Gene Tierneys hopeless love with JFK ended over heartbreaking marriage snub
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Today, Gene Tierney’s much loved 1943 fantasy comedy Heaven Can Wait airs on Talking Pictures TV, from 12.55pm. The story follows the Devil as he reflects on the life of the recently dead playboy Henry Van Cleve, and whether he should reside in Heaven or Hell in the afterlife. The picture was nominated for three Academy Awards and also co-starred Don Ameche, but is often remembered as Tierney’s breakout role, which saw her receive top billing in adverts.
Though it afforded her a newfound level of success, Tierney later remarked that the film’s director Ernst Lubitsch was a “tyrant on the set” and “the most demanding of directors”.
She recalled in her 1978 book Self Portrait: “After one scene, which took from noon until five to get, I was almost in tears from listening to Lubitsch shout at me.
“The next day I sought him out, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Mr. Lubitsch, I’m willing to do my best but I just can’t go on working on this picture if you’re going to keep shouting at me.’ ‘I’m paid to shout at you’, he bellowed. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘and I’m paid to take it – but not enough’.”
During her career in Hollywood, Tierney’s love life was also often spoken of, including reported relationships with the likes of Kirk Douglas and marriage to fashion designer Oleg Cassini.
But one relationship Tierney had wasn’t unearthed until she revealed it in Self Portrait, decades after it originally happened.
This was with former US President John F Kennedy, also known as Jack.
The relationship went from strength to strength after starting out in 1946, when Tierney met Kennedy after her marriage with Cassini had broken down.
Kennedy at the time was a young World War Two veteran, who was visiting the set of Dragonwyck, one of Tierney’s upcoming film productions.
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But, even though their relationship deepened over the year they were together, Kennedy admitted there was little future for the pair as a result of his ambitions to become leader of the US.
Writing in her memoir, Tierney said: “We were having lunch one day in New York.
“Just before we were joined by some of his friends, he looked at me and said, out of the blue, ‘You know, Gene, I can never marry you.’ In the chatter, the exchange of greetings as his friends settled into other seats, I said nothing.
“Then it was time for Jack to catch his flight back to Washington.
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“As he moved away from the table, I sat still, and in a voice just above a whisper I said, ‘Bye, bye, Jack.’ He stopped, walked back across the room, and said, his smile a little off-centre, ‘What do you mean? That sounds kind of final.’
“‘It is.’ We looked at each other for a long, timeless moment. Then he turned and left to catch his plane.”
Though this marked the end of their time together as a couple, when Kennedy was elected President in 1961, she sent him a note to congratulate him on his victory.
Though the pair did meet again between the breakdown in their relationship in 1947 and Kennedy’s win, Tierney herself noted how she “should have known our situation was hopeless”.
She added: “I have never talked with reporters about Jack, and until now had never written about us.
“Only he knew how serious his feelings were.
“But, obviously, when a man tells a woman he can’t marry her, if he feels compelled to say so, then the subject must have been on his mind.”
Tierney received an Oscar nomination in 1945 for Best Actress, missing out to eventual winner Joan Crawford for her role in Mildred Pierce.
She died of emphysema on 1991 just 13 days before her 71st birthday.
Heaven Can Wait airs from 12.55pm today on Talking Pictures TV.
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