Where Are they Now? Movie Star Gene Tierney Part 1

About the movie star Gene Tierney, history and biography of her movie career, mental breakdown, and life afterwards.


Headline--1994: GENE TIERNEY

At the Peak: Being a movie star and having talent are two different things. For Gene Tierney stardom came easily enough, but in her first 11 movies, her acting was often characterized as wooden and without depth. It was not until her 12th film, Laura, released in 1944, that her acting ability was universally applauded by the critics. As one veteran reviewer put it, "For Gene Tierney, Laura not only persuaded the studio and the public to regard her seriously for the first time as an actress, but in a kind of delayed take it got her the Academy Award nomination for Leave Her to Heaven."

All together, Gene Tierney made over 30 films. Even after Laura, many of her performances were mediocre, but her reputation as a star remained constant. Had it not been for a mental breakdown in the early 1950s, she might well have permanently joined the ranks of the great ladies of film.

Born on Nov. 20, 1920, to wealthy Brooklyn, New Yorkers, Gene was a true beauty. She was blessed with full heart-shaped lips, high cheek bones, and extraordinary green eyes. Combined with this natural beauty, she had a poise and grace often likened to that of a cat. She emanated an allure that singled her out from others. When she went to Hollywood as a sightseer, out of the blue she was offered not only a screen test but also a contract. It happened effortlessly. She and her mother were taking a tour of the movie studios, and she was spied on one of the sets by a director. The director arranged a screen test, and Gene Tierney, it is said, agreed to go along as a gag. The studio liked the test and offered her a contract. However, the contract was turned down by her father, who decided she needed to get stage experience first. So Gene Tierney remained in New York to gain Broadway experience, for a short time only.

In her stage debut, a modest role in which she carried a bucket of water, she was singled out by a critic, who noted, "She is the most beautiful and graceful water carrier in history."

After a few more unremarkable Broadway roles, Gene Tierney was lucky enough in 1940 to win a starring part in The Male Animal. Her performance was hailed by reviewers, but most importantly it brought her to the attention of Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox. As the story goes, Zanuck left the theater ready to sign her. Then that same evening he spotted another attractive woman at a dance and told his assistant to sign her instead. But strangely enough, the second woman also proved to be Tierney. She was signed at Fox for $750 a week.

While Gene Tierney was becoming known, her career was aided by her association with many of Hollywood's leading men and by her link to renowned fashion designer Oleg Cassini. On June 1, 1941, she and Cassini were married. It was a stormy relationship, including a divorce, a remarriage, another divorce, and public spats frequently covered in the press. The birth of a retarded child to the Cassinis in 1943 also focused press attention on Gene Tierney.

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