Gene Tierney (1920-1991)

Gene Tierney
Gene Tierney
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Gene Tierney was an American film and stage actress acclaimed as one of the most beautiful actresses in movie history. She starred in a number of 1940's classics, including her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in 'Leave Her to Heaven' and 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' and is best remembered for her performance in the title role of 'Laura' in 1944.

Her on-screen presence and ability to realistically transform herself into a variety of completely different characters made her a film legend.

Her personal life was laced with tragedy and she was several times hospitalised for depression which she fought and faced up to with great courage.


Gene Tierney was born Gene Eliza Tierney in Brooklyn, New York on November 20, 1920. The family were well off. Her father was a successful insurance broker and her mother a gymnastic teacher. She had an elder brother, Howard, and a younger sister, Patricia. Gene attended private school in Green Farms, near Westport, Connecticut, and Unquowa School in Fairfield where she played Jo in a school production of "Little Women". She then spent two years at the Brillantmont finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Gene returned to America and entered polite society at her coming-out party in September, 1938 when she was 17, but she found society life boring and decided to pursue her budding interest in acting. On a visit to Warner Brothers' Studios the young beauty was offered a contract by director Anatole Litvak but she was advised by her father to enter the profession via the stage. She signed up to study acting with Broadway director Benno Schneider in New York.

Gene began her acting career playing supporting roles in Broadway productions including 'What a Life!' and 'The Primrose Path', both in 1938 and 'Mrs. O'Brien Entertains' in 1939. Also in 1939 she appeared with a bigger role in 'Ring Two' to favorable critical reviews. She was making a name for herself and her father prudently set up a corporation, Belle-Tier, to fund and promote her career.

The Male Animal 1940

Her next role was her springboard to fame when she starred on stage in 'The Male Animal' in 1940. The play had a seven month run, and Gene was frequently photographed for the front pages of magazines such as Colliers Weekly and Vogue. She was seen by Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox studios, who signed her to a movie contract.

Hollywood Actress

She made two films in her first year, 1940, 'Hudson's Bay,' an historical drama with Paul Muni which was released the following year, and 'The Return of Frank James' with a young Henry Fonda as the outlaw. Her beauty and acting ability were recognised and she became an actress in great demand. In 1941 she made four movies: 'The Shanghai Gesture, 'Sundown', 'Tobacco Road' and 'Belle Starr' as the eponymous heroine.

Her roles became increasingly important and in 1942 she again appeared in four films including the highly successful historical adventure 'Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake' and the screwball comedy 'Rings on Her Fingers' which was also a big hit. She was now an established star and the following year she given top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's classic comedy 'Heaven Can Wait'.

Hollywood Star

In 1944 she had a huge success in the title role of the noir classic 'Laura'. She gave a masterful performance and the movie has proved to be the best known of her career. The following year Gene received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Brent in 'Leave Her to Heaven' and although she lost (to Joan Crawford in 'Mildred Pierce') her position in the top echelons of Hollywood stars was confirmed. She continued her run of successes with another superb performance as Isabel Bradley in the hit 1946 movie 'The Razor's Edge' and again in 1947 as Lucy Muir in the critically acclaimed 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir'.

Gene was equally busy during the first half of the 1950's appearing in many films although the quality of the movies was not quite so good. Nevertheless she gave excellent performances in top class films such as 'Night and the City' in 1950, 'The Mating Season' in 1951, 'Plymouth Adventure' in 1952 and 'The Left Hand of God' in 1955. After this Gene did not make another film for seven years and the reasons for this are to be found in her personal life, away from the camera.


Gene was a genuine Hollywood beauty and was not short of admirers. She was pursued by Howard Hughes but, coming from a wealthy background herself, was not impressed by his riches. Her name was linked with several movie stars as well as a young John Kennedy whom she met on the set of 'Dragonwyck' in 1946.

In June 1941 she married the up and coming fashion designer Oleg Cassini in Las Vegas. She was 20 and he 28. Cassini, the son of a Russian diplomat, was working for Paramount, and had costumed Gene's 1941 picture, 'The Shanghai Gesture'.

Cassini recently had a divorce from his first wife, socialite, Mary (Merry) Fahrney and the marriage caused a rift with Gene's parents who attempted, unsuccessfully, to have it annulled. After a lawsuit between father and daughter over the provisions of the original Belle-Tier corporation, her parents divorced and Gene became estranged from her father.

Cassini left Paramount to become clothes designer at Fox and Gene eventually only wore his designs on screen. As a result, Cassini costumes appeared in such Gene Tierney films as 'Leave Her To Heaven' 'The Razor's Edge' 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir', 'Night and the City', 'The Mating Season', 'Close to My Heart', and 'On the Riviera'. His connection to the famous star helped establish him as a leading fashion designer and he later rocketed to international stardom in the early 1960s when he became fashion designer to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Gene and Cassini had two daughters, Antoinette Daria in 1943, who was born severely retarded, due to her mother contracting German measles during pregnancy, and Christina in 1948. Gene was devastated by Daria's condition which led to many years of depression and eventually to divorce from Cassini in 1952. She then fell in love with Aly Khan, son of the Aga Khan, and ex-husband of Rita Hayworth, but he left her in 1955 and she suffered a serious mental breakdown. She was hospitalised several times after an attempted suicide and her career suffered badly.

In 1958 she met W. Howard Lee, oil millionaire and former husband of Hedy Lamarr. They married in 1960 and lived happily in Houston, Texas until Lee's death in 1981.

Gene went back to acting in 1962 with 'Advise and Consent' but her time had passed and after two average films in 1963 and one more feature film in 1964, 'The Pleasure Seekers', she retired from movies. She appeared in a number of television shows such as The FBI' in 1969 and 'Scruples' in 1980 and wrote a candid and well received autobiography "Self Portrait", in 1979.

Gene Tierney died in Houston, Texas, on November 6, 1991, of emphysema. She was aged 70 years. She is interred next to Howard Lee in the Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas.

Gene Tierney Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actress ... Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Gene Tierney Filmography

The Return of Frank James
Hudson's Bay
Tobacco Road
Belle Starr
The Shanghai Gesture
Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake
Rings on Her Fingers
Thunder Birds [Soldiers of the Air]
China Girl
Heaven Can Wait
A Bell for Adano
Leave Her to Heaven
The Razor's Edge
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
The Iron Curtain
That Wonderful Urge
Night and the City
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Close to My Heart
The Mating Season
On the Riviera
The Secret of Convict Lake
Way of a Gaucho
Plymouth Adventure
Never Let Me Go
Personal Affair
The Egyptian
Black Widow