Gene Tierney: Movie Star 1920-1991

Portrait of Gene Tierney Gene Tierney at Age 13

The future star at age 13.

Gene Tierney in the film <em>Laura</em>

Gene Tierney in her most celebrated role as Laura Hunt from the film Laura (1944).

Gene Tierney in <em>Leave Her to Heaven</em>

Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent Harland from Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Tierney was a leading film actress and celebrity during the 1940s and 1950s.

When she was a child, Tierney’s father, an insurance broker, moved the family from New York to a country home in Greens Farms. At the Unquowa School in Fairfield, she published poetry in the school newspaper and acted in school plays. She went to finishing school in Switzerland and finished her education at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington. While visiting a film set in Hollywood with her family, Gene was spotted by director Anatole Litvak who reportedly said, “Young woman, you ought to be in pictures!” Within a day, she had a studio contract.

Although her father insisted that she return to Connecticut to have her debut at the Fairfield Country Club in 1938, Tierney had little interest in the life of a debutante. She pursued acting work on Broadway, but soon found herself back in movies. She worked with director Fritz Lang and appeared in John Ford’s Tobacco Road, paving the way for more films.

During the peak of her career, she appeared in films ranging from psychological thrillers to screwball comedies. She was known especially as the haunting murder victim in Laura (1944) and as the femme fatale in the psychological thriller Leave Her to Heaven (1945), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Her portrayal of the widowed heroine in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) was a dramatic turn-around that won the hearts of many moviegoers.

Her personal life was equally as dramatic as her films, punctuated by a troubled marriage to designer Oleg Cassini, and relationships with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and John F. Kennedy. Her first child, born prematurely after a fan unwittingly infected Tierney with German measles, suffered severe mental retardation. Sadness over her daughter worsened Tierney’s mental health, and her bipolar disorder eventually led her to withdraw from her acting career by the mid-1950s. She published a memoir, Self Portrait, in 1979, detailing both the triumphs and the difficulties of her life.