Childhood & Early Life
Gene Tierney was born on November 19, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York, US, in the affluent family of successful insurance broker Howard Sherwood Tierney and ex-physical education instructor Belle Lavinia Taylor. Her elder brother was Howard Sherwood “Butch” Tierney, Jr., and younger sister was Patricia “Pat” Tierney.
Growing up in Westport, Connecticut, she studied at the St. Margaret's School and the Unquowa School in Waterbury and Fairfield respectively. Gene wrote poetry since her childhood and maintained such pursuit all-through her life, although intermittently. Her first poem titled ‘Night’ was published in her school magazine.
She attended Brillantmont International School at Lausanne, Switzerland, for three years and returned back to the US in 1938, and studied at the Miss Porter's School.
She visited Warner Bros. studios to meet a cousin while on a family trip to West Coast when she was offered a contract, but it didn’t materialise as her parents discouraged such proposal.
On September 24, 1938, she made her society debut. In no time she got disinterested with such society life and resolved to make a career in acting. She came under tutelage of Benno Schneider while taking acting lessons in a small acting studio in Greenwich Village.
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As protégée of George Abbott, Gene made her Broadway debut in 1938 in the play ‘What a Life!’ During that time she also understudied in the play ‘The Primrose Path.’
In 1939, she performed in the Broadway production of ‘Mrs. O'Brien Entertains’ as Molly O'Day, and also as Peggy Carr in ‘Ring Two.’ Both these were staged by Abbott and received kudos from critics for her brilliant performances as a newcomer.
Her father set up the ‘Belle-Tier Corporation’ to promote her acting career. In 1939, she signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures.
In 1940, she gave a splendid performance as Patricia Stanley in the hit Broadway production ‘The Male Animal’. As a result of this success, she featured in ‘Life’ magazine, along with Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Collier's Weekly.
She signed with 20th Century-Fox and appeared in the Fritz Lang directed western film ‘The Return of Frank James.’ She starred opposite Henry Fonda, and the film became a commercial success.
In 1941, she starred in four commercially successful films, including ‘Hudson's Bay,’ ‘Tobacco Road,’ ‘Belle Starr,’ and ‘The Shanghai Gesture,’ along with the critically acclaimed film ‘Sundown,’ which failed at box-office.
She received further praise for her performance as Martha Strable Van Cleve in the 1943 Technicolor American comedy film ‘Heaven Can Wait.’ It became a blockbuster hit.
Thereafter, she landed up with the most memorable role of her career in the Otto Preminger directed and produced 1944 American film noir ‘Laura.’ She starred as Laura Hunt, a smart and gorgeous New York advertiser with a successful career, opposite Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb.
In 1999, the Library of Congress selected her film ‘Laura’ to preserve in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was also named among the all-time 10 best mystery films by AFI.
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She next featured as Ellen Brent Harland in the 1945 American Technicolor film noir ‘Leave Her to Heaven.’ The film grossed more than $5,000,000 at box-office and emerged as the highest-grossing picture of 20th Century-Fox during the 1940s, and earned her an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Actress.’
She garnered critical acclaim for playing Isabel Bradley in the December 1946 released flick ‘The Razor's Edge,’ the first film adaptation of 1944 novel of W. Somerset Maugham bearing the same title.
The Otto Preminger directed 1950 classic film noir ‘Whirlpool’ featured Gene in the starring role of Ann Sutton.
While the gorgeous diva continued with her successful film career, uncalled for events, including the birth of a deaf and mentally disabled daughter, Daria, started taking a toll on her, which resulted in bouts of maniac depression.
As a result of severe depression, her career started suffering and she had to seek psychiatric help. She had to undergo 27 shock treatments to ease such condition.
She made her comeback to films with the Otto Preminger directed 1962 American neo noir motion picture ‘Advise and Consent.’
The 20th Century Fox Motion Picture’s ‘The Pleasure Seekers’ was her last film. Other notable films of her career are the romantic-fantasy ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’ (1947); screwball comedy ‘That Wonderful Urge’ (1948); classic farce ‘The Mating Season (1951); drama ‘Personal Affair’ (1953); mystery flick ‘Black Widow’ (1954); and television movie ‘Daughter of the Mind’ (1969).
She also featured in single episodes of television series’ like ‘Toast of the Town’ (1953) and ‘The F.B.I.’ (1969); and television shows like ‘The Merv Griffin Show’ (1974), and ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ (1980).
She was married to costume and fashion designer Oleg Cassini from June 1, 1941 to February 28, 1952. Her first daughter with Cassini, Antoinette Daria Cassini, was born on October 15, 1943, while their second daughter, Christina "Tina" Cassini, was born on November 19, 1948.
She got married for the second time to Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee on July 11, 1960. The couple stayed in Delray Beach, Florida and Houston, Texas, till the death of Lee in 1981.
According to sources, she was also romantically associated with Prince Aly Khan, Spencer Tracy, and John F. Kennedy at different points of time.
She published her autobiography, ‘Self-Portrait,’ in 1979. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.
On November 6, 1991, she succumbed to emphysema in Houston and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery.