Hollywood Movies

Gene Tierney was more than just another Hollywood tragedy

March 29, 20242 Mins Read

It was like a scene from a dark and twisted film noir. The Hollywood pin-up described by one studio boss as “unquestionably the most beautiful woman in movie history” climbed out the window of her mother’s New York apartment, 14 storeys above street level. She stood on the ledge and got ready to jump. At the last moment, she paused. “If I was going to die, I wanted to die in one piece, a whole person, and look pretty in my coffin,” Gene Tierney later said. She had, she claimed, no desire to end up looking like “scrambled eggs”.

At the time of the abandoned suicide attempt in 1957, Tierney was in her mid-thirties, still very famous and in demand. In her early years in movies, Tierney (whose career is now being celebrated in a season at BFI Southbank) led a charmed life. She was talent-spotted in Hollywood as a teenager during a studio tour with her family. A former debutante who had gone to finishing school in Switzerland, she possessed poise, beauty and intelligence. Powerful and influential men swarmed around her, among them Howard Hughes, a youthful John F Kennedy and Prince Aly Khan. Top directors, including John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, Otto Preminger, Josef von Sternberg, and Joseph L Mankiewicz relished working with her.

Tierney was Oscar-nominated for her performance as the jealous and unhinged wife in John M Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945). She had already assumed instant cult status as the enigmatic, siren-like advertising exec who seemed to come back from the dead in Preminger’s Laura (1944). Her range was astonishing. She could do light comedy but could also play the bleakest and most emotionally complex roles.

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