I have seen her in movies such as “Leave Her to Heaven”, “Laura” and “The Razor’s Edge” but it wasn’t until recently that I learned that Gene Tierney was the inspiration behind famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie’s novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. In the story, Marina Gregg, a famous actress after trying unsuccessfully to conceive, finally gave birth to a severely retarded son before suffering from a nervous breakdown.
Ms. Gregg later met the fan who was responsible for her son’s condition and her nervous breakdown. At a party, the fan revealed to Ms. Gregg that when they met the first time, she had German Measles. At the time, Ms. Gregg was pregnant. Suffice to say, the fan who had ruined not only one life but two would met an unfortunate end.
Gene Tierney’s story wasn’t as dramatic as the Agatha Christie novel, in that poison ends up in the glass given to the fan but that didn’t make it any less tragic or devastating. It was years later when Ms. Tierney learned led to her daughter, Daria’s illness. It was when she crossed paths with a fan she had previously. The young woman reminded her of their first meeting and confessed that at the time, she was sick with Rubella. Apparently, the woman who was a marine had sneaked out of quarantine to meet her favorite star. What a shock it must have been for Ms. Tierney to learn why she gave birth prematurely. The Rubella caused congenital damage, leaving the baby, who weighed just over three pounds at birth, partially blind, deaf, and mentally disabled. Ms. Tierney tried to look after Daria herself but when the little girl turned four she was talked into putting her in a home where she stayed for the rest of her life.
This tragedy haunted the actress for the remainder of her life. She and Daria’s father, Oleg Cassini separated in 1946. They reconciled before the divorce which was to be finalized in 1948 and had a second daughter, Tina. Ms. Tierney began to have trouble concentrating which affected her acting career. She was supposed to star opposite Clark Gable in the movie, “Mogambo” but she left the production and was replaced by Grace Kelly. Two years later, during the filming of “The Left Hand of God”, opposite Humphrey Bogart, she fell ill. Her leading man was very supportive by feeding her lines so that she could get through the production. His empathy for her could have been due to the fact that his sister was also struggling from mental illness. Ms. Tierney was manic depressive.
Ms. Tierney was seeing a psychiatrist and she underwent undergo twenty-seven electroshock treatments in an effort to treat her severe depression. She would later speak out against shock treatment therapy, citing that it had erased portions of her memory. She returned to acting, in smaller movie roles and on television. Shortly before her 71st birthday, she died of emphysema and was survived by her daughters, Daria and Christina who both passed away at age of 66. Her friend, Howard Hughes, paid for Daria’s medical expenses until the day she died, something which Ms. Tierney never forgot.
Why did the fan tell Ms. Tierney about the Rubella? Was she boasting about it, perhaps? Was she sort of letting the actress know that she was such a big fan of hers that nothing–not even a contagious viral infection was going to stop her from seeing her? I wonder how the young woman felt when she read about Ms. Tierney’s daughter, Daria. Did she regret her actions? The two still ended up meeting but how how different life would have been for Ms. Tierney and her daughter, Daria if she and that first meeting had never taken place. Sometimes, we don’t realize how our decisions can greatly impact other people’s lives and not always in a positive way.
I salute Ms. Tierney for her devotion to her daughter, Daria, for speaking out against shock treatment therapy and for bringing such grace and talent to the big screen.
Rubella is a contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash. It’s also called German measles or three-day measles. While this infection may cause mild symptoms or even no symptoms in most people, it can cause serious problems for unborn babies whose mothers become infected during pregnancy – Mayo Clinic