First off, you may notice something different about the title of this entry. When you are not God, it is rather stressful to try to cram an entire lifetime into one 7-day period. I have, thus, converted Backlots’ regular Star of the Week feature to a celebration of one star per month, to try to relieve some of the rush that comes from trying to sufficiently cover the (often very full) life of a particular star. This will enable me to cover more information and provide a fuller, more in-depth analysis of the star, and to rest on the sabbath (can you tell I work at a Jewish school?)
The star who gets the honor of being Backlots’ first Star of the Month is the magnificently stunning, brilliantly talented, and tragically troubled Gene Tierney, whom I never tire of gazing at. She made a plethora of wonderful films, and her personal life was full and fascinating to say the least. But unlike many of Hollywood’s finest, Tierney came through her troubles, and we have the good fortune to be able to read about her life firsthand in her memoir entitled Self Portrait, which gives us a glimpse into the psyche that many of her peers unfortunately succumbed to, and did not live long enough to describe to us. For that, it is a very precious book for aficionados of classic Hollywood.
Tierney was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 19, 1920. Her family was prominent socially, and Gene soon became bored with the social scene and decided to go to work on the stage, landing small parts on Broadway before breaking into the film world in 1940 with such pictures as The Return of Frank James (1940), Hudson’s Bay (1940), and Tobacco Road (1941). Her career continued steadily upward in the mid-1940’s, featuring notably Shanghai Gesture (1941), and Heaven Can Wait (1943), before the role that shot her to superstardom, the eponymous character in the 1944 film Laura.
Tierney’s first marriage was to Oleg Cassini in 1941, and their daughter Antoinette Daria (known simply as Daria) was born in 1943. During Tierney’s pregnancy, she had been exposed to the rubella virus, which was contracted by her daughter in utero, resulting in Daria being born blind, deaf, and severely mentally challenged. This may have been the impetus for Tierney’s future problems with mental health–Daria’s condition provoked intense stress on the family, and after the birth of their second daughter Tina in 1948, Tierney’s marriage to Cassini ended in divorce. Some years later and after a series of breakdowns, she was diagnosed with manic depression–today known as bipolar disorder.
Tierney was very upfront about her condition, writing about it candidly in her memoir in 1979, one of the first celebrities to do so. She thus helped to eradicate the stigma of the illness, and since then, a number of other celebrities have come forth with their own struggles. Self Portrait is, as I mentioned before, a very important book, and I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves as such.
She married a second time in 1960, and this time succeeded in her marriage to oil baron Howard Lee, remaining happily married until Lee’s death in 1981. Tierney died of emphysema 10 years later, after nearly 50 years of being a heavy smoker. Daria Cassini, her daughter who spent much of her life in institutions, also sadly passed away in September of last year. But Gene Tierney’s contribution to film has not been forgotten–she has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is still widely remembered, even by those not familiar with classic film, as the famous Laura.
Throughout November, I will be highlighting aspects of Gene Tierney’s life and career. Stay tuned for more Gene, all this month!