Why Gene’s Divorcing My Brother
by Cholly Knickerbocker
Modern Screen | April 1947
I think most of us generally take any “hot news” breaks from Hollywood with a raised-eyebrow, tongue-in-cheek attitude. Press agents for the fantastic filmfolk and constantly outdoing one another in bizarre attempts to get their clients on the front page.
That is why I first shrugged off reports that Gene Tierney and my brother, Oleg, were getting a divorce. I shrugged, that is, until this particular “rumor” became a bit too persistent. Then I cornered Gene at the Stork Club – during one of her junkets to the East – and decided to crack the case once and for all.
While dancing with Gene, I asked her: “What’s all this nonsense about you and Oleg? Is it true that you’re going to divorce him? Or are the press agents cutting capers again?”
“This one is no stunt,” she said. “We are getting a divorce.”
Gene wasn’t kidding, and I knew it. To say that I was surprised is a fair example of an understatement. After all, I had just spent a month on the Coast as a guest in their (Oleg’s and Gene’s) house, and I can honestly say that I saw nothing amiss in their homelife. Maybe a squabble or two (who knows a married couple that doesn’t have them?), but nothing bordering on murder, mayhem or divorce.
But from Gene, herself, I found that the rumor was not a rumor. After nearly six years of what many had termed the “perfect marriage,” the Cassinis were now going their merry way – in opposite directions. Up to the time I had spoken to Gene I labeled any talk of a divorce as fantastic. No doubt they were the ideal pair. In Hollywood – where most people expect marriage to be a flop – Gene and Oleg were held up as the happy couple. They were well liked. They were dined and wined frequently by members of the filmland colony. In short, everything clicked smoothly.
What happened? Somewhere, something had gone haywire. And, as usual, the public was misled by storied of sensational variety. There was nothing “sensational” about it, and there was no lurking villain who came between them.
Recall the rumors:
“Gene Tierney is in love with Tyrone Power . . .”
“Oleg Cassinis is crazy about a beautiful (and mysterious) Hollywood lady . . .”
“Now they’ve kissed and made up . . .”
“Now they’re back at each other’s throats . . .”
And so forth!
Not a grain of truth in a carload. I think the Ty Power rumors originated smack on the set during the filming of The Razor’s Edge. In fact, when Oleg arrived one day for Gene, one of the technicians voiced an uncomplimentary remark regarding Gene and Ty and promptly wound up on the floor.
The whisperings spread from the set; finally they made print. All of this was strengthened by the fact that Ty and his own wife, Annabella, were also on the verge of breaking up.
The truth of the matter is that Ty, Oleg, Gene and Annabella were all friends – good friends. They were often seen together. But the rumor-mongers made nothing of it until the question of Oleg’s divorce rose to the fore. Had there been anything between Gene and Ty, I’m certain that Oleg and Ty would have engaged in (at least) sharp words. They did not. They are still friends.
Okay, so what did cause the break?
Don’t accuse me of taking the easy way out when I blame . . . circumstances. It’s a vague word, I know, but I’ll explain:
First, you must understand that one of the unfortunate things about Hollywood marriage is that “famous” people more than anybody else are apt to get into each other’s hair. Not only are they temperamental, but they move under a constant strain. The merciless glare of the public eye is no pleasant thing. It causes the tiniest, most ridiculous spat to become a home-shaking event.
Look back at Oleg and Gene before either knew what the word fame meant. They eloped nearly six years ago (against the consent of Gene’s parents), and at that time neither was established.
Gene had been miscast so many times that the critics had a field day lambasting her. Many producers called her a mediocre actress – nothing more.
Oleg, for his part, was a little-known designer. True, he had established an enviable reputation in Rome and Paris, but six years ago in Hollywood he was just another guy named Joe.
designing husband . . .
Oleg began “dressing up Gene.” Sweaters and drab skirts gave way to glamor gowns with trick lines. He showed such a marked improvement over studio-picked designers that eventually he, alone, designed Gene’s clothes. And he made her one of Hollywood’s Best Dressed Women.
But all was not peachy. Oleg is strictly Continental. He was born and raised in Europe. He lived in a host of countries, studied in various European schools and learned to speak four or five languages. Gene, on the other hand, is strictly American – and the two personalities are bound to clash.
Gene, for instance, wanted to “Americanize” Oleg. She dreamed of him with a crew hair-cut and with the speech and general makeup of an American. A sterling goal, indeed, but hardly a practical one. Birth and tradition and breeding are not easily replaced in a matter of years.
And I ask myself – would Gene have ever fallen in love with the “crew hair-cut” type of male? I doubt it. I doubt it because I think that European quality is the very thing Gene liked upon first meeting Oleg. But as I have said, I believe this difference is a trifling one – as long as you are not famous.
Where did fame first start? I think Gene first tasted it in Laura, which was a hit. Other hits followed, and she was set.
For Oleg, too, things were opening up. After having left the Army (where Gene had spent a year with him – a year in which she gave up pictures), he was signed on as chief wardrobe designed at the Eagle-Lion studios. Next, he opened up his own thriving business (Casanova), and eventually signed a separate contract with 20th Century-Fox. His reputation as one of the country’s top designers was definitely established – as was Gene’s reputation as one of our finest actresses.
Their affairs became the public’s affairs. Their every move made print.
Their careers were different. They could seldom arrange their schedules to see one another. When Gene was working, Oleg was free. And vice versa. At nights, when they were worn out, they would hunt for rest and comfort in some small café – only to be sought out by autograph collectors. Weary and aggravated, they might easily nag each other.
Hot tempers can get hotter under these circumstances, and sense of uneasiness is increased hourly. What were formerly “nothings” were not subjects for long, heated arguments. Add to that the fact that (as I have mentioned) Gene’s parents never really sanctioned her marriage.
Comprehend the fancies that play in one’s mind. They have been sentenced to divorce – by press and public opinion – before the word ever entered their minds.
Now the thing has got to be “played to the finish,” as it were. It’s almost too late to back out of divorce proceedings – because “everybody” expects it now.
Gene already has started proceedings. I, as her brother-in-law, am not so certain that she will ever complete them. I believe they actually still love each other. I know they are both tremendously fond of their young daughter, Daria. They might still be held together. It’s a strange world . . .
Anyway, I’ll wait for the final results before I make up my mind.