Gene Eliza Tierney (November 19, 1920 – November 6, 1991) was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, Tierney played the title character in the film Laura (1944), and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Ellen Berent Harland 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).
- 2 Career
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Later years
- 5 Death
- 6 Broadway credits
- 7 Filmography
- 8 Quotes
- 9 Cultural references
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Tierney was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Howard Sherwood Tierney and Belle Lavina Taylor. She had an elder 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 physical education instructor.
Tierney attended St. Margaret's School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Unquowa School in Fairfield. Her first poem, entitled "Night", was published in the school magazine, and writingverse became an occasional pastime during the rest of her life. Tierney played Jo in a student production of Little Women. She then spent two years in Europe and attended Brillantmont International 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. studios. There, director Anatole Litvak, taken by the seventeen-year-old’s beauty, told her that she should become an actress. Warner Bros. wanted to sign her to a contract, but her parents advised against it due to the relatively low salary.
Tierney's society debut occurred on September 24, 1938, when she was 17 years old. Bored with society life, she decided to pursue a career in acting. Her father's response was, “If Gene is to be an actress, it should be in the legitimate theatre.” Tierney studied acting at a small Greenwich Village acting studio in New York with Broadway director and actor Benno Schneider. She became a protégée of Broadway producer-director George Abbott.
In Tierney's first part on Broadway, she carried a bucket of water across the stage in What a Life! (1938). A 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 following year, she appeared in the role as Molly O'Day in the Broadway production Mrs. O'Brien Entertains (1939). The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote, "As an Irish maiden fresh from the old country, Gene Tierney in her first stage performance is very pretty and refreshingly modest." That same year, Tierney appeared as Peggy Carr in Ring Two (1939) to favorable reviews. Theater criticRichard Watts, Jr. of the New York Herald Tribune 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's father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her acting career (He later went on to steal all of her money). Columbia Pictures signed her to a six-month contract in 1939. She met Howard Hughes, who tried unsuccessfully to seduce her, and being from a well-to-do family, she was not impressed by Hughes' wealth. He did, however, become a lifelong friend. A cameraman advised Tierney to lose a little weight, saying, “a thinner face is more seductive”. Tierney wrote to Harper's Bazaar for a diet, which she followed for the next twenty-five years. Years later Tierney was quoted as saying, "I love to eat. For all of Hollywood's rewards, I was hungry for most of those twenty-five years." Tierney was offered the lead role in National Velvet but production was delayed. National Velvet would be produced at MGM in 1944.
When Columbia Pictures failed to find Tierney a project, she returned to Broadway and starred as Patricia Stanley to critical and commercial success in The Male Animal (1940). In The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote, "Tierney blazes with animation in the best performance she has yet given". She was the toast of Broadway before her 20th birthday. The Male Animal was a hit, and Tierney was featured in Life magazine. She was photographed by Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and Collier's Weekly.
Two weeks after The Male Animal opened, before the curtain went up one evening, there was a rumor that Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox had flown in from the coast and was in the audience. During the performance, he told an assistant to make a note of Tierney's name. Later that night, Zanuck dropped by the Stork Club, where he saw a young lady on the dance floor. He told his assistant, "Forget the girl from the play. See if you can sign that one." It was Tierney. Zanuck was not easily convinced that the two women were one and the same. Tierney was quoted (after the fact), "I always had several different 'looks', a quality that proved useful in my career."Gene Tierney in the film trailer for Laura(1944)
Hollywood called once again; Tierney signed with 20th Century-Fox. Her motion picture debut was in a supporting role as Eleanor Stone in Fritz Lang's western The Return of Frank James(1940), opposite Henry Fonda. A small role as Barbara Hall followed in Hudson's Bay (1941) with Paul Muni. In 1941, Tierney co-starred as Ellie Mae Lester in John Ford's comedy Tobacco Road, along with the title role in Belle Starr, Zia in Sundown and Victoria Charteris (a.k.a. Poppy Smith) in The Shanghai Gesture. The following year, she played Eve in Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, along with the dual role as Susan Miller (a.k.a. Linda Worthington) in Rouben Mamoulian's screwball comedy film Rings on Her Fingers, Kay Saunders in Thunder Birds and Miss Young in China Girl.
Receiving 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, and her popularity increased. Tierney recalled, during the production of Heaven Can Wait: "Lubitsch was a tyrant on the set, the most demanding of directors. After one scene, which took from noon until five to get, I was almost in tears from listening to Lubitsch shout at me. The next day I sought him out, looked him in the eye, and said, 'Mr. Lubitsch, I'm willing to do my best but I just can't go on working on this picture if you're going to keep shouting at me.' 'I'm paid to shout at you', he bellowed. 'Yes', I said, 'and I'm paid to take it – but not enough.' After a tense pause, Lubitsch broke out laughing. From then on we got along famously."
In 1944, she starred in what became her most famous role: the title role in Otto Preminger's film noir 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 Ben Ames Williams novel Leave Her to Heaven, a performance that won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (1945). Leave Her To Heaven was 20th Century-Fox' most successful film of the 1940s. It was cited by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese as one of his favorite films of all time, and he assessed Tierney as one of the most underrated actresses of the Golden Era.
In 1946, Tierney starred as Miranda Wells in Joseph L. Mankiewicz' debut film as a director in Dragonwyck, along with Walter Huston and Vincent Price. That same year, she starred in another critically praised performance as Isabel Bradley, opposite Tyrone Power, in The Razor's Edge, an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel. She followed that with her role as Lucy Muir in Mankiewicz' The Ghost and Mrs. Muir opposite Rex Harrison (1947). The following year, Tierney co-starred once again with Power, this time 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 José Ferrer (1949). She gave memorable performances in two other films noirs (both in 1950) – Jules Dassin's Night and the City and Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends.
From the trailer for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
In 1951, she was loaned to Paramount Pictures and gave a memorable comic turn as Maggie Carleton in Mitchell Leisen's classic ensemble farce The Mating Season which had elements of screwball comedy with John Lund, Thelma Ritter and Miriam Hopkins. That same year she gave a tender performance as Midge Sheridan in the Warner Bros. film Close to My Heart (1951) with Ray Milland. The film is about a couple trying to adopt a child. Later in her career she would be reunited with Milland in Daughter of the Mind (1969). After appearing opposite Rory Calhoun as Teresa in Way of a Gaucho (1952), her contract at 20th Century-Fox expired. That same year she starred as Dorothy Bradford in Plymouth Adventure, opposite Spencer Tracy atMGM, when she had a brief romance with Tracy. Tierney played Marya Lamarkina, opposite Clark Gable, in Never Let Me Go (1953), filmed in England.
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 Aly Khan, but their marriage plans met with fierce opposition from his father, Aga Khan III. Early in 1953, Tierney returned to the U.S. to co-star in a film noir film as Iris Denver in Black Widow(1954) with Ginger Rogers and Van Heflin.Pin-up photo in World War II magazineBrief
By 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 its toll. She said that "Bogey could tell that I was mentally unstable." (Bogart himself had a sister who suffered from mental illness, to whom he was close.) 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 Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. After some 27 shock treatments Tierney attempted to flee but was caught and returned. She became an outspoken opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming that it had destroyed significant portions of her memory. In 1957, Tierney stepped onto a ledge thirteen stories up and stood there for about fifteen minutes. The police were called and she was admitted to the Menninger Clinic inTopeka, 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 readmitted to Menninger.
Tierney made a screen comeback in Advise and Consent (1962), co-starring with Franchot Tone. A year later, she played Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic, followed by the International production of Las cuatro noches de la luna llena (1963) with Dan Dailey. She received overall critical praise for her performances. Tierney's career turn as a solid character actress seemed to be on track. She played Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers (1964), then again retired. Tierney returned to star in the television movie Daughter of the Mind (1969) with Don Murray and Ray Milland. Her final performance was in the TV miniseries Scruples (1980).
Tierney married twice, first to costume and fashion designer Oleg Cassini on June 1, 1941. She and Cassini had two daughters, Antoinette Daria Cassini (October 15, 1943 – September 11, 2010) and Christina "Tina" Cassini (born November 19, 1948).
In June 1943, while pregnant with Daria, Tierney contracted rubella during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. Daria was born prematurely in Washington, D.C., weighing only three pounds, two ounces (1.42 kg) and requiring a total blood transfusion. Because of Tierney's illness, Daria was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and had severe mental retardation. Some time after Daria's birth, Tierney learned from a fan who approached her for an autograph at a tennis party that the woman (who was then a member of the women's branch of the Marine Corps) had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with rubella to meet Tierney at her only 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 theorize that Agatha Christie used this real-life tragedy as the basis of her plot for The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. 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 and Cassini separated October 20, 1946 and entered into a property settlement agreement November 10, 1946. An uncontested divorce followed in California on March 13, 1947 with the entry of a finalized divorce decree on March 13, 1948. The couple reconciled on August 19, 1948, but did not remarry. During her separation, during the filming of Dragonwyck, she met 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.</ref> Tierney then reconciled with Cassini, but they divorced on February 28, 1952. "Cassini promised in his 1952 divorce from Gene Tierney that he would write a will leaving both of his daughters half of his fortune". Cassini later bequeathed $500,000 in trust to Daria and $1,000,000 to Christina.
In 1960, Tierney sent Kennedy a note of congratulations on his election victory; she later admitted that she had voted for Richard Nixon, saying, "I thought that he would make a better President." In 1958, Tierney met Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee, who was married to Hedy Lamarr from 1953 to 1960. Tierney and Lee married in Aspen, Colorado on July 11, 1960, and lived in Houston, Texas. In 1962, 20th Century Fox announced Tierney would play the lead role inReturn to Peyton Place, but became pregnant and dropped out of the project; she later miscarried.
Tierney's autobiography, Self-Portrait, in which she candidly discussed her life, career and mental illness, was published in 1979. On February 17, 1981, Tierney was widowed when Lee died after a long illness.
In 1986, Tierney was honored alongside actor Gregory Peck with the first Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain. Also for her contribution to the motion picture industry, Tierney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.
Gene Tierney died in 1991 of emphysema in Houston, Texas. She had reportedly started smoking after a screening of her first movie to lower her voice because "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse", and later became a heavy smoker. She is interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas. Tierney was survived by her daughters Daria and Christina. Daria died on September 11, 2010, aged 66, and was interred beside her mother.
Certain documents of Tierney's film-related material, personal papers, letters, etc., are contained in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives, to which scholars, media experts and public from around the world may have full access.
|1938||What A Life!||Original Play, Comedy||Walk on, Water carrier||George Abbott|
|1938||The Primrose Path||Original Play, Drama/Comedy||Understudy||George Abbott|
|1939||Mrs O'Brien Entertains||Original Play, Comedy||Molly O'Day||George Abbott|
|1939||Ring Two||Original Play, Comedy||Peggy Carr||George Abbott|
|1940||The Male Animal||Original Play, Comedy||Patricia Stanley||Herman Shumlin|
|Year||Title||Role||Other cast members||Notes|
|1947||The Sir Charles Mendl Show||Herself||Host: Sir Charles Mendl|
|1953||Toast of the Town||Herself||Host: Ed Sullivan||Episode #6.33|
|1954||26th Academy Awards||Herself||Host: Donald O'Connor, Fredric March||Presenter: Costume Design Awards|
|1957||What's My Line?||Herself||Host: John Charles Daly||Episode: August 25, Mystery guest|
|1960||General Electric Theater||Ellen Galloway||Host: Ronald Reagan||Episode: "Journey to a Wedding"|
|1969||The F.B.I.||Faye Simpson||Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.||Episode: "Conspiracy of Silence"|
|1969||Daughter of the Mind||Lenore Constable||Ray Milland||TV movie|
|1974||The Merv Griffin Show||Herself||Host: Merv Griffin|
|1979||The Merv Griffin Show||Herself||Host: Merv Griffin|
|1980||The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson||Herself||Host: Johnny Carson|
|1980||The Mike Douglas Show||Herself||Host: Mike Douglas|
|1980||Dinah!||Herself||Host: Dinah Shore|
|1980||Scruples||Harriet Toppington||Lindsay Wagner||TV Mini-series|
|1999||Biography||Herself (archive material)||Host: Peter Graves||"Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait", biographical documentary, March 26|
- "Undeniably the most beautiful woman in movie history." - Darryl F. Zanuck, former chief of production and founder of 20th Century-Fox.
- "I want to tell you, Miss Tierney, you gave me one of the most memorable evenings I ever had in the theater in your film Leave Her to Heaven. When I saw the expression on your face in the sequence in which you drowned the boy, I thought, 'That was acting.'" - Noël Coward, actor, playwright, composer.
- "This one is in Technicolor. That means that the audience will also get the force of those Tierney green eyes. Now maybe they'll understand why scriptwriters have me go off the deep end every time I'm in the same picture as her." -Vincent Price, actor.
- "Gene is the luckiest unlucky girl in the world; all of her dreams came true, at a cost." - Oleg Cassini, first husband, fashion designer.
- "I see no reason why Miss Tierney should not have an interesting theatrical career, that is if cinema does not kidnap her away." - Richard Watts, Jr., New York Herald Tribune theater critic on her performance in Ring Two (1939).
- "The woman with the Mona Lisa smile who left us haunting images of her presence on screen forever remembered as 'the face in the misty light.'" - Neil Doyle, film historian.
- "As an Irish maiden fresh from the old country, Gene Tierney in her first stage performance is very pretty and refreshingly modest." - Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times theater critic on her performance in Mrs. O'Brien Entertains(1938).
- "Tierney blazes with animation in the best performance she has yet given." - Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times theater critic on her performance in The Male Animal (1940).
- "Gene, I really believe you have a future, and that's because you are the only girl I know who could survive so many bad pictures." - Joseph Schenck, a top 20th Century-Fox executive.
- "Unlike the stage, I never found it to be helpful to be good in a bad movie."
- "Rehearsals and screening rooms are often unreliable because they cannot provide the chemistry between an audience and what appears on the stage or screen."
- "I had known Cole Porter in New York and Hollywood, spent many a warm hour at his home and met the talented and original people who were drawn to him."
- "Everyone should see Hollywood once, I think, through the eyes of a teenage girl who has just passed a screen test."
- "I loved to eat. For all of Hollywood's rewards, I was hungry for most of those 25 years."
- "Jealousy is, I think, the worst of all faults; it makes a victim of both parties."
- "I do not recall spending long hours in a mirror loving my reflection."
- "Wealth, beauty and fame are transient. When those are gone, little is left except the need to be useful."
- "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse." —after hearing her voice for the first time at a screening of The Return of Frank James.
- "I don't think Howard [Hughes] could love anything that did not have a motor in it."
- "Joe Schenck, a top 20th Century-Fox executive, once said to me that he really believed I had a future, and that was because I was the only girl who could survive so many bad pictures." —quoted in The RKO Girls
- Tierney was ranked number 71 in Premiere Magazine's list of "The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars of All Time". They said, "Tierney, a classic beauty, may at first seem too elegant to be a sex symbol, but her Oscar-nominated performance as the femme fatal in Leave Her to Heaven firmly established her sexy cred. Plus, Tierney owned her look. She didn't let studio executives mess with her hair color or length, and refused to fix a slight overbite, earning extra sexy points for confidence."
- When Grauman's Chinese Theatre resumed cement handprints and footprints after World War II ended in 1945, Tierney was the first actress asked to continue the tradition.
- A famous comedy routine between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis involved Lewis (in boxing shorts and gear) stating that he's fighting Gene Tierney. Martin corrects Lewis and suggests that he must mean Gene Tunney (the heavyweight boxing champion). Lewis then quips, "You fight who you wanna fight, I'm fightin' who I wanna fight; I'm fightin' Gene Tierney."
- Contrary to some published reports, Gene's birth name was never "Jean." Tierney was named after a beloved uncle, who died young as told in her autobiography, Self-Portrait.
- In House Arrest, a third-season episode of M*A*S*H*, Henry Blake remarks to an oblivious Hawkeye Pierce while watching Leave Her to Heaven that "Cornel Wilde just kissed Gene Tierney." When Hawkeye asks, "On the teeth?" and Trapper John MacIntyre tells him "Right smack on," Hawkeye replies, "If he's straightened out that overbite, I'll kill him."
- Tierney was the heroine of a novel, Gene Tierney and the Invisible Wedding Gift, written by Kathryn Heisenfelt, published by Whitman Publishing Company in 1947. While the heroine is identified as a famous actress, the stories are entirely fictitious. The story was probably written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as "Whitman Authorized Editions," 16 books published between 1941 and 1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.
- Tierney negotiated a unique contract with a raise every six months, and she was to be given half a year off—with written notice to the studio—to appear on Broadway.