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On-screen, gorgeous brunette actress Gene Tierney helped to invent the femme fatale in movies like Laura and Leave Her to Heaven, and off-screen, she had serious romances with four of the great playboys of the 20th century: John F. Kennedy, Howard Hughes, Prince Aly Khan and costume/fashion designer Oleg Cassini. So how did she end up, at age 38, standing on a ledge fourteen floors above 57th Street, wondering what her body would look like on the pavement if she were to jump? The answer to that question begins at the Hollywood Canteen.
This episode is technically a cross-over between our Star Wars series and our most long-running series, TheManyLoves of Howard Hughes. I haven’t found a Hughes biographer who categorizes Tierney as one of the aviator’s great loves, but like Ida Lupino, Tierney was a woman who moved in and out of Hughes’ life over the course of a couple of decades. And, like Lupino, Tierney was a sometime lover who benefitted from Hughes’ largesse, but also saw it get in the way of a marriage.
But this episode had to be told from Gene Tierney’s perspective, and not Howard Hughes’ — or Oleg Cassini’s, or John F. Kennedy’s — and so while there are plenty of books one could read about Gene’s various lovers, my primary source was Tierney’s own autobiography, Self-Portrait. Are all celebrity autobiographies inherently suspect and probably at least partially fiction? Of course! But Tierney’s book is so compelling, and her story so inherently tragic, that it almost seems like bad form to fact-check her version of it.
Special thanks to Noah Segan, who reprised his role as Howard Hughes.
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