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Gene Eliza Tierney (November 19, 1920 – November 6, 1991) was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, she is best-remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura (1944) and her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Other notable roles include Martha Strable Van Cleve in Heaven Can Wait (1943), Isabel Bradley Maturin in The Razor's Edge (1946), Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Ann Sutton in Whirlpool (1949), Maggie Carleton McNulty in The Mating Season (1951) and Anne Scott in The Left Hand of God (1955).

Early life

Tierney was born in Brooklynmarker, New Yorkmarker, the daughter of Howard Sherwood Tierney and Belle Lavina Taylor. She had an elder brother, Howard Sherwood “Butch” Tierney, Jr., and a younger sister, Patricia “Pat” Tierney. Her father was a prosperous insurance broker of Irish descent, her mother a former gym teacher.

Tierney attended St. Margaret’s School in Waterburymarker, Connecticutmarker, and the Unquowa School in Bridgeportmarker, Connecticut. Her first poem, entitled “Night,” was published in the school magazine, and writing verse became an occasional pastime during the rest of her life. She then spent two years in Europe and attended the Brillantmont finishing school in Lausannemarker, Switzerlandmarker, where she learned to speak fluent French.

Tierney returned to the U.S. in 1938 and attended Miss Porter’s Schoolmarker. On a trip to the West Coast, she visited Warner Bros. studios. The director Anatole Litvak, who was so taken by the seventeen-year-old’s beauty, told her that she should become an actress. Warner Bros. wanted to sign her to a contract, but her parents advised against it because of the low salary.

Tierney’s coming-out party as a debutante occurred on September 24, 1938, when she was 17 years old. She was bored with society life and decided to pursue a career in acting. Her father felt “If Gene is to be an actress, it should be in the legitimate theatre.” Tierney studied acting at a small Greenwich Villagemarker acting studio in New Yorkmarker.



In Tierney’s first part on Broadwaymarker, she carried a bucket of water across the stage in What a Life! (1938). A Variety magazine critic declared, "Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I’ve ever seen!" At the same time, she was an understudy for The Primrose Path (1938). The next year, she appeared in the role as Molly O' Day in the Broadway production Mrs. O' Brien Entertains (1939). The 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, Tierney appeared as Peggy Carr in Ring Two (1939) to favorable reviews. Theater critic Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Herald Tribune wrote, "I see no reason why Miss Tierney should not have an interesting theatrical career, that is if cinema does not kidnap her away."

Tierney’s father set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her acting career (He later went on to steal all of her money). Columbia Pictures signed her to a six-month contract in 1939. She also met Howard Hughes, who tried unsuccessfully to seduce her, but she was from a well-to-do family and was not impressed by Hughes' wealth. He did, however, become a lifelong friend. A cameraman advised Tierney to lose a little weight, saying “a thinner face is more seductive.” Tierney then wrote to Harper’s Bazaar for a diet, which she followed for the next twenty-five years. Years later Tierney was quoted as saying, "I love to eat. For all of Hollywood's rewards, I was hungry for most of those twenty-five years." Tierney was offered the lead role in National Velvet but production was delayed. National Velvet would be produced at MGM in 1944.

Columbia Pictures failed to find Tierney a project; so, she returned to Broadwaymarker and starred as Patricia Stanley to critical and commercial success in The Male Animal (1940). In The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote, "Tierney blazes with animation in the best performance she has yet given". She was the toast of Broadway before her 20th birthday.

The Male Animal was a hit, and Tierney was featured in Life magazine. She was also photographed by Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and Collier's Weekly.

Two weeks after The Male Animal opened, one evening before the curtain went up, there was a rumor that Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox had flown in from the coast and was in the audience. During the performance, he told an assistant to make a note of Tierney's name. Later that night, Zanuck dropped by the Stork Clubmarker, where he saw a young lady on the dance floor. He told his assistant, "Forget the girl from the play. See if you can sign that one." It was Tierney. Zanuck was not easily convinced that the two women were one and the same. Tierney was quoted after the fact, "I always had several different 'looks', a quality that proved useful in my career."

Film career

Hollywood called once again, Tierney signed with 20th Century-Fox. Her motion picture debut was in a supporting role as Elenore Stone in Fritz Lang's western The Return of Frank James (1940), opposite Henry Fonda. A small role as Barbara Hall followed in Hudson's Bay (1941) with Paul Muni.

Also, in 1941, Tierney co-starred as Ellie Mae Lester in John Ford's comedy Tobacco Road, along with the title role in Belle Starr, Zia in Sundown and Victoria Charteris a.k.a. Poppy Smith in The Shanghai Gesture. The following year, she played Eve in Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, along with the dual role as Susan Miller a.k.a. Linda Worthington in Rouben Mamoulian's screwball comedy film Rings on Her Fingers, Kay Saunders in Thunder Birds and Miss Young in China Girl.

Top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1943 comedy Heaven Can Wait as Martha Strable Van Cleve signaled an upward turn in Tierney's career, as her popularity increased. In 1944, she starred in what became her most famous role - the intended murder victim, Laura Hunt, in Otto Preminger's mystery film Laura, opposite Dana Andrews. After playing Tina Tomasino in A Bell for Adano (1945), she played the jealous, narcissistic femme fatale Ellen Berent Harland, opposite Cornel Wilde, in the film version of the best-selling book Leave Her to Heaven, a performance that won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (1945). Leave Her To Heaven was 20th Century-Fox's most successful film of the 1940s.

In 1946, Tierney starred as Miranda Wells in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's debut film as a director in Dragonwyck. That same year, she starred in another critically-praised performance as Isabel Bradley, opposite Tyrone Power, in The Razor's Edge, an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel. She followed that with her role as Lucy Muir in Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), which many critics and film scholars have noted to be her greatest performance (besides Laura) for which she did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The following year, Tierney co-starred once again with Power, this time as Sara Farley in the successful screwball comedy film That Wonderful Urge (1948). As the decade came to a close, Tierney reunited with Laura director Preminger to star as Ann Sutton in the classic film noir Whirlpool, co-starring Richard Conte and José Ferrer (1949).

Tierney gave memorable performances in two other film noirs (both in 1950) - Jules Dassin's Night and the City and Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends.

In 1951, Tierney was loaned out to Paramount Pictures and gave a memorable comic turn as Maggie Carleton in Mitchell Leisen's classic ensemble screwball comedy film The Mating Season with John Lund, Thelma Ritter and Miriam Hopkins. This was also the year Tierney gave a tender performance as Midge Sheridan in the Warner Bros. film Close to My Heart (1951) with Ray Milland. The film is about a couple trying to adopt. Tierney felt this was her best role in a half-dozen years, as it touched the chords of her own experience. The film addressed the issue of "nature versus nurture" and opened an early conversation about the adoption process. Later in her career, she would be reunited with Milland in Daughter of the Mind (1969), which has a cult following.

After appearing opposite Rory Calhoun as Teresa in Way of a Gaucho (1952), her contract at 20th Century-Fox expired. That same year, she starred as Dorothy Bradford in Plymouth Adventure, opposite Spencer Tracy at MGM, during which she had a brief romance with Tracy. Tierney then played Marya Lamarkina, opposite Clark Gable, in Never Let Me Go (1953), which was filmed in Englandmarker. She found Gable patient and considerate, but lonely and vulnerable, as he was still mourning the death of Carole Lombard. She remained in Europe to play Kay Barlow in United Artists' Personal Affair (1953), which was released that same year. While Tierney was 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 a film noir film as Iris Denver in Black Widow (1954) with Ginger Rogers and Van Heflin.

Health Issues

During 1953, Tierney's mental health problems were becoming harder for her to hide; 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’s long string of personal troubles finally took its toll. She said that “Bogey could tell that I was mentally unstable.” During the production, he fed Tierney her lines and encouraged her to seek help. Worried about her mental health, she consulted a psychiatrist, and was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New Yorkmarker. Later, she went to the The Institute of Living in Hartfordmarker, Connecticutmarker. After some 27 shock treatments, Tierney attempted to flee, but was caught and returned. She became an outspoken opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming that it had destroyed significant portions of her memory.

In 1957, Tierney was seen by a neighbor as she was about to jump from a ledge. The police were called, and she was admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topekamarker, Kansasmarker on December 25. She was released from Menninger the following year, after a treatment that included - in its final stages - working as a sales girl in a large department store (where she was recognized by a customer, resulting in sensational newspaper headlines).

Later that year, 20th Century-Fox offered her a lead role in Holiday for Lovers (1957), but the stress proved too great. Days into production, she was forced to drop out of the film and was readmitted to Menninger.


Tierney made a screen comeback in Advise and Consent (1962), co-starring with Franchot Tone. A year later, she played Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic, followed by the International production of Las cuatro noches de la luna llena (1963) with Dan Dailey. She received overall critical praise for her performances. Tierney's career turn as a solid character actress seemed to be on track. She played Jane Barton in The Pleasure Seekers (1964), then again retired.

Tierney came back to star in the television movie Daughter of the Mind (1969) with Don Murray and Ray Milland. Her final performance was in the TV miniseries Scruples (1980).

Personal life

Tierney married twice, first to costume and fashion designer Oleg Cassini on June 1, 1941. She and Cassini had two daughters, Antoinette Daria Cassini (born October 15, 1943) and Christina "Tina" Cassini (born November 19, 1948).

In June 1943, while pregnant with her first daughter (Daria), Tierney contracted rubella during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. Daria was born prematurely in Washington, D.C.marker, weighing only three pounds, two ounces (1.42 kg) and requiring a total blood transfusion. Because of Tierney's illness, Daria was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts and had severe mental retardation. Tierney's grief over the tragedy led to many years of depression and may have begun her bipolar disorder. Some time after the tragedy surrounding her daughter Daria's birth, Tierney learned from a fan who approached her for an autograph at a tennis party that the woman (who was then a member of the women's branch of the Marine Corps) had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with rubella to meet Tierney at her only Hollywood Canteen appearance. In her autobiography, Tierney related that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote, "After that I didn't care whether ever again I was anyone's favorite actress." Biographers have theorized that Agatha Christie used this real life tragedy as the basis of her plot for The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in the story. Tierney's tragedy had been well-publicized for years previously. During this time, Howard Hughes, an old friend, saw to it that Daria received the best medical care available, paying for all of her medical expenses. Tierney never forgot Hughes' acts of kindness.

Tierney separated from Cassini, challenged by the marital stress of Daria's condition, but they later reconciled and had a second daughter, Tina. During her separation, Tierney had a romance, during the filming of Dragonwyck, she met a young John F. Kennedy, who was visiting the set. They began a romance that ended the following year, when Kennedy told her he could never marry her because of his political ambitions. Tierney then reconciled with Cassini, but they divorced on February 28, 1952. In 1960, Tierney sent Kennedy a note of congratulations on his election victory; although, she later admitted that she voted for Richard Nixon, saying, "I thought that he would make a better president."

In 1958, Tierney met Texasmarker oil baron W. Howard Lee, who was married to Hedy Lamarr from 1953 to 1960. Tierney and Lee married in Aspenmarker, Coloradomarker on July 11, 1960, and lived in Houstonmarker, Texas. She loved life in Texas with Lee and became an expert contract bridge player. In 1962, 20th Century Fox announced Tierney would play the lead role in Return to Peyton Place, but she became pregnant and dropped out of the project. She later miscarried.

Tierney's autobiography, Self-Portrait, in which she candidly discussed her life, career and mental illness, was published in 1979.

On February 17, 1981, Tierney was widowed when Lee died after a long illness. Tierney died in 1991, shortly before her 71st birthday, of emphysema in Houston, Texas. She had started smoking after a screening of her first movie to lower her voice because "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse." She became a heavy smoker, which contributed to her death. She is interred next to Lee in the Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas.

In 1986 Tierney was honored alongside actor Gregory Peck with the first Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival Spain for their body of work.

For her contribution to the Motion Picture industry, Tierney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 6125 Hollywood Boulevardmarker in Hollywoodmarker, Californiamarker.


Year Film Role Director Other cast Filmed in
1940 The Return of Frank James Eleanor Stone Fritz Lang Henry Fonda Technicolor
1940 Hudson's Bay Barbra Hall Irving Pichel Paul Muni
Vincent Price
1941 Tobacco Road Ellie Mae Lester John Ford Charles Grapewin
Dana Andrews
1941 Belle Starr Belle Starr Irving Cummings Randolph Scott
Dana Andrews
1941 Sundown Zia Henry Hathaway Bruce Cabot
1941 The Shanghai Gesture Victoria Charteris aka
Poppy Smith
Josef von Sternberg Walter Huston
1942 Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake Eve John Cromwell Tyrone Power Sepia tone
1942 Rings on Her Fingers Susan Miller aka
Linda Worthington
Rouben Mamoulian Henry Fonda
1942 Thunder Birds Kay Saunders William A. Wellman Preston Foster
John Sutton
1942 China Girl Miss Young Henry Hathaway George Montgomery
1943 Heaven Can Wait Martha Strabel Van Cleve Ernst Lubitsch Don Ameche Technicolor
1944 Laura Laura Hunt Otto Preminger Dana Andrews
Clifton Webb
Vincent Price

1945 A Bell for Adano Tina Tomasino Henry King John Hodiak
1945 Leave Her to Heaven Ellen Brent Harland John M. Stahl Cornel Wilde
Jeanne Crain
Vincent Price

1946 Dragonwyck Miranda Wells Van Ryn Joseph L. Mankiewicz Walter Huston
Vincent Price
1946 The Razor's Edge Isabel Bradley Maturin Edmund Goulding Tyrone Power
Anne Baxter
John Payne

1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Lucy Muir Joseph L. Mankiewicz Rex Harrison
George Sanders
Edna Best

1948 The Iron Curtain Anne Gouzenko William A. Wellman Dana Andrews
1948 That Wonderful Urge Sara Farley Robert B. Sinclair Tyrone Power
1949 Whirlpool Ann Sutton Otto Preminger Richard Conte
José Ferrer
1950 Night and the City Mary Bristol Jules Dassin Richard Widmark
1950 Where the Sidewalk Ends Morgan Taylor (Paine) Otto Preminger Dana Andrews
1951 The Mating Season Maggie Carleton McNulty Mitchell Leisen John Lund
Miriam Hopkins
Thelma Ritter

1951 On the Riviera Lili Duran Walter Lang Danny Kaye Technicolor
1951 The Secret of Convict Lake Marcia Stoddard Michael Gordon Glenn Ford
1951 Close to My Heart Midge Seridan William Keighley Ray Milland
1952 Way of a Gaucho Teresa Jacques Tourneur Rory Calhoun Technicolor
1952 Plymouth Adventure Dorothy Bradford Clarence Brown Spencer Tracy
Van Johnson
Leo Genn

1953 Never Let Me Go Marya Lamarkina Delmer Daves Clark Gable
1953 Personal Affair Kay Barlow Anthony Pelissier Leo Genn
Glynis Johns
1954 Black Widow Iris Denver Nunnally Johnson Ginger Rogers CinemaScope
Deluxe color
1954 The Egyptian Baketamon Michael Curtiz Jean Simmons
Victor Mature
Edmund Purdom

Deluxe color
1955 The Left Hand of God Anne Scott Edward Dmytryk Humphrey Bogart CinemaScope
Deluxe color
1962 Advise and Consent Dolly Harrison Otto Preminger Henry Fonda
Walter Pidgeon
Franchot Tone

1963 Toys in the Attic Albertine Prine George Roy Hill Dean Martin
1963 Las cuatro noches de la luna llena
aka Four Nights of the Full Moon
Sobey Martin Dan Dailey
1964 The Pleasure Seekers Jane Barton Jean Negulesco Ann-Margret CinemaScope
Deluxe color


Year Title Genre Role Staged by
1938 What A Life! Original Play, Comedy Walk on, Water carrier George Abbott
1938 The Primrose Path Original Play, Drama/Comedy Understudy George Abbott
1939 Mrs O' Brian Entertains Original Play, Comedy Molly O' Day George Abbott
1939 Ring Two Original Play, Comedy Peggy Carr George Abbott
1940 The Male Animal Original Play, Comedy Patricia Stanley Herman Shumlin


Year Title Role Other cast
1947 Sir Charles Mendl Show Herself Host: Sir Charles Mendl
1953 Toast of the Town Herself Host: Ed Sullivan Episode #6.33
1954 The 26th Annual Academy Awards Herself Host: Donald O'Conner, Fredric March Presenter: Costume Design Awards
1957 What's My Line? Herself Host: John Charles Daly Episode: August 25, Mystery guest
1960 General Electric Theater Ellen Galloway Host: Ronald Reagan Episode: "Journey to a Wedding"
1969 The F.B.I Faye Simpson Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Episode: "Conspiracy of Silence"
1969 Daughter of the Mind Lenore Constable Ray Milland (Made for TV movie)
1974 The Merv Griffin Show Herself Host: Merv Griffin
1979 The Merv Griffin Show Herself Host: Merv Griffin
1980 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Herself Host: Johnny Carson
The Mike Douglas Show Herself Host: Mike Douglas
Dinah! Herself Host: Dinah Shore
Scruples Harriet Toppington Lindsay Wagner (TV Mini-series)
1999 Biography Herself Host: Peter Graves "Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait" March 26


About Tierney

By Tierney

Cultural references

  • Tierney was ranked number 71 in Premiere Magazine's list of "The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars of All Time". They said, "Tierney, a classic beauty, may at first seem too elegant to be a sex symbol, but her Oscar-nominated performance as the femme fatal in Leave Her to Heaven firmly establised her sexy cred. Plus, Tierney owned her look. She didn't let studio executives mess with her hair color or length, and refused to fix a slight overbite, earning extra sexy points for confidence."
  • When Grauman's Chinese Theatremarker resumed cement handprints and footprints after World War II ended in 1945, Tierney was the first actress asked to continue the tradition.
  • A tribute to her popularity was a famous skit referring to Tierney. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had a comedy routine in which Lewis (in boxing shorts and gear) states he's fighting Gene Tierney. Martin corrects Lewis and suggests that he must mean Gene Tunney (the heavyweight boxing champion). Lewis then quips, "You fight who you wanna fight, I'm fight'n who I wanna fight; I'm fight'n Gene Tierney."
  • Contrary to some published reports, Gene's birth name was never "Jean." Tierney was named after a beloved uncle, who died young as told in her autobiography, Self-Portrait.
  • Tierney was the heroine of a novel, Gene Tierney and the Invisible Wedding Gift, written by Kathryn Heisenfelt, published by Whitman Publishing Company in 1947. "While the heroine is identified as a famous actress, the stories are entirely fictitious." The story was probably written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as "Whitman Authorized Editions", 16 books published between 1941-1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.
  • Tierney negotiated a unique contract with a raise every six months, and she was to be given half a year off - with written notice to the studio - to appear on Broadway.

National Film Registry

Classic-era film noirs in the National Film Registry
1940-49 The Maltese Falcon |Shadow of a Doubt |Laura |Double Indemnity |Mildred Pierce |Detour

The Big Sleep |The Killers |Notorious |Out of the Past |Force of Evil |The Naked City |White Heat


Works referenced

External links

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