That is the title of a biography I have just read of Vivien Leigh by Alexander Walker. Even young people know her as the actress who played Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, arguably the most celebrated and iconic female role in movie history. But, the highs and lows of her own life, including her health problems, were as dramatic as any role she played.
In 1913, she was born Vivian Hartley of British nationals who lived in India. But ethnically, she was mostly Irish and French, and, it is rumored that she had a little Indian blood in her from her mother’s side which contributed to her exquisite beauty. Her parents were well-off, and she was an only child, and her early years were very pleasant and comfortable. But, her mother was a very devout Roman Catholic, and she wanted Vivian to attend a convent school. So, when she was of school age, they returned to England so that Vivian could attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart in London. Let’s just say that her easy, breezy, lazy days of summer were over.
But, Vivian was bright. She was a good student. She became fluent in French and Italian. And she became very proficient in literature, including Shakespeare. (Most Americans don’t realize that Vivien Leigh was also a great Shakespearean actress.) She later attended other posh boarding schools on the European continent. But, from the beginning, all she ever wanted to do was become an actress.
So in 1931, at the age of 18, she persauded her parents to let her attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. But, a year later, she met a lawyer who was 13 years her senior, Leigh Holman, and she fell in love. They married, and she immediately got pregnant with their daughter Suzanne, and Vivian temporarily abandoned her dreams of becoming an actress. But, after Suzanne was born, there were servants and nannies galore to do the infant care, and Vivian resumed her quest for stardom with even greater intensity than before.
She found an agent who right away decided that her last name had to go. The name they settled on, Leigh, was of course, derived from her husband’s first name, although actually it was his middle name. And the change in spelling of her first name from Vivian to Vivien was done by one of her first stage directors, and it stuck.
So, she started getting parts, at first bit parts, in both British plays and movies, and she was noticed favorably by the already famous Laurence Olivier. He sought her to star with him in the film Fire Over England in 1937, and there was no stopping the romance between them even though they were both married. But, from the beginning, Olivier noticed that she had sudden, severe mood swings, although they did not disrupt her performances.
But, they became inseparable, and though it took time, they did eventually obtain divorces from their spouses so that they could marry, which happened in 1940. Each had a young child; Oliver’s was a son. And even though neither had custody of their child, they did have them enough of the time for Suzanne Holman and Tarquin Olivier to bond as siblings. Vivien reportedly had two miscarriages during her marriage to Olivier.
But, in 1945, during her marriage to Olivier, Vivien contracted her first case of pulmonary tuberculosis, which laid her up in bed for months. The very fact of that tells you that her health wasn’t good.
Regarding her habits, she both smoked and drank, but they all did in those days, and especially actors and musicians. At times, she smoked heavily, such as during the making of Gone with the Wind. I think it’s amazing that a woman whose acting career got launched solely because of her great beauty should smoke, but in those days, few realized how harmful and destructive smoking is.
But, she recovered from that bout of tuberculosis and went promptly back to the lifestyle that provoked it: smoking, drinking, late nights, and woefully inadequate rest.
Regarding her food, she ate a regular British diet, with its emphasis on animal protein and cream and butter, but not nearly enough fresh produce. Also, sweets were mentioned as a favorite of hers. She was always slim and petite, but realize that sometimes ill-health can keep a person slim.
Her manic episodes included severe hypersexuality, which manifested, at first, as increasing demands on her husband (for sex). But, by that time, Laurence Olivier was a man in his 40s who was working very hard, and although he tried to oblige her as best and as often as he could, it just wasn’t enough. As you know, a woman can always oblige a man with sex even if she is not in a responsive state, but a man’s lack of responsiveness is not something that he can hide or circumvent. And that led to her seeking sexual satisfaction outside the marriage.
The young actor Peter Finch became her long-term lover, with Olivier’s awareness. It was during the making of the movie Elephant Walk filmed in Sri Lanka and Los Angeles that Vivien was deeply involved with Finch (her co-star) when she had a complete nervous breakdown. It was in L.A. that Vivien was dragged away by the men in white coats, and Elizabeth Taylor was brought in to reshoot the movie, although they left in some distant scenes which included Vivien.
In those days, the main and only treatment for manic depression was electro-convulsive therapy: shock treatments. It is still used today but not nearly as much as before and usually only when drugs aren’t working. Vivien Leigh had a great many shock treatments. Over the years, it may have been over 100. And everyone, including Vivien, tried to recognize, in advance, when an attack was coming on so that she could go in for a treatment. The symptoms included the hypersexuality, which led her to have incredibly brazen and sudden flings, such as going to bed with a taxi driver, an elevator attendant, or just someone she met in the street. Another symptom was shopping addiction. Another was the loss of discretion in how she spoke to people. She was always rather blunt and unrestrained in her language- inclined to say shockingly candid things. But, it got much worse during her episodes. Many claimed that playing the role of the disturbed Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire worsened her own mental illness.
Her marriage to Olivier, which had deteriorated badly, finally ended, and it was his doing. He had fallen for another actress, Joan Plowright, whom he wanted to marry. But regardless of Joan, he had taken all that he could bear from Vivien. Their marriage ended in 1960, although for all practical purposes it was over before that. But, at the end, Vivien tried very hard to talk him out of it. Despite all her betrayals, which were induced by her mental illness, she felt a deep and close bond to him, which endured to the end. She never spoke badly of him. And, the same was true of her first husband, Leigh Holman, whom she stayed close to and spent time with even after their divorce.
But, Vivien’s best relationship may have been with her last lover, actor Jack Merivale. For many years, he was a friend- to her and Olivier. And when their romance blossomed, Jack felt obliged to inform his friend Laurence Olivier, who gave his blessing. Why shouldn’t he have when he was happily married? It’s interesting that Joan Plowright had nowhere near the beauty of Vivien Leigh. In fact, Joan wasn’t beautiful at all, in my opinion. But, Olivier was looking for something else.
Jack Merivale proved to be great for Vivien because he was keenly aware of her mental problems and always on the lookout for trouble and ready to steer her into treatment at the first sign of crisis. Apparently, the shock treatments did provide some relief. But, they both had busy careers, often on different continents, so they were separated a lot. But, when they were apart, she wrote to him frequently (daily) and some of her letters to him were published in the book. She was always intensely romantic in how she wrote to him, and it was very beautiful and also very youthful, considering that she was a grandmother of three at the time. She certainly had a fire for romance.
One of the last things she did in her life was visit India, the country of her birth. Not Jack Merivale, but other friends traveled with her. And then she almost made a trip to Russia because she was very popular in Russia, although not for Gone with the Wind which was forbidden in the Soviet Union for being too bourgeois.
But, after the India trip, she started coughing up blood, and it was soon discovered that her tuberculosis had recurred again, and virulently. She was ordered to bed and to stop smoking, neither of which she did completely. Jack was with her, although he was working at the time. She died alone. It’s believed that her lungs filled up with fluid and she suffocated. Jack had checked on her early in the evening, and she was doing OK. But then he had to go perform and when he checked on her a few hours later, she was sprawled on the floor, face down, dead. He tried giving her mouth-to-mouth but to no avail. He called her doctor. And then he called Olivier. Ironically, Olivier was in the hospital at the time for prostate cancer, but he checked himself out and took a taxi to her house. Jack let him be with Vivien alone in her room for a while. Olivier wrote in his memoir: “I stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprung up between us.” Vivien Leigh was 53 when she died in 1967.
It was very interesting to read about how she got the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. It was the most coveted female role in the world at the time. Vivien traveled from London to Los Angeles to audition for it. David Selznick refused to pay her way because she was practically unknown outside of England at the time. But, when he saw her and interacted with her, he soon realized that she came closest to Margaret Mitchell’s description of Scarlett in the book, down to the luscious green eyes. And, she also had the same dominant, willful, assertive personality of Scarlett O’Hara. And that’s what did it.
Could life have been different for Vivien Leigh in terms of her longevity? Of course. I have to think so. With better nutrition, better habits, and better self-care, she could have lived a lot longer. But, I am saying that in reference to her TB. I can’t make any claims regarding her manic depression, which may have been her destiny regardless. And, it may have been her mania that drove her to pursue her acting career the way she did, so who knows: without it, she may have had a very different life. It may have been a necessary part of her genius. Would she have been happier without it? Very possibly. I happen to think that when it comes down to extreme highs and extreme lows, as she had, that the lows hurt a lot more than the highs fulfill. So, I wouldn’t wish that kind of life on anyone. But, when I try to imagine watching Gone with the Wind with anyone else but Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O’Hara, it is a very depressing thought indeed.
I have read many biographies but none have been as awe-inspiring as the new Wright Brothers biography by David McCallum. The Wright Brothers story may be the greatest story of accomplishment of all time.
It was an unusual family situation. A family in Dayton, Ohio with 5 kids (4 boys and a girl) where the mother died at age 58 of tuberculosis when they were adolescents to young adults. Their father, Milton Wright, was a Protestant Bishop. I don't know how religious the Wright Brothers were, but I did find out that they refused to work or even fly on Sundays because of the Sabbath.
Two of the boys followed the typical course of leaving home getting married and having children. But, Wilbur, Orville, and their sister Katharine continued living at home with their father. And that played a crucial role in the development of flight because how could the Wright Brothers have done what they did if they had wives and children? There aren’t enough hours in the day.
But, trauma played a role in it too. Wilbur was extremely bright and very scholastic, and he was definitely college-bound. But, he was viciously attacked during a hockey game by a boy who went on to become a famous murderer. Wilbur was too injured to meet the deadlines for college, and the whole idea faded away after that.
While still in high school, Orville started his own printing company, which was done by building his own printing press. The printing business grew after high school, and Wilbur got involved with him, although it was always Orville’s baby. And something they did in association with the printing business was publish a local newspaper for their section of Dayton, Ohio. And both boys contributed to the writing of it.
But, bicycle fever hit Dayton in the late 1890s. It was a real craze, and they got into it themselves. They loved to ride, and they became absorbed with the mechanical side of bicycling, which they mastered. And then they saw an opportunity to capitalize on it, so they opened their bicycle shop. But, many people mistakenly believe that they just repaired bicycles. They built bicycles from scratch. They had a whole line. It was called the Van Cleve, which was their grandmother’s maiden name. It was a high end bike costing $65, which was a lot then. But, they proudly claimed that it the best built and most durable bicycle in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
The thing about Orville and Wilbur Wright was: they liked to work. They liked to be productive, to see something built, fixed, improved or enhanced by their own hand. It gave them more satisfaction than any kind of entertainment or recreation. I’ve known people like that. My father was like that. Like the Wright Brothers, he was happiest when he was doing constructive work, accomplishing something, especially mechanical.
The Wright Brothers had always been fascinated by the flight of birds. As lads, they had played around with airborne toys. But, the way the serious flying idea got started was that Orville got sick with typhoid fever.And it was a bad case. He very easily could have died, as many did. He was laid up in bed for weeks and weeks. And while he was convalescing, Wilbur would come in and read to him. And they started reading about this glider enthusiast in Germany whose name was Otto Lilenthal. He was known as the Glider King, and he was the first man to glide long enough and high enough to call it a sustained flight. Lilenthal controlled his glider entirely by shifting his body weight. And, he died in a gliding accident in 1896.
Something struck Wilbur and Orville that now that Lilenthal was dead, somebody needed to carry on the work of developing a flying machine. And their first thought was that control had to come from something other than the pilot shifting his weight.
So, the first thing Wilbur did was write to the Smithsonian Institute and ask for scientific resources on aviation. He was referred to the work of Octave Chanute who was French and to Samuel Langley who was American and the head of the Smithsonian. I don’t believe the Wright Brothers ever met Langley, but they did become friends with Chanute. So, Wilbur and Orville took to reading the known materials on flight. And Wilbur took up bird-watching as a serious hobby. He also read a book about the flight of birds called Empire of the Air by Pierre Moullard. And with that, the Wright Brothers became, as they said, “infected” with the desire to fly.
So, the first step was to build a glider that could fly for a sustained period, but more important, that could be precisely and accurately controlled.
Their very first discovery, which was really Wilbur’s and came from his bird-watching, was “wing-warping”. He demonstrated it to Orville and his sister with a model that he made of a double-wing bi-plane, that if you twisted the wings on one side, it changed the air pressure, causing more “lift” on one side than the other side, causing the plane to turn. That idea of “wing-warping” or “wing-twisting” was the first great idea of the Wright Brothers, and it came directly from watching birds.
It was the summer of 1899 that they started building their first aircraft, a glider. Just think: it would be only four years later, in 1903, that they make history and change the world forever by building the first real airplane. But this first unit was really just a glorified kite. It was bi-plane, with two sets of wings. They liked the bi-plane design because Chanute recommended it and used it in his experiments, and it seemed more stable than a monoplane. A bi-plane was like a box, and a box is more stable than a board.
But, what made their glider different was that they had long cords that allowed the operator on the ground to manipulate the plane in the air to effect the wing-warping. No one had ever thought of that before.
So, they spent 3 years just working with gliders, to gain the greatest control of the aircraft at all times. And it was very important to them that their motorized plane also be able to glide- in case the motor failed.
But, when they were ready for a motor, they first tried to buy one from a car manufacturer but with no success. So, they had this guy named Charlie Taylor, who worked for them in the bicycle shop for $18/week, build them a motor from scratch, using a 4 cylinder aluminum block.
They took everything in pieces to Kitty Hawk and assembled the plane there, including the motor. And, against a strong head wind, Orville made the first flight. It was December 17, 1903 at 10:35 AM. The course of his flight was “erratic”. The distance he flew was 120 feet, and the total time being air-borne was 12 seconds. That was the first time someone had flown a manned aircraft that was heavier than air and powered by a motor. Before the day was done, Wilbur would fly for half a mile in a time of 59 seconds.
Over the next two years, the Wright Brothers built bigger planes with larger, more powerful motors. They put on public demonstrations but forbid picture-taking. They were afraid that a blow-up of a photo might give away crucial details of their design. And there were several times that Wilbur caught someone, usually a journalist, taking a picture, and he stormed over and demanded the film. And I mean “demanded” as in: “give me that film, or else.” And the guy invariably handed it over.
Of course, word spread quickly, and it was the talk of the country. But, it wasn’t until 1906 that things really bounded forward in terms of national and international recognition. It was the French who had always been most keen on developing manned flight, and the French government, through emissaries, approached the Wright Brothers about buying a fleet of planes. But, the condition was that they had to come to France to demonstrate the plane and also provide instruction in its use to French pilots.
So, Wilbur went to France, alone, while Orville stayed behind to take care of things on the home front. And in France, Wilbur stunned the French. He put on air shows. And just think: from the beginning, aerial acrobatics was part of it. He did repeated figure-8s to the crowd’s amazement and delight. And since the plane was now a 2-seater, he took people up for rides, including dignitaries, government officials, and posh ladies. It was done at Le Mans, and you just can’t overstate what a spectacle it was.
But then, disaster struck. Back in the States. Orville was putting on similar demonstrations for the Americans, which happened near Washington. He had a passenger riding with him, a high-ranking military officer. Suddenly, the propeller broke. It was a mechanical failure; it was not pilot error. But, the broken propeller tore through the cable that controlled the rudder, and the result was that they plummeted to earth- nose first.
That the military officer, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, died (the first aviation casualty) is no surprise. What’s astonishing is that Orville survived. But, he was badly hurt with bones broken all over his body. It took him months to recover, and he never fully recovered. He walked with a limp and needed a cane after that, and one leg was more than an inch shorter than the other.
Wilbur came back from France, and the sister Katharine took leave from her teaching job to take care of Orville. The eerie thing is that there had been talk of President Theodore Roosevelt wanting to go up with Orville. When told about it, Orville said, “He’s the President of the United States, and I’ll do whatever he says. But personally, I don’t think he should take the risk.”
But, Orville did become functional again, and he did fly again. He and Wilbur started a new company to manufacture airplanes. And there were more big events ahead for them. The pace of the development of aviation soared immediately after that. By 1908, just two years after Wilbur dazzled the French at Le Mans, they had an air competition in France with 20 contestants. The Wright Brothers were invited but didn’t attend. But a few weeks later, Orville and Katharaine went to Germany, and there, Orville broke the world records for speed and altitude that were set in France just a few weeks before. Another big event was Wilbur’s flight up the Hudson River Valley which included him doing several circles around the Statue of Liberty, to the crowd’s delight.
Wilbur’s last flight was as a passenger. It was the first and only time that he and Orville flew together. That was in 1911 at an air show. They had always said they wouldn’t fly together so that if one died the other could carry on the work. So, by flying together, it was their way of saying that they had accomplished all that they had set out to do. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. He was 45 years old.
How ironic that is. Wilbur, who was older, was always the bigger and stronger of the two. And the disparity became even greater after Orville’s catastrophic accident. That Wilbur would precede Orville in death is something that nobody expected.
Orville continued piloting Wright planes for another 7 years. But then, he had to quit because of his disabilities from the near-death disaster. Severe arthritis set in, as it often does after such traumas. He just didn’t have the dexterity to fly any more. So, his final flight was in 1918 at age 46. He also sold the Wright manufacturing company and devoted the rest of his life to aeronautical research at the Wright Aeronautical Laboratory which he started.
And, he spent much of his time in the latter years in lawsuits for patent infringement. And, it wasn’t so much about money. He was famous for saying that all the money that anybody needs is enough to not be a burden on others. But, nothing mattered more to him than the legacy of the Wright Brothers.
Orville died of a heart attack on January 30, 1948. He was 77. But, just imagine what he lived to see: jet propulsion, rockets, and the breaking of the sound barrier- all in his lifetime. However, he also lamented greatly the use of aviation in warfare, which of course happened as early as World War 1. So, just a few years after Wilbur died, they were having air battles and using airplanes to drop bombs on people.
So, did health play a role in the developments of the airplane? I would say so. I mentioned that it was when Orville was convalescing from typhoid fever that Wilbur sought things to read to him, which wound up including the reports about Lilenthal perishing in a crash. I really think the Wright Brothers felt an obligation to Lilenthal to carry on his work. But, they also saw a fatal flaw in his approach: lack of control, the fact that Lilenthal tried to control the aircraft just by shifting his body weight like a sledder does going down a course. But, they knew that would never suffice in aviation.
There is no denying that Wilbur and Orville Wright were two very unusual guys. They were extremely bright, and they were very mechanically gifted. And, they loved to work. They loved to solve mechanical problems. Just think: Wilbur Wright, though he was only a high school graduate, gave speeches to prominent engineering groups which included complex mathematical analysis. And these speeches were translated and published all over the world.
I don’t think anyone doubts that manned flight would have happened without the Wright Brothers. How much later would it have been? That’s anyone’s guess, but I’d say at least 5 years. But maybe longer than that because it was the Wright Brothers who stirred up the whole worldwide frenzy to fly.
But, I have to say that I think it’s one of the greatest things that Americans have to feel proud about , that it was Americans who accomplished flight. And not just Americans, but regular working-class Americans who had no advanced education, little money, and very little help. You can have your military heroes, your sports figures, your Hollywood celebrities and your distinguished statesmen. I’ll take the Wright Brothers as my heroes any day.
This was sent to me by a friend. I have long been concerned about the danger and harm from diet sodas. Millions of people are addicted to them, and in most cases, they tend to be FAT. That may seem paradoxical that a non-caloric drink could make you fat, but such is the case. They work against weight control, and that is a fact. But, they do more harm than that, which you can read about below. There is no place for them in anyone's health program.
Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown announced that California children will not be allowed to attend public school in that state unless vaccinated, that there would be no more exemptions for any reason. It was prompted by a recent outbreak of measles in California.
Is such coercion justified? If vaccines are effective, then vaccinated children should have nothing to fear from unvaccinated ones because the vaccines protect them. And if the vaccines are not effective, then what's the point of forcing anyone to get them?
For the state to force the injection of chemicals into a child's body against the will of the parents is drastic to the extreme. Whether it is ever justified is debatable, and that's true even if vaccines are proven safe and effective. But, whether vaccines are safe and effective is also debatable, and the fact that it hasn't been established or resolved makes the violation of rights even more egregious.
The safety and effectiveness of vaccines can only be determined in one way: through scientific testing. But, do you know how many times vaccines have been scientifically tested? Nice round number: zero. And what I mean by that is that vaccines have never been tested by comparing the outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated children as to the incidence of the disease or diseases in question and as to other health issues and to general health. Instead, the only testing they do concerns antibody titers, such as "the immune responses to the antigens of the hexavalent vaccine were noninferior when compared with those of the control group." So, the administered vaccines did cause the antibody titer to rise in the subjects who received them. But, that's not an end in itself. It's just a theoretical construct. A serological outcome is not a clinical outcome, and it's clinical outcomes that matter.
Here's a CDC report on a measles outbreak at a 100% vaccinated high school in Illinois.
"This outbreak demonstrates that transmission of measles can occur within a school population with a documented immunization level of 100%. This level was validated during the outbreak investigation. Previous investigations of measles outbreaks among highly immunized populations have revealed risk factors such as improper storage or handling of vaccine, vaccine administered to children under 1 year of age, use of globulin with vaccine, and use of killed virus vaccine (1-5). However, these risk factors did not adequately explain the occurrence of this outbreak."
Didn't adequately explain it? How's this for an explanation: The outbreak occurred because the vaccine is ineffective. Even if it did raise the antibody titer, the assumption that that conveys protection is only an assumption. In plain English: the vaccine didn't work.
The rest of what they said is just rationalizing and excuse-making. In the recent California measles outbreak, less than half the afflicted children were unvaccinated. And remember, that's their numbers. I wouldn't put it past them to lie through their teeth.
So, have they ever taken two comparable groups of children, given one group the vaccines, and the other group not, and tried to control for everything else to keep the comparison fair, and then looked at the results, including the incidence of infectious disease and the incidence of other problems? NO! Never! Not once in the history of vaccination have they ever done that.
And their excuse is that it wouldn't be ethical, that to deny the vaccines to the test group wouldn't be right.
But, they know that there are kids who aren't going to be vaccinated anyway because their parents don't believe in it. So, since those kids aren't going to be vaccinated anyway, there are no ethical issues involved in doing a scientific study to compare the outcomes of those children to vaccinated children.
But, they still won't do it. They claim that because of the structural differences between the groups that the comparison wouldn't be meaningful. That is nonsense! Of course it would be meaningful. They won't do it because they are afraid that the unvaccinated children will show better outcomes, that people will hear about it, and then there will be a large-scale revolt against vaccination. And even if they don't actually expect that, they do fully realize that IT'S POSSIBLE! They know it from experience. The same drug companies that make drugs make vaccines, and they know from their own experience in testing drugs that sometimes the placebo group does better than the treatment group. I'm not going to say it happens all the time, but it happens sometimes. If you think it's rare, then you are naïve. And that is exactly why they do not test vaccines.
There are celebrities joining the campaign against vaccinations, including Rob Schneider, Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy, and football player Jay Cutler and his wife Kristin Cavallari. They are denounced for not being doctors, as if they are too ignorant to make informed decisions, but let's be honest about something here: the average family doctor's understanding of how vaccines work is extremely limited. They just have a rote, cursory, perfunctory understanding of it. They could probably tell you everything they know about it in five minutes; ten max. And yet, they're spending their days injecting poisons into children like the good little vassals of the state that they are. And believe me, vaccinations are a state thing, a government thing. It's an unholy alliance between Big Pharma and government that brings it about.
Belief in vaccination is like a religion. It's based on a dogma. It is not based on looking at the world objectively. They carefully avoid shining a light on showing whether vaccines are truly effective. They really don't want to know. They just want to believe. To say that there's bias in their interpretation of the data about vaccines is a gross understatement. The world-wide vaccination cult is really a very sick religion.
I will never be vaccinated again; I would sooner leave the country. And I have no doubt that more vaccination harms lie ahead for the masses.
If you’re young, and you’re not a fan of classic movies, you may not know about Gene Tierney, but she was one of the great screen sirens of Hollywood’s Golden Age, meaning the 1940s. She was chosen to play the irresistible Laura in the 1944 movie of that name. But, Gene Tierney is also remembered as the star who suffered from severe mental illness- and recovered.
Though she lived to 71, she wrote her autobiography, entitled Self-Portrait, at age 58, which I just finished reading.
She was born into a well-to-do New England family, which meant private schools, country clubs, horses, boating, tennis lessons, and even a debutante ball when she was 16. She spent two years in Switzerland attending a posh boarding school where she became fluent in French. She was discovered in Hollywood when she was 17. Her family was on a vacation to California, and a friend had arranged for them to visit a movie set. The movie was being directed by the famed Russian director Anatole Litvak who was struck by Gene’s beauty. He invited her to submit to a screen test, which she did, and that resulted immediately in a contract offer.
Gene had never thought about acting before, but she eagerly wanted to do it. However, her parents would not allow her. But, her father offered her a compromise that he would help her pursue a career in theater in New York instead. That way, she would be close to home.
So, Gene pursued a career in live theater on Broadway for several years until her star rose high enough there that she was again offered a Hollywood contract which she accepted.
To understand Gene’s plight with mental illness, you have to understand that she suffered a lot of traumas in her life, and I don’t mean physical ones. Some very bad stresses happened to her, including the following:
-a complete falling out with her father after he abandoned her mother- and the whole family really – to marry another woman. He even wound up suing Gene for money relating to his having managed her career early-on, which resulted in Gene finding out that her father had been stealing from her all along.
-her marriage to fashion designer Oleg Cassini, whom she met in the movie business where he designed costumes, was turbulent throughout. Her family and loved ones had pressured her not to marry him, but she did anyway, and their worst fears materialized.
-worst of all was that her first child, a daughter Daria, was born deaf and nearly blind and also severely retarded mentally, all the result of Gene having contracted German measles at a war bond rally from an afflicted female soldier. After two years, Gene gave up trying to care for Daria herself and allowed her to be institutionalized, which she was for the remainder of her 66 years. Daria had the mind of a 1 and 1/2 year old. But, Gene visited Daria and supported her, and it was the utmost tragedy of her life.
-her relationship with John F. Kennedy, who never mistreated her, but when he decided not to marry her, it was devastating for her. She had such high hopes that they were going to have a life together.
-after that, she reconciled briefly with Oleg, and they conceived their second child, Christina, who was born healthy. It’s interesting that although they lived in America, they decided to speak only French at home so that Tina would learn that language first. At the time she started school, Tina spoke very little English. But again, Gene’s relationship with Oleg tumbled, and they split up again for good, and she became a single mother raising a daughter.
In addition to all that, she had all the usual stresses of being an actress, the competition, the pressure, etc. Plus, there were other turbulent relationships with men, such as with the Pakistani jet setting playboy, Ali Khan, which she never felt right about.
Her mental illness surfaced, as it often does, as depression. She’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. But, the second thing was an inability to concentrate, to focus. She couldn’t remember her lines. And it wasn’t just that she couldn’t remember them; she couldn’t learn them in the first place. She would read the lines out-loud several times, or even many times, but then when she put the paper down, she couldn't remember a thing. That occurred first during the making of A Private Affair in England. She got through it, but the problem only worsened. By the time she went to California to film The Left Hand of God with Humphrey Bogart, she was a mess; she fell apart completely. She couldn’t remember anything. She got through the movie, but only because Bogart fed her her lines, reciting them before she did so she could repeat them, which required a lot of editing at the end to conceal. Bogie had a sister who was severely ill mentally whom he supported, and he recognized the signs in Gene. He urged her to get help. So, after the completion of that movie, Gene returned to Connecticut and sought medical help. She wound up at a prominent residential psychiatric clinic called the Hartford Retreat.
That began years of institutionalized treatment for Gene, and I’ll say first that I am not sure that any of it was beneficial or played any role in her recovery. It included 32 shock treatments: electro-convulsive therapy, like Jack Nicholson’s character received in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In later years, Gene became an ardent and outspoken critic of shock treatments. She came to feel that they did nothing but destroy her memory and harm her otherwise.
She also received drugs, and she said that at one point, she was the most heavily drugged patient there. She never named any of the drugs she was given. I don’t know what they were, but I think it’s likely that they have all fallen out of use in Medicine.
And she received some psychoanalysis and talk therapy as well, although she sounded critical of that too, from what I could gather. She complained that they kept trying to plumb the depths of her unhappy childhood, but she kept telling them that her childhood was happy.
So, what did she speak of positively about all the treatment? It was the general caring and compassion that she received from the doctors and nurses. That she appreciated, and that she felt really helped her. Perhaps it is the only thing that really helped her.
She got out after about a year, and she resumed living with her mother and her daughter Tina, who was now in school. But then, she started deteriorating again, to where she wanted to spend the whole day in bed and would have if her mother had let her. One day, she had a close brush with suicide when she walked out on the ledge of their high-rise apartment building.
And that resulted in her being re-institutionalized at the famed Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. She was there for over a year and received the same kind of treatment as before. When she got out, the first thing she did was accompany her mother and daughter on a skiing trip to Aspen, Colorado. There she met the man who would become her second husband, Texas Oilman W. Howard Lee. He was 11 years older, and he fell head over heels in love for her. That was in 1958, and they may have gotten married sooner, but she was planning her movie comeback, and as she got involved in it, she started deteriorating again mentally and behaviorally. She became rambling and incoherent, and even Howard noticed. Willingly, she re-entered the Menninger Clinic and stayed there another full year. But, that was the last time she was to be institutionalized. She and Howard Lee got married in July 1960, and they lived together happily until his death in 1981, so over 20 years. She never needed to be hospitalized again, but she did continue to see a psychiatrist and take medication. And she did achieve a remarkable comeback as a movie actress- not as a leading lady but in supporting roles in several movies for which she received wide acclaim. Her last movie was The Pleasure Seekers in 1964, but she did several television projects after that, all the way until 1980.
She and Howard lived in Houston, where she got very involved in charitable work there. He died in 1981, and she lived 10 more years until 1991, but never remarried. The cause of her death was given as emphysema.
And that brings us to Gene Tierney’s habits. Since she died of emphysema at age 71, you might suspect that she smoked, and you would be right. But, she didn’t start smoking until she got into movies, and it’s a darn shame what happened. She was encouraged to start smoking because she had a high, girlish voice which they wanted to lower. So, she took up smoking, and she got hooked. She became a heavy smoker, and at times a chain smoker.
It seems strange that a woman whose whole career was launched by her fabulous looks would take up such a beauty-destroying habit as smoking. But, of course, she wasn’t the only one. Back then, they didn’t recognize the age-accelerating and uglifying effects that smoking has.
Regarding her food, she was a conventional eater. Things like steaks and barbecue were mentioned. Also eggs; she was very fond of eggs and enjoyed having laying hens at home to get fresh eggs. A fondness for desserts was also mentioned. But, she said that during filming she would watch her weight closely and stick to vegetables and lean meats.
But, she was not a big drinker. She drank socially, but it wasn’t a problem for her. And she said nothing about indulging in illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, etc.
She was quite active physically, playing tennis from a young age. And, her first husband Oleg was an outstanding tennis player who apparently could have gone pro if he wanted to. He played Davis Cup tennis for Italy as a young man. So, that was something they had in common.
Apparently, her psychiatric diagnosis was manic depression. And, undoubtedly, it was triggered by the traumas that she experienced, particularly the tragedy of her first daughter Daria. Today, they treat manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, with various drugs, none of which were around in her time. And, the use of lithium got established in 1970, which was also after her worst time with it. But, I have to wonder if she started to take lithium after it became available in the 1970s, and perhaps she did.
Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral, and it does have a stabilizing effect on mood and on nerves. And, it occurs in trace amounts in food. We actually sell a low-dose version of lithium called lithium orotate. It provides 4.5 milligrams of lithium per tablet. It is much weaker than the lithium compounds used in Medicine, but for some people, it seems to suffice. It’s also much safer to take than the prescription forms of lithium.
But, I am left with unanswered questions about Gene Tierney. Would she ever have gotten sick if not for all the stresses in her life, particularly her impaired daughter? I mentioned that she lauded the caring and compassion that she received from the medical staff, but I don’t think it’s right to consider that therapeutic. So, to what extent was she helped by the specific treatments she received? And to what extent was she harmed by them?
I suspect that her signature movie will always be considered Laura, which I have seen more than once. Recently, I watched her in The Mating Season from 1951, which was a comedy, and it’s very good. I recommend it. I liked it better than Heaven Can Wait which is more of a farce. But, I intend to watch her in The Left Hand of God which she made in the throes of mental illness, but only with the generous and compassionate support of Humphrey Bogart. I'd like to see how it came out.
Gene Tierney. What a life. It was an incredible mixture of vaunted highs and desperate lows, neither of which she could ever have imagined or anticipated as a girl. I’m sure she’ll always be remembered as one of the great film stars and great beauties of all time. However, she is no one to envy. They say that money can't buy happiness, but, apparently, neither can beauty.