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Changing Times

42nd Street and 7th Avenue. 7:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011. Cooler temperatures with some rain, sometimes steady; sweet relief.

Yesterday the city was quiet for the first of the week. People were emerging from their air conditioned lairs but only tentatively. Others who were out of town stayed out of town.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street. 11:30 AM.
Linda Christian, an actress and one time wife of actor Tyrone Power, died on Friday at the age of 87. Linda became world famous in 1949 when she married Tyrone Power then one of Hollywood’s biggest box office stars right up there with Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire.

Power had been married before to another foreign-born actress Annabella although they had been separated for some time by the late '40s. In 1947 he made a film – shot mainly in Mexico – “Captain from Castile” with Jean Peters (later married to Howard Hughes) and Cesar Romero. Known in his circle to be bisexual, Power began an affair with Romero during the filming.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
Linda Christian being fitted for her wedding gown, a gift from Madame Fontana, photographed by Jean Howard. Rome 1949. Private Collection.
He was also having an affair at the time with Lana Turner – also a major box office star at MGM – who later recalled him as the “love of (her) life.” After cinematography of “Castile” was completed, Power and Romero went off on a “publicity tour” of South America and then around the world together. This caused much talk among insiders in Hollywood and international society although none of it would ever see print because of the journalistic rules of the day.

The lovers trip, however, was interrupted by the beautiful Dutch/Mexican actress Linda Christian, The couple married less than a year later in Rome. Aside from the marriage of HRH Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mount batten, later duke of Edinburgh, the Christian–Power wedding, was in the words of photographer Jean Howard who covered the event for LOOK Magazine, “the international social event of its time.”

Jean later wrote: “Linda had been in a few small movie parts, and had done some modeling but she was no “name” in Hollywood. Her looks were all: five feet five, measuring 36-24-36, with tawny red hair. Somebody in Hollywood had dubbed her the Anatomic Bomb.”
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
From a dinner party given in 1948 by Elsa Maxwell at a farmhouse in Caribbean, above Cannes. Back to camera: Jack Warner (Warner Brothers). Far left: Linda Christian, Tyrone Power, Elsa Maxwell, The Duke of Windsor, socialite Dolly O'Brien, Clark Gable. Also at the table: Virginia (Mrs. Darryl) Zanuck, David Milford-Haven, the Duchess of Windsor, and Darryl Zanuck. Photo by Jean Howard.
Dutch on her father’s side, Mexican on her mother’s, she grew up all over the world (father was a petroleum engineer) and was fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian and English. A journalist described her as “a little like a wild mountain lion up a tree. Her bright green eyes are far apart and when she smiles she looks as though she’d bite.”

She also had a reputation (and most complimentary) for being very good in bed. It was said that it was her sexuality that lured Tyrone Power back over to her side of the fence. His main problem, as a friend of mine who knew him once told me, was that “everybody was in love with Tyrone Power and he was so nice he tried to accommodate them all.”

For the wedding Linda -- again according to Jean Howard’s account -- ordered a trousseau and wedding gown from the Italian designer Fontana, including “two dozen outfits plus a dozen ski things and five fur coats for the Austrian honeymoon.

Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
Mr and Mrs. Tyrone Power at a Sunday lunch at the Santa Monica beachhouse of director Anatole (Tola) Litvak, circa 1951. Photo by Jean Howard.
After the wedding ceremony (which Linda was forty-five minutes late for), the couple, surrounded by thousands of Roman fans, made their way by car for a 15 minute audience with Pope Pius XII during which the Pope gave Linda (a devout Roman Catholic) a handbook on raising a family. The couple soon after had two daughters.

Marriage did not alter the carnal knowledge and activity of the glamorous couple, however. In the early 1950s, a well known American designer, a friend of both, took them out to dinner here in New York at Le Pavillon. After dinner, the couple asked their host back to their hotel for a nightcap. One thing led to another and in short time, the three were in bed together. The designer recalled the evening many years later for a couple of reasons: the couple were two of the most beautiful people in the world and, Linda was so good in bed, “she was much better than her husband.”

The Powers were divorced after the birth of their two daughters. Linda claimed her husband had many extra-marital affairs. No one questioned the veracity of her claim because Power was known to be a very active and diverse in his associations.

I knew Linda Christian when I lived in Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, having met her through our mutual friend Lady Sarah Churchill who often invited her to dinner. By then she was remembered not as the ex-Mrs. Tyrone Power, but as the last lover of Count Alphonso de Portago, a very rich Spanish nobleman and racecar driver who was married to Carroll McDaniel (later Petrie) whom he married the same year of the Power wedding.

Linda was in her late 50s at the time and still a beauty and still a woman with great, and outgoing allure. She was also a very nice woman, great company, and as many would always recall of her, “a lot of fun.”

Today’s Telegraph of London has one of their great obituaries of this legend in her own time, now forgotten:

In 1954 Linda Christian, whose curvaceous figure earned her the nickname "the anatomic bomb", starred opposite Barry Nelson as Valerie Mathis, James Bond's love interest in a television adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale, screened as an episode of the American CBS series Climax. It was, however, Ursula Andress, Sean Connery's co-star in the first big-screen Bond film, Dr No (1962), who became known as the "first" Bond girl. Linda Christian, though, could claim that she was the only Bond girl whose affair with 007 remained unconsummated.

Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
the 29-year-old racecar driver, Spanish Count Alphonso de Portago.
The famous photo of Linda giving him the "kiss of death" before he crashed his Ferrari killing himself in the Mille Miglia and ten spectators in 1957.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
de Portago's wrecked Ferrari.
At the time she appeared in Casino Royale, Linda Christian was probably most famous as the bride in the "wedding of the century" to Tyrone Power, the star of countless swashbuckling epics. The ceremony took place on January 27 1949 at the Church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome, followed by a reception at the Odescalchi Castle, Bracciano. Italian film historians claim that the wedding marked the beginning of the golden age of Italian film as it had inspired MGM's decision to shoot the blockbuster Quo Vadis at Rome's Cinecitta.

In a ceremony that was somehow symbolic of the marriage, more than 1,000 Italian riot police had to be drafted in to hold back the crowd of screaming "tifosi" (the Italian equivalent of bobby-soxers), who nevertheless broke through the barriers as Linda Christian, resplendent in white satin with an eight-yard-long train, arrived 22 minutes late.

Power, who turned up to the church on time, had told friends that he hoped the wedding wouldn't turn into a "hassle". He was to be sorely disappointed. When his bride had not arrived after 15 minutes, he delegated an aide to phone her to instruct her to come at once. Then, as the couple left for a special audience with the Pope, the crowd broke through again and halted their car.

Power had been allowed to get married in church because the Vatican had never recognised his earlier (civil) marriage to the French star Annabella. But the same could not be said of Hollywood County Clerk WG Sharp, who claimed that since Annabella had not had a final divorce decree entered in California, Power had technically committed bigamy. Later, a press agent for 20th Century Fox, to which Power was under contract, claimed that his marriage to Linda had been perfectly legal as the time difference between Rome and California meant that the divorce had come through in time.

During their 15-minute audience at the Vatican, the Pope presented the second Mrs Power with a rosary and a booklet on "instructions about the good Christian family". But by the time the first of their two daughters was born in 1951 the marriage was on the rocks.

In her memoirs, published in 1962, Linda Christian blamed her husband's extramarital affairs, though she acknowledged that she herself had had an affair with the British actor Edmund Purdom. In 1955 she filed for divorce, citing her husband's "mental cruelty".

The daughter of a Dutch oil executive and his Mexican-born wife, she was born Blanca Rosa Henrietta Stella Welter Vorhauer at Tampico, Mexico, on November 13 1923. As a child she travelled the world with her parents, becoming fluent in several languages.

Edmund Purdom and Linda in the early 1960s.
A fortuitous meeting with Errol Flynn during her teenage years led her to seek a career in Hollywood, where she was spotted by a talent scout at a fashion show and signed to a seven-year contract with MGM. She made her film debut alongside Danny Kaye in the musical comedy Up In Arms (1944), and played Mara in Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), the last Tarzan film starring Johnny Weissmuller.

In 1954, as well as her role in Casino Royale, Linda Christian co-starred with Edmund Purdom in Athena. Despite the fact that Purdom's wife Anita was a childhood friend of hers, they began an affair and, following her divorce from Tyrone Power, she announced their intention to get married. The fact that they did not tie the knot until 1963 and that the marriage lasted little more than a year was hardly surprising, given Linda Christian's adventures in the intervening eight years.

In 1956 Purdom was reported to be looking for her after she had decamped to St Moritz, allegedly to find a millionaire to keep her in the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. The following year she was photographed kissing the Spanish racing driver Alfonso de Portago (who was married at the time) before the start of the 1957 Mille Miglia in which he crashed his Ferrari, killing himself and at least 10 spectators. The photograph was published under the headline "The Kiss of Death". Later the same year she embarked on a round-the-world trip with the Brazilian mining millionaire Francisco "Baby" Pignatari.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
Brazilian millionaire Francisco "Baby" Pignatari. Fame bullfighter Luis Dominguin.
After her divorce from Power, Linda Christian's acting career was somewhat desultory. In 1963 she appeared in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film The VIPs, and in America she had small roles on television in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Dick Powell Theatre. She also made several films in Italy.

After her divorce from Purdom, she took up with the bullfighter Luis Dominguin, her co-star in Francesco Rosi's Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth, 1965). Subsequently it was reported that her pet chihuahua, in a fit of jealousy, jumped to his death from her penthouse flat in Rome.

Linda Christian is survived by her two daughters with Tyrone Power, of whom the eldest went on to become one half of the singing duo Al Bano & Romina Power, described as "the Sonny and Cher of Italy".
 

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