The daughter of a successful insurance broker, Gene Tierney had a privileged upbringing. By the time she reached her late teens, she was already a head-turner pursuing an acting career. Starting on Broadway, Tierney was soon spotted by Hollywood mogul Darryl Zanuck, who put her under contract to Twentieth Century Fox.
At twenty, Tierney had her first featured role, in The Return Of Frank James (1940). By 1943, she was co-starring opposite Don Ameche in Heaven Can Wait while the following year brought the role with which she'd become most identified: Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944). Tierney’s only Oscar nod was for Leave Her To Heaven (1945), with Tierney portraying a possessive socialite with homocidal tendencies.
More films — good and great — followed, but her difficult personal life was beginning to impact her work. Tierney married playboy designer Oleg Cassini in 1941 and their relationship was tumultuous. They divorced once (in 1948), re-united, then split up for good in 1952.
Tierney contracted rubella from a fan while she was pregnant with her first daughter. When Daria Cassini was born in 1943, she was deaf and severely mentally handicapped. Howard Hughes provided the funds for her daughter's medical care.
The collapse of her marriage pushed Tierney over the edge, causing her to withdraw from the cast of 1953’s Mogambo. Her part went to up-and-comer Grace Kelly. By the time Tierney made The Left Hand Of God (opposite Humphrey Bogart) in 1955, her fragile emotional state made the experience very difficult for her.
Regrettably, Tierney submitted to a series of shock treatments that severely impaired her memory. In 1957, Tierney had to be talked off the fourteenth floor ledge of her mother’s apartment building. A lengthy stay at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas followed.
With Tierney’s mental health finally stabilized by the early ‘60s, she made a brief comeback but retired from films shortly thereafter. She’d married oilman W. Howard Lee in 1960 (who’d been previously wed to Hedy Lamarr). Tierney died of emphysema in 1991. In yet another regrettable twist, Tierney had only taken up smoking a half-century earlier to make her on-screen voice sound husky.