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42 Tragic Facts About Gene Tierney, The Hollywood Get Girl

Dancy Mason

Marilyn Monroe had nothing on Gene Tierney. This angular, green-eyed brunette traipsed from high society all the way to the silver screen, but after years on the top, Hollywood chewed her up and spat her out. Put on that marabou dressing robe and read these 42 facts about The Hollywood Get Girl.


Gene Tierney Facts

1. Debutante’s Debut

Gene Eliza Tierney was a New York girl in name, though not exactly in practice. Born on November 19, 1920, in Brooklyn, Tierney’s father was a wealthy insurance broker and her mother was a gym teacher. The Tierney family ended up settling in Westport, Connecticut, which, let’s just say, was more than a little hoity-toity.

2. Get It, Girl

At the height of her fame, Tierney was fittingly nicknamed “The Get Girl.” After all, GET was the initials of her full name…and she always got what she wanted.

3. How About…Howard

When Tierney first started acting, the wealthy, ultra-creepy Hollywood eccentric Howard Hughes made a pass at the young actress, but he got much more than he bargained for. Tierney was used to luxury, and Hughes’ immense wealth neither intimidated nor attracted her. She turned him down—but they did become lifelong friends.

4. Touching Tribute

Tierney’s parents named her “Gene” after one of her beloved uncles, who had died prematurely.

5. Trial by Fire

Tierney’s best-known role was as the titular femme fatale in Otto Preminger’s Laura. Though the film was a critical success, the production was notoriously troubled, with the movie even going through two directors. The first, Rouben Mamoulian, was very hands-off with Tierney, and the still-green actress often had to fend for herself on the bustling film set.

6. School Daze

Tierney’s adolescence was full of all the high society stereotypes. She attended an international school in Switzerland for two years (check), where she learned French (check) and mingled with other young ladies of her rank (check, check). When she came back stateside, she then enrolled in Miss Porter’s School, a prep school with alumni like Gloria Vanderbilt and Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark.

7. Hush Hush

Despite her mega beauty, Tierney suffered from one key weakness: low self-esteem. After the screening of her first film, she was horrified at the “squeaky” sound of her voice and thought she sounded “like an angry Minnie Mouse.” In order to lower her not-so-dulcet tones, she decided to take up a hard smoking habit for nearly the rest of her life. Uh…good idea?

8. Star-Crossed Starlet

When Tierney met Russian-Italian fashion designer Oleg Cassini, she was immediately smitten with the dapper aesthete. Her family, however, had other ideas. They were deeply disapproving of the love match and forced Tierney to make a desperate choice. In June 1941, the good-girl-gone-bad risked their fury and eloped with Cassini.

9. Teenage Dream

Some people struggle for years and years, hoping for that one big break that will get them into Tinseltown. Not Tierney: On a family trip to the West Coast, the Tierney clan checked out the Warner Bros. lot to visit a relative. While they were there, director Anatole Litvak spotted the teenaged beauty and told her she should go into acting. If only it were that easy for the rest of us.

10. Well La-Di-Da

Though Warner Brothers Studios desperately wanted to sign Tierney to a contract when she was only 17 years old, her well-to-do parents had other ideas. They sniffed at the “low” Hollywood salary and tried to discourage her from acting. The Tierney elders thought their debutante daughter had much better prospects in her life than shilling it for the silver screen.

11. Seal of Approval

Tierney continues to have fans today. Legendary director Martin Scorsese named her movie Leave Her to Heaven as one of his absolute favorite films, and he considers Tierney one of the most underrated actresses of her day.

12. Broadway Baby

When Tierney started acting, her parents insisted that she take to the stage before she tried her hand at the camera. And so Tierney booked her first role: the slightly uninspiring part of a “water carrier.” But even though all she did was carry a jug of water, Tierney still managed to make an impression. One critic raved, “Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I’ve ever seen!” Okay, slow your roll there, bud.

13. Girls, Girls, Girls

Tierney and Cassini had two daughters together, Antoinette Daria and Christina. But as you’ll see, it was far from happily ever after…

14. Who’s That Girl?

For Tierney, lightning really did strike twice. One day, 20th Century Fox head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck saw her in a Broadway performance and, impressed at her star power, turned to his assistant and asked them to note her name. Later that night, Zanuck saw a beautiful woman on the dance floor of a club and told his aide, “Forget the girl from the play. See if you can sign that one.”

Except that girl was Tierney. She was just that good.

15. You a Mom and Pop, I’m a Corporation

Although Tierney’s parents were initially reluctant to let her get into acting, they were more than supportive when her career kicked into overdrive. And by “supportive,” I definitely mean that they put their money where their mouths were. Tierney’s father even opened up his own corporation, Belle-Tier, to promote his daughter’s career. Stars: They’re not just like us. At all.

16. Golden Girl

Tierney’s turn as Ellen Brent in the acclaimed film Leave Her to Heaven snagged her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1946.

17. High Praise

Fox head Darryl Zanuck once called Tierney “The most beautiful woman in movie history.”

18. Nobody Asked You

It wasn’t all glitz and glamour at the beginning of Tierney’s career. One day on the set of a film, a cameraman took it upon himself to tell the young actress that she needed to lose weight. Like anyone with feelings, Tierney took it to heart in a big way. She wrote to Harper’s Bazaar asking for diet tips, and when they responded, she kept the regime for 25 years.

19. Just Right

Tierney stood at 5 feet, 7 inches tall. Thank god she was average in one respect!

20. A Royal Affair

As a leading lady with high society roots, it’s no surprise that Tierney had some very high profile romances. But one dalliance outdid them all: In the 1950s, Tierney got herself into a whirlwind romance with none other than Prince Aly Khan, who also just so happened to be Rita Hayworth’s ex-husband, The pair even wanted to get married—but they were doomed to a heartbreaking end.

Prince Aly’s father Aga Khan III forbade the match and Tierney had to return to Hollywood with her hands empty.

21. I’m Coming out

On September 24, 1938, Tierney made her formal society introduction as a debutante, naturally. She was 17 years old, which is a totally perfect age to announce to the world “I’m ready for marriage!”

22. A Fork in the Road

When she was just starting out as an actress, Tierney almost went with MGM studios, since they were offering her a role in the much-anticipated film National Velvet. When the part fell through, she shaped much of her life by making the decision to go with 20th Century Fox.

23. Smoke and Mirrors

The actress was a legendary shapeshifter, and she could take on any number of looks depending on her hair, makeup, and costuming. As she once said,  “I always had several different ‘looks,’ a quality that proved useful in my career.”

24. Sink Your Teeth in

Tierney was painfully conscious of her supposedly “protruding” front teeth, and she often shaped her lipstick to try to camouflage them. As she once confessed in a 1948 interview, “I’d talk out of the side of my mouth in order not to show my teeth.” Thankfully, even the infamously image-conscious Fox Studios liked her pearly whites, and refused to let her cosmetically change them.

25. Calling Cut

Tierney hid a world of tragedy behind her sophisticated façade. She battled for years with manic depression, an illness that her tumultuous personal life did nothing to help. As her mental health got worse, jobs also became more and more difficult. She often lacked concentration, and even had to drop out of her film Mogambo.

Took make matters worse, Grace Kelly took over Tierney’s part and then won a Golden Globe for the performance. Ouch.

26. Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Starting in the 1950s, Tierney admitted herself into a series of mental institutions. While there, she underwent ghastly shock therapy treatments to try to correct her depression. She grew to despise these procedures—and took desperate measures to avoid them. She actually escaped her asylum once, though attendants quickly caught and returned her.

27. Class Act

Throughout her hard times, screen legend Humphrey Bogart was one of Tierney’s fiercest allies on set, but his compassion was because of a dark family secret. His own sister had suffered from mental instability, so whenever Tierney started losing her concentration or forgetting her lines (which was often), Bogart would always make sure to help her out and treat her with patience. He even encouraged her to seek professional help.

28. The Star Next Door

In the late 1950s, Tierney’s depression had all but driven her from Hollywood, and she even took up a ‘normal” job as a sales clerk to try to ease herself back into society. Sadly, it all went so wrong. A customer recognized her famously beautiful face, and the ruthless media descended with reams of stories about the troubled starlet’s fall from grace. Thanks, guys.

29. Art Imitates Life

The tragic circumstances of Tierney’s firstborn Daria became a prominent plot point in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.

Gene Tierney FactsThe Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side,EMI Films

30. Single and Ready to Mingle

In 1946, Tierney and her husband Cassini separated—and while the Hollywood beauty might have been grief-stricken, she rebounded in a major way. While acting as a free agent, Tierney entertained affairs with the likes of Kirk Douglas and John F. Kennedy.

31. Black Christmas

On Christmas day in 1957, Tierney’s fragile health caught up to her in the worst way possible. The troubled actress stepped out onto the roof of her mother’s apartment in Manhattan and stared down at the 14-storey drop, contemplating her end. Tierney’s frantic family called the police, and after 20 minutes she thankfully stepped back inside.

32. Getting Political

Tierney’s steamy affair with John F. Kennedy went on for months, only to end in bitterness. The actress was deeply devoted to handsome young man, but then Kennedy dealt her a heartbreaking betrayal. He informed her that he had political ambitions and would never, ever marry her. A crushed Tierney called the whole thing off. Go get your dignity, girl.

33. Bowing out

In the 1960s, Gene Tierney attempted a Hollywood comeback, but the results were shaky at best. She starred in some critically acclaimed roles like Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers, but ultimately found herself slipping back into old anxieties. After 1969, she all but retired from acting.

34. The Bigger Woman

Gene Tierney wasn’t one to hold a grudge: When her former beau John F. Kennedy got elected President of the United States, her response was heartbreaking. Tierney sent him a personal note of congratulations.

35. Second Time’s the Charm

In 1958, Gene Tierney met her second and final husband W. Howard Lee, a filthy rich oil baron from Texas. Lee had just gone through an agonizing divorce with screen siren (and brilliant scientist) Hedy Lamarr, and he and the Hollywood-worn Tierney suited each other just fine. The pair lived a secluded lifestyle together until his death in 1981.

36. No Good Time Goes Unpunished

In 1960, Tierney discovered she was pregnant again while in the middle of planning a comeback in the film Return to Peyton Place. Sadly, tragedy struck, leading Tierney to withdraw from the movie and retreat back into her reclusive lifestyle. Tierney suffered a miscarriage and felt that she just couldn’t make a movie so soon after her heartbreak.

37. Nix That

Er, maybe Tierney wasn’t so forgiving of ol’ John F. Kennedy. In 1960, she voted for Richard Nixon instead of her ex. In fact, Tierney was a staunch Republican. I guess crossing the aisle was more of a bedroom deal.

38. The End of an Era

On November 6, 1991, just days away from her 71st birthday, Tierney passed away in Houston, Texas. That lifelong smoking habit caught up with her: She died of emphysema.

39. Loud and Proud

One of Tierney’s first starring roles was in Ernst Lubitsch’s comedic film Heaven Can Waitbut her time on set was a nightmare. The tyrannical Lubitsch used to scream constantly at her, and she spent the production on the verge of tears. When she told him she had enough and she’d leave if he kept shouting, his response was disturbing.

“I’m paid to shout at you,” he yelled. Luckily, Tierney wasn’t fazed. She replied coolly, “And I’m paid to take it—but not enough.” Apparently, after a tense moment, Lubitsch burst into laughter, and they got along famously after that.

40. Baby Blues

In the early 1940s, Tierney was pregnant with her first daughter Daria and volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen when a sick fan broke the rubella quarantine and came up close to her. This one small incident had utterly devastating consequences. Tierney got infected and passed it onto Daria, who was born deaf, partially blind, mentally disabled.

The tragedy would torment Tierney all her life.

41. A Friend in Need

Tierney’s devoted friend Howard Hughes paid for all of her daughter Daria’s medical expenses, making sure she received state-of-the-art care.

42. Gallant Gearhead

Though Tierney was always grateful for Howard Hughes’s friendship, especially after the traumatic birth of her daughter Daria, that didn’t mean she minced words when it came to the notorious lothario and lover of planes. As she once said of him, “I don’t think Howard could love anything that didn’t have a motor in it.” Best friends can say stuff like that to each other.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


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