Gene’s Greatest Triumph
by Gene Schrott
Screenland | May 1949
One night, not long ago, Gene Tierney swept into New York’s most exclusive restaurant, the Colony, dripping in sables and satins. She carried her head high. A smile hovered on her lips. She was completely unaware of the covetous glances of the men and the envious stares of the women. At that moment, Gene was the happiest woman in the world. But not a single person in the entire room suspected that the reason for her happiness walked right behind her. He was Oleg Cassini – the husband she had almost lost!
To tell the whole story, it’s necessary to shift the scene to Hollywood. For ever since Gene Tierney started to carve a career for herself in films, the residents of the movie colony have included her in that little group of players whose actions were completely baffling and unpredictable. She simply refused to follow the prevailing pattern. Instead of acting like an important movie star, she continued being Gene Tierney.
When most top players were buying fabulous ranches with elaborate swimming pools, five-car garages, guest-houses and barbecue cottages, Gene lived in a simply little home furnished with some Early American antiques her mother had taken out of the attic of the Tierneys’ Connecticut home. She drove a medium-priced car while her co-workers sported flashy, custom-built foreign models. She wore cotton frocks and even did her own housekeeping, which, according to Hollywood standards, was outrageous.
But Gene found that by refusing to follow in the footsteps of others, she saved herself from a major tragedy. By remembering the intelligent teaching and guidance of her mother, she was able to avoid the heartbreak and unhappiness that makes the average woman hard and bitter towards everything in life.
Ever since she was a mere youngster, Gene has followed a principle that never has failed her. When she was a pigtailed little girl of ten, she wanted to join in a ball game with some of the boys in the neighborhood. But because she was a girl, they chased her away and refused to let her play. At that time, she never dreamed of using her glamour to break down their youthful prejudice. Instead, she went running home to her mother, tears streaming from her deep blue eyes and sobbed out the heartrending story.
Belle Tierney was too intelligent a woman to dismiss this trivial incident as nothing. She dried Gene’s eyes and sat the youngster down to listen to some good advice. She told her child that life wasn’t always pleasant; sometimes cruel and thoughtless situations arose. “But always remember one thing,” she admonished Gene. “If there’s anything you want, and want very badly, you must go out and fight for it. If you don’t want to fight for it, it means that you really don’t want it.”
Gene never forgot those word. Young as she was, she recognized the wisdom in them. She rushed out of the house, over to the field where the ball game was in progress and singled out the leader who had refused to let her play. She told him that unless she could be on the ball team, he’d have to fight with her . . . just to prove to the others that she was as good, if not better than he.
The challenge paid off. Gene played on that ball team and eventually was responsible for many of its triumphs. But most important, it was her first victory in her fight for the things she wanted out of life. Since then she’s gone right on battling for everything she has. First it was her career.
It was no easy job to convince her family that acting would be a logical profession for her to follow. Her father was convinced that it was only a schoolgirl ambition. To help prove she was wrong, he even accompanied her to a producer’s office where she went for a job. But Gene wanted so hard to convince him that acting was something she loved that she got her first assignment.
When the talent scouts spotted her and she was sent out to Hollywood, her whole career seemed to be made up of one endless challenge after another. She let the studio cast her as a moron in her very first screen assignment, “Tobacco Road,” for she was glad to get the chance to appear before the cameras. It meant wearing her pride in a sling, but Gene remembered the words of her mother. She knew that first screen role was something she wanted very badly. Everyone told her she’d be finished if she ever accepted the part; that she’d be case in similar roles in every picture she made. Gene refused to listen to the advice.
At that moment, she grew up. She made a resolution never to let negative opinion influence her And she has stuck to that resolution faithfully throughout all the years. That’s why she has always been close to her family. No matter how busy Gene happened to be, she never forgot to write to her mother and to her sister, Pat, and her brother, Howard.
Gene gives credit for this to her mother who, despite the fact that she had a famous daughter, didn’t hesitate to go out and work. All the Tierneys are realists – honest realists. They have no false standards. Their sense of values are real.
With each successive picture Gene made after “Tobacco Road,” she continually kept proving to herself that she was perfectly right in paying no attention to idle talk. She suffered through a series of assignments that would have made even a second-rate actress scurry out of the movie capital in indignation. But Gene was going to fight it through to the finish, simply because she was fighting for her career, for a cause that meant a great deal to her.
Soon the studio recognized that she was one of the most intelligent actresses on its roster of stars. Instead of becoming temperamental, as was customary when an actress was given unsatisfactory roles, Gene silently accepted them and executed each one to the best of her ability. Yet, she kept studying and improving herself continually. The producers and directors couldn’t help noticing this and before long, her parts improved. There never was any talk of her refusing to play certain roles or being put on suspension because of it. She felt that only when the reason justified it would she fight.
She had seen too many of Hollywood’s leading players commit career suicide by being obstinate and disagreeable when it came to sticking close to the terms of their contracts. She also knew that at times it was necessary to sacrifice pride and show a bit of meekness. But it was all part of the fight.
Then when the world heard that Gene was planning to marry Oleg Cassini, the same crowd that was so ready with its unsolicited advice began to scoff at her choice of a husband. They privately predicted that she could do much better. But once again, she simply shut her ears to them and refused to let them influence her. She knew better than anyone else why she was marrying Oleg. She was in love with him. For her that was the most important reason in the world. And marrying he man she loved, despite the gloomy and pessimistic admonitions of others, was one of the greatest triumphs of her lifetime.
The final words of the marriage ceremony were hardly uttered when the cynics started to predict that the marriage wouldn’t last. But it did last. Gene and Oleg were madly in love with each other.
When War broke out and Oleg joined the Army, Gene didn’t hesitate a single minute. She closed up her home and became another of the hundreds of thousands of war wives. She set up house in a tiny cottage near the camp where her husband was stationed. She cooked his meals, scrubbed the floors, and even did her own laundry. For the time being, her career took second place. The most important thing at the moment was that her husband be as happy as it was possible for her to make him. At the time, she would have gladly sacrificed her career permanently, if necessary, because she happened to be one of the few people in the film colony who had found the simple formula for happiness.
When the War was over and she returned to Hollywood the biggest opportunities of her career came along. The studio stopped casting her as a glamourous decoration and gave her roles in which she could prove her ability as an actress. Gene found herself the recipient of worthwhile assignments. But when she was working in “The Razor’s Edge” a mysterious rumor, intended, perhaps, as a publicity aid, starting making the rounds. Because she was playing opposite Tyrone Power, there was talk of a romance between the two.
It was this myth that almost wrecked the one thing that meant more to Gene than anything else – her marriage. She wanted to hold on to her home, her husband and her child.
Soon, almost every newspaper in the country carried front page stories about the torrid romance between Gene and Tyrone. At the time, not only Gene, but her mother, too, vehemently denied the rumor.
Yet from then on, stories about the impending split-up between her husband and herself kept spreading. The gossips and scandalmongers eagerly devoured every word, gleefully uttering their “I-told-you-sos.” At the time, I lunched with Gene and there was no indication of a rift. She was in the East with Oleg and both of them gave every indication of being as much in love as the day they were married.
But perhaps the rumors hurt Oleg’s pride, as they would hurt any man’s pride under the circumstances. In cases of this kind, every little misunderstanding becomes exaggerated until there are open flare-ups.
The parting finally came. There was no definite reason, simply a series of trivial incidents that took on special significance. Sadly and unwillingly, Gene agreed to a separation. She really wanted time to think the whole thing over clearly. But she wasn’t content to let it go at that. This was the biggest fight of her entire lifetime, and being a fighter, she wasn’t just going to sit back and chew on her fingernails. She didn’t want her marriage to become an unhappy chapter of her past.
The first thing she had to admit to herself was that she was sincerely in love with her husband. She knew he was even more in love with her. Then there was their daughter, Daria. Love and a family were worth fighting for. Gene didn’t care what the rest of the world might say. She didn’t care if the Hollywood gossips were snickering up their sleeves. She didn’t want her marriage to be a failure. She didn’t want her child to miss out on a normal home life and the love of a father and mother. This thought alone made her more determined to fight fiercely – even savagely – to save the biggest thing in her life. It was the sort of thing any woman would fight to save.
And Gene was in a fighting mood. She wasn’t going to give up without making an attempt. She had never conformed to the ways of the general crowd and refused to start now at this crucial moment in her life. It was the eye-opening statistics on the overwhelming number of divorces in America that stirred her to a revolutionary type of action. Before this, everyone connected with films considered it absolutely necessary to live on the West Coast as did Gene. She felt, however, that living there was a constant reminder of her broken marriage, that she should go someplace else where she could give the remnants of her marriage a fair chance.
So she packed her bags, old her house and took Daria to New York. She found a comfortable apartment near her mother and sister. But hardly had she settled down to a different way of living than Oleg himself hurriedly followed. This was the first indication Gene had that her hunch to get away from Hollywood was the right one. When her husband came East, Gene was convinced that now her marriage had a chance of surviving.
It proved he still loved her.
Once in New York, Oleg himself felt differently. He began courting his wife all over again. There was evidence of the same ardent and romantic interest he had shown when he met her for the first time. They went out to dinner alone. They took long drives in the country. They visited the art galleries, the museums. They saw many of Gene’s old friends. In short, they began living like average, normal people.
Oleg soon discovered he could be happier in New York. In a short time, he had found quarters in the heart of Manhattan’s elegant shopping center and established his designing business there. No longer beset by the possibility of losing the woman he loved, he was able to concentrate on his work successfully.
Gene gave Oleg every encouragement he could want. In her pictures as well as in her private life, he was his best advertisement and wore the clothes he designed for her. In New York, Oleg was not only successful but independent as well. He no longer was looked upon as Gene Tierney’s husband but as a successful, gifted business man in his own right.
It was all these considerations that helped Gene in the fight to save her marriage. She called off the divorce proceedings when she discovered that she was winning the greatest triumph of her life. And then to help insure the future and prevent anything unpleasant to threaten again her family life, she built a modest home next door to her mother’s Connecticut house. Her sister Pat had married in the meanwhile and built a place nearby. So did her brother and his family. That’s what Gene had wanted for herself, for she realized that the American family is an institution which people are apt to take lightly.
The greatest climax of Gene’s triumph came when she gave birth to her second daughter, Christina. To her, the new youngster is a symbol, as well as constant reminder, that she waged and won the hardest battle of her life.