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Gene Tierney – MovieActors.com


About Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991)

Gene Tierney was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Howard Sherwood Tierney and Belle Lavina Taylor. She was named after a beloved uncle, who had died young. She had an older brother, Howard Sherwood “Butch" Tierney, Jr., and a younger sister, Patricia “Pat" Tierney. Their father was a successful insurance broker of Irish descent, their mother a one-time physical education instructor.

Tierney attended St. Margaret's School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Unquowa School in Fairfield. She published her first poem, entitled "Night", in the school magazine and wrote poetry sporadically throughout her life. Her first known acting role came in a student production of Little Women in which she played the role of Jo.

Tierney spent two years in Europe, attending Brillantmont International School in Switzerland and learned to speak French fluently. She returned to the U.S. in 1938 and attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. On a family trip to the West Coast, she visited Warner Brothers studios, where a cousin worked as a producer of historical short films. Director Anatole Litvak, taken by the 17-year-old’s beauty, told her she should become an actress. She was offered a contract by Warner Brothers, but her parents advised against it because of the low salary; they also wanted her to aspire to a higher social position.

The society life her parents were grooming her for bored Tierney, and she decided on an acting career. Her father said, "If Gene is to be an actress, it should be in the legitimate theatre." Tierney studied acting in New York with Broadway director and actor Benno Schneider, and became a protégée of Broadway producer-director George Abbott.

Her first role on Broadway came in What a Life! (1938) and required only that she carry a bucket of water across the stage. A Variety magazine critic noticed her and wrote, "Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I've ever seen!" She also worked as an understudy in The Primrose Path (1938).

The following year brought her more work, and critics took notice. She appeared in the role of Molly O'Day in the Broadway production Mrs. O'Brien Entertains (1939), and 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, appearing as Peggy Carr in Ring Two (1939), Tierney again drew favorable reviews. New York Herald Tribune critic Richard Watts, Jr. wrote, "I see no reason why Miss Tierney should not have an interesting theatrical career – that is, if cinema does not kidnap her away."

Her father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to bankroll and promote Gene's acting career. In 1939 she was signed to a six-month contract by Columbia Pictures, and also met Howard Hughes, who tried to seduce her. She rebuffed him. Because she came from a well-to-do family, his wealth did not impress her. She and Hughes eventually became lifelong friends.

Tierney reportedly started smoking after a screening of her first movie to lower her voice, because she felt, "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse." She subsequently became a heavy smoker. After a cameraman advised her to lose weight, she asked for dieting advice from Harper's Bazaar magazine, then followed it for the next 25 years.

Tierney was offered the lead role in National Velvet, but the production was delayed. Columbia failed to find her a project, so she returned to Broadway and starred as Patricia Stanley to critical and commercial success in The Male Animal (1940). She was a Broadway phenomenon before she'd turned 20.

The head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, was alleged to have been in the audience at the premier of The Male Animal. During the show, he told an assistant to make note of Tierney. Later that night, Zanuck stopped by the Stork Club, where he saw a dazzling young lady on the dance floor. "Forget the girl from the play." he told his assistant. "See if you can sign that one." But the two women he'd seen were one and the same. Gene Tierney. "I always had several different 'looks'," she remarked later. "A quality that proved useful in my career."

Tierney signed with 20th Century-Fox and her motion picture debut came in a supporting role as Eleanor Stone in Fritz Lang's western The Return of Frank James (1940), with Henry Fonda.

A small role followed in Hudson's Bay (1941) with Paul Muni, and then another one in John Ford's comedy Tobacco Road (also 1941). She played the title role in Belle Starr, Zia in Sundown, and Victoria Charteris (Poppy Smith) in The Shanghai Gesture. She played Eve in Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942), as well as the dual Susan Miller/Linda Worthington role in Rouben Mamoulian's screwball comedy Rings on Her Fingers, as well as roles in Thunder Birds, and China Girl (also 1942).

Her top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's comedy Heaven Can Wait (1943), marked a further upward turn in Tierney's career. The production was a stressful one for Tierney:

"Lubitsch was a tyrant on the set," she remembered. "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."

Tierney then starred in what became her best remembered role: the title role in Otto Preminger's film noir Laura (1944), opposite Dana Andrews. After playing Tina Tomasino in A Bell for Adano (1945), she played the jealous, narcissistic femme fatale Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), adapted from a best selling novel by Ben Ames Williams. Appearing with Cornel Wilde, Tierney won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, in what turned out to be 20th Century-Fox' most successful film of the 1940s, 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.

Tierney then starred as Miranda Wells in Dragonwyck (1946), along with Walter Huston and Vincent Price. It was Joseph L. Mankiewicz' debut film as a director. In the same period, she starred as Isabel Bradley, opposite Tyrone Power, in The Razor's Edge (also 1946), an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name. Her performance was critically praised.

Tierney played Lucy Muir in Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), opposite Rex Harrison. The following year, she again co-starred with Power, this time as Sara Farley in the successful screwball comedy That Wonderful Urge (1948). As the forties came to a close, Tierney reunited with Laura director Preminger to portray Ann Sutton in the classic film noir Whirlpool (1949), co-starring Richard Conte and José Ferrer. The next year she starred in two other film noirs: Jules Dassin's Night and the City, shot in London, and Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends (both 1950).

Tierney was then loaned to Paramount Pictures, for whom she gave a comic turn as Maggie Carleton in Mitchell Leisen's ensemble farce, The Mating Season (1951), with John Lund, Thelma Ritter, and Miriam Hopkins. She gave a tender performance as Midge Sheridan in the Warner Brothers film, Close to My Heart (1951), with Ray Milland, about a couple trying to adopt a child. Later in her career, she was reunited with Milland in Daughter of the Mind (1969).

After Tierney appeared opposite Rory Calhoun as Teresa in Way of a Gaucho (1952), her contract with Fox expired. That same year, she played Dorothy Bradford in Plymouth Adventure, opposite Spencer Tracy at MGM. The two had a brief affair at the time. Tierney played Marya Lamarkina opposite Clark Gable in Never Let Me Go (1953), filmed in England.

Tierney remained in Europe to play Kay Barlow in Personal Affair (1953). While 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 the film noir Black Widow (1954) as Iris Denver, with Ginger Rogers and Van Heflin.

Events in her personal life now began to crowd in and eventually overwhelm her. She struggled for years with episodes of manic depression. In 1943, she'd given birth to a daughter, Daria, who was deaf and mentally disabled -- the result of a fan breaking out of rubella quarantine and infecting the pregnant Tierney while she was volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. In 1953, she had serious problems with her concentration, which affected her film work. 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 had a sister who suffered from mental illness, so during the production he fed Tierney her lines and encouraged her to seek help.

Tierney saw a psychiatrist and was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New York. Later, she went to The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, where the therapy regimen included shock treatment. After some 27 shock treatments, which were supposed to alleviate her severe depression, Tierney fled the facility, but was caught and returned. She would later become a passionate opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming it had destroyed significant portions of her memory.

In late December 1957, Tierney stepped onto a ledge 14 stories above ground outside her mother's Manhattan apartment and remained for about 20 minutes in what was considered a suicide attempt. Police were called, and afterwards 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 released. Afterwards, she tried to work anonymously as a sales girl in a local dress shop, with hopes of eventually integrating back into society, but a customer recognized her, and sensational newspaper headlines ensued.

In 1958, 20th Century-Fox offered Tierney a lead role in Holiday for Lovers (1959), but the stress proved too great for her to bear, and just days into production she dropped out of the film and returned to Menninger.

She made her screen comeback in Advise and Consent (1962), co-starring with Franchot Tone. Soon afterwards she played Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic (1963), based on the Lillian Hellman play. This was followed by the international production of Las cuatro noches de la luna llena, (Four Nights of the Full Moon) in 1963, in which she starred with Dan Dailey. She received critical accolades for her performances.

Tierney's career as a solid character actress seemed to be back on track as she played Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers (1964), but then she suddenly retired. She returned to star in the TV movie Daughter of the Mind five years later with Don Murray and Ray Milland. Her final TV performance came in the miniseries Scruples (1980).

Tierney died of emphysema in 1991 in Houston. She is interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. She was survived by her daughters Daria and Christina. Daria died on September 11, 2010, aged 66. Tina died on March 31, 2015, of ovarian cancer in Paris.

Gene Tierney's movie credits include...

Year Movie Role
1940 The Return of Frank James Eleanor Stone
1941 Hudson's Bay Barbara Hall
1941 Tobacco Road Ellie Mae Lester
1941 Belle Starr Belle Starr
1941 Sundown Zia
1941 The Shanghai Gesture Victoria Charteris aka Poppy Smith
1942 Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake Eve
1942 Rings on Her Fingers Susan Miller (aka Linda Worthington)
1942 Thunder Birds Kay Saunders
1942 China Girl Miss Haoli Young
1943 Heaven Can Wait Martha Strabel Van Cleve
1944 Laura Laura Hunt
1945 A Bell for Adano Tina Tomasino
1945 Leave Her to Heaven Ellen Brent Harland
1946 Dragonwyck Miranda Wells Van Ryn
1946 The Razor's Edge Isabel Bradley Maturin
1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Lucy Muir
1948 The Iron Curtain Anna Gouzenko
1948 That Wonderful Urge Sara Farley
1949 Whirlpool Ann Sutton
1950 Night and the City Mary Bristol
1950 Where the Sidewalk Ends Morgan Taylor (Payne)
1951 The Mating Season Maggie Carleton McNulty
1951 On the Riviera Lili Duran
1951 The Secret of Convict Lake Marcia Stoddard
1951 Close to My Heart Midge Sheridan
1952 Way of a Gaucho Teresa
1952 Plymouth Adventure Dorothy Bradford
1953 Never Let Me Go Marya Lamarkina
1953 Personal Affair Kay Barlow
1954 Black Widow Iris Denver
1954 The Egyptian Baketamon
1955 The Left Hand of God Anne Scott
1962 Advise and Consent Dolly Harrison
1963 Toys in the Attic Albertine Prine
1963 Las cuatro noches de la luna llena
1964 The Pleasure Seekers Jane Barton

Gene Tierney's television credits include...

Year Show/Series Role
1947 The Sir Charles Mendl Show Herself
1953 Toast of the Town Herself
1954 26th Academy Awards Herself
1957 What's My Line? Herself
1960 General Electric Theater Ellen Galloway
1969 The F.B.I. Faye Simpson
1969 Daughter of the Mind Lenore Constable
1974 The Merv Griffin Show Herself
1979 The Merv Griffin Show Herself
1980 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Herself
1980 The Mike Douglas Show Herself
1980 Dinah! Herself
1980 Scruples Harriet Toppington
1999 Biography Herself (archive material)

Memorable Quotes

“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.”

“Jealousy is, I think, the worst of all faults because it makes a victim of both parties.”

“It was the fashion of the time, still is, to feel that all actors are neurotic, or they would not be actors.”

Did You Know

She was a lifelong staunch Republican and a strong supporter of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in particular.

Although she played Tod Andrews's mother in Heaven Can Wait (1943), she was six years his junior in real life.

When Gene saw herself on screen for the first time, she was horrified by her voice ("I sounded like an angry Minnie Mouse"). She began smoking to lower her voice, but it came at a great price - she died of emphysema.

Tierney was in the throes of suicidal depression and was admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, on Christmas Day in 1957, after police talked her down from a building ledge. She was released from Menningers the following year.

Had her share of love affairs during her Hollywood reign, including a notorious one with John F. Kennedy, whom she met while filming Dragonwyck (1946). Kennedy broke it up because of his political aspirations. She also had dalliances with Tyrone Power during production of The Razor's Edge (1946) and with Prince Aly Khan in the early 1950s.

Gene Tierney with Bruce Cabot in Sundown (1941).
Gene Tierney in Otto Preminger's LAURA (1944).
Tierney in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).
Tierney in Dragonwyck (1946).
Gene Tierney with Ginger Rogers, left, in Black Widow (1954).
Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).
Gene Tierney with Widmark in Night and the City (1950).
Tierney in The Shanghai Gesture (1941).
Gene Tierney in Tobacco Road (1941).
Gene Tierney in Whirlpool (1949).