#WCW: Gene Tierney

genetierneyI’ve been off the grid for most of the second half of Summer of Darkness but for good reason: I recently moved states for a new job opportunity! Unfortunately that means I’m way behind on the Investigating Film Noir course and my blog. This week’s edition of #WCW comes late but better than never, right? Gene Tierney is an actress that’s often overlooked but behind that striking beauty was a survivor and a woman whose acting deserves respect. 20th Century Fox studio head Daryl F. Zanuck once declared Tierney, “the most beautiful actress in film,” and I have to agree with him. Tierney was a knockout but she was beautiful in a way that could be seductive and friendly. She had a warmth to her looks that wasn’t intimidating compared to the likes of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. lauraShe starred in a wide variety of films in the 1940’s alongside some of the great leading men of the era: Dana Andrews, Don Ameche, Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde, Vincent Price, John Payne, and Victor Mature. Her prominent cheekbones and perfect green eyes made her one of the most popular stars of the time. My favorite film is her most famous one, Laura (Dir. Otto Preminger, 1944), in which she plays the title role. In interviews, Tierney often undersold the role of Laura Hunt claiming it was “just a beautiful face” but truly it was much more than that. The character is courageous and independent career girl and Tierney plays her with a great likability that it’s no wonder all the men in the film fall in love with her. Laura doesn’t even appear for a good twenty minutes into the film but when Tierney does, she makes every frame count. GeneLeavehertoHeavenTierney was nominated for one Oscar during her career for her performance as the evil Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven (Dir. John M. Stahl, 1945). This film is unlike any role she’s ever played and she is so good in this villainous part. Although it’s filmed in glorious Technicolor, this is a very dark picture. Ellen suffers from “feminine Oedipus attitude.” She harbored a love for her late father and is now transferring that onto her new husband but that love turns into an obsessive jealousy. Ellen will stop at nothing to have her husband all to herself and her actions become more uncontrollable whenever his attention is threatened. For 1944, this film and its subject matter are quite shocking. Tierney is absolute perfection in this part, it’s the only film I can think of that so convincingly portrays a woman’s descent into literal madness. You’re horrified by her actions yet you sympathize because of Tierney’s ability to show a different side into the cracks of this frightening woman. Beneath the glamorous exterior of Tierney’s film career was a woman with a tragic life. In 1943, she gave birth prematurely to her first daughter Daria. The girl was born deaf, severely mentally disabled, and blind. It was the result of a fan diagnosed with rubella breaking out of quarantine. She wanted to meet Tierney so badly that she left and found her volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. Tierney was devastated and almost turned down the role in Laura. Closest friends say Tierney never got over the immense guilt she felt about the situation saying she believed her career was the cause of her daughter’s problems. For most of her adult life, Tierney suffered from mental illness. It affected her work as she had trouble concentrating, soon the roles stopped coming her way. She eventually sought help and was admitted into an institution. During this time she underwent electric shock treatments; 27 in total. genetierney_flower I recently read her autobiography, Self Portrait, in which she is very candid about her life and its hardships. She does not hold back when it comes to the brutal details of the treatments and of the time she attempted suicide. Tierney became a vocal opponent of electric shock treatments in a time when it wasn’t discussed. She claimed the treatments destroyed significant parts of her memory. Below is an interview of Gene Tierney from 1979 with Mike Douglas. Just like her roles onscreen, Tierney is beautiful, charming, and elegant while being frank about her life. What I love most about this interview is that it shows the side I respect most about Gene Tierney, Gene was a survivor. She endured many hardships but she seemed to find peace in the end. In her book, you get the sense that she didn’t look back in anger when recounting her stories but in a way that moved forward. May we all learn from Gene. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPox8pbGi1U

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