Down-To-Earth Goddess
by Patricia Keats
Screenland | August 1950

Before the ink was dry on the contract, a Hollywood star used to rush out and buy a beautiful $125,000 home for $250,000, complete with tennis court and swimming pool, a swank new car, and some little minor items such as a mink coat, a diamond necklace, or a stable of racing nags. On borrowed money, of course. The studios were glad to advance a couple of years’ salary, for obvious reasons.

Naturally, Miss Movie Star would throw a big aprty for the Big Names who needed a party like a hole in the head, with a Cellophane tent, an orchestra, and enough rich and exotic food to guarantee indigestion to the entire guest list.

Some stars still do this. But they’re in the minority now. Whereas it used to be smart to be lush and loaded, it is now very chic to be thrifty.

A member of the new cash-and-carry set is Gene Tierney. Gene and her attractive husband, Oleg Cassini, belong to that group of young married couples in Hollywood who don’t believe that you have to show off just because youre movie folk; and who do believe that you can be perfectly happy living like normal married people live all over the United States.

“People now want simplicity,” says Gene. “Especially in their mode of life.”

At a restaurant the other evening I overheard several of the big mouth boys, agents and bankrupt producers, trying to argue Gene into buying a large glamour car. The fancy gadgets left her cold. The plastic panel bored her. But when one of the boys said, “It’s a good investment, Gene, a big car lasts longer,” she did pay attention for a few seconds. Then she smiled and shook her head. “I’ll keep the old job,” she said. “A big car won’t last me any longer. I always drive with my brakes on anyway.”

Gene once threw the customary big glamour party with the Cellophane tent, the rented butlers, and all the expensive trimmings. For Gene and Oleg it was just a headache and a lot of bills. Today Gene entertains in her small, attractive home (the dining room and living room are merged as happily as brandy and soda) at simple buffet affaurs for a few congenial people. Recently, she had a dinner for twelve, inspired by Producer Samuel Goldwyn. The week before she had heard Mr. Goldwyn complain that no one in Hollywood ever served dinner on time – if you’re invited for eight you’re lucky to get fed by ten. “The Cassini motto,” Gene told him, “is to eat well and eat on time.” Mr. Goldwyn took her up on it. Dinner was served right on the dot, it was delicious without sending the guests to bicarbonate of soda, and Gene, who used to sit up all night, was in bed before twelve.

“Mal Milland phoned me the next day,” she said, “and said that before Ray got their car started my lights were out.” And added with a smile, “Giddy old stay-up, aren’t I?”

This going to bed early is quite typical of present-day Hollywood. Sort of tough for the night clubs, but awfully good for the health.

Gene and Oleg live in a small house, which they bought two years ago, on an unpretentious street in the hilly part of Beverly Hills where the houses are close and chummy. There are big back yards for the most part, but the houses are right on the street, and the street is so narrow that a tourist sightseeing bus would have a heck of a time trying to make it. They don’t try. That’s fine with Gene and the neighbors. The houses are separated by driveways and Gene’s neighbors on both sides could easily hear her voice if she lifted it in anger. She doesn’t. There are a lot of little kids in the neighborhood, scooters and bikes and red wagons, and lots of laundry waving in the backyard breezes.

Besides liking it herself, Gene thinks it’s a wonderful neighborhood for Tina, her little sixteen-months-old daughter. Tina is a dainty, pretty little girl, friendly and happy, who enjoys a romp with the neighborhood kids.

“This bringing up kids in the country is greatly over-rated,” says Gene. “I was brought up in Connecticut and I know. Tina has ltos more fun than I had. Most of my married friends in the East feel that they must live out of town because of the children. The men knock themselves out commuting twice a day in all kinds of bad weather – just so the children can be happy. The children would be much happier on the streets of New York.”

Tina, unlike her mother, is a great one for telephones. The afternoon I spent with Gene, Tina was constantly on the phone – she holds it like a mike – talking, in some strange language, to the neighborhood kids. “That child will grow up to be an actress and win an Academy Award,” I predicted. The fact that she keeps the phone off the hook for hours at a time (no calls can come through) doesn’t disturb Gene in the least. “I inherit my dislike of phones from my grandfather Taylor,” she said. “He used to say, ‘I’ll never have one of hose contraptions in my house.’ The only house on the 103rd Street block that didn’t have a phone was the Taylor’s.”

When Tina hears the phone ring she picks it up, if it’s within her reach, and says “Goodbye.” Which throws Gene’s callers into complete confusion, often causing them to hang up. Which, secretly, is all right with gene.

As an aftermath of the War (Gene was a devoted war wife and followed her husband to Fort Riley, Kansas), she is strictly anti-waste. Waste of anything. But especially food. When she splurges on leg of lamb, turking, or a suckling roast pig, she figures on it lasting through the week. With her herbs, which Oleg taught her to use, she can do amazing things with left-overs. As for perishable foods, well, she has a dreadful confession to make. “before I go to bed at night I eat up the things in the Frigidaire that are likely yo spoil. I should be as big as a horse.” Needless to say she isn’t. She weighs a neat and becoming 112 pounds. She lost ten pounds while she was in England last year making “Night And The City” with Richard Widmark. Undoubtedly because there were no Frigidaires to raid.

Flattery is a number-one attention getter with most movie stars. Gene, it seems, is an exception. If you want her undivided attention don’t tell her how beautiful and talented she is. Just tell her about a new dish. At a recent gathering, so she relates with a laugh at herself, her mind was on something a million miles away. Out of the blue she heard someone say, “stuffed breast of veal,” and back she was by jet propulsion. “I never heard of stuffed breast of veal before,” she said. “I made this girl tell me all about it. It’s delicious, and very inexpensive.”

The Cassinis have a nurse for Tina and a maid to do the cleaning and cooking. On her nights off gene and Oleg take turns doing the cooking. The piece de resistance of the House of Cassini is spaghetti. Oleg makes it divinely.

Movie stars, whether they like to believe it or not, are considered very slow pay by the shopkeepers and professional people of Hollywood. Bills just don’t get paid on time, often not until the curt “or else” letter arrives. Well, that’s beginning to be old hat, and old Hollywood, too. The youngsters today have a lot more responsibility. But Gene, from the day she hit town, has insisted upon paying everything immediately. She’s probably the best credit risk in Hollywood, if she wanted credit. “I’ve never owed anyone five cents,” she said. “When I first came to Hollywood, $500 would have made a great difference in my life. It never occurred to me that I could borrow it.”

Her secretary once said to her, “Miss Tierney, you’ve got to wait until the bills come in before you can pay them.” That came as news to Gene.

One of Gene’s inconsstencies is that she will spend money freely on furniture and antique silver, but she won’t spend it on cars, furs or jewelry. She goes over her bills carefully, know to a decimale what her bank balance is, and she never, ever gambles. “Sometimes I think I overdo this economy thing,” she said with a laugh. “For instance, Oleg and I had been planning a trip to Europe ever since wer were married. But I always said, ‘Someday the studio will send me to Europe to make a picture, and I’ll get my expenses paid.’ Well . . . they did send me to England last year to make ‘Night And The City.’ Oleg came over and had a fine time on the Continent. But I was kept so busy in London that I only had three days for fun and sighseeing. Served me jolly well right.”

Like all movie stars, and even as you and I, Gene gets clipped by the income tax people. Wha she has managed to salvage she has invested wisely in real estate – an apartment in New York, now rented, a small home near Westport, Connecticut, now rented, and the Hollywood house.

Gene stirred up quite a commotion several years ago when she announced she would live in new York and only come to Hollywood when she was making a picture. At that time she was erroneously quoted as casting aspersions on Hollywood – biting the hand that fed her. Her reason for living in New York was to be with her husband whose wholesale dress manufacturing business is situated there.

“Oleg’s business is now doing well,” said Gene. “He is the designer, so he only needs to be in New York to create the gowns, and for press showings. His partner can handle the business end, so he can be in Hollywood more often. I have to confess that I used to like this commuting between New York and Hollywood. It was exciting and stimulating. But now I am content to stay in Hollywood. It will be our permanent home. My husband and I think the constant traveling we have been doing this past year is bad for Tina. She needs the sense of security a permanent home gives her. Home to children means not only the familiar faces of their parents, but familiar surroundings, familiar friends. Tina is a happy, friendly child. We certainly don’t want her to grow up to be a neurotic.” Gene fondly regarded her offspring who was reaching again for the telephone. “Look at those legs. They are beautiful and graceful. Betty Grable legs.”

Gene thinks that her major faulys have stemmed from the fact that she has too much energy. “I overplay the running around,” she says. “I’ve had secretaries tell me that they age ten years while working for me. I used to make a mountain out of every molehill I met. But I’m quieting down now.”

As a result of this quieting down she rarely talks in her sleep these nights. And, at one time, she was the best little sleeptalker this side of the Rockies. “I used to talk in my sleep about things I had on my mind. Things that worried me. Oleg used to say, ‘You must get that off your mind before you go to bed tonight. I don’t want to go through it again.’”

Gene learned quite a few things about taking life more casually from the English while she was over there making “Night And The City.” One day she was riding in a taxi. A truck in front stopped suddenly for a traffic light, and the taxi and truck locked bumpers. Being a New Yorker, gene braced herself for a fine explosion of colorful language. To her complete bafflement she heard the taxi driver say, “So sorry, old chap.” And the truck driver respond with, “Quite all right, old man.”

In her newest picture, “Where The Sidewalk Ends,” Gene plays a fashion model for the first time on the screen. She was never a model in real life. She plays a girl who makes her living modeling for a Seventh Avenue, New York, wholesale dress manufacturer. At Director Otto Preminger’s suggestion, Oleg plays a brief scene in the picture as a dress designer. (When he saw the rushes his comment was, “As an actor I’m a good designer.”) As a Cassini model in the film, Gene wears the year’s most risqué evening gown – of American Beauty red Lyons velvet. It’s off the shoulder and it’s figure hugging. Preminger calls it “a dangerous dress.” “The danger,” says Gene, “is walking in it.”

Gene loathes nicknames. No one has ever called her “Genie” – not more than once. The reason she spells it Gene instead of Jean is that she was named after an uncle who was supposed to leave her a lot of money, but didn’t. Studios have never been able to persuade her to change her name or the color of her hair. If she has to be a blonde in a film she wears a wig. She loves the scent of expensive perfumes, but she also likes to smell gasoline and furniture polish. She likes simplicity in her locthes and her coiffures, just as she does in her home. She likes to invent things. But before she can get around to contacting the patent office she invariably learns that her invention has “just been put on the market.” She thinks her husband is the best dancer in captivity. “As smooth as maple syrup on pancakes,” she describes his dancing. Their romance started the first time he asked her to dance. She likes to dance, and as soon as she has time she is planning to take a course in ballet dancing.

She has one autographed picture from an actor, and only one. It’s from Dana Andrews, and he wrote on it: “To Gene .  . .with whom I’ve spent half my movie life with great pleasure, not to mention profit! Love and kisses, Dana.”