Saturday, April 01, 2006

Dead Celebrity of the Month, April 2006: Gene Tierney

My selection for Aprils 'Dead Celebrity of the Month' is the women I consider the most beautiful actress in the history of Hollywood, Ms. Gene Tierney. Born on November 19, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York to an authoritarian Connecticut insurance broker and a former gym teacher, Gene was the middle of three children (she had an older brother and younger sister). Raised among New England society types she was privately educated, including a two year stint in Switzerland where she learned to speak fluent French. A 1938 west coast trip in which she toured the Warner Brothers studio inspired her to be an actress. It took some pressing but her father finally consented to let her try out for the legitimate stage on Broadway.

Gene made her New York stage debut with a non-speaking role in the play 'What A Life', and supplemented her income with modeling jobs before scoring a big hit with 'The Male Animal' in 1940. 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck saw her performance and ordered she be signed to a contract. Gene made her screen debut in the Fritz Lang directed western The Return of Frank James in 1940. Despite some initial stilted acting Gene Tierney improved and worked consistently at the studio in such films as John Fords Tobacco Road, Belle Star, The Shanghi Gesture, Rings on her Fingers, The Thunder Birds, and the original version of Heaven Can Wait.

In 1941 Gene married Hollywood fashion designer Count Oleg Cassini, partially in rebound from her discovery of her fathers affair. Oleg joined the armed forces after the outbreak of World War II and Gene did her bit with war bond drives and other personal appearances. Expecting her first child Gene took several months off to stay with her husband (now a second lieutenant) as an army wife at the military base to which he was asigned (I believe it was in Colorado). Their daughter Antoinette Daria Cassini was born deaf, severely retarded and partially blind, the result of Gene's exposure to German measles while on a USO tour. The child was eventually committed to an institution, an action which further exacerbated the strain in her marriage and lead to a prolonged period of separation for the couple.

Emotionaly devastated over her daughter Gene almost turned down the role that would make her an A-list star, that of the title character in director Otto Preminger film noir classic Laura. Gene followed up that feature with an Academy Award nominated performance as Cornel Wilde's psychotic wife in Leave Her to Heaven, a film which amply demonstrates how well she photographed in Technicolor.

It was during this period of great success in her career and poor success in her marriage that Gene had a prolonged affair with future President John F. Kennedy, an affair she finally broke off when the aspiring Catholic politician confessed that he could never marry her. (Note: Would take Gene Tierney over Marilyn Monroe any day.) Shortly after her break-up with John, Gene and Oleg got back together and on her 28th birthday they had a second child daughter who they named Christine "Tina" Cassini, she was perfectly healthy.

With a new child, her mother, and her husbands fledgling new fashion business to support, Gene worked prolifically in the late 40's and early 50's appearing in such films as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Night and the City, Where the Sidewalk Ends (again for Preminger), and Way of a Gaucho. Gene and Oleg finally did divorce in 1952 with Ms. Tierney continuing to work in movies like Plymouth Adventure, Never Let Me Go, and Personal Affair. Around 1954 Gene met Prince Aly Khan, a wealthy Muslim and well known ladys man with whom she carried on a relationship much to the chagrin of his father the Aga Khan. Aly asked Gene to marry her, but only if she would convert to Islam and disown her family, Gene refused and left Europe for a return to Hollywood where she stared in The Black Widow later that year.

shortly after completing work on the film The Left Hand of God (opposite Humphry Bogart) Gene suffered the first in a series of psychotic episodes and closed herself off in her New York City apartment. After an apparent attempt to jump off a ledge on her building and commit suicide, Gene was committed to a mental institution. After her release from the Menninger Clinic and a trial away period working as a department store clerk in Kansas City, Gene took a vacation to celebrate her recovery skiing in Colorado. It was on this trip that she meet Oil Tycoon Howard Lee, the two would eventually marry in 1960.

After walking out after just a few days of shooting on the Fox feature Holiday for Lovers in 1959, Gene was essentially dead in Hollywood until old friend Otto Preminger gave her a small but well received role in his all-star Senate drama Advise and Consent. Gene did some additional movie work in the early 1960's but then decided to retire from feature films at the age of 44, her last screen role was in the Ann-Margret helmed flick The Pleasure Seekers. Ms. Tierney would continue to do occasional television work into the 1980's. In 1979 she published her reveling auto-biography Self-Portrait, and after husband Howards death in 1981 retired from public life. Gene Tierney passed away in Houston on November 6, 1991 from emphysema, the result of decades of smoking, a habit she first started so as to lower her voice during her early years in Hollywood, she was 70 years old.


At 11:26 AM, Blogger Jay Hemvech said...

So glad to see another Gene Tierney Fan

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Amy said...

My absolute most favorite actress and I agree the most beautiful woman in the world:)

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Absolutely beautiful and endearing! So tragic a life the poor lady should have had a wonderful life! One of my favorite actresses.

At 7:43 AM, Blogger hiya said...

yes it is dad and interesting i loved her too.


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