Podcast Episode 246: Gene Tierney’s Secret Heartbreak


At the height of her fame in 1943, movie star Gene Tierney contracted German measles during pregnancy and bore a daughter with severe birth defects. The strain ended her marriage to Oleg Cassini and sent her into a breakdown that lasted years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Tierney’s years of heartbreak and the revelation that compounded them.

We’ll also visit some Japanese cats and puzzle over a disarranged corpse.


The indexes of two mathematics textbooks contain hidden jokes.

In 1973 Stanford statistician Herman Chernoff proposed using cartoon faces to encode information.

Sources for our feature on Gene Tierney:

Gene Tierney, Self-Portrait, 1979.

Oleg Cassini, In My Own Fashion, 1990.

Steven Rybin, Gestures of Love: Romancing Performance in Classical Hollywood Cinema, 2017.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film, 2013.

Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, 1962.

Dan Callahan, “Only a Dream,” Sight & Sound 22:3 (March 2012), 50-53.

Maureen Orth, “Cassini Royale,” Vanity Fair 52:9 (September 2010), 302.

Amy Davidson Sorkin, “Wakefield’s Vaccine Follies,” New Yorker, May 26, 2010.

“Gene Tierney,” Variety, Nov. 10, 1991.

“Welcome for a Troubled Beauty,” Life, Sept. 29, 1958, 87-92.

“Debutante Gene Tierney Makes Her Entrance in a Broadway Success,” Life, Feb. 19, 1940, 35-40.

Donald G. McNeil Jr., “Rubella Has Been Eliminated From the Americas, Health Officials Say,” New York Times, April 29, 2015.

Patti S. Spencer, “60-Year-Old Divorce Agreement Put to the Test,” [Lancaster, Pa.] Intelligencer Journal, Sept. 24, 2012, B.8.

“Oleg Cassini,” Times, March 21, 2006, 63.

Richard Severo and Ruth La Ferla, “Oleg Cassini, Designer for the Stars and Jacqueline Kennedy, Dies at 92,” New York Times, March 19, 2006.

Donald P. Myers, “Call Him Casanova,” Newsday, Aug. 16, 2001, B06.

Alex Witchel, “At Home With: Oleg Cassini; Ducking the Hunters,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 1995.

Frank Rizzo, “Glimpses of a Troubled Life: Gene Tierney Was More Than Just a Beautiful Vision,” Hartford Courant, July 3, 1994, G1.

Richard Severo, “Gene Tierney, 70, Star of ‘Laura’ And ‘Leave Her to Heaven,’ Dies,” New York Times, Nov. 8, 1991.

“Actress Gene Tierney, Screen Beauty of 1940s,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 8, 1991, 10.

“Gene Tierney, Acclaimed as Star of ‘Laura,’ Dies at 70,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1991.

“Actress Gene Tierney Dies at 70,” Washington Post, Nov. 8, 1991, D4.

Carrie Rickey, “Gene Tierney, Famed for Her Roles in ‘Laura’ and ‘Heaven Can Wait,'” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 8, 1991, C.9.

“Actress Gene Tierney Dies,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 8, 1991, F10.

“Show Bits: Tragedy Clouded Tierney’s Triumphs,” Windsor Star, Nov. 8, 1991, C2.

“Actress Gene Tierney, Star of ‘Laura,’ Dies at 70,” Associated Press, Nov. 8, 1991.

Laura Tolley, “Actress Gene Tierney, Known For Role in ‘Laura,’ Dies At 70,” Associated Press, Nov. 7, 1991.

Michael Gross, “Oleg Cassini: A Celebrity Life in Fashion,” New York Times, Aug. 28, 1987.

Mitchell Smyth, “She Fell in Love With Young JFK,” Toronto Star, July 21, 1985, D04.

“Movie Recalls Gene Tierney,” Lodi [Calif.] News-Sentinel, July 3, 1980, 3-G.

Seymour Peck, “Star Trouble,” New York Times, April 8, 1979.

“Gene Tierney Re-Enters Clinic,” New York Times, Jan. 22, 1959.

“Gene Tierney Leaves Clinic,” New York Times, Sept. 26, 1959.

“Gene Tierney Enters Hospital,” Deseret News, Jan. 21, 1958, A13.

“Gene Tierney Gets Divorce,” New York Times, April 9, 1953.

“Gene Tierney Robbed in Britain,” New York Times, July 8, 1952.

“Gene Tierney Gets Divorce,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 1952.

“Gene Tierney Loses Gems; Actress Reports $15,300 Jewels Stolen From Home Here,” New York Times, Sept. 24, 1948.

“Gene Tierney Suspended; Actress Says She Couldn’t Fill ‘Walls of Jericho’ Role,” New York Times, Sept. 29, 1947.

“Gene Tierney Wins California Divorce,” New York Times, March 11, 1947.

“Saves Family Homestead; Gene Tierney Redeems Property 24 Hours After Foreclosure,” New York Times, March 8, 1942.

“Gene Tierney, Actress, Wed to Count Cassini,” New York Times, June 2, 1941.

Listener mail:

Steve Annear, “Museum of Fine Arts Will Use a Puppy to Sniff Out Pests That Could Damage Its Collections,” Boston Globe, Jan. 9, 2018.

“Meet Riley the Museum Dog,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accessed April 15, 2019).

Jason Daley, “Meet Riley, the Puppy Training to Sniff Out Bugs in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts,” Smithsonian.com, Jan. 11, 2018.

Lillian Brown, “Riley the Museum Dog Gets His Own Book,” Boston Globe, April 3, 2019.

“Riley the Museum Dog Stars in New Children’s Book Released by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Boston Globe,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accessed April 15, 2019).

“A Nose For Art: Meet The MFA’s New Four-Legged Employee,” WBZ NewsRadio, April 17, 2019.

“Popular Dog Has Book Signing, Meets Fans at Museum of Fine Arts,” News 7 Boston, April 17, 2019.

Wikipedia, “Tama (cat)” (accessed April 15, 2019).

Maggie Hiufu Wong, “Meet Nitama, the New Cat in Charge at Japan’s Kishi Station,” CNN, Aug. 24, 2015.

“Cat Stationmaster Tama Mourned in Japan and Elevated as Goddess,” Associated Press, June 28, 2015.

Maggie Hiufu Wong, “The Cat That Saved a Japanese Train Station,” CNN Travel, May 24, 2013.

“Stationmaster Cat,” Animal Planet, April 18, 2012.

Philip Brasor and Masako Tsubuku, “‘Nekonomics’ Does Its Bit to Keep Japan’s Economy Purring,” Japan Times, April 8, 2017.

“Can ‘Nekonomics’ Save Japan’s Economy?” Japan Today, March 3, 2016.

“31 Pictures That Show Japan’s Crazy Obsession With Cats,” Business Insider, July 10, 2013.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Christopher McDonough, who suggests this book for further information (warning — this link spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!