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Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney gaze at one another in "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942)

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney (1920-1991) gaze at one another in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, actress Gene Tierney, age 21, and film star Henry Fonda were filming “Rings on Her Fingers” on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the southern California coast.

The cameras were getting ready to roll when a man came running down the beach screaming:

“The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! “

Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, just west across the Pacific from Catalina. Catalina was a dangerous place to be. No one knew exactly what was happening – or what would happen next – just as Americans felt as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Everyone had to get off that island. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor had come without warning and a formal declaration of war by the Japanese, the American people were in shock. They expected more attacks, possibly on California.

Gene Tierney, her husband Oleg Cassini, costar Henry Fonda and the rest of the film’s cast and crew piled into a boat and sailed hurriedly for the mainland. It was a nervous crossing. Rumors flew that the waters had been sabotaged with mines.

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On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. (2)

The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Overnight, the United States was plunged into war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The U.S. government enlisted the help of Hollywood stars to aid the war effort by boosting morale at home. Americans were urged to plant backyard “victory gardens” – vegetable patches – to help feed civilians at home. Suddenly, farm production was heavily burdened by having to feed millions of military personnel, as well as coping with fewer men on the farms.

War is expensive. The U.S. government encouraged people to buy War Bonds. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government used that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and for the military.  Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25.

Gene Tierney did her part for the war effort, whether it was planting a “victory garden,” promoting war bonds, or entertaining the troops.

Gene T tends her own "victory garden," in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed in the army.  She is pregnant with her first child, Daria. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney tends her own “victory garden,” in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney encouraged Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney appeared in posters and went on campaign drives to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney took time to entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen. From 1942-45, three million service personnel on leave – men and women, black and white – would pass through the doors of that converted barn to rub elbows with the stars. On any given night, Bob Hope might be on the stage cracking jokes while Rita Hayworth made sandwiches, Harry James played trumpet, or Hedy Lamarr danced with the soldiers.

Film star Shirley Temple gives cookies to the soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

Shirley Temple passes out cookies at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

During the war years, Gene Tierney was at the height of her popularity. Her image graced countless magazine covers.Gene T Life Mag Nov. 10, 1941 Shanghai Gesture wardrobe gene-tierney-movie-stars-parade-magazine-cover-1940-s_i-G-54-5494-2D3WG00Z March 1946 mag cover tierney april 1943

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene’s best pictures were made in the forties. Her beauty was extraordinary then. Her presence on screen was fresh and captivating. She had expressive green eyes, high cheekbones, lustrous, dark hair, and a sensual full mouth that revealed, when parted, an unexpected yet terribly endearing overbite. (Her contract with 24th Century Fox forbid her from correcting the crooked teeth.)

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

And she could act. She was only 23 when she appeared in “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, a stunning film noir masterpiece, so richly layered with plot twists and great casting (Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Clifton Webb) that you can enjoy it again and again. It is her signature film. Also fantastic are “The Razor’s Edge” with Tyrone Power (1946) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison (1947). All three are available to rent on Amazon Instant Video. She plays against type – still classy in manner, yes, but devious in heart – in the film she received an Academy Award nomination for: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945).

Gene Tierney smolders as "Laura." (1944),

Gene Tierney is smoldering as “Laura” (1944), one of my top five favorite films of all time. Gripping.

In the spring of 1943, Gene finished filming “Heaven Can Wait” in Hollywood. She was expecting her first child and, gratefully, not yet showing signs of pregnancy. She had kept that a secret for fear of being replaced in the film. She longed to be with husband Oleg in Kansas, where he was stationed in the army.

Before leaving Los Angeles and starting her maternity leave, Gene decided to make one last appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. So, that night, Gene showed her support of American troops by signing autographs, mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands. The troops were homesick and sad; a little stardust lightened their load.

A few days after that visit, Gene woke up with red spots covering her arms and face. She had the German measles, or rubella. In 1943, there was no vaccine to prevent contracting the measles. That would not be available for 22 more years. Obstetricians advised patients to avoid crowds in their first four months of pregnancy, to avoid contracting the measles. At the time, it was believed that measles was a harmless childhood disease.

Little did Gene know at the time, but, just two years earlier,

“…[B]y studying a small cluster of cases in Australia, [eye doctor] Dr. N. M. Gregg first noted that the rubella virus could cause cataracts, deafness, heart deformities and mental retardation [in an unborn child].” (3)

Of course, this was before TV and Internet gave us 24/7 news cycles that would have immediately alerted the public to this critical finding. Gene didn’t know that her small act of kindness at the Canteen would have tragic and long-term consequences for both her and her baby’s health.

After a week of doctor-ordered rest, Gene rested, got better, then packed her bags for Fort Riley, Kansas, to join Oleg. The next several months were devoted to making her Junction City home ready for the baby and being a couple.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini celebrate the birth of their first child with a night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini await the birth of their first child with a celebratory night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

By the fall, Gene was living in Washington, D.C., while Oleg was awaiting orders in Virginia. On the morning of October 15, 1943, Gene gave birth to a premature baby girl, weighing only two and a half pounds. Oleg flew to Washington and joined his wife at Columbia Hospital. They named their baby “Daria.”

Doctors informed them that Daria was not in good shape. She was premature and going blind. She had cataracts in both eyes. After reviewing Gene’s medical chart, the doctors concluded that Gene’s measles were responsible for the baby’s defects. They cited the studies done by the Australian eye doctor, Dr. Gregg.

Daria continued to have health problems and delayed development. She had no inner ear fluid and became deaf. It was clear that she suffered from mental retardation. Gene and Oleg hoped against hope that a doctor somewhere could cure Daria. But, after consulting one specialist after another (much of it paid for by Howard Hughes), they had to face the fact that Daria was permanently disabled and needed more care than they were capable of giving her at home.

When Daria was about two years old, Gene got an unexpected jolt. She was at a tennis function. A fan approached her.

“Ms. Tierney, do you remember me?” asked the woman.

Gene had no memory of having met the stranger. She shook her head and replied, “No. Should I?”

The woman told Gene that she was in the women’s branch of the Marines and had met Gene at the Hollywood Canteen.

Gene never would forget what the woman said next.

“By the way, Ms. Tierney, did you happen to catch the German measles after that night I saw you at the Canteen?”

The woman revealed that she had had the measles herself at the time but had broken quarantine just to see Gene at the Canteen.

Gene was dumbstruck. That woman had given her the measles! She was the sole cause of Daria’s disabilities. Gene said nothing. She just turned and walked away.

When Daria was four, Oleg and Gene made the difficult decision to institutionalize Daria (1943-2010). Daria spent most of her life at the ELWYN, an institution for specially disabled in Vineland, NJ.

Gene Tierney never fully recovered from the blow that Daria was disabled. Although she gave birth to another daughter that was healthy, her marriage to Oleg ended in divorce, and her mental health began to deteriorate. She couldn’t concentrate. On the movie set, she would forget her lines. She began to fall apart and live a life of “stark misery and despair,” said ex-husband Oleg.

In much of the 1950s, Gene went from one mental health facility to another seeking help with her bouts of high and low moods and suicidal thoughts. She received 27 shock treatments, destroying even more of her memory. It is believed that Gene Tierney suffered from bipolar depression during a time when effective treatment for that disease was in its infancy.

If Daria had been born after 1965, Gene Tierney would have been vaccinated against the German measles and Daria would have been born healthy.

Currently, in Mexico and California, there is an outbreak of measles due to the antivaccination movement. Some parents in the western part of the United States have decided not to vaccinate their children due to unfounded worries about it causing autism. These few anti-vaxers are putting our whole population at risk.

Make no mistake. Measles is a highly contagious disease and is anything but harmless:

“Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, redness of eyes, and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.” (4)

AND

“Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.” (5)

Postscript: In 1962, Dame Agatha Christie published the detective fiction, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, using the real-life tragedy of Gene Tierney as the basis for her plot.

SOURCES:

(1) Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005.

(2) wiki: Attack on Pearl Harbor

(3) Altman, M.D., Lawrence K. “The Doctor’s World; Little-Known Doctor Who Found New Use For Common Aspirin.The New York Times, July 9, 1991.

(4) LA Times

(5) New York Times

 

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Jackie looking good in a trench coat. What is the Jackie O look? classic and refined

Jackie looking good in a trench coat. What is the Jackie O look? classic and refined

This is the week of what would have been Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ (1929-1994) eightieth birthday. Blogs, magazines, newspapers, and TV programs are celebrating her life and style – particulary her style. She was – and is – a fashion icon. Those of you in doubt of her lasting appeal need only to google the phrase, “the Jackie Kennedy Look,” and see how many sites are dedicated to this ideal.

What is her attraction? Exactly what is “the Jackie Kennedy Look”? Is it a hairstyle? It couldn’t be that; Jackie’s hairstyle over the years changed radically, going from a curly, soft, and cropped bob on her wedding day (shown below)

They were married on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was performed by Archbishop Richard Cushing. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 900 at the lavish reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm.

Jacqueline Bouvier and then-Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy were married on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was performed by Archbishop Richard Cushing. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 900 at the lavish reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm.

to a crisp bouffant at her husband John Kennedy‘s inauguration as the 35th President of the United States (below)

 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Seen here with, at left, then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and, at right, her husband, President Kennedy.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Seen here with, at left, then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and, at right, her husband, President Kennedy.

to a long, loose, and straight un-style when island-hopping with Greek shipping tycoon husband #2  Ari Onassis. (below).

Jackie and Ari Onassis in 1969, Jackie, in a festive summer print, and husband Aristotle Onassis leave an Athens nightclub at 7 a.m. after celebrating Jackie's 40th birthday.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis, in a festive summer print, and husband Aristotle Onassis leave an Athens nightclub at 7 a.m. after celebrating Jackie's 40th birthday, 1969.

Not that Jackie Kennedy’s hairstyles didn’t set fashion trends. Her 1961 inauguration hairdo, the bouffant, defined by the Oxford Dictionary, as [hair] “styled so as to stand out from the head in a rounded shape,” from the French word for ‘swelling,’ swept the nation in popularity. Her short, dark locks were teased, sprayed, and curled by her hairdresser, Mr. Kenneth of Lilly Dache, New York.

When Jackie Kennedy was First Lady (1961-1963), a rumor spread that she wore wigs from time to time, which Jackie’s spokespeople denied vehemently. Unfortunately, though, the rumor was proved true when sister-in-law Joan Kennedy blurted out in an interview:

“You know, Jackie talked me into wearing a wig. She has three of them, and she wears them a lot, especially for traveling. I tried one, but it just felt silly.”

Then, if it wasn’t her hair that defined the Jackie Kennedy look, perhaps it was her clothes. Consider her signature look…

 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy displays her trademark chic - pillbox hat, pearls, and stylish suit

First Lady Jackie Kennedy displays her trademark chic - pillbox hat, pearls, and stylish suit

formal, for day: the pillbox hat, pearls, the three-quarter length sleeves, the boxy Chanel suit jacket with A-line skirt

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at home in the White House. She is remembered for her love for all things French which found expression in her dedicated and loving restoration of the White House.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at home in the White House. She is remembered for her love for all things tasteful (and French) which found expression in her dedicated and loving restoration of the White House.

 informal, for day: the sleeveless silk sheath accented by a single strand of pearls at the throat

on their way to a dinner with the French cultural minister, April 1962. Mrs. Kennedy wears a gown designed by Oleg Cassini.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy as she was dressed for dinner with the French cultural minister, April 1962. Mrs. Kennedy wears a gown designed by Oleg Cassini.

informal, for night: a fabulous gown by designers such as Oleg Cassini completed by elbow-length white gloves and a clutch bag

But these were Jackie’s looks from the White House years, when she posed, posture perfect like a princess, beaming a happy smile. But then her husband was murdered and Camelot was no more. Her life changed and, with it, her wardrobe.

After she married Onassis, she became “Jackie O” and was photographed strolling the streets of Europe, slumming in casual attire -sexy capri pants with flat, strappy sandals. After Onassis’ death, she moved to New York to become a book editor for Doubleday. When she was seen on the streets, she kept her head down to avoid recognition, ducking the press, hiding behind those ubiquitous, bug-eyed, dark glasses and sometimes concealing her famous head under a scarf.

Jackie O in 1975, the year her second husband Aristotle Onassis died

Jackie O in 1975, the year her second husband Aristotle Onassis died

No, the Jackie Kennedy Look can’t be summed up by pointing to a hairstyle or style of dress – they were too variable.  Granted, whether First Lady, international playgirl, New York socialite, or career publisher, Jackie Kennedy had style, to be sure, a strong fashion sense, showing up largely as a preference for clean, uncluttered lines and simplicity. But she had an indescribable personal quality, too, a  je ne sais quoi, the French would say, a quality that transcended all the changes she made to her wardrobe and hair – the quintessential Jackie O – that keeps us fixated on her well into another century.

What was it that made Jackie such an icon that we still want to look at photos of her, though she has been gone so long?

One need only consult the TV comedy “Seinfeld” for the answer to this little conundrum. In the 87th episode known as “The Chaperone,” character Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeks a job at Doubleday as a book editor, following in the steps of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

 Elaine does not get the job. Read the Seinfeld script below to find out why Elaine was rejected by Doubleday:

New scene – Elaine at her job interview at Doubleday with Mrs. Landis.

LANDIS: Of course, Jackie O. was a great lady. Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill. Everyone loved her. She had such…grace.

ELAINE (gushing): Yes! Grace!

LANDIS: Not many people have grace.

ELAINE: Well, you know, grace is a tough one. I like to think I have a little grace…not as much as Jackie –

LANDIS: You can’t have “a little grace.” You either have grace, or you…don’t.

ELAINE: O.K., fine, I have…no grace.

LANDIS: And you can’t acquire grace.

ELAINE: Well, I have no intention of “getting” grace.

LANDIS: Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.

ELAINE (fed up): All right, all right, look – I don’t have grace, I don’t want grace…I don’t even say grace, O.K.?

LANDIS: Thank you for coming in.

ELAINE: Yeah, yeah, right.

LANDIS: We’ll make our choice in a few days, and we’ll let you know.

ELAINE (stands up): I have no chance, do I?

LANDIS: No. <They shake hands.>

 

Elaine Benes (Seinfeld) has no grace.

Elaine Benes (from TV series" Seinfeld) has no grace. Jackie Kennedy Onassis had grace.

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