Gene Tierney

Summary

Gene Eliza Tierney († November 6, 1991 in Houston, Texas) was a US theater and film actress. Tierney was considered one of Hollywood”s most beautiful actresses during the 1940s and early 1950s.

Tierney began her career in 1938 and appeared in over 40 films and occasional television series until her career ended in 1980. Her most famous role was as the title character in the 1944 film noir Laura. For her role in Deadly Sin, another film noir, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1946. In the following years, Gene Tierney was one of Hollywood”s leading actresses. She played mostly serious roles, but also starred in comedies and romance films. In the mid-1950s, her success waned, and due to private setbacks, she increasingly suffered from depression. In 1962, she made a comeback with a supporting role in Storm Over Washington. Until 1980, however, she appeared only sporadically in smaller film roles or in series. Gene Tierney died in 1991 at the age of 70.

Childhood and youth

Gene Tierney was born in Brooklyn in 1920, one of three children – an older brother and a younger sister – to successful insurance salesman Howard Sherwood Tierney and former gym teacher Belle Lavinia Taylor. She was given her first name, Gene, in memory of her uncle, who died of diabetes when she was only 17. Tierney grew up in Westport and attended St. Margaret”s School in Waterbury before transferring to Unquowa School in Fairfield. There she published poetry for the school newspaper, and in a school production of Louisa May Alcott”s novel Little Women she made her first appearance as an actress.

Beginning in 1936, Tierney spent two years at the Brillantmont International School in Lausanne, where she learned French and other subjects. During her time in Lausanne, she became friends with Maria Sieber, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich. In 1938 she returned to the United States and from then on attended Miss Porter”s School in Farmington.

During a family trip to the West Coast of the United States, the then 17-year-old Tierney visited the Warner Brothers film studio, where she attracted the attention of Anatole Litvak. The director recommended her a career as a film actress and suggested her for the leading role in his film The Snake Pit, which, however, was then given to Olivia de Havilland. Warner Brothers immediately offered Tierney a contract, but her parents rejected it because of the low fee.

In September 1938 Gene Tierney was “introduced to society” by her parents as a debutante. She continued to harbor the desire for a career as an actress. Her father finally agreed to this and got her a place at a small acting school in Greenwich Village. Her mentor became the successful theater producer George Abbott.

Marriage with Oleg Cassini, setbacks and psychological problems

Tierney had reportedly taken up smoking to lower her voice after the screening of her first film, Revenge for Jesse James, in 1940. She was of the opinion that ” she sounded like an angry Minnie Mouse.” Over the following years, she became a heavy smoker.

In 1941 Tierney married the fashion designer Oleg Cassini. Two years later, their daughter Antoinette Daria (usually just called Daria) was born, but she was deaf and had a mental disability. Tierney had contracted rubella during her pregnancy. She had probably contracted it from a fan who, despite being ill, removed himself from the ordered quarantine and met Tierney during her charitable service at the Hollywood Canteen. The actress learned about this through another chance meeting with the same fan after the birth of her child. In 1948, she gave birth to another daughter named Christina.

After the breakdown of her marriage in 1952, Tierney suffered increasingly from depression, which threatened her career. For example, from 1953 she suffered from concentration problems, which was a hindrance to filming. In 1955, she had to go to a hospital for treatment.

Shortly after her divorce from Oleg Cassini, she began an affair with Pakistani Prince Aly Khan, who was married to actress Rita Hayworth at the time. The union was ended by the intervention of Khan”s father Aga Khan III. However, the media blamed Tierney”s mental condition for the breakup.

Late years and death

In 1960, she married oil baron W. Howard Lee, who had been married to actress Hedy Lamarr since 1953. The couple lived in seclusion at his Houston estate and in Delray Beach until Lee”s death in 1981.

Gene Tierney rarely appeared in public after retiring to private life. In the years following the publication of her autobiography, published in 1979, she gave a few interviews. Among her last major appearances was the acceptance of the Donostia Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, where she was accompanied by fellow actor Gregory Peck, who was also honored. At that time, she was already suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Gene Tierney died of emphysema after a long illness on November 6, 1991, 13 days before her 71st birthday. She was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has commemorated the actress at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard since 1960.

She was considered a staunch Republican and supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others, in their election campaigns.

Tierney”s older daughter, Antoinette Daria, suffered frequent health problems and required lifelong care. She spent a large part of her life in an institution in New Jersey. Despite her disability, Daria played a small role in the 1999 film Bagnomaria. She died in 2010 at the age of 66. Tierney”s younger daughter Christina died five years later, also at 66.

Theater career

With the help of her mentor George Abbott and her wealthy father, who set up a special corporation to financially support his daughter”s career, Gene Tierney made the leap to Broadway in 1938. Her first appearance was as an extra in the play What a Life! in which she appeared in a single scene as a water carrier. Nevertheless, she caught the eye of critics who praised her beauty. That same year she played a small role in The Primrose Path. Her breakthrough on Broadway came in 1939 with the role of Molly O”Day in Mrs. O”Brien Entertains, through which Tierney attracted attention despite the play”s early cancellation. Her role as Peggy Carr in Ring Two the same year also received positive reviews.

In 1940, after a failed first attempt at a film career, Tierney returned to Broadway with a role in the play The Male Animal. Once again, she received positive response from audiences and critics. Tierney has subsequently appeared in interviews and photo spreads in well-known magazines such as Life Magazine, Harper”s Bazaar, Collier”s and the U.S. edition of Vogue. Especially since her marriage to Oleg Cassini, she was considered a popular model. Among the photographers who photographed her was Claude Cahun.

Film career

Through contacts of her father, Gene Tierney received a six-month contract at Columbia Pictures in 1939. During this time, she also met Howard Hughes, with whom she had a lifelong friendship. Tierney was originally scheduled to take a role in Little Girl, Big Heart. However, production was delayed for several years. Since she did not receive a new offer from Columbia, the actress returned to Broadway for a short time.

Two weeks after the premiere of her play The Male Animal, Tierney was discovered by Darryl F. Zanuck, who was sitting in the audience. After subsequently seeing the young actress on the dance floor of the Stork Club nightclub in Manhattan, he offered her a contract. From then on, Tierney was under contract with the film production company 20th Century Fox, and in the same year played her first film role alongside Henry Fonda as Eleanor Stone in Revenge for Jesse James, which was immediately the female lead. The following year she appeared in no less than five films: In Hudson”s Bay, Tierney embodied the only small role of Barbara Hall. She made a larger appearance as Ellie May Lester in John Ford”s tragicomedy Tobacco Road. This was followed by the title role in Belle Starr alongside Randolph Scott, as well as leading roles as Zia in Gunrunners of Kenya and as Victoria Charteris in Settlement in Shanghai, her first film noir.

Gene Tierney also appeared in several films in 1942: In Adventures in the South Seas, she played Tyrone Power”s film partner as Eve. In the screwball comedy The Great Game she was seen in a double role. In the war film Thunder Birds, Tierney took the female lead, as well as in the drama China Girl alongside George Montgomery.

Tierney reached a peak of her popularity in 1943 with the leading role as Martha Strabel in the Ernst Lubitsch film Ein himmlischer Sünder. Probably her best-known role came in 1944 as the alleged murder victim in Otto Preminger”s Laura. In 1945, Tierney starred in the wartime drama A Bell for Adano, set in Italy. For her role as a femme fatale in the film noir Deadly Sin, also released in 1945, the actress was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 1946 Academy Awards. Deadly Sin developed into one of the biggest box office successes for 20th Century Fox and further expanded Gene Tierney”s status as a Hollywood star.

In 1946, Tierney starred as Miranda Wells in the drama White Oleander alongside Vincent Price and Walter Huston. She had already worked with Price in Laura and Deadly Sin. White Oleander was the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had previously appeared mainly as a screenwriter. In the same year, Tierney also played Tyrone Power”s partner (again) in the drama On a Razor”s Edge, based on the novel of the same name by William Somerset Maugham.

In 1947, Tierney portrayed Lucy Muir, the female lead in A Ghost on Free Feet, a romanticized ghost comedy starring Rex Harrison as the titular ghost. It remained her only film appearance that year. In 1948, Tierney again starred alongside Tyrone Power, this time in the comedy The Certain Something. In 1950, the actress worked again with Laura director Otto Preminger, as the leading lady in the film noir Frau am Abgrund. The same year saw the release of Faustrecht der Großstadt, another film noir by Otto Preminger with Tierney in the female lead. She made her third film noir of 1950 with The Rat of Soho alongside Richard Widmark. Director Jules Dassin had been specially instructed by Darryl F. Zanuck to write a role for Tierney in this film shot in London.

In 1951, Gene Tierney was loaned out by her film studio to Paramount Pictures. There she immediately took on the leading role of Maggie Carleton McNulty in Mitchell Leisen”s farce SOS – Zwei Schwiegermütter. She also made a serious film for Paramount with the drama An der Riviera, also released in 1951.

After returning to 20th Century Fox in 1952, the actress shot the western King of the Gauchos, which, however, was also to be her last film for the studio until 1955. She then appeared in the drama Ship Without a Home with Spencer Tracy for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Another film for MGM followed in 1953 with It Started in Moscow. The drama starred Clark Gable in the role of a newspaper reporter and was filmed in England. Tierney remained in Europe after filming and appeared in United Artists” British drama Her First Disappointment. She returned to the United States in 1954 for The Spider.

In 1955, Tierney had one of her last successes with The Left Hand of God alongside Humphrey Bogart. Her health problems led to a break in her career. Thus, concentration problems in 1955 led to her exclusion from the film Mogambo, Tierney”s role took Grace Kelly instead. For five years she was no longer seen as an actress. Then in 1960 she played a role in an episode of General Electric Theatre.

Two years later, with the help of Otto Preminger, Gene Tierney made a comeback with the drama Storm Over Washington. After a supporting role in the comedy Three Girls in Madrid, however, the actress temporarily withdrew from the film business. After a five-year hiatus, she appeared in a leading role in the 1964 made-for-TV horror thriller Daughter of the Mind. In the same year, Tierney also guest starred in an episode of the crime series FBI, before not accepting another role for eleven years.

Her final appearance as an actress was in 1980 in three episodes of the miniseries Scruples.

Gene Tierney was marketed primarily by her looks and was considered one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood in the 1940s and early 1950s. Thus, Darryl F. Zanuck called her “the most beautiful girl in movie history”.

Gene Tierney”s acting often received a mixed reception from contemporary critics, including for her most famous role in Laura. It was only in the years and decades following the premiere that this image improved and Laura became a classic.

Film director Martin Scorsese counts Gene Tierney among his favorite actors. In a column published in 2015 for Turner Classic Movies, he noted above all the strong connection between Tierney and the director in question, including in the film noir Deadly Sin. Her beauty, he said, acts as “a mask” in her films.

Agatha Christie”s 1962 novel Murder in the Mirror (The Mirror Crack”d from Side to Side) from the Miss Marple series is said to have been inspired by Tierney”s life and in particular the birth of her mentally handicapped child. Although Tierney did not make this public until her 1979 autobiography, the tabloid press reported the incident years earlier, which would have motivated Christie to write the book. Agatha Christie”s managers, however, rejected this claim, saying that there was no known connection between the plot of the book and Gene Tierney.

Listed are Gene Tierney”s appearances at Broadway theaters, with the location of each performance in parentheses.

Sources

  1. Gene Tierney
  2. Gene Tierney
  3. ^ a b Vogel, Michelle (2009). Gene Tierney: A Biography. McFarland. ISBN 978-0786458325. Called the most beautiful woman in movie history, Gene Tierney starred in a number of 1940s classics, including Laura, Leave Her to Heaven and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Self-Portrait. Tierney and Herskowitz (1979). Wyden Books. pp. 1, 9–10, 14, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25–26, 27, 33, 36, 38, 65–66, 91, 97, 101, 119, 131, 133, 141–42, 144, 150–51, 164–65, 192–192, 207. ISBN 0883261529
  5. Michelle Vogel: Gene Tierney: A Biography. McFarland, Jefferson 2010, ISBN 978-0-7864-5832-5, S. 3.
  6. Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite selon la norme API.
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