Gene Tierney

April 23, 2009

By Harley
Dreaming in Black and White
Guest Blogger

Gene Eliza Tierney was born in Connecticut on November 20th, 1920 to parents Belle Lavinia Taylor Tierney and Howard Tierney Sr. Belle Tierney felt that her daughter's initials indicated she would be headed for big things in her future, and this led to her being nicknamed the 'Get Girl' in Hollywood. Her trip to Tinsel Town was first fueled in 1938 when on a tour of Warner Bros. Studios, producer Anatole Litvak remarked to her: "Young woman, you ought to be in pictures." Howard Tierney was wary about the idea, though Gene was very much willing to pursue a career in Hollywood. He at first refused his daughter's dream, but relented when one day, after a debutante party in her honor, Gene told her father: "I'm incredibly bored. I think I shall die." She got her first start in the Broadway production, What a Life! in which she carried a pail of water across the stage, leaving a critic to proclaim: "Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I've ever seen!"

Hollywood soon came beckoning at Gene's door, with a Fox contract in it's hand after she was spotted by producer Darryl F. Zanuck in the Broadway play, The Male Animal (1940). Her first film paired her opposite Henry Fonda in 1940's The Return of Frank James. During one scene, Gene jutted her lower lip out, in an attempt to appear sultry, much to director Fritz Lang's chagrin. He called Gene a very nasty five letter word, thinking that she was mugging for the camera. Henry however came to the rescue, telling Lang never to yell that way to sweet Gene ever again. This led our young starlet to develop an innocent crush on Henry, one that was short lived however when she was invited to dinner at his home and saw him perfectly content with his wife and adorable children Jane and Peter.

She teamed up with Fonda once more for the 1943 comedy, Rings on Her Fingers. While Gene had her turn at comedy (That Wonderful Urge, The Mating Season), she was often seen and cast as the exotic foreigner. (The Egyptian, China Girl). Her notable films include Laura (1944), her most celebrated role, Leave Her to Heaven (1945), the only role in which she was Oscar nominated, The Razor's Edge, (1946) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). Lucky Miss Tierney made four films with Dana Andrews: Belle Starr, Tobacco Road (both 1941) Laura, and the overlooked Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). The latter film was the only one in which her fashion designer husband Oleg Cassini designed her gowns.

Her films in the 1950s were sparse however after she was subject to numerous electro shock therapy treatments due to her unstable mental health. These issues came as a result of her grief over eldest daughter Daria being born mentally retarded in 1943. A history of mental health instability on Belle Tierney's side of the family may also have contributed to Gene's mental health problems. Humphrey Bogart noticed Gene's instability while they were filming The Left Hand of God in 1955, and in 1957 she was admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The incident which prompted her admittance was when a neighbor saw Gene contemplating jumping from a window ledge in her apartment. What convinced Gene not to do it? Vanity. She couldn't bear the fact that her pretty face would be scrambled on the sidewalk if she did.

While Gene is certainly remembered for her striking good looks, she should also be remembered for her acting as well. Laura has remained the noir classic it is today in part because Gene was able to capture not only the heart of Dana Andrews, but also that of the audience. She is forever linked to that role because it is so memorable and enigmatic, and you can't help but picture Gene in your mind when you hear the lyrics to Johnny Mercer's haunting Laura theme:

Laura is the face in a misty light
Footsteps that you hear down the hall
The laugh that floats on a summer's night
That you can never quite recall

And you see Laura
On a train that is passing through
Those familiar they seem
She gave your very first kiss to you

That was Laura
But she's only a dream.


Paul D Brazill said...

Smashing post. Lovely pic and Johnny Mrecer to boot! Can't beat that, can you?

Nicole Newcomb said...

lovely job on the post, there was a lot I didn't know about her but thanks to graciebird I know more about her. :) excellent job on the painting Kate!

Anonymous said...

OMG Kate, I love, love, love the painting!!!! It's gorgeous!

Raquel Stecher said...

Nice job Gracie! Excellent post. That quote "I am bored, I think I shall die" feels like something her character in Leave Her to Heaven would say!

Great painting Kate. I like your use of color. That's such an iconic image of Tierney.

DKoren said...

Nice post, Graciebird, and lovely painting, Kate! It's so sad how her life turned out.

Classic Maiden said...

Excellent read Gracie. AND I love the painting, Kate :D

I adore Gene Tierney!

Millie said...

Nice painting, Kate.

And, Harley, you did a stupendously amazingly good job on this post! It was great and you didn't even have to resort to an illuminating talk about her cool hats...;-D

Sarah Mann said...

I died laughing after I read "I'm incredibly bored. I think I shall die." And comparing Gene to the Laura theme is brilliant! Never thought of it like that.

Terence Towles Canote said...

That was a great post, Gracie. And a great picture, Kate! Gene Tierney was always one of my favourites. It is a shame her mental health prevented her from making more movies!

Meredith said...

she was so, so lovely (and quite a good actress in what i've seen her in) i wish that her life hadn't been so tragic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words about the painting -- and thanks Graciebird for an OUTSTANDING post!!!!

Anonymous said...

No, Kate, thank you!