By: Megan McGurk
Tyrone Power’s beauty invites discussion. Unlike other uncommonly handsome men in Hollywood who seemed uneasy with nature’s gift, Power wore his good looks with the elegance of a bespoke suit. He always had a relaxed fit with women onscreen. Robert Taylor, on the other hand, was profligate with his handsome face, which he treated like a burden he couldn’t wait to outgrow (and he did—just look at him in the late 1950s where he looks like a dissolute husk of his glory days). Somehow it de-sexed Taylor, left him unmoored, made him feel effeminate and open to questions about his masculinity. Taylor had to butch it up at every turn in manly outdoor pursuit. He hid behind his looks in a smirking remove from leading ladies, and rarely sent up his screen image or displayed any degree of humour about his screen idol status, unless you count the brief scene in Her Cardboard Lover (1942), when he slips into Norma Shearer’s silk pyjamas, something he probably only did because Cary Grant had pulled it off in Bringing Up Baby (1938), without accusations of weakened manhood.
For actors such as Taylor, or Errol Flynn, a louche charmer in the 1930s, yet whom Olivia de Havilland failed to recognise two decades later for a dead-eyed vampire he had become, beauty was the province of muliebrity, not a trait for red-blooded he-men. Their beauty caused concern, it jarred the macho template Hollywood stamped on celluloid with stars like brawny Clark Gable or rangy Gary Cooper. Only perhaps Douglas Fairbanks, Jr compares as another male screen idol from the 1930s who wore beauty like an accessory rather than reluctant iron shackles worn to meet their doom. (I’m not including Archie Leach here because he grew more handsome with age. In the 1930s, he was good looking but not on par with Power, Taylor, Fairbanks or Flynn. And Charles Boyer stands in a class by himself).