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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Monday Glamour Starter --- Gene Tierney --- Part 1

One night when I was ten, some of us camped out in the back yard of a friend whose neighbors included an elderly couple with a daughter well known around the neighborhood for having a mental illness. We all knew the woman --- she’d been this way for as long as we could remember, and there were stories of how her folks had to take her away from time-to-time for "shock treatments." It was hard for me to believe such things went on in real life, so I dismissed it as so much child-generated rumor. The horrific reality came home as we lay sleeping in our bags around five that morning. Awakened by an unearthly scream, we saw the dim lights from the garage next door and the two shadowy figures dragging the woman toward their car with ignition running. I’d never heard a human being utter such sounds. Haven’t since. The idea of shock therapy still evokes a chill for me. Probably does for everyone. Do they still apply these procedures? They did in the fifties, when Gene Tierney endured thirty-two sessions with the electrodes. How could she have survived a thing like that? I’d like to think the places she described in her memoirs don’t exist anymore, but I bet they do. In fact, I’d wager they’re worse.

There’s a really good Biography episode on Gene Tierney that comes as an extra with the Laura DVD. First husband Oleg Cassini (who comes across as very perceptive, by the way) said that Gene was one of the luckiest people that ever lived until one day when her luck ran out. After that, it was hell. If stardom has a price, she paid it, and then some. The story that always chilled me to the bone (notwithstanding the shock treatments) was the one about her first child and the German measles. Tierney stopped by the Canteen in 1943 and met a fan who’d broken quarantine in order to meet her favorite actress. Gene was pregnant at the time and got the measles. Her child’s numerous birth defects were the result. Eventually, they had to put the baby in a "home." Years, or months, later (according to which account you read), Gene was approached by the woman who would now unknowingly reveal the whole thing. According to Tierney’s memoirs, she was stunned to silence, and never told the woman what she’d actually done. Years later, in a homage of epochal bad taste, Agatha Christie would use the real-life tragedy as a hook for her 1962 mystery novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side.

Gene Tierney’s father started out with money and ended flat. During the interim, he sent her to private schools and bankrolled the acting lessons. The family set up a corporation and Dad managed all her Hollywood loot. Guess you’ve already figured out how this one ends up. The Coogan-esque paterfamilias cleaned the accounts in a bid to salvage his own flagging business, and on top of that, left Gene’s mother for another woman. Maybe he’d seen the emotional problems on the horizon early on, for when Gene announced her intention to marry Oleg Cassini, Howard Tierney threatened to have his daughter committed for mental incompetence. He even sued her for monies he’d misappropriated. Needless to say, daughter and father were estranged for good. As for Oleg (shown here twice with Gene), he was no Ty Power, but you wouldn’t know it from the score he’d accumulate with Hollywood beauties all the way into his nineties (he just died a few months ago at 92). Besides Gene, there would be involvements with Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Ursula Andress, Betty Grable, many more. This guy demolishes any stereotype one might entertain about dress designers. Besides his legendary way with women, Oleg was a fearless scrapper. Nightclub fistfights (often over Gene) were not uncommon, and once he chased Howard Hughes
away from an intended trespass upon the wife with every intention of caving in the billionaire’s skull with a two by four. Check out that interview with him in the Biography show. Oleg really had it together.

A two-part Glamour Starter for Gene Tierney won’t begin to cover all the gorgeous images that are out there --- many of them in color --- but we persevere. The grimy hillbilly look can be a fetching thing when it’s Gene crawling among the turnips --- I’ve not seen Tobacco Road, though it played drive-ins around me all the way into the seventies, often on a tandem bill with Thunder Road. Don’t know what’s happened to it since. That head-banging color tinted portrait is by courtesy of Tom Maroudas (Dream Pin-Ups --- check out his auctions HERE). There need be no justification made for swimsuit portraits --- thus here are two --- and there will be more. The grass skirt enhanced Son Of Fury in 1942, one of my all-time favorites. When I was in college, we had a renegade UHF channel in town that had leased a big Fox package, then kept eight or ten of the prints after their license had expired, showing them on odd, unannounced, and unauthorized occasions. I got into the habit of calling up the night duty man and asking him to run Son Of Fury. He was always cool with that --- even letting me pick the broadcast time! It was better than a Top 40 request line. How I miss those free and easy days of local television. Anyway, next is The Shanghai Gesture, a queer sort of uneventful movie, but has any woman ever looked so ravishing as this? Too bad the extant prints aren’t in better shape. Everybody did the war stamp pose. This was probably around the time of Gene’s fateful meeting I mentioned earlier. Finally, here’s a nice shot with Dana Andrews in Laura. I remember reading once in the mid-eighties that Good Morning America was doing a cast reunion on that movie, and everyone was supposedly there (well, all except Clifton Webb). That’s one video excerpt I’d love to see, assuming it actually took place (I missed the original show). Does anyone recall seeing this, or was it all just a figment of my fevered imagination?


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

Glamour Starters are the reason Mondays no longer get me down! Lovely Gene- very beautiful, talented women- very sad and difficult life. For years I had thought she passed away in the 60s. I don't know I thought that, then I watched the Biography episode on the Laura DVD and learned that she pretty much retired from the game in the 60s. What a sad life.
The thing that really got to me was her second daughter describing how she came home from school one day (she was living in NY with her grandmother) to see a big crowd gathered outside her apartment building. She looked up and realized they were all looking at her mother in her nightgown out on the ledge. They (someone) managed to get Gene back in off the ledge somehow, but those must have been some of the most terrifying minutes of that young girl's life. I just rewatched Laura and that special last week - so I must be picking up on Greenbrier's wave length. Still hoping for that Cyd Charisse glamour starter...

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have often wondered if the set
of "Son of Fury" had any problems
with Gene Tierney and Frances Farmer. Their emotional problems
were similar. Tierney was cast
in the film as a contract 20th
player, but Farmer was, I believe,
cast as a result of Tyrone Power
wanting to help a friend beginning
to have problems. I can't remember
if Tierney and Farmer had any scenes together.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace our screens, so it is especially sad that her off screen life was so unhappy. Can't wait for Part 2.

4:48 AM  
Blogger RC said...

that electric shock stuff is just horrible, absolutly sad.

--RC of

1:15 AM  

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