Gene Tierney

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Gene Tierney
Birth name Gene Eliza Tierney
Born Nov 19, 1920
Brooklyn, New York, USA Flag of USA.png
Died Nov 6, 1991 - age 70
Houston, Texas, USA Flag of USA.png
Spouse(s) Oleg Cassini (1941-1952; div.)
W. Howard Lee (1960-1981; desc.)

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Tierney (November 19, 1920 – November 6, 1991) was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the most beautiful women of the twentieth century, she is probably best-remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura (1944) and her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Other notable roles include Martha Strable Van Cleve in Heaven Can Wait (1943), Isabel Bradley Maturin in The Razor's Edge (1946), Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Ann Sutton in Whirlpool (1949), Maggie Carleton McNulty in The Mating Season (1951) and Anne Scott in The Left Hand of God (1955).


Early life

She was born Gene Eliza Tierney in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Howard Sherwood Tierney and Belle Lavina Taylor. She had an older brother, Howard Sherwood "Butch" Tierney, Jr., and a younger sister, Patricia "Pat" Tierney. Her father was a prosperous insurance broker of Irish descent, her mother a former gym teacher.

Tierney attended St. Margaret School, Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Unquowa School in Bridgeport. Her first poem, titled "Night", was published in the school magazine, and writing verse became an occasional pastime during the rest of her life. She then spent two years in Europe and attended the Brillantmont finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she learned to speak fluent French.

She returned to the U.S. in 1938 and attended Miss Porter's School. On a trip to the West Coast, she visited Warner Bros. and was told by Anatole Litvak - who was so taken by her beauty - that she should become an actress. Warners wanted to sign her to a contract, but her parents advised against it because of the low salary. Her coming-out party as a debutante was September 24, when she was seventeen, but she soon became bored with society life and decided to pursue a career in acting. Her father felt if Gene was to be an actress, it should be in the legitimate theater. Tierney auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and was accepted. Other notable talents of the era who studied there include Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Grace Kelly and Lauren Bacall.



In her first part on Broadway, she carried a bucket of water across the stage in What a Life! (1938). The Variety Magazine critic declared, "Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I've ever seen!" At the same time, she was an understudy for The Primrose Path (1938). The next year, she appeared in the role as Molly O'Day in the Broadway production Mrs. O'Brien Entertains (1939), and was praised by Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times "Miss Tierney's acting is natural and refreshing". That same year, Gene appeared as Peggy Carr in Ring Two (1939), to favorable reviews. Theater critic Richard Watts wrote, "I see no reason why Miss Tierney should not have an interesting theatrical career, that is if cinema does not kidnap her away."

Tierney also worked as a photographic model in between her appearances on the stage. Photos of her appeared in Life, Harper's Bazaar, and Collier's Weekly.

Her father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her acting career (he went on to steal all of her money), and Columbia signed her to a six-month contract in 1939. She also met Howard Hughes, who tried unsuccessfully to seduce her, but she was from a well-to-do family and was not impressed by his wealth. However, he became a lifelong friend. A cameraman advised her to lose a little weight, saying "a thinner face is more seductive." She then wrote to Harper's Bazaar for a slimming diet, which she followed for the next twenty years.

The studio failed to find her a project, so she returned to New York and starred as Patricia Stanley to critical and commercial success in The Male Animal (1940). She was the toast of Broadway before her twentieth birthday.

Film career

Hollywood called once again. Tierney was offered the lead in MGM's National Velvet, but when the production was delayed, she signed with 20th Century Fox. Her motion picture debut was in a co-starring role as Elenore Stone in Fritz Lang's western The Return of Frank James (1940) opposite Henry Fonda. A small role as Barbra Hall followed in Hudson's Bay (1941) with Paul Muni.

1941 was a busy year for the actress, as she co-starred as Ellie Mae Lester in John Ford's drama Tobacco Road, the title role in Belle Starr, Zia in Sundown, Victoria Charteris aka Poppy Smith in The Shanghai Gesture. In 1942, she played Eve in Son of Fury'", the dual role as Susan Miller aka Linda Worthington in the screwball comedy Rings on Her Fingers, Kay Saunders in Thunder Birds, and Miss Young in China Girl.

Top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1943 comedy Heaven Can Wait as Martha Strable Van Cleve signaled an upward turn in Tierney's career as her popularity increased. In 1944, she starred in what became her most famous role, as the intended murder victim, Laura Hunt, in Otto Preminger's mystery Laura opposite Dana Andrews. After playing Tina Tomasino in A Bell for Adano (1945), she played the jealous, narcissistic femme fatale Ellen Berent Harland, opposite Cornel Wilde, in the film version of the best-selling book Leave Her to Heaven — a performance that won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (1945). Leave Her To Heaven was Fox's most successful film of the 1940s.

Tierney starred as Miranda Wells in Dragonwyck (1946). That same year, she played Isabel Bradley opposite Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge, an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel. She followed that with her role as Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) opposite Rex Harrison. The following year, Tierney co-starred once again with Power as Sara Farley in the successful screwball comedy That Wonderful Urge (1948). As the decade came to a close, Tierney reunited with Laura director Preminger to star as Ann Sutton in the classic film noir Whirlpool, co-starring Richard Conte and Jose Ferrer (1949).

Tierney gave memorable performances in two classic film noirs, Jules Dassin's Night and the City as Mary Bristol co-starring Richard Widmark and Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends as Morgan Taylor with her Laura co-star Dana Andrews (both in 1950).

In 1951, she was loaned out to Paramount Pictures and gave a memorable comic turn as Maggie Carleton in Mitchell Leisen's classic screwball comedy The Mating Season with John Lund, Thelma Ritter and Miriam Hopkins. This was also the year Tierney gave a tender performance as Midge Sheridan opposite Ray Milland in Close to my Heart (1951) (Warner Bros.). The film is about a couple trying to adopt. Gene felt this was her best role in a half dozen years, as it touched the chords of her own experience. The film addressed the issue of "nature vs nurture" and opened an early conversation about the adoption process. Later in her career, she would be reunited with Milland in Daughter of the Mind (1969), which has a cult following.

After appearing opposite Rory Calhoun as Teresa in Way of The Gaucho (1952), her contract at 20th Century Fox expired. That same year, she starred as Dorothy Bradford in Plymouth Adventure opposite Spencer Tracy at MGM, which was followed by Never Let Me Go (1953) as Marya Lamarkina opposite Clark Gable which was filmed in England. Gene found Gable patient and considerate, but lonely and vulnerable, still mourning the death of Carole Lombard. She remained in Europe to play Kay Barlow in United Artists Personal Affair (1953), which was released that same year. While Tierney was in Europe, she began a romance with Prince Ali Khan, but their marriage plans met with fierce opposition from his father, the Aga Khan. Early 1953 She returned to the U.S to co-star in a murder mystery as Iris Denver in Black Widow (1954) with Ginger Rogers.

During 1953, Tierney's mental health problems were becoming harder for her to hide; she dropped out of Mogambo and was replaced by Grace Kelly. While playing Anne Scott in The Left Hand of God (1955) opposite Humphrey Bogart, Tierney's long string of personal troubles finally took their toll. She said that "Bogey could tell that I was mentally unstable." During the production, he fed Tierney her lines, and encouraged her to seek help. Worried about her mental health, she consulted a psychiatrist, and was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New York. Later, she went to the The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. After some 27 shock treatments, she attempted to flee, but was caught and re-institutionalized. She became an outspoken opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming that it had destroyed significant portions of her memory.

In 1957, Tierney was seen by a neighbor as she was about to jump from a ledge. The police were called, and she was admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas on December 25. She was released from Menninger the following year, after a treatment that included, in its final stages, working as a sales girl in a large department store (where she was recognized by a customer, resulting in sensational newspaper headlines).

Later that year 20th Century Fox offered her a lead role in Holiday for Lovers (1957), but the stress proved too great. Days into production, she was forced to drop out of the film and was readmitted to Menninger.


Tierney made a screen comeback in Advise and Consent (1962), co-starring Franchot Tone. A year later she played Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic, starring Dean Martin and Geraldine Page. She received overall critical praise for her performances. Tierney played Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers (1964), starring Ann-Margret, Anthony Franciosa, and Carol Lynley, then again retired.

However, she starred in the television movie Daughter of the Mind (1969), with Don Murray and Ray Milland. Tierney's final performance was in the TV mini-series Scruples (1980), starring Lindsay Wagner.

Personal life

Tierney married twice, first to costume and fashion designer Oleg Cassini on July 11, 1941. She and Cassini had two daughters, Antoinette Daria Cassini (born October 15, 1943) and Christina "Tina" Cassini (born November 19, 1948).

In June 1943, while pregnant with her first daughter, she contracted German measles during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. Daria was born prematurely in Washington, D.C., weighing only 3 pounds, 2 ounces and requiring a total blood transfusion. Because of Tierney's illness, Daria was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and had severe mental retardation. Tierney's grief over the tragedy led to many years of depression and may have begun her bi-polar disorder. Some time after the tragedy surrounding her daughter Daria's birth, Tierney learned from a fan who approached her for an autograph that the woman, then a member of the women's branch of the Marine Corps, had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with German measles to meet Tierney, at her Hollywood Canteen appearance.

In her autobiography, Tierney related that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote, "After that I didn't care whether ever again I was anyone's favorite actress." Biographers have theorized and speculated that Agatha Christie used this real life tragedy as the basis of her plot for The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information is imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in the story. Tierney's tragedy had been well publicized for years previously. During this time, Howard Hughes, an old friend, saw to it that Daria received the best medical care available, paying for all of her medical expenses. Tierney never forgot Hughes' acts of kindness.

Tierney separated from Cassini, challenged by the marital stress of Daria's condition, but they later reconciled and had a second daughter, Tina. During her separation, Tierney had two romances. The first was with Tyrone Power, her co-star in The Razor's Edge. That came to an end in the spring of 1946. During the filming of Dragonwyck, she met a young John F. Kennedy who was visiting the set. They began a romance that ended the following year, when Kennedy told her he could never marry her because of his political ambitions. Tierney then reconciled with Cassini, but they were divorced on February 28, 1952. In 1960, Tierney sent Kennedy a note of congratulations on his election victory although she later admitted that she voted for Richard Nixon because she thought that he would make a better president.

In 1958, she met Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee, who was married to Hedy Lamarr from 1953 to 1960. Tierney and Lee were married in Aspen on July 11, 1960 and lived in Houston. She loved life in Texas with Lee and became an expert bridge player. In 1962, 20th Century Fox announced she would play the lead role in Return to Peyton Place, but she became pregnant and dropped out of the project. She later miscarried.

Her autobiography, Self-Portrait, in which she candidly discussed her life, career and mental illness, was published in 1979.

On February 17, 1981, she was widowed when Lee died after a long illness. Tierney died in 1991 shortly before her 71st birthday, of emphysema in Houston, Texas. She had started smoking after a screening of her first movie to lower her voice because "I sounded like an angry Minnie Mouse." She became a heavy smoker, which may have contributed to her death. She is interred beside Lee, in the Glenwood Cemetery.

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.

Pin-up Gallery



Gene Tierney at the Internet Movie Database


External links


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