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.
3, This image is in the public domain because the copyright of this photograph, registered in Argentina, has expired.
Thank you for this focus on Gene Tierney, one of my favorite movie icons. So beautiful and stylish, on screen she was cool and aloof but oh-so-seductive. I met her in “Laura,” (my middle name), now admire her for “The Razor’s Edge” and “Leave Her to Heaven,” among many others. Her private life was so tragic–ongoing depression, unhappy romantic attachments, and a severely handicapped daughter–makes her even more remarkable. Thank you again–I enjoy your site very much!
She certainly had a difficult time of it didn’t she? Thanks, glad you like the site 🙂
You know, I’ve never seen anything that she was in, but she’s one of the women who come to mind when I think about the most beautiful stars from that era. There’s just something so mesmerizing about her face. I really need to make a point to watch some of her movies soon.
She is stunning isn’t she? I would have loved to see her in the Grace Kelly role in Mogambo…
One of my very favorite actresses, so beautiful and talented. She should of gotten an Academy Award for Leave Her To Heaven. She was a very good actress, with a very sad life, till the end when she remarried a very wealthy man , that had been the very beautiful Hedy Lamarr’s husband at one time also.