In my view, Gene Tierney was not only one of the most beautiful but also one of the most underrated actresses of the studio era. Her eyes sparkled, her teeth sparkled, her complexion sparkled – even her cheekbones sparkled. And in the right role, under the right guidance, they could all sparkle at the appropriate dramatic moment. How many actors have been able to accomplish that feat?
I mean, for Robert Pattinson to sparkle in the Twilight movies they needed special effects. Gene Tierney needed no such thing. All she had to do was to step in front of a camera. That was it. Shining brilliance.
Obviously, considering my effusive introduction to Gene Tierney Day, I'd recommend every single one of the movies to be shown on TCM, six of which are premieres: Sundown, That Wonderful Urge, China Girl, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Close to My Heart, and (in my opinion) her chef d'oeuvre, John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (1945), in which Tierney is awesome to behold as a woman madly, obsessively, psychotically, murderously in love. Not to be missed.
Needless to say, not all of her films are great or even good, but overall 20th Century Fox took good care of their contract player in the 1940s. Tierney, in fact, starred in several of the biggest blockbusters of the decade, among them the aforementioned Leave Her to Heaven (right), Otto Preminger's classic film noir Laura (1944), Edmund Goulding's The Razor's Edge (1946), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Dragonwyck (1946), which TCM will be showing on Saturday night.
In addition to the “film noir in color” Leave Her to Heaven, I'd particularly recommend Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941); Mitchell Leisen's The Mating Season (1951), which earned scene-stealer Thelma Ritter her second Academy Award nomination; and Broadway director Robert B. Sinclair's That Wonderful Urge (1948), a so-so comedy made worthwhile because of Tierney's chemistry with Fox superstar Tyrone Power.
I'd also ardently recommend Joseph L. Mankiewicz's romantic comedy-fantasy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), except that TCM isn't showing it. (It's been presented on the Fox Movie Channel.)
Tierney (unfortunately) has an unimportant role in this all-star effort, while Charles Laughton is badly miscast as a Southern congressman. But the rest of the cast, especially Don Murray as the Politician with a (Major) Skeleton in the Closet (hell, which one doesn't have at least one of those?), is top-notch.
Gene Tierney's private life was anything but a fairy-tale. A serviceman fan was probably responsible for her catching German measles (rubella) during pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of a brain-damaged daughter.
Tierney's marriage to designer Oleg Cassini crumbled; there were several unhappy love affairs, including one with John F. Kennedy. She would later attempt suicide, and spent nearly a decade in and out of sanatoriums where, at one point, she received shock treatment.
Her autobiography (with Mickey Herskowitz), Self-Portrait, is both disturbing and a page-turner.
Gene Tierney, but then nearly unrecognizable, died of emphysema at the age of 70 in Nov. 1991 in Houston.
A previous version of this article indicated that Gene Tierney had contracted measles. She actually came down with German measles a.k.a. rubella while pregnant.