Brooklyn-born Tierney was a leading actress in 1940s Hollywood. She started out her adult life as a socialite, before becoming bored with the social scene and pursuing a career as a stage actress (her family thought being a ‘proper’ actress was more respectable than being in the movies).
Her Broadway career started in a pretty low-key way, her first role was a walk-on role as a water carrier in What a Life! (1938). Despite her tiny part she was noticed by the press and described in the review as “the most beautiful water carrier I’ve ever seen!”.
She was signed by Columbia Pictures in 1939 and was offered the lead role in National Velvet, but production was delayed and Elizabeth Taylor eventually (and famously) took up that role in 1944.
During this period millionaire playboy Howard Hughes tried to seduce the young Gene Tierney, but coming from a society background she was totally unimpressed by him and resisted his advances. She also started smoking because she thought her voice on-screen sounded ‘like an angry Mickey Mouse’, a habit which must have contributed to her eventual demise from emphysema aged 70.
Columbia Pictures failed to find her a suitable movie and she returned to Broadway briefly (and successfully) and she moved to 20th Century Fox and her first big-screen production The Return of Frank James in 1940.
From that point her popularity grew and she starred in movies throughout the 1940s. In 1953 she was shooting the movie Mogambo (which was a remake of Red Dust) when she succumbed to depression and her part was taken over by Grace Kelly. She suffered with her illness over the next decade and was treated repeatedly with courses of shock-therapy, which she later campaigned to have banned.
In terms of her love life, she married fashion designer Oleg Cassini in 1941 and later whilst waiting for her divorce to come through had a brief relationship with a young JFK, who ditched her because she was incompatible with his political ambitions.
Top: Bruce Cabot and Gene Tierney in the film Sundown, 1941.
Image source and copyright: 1, 2, 4, This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed.