Los Angeles Angels

monk-color

The Zanuck version of The Mark of Zorro is a picture that makes me smile—and breaks my heart. I experienced both emotions last Saturday afternoon when TCM U.S. ran The Mark of Zorro, and I marveled at what a firecracker it is, with what is for me the most muscular and realistic duel in movie history. There was young Don Diego Vega in early 1800s Los Angeles taking on the guise of Zorro, protector of the oppressed peons. And here I fell in love all over again with Linda Darnell, which one mustn’t do because at the time she was all of 17, if that. In my defense she was already playing adults, so I’m not the only male to be smitten in the past 80 years. Linda Darnell clearly had it. And such chemistry with her leading man, Tyrone Power—yikes.

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Of all Hollywood duels of the golden era, this one felt deadliest thanks to the skills of Power and his opponent, Basil Rathbone. When J. Edward Bromberg observed of Zorro, “You handle a sword like a devil from hell,” we can only agree.

What makes me crestfallen is the fact that both these beautiful people sharing the screen so perfectly and so sweetly—he then 26 to her 17 and both seeming in 1940 to have it all—died far too young after bittersweet lives that failed to live up to their silver perfection on the screen.

I looked around YouTube to find one of their love scenes in The Mark of Zorro but failed. I did find this one as young Lolita considers Don Diego a foppish boor—until they dance together and he takes her to the heights, before yanking her back to earth.

Everyone always said Darnell was and remained a sweetheart who never “went Hollywood.” And in all my years immersed in Hollywood history, I never heard a cross word about Ty Power either. If anything these two were ill-equipped to face the headwinds of that brutal town and what it does to people—one small example: respective business managers swindled each trusting soul out of a fortune.

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Linda all grown up.

Both Ty’s parents were Shakespearean actors, and he shot to the top in the Hollywood of 1937-40. He joined the Marines in 1942 after making his pirate epic The Black Swan and had himself a distinguished tour of duty as a pilot flying into, among other places, Iwo Jima—and came back a changed man like they all seemed to. Once returned to 20th-Century Fox he never regained his status as a tape-measure home run hitter. It was no coincidence that Darnell’s career lost steam after her frequent leading man Ty left town, but then by 1944 she had grown into steamy femme fatale roles in film noir pictures like Summer Storm, Hangover Square, and Fallen Angel. I could see this harder-edged Darnell incarnation taking any mere mortal male down a bad road, say me for instance, and so Linda as noir girl was natural. But by 1950 and the age of television, when studios began to cut way back on the number of features produced, there went Darnell.

Ty fared better in the 1950s as he coasted a long way on pre-war momentum. He remained a Fox leading man long after other contract men had been cut loose, but age softened his once-chiseled features and in some of those later pictures like King of the Khyber Rifles I want him to take it easy and not risk some cardiac episode. By the time he hit 40, years of heavy smoking and the lifestyle of a movie star had taken their toll. He died with his boots on making Solomon and Sheba in 1958, felled by a heart attack in the midst of an onscreen duel with another leading man aging badly, George Sanders. The photos of poor Ty semi-conscious on the floor of the movie set are out there if you care to look. For me it’s just too sad. For more on the “serenely competent” Tyrone Power, visit John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows.

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Ty’s last stand in Solomon and Sheba, in the duel scene with George Sanders that would kill him.

Seven years after Power left the world, Darnell followed at age 41 after being caught in a Chicago house fire that caused ultimately fatal burns. (In a small irony, one of Power’s first big hits was In Old Chicago about the big fire there.) By the time of her passing in 1965, Linda had been stripped of her fortune and was taking any acting jobs that came along—from television to dinner theater. For more on the spectacular Darnell, see Sister Celluloid’s compassionate blog post. All I can hope is that in some parallel universe, the beautiful young people of The Mark of Zorro, Don Diego and Lolita, did indeed go on to enjoy many decades in their vineyards, well beyond the raising of “fat children” and with plenty of swordplay—the friendly kind, of course.

13 comments

  1. Robert! BRAVO, BRAVO….You are a saint. I just read this – and it is so ironic, how I have been watching Zorro’s famous book for the past few years, many times a year. This film has always been such an amazing work. My obsession over it has included re-looking again and again, parts of the movie: Zorro dashing across the trees and off on the open wood as he heads towards the mission and Eugene Pallette; Linda Darnell’s beauty; the film’s incredible work of Darryl – and more. With your long and fantastic years of work on Errol Flynn and others, have you ever thought about putting a book up on the history of the 1940 film of Zorro, the film production, the casts, where are they in California? My own family came on my father’s side of California Mexican/Spain world, he lived as a child in Catalina Island, and in Los Angeles for years. My study over Californios history of ranchos, vaqueros, and my own life as ranching in four states, always led me to Zorro, the “The Curse of Capistrano” story behind Zorro, and the whole world behind this. I have a ton of old books on the ranches and Viejos and the life that went on in those eras. YOU would be an incredible author to delve into this, and your own special experience with the stories of Flynn and his lives. Enough gasping on – I will read this wonderful comment you’ve put up this morning again and again, and the photos – and I’m so pleased to find this! Keep up your great work, always!

  2. PS: I’m going to even wet your appetite: the books you should read and own, such as mine from years. The old classic Vaquero himself, Arnold Rojas, and his many famous books. I met him outside of S. California one time before he died: Vaqueros and Buckaroos and These Were the Vaqueros. (It was in 1980’s something right before he died when I met him, talked to him, shook his hand once and have all his books.) Then, grab your copy of Love Stories of Old California by Cora Miranda Baggerly Older. Now a classic with incredible drawings: Dawn and the Dons by Tirey L. Ford. The classic Californios by Jo Mora and his famous art. Men of El Tejon by Earle Crowe. And The California Dons by Edna Deu Press Nelson. You’ll enjoy these memories, trust me…. Oh, if you could wrap into these worlds of Zorro, Tyrone Power and do a book? I’d die for it!

    1. Brenda, I seem to have found my way into your heart of hearts. I can understand your fascination with Zanuck’s version of The Mark of Zorro because it has truly rich Hispanic flavor, not just lip service but a love of the culture of old Los Angeles with a hard G. I will look into the work of Arnold Rojas, which I don’t know at all. He sounds sort of like a Mexican Louis L’Amour, which would be a very good thing.

      Thank you for reading and for all these great suggestions.

      1. Here’s a quick look at the six copies you can grab on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=arnold+rojas
        The run about $25.00 a copy. It was a fluke for us: a local California rancher and writer via Alamar Media, Incorporated in 2013 put copies up (Arnold’s old copies are still found but typically priceless if a person finds an original copy.) Bill Reynolds is an author, I’ve known him for years out of Santa Barbara area. He sent me free copies from my past in writing and drawing. He is another fascinating man you’d love to know more about and who’s connections with famous people would be a great guy to know about, too. FYI his father worked for movie – check into Bill too: http://wcreynolds.com/index.html Enjoy knowing all this “stuff” – you’ll love it.

  3. Parents Tyrone Power Sr. and Helen Riaume were not just Shakespearean actors; they did Broadway and made movies, too! I recently watched Lois Weber’s “Where Are My Children” on TCM, and they were the leads!

  4. Thank you for another fine post, Robert. I’ve always enjoyed this classic film, and like you, I was a bit seduced by the beauty and innate goodness of the two lead actors, Ty and Linda. It’s a wonderful film. Don’t feel odd about being attracted to the teenaged Linda Darnell! As you pointed out, she played older than her real age pretty much from the very beginning of her career and also 17 in those days was a marriageable age. My mom was married at that age, for gosh sakes! It was a different time, people generally had shorter life-spans, and women often married right after high school graduation.

    As for Tyrone Power, he does seem to have been universally liked. The only sour, or perhaps bittersweet, tone I’ve ever come across about him was from his one-time paramour, Lana Turner. In her memoir she wrote about being pregnant with his baby, desperately in love with him, and ultimately he rejected both her and their baby, asking her to get an abortion. It broke her heart, but she did so, knowing he didn’t want their child and knowing that having a child out of wedlock would ruin her career. Of course, this is all told from Lana’s perspective. As far as I know, Tyrone never spoke publicly about it.

    Linda Darnell died a hero, trying to rescue another person, a child if I recall correctly, from the fire that ultimately took Linda’s own life. She was a guest on two episodes of the Martin & Lewis radio show in 1952 and in 1953, which are on You Tube. I love Martin & Lewis, so other than “Zorro” and “Forever Amber” it’s my only other taste of Miss Darnell, a great beauty and talented actress.

    Thank you as always for your thoughtful post. Regards!

    1. You mentioned Forever Amber, Bonnie, which I didn’t in my column. It’s so typical of Fox at this time, big, splashy, expensive, and also a lot of fun. I can only imagine how she felt in the middle of such spectacle, thinking she had finally arrived as a major star. But it wasn’t to be.

  5. I felt that Tyrone Power was an underrated actor, and some of his best work was post WWII — Nightmare Alley, The Razor’s Edge, and in the 50s — The Eddie Duchin Story, Witness for the Prosecution, and Abandon Ship, and even the overlong and somewhat sentimental Ford film, The Long Gray Line. He came from a strong theater background and showed the ability to take risks and grow as an actor. By the way, his death from an early heart attack was not just the “Hollywood lifestyle,” but congenital heart disease, which also killed his father.

    The Mark of Zorro is one of my favorite films, not just for Power and Darnell, but Rathbone’s fencing and especially sardonic villain. Don’t feel guilty about lusting after the young Darnell, about whom James Agee wrote “she is a kind of person I can imagine going on all fours for” (in Fallen Angel or Summer Storm?). On screen, Power and Darnell in Mark of Zorro, like Flynn and DeHavilland in Captain Blood, are two of the most beautiful young people to appear in film — ever.

    1. Yes, Rosemarie–the visuals of these two in this picture are overwhelming. I agree with you about Power the actor of great range as he progressed in his career. As with Jimmy Stewart, I think sights and emotions in the war infused his work with depth that might not have been there otherwise. I also agree about Rathbone in Zorro, an actor who here was both elegant and virile–a worthy foe for our hero, as he had been in Robin Hood.

      1. Speaking of the “virile” Rathbone, Mark of Zorro has such delightful repartee and innuendo about male sexuality, particularly during the dinner scene (how he spears that piece of fruit!). I’m always amazed at how that scene could have escaped the notice of post-code censors.
        While Rathbone’s character assumes he is the “alpha male,” Zorro is constantly undercutting him (a pun here?) in verbal (as Don Diego) as well as physical combat (as Zorro). It’s also a tribute to Power’s confidence as a young male actor that he could play at the “effeminate” role with subversive style and humor.

  6. Robert, I found another great treasure. You’ll find this is a gem! When my copy arrives I will then share it with you here. It’s hard to find, impossibly difficult to even find an old copy of what I founded on Zorro and Tyrone. Anyway, glad to see other people enjoying your latest work.

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