WEIRDLAND: Happy Anniversary, Gene Tierney!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Gene Tierney!

Happy Anniversary, Gene Tierney!

Gene Tierney, early 1940s

Between the year Daria was born and the year she was put into Langhorn, Gene made four of the best films of her career and received an Academy Award nomination for Leave Her to Heaven. It was not a coincidence. Oleg explained, "It was as if the birth of Daria had emptied her, and she was now filling herself up with these roles."

During the time that Gene Tierney and Oleg Cassini were at Fort Riley (while she was pregnant with Daria), a script came in the mail. Although she was taking the rest of that year off while pregnant, she took the time to read it. The movie was Laura. Laura began shooting on April 27,1944. Otto Preminger would produce and direct a cast of actors that would forever be remembered as one of the best "film noir" ensembles of their time. Two months before filming began, Bonnie Cashin and her team of designers started on the costumes for the film. Preminger spared no expense.

With a $15,000 budget the designers had a field day in creating the most luxurious costuming in a long time. Even Gene's underwear was meticulously designed with black lace panels threaded with baby blue ribbon. Her pink pajamas were embroidered with sequins. She stood for hours, passing the time by chewing jellybeans as the designers pinned and poked and tucked the many outfits into position. Preminger insisted on real diamonds and pearls being rented for the duration of the shooting.

Zanuck was reluctant to have Preminger cast Webb because of his known homosexuality. He thought Webb too effeminate for the role. Preminger would not back down and was known to have many open battles with Zanuck about his reasons for casting Webb as Lydecker. History tells us he won the argument, and Clifton Webb in turn won a Best Actor nomination for his performance.

The second half of the picture is told from the detective's viewpoint. Vincent Price plays Laura's slimy fiance, Shelby Carpenter. A very clever plot has Laura, in the first half of the picture, believed to be the victim of foul play. When she eventually turns up toward the second half of the picture the roles are reversed. Laura now becomes a suspect.

Laura was nominated for five Academy Awards. Otto Preminger was nominated as Best Director. The film was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Screenplay. The cameraman, Joe LaShelle, was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Photography. He was the only nominee who took home an Oscar.

Oleg saw many comparisons between Gene's festering illness and her role of Laura Hunt. He explained, "When I think of Gene's illness, I think more of Laura, which was her most famous role. It is ironic that through much of the film she played a girl presumed dead who was actually alive, in some ways, Gene was quite the opposite. After Daria's birth, she seemed to die inside. There was a ghostly quality, an evanescence, to both Laura and Gene. Even after Laura is found to be alive, she has a certain mystery, an aura, that permeates the film and gives it much of its magic.

Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde in "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945)

Darryl F. Zanuck wanted Gene to play the part of Ellen Berent. This was a role much different from any she had ever played before. The personality of Ellen was a long way from the real life personality of Gene Tierney. The part of Ellen called for Gene to play the bitchy, psychotic wife of Cornel Wilde's character, Richard Harland.

Ellen's intense beauty masks the evil of her character. The bright sunny setting among breathtaking scenery masks the darkness of the unfolding story line. As the story plays out it sends chills up the audience's spine, especially when it's quickly realized that the devil can be disguised in such beautiful form. Highly acclaimed for its breathtaking Academy Award winning cinematography, the film was shot in several locations, including New Mexico and Wyoming. The famous lake scene was shot on Bass Lake in Madera County, California.

Although her role called for Gene to be a nasty and vindictive character, her humor never wavered on set. In between shots at the end of a very long day she would say, "Now, I'm getting very nervous and tired and I might just collapse and cost the studio millions of dollars." She had a fantastic sense of humor, and everyone laughed when she put on the drama queen act.

Joseph Mankiewicz was a noted screenwriter and producer at the time, and Dragonwyck was his directorial debut. It was a film that held a personal memory far greater than any professional memory associated with the making of the picture itself: a memory that Gene would never lose. One day while filming a scene with Walter Huston she was told by director Mankiewicz to turn and look directly into the camera. Just as she made the pivot to turn, right there just beyond the camera stood a young man in a Navy lieutenant's uniform. He smiled at Gene and her heart skipped a beat. She was still in the middle of a scene so she couldn't acknowledge his smile until Mankiewicz yelled, "Cut."

Vincent Price plays the main villainous character who sets the tone for his many horror roles to come. The picture is set in the mid-1800s. Nicholas van Ryn (played by Price) is a wealthy Dutch immigrant now living in Hudson Valley, New York. Living a bitter and hateful existence with his wife because she bore him a daughter instead of a son, he becomes infatuated with Miranda Wells (Gene) after she comes to live at his estate as an an pair. He soon plans to poison his wife so that he and Miranda can marry. -"Gene Tierney: A Biography" (2005) by Michelle Vogel

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