The Countess Explains
by Kirtley Baskette
Modern Screen | September 1941
“I married my husband because I loved him. I waited to be sure and I am sure. I knew what I wanted and now I have it. I wanted my own life, the husband of my own choice and my own home.
“I love my parents dearly. I wish they’d understand. I think they will eventually – when they know my husband as I know him. But until then our happiness comes first. That’s all that counts.”
Of course, it’s the oldest story in the world. Shakespeare cribbed it from ancient yarn-spinners and sang the sweet sorrows of Romeo and Juliet. Heloise and Abelard had the same classic trouble. So did Young Lochinvar and his bonnie bride. Getting more up-to-date, as did the Duke and Wally.
So the other day it happens right in Hollywood. And here I am listening to the old, old story from a young lady who is telling her side of it. Not the side in the daily newspapers. Not the family side. Not the “Gene has gone Hollywood” side. But a love’s-eye version from jubilant Juliet herself. I mean the Countess Cassini. Nee Gene Tierney.
She is sitting on the floor in slacks blithely ripping up love letters from old beaux (and the stack is high), while across the rumpled room sits her Romeo, a pleasant, likeable, mannerly guy who just doesn’t look like the ark, sinister pictures he takes. It’s a three-way Information. Please, between Count Oleg Loiewski Cassini, his bride and your inquiring reporter. And the Countess has never glowed more beautifully, never looked happier, never seemed surer of herself. What’s more, she has never sounded more sensible.
Now that may seem a spot preposterous in the face of the outraged family scene which has been stormed up in headlines. Especially since all the scene’s props stack smack up against the lovers in favor of the family frown. For instance:
Here is a twenty-year-old American girl, notably willful and headstrong, who has tossed over the approved conventions of Eastern Blue Book society to seek a beglamoured Hollywood career against her parents’ wishes. And there she meets a suave foreign sophisticate, title, accent, dark moustache and all, who turns her silly young head with his treacherous wiles and marries himself into reflected fame and a fortune.
“You want the true story?” repeats Gene Tierney after me. Her gray French-Irish eyes are flashing a bit right now, but she can’t keep them that way. Because every time she gazes at Oleg, they turn soft and dreamy. If it isn’t love, it’s an Academy performance. I cough discreetly, and the Countess returns to earth, the stale love letters and the business at hand.
“This wasn’t any hurry-up marriage,” she states with a misunderstood sigh. “I wasn’t swept off my feet. Our marriage was thought over, talked over and pretty thoroughly analyzed before we took the plane to Las Vegas. In fact, we were almost married once before, but we decided we were being hasty.
“Why,” asks Gene, knitting her pretty brows, “do people insist on treating me like a child? I’ve been going out with men since I was fourteen. I’ve known all kinds – Yale boys, New Yorkers, actors, business men and playboys. Americans and foreigners, too. Which, by the way, aren’t so awfully dazzling to me. I was educated abroad, you know, and I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been in love before. I’ve been engaged before, too. I’ve had lots of dates and lots of beaux in Hollywood. Why not? I’m young and I like fun. But men, polished or unpolished, don’t leave me breathless. Only the man I’ve been waiting to find. He does. Darling,” says the Countess Cassini in French to her groom, “maybe you’d better leave the room. You might be embarrassed.”
So Oleg smiles and strolls out. That leaves us alone, and I quickly learn a few thing about this Count Cassini, which I will right gladly pass on. He isn’t Italian as his name sounds. He’s Russian. His folks are from the Ukraine. His grandfather, Count Arthur Cassini, was the Czar’s ambassador to Washington when Teddy Roosevelt was head man there. His mother was a friend of Alice Roosevelt’s. His brother is a Capitol newspaper columnist today. Oleg himself was born in Paris, educated in Florence and pursued a designing career all over the Continent, ending up with the famous Patou in Paris. Then New York and now Hollywood. He has been there a yea. So has Gene Tierney, almost to the day.
“We met over eight months ago,” recalls Gene, ripping up a note from Mickey Rooney, “and I think we’ve loved each other ever since. I knew I loved him, because when I got home at night from a date, somehow I’d find myself on the telephone calling up Oleg to tell him about it. I used to rout him out in the middle of the night. He was always polite, but,” grins the Countess most charmingly, “when we moved into this house – it was his, you know – I found a long letter he’d written bawling me out for disturbing his sleep. He hadn’t mailed it.
“He’s wonderfully poised and polished, he’s artistic, and he’s terribly intelligent – at least, I think so. But above all, when I talk to him he understands. I’ve known lots of men I could love – but no one I thought I could both love and talk to and have him understand. He’s also my best friend, I can depend on him. That’s pretty important to me. Oh, hello, darling, you back?”
Oleg is indeed back and still smiling. He carries scotch and sodas. He is a wiry, well-knit man of twenty-eight with long, thick black hair and a thin aristocratic face. “Did you hear how Gene met the menace from Venice?” he chuckles. It was at a Hollywood party, rather a formal affair, those eight months or so ago. Gene was with one of her current suitors, and Oleg was with an Earl Carroll girl. Just why isn’t quite clear, but he infers the Carroll belle was a little out of place. When after dinner she disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a can of beer and a banana which she placidly sipped and gulped among all the guests – well – he wandered. He ran right into Gene.
“I was in a mood,” interrupts Gene here. “I was unhappy. I wasn’t having a good time. And suddenly this dark man was smiling at me and saying, ‘You look like a lady. In fact, you look like the first lady I’ve seen here in Hollywood.’”
Gene said she hoped she was. Whereupon the Count introduced himself, admired her dress, her jewelry, her coiffure and everything in general. Pretty soon the bad mood was a thing of the past. That is technique.
They saw each other the next night, and the next – but Gene had a social calendar at that point which looked like a debutante’s time table. All the eager Beau Brummels of movieland stretched out in a long line – Burgess Meredith, John Swope, Tim Durant, Bentley Ryan, Barron Polan – a dozen more.
“I had to write her a letter to tell her I loved her,” smiles Oleg.
“And I had to call Oleg up every night to find some one to talk to,” confesses Gene. “I broke a date for a New Year’s party and a lot of others just to talk to Oleg. But I couldn’t break them all.”
Now, when love on a telephone and mail-man basis can blossom to the point of elopement in Hollywood, in competition with all the romantic divertissements of that glamorous pleasure trove, that would seem pretty much the real thing. It did just that – one rainy night when both Oleg and Gene thought they were pretty sure about things.
They drove out to the airport in one of those rainstorms that broke a fifty-year record in Hollywood this spring. Paul Mantz, Hollywood’s flying Cupid, shook his head. The weather got damper and damper and cooler and cooler.
“So did our courage,” smiles Oleg. “Then we had a leetle – what you say? – spat.”
Now, perhaps the most healthy sign about all this Cassini-Tierney romance is that it has had its ups-and-downs. The course of true love you know. Theirs didn’t run any smoother than the rest. It’s not flowing along gently like Sweet Afton at this point, either, if you take in the Tierney clan tantrums.
The “leetle spat” is an understatement. It ended up in one of those never-again things, and the blackest mark against Gene Tierney’s professions of love-from-the-start is that she upped and got herself romantically involved with Robert Sterling, a very charming young Hollywood actor. Gene was mad enough, or let us say, Bob was attractive enough to get them to the point of an elopement. At least there were strong rumors, and I eventually prod the Countess into a reluctant statement like this, “I don’t know, I didn’t know what I wanted. I wasn’t sure at all. I was mixed up. And Oleg was already running around with some, some – gal!”
“I loved only Gene,” states Oleg gallantly. “But she left me; she went to New York.”
“I always go to New York when I’m confused,” replies Gene.
I don’t want to start something. I change the subject.
“Oh,” Gene’s round face cracks with a beatific smile. “The way we got together again? It was typical. You see, I got back from New York, and I went right out to a party. Everybody was dancing, and I couldn’t think of anything but dancing with Oleg. But he wasn’t there. So –“ the Countess glances a it archly at her spouse, “I went right to the telephone and called him up. I said, ‘You’re such a wonderful dancer. Please come on over and dance with me.’ And he said –“
“’– No thanks!” laughs Oleg. “That’s the way, you see? Be indifferent. Only I wasn’t.”
“He was, too,” contradicts Gene consigning another lengthy billet doux to the wastebasket.
“I wanted a church wedding,” Gene sighs. “I wanted all my friends and my family there. Flowers, bridesmaids, train, champagne and everything. But – then my family started acting up.”
Gene was living with her mother in Hollywood. Her father, Brother Butch, a Harvard student, and Sister Pat, in school in Virginia, have never met Oleg to this day. Only Mrs. Tierney has.
“I told Mother I knew I had found the right man,” says Gene wistfully. “She always liked Oleg until she thought I was going to marry him. Then –“
“The temperature dropped,” smiles the Count.
“I wrote my dad, too. We’ve always been awfully close. Dad’s always been just like a boy friend. I wouldn’t dream of putting anything over on my family. But they insisted on treating me like a silly child and – well – I’m not!”
What Mr. Tierney wrote back was a tactful, fatherly letter suggesting that they postpone any rash action until fall. Gene replied that it wasn’t rash action; she’d never been surer of herself. And that she could see through their stalling tactics. Then Papa T. wired her to come home at once. The battle was on.
Well, it waxed and waned for a spell. Brother Butch was readied to fly out from Harvard with a family ultimatum. “But I stopped that!” says Gene. Mama Tierney sided with her husband, and it was Gene versus the home team. “There is just a family complex about my getting married, that’s all,” Gene is thinking aloud. “It wasn’t Oleg they disapproved of, just the idea of letting any man have me. Of course,” she adds, “that’s natural, especially since they’ve always doted pretty much on me. I’m the first child to marry. So I didn’t blame them for that. But I do for not getting over it. After all, Mother was engaged three times before she got married. And she was just as young as I am.”
Gene had almost a month to think things over after the family fireworks began. She never changed her mind – except about the wedding ceremony itself. With the family state of mind what it was, a wedding with all the trimmings was out of the question. It had to be an elopement or there’d be all sorts of scenes. So they did it as quietly as possible. They simply hopped a regular airliner to La Vegas. It was in between retakes on Gene’s first starring role, “Belle Starr.” They sat across the aisle from each other as if they had never met before in their lives. Gene buried her nose in a book, and Oleg stared down at the clouds. “We had an hour and a half in the air for any last minute regrets,” Gene is relating, “and the only ne that popped up was the slight regret that I had to go and get airsick!”
The incognito wasn’t quite so successful. When they alighted in Las Vegas, an airline official tipped his cap. “Hello, Miss Tierney,” he grinned. Gene said she wasn’t any such thing, but the flight man just went right on grinning.
“My name’s Tierney,” he said, “and I’ve made a point of following your career. You can’t fool me. Congratulations.” It was about the only congratulations Gene and Oleg got.
A justice of the peace married them. Gene dressed, she says, “like a campfire girl” with a ratty old skirt. Young Lochinvar attired in a gabardine sports suit.
That night Gene made the supreme bid for her mother’s good wishes. Instead of going with her husband, she went home to her mother. “I thought it would make her feel better about the whole thing,” Gene explains to me, “but when I got home, she wasn’t there!”
Now the funny part of all this Tierney family cold shoulder is that at first it wasn’t quite that way. According to Gene and the Count, there was no hint of the frigidaire when they sent off the good news to the folks.
Oleg’s phone call to Mrs. Tierney was quite s hock, of course, but she rallied, saying that if Gene was happy, she had her blessings. “Gene is a sensible girl,” Mrs. T. told her new son-in-law. “I know she must have good reasons for this.”
And the note Gene sent on to her Dad in New York got an answer like this:
DARLING YOUR LOVELY LETTER RECEIVED. I THINK YOU WILL AGREE I HAVE NEVER LACKED UNDERSTANDING OF YOU. YOUR HAPPINESS WILL ALWAYS BE MY JOY. WRITING FULLY. LOVE. DAD.
What inspired the sudden change of family heart? I gather that it is still something of a mystery to Gene and Oleg. They have not heard from the Tierneys all huddled now in the East.
He says, “There is a complete silence.”
She says, “All I know is what I read in the papers. But I don’t believe half of that.”
What Gene, as well as everyone else, reads in the papers, are things various indignant Tierneys have told reporters, or are supposed to have told them. Like: “Gene has gone Hollywood, I’m afraid . . .” and “Gene is just a misguided child . . . she has been carried away by this suave man of the world . . .” Also paternal hints that Nevada wedding laws are being looked into for annulment proceedings.
About these pretty definite opinions Gene tells me: “I don’t think Dad said them. But id he did, he hasn’t meant them the way they appeared. My parents had a chip on their shoulder about my coming to Hollywood in the first place. Naturally you can get a lot of support about Horrible Hollywood around New York. There’s only one side. I intend to rise above it until everyone has met Oleg and gotten to know him. We’re going to Washington later. There are some parties planned there for us. I suppose we’ll go on to New York. But that’s in such a distant future. Right now, Sir, we’re on our honeymoon. How do you like the honeymoon house?”
Well, it’s quite a place. It’s high up in a Beverly Hills canyon, smothered by oaks and vines. It was Oleg’s bachelor heaven before the elopement. The confusion which surrounds us is just bachelordom moving out and matrimony in. Already, though, the woman’s touch has produced small miracles. So Gene leads us proudly around the rambling place, which she says she’ll do over in Early American antiques with loads and loads of chintz.
“The Connecticut hangover,” she grins.
There are a couple of items more which might as well be cleared up before we leave the happy couple. First, before Gene and Oleg flew to the altar, they trotted down to an old beau of Gene’s, Attorney Bentley Ryan, and had him draw up an agreement waiving all rights to community property. That was Oleg’s idea. Just in case someone cracked (as they have) that he was nothing but a fortune hunter.
Second – about the “Count” business. In two months Count Cassini will get his final U.S. citizenship papers. Then he’ll no longer be a Count, and Gene can be plain Mrs. Cassini. That ought to settle pretty definitely any title hunting ideas about her.
As for Gene Tierney and her very flourishing career: She has just wound up “Belle Starr,” which should live up to it’s title for Gene from all reports. And while we talk, the telephone jingles every ten seconds about her part in “Sundown” coming next at Walter Wanger’s. In fact, it rings so much that Oleg sighs – “A fine honeymoon! Serves me right for marrying a movie star!” He’s kidding, of course.
But I’m pretty certain the Countess Gene Eliza Tierney Cassini is definitely not, when she bids me good-bye at the door. I have a hunch the family feud will be clearing up, maybe before this gets in print, and say so.
“I hope you’re right,” replies Gene Tierney, and there’s a wistful catch in her voice. But her eyes are pretty steady. “This isn’t the way I want it. I love my family, and it hurts me that they won’t understand. But there’s something they’ve just got to realize.”
She presses her husband’s hand.
“They’ve got to realize,” repeats Gene, “that now I’ve got a family of my own!”