Gene Eliza Tierney (19 November 1920 – 6 November 1991) was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed for her great beauty, she became established as a leading lady.Tierney was best known for her portrayal of the title character in the film Laura (1944), and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).
Gene Eliza Tierney was born on 19 November 1920, in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, the daughter and middle child of Howard Sherwood Tierney and Belle Lavinia Taylor. Her father was a successful insurance broker of Irish descent; her mother was a former physical education instructor.
Tierney was raised in Westport, Connecticut. She published her first poem, entitled "Night", in the school magazine and wrote poetry occasionally throughout her life. Tierney played Jo in a student production of Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.
Tierney spent two years in Europe, attending Brillantmont International School in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she learned to speak fluent French. She returned to the US in 1936 and attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. On a family trip to the West Coast, she visited Warner Bros. studios, where her mother's cousin - Gordon Hollingshead-worked as a producer of historical short films. Director Anatole Litvak, taken by the 17-year-old's beauty, told Tierney that she should become an actress. Warner Bros. wanted to sign her to a contract, but her parents advised against it because of the relatively low salary; they also wanted her to take her position in society.
Tierney's society debut occurred on September 24, 1938, when she was 17 years old. Soon bored with society life, she decided to pursue an acting career. Her father said, "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.
In Tierney's first role 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!"
Tierney's father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her acting career. Columbia Pictures signed her to a six-month contract in 1939. She met Howard Hughes, who tried unsuccessfully to seduce her. Hughes eventually became a lifelong friend.
After a cameraman advised Tierney to lose a little weight, she wrote to Harper's Bazaar magazine for a diet, which she followed for the next 25 years. 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). She was the toast of Broadway before her 20th birthday and was featured in Life. She was also photographed by Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
Tierney signed with 20th Century-Fox, after Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox saw her dancing. 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.
After a few films, Tierney received top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's comedy Heaven Can wait (1943) as Martha Strable Van Cleve which signaled an upward turn in her career.
Tierney married Oleg Cassini, a costume and fashion designer(who later became the official designer for Jackie Kennedy when she became the first lady), on 1 June 1941, with whom she eloped as her parents opposed the marriage. She was 20 years old.
In 1943, she gave birth to a daughter, Daria, who was deaf and mentally disabled, the result of a fan breaking a rubella quarantine and infecting the pregnant Tierney while she volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen.
Tierney's friend Howard Hughes paid for Daria's medical expenses, ensuring the girl received the best care. Tierney never forgot his acts of kindness.
Tierney starred in what became her best-remembered role: the title role in Otto Preminger's film noir Laura (1944), opposite Dana Andrews. Next year she played the jealous, narcissistic femme fatale Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven (1945) for which she won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. This was 20th Century-Fox' most successful film of the 1940s. It was cited by 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.
After that, she starred as Isabel Bradley, opposite Tyrone Power, in The Razor's Edge (1946), an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name. Her performance was critically praised and her wedding dress in the film was designed by her husband Oleg Cassini.
Tierney and Cassini separated October 20, 1946, and entered into a property settlement agreement on November 10.
During their separation, Tierney met John F. Kennedy, a young World War II veteran, who was visiting the set of Dragonwyck in 1946. They began a romance that she ended the following year after Kennedy told her he could never marry her because of his political ambitions. (In 1960, Tierney sent Kennedy a note of congratulations on his victory in the presidential election.)
In 1948, Tierney and Cassini reconciled and their second daughter Christina "Tina" Cassini was born on 19 November, on Tierney’s 28th birthday.
In the course of the 1940s, Tierney reached a pinnacle of fame as a beautiful leading lady, on a par with "fellow sirens Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner". She was "called the most beautiful woman in movie history" and many of her movies in the 1940s became classic films.
1952 is a heavy year for Tierney: Her contract at 20th Century-Fox expired, she was finally divorced from Oleg Cassini, and she met Prince Aly Khan(1911-1960) when filming Personal Affair in Europe.
They were engaged while Khan was going through a divorce from Rita Hayworth(1918-1987). Their marriage plans, however, met with fierce opposition from his father, Aga Khan III.
Her career was also starting to suffer because of her mental illness which by now is more obvious. In 1953, she suffered problems with concentration, which affected her film appearances. 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 became ill. Bogart's sister Frances had suffered from mental illness, so he showed Tierney great sympathy, feeding her lines during the production and encouraging her to seek help.
Tierney 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, intended to alleviate severe depression, Tierney fled the facility, but was caught and returned. She later became an outspoken opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming it had destroyed significant portions of her memory.
In late December 1957, after a supposedly a suicide attempt while she was in her mother's apartment in Manhattan, Tierney's family arranged for her to be admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The following year, after treatment for depression, she was discharged.
That same year, Tierney met Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee, who had been married to actress Hedy Lamarr since 1953.
Later in 1958, 20th Century Fox offered Tierney a lead role in Holiday for Lovers (1959), but the stress upon her proved too great, so only days into production, she dropped out of the film and returned to Menninger for a time.
Gene Tierney married W. Howard Lee on July 11, 1960 in Aspen, Colorado after his difficult divorce from Hedy Lamarr that same year.
They lived quietly in Houston, Texas, and Delray Beach, Florida until his death in 1981.
Despite her self-imposed exile in Texas, Tierney received work offers from Hollywood, prompting her to a comeback.
Affter a few attempts, Tierney suddenly retired in the mid-60s. Her final performance was in the TV miniseries Scruples (1980).
Tierney published her autobiography, Self-Portrait in 1979, in which she candidly discusses her life, career, and mental 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.
Tierney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.
Tierney died of emphysema on 16 November 1991, in Houston, 13 days before her 71st birthday. She is interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
Oleg Cassini and Gene Tierney remained friends until her death. He had bequeathed $500,000 in trust to Daria Cassini and $1,000,000 to Christina Cassini. He died from complications of an aneurysm in Manhasset, New York, in 2006.
Daria Cassini was institutionalized for much of her life and died in 2010, at the age of 66. Her sister Christian died 5 years later, in 2015.
Certain documents of Tierney's film-related material, personal papers, letters, etc., are held in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives, though her papers are closed to the public.