Just the other day, I was filling a prescription in Quality Drugs and was introduced to a man named Mike Powers. I mentioned to him that the surname “Power” was known here, and he said that Powers or Power, they were all related, which then led to my telling him about Tyrone Power and the Tunica connection.
For those of you too young to remember, Tyrone Power was THE leading actor of his day. He starred in dozens of films, such as The Mark of Zorro, Captains of Castile and The Sun Also Rises and on the stage from the 1930s to the 1950s. In 1939 he was the number two box office draw, second only to Mickey Rooney.
I happen to share a birth date with the famous screen idol – May 5 – and when he met and later married the daughter of our neighbor two houses down, he and I shared the private joke, even though he was 44 years old in 1958 and I was 5.
Tunica must have been abuzz when Power began visiting our little Mississippi town sometime after he met Deborah Ann Montgomery Minardos in the late 1950s.
Debbie (or Jean, as we knew her) was the daughter of Freddie Hungerford and the stepdaughter of Buddy Hungerford. The couple were friends of my parents and lived in the white brick house on Garland Street, now owned by Charley and Kristi Knabb.
Both Tyrone and my dad were Marines during World War II and were stationed together at Quantico, VA, but I don’t think they knew each other then.
I would go to the Hungerfords with my parents when Tyrone and Debbie (Jean) were here. Now I only vaguely remember him, other than that I know he was very handsome and always smiled and laughed at me.
I remember once Tyrone wanted to greet me with a kiss on the cheek, but I didn’t like the bristly beard he had grown for an acting role.
He and Debbie married in the chapel of the Presbyterian Church on May 7, 1958, with just family and a pair of witnesses in attendance for the actual ceremony, but Buddy and Freddie hosted friends for a small reception afterward. Although I don’t recall the event, I must have been there, based on home movies my folks made, with me and Freddie’s daughter Cheryl mugging for the camera and making nuisances of ourselves.
It’s remarkable that Freddie, Debbie and Cheryl look so strikingly similar. Just a month or so ago, Cheryl was in town and stopped at the office to see me. She and I laughed when I said she looks just like I remember Freddie…high cheekbones, flawless olive skin and the blackest hair, now tinged with gray. Cheryl is still so beautiful!
I don’t remember when Tyrone died of a sudden heart attack in Spain mere months after that happy event of spring 1958, although his death and the birth of his son the following January were a part of family lore ever after.
A few years ago, I donated a copy of “The Wedding” home movie to the Tunica Museum, along with a program from a stage show Tyrone starred in that played in Memphis in 1958. Cheryl graciously gave us a copy of some of her own home movies starring Tyrone, and those are also available for viewing at the museum.
Of course, now you can Google Tyrone Power, Debbie Minardos and their son Tyrone Power IV and read their biographies and see photographs of these three “beautiful people.”
For me, though, the mind’s eye and memories of that simpler time and place are enough.