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Remembering The Great Gene Tierney

In the heyday of the Golden Age of Cinema, an actress bloomed into fame and adoration by winning the hearts of critics and moviegoers alike with both her acting skills and her striking beauty. Gene Tierney was one of Hollywood and Broadway’s most praised and desired actresses in the 1940s. She was also a woman plagued by tragedy and poor mental and physical health. 


Gene’s Early Life

Gene Tierney was born on November 19, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a successful insurance broker and her mother was a former P.E. teacher. She also had a brother and a sister. 

The Tierney family moved to Westport, Connecticut to raise their children in exclusive private schools there. They had high expectations for their children. For Gene specifically, they expected her to be a well-read, intelligent woman and make a successful debut into society before settling down in a comfortable marriage and life. 


Bit by the Acting Bug

Her first taste of acting was in a production of “Little Women” when she was a child. She had the role of Jo and seemed to enjoy the experience even then as a young girl.  And at 17 she toured several Hollywood studios and decided to go into acting as a career. She made a deal with her father that she would finish school, debut into society, and then go to New York to study as a respectable Broadway actress. 


New York To Hollywood And Back Again

Gene debuted as agreed in September of 1938, spent a short amount of time in “society” and then moved to New York to study under Broadway directors. She began to play small roles on the stage–always to positive reviews. 

The reviews led to a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures and Gene moved to California. 

Unfortunately, her six months in California proved a bust. She didn’t land any roles. The only notable thing that came of her time there was a lifelong friendship she forged with the famous Howard Hughes. 

After her contract with Columbia was up, Gene moved back to New York and the Broadway stage. She began to make a great name for herself there–always well-received by both critics and the public. She was one of Broadway’s biggest stars and she was only 20 years old.


Finally, Success In Hollywood

All this success landed Gene a contract with 20th Century Fox and in 1940 she moved back to Hollywood. This time she was able to land roles and her film career took off. Just like on Broadway, Gene’s work in Hollywood was always met with positive reviews and great acclaim.


Personal Success And Tragedies

While Gene’s career was taking off, she was also dealing with both joy and hardship behind the scenes. In 1941, she married her first husband Oleg Cassini. Her parents disapproved of the marriage which was difficult for Gene. In 1943, Gene had her first child, a daughter. Her daughter had severe mental and physical disabilities and spent much of her life receiving treatment and care in institutions. Howard Hughes generously paid for her medical care as a great friend to Gene. 

This and other work-related difficulties behind the scenes were hard on Gene. She had a second daughter in 1948 and her marriage ended in divorce in 1952. She suffered from worsening manic depression and had difficulty concentrating and remembering lines at work. She started getting less work. She was even suicidal. She was institutionalized two separate times. 

Then in the late 1950s, she met her second husband, W. Howard Lee. She credits him with helping her through the most difficult period of her life. They were together until he died in 1981. 


From Hollywood Stardom To The Quiet Life

Gene continued to take roles into the early 1960s. She was always well-loved and received by all on and off the screen. She decided to retire for good in 1964. From there she spent as much time as possible with her family. She also wrote an autobiography, Self-Portrait, in 1971. She received the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the 1980s. She died in 1991 of emphysema at almost 71 years old. 

Her life was full of love, fame, success, tragedy, perseverance, and overcoming. She was and is truly a Hollywood icon for the ages.