Gene Tierney

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Gene Tierney

Gene Tierney (November 19, 1920November 6, 1991) was an American actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, she is probably best-remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura in the 1940s.


Early years

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

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

She returned to the U.S. in 1938 and attended Farmington School. On a trip to the West Coast, she visited Warner Bros. and was told by Anatole Litvak she should become an actress. Her coming out party as a debutante was September 24, but she soon found she was bored with society life and decided to pursue a career in acting. Warners wanted to sign her to a contract, but her parents advised against it because of the low salary offered.

Broadway & modeling

In her first part on Broadway, she carried a bucket of water across the stage in What a Life (1939). That same year, she appeared in the role as Molly O'Day in the Broadway production Mrs. O'Brien Entertains, and also played Peggy Carr in Ring Two.

Tierney also worked as a photographic model in New York. Photos of her appeared in Life, Harper's Bazaar and Collier's Weekly.

Her wealthy father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her career. Columbia offered her a six-month contract, which she accepted. She met Howard Hughes, who tried unsuccessfully to seduce her. He subsequently remained 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, however, so she returned to New York and starred as Patricia Stanley in The Male Animal (1940) on Broadway.

Motion pictures

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 the starring role as Eleanor Stone in Fritz Lang's Western The Return of Frank James (1940) opposite Henry Fonda. A small role as Barbara Hall in Hudson's Bay followed, released that same year.

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As Victoria Charteris/Poppy Smith in The Shanghai Gesture

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

A supporting role in Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1943 comedy Heaven Can Wait, in which she played the dual role as Martha Strabel and 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 masterful mystery Laura.

After playing Tina Tomasino in A Bell for Adano (1945), she played the jealous hearted femme fatale Ellen Berent Harland, opposite Cornel Wilde, in the film noir Leave Her to Heaven, a performance that won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Tierney starred in the role as Miranda Wells in Dragonwyck (1946). That same year, she played Isabel Bradley opposite Tyrone Power, with John Payne, Anne Baxter, and Clifton Webb, in The Razor's Edge, an adaptation Somerset Maugham's novel. She followed that with her role as Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) opposite Rex Harrison, with George Sanders, Anna Lee, and Natalie Wood.

Marriages, children & affair

Tierney had two husbands, costume and fashion designer Oleg Cassini (married July 11, 1941-divorced February 28, 1952); and Texas oilman W. Howard Lee (married July 11, 1960-his death February 17, 1981).

She and Cassini had two daughters, Antoinette Daria Cassini (born October 15, 1943) and Christine "Tina" Cassini (born November 19, 1948).

Her husband, Cassini, became a second lieutenant in the Army in World War II, and Tierney was accorded the honor of pinning the regulation gold bars on his uniform. While she was pregnant, in June 1943, she came down with German measles, probably contracted during a USO tour. Their baby, Daria, was born prematurely in a hospital in Washington, D.C., weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces. Daria was deaf and partially blind, with cataracts, requiring a total blood transfusion, and was diagnosed as mentally retarded. Tierney's grief over the tragedy eventually led to years of mental illness.

She met John F. Kennedy in the spring of 1946, while making Dragonwyck, and they had an affair. She had domestic arguments with her husband, Cassini, during this time, and a relationship with newly divorced Tyrone Power while making The Razor's Edge led to speculations by the press. The following year, Jack Kennedy told her he could never marry her because of his political ambitions.

Her daughter, Daria, was institutionalized in 1946 to be looked after. Tierney was heartbroken. She fell down some stairs and fractured her anklebone just before filming was to begin on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and the production was held up while she recovered. She then had a reconciliation with Cassini.

Career, affair & mental breakdown

Tierney gave memorable performances in two classic film noirs, Jules Dassin's Night and the City and Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends (both in 1950).

After playing Teresa opposite Rory Calhoun in Way of a Gaucho (1952), which was filmed on location in Argentina, 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 her role as Marya Lamarkina Sutherland opposite Clark Gable in Never Let Me Go (1953). She remained at the studio to play Kay Barlow in Personal Affair, which was released that same year.

While Tierney was in Europe, she began an affair with Prince Aly Khan, but their marriage plans met with fierce opposition from the Aga Khan. She returned to the U.S., where she played Iris Denver in Black Widow (1954), about a woman murderer co-starring Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, George Raft, with Peggy Ann Garner.

While playing the role as 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 see that she was mentally unstable.

Worried about her mental health, she consulted a psychiatrist. She then left Hollywood and was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New York. Later she went to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. After 27 shock treatments, she tried to run away, but was caught and led back.

Tierney was seen by a neighbor in 1957 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 Menningers 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 spotted by a customer and it resulted in sensational newspaper headlines. She then met Howard Lee in Aspen, Colorado.

20th Century Fox offered her a lead role in Holiday for Lovers. However, the stress proved too great. Days into production, she quit and was readmitted to Menningers briefly in 1959.

Later life

Years after the tragedy of her daughter Daria, Tierney learned from a fan who approached her that the woman had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with German measles to meet her during her USO tour in the early 1940s. Tierney said that when the woman recounted the story to her, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She said she did not remember her, but after that second meeting she would remember her for the rest of her life.

In 1960, Tierney sent a telegram of congratulations to Kennedy on his election victory, although she voted for Richard Nixon.

She married oil baron Howard Lee in Aspen in 1960 and moved to Houston. Tierney 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 had a miscarriage.

Her comeback to the screen was in her role as Dolly Harrison in Advise and Consent (1962) co-starring Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Peter Lawford, and Burgess Meredith. A year later she played Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic starring Dean Martin and Geraldine Page.

Tierney played Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers (1964) starring Ann-Margret, Anthony Franciosa, and Carol Lynley, then again retired.

She played Lenore Constable, however, in the television movie Daughter of the Mind (1969) with Don Murray and Ray Milland.

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

Tierney's final show business performance was as Harriet Toppingham in the TV mini-series Scruples (1980) starring Lindsay Wagner.

She died at age 70 of emphysema in Houston. She is interred in Section E-1 of Glenwood Cemetery, Houston, beside her second husband, Howard Lee.

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


External links

fr:Gene Tierney


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