Self-Portrait by Gene Tierney

For almost two months, Gene Tierney was a close friend.

She told me her life in such a pretty fashion, with imperfection, of course. She helped me understand the severity of depression, and awareness of when one is not well.

Besides starring in films that will forever remain my favorites, she became a woman I could relate to. That’s what kept me turning the pages…From her years in Connecticut…to her start in Broadway…life in Hollywood…marriage to Oleg Cassini…her daughter Daria…her manic depression…Jack Kennedy…Aly Kahn…Oh, and her boarding school years in Switzerland, of course.

Did you know she met Douglas Fairbanks on the her way there? She found him rather creepy, however. She thought he had more than friendly intentions. She also went to school with Maria Riva, daughter of Marlene Dietrich. I liked her passage of when she would discuss politics with her friends…Their minds were just being opened…and then they would face a political reality in the outbreak of WWII.

What I also could relate to and loved about Gene was her morals and self-respect. She dated respectable men, for the most part, who were elegant. She had a love life, but was also responsible in her work environment! I loved how she went on and on about how charming Jack Kennedy was…And how she voted for Nixon instead of him (in secret, but still congratulated him when he won).

She had some quotes I had to underline with a pencil that just touched me in the heart!

About Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven, she said:

She was jealous in a sad and destructive way. Jealousy is, I think, the worst of all faults because it makes a victim of both parties.

I could not agree more with this quote…I am by nature a jealous person and it sometimes makes my life hell.

Relating to depression, she wrote:

All I meant was that we can be born with a flaw, or develop one. We can be rejected-by a parent, lover, or friends. But people are not pieces of china. We can help ourselves and seek help from others. We can fight back and become whole again. The pity is not in failing. It is in not trying.

In the last few pages of her book, her tone became bittersweet when reaching a conclusion about dealing with a sickness of the mind. Getting help is not shameful, it is simply helping yourself in a way.

Gene went through years of hell with depressive mood episodes and manic ones. She would start thinking people were poisoning her food or that the communists were after her. She underwent at least thirty-two sessions of electroshock therapy, which she horribly regretted for the rest of her life. She lost some of her memory.

She stayed in sanitariums in which she would become hopeless and violent at first, but then very cooperative. They let her work in a department store and it was therapeutic for her. There was one incident in which they tried to calm her down by wrapping freezing sheets of ice around her body for an hour and she would start crying.

All in all, she did find hope. Her book begins with her recollection of a suicide attempt…but she did find stability.

Gene couldn’t concentrate when she read books for a long time. Neither have I. This is the first book I have read this year.

I have stayed in a mental facility…but not as long as she did. Mine was a matter of two days or so. What I cold understand from her was that to be less sick than them was “a treacherous way to be”. That’s how I exactly felt when I went…I was there for suicidal ideation…and other kids were dealing with things like hallucinations and drug abuse.

Of all the characters, my favorites were her brother Butch, her sister Pat, her mother, Howard Hughes, and her late husband Howard Lee.

Her father was a cold-hearted bastard. I can’t describe my indignation over how he sued her! He took her earnings the first two years she was in Hollywood! Besides that, he took the pleasure of leaving his mother for her best friend.

Gene did write about my favorite director, Ernst Lubitsch!

Lubitsch was a little fellow, with straight dark hair combed to the side and a cigar poking out of the corner of his mouth. He had been one of the great European directors and had cast Greta Garbo in the classic Ninotchka. He was regarded as the master of urbane and sophisticated comedy.

But he was a tyrant on the set, the most demanding of directors. After one scene, which took from noon until five to get, I was almost in tears from listening to Lubitsch shout at me. The next day I sought him out, looked him in the eye, and said, “Mr. Lubitsch, I’m willing to do my best but I just can’t go on working on this picture if you’re going to keep shouting at me.”

“I’m paid to shout at you,” he bellowed.

“Yes,” I said, “and I’m paid to take it-but not enough.”

After a tense pause, Lubitsch broke out laughing. From then on we got along famously.

When I read this passage, I just laughed because I could just imagine his face and his little angry German accent! I do agree with Gene on this…Greta Garbo also did say he was a perfectionist…and he did have a lot of arguments with Pola Negri. You could yell like hell with Lubitsch, but then he can be a five-year-old boy laughing off his anger.

Another thing I found quite shocking was that her daughter had become deaf because of measles. While Gene was pregnant with her first child, Daria, she went to a war bond rally to support the troops, and a girl broke the quarantine rule to meet her and gave her measles, which resulted in Daria being born mentally retarded and deaf. Gene strongly resented the woman…but learned to deal with it. Her struggle with dealing with Daria and her inability to accept the situation triggered her manic depression. It was sad to read that even at thirty-five Daria still had the mind of a baby. I found it terribly sweet that Howard Hughes helped her with doctors and such.

Oleg Cassini was a bitchy man…and possessive. He never stopped loving Gene, I am sure. As for Howard Hughes, I think he did love her also, but was foolish not to take her seriously.

Anyway, this book was a really good read. I had never felt so close to a movie star before…close to the mind…close to thoughts. Not since Pola Negri’s memoirs.

It took me two months to read because night school got in the way. When I got back to reading it, I was immediately absorbed once again. The copy is old, so the cover tore (it’s a paperback) and the first page.

I would recommend this to someone who wants to read a story of a celebrity who respected herself, did not devote her life to failed loves and forgot about herself, was a hard-worker, obviously was not perfect, and dealt with the hellish experience of mental illness. Gene will give you a lively recollection of the 1940’s.

By the way, I have got to say that the Tierneys were really good-looking people.

Now I find myself lost in what to do…I would take that book everywhere. All I have of Gene now are her films.

Thank you, Gene Tierney for sharing such a fascinating life story. You were a much different person from your roles…and from the sassy photographs of you.

She is my favorite girl in the film noir films.

My favorite part in Laura is when the maid sees her when she reappears and thinks she’s a ghost. I just start laughing.

Gene, why did you not mention Vincent Price? You starred in many films with him!


2 thoughts on “Self-Portrait by Gene Tierney

  1. Awesome job, Isabel! It’s funny too because I remember I had an Oleg Cassini necktie when I was a kid. I got it at a thrift shop. It was some 1970s pattern and fabric. I didn’t know who he was until your book review.

    So thank you for that and all the things you write 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oleg was a very famous designer! When he married Gene, however, he couldn’t find work because people disapproved of their marriage. He usually designed her dresses for films. I can imagine how groovy the neck tie must look.

      You’re welcome, once again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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