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T–V Entries
George Takei
Rod Taylor
Marshall Thompson
Kenneth Tobey
Ivan Tors
Thomas Tryon
Sonny Tufts
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
Sir Peter Ustinov
Robert Vaughn
Jules Verne
Gore Vidal
Thea von Harbou
Max von Sydow
 
TRYON, THOMAS
(1926–1991). American actor and writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1956), "Wuthering Heights" (1957), episodes of Matinee Theater; I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Gene FOWLER, Jr. 1958); Moon Pilot (James Nielson 1961); "Nobody Will Ever Know" (1965), episode of Kraft Suspense Theater.

Wrote: The Other (based on his novel) (Robert Mulligan 1972).

Other films based on his works: The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (tv movie) (Leo Penn 1978); Fedora (Billy Wilder 1978).

 
On the basis of his limited contributions to science fiction film as an actor, or on the basis of his limited contributions to the genre as a writer, Thomas Tryon would not appear to warrant inclusion in this volume—yet he draws our attention because of the peculiar duality of his career; as pattern-seeking animals, we wish to discern a cohesive and unified story connecting his two disparate careers. Although biographical information is not exactly abundant, we can employ a few key facts, and our imaginations, to craft a portrait of this elusive and enigmatic figure.

Consider first that Tryon graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Fine Arts, so he was undoubtedly an intelligent fellow. By some reports, he was also a deeply closeted gay man—a reasonable surmise, in any event, about a handsome Hollywood actor who never married. We can begin to understand, then, some of the inner torments he might have felt when he emerged in the 1950s as a popular male ingenue, always having to pretend to be stupid, always having to pretend to be straight. Perhaps an electric thrill ran through his body when he first read the script for I Married a Monster from Outer Space, depicting a blandly agreeable and apparently normal young man who marries a beautiful woman while hiding a terrible secret from her. In the film, of course, the terrible secret was that the man was really a loathsome alien in disguise, but Tryon was bright enough to see the story's relevance to the terrible secret that many young men in the repressed 1950s were actually hiding—a sexual desire that dare not speak its name—and he gave an edgy, unnerving performance as the monster pretending to be, almost wanting to be, but ultimately unable to be a genuine husband to his lovely bride. With a little more polish, and a much more dignified title, I Married a Monster from Outer Space might today be regarded as a science fiction classic, and it certainly qualifies as the high point of Tryon's acting career.

In a lesser science fiction film, the Walt Disney comedy Moon Pilot, Tryon portrayed an astronaut preparing to fly to the Moon who is secretly visited by a seductive alien woman—once again a man with something to hide. Saddled with a lackluster script, and lamentably beset by the company of Tommy Kirk and a chimpanzee, Tryon can nevertheless be observed actually thinking about what he is doing, almost as if he might, through sheer will power alone, transform this dreary travesty into a meaningful statement about the need for men to escape from manipulative women, blustering bureaucrats, and inane drudgery in order to achieve a new sense of freedom and dignity. But it wasn't going to happen in a Walt Disney film.

And so, after the equally unsatisfactory experience of starring in The Cardinal (1963) and a few more years of undistinguished labor, Tryon gave up acting and turned to writing. Although other actors have produced novels, none of them have abandoned their former avocations as firmly as Tryon or garnered as much critical acclaim for their efforts. While his first novel, The Other, had no overt connection to the film world, it introduced what would become Tryon's most evocative theme: the deadening and damaging effects of play-acting, on both the performers and the people around them. Here, a disturbed little boy pretends that his dead twin brother is still alive, using his persona as a cover for his own evil acts, with the story narrated by the boy's older self, living in an asylum. Tryon went on to provide an effective script for the film version, ingeniously withholding the information that the brother is dead and keeping viewers involved in its subdued story.

Tryon followed The Other with an inferior horror novel, Harvest Home, which became without his participation the basis for an inferior horror movie, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home. He then looked back at his former profession in two volumes of interwoven stories, Crowned Heads and All That Glitters, depicting various Hollywood stars stifled and destroyed by their own onscreen and offscreen performances. One story in Crowned Heads inspired the little-seen film Fedora, doomed because director Billy Wilder could not bring the proper ambience of horror to the story of a young woman forced to spend her life pretending to be her own mother, while her mother in turn pretends to be an elderly friend.

Tryon's final years cannot have been happy ones: the man reputed to be his longtime companion died of AIDS in 1987, and while the official cause of Tryon's death in 1991 was cancer, one cannot help suspecting that he had also been ravaged by the disease that killed his friend. The fact that this was not announced is hardly surprising: since Tryon had long ago decided that he did not wish to emulate Rock Hudson, the matinee idol, he surely would have had no desire to emulate Rock Hudson, the internationally celebrated martyr.

Thus, if we are driven to impose a pattern on his last decades, it would be that Tryon, having resolved to stop performing at all costs, yet still unwilling to reveal his true self, felt obliged to make himself invisible; so he declined to write more of the horror stories that had made him popular, rarely granted interviews, and did little to promote or market his later novels, all of which scrupulously steered clear of anything remotely autobiographical. Like an old soldier wishing to fade away after years of private wars, Tryon seemingly craved the obscurity denied to both Hollywood legends and best-selling novelists; perhaps he died desperately longing to be forgotten. But those of us who have observed, in I Married a Monster from Outer Space, one of the most memorable scenes in the history of science fiction film—the moment when a flash of lightning during a storm reveals to his new wife that Tryon is not what he appears to be—may feel compelled to keep examining the strange career of Thomas Tryon, looking for other moments when lightning flashes and we might briefly see the man behind the mask.

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