Errol Flynn who met my mom first and picked her up in Acapulco, Mexico, and took her on his boat to Hollywood. She was studying to be an assistant for a plastic surgeon. She was doing medicine and he saw her. He thought she was ravishing and whisked her away to Hollywood. So when you talk about Errol Flynn and my dad being the two swordsmen, I think, yeah!”
Valentina and Taryn speak with patrons after the show…
NOTE: The preceding was a close approximation of our Q&A with Taryn. (The humor, spontaneity, and some of the personal details will be lost to everyone not in that meeting room that night, but we hope we have been able to convey the general history and appreciation that was witnessed that evening.) We are extremely grateful to Taryn & Valentina for their generosity to the Park Ridge community. On a personal level, I am thrilled to have had them as guests. Like the famous Barrymores, the Powers represent a long-standing tradition in acting. For them, it’s a heritage that goes back hundreds of years. We sincerely hope this tradition of performance will continue in the family for generations to come. Additionally, I am also grateful to Taryn for the conversations we had before the Library event. Whether it was discussing the book Nightmare Alley, her grandfather, or simply how her life might’ve been different with her father in it, my understanding of Tyrone and appreciation for the family was enriched. Though he has been gone a long time now, we like to think he is still watching over the family.