Vintage Hunk: Tom Tryon

By: Mike McCrann

Tom Tryon was an actor, author, and very sexy gay man who is not well-remembered today. His films are seldom shown and most of his books are out of print, which is a shame, as the former actor's claims to fame should be:

1. Surviving Director Otto Preminger
2. Author of two of the best books ever written about Hollywood.

(Plus Tryon also had a wild affair with gay porn star Casey Donovan!)

Thomas Tryon was born in Connecticut in 1926. After serving in the U.S. Navy Tryon studied acting at the famous New York Neighborhood Playhouse under legendary Sanford Meisner. A small Broadway role led to numerous television appearances including Texas John Slaughter part of Walt Disney Presents. Tryon's first starring film role was in the now cult classic I Married A Monster from Outer Space. Tom played the monster in this hilarious 50's sci-fi film. Tom Tryon seemed poised for stardom when legendary George Cukor chose him to play "Adam" in Marilyn Monroe film Something's Got to Give. Unfortunately the title was prophetic as Marilyn Monroe was fired during the filming and died in August, 1962 before the comedy was to resume filming. The uncompleted film was shelved and when it was remade the following year Chuck Connors had the role. Earlier, Tryon almost landed the John Gavin role in Psycho as well.

In 1963 it looked like the cinema gods were finally ready to give Tom Tryon a break. He was cast by Otto Preminger in the title role of The Cardinal. What happened next was probably what caused Tom Tryon to quit film. Director Preminger was known as a tyrant who tormented actors on his films especially if they were new and defenseless. The abuse Tryon suffered during the making of The Cardinal is legendary.

In his definite book on the career of Otto Preminger, author Chris Fujiwara quotes assistant director Gerry O'Hara: "Preminger literally destroyed Tom Tryon and Tom was a very sweet guy. I don't know why Otto treated him so badly. Maybe he was trying to put a poker up his backside and get a bigger performance." O'Hara further states that Tom Tryon was so defeated by the abuse that he said: "Gerry, I can't do it. I can't take it anymore." Although Tom Tryon was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actor award his reviews were pretty dismal with the New York Times calling him "a callow cliché". Otto Preminger later trashed Tryon further stating: "I do believe that the reason he never really succeeds in the film is a certain weakness of character." To assume that Preminger was homophobic doesn't quite wash as he fought for gay actor Clifton Webb years earlier in the classic Laura. But Webb was an effete middle aged man and Tom Tryon was a sexy hunk with the body of an Adonis. If you can sit through this bloated film watch the scene where the Klan rips off Tryon's shirt and starts beating him!

Tom Tryon survived The Cardinal only to be cast again by Otto Preminger in the World War II epic In Harm's Way. This film was far superior, but once again demon Otto went after Tyron. Kirk Douglas was quoted: "He was cruel to Tom Tryon. Just unendingly cruel." Tryon was very good in this film and his scenes with Paula Prentiss (playing his wife) were excellent and there is an extended shirtless scene that shows Tom in all his sexy hairy splendor.

Tom Tyron finally quit films and became an author. He had amazing success with his first book, The Other, which was a huge success critically and financially. He followed this with Crowned Heads, a fabulous collection of novellas about Hollywood. The best of them was Fedora which legendary director Billy Wilder made into a cult film in the 70's. Tryon's Harvest Home became a TV mini-series with Bette Davis and All That Glitters was a mammoth Hollywood tale that almost equals the work of Gavin Lambert (Inside Daisy Clover).

Although Tom Tryon had a brief early marriage he was pretty well-known as a homosexual. He had a relationship with one of the A Chorus Line cast members and notoriously was linked to porn star Casey Donovan. Tom Tryon died in 1991 of cancer. He was only 65 years old.

If you want to see Tryon at his best sit through Terrible Otto's two epics: The Cardinal and In Harm's Way. He was fine in both films and his imposing physique makes it obvious why she married The Monster from Outer Space.