Gene Tierney: “Something Terrible’s Going To Happen To Me – Again”
Any one looking at Gene Tierney at that moment would never have known that her heart was heavy with grief . . . and pain . . . and fear. For her face was calm and impassive; her body, curved in the chair, was unmoving. Only her hands gave her away: over and over again she would go through the motions of slowly removing each finger of a glove from first one hand and then the other; then she’d go through the motions of putting the gloves on again, deliberately and slowly, making sure each glove-finger was on skin-tight before she went on to the next. Off and on, on and off, again and again and again. The only thing wrong was she had no gloves.
Inside . . . inside her head and her heart . . . she felt that she was breaking to pieces. Aly was dead . . . was dead . . . was dead. A speeding car, a flaming wreck, and then—nothing. I should cry, she thought, because I once loved him so very much . . . so very, very much . . . and the doctor said I should cry, it’s good for me to cry. But I can’t, I can’t. Fate is after me again. Fate won’t leave me alone. Fate killed Aly, and now Fate’s going to try to come between me and Howard. Something terrible’s going to happen to me again. It’s always the same—just when I have happiness in my hands, Fate snatches it away.
Betraying no emotion on her face, holding her body rigid, she let her mind run back wildly into the past—while her hands put on and took off the gloves that weren’t there—searching for peace, searching for understanding, searching for a time and a place in her life when she’d had happiness for more than a little while. But always, wherever she turned in memory, Fate was there grinning at her horribly . . .
She was too young
The first time that Fate crept up behind her she was too young and joyful to recognize the evil thing that was to pursue her everywhere and never let her out of sight. How could she know the clammy touch, the frightening fingers of her jinx, when she was so happy after running off with Oli and getting married? Only yesterday they had eloped, Gene Tierney, the beautiful society girl-movie star, and Oleg Cassini, the handsome young clothes designer. As she stood next to Oli before the Justice of the Peace in Las Vegas, repeating the words “Till death us do part,” she felt a surge of happiness that she was sure no one else in the world had ever known before. Flushed with love and pride, she had hurried with Oli to the Western Union office and wired her parents the exciting news. As she sent the two wires—one to her father in Green Farms, Connecticut, and the other to her mother in Hollywood—she imagined the expressions on their faces when they received the news: their pride would match her pride, their love would equal her love, their happiness would fuse with her happiness. With her happiness—and Olli’s.
That was June 1, 1942.
On June 2, she received her parents’ answer. Not by telegram or telephone, but in the cold, impersonal front pages of the newspapers she and Oli picked up at the hotel desk after eating their wedding breakfast in their room. She cringed at her mother’s snobbery. “Gene’s just a misguided child carried away by a suave man of the world,” Mrs. Tierney had told the reporters. “She could at least have let me announce her engagement. . . . She could have had a church wedding with everything formal and in good taste.”
But it was her father’s words that cut like a knife. “I wish Gene had stuck to her own standards—not allowed herself to go Hollywood.”
She read it and wanted to cry. It was as if the father she’d adored for nineteen years had suddenly turned upon her and slapped her cruelly across the face. But her father’s training—and her mother’s—made her hold back the tears. A lady does not cry, a lady does not show her emotions. But at that moment something inside her died.
To protect her husband’s self-respect—and to relieve some of her own pain—she called in reporters and answered her parents the way they had answered her, in print. “I have my own life to live,” she said. “I’m sorry my mother and father disapprove of my choice, and I can’t understand why they do not see that this is the most important thing in my life.” But she expressed hope, too. “I love my husband, and I know that I will win my parents over.”
What she didn’t know, couldn’t know until later, was that Fate had taken a lease on her soul. Fate, having found her a vulnerable and easy victim, wasted no time in showing her the force and power of its ugly hand.
Gene was confident that time would heal the misunderstanding between her and her parents. When 20th Century-Fox tore up her old contract, under which she received $750 a week, and gave her a new one raising her weekly salary to $1,250, she informed Mother and Dad immediately of the good news. There was no longer any need for the Belle-Tier Corporation, the family corporation which her father had set up to protect her earnings, and to save on taxes. Now, although she was still a minor at nineteen, she was of legal age, being a married woman. And the studio had worked out a most favorable contract for her.
She was very pleased with the new arrangement, and knew her parents would share her pleasure.
And again her father answered. This time with a law-suit. He sued his daughter for $50,000 and contested her new contract.
When her father had objected to her marriage to Oli, she’d felt as if she’d been slapped in the face. Now it was much worse—she’d been knocked to the ground and kicked in the heart. “What am I?” she asked herself dazedly, “a daughter—or an investment?” All her love and admiration for her father drained out of her, leaving her helpless, without hope, and afraid. If this could happen, anything could happen.
There was a nasty legal fight between her father and herself, but his claims were thrown out of court. When she was told of the victory, she shook her head numbly. She had won a law-suit, but she had lost a father.
All her fault
When shortly afterward, Howard and Belle Tierney were divorced after twenty-five years of marriage and her father soon took another wife, she was convinced it was all her fault. “I did it to them,” she brooded. “If I didn’tgo on the stage against their wishes, if I didn’t marry Oli without consulting them, and if I didn’t sign a new contract without Daddy—they’d still be together.” But she had defied them, they’d gotten a divorce because of her. Nothing Oli could say or do made her think otherwise.
Now Fate prepared a terrible blow. But first the usual bait was dangled before her. This was to be the pattern, the ever-repeating, heartless pattern—hold out happiness, then snatch it away.
Living with Oli was like living on a cloud. She wasn’t Gene Tierney the star now, she was a war-time wife keeping house near Fort Riley, Kansas. While her husband went to Officers’ Training School, she cooked and cleaned, shopped and mended, and took care of her little home like other wives were doing all over the country. And then, to make her happiness complete, she discovered she was going to have a baby.
She had to share her joy with her friends in Hollywood, so she flew back to the Coast for a brief visit. One night she made a guest appearance at the Hollywood canteen to entertain soldiers and sailors. She was about to fly back to Oli when she came down with a short but violent attack of German measles. When she returned to Kansas, the doctors advised, “Don’t have your baby here. There’s probably nothing to worry about, but sometimes German measles are dangerous for a pregnant mother—or the unborn child.” They suggested she go to Columbia Hospital, in Washington, D.C., way ahead of time . . . just in case.
Some months before the baby was due she checked into the hospital. Just in time, as it turned out, for on October 15, 1943. she gave birth to a three-pound, two-ounce daughter, whom she named Antoinnette Daria Cassini.
She understood, of course, why she couldn’t see her baby. The infant was too tiny and had to be kept in an incubator. The days went by; she felt fine and walked around in her room and out in the hospital corridors. Two or three times a day the babies were brought in to their mothers for bottle feeding or breast nursing. Each time a nurse would come near her door, bearing a pink bundle out of which would sometimes stick a little hand or a tiny foot, her heart would skip a beat. “Daria,” she would say to herself, “Daria.” But it wouldn’t be Daria, it wouldn’t be her baby; it was always someone else’s.
One day, during visiting hours, she stood out in the hall with other mothers—and with various fathers and brothers and sisters and grandmothers and grandfathers and cousins and aunts—waiting for the hospital attendants to pull back the nursery curtains so that the people in the hall could coo and smile through the glass at infants inside. In the first couple of rows of bassinets were most of the babies—bawling, squealing, wriggling, healthy babies. In back of them, along the wall, were the incubators and warmers where infants who had been born prematurely or who were experiencing slight difficulties of one kind or another, were lying. Through their little glass enclosures you could see them squirming and kicking like the others.
“Where is my baby?”
For the first time she noticed that each incubator baby had a name tag attached to the front of its enclosure. So she began to read the names: Phillips, Reich, Callum, Fergusson, Dryer, Lee, Polsky. And that was all! Seven incubator babies, but where was hers? She knocked on the door to get an attendant’s attention, but they were all busy fussing over the youngsters. Then she beat on the glass with her fists, screaming, “Where is my baby? Where is my baby?” A nurse lead her back to her room where an intern administered a sedative. When she woke up, her doctor was bending over her.
And then he sat down at the side of her bed and told her about her baby. Daria was malformed and would never be normal. The German measles of her mother, contracted so early in pregnancy, had affected her central nervous system. There was nothing that could be done to help the child. Daria would be a life-long invalid. Perhaps some day medical science would find a way to help the infant, but as for now. . . . And the doctor shook his head. “No.”
At that second she died completely inside. Oh, she went through the motions of being alive, in the weeks and months that followed, but actually she was like an animated mannequin that walked, and talked, and smiled, and worked—most of all, worked, until she was too tired to think, too numb to dream.
For a while she tried to keep pitiful little Daria with her, but at last she realized it was unfair to keep her daughter away from other handicapped children like herself, and put her in an institution.
Fate still was not satisfied. It had killed her heart, now it began to destroy her mind, Fate’s next move was as perverse as it was cruel.
Almost a year to the day after she had contracted German measles at the Hollywood canteen, she met a woman Marine who had seen the show that evening. “You didn’t happen to get measles afterward, did you?” the woman asked. “I so wanted to see you that I broke quarantine to come.”
Her heart, which had seemed dead so long, suddenly beat so fast and so hard that she thought it would burst. The fingernails on her right hand bit deeply into the flesh of her left and drew blood. Tears that had been held in check since she was a little girl pushed to the corners of her eyes. But they did not fall. Instead she manufactured a polite smile, and said, flatly—in a voice from the grave, “Yes, I had the measles.”
After that, nothing mattered. She separated from Oli, reconciled with him and had another child, Christina, a normal, healthy, adorable baby. But her divorce from Oli was inevitable.
After leaving her husband, she plunged into work—making picture after picture after picture. Off the set, she did not talk to anyone but little Tina. She loved the child very much, but the ghosts of her own father, of Oli and, most of all, of Daria, were with her night and day.
Fate had taken her heart, attacked her mind, and now was preparing to destroy her completely. But first it held out the vision of happiness to her again, in the person of Prince Aly Khan.
She met him by accident in Argentina, but refused to go out with him. But the Prince was persistent. He kept after her in Hollywood, in London and in France. She found him tremendously attractive, but she also knew that her mind was beginning to snap.
“I must see a psychiatrist,” she told her mother. Mrs. Tierney answered, “Don’t be silly, all you need are some new clothes.”
Her heart came alive
In Paris, Aly Khan cut in on her on the dance floor at a party one night. Once she felt his arm around her, she never wanted him to let her go. Her heart came alive, more alive than it had ever been before.
On New Year’s Eve of 1953, he kissed her at midnight in a swank Cannes night club, and they danced till dawn. As the months whirled by, the whole world knew that Gene Tierney and Aly Khan were in love. On March 29, 1954, newspapermen discovered them in their hideaway at the Rosarito Beach Hotel at Baja California, 20 miles below the Mexican border. Aly’s arm was around her as she talked to the reporters. “I knew I loved Aly a year and | a half ago,” she began, and the newsmen scribbled furiously in their notebooks. “He told me he loved me long before that. He proposed a year ago May and I told him I thought it would be a good idea. I certainly consider myself engaged, and we’re very much in love . . . We will probably be married in six months, I imagine in Europe.”
As she talked, her eyes were only on Aly. He nodded his head in agreement at every word she said. A newspaper woman on the scene wrote the following for the world to read: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people so happy. Gene Tierney was in ecstasy.”
Suddenly six months seemed much too long to wait. Aly made frantic phone calls to local authorities, but the officials would not waive the six-months-residence-before-marriage rule, even for a Prince and his glamorous bride-to-be.
Now Fate stepped in again, using as its instrument Aly’s father, Aga Khan III, spiritual leader of twenty million Ismali.
The Aga Khan had been badly hurt when, after Aly’s divorce from Rita Hayworth, he had been unable to see his granddaughter, Yasmin, despite the fact that she was the first girl baby to be born in his family for 200 years. He sent word to his son, “You cannot marry another movie star. If you marry Miss Tierney, I will refuse ever to see her.” Unstated, but implied in this message, was the threat that he would disinherit his son, stripping him of political power and wealth.
Tom between love and duty, Aly Khan chose duty. He broke the news to her gently and with great tenderness, but at the moment she heard the words, “I cannot marry you,” her world dissolved into total blackness.
She could not sleep. She did not eat. She would not talk to anyone. One evening, alone and in a daze, she went to a fashionable night club and sat by herself at a ringside table. She was wearing long white gloves. Very deliberately, and with infinite care, she began to take them off, one finger at a time. Then she put them back on, as carefully as she had removed them, smoothing each finger until it was skintight before going on to the next. Again and again she repeated this ritual, not listening to the music, not ordering, not looking at anyone—just taking the gloves off and putting them on, over and over and over.
Her mind had snapped and she was committed to a Connecticut asylum. For eighteen months, she lived in her own private world, a world of inky blackness, of babbling voices, of flitting ghosts out of the past. She was finally released from the mental sanitarium, but on the day before Christmas in 1957 she entered Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. There, painfully, slowly, the doctors helped her to pierce the darkness, hear the voices clearly, meet the ghosts of her past face to face. After eight months she was released as cured. Fate had been defeated.
She returned to Hollywood and was greeted with affection and love at 20th Century-Fox where she had been a superstar for eighteen years and had played the lead in more than twenty-five major films. She was signed to star opposite Clifton Webb in “Holiday for Lovers.” Her hotel room was filled with flowers, more than a hundred bouquets, from co-workers, friends, and complete strangers who just wanted to wish her well. Looking around at all the flowers she said, “I feel like a bride.”
More confident than she had been in years, she even dated Aly Khan again, who was now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations. The whole world opened before her—fresh and beautiful and new.
But Fate had not finished with her yet. The old fears and feelings of guilt came back to plague her. She fought for her sanity, but the pressures around her were too much. Shortly after New Year’s in 1958, she was readmitted to the Menninger Clinic. For eight long months she retraced her past again. One day one of the doctors asked her to tell them about the time when Fate had first clutched her, about the time her father had objected to her marriage to Oli and had sued her for $50,000. Her gray-green eyes blinked and then she laughed. “Oh that!” she said. “I lived through it.”
But the doctor suddenly gripped her arm. “That was a very serious thing, Miss Tierney,” he said. “I want you to cry about it if you feel like it. But don’t laugh. Don’t laugh, Miss Tierney.”
She did not laugh anymore. But she still was unable to cry.
Yet the doctors had given her under- standing. Always in the past, whenever something terrible had happened—the loss of her father’s love, her daughter’s deformity, her meeting with the woman Marine, her divorce from Oli, the breakup of her romance with Aly Khan, her relapse after her first visit to Menninger’s—she’d hidden her feelings behind a ladylike exterior. A smile, hard work, white gloves: these had been her defenses against the world. “Don’t show your emotions,” her parents had drummed into her. “Don’t let other people know when you’re hurt.” And her bottled-up feelings and dammed-up emotions had poisoned her.
Tentatively, with great care, as a child tries to walk again after falling, she re-entered the world of reality and of love. She became an out-patient and lived off the hospital grounds. She took a part-time job in a Topeka dress shop. And then one day she met Howard—Howard Lee—and she knew for sure that the past was dead and only the present mattered. After work, they’d walk around Topeka, hand-in-hand, like a couple of school kids. Sometimes they’d just sit in his car and talk. Once in a while they’d take in a movie. Best of all, they liked going for long walks.
When Howard’s divorce from Hedy Lamarr became final, he asked her to marry him. Her “Yes,” she was certain, chased the voices and the ghosts and Fate itself out of her life forever. They planned to get married in Aspen, Colorado, early in the summer. And then one day she picked up a newspaper and read of Aly’s death . . .
We make our own fate
Her hands, in the process of putting on gloves that weren’t there, suddenly stopped. She had remembered something else, something Aly had once said and she had forgotten until this moment. Aly’s familiar, handsome face, looking directly at her from the newspaper photograph, seemed to be saying the same words again. “Most of the time, we make our own destiny. We can’t control some things—accident, illness, the place and way in which we will die—but it’s what we do and what we say and how we feel that govern everything else.”
Hadn’t this been what the doctors had been trying to tell her all the time? she thought. If you have the courage to be yourself, whatever you are . . . sometimes weak, sometimes strong . . . sometimes sure, sometimes uncertain . . . to a large degree you can make your own Fate, you can fashion your own destiny.
She clasped her hands together as if in prayer, and the tears ran down her cheeks.
Some time later she went to the telephone to call Howard—to tell him everything was all right, to tell him how much she loved him, and to make final plans for their wedding on July 11, 1960.
—BY JIM HOFFMAN
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1960
Jonathan Smith7 March 2023
Good grief! What a miserable life.