Some would say the path that actress Gene Tierney took from New York socialite to Houston socialite only incidentally included her time as a movie star in Hollywood. She was a stunningly beautiful woman with stunningly bad taste in men. In between exotic romances and nervous breakdowns she squeezed in a film career notable for a few great roles but even more so for the unfulfilled promise of what might have been if she had led a happier personal life.
Gene Tierney was born November 20, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a wealthy businessman who frowned upon Gene’s early artistic ambitions. Her ethereal beauty and privileged background seemed to ensure a life at the top of New York social circles. But after making her debut, her father allowed her to pursue a career in show business.
After a successful audition, Producer George Abbot cast her in the Broadway play “Mrs. O’Brien Entertains.” Columbia Pictures courted her and she had a studio contract before she was twenty. Moving to Hollywood, she discovered she was just one of hundreds of young starlets waiting for their big break. But while the parts didn’t come, her beauty did get noticed – by millionaire industrialist Howard Hughes. The two dated for a short time before Gene decided to head back to New York and the stage.
She scored a hit in the play “The Male Animal.” Again, her Broadway success led to a studio contract, this one with Twentieth Century Fox. Giving Hollywood a second chance, she began to get steady work. She appeared in “The Return of Frank James” (1940), “Tobacco Road” (1941), and “Heaven Can Wait” (1943). Then came her breakthrough as the star of Otto Preminger’s noir-classic “Laura” (1944). The film was a hit and Gene Tierney became a star. Excellent roles followed in “A Bell for Adano” (1945), “Dragonwyck (1946)”, “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), and “Leave Her to Heaven” (1946), the last film earning Gene her only Oscar® nomination.
Unfortunately, while Gene’s professional life was taking off her personal life was floundering. Her marriage to the fashion designer Oleg Cassini was marred by the tragedy of their daughter, Daria, who was born retarded. She had an affair with a young John F. Kennedy, who broke her heart by refusing to marry her. A remarriage to Cassini produced another daughter, Christina (born in 1948), but also another divorce.
In the 1950’s she had an affair with Prince Aly Khan (Rita Hayworth’s ex-husband), who broke off their relationship when his father threatened to disown him for dating another wacky actress. She suffered a nervous breakdown and spent a good part of the 1950’s in mental hospitals. Her 1961 marriage to Houston oilman W. Howard Lee gave her some well-deserved stability. For the rest of her life she acted occasionally on TV and became active in Houston charities, especially those involved with the mentally retarded. She died in Houston on November 6, 1991.