Day 196 of Colourisation Project – November 19
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Called “the most beautiful woman in movie history” by Darryl Zanuck, founder of 20th Century Fox, the former New York debutante seemed to have it all. She had a bright and privileged start in life, was successful on Broadway by the age of 20, was acclaimed as an actress of great merit, starring in many ‘A’ grade movies playing opposite some of Hollywood’s finest; Tyrone Power, Walter Huston, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Rex Harrison, Clark Gable, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Humphrey Bogart, to name but a few; was nominated for a Best Actress Award and was courted by many of the world’s prominent men including Prince Aly Khan, Howard Hughes, and a young John F. Kennedy.
Born this day, November 19, 1920, Gene Tierney was indeed one of the most beautiful actresses to have graced the screen. Today’s publicity still is certainly testament to that. She lived an exciting and glamorous life but her middle years were plagued by tragedy, divorce and mental illness.
It was Humphrey Bogart who discovered the extent of Tierney’s mental problems while they were filming The Left Hand of God in 1953. Bogart knew the signs. He had a sister who suffered from mental illness. He encouraged her to seek help. Shortly after she was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New York and then the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, where she underwent over 30 shock treatments.
During the 1950s, she was in and out of mental hospitals as she battled her demons. In all she spent some six years in institutions.
Like the talented actress, Frances Farmer whose meteoric rise to stardom was truncated by bouts of bi-polar disorder and long periods of involuntary confinement to mental institutions, Tierney’s life was also punctuated with bouts of bi-polar disorder. And like Farmer, she eventually found some peace and happiness in life though she struggled all her life with the pain of committing her disabled daughter to an institution.
Interestingly, they made a film together in 1942, Son of Fury, Farmer’s last film before being committed to an asylum for nearly eight years.
It was thought that Tierney’s bipolar disorder was triggered by the birth of her first daughter, who was born deaf, partially blind and severely mentally handicapped. She was ultimately placed in institutional care at the age of 4 triggering ongoing bouts of manic depression throughout the rest of Tierney’s life.
She came perilously close to committing suicide in 1957 by attempting to jump off a ledge at her mother’s apartment, 14 stories high above Manhattan, but stopped just in time. As she explains in her candid 1979 autobiography, Self-Portrait, “I must have stood there for 20 minutes. I was totally without fear, and I thought, ‘What’s the point of living?’ ” What saved her, she says, “was vanity. I thought of what I’d look like when I hit the ground—like a scrambled egg. That didn’t appeal to me. If I was going to die, I wanted to be in one piece.”
Her on-again-off-again marriage to Hollywood designer, Oleg Cassini (who later designed for Jacqueline Kennedy), with whom she had eloped to Las Vegas in 1941 was fraught with problems. Her parents were against the marriage. They had two daughters together however the tumultuous relationship just added to her depression, though they remained good friends to the end. After Tierney’s death, Cassini in an interview described Tierney as “the luckiest, unlucky girl in the world, all of her dreams came true, at a cost.”
In 1960 Tierney married Texan oil baron, W. Howard Lee, (Hedy Lamarr‘s ex) and two years later suffered a miscarriage. Though they lived a relatively quiet and happy life in Houston, Texas, she had several relapses. On one occasion Lee had to bring her home in the middle of the night after she began pounding on a neighbor’s door, calling out for her disabled daughter.
“The doctors told me, ‘If you break an arm or a leg it takes months for it to really heal, and years for it to be the same again. So you can imagine the problems with a broken mind. Of course, knowing the trouble is going to come back isn’t easy, but I just have to face that fact and know I’ll muddle through. Everybody’s pulling for me. I’m as happy as I can be. Even the voices that I hear are sweet.”
Lee died in 1981 and Tierney who was always a heavy smoker eventually succumbed to emphysema in 1991 in Houston, Texas at the age of 70.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Tierney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.
Here’s a treat for you today. Two of the most beautiful people you could ever hope to see on the screen at the same time. The exceptionally handsome, Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney in a scene from Son of Fury, (1942) ……Enjoy but don’t let yourselves be distracted by Tyrone’s sexy bathers!
“Wealth, beauty, and fame are transient. When those are gone, little is left except the need to be useful.” – Gene Tierney