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Love Goddesses; Fame & Tragedy- Gene Tierney, & Thelma Todd

Updated on April 22, 2014

Gene Tierney, the Ultimate Love Goddess

Leave Her to Heaven

Tierney was a True Technicolor Goddess

Gene Tierney on Amazon

Being a Love Goddess is Not A Walk in the Park

Gene Tierney was a stunning child who inherited her mother's beauty leading her parents to nick name her princess. She had a younger sister, Pat and an older brother, Howard.

They were a wealthy family and young Gene was denied nothing. The only thorn in her life was her parents constant fighting. At 15 she was sent off to a Swiss boarding school where Gene made many friends, and developed an interest in acting.

When Gene returned to the family home in Connecticut, she was stunned to learn that her father was badly in debt and losing the house and family business because of a lawsuit. In 1938 Mr. Tierney sent his family on a trip to California while he sorted out business. Gene toured Warner Brothers studio and caught the attention of directors who were eager to give her a screen test. On the spot Gene was offered a contract at $150 per week. She went on to act on the stage to perform in serious plays before signing with 20th Century Fox. She was now in the position to offer her father some help with his waning business. She started a trust for her family to help wit some of their burdens.

She was constantly making frivolous movies, but after she appeared in The Return of Frank James with Henry Fonda, and upon seeing the premier, she shrank with embarrassment. She felt that her voice was shrill and unbelievable sounding, to make matters worse she was given negative reviews and named the worst discovery of 1940.

Gene Tierney took up smoking around this time in an effort to lower her voice.

Gene met Oleg Cassini, and began dating him and talking marriage.

Tierney's father accused Oleg of being a fortune hunter and threatened to have Gene declared mentally unstable. 20th Century Fox was also against the union of Oleg and Gene and arranged for her to go on some suitable dates with young actors.

Gene was sent into a major depression when she spotted her father out with a friend of her mother's. She had worshiped her father all her life until she discovered he was having an affair. After losing all faith in her father Gene rushed to Oleg and they reconciled to defy her father and the studio. They married in Las Vegas.

Gene discovered that she was broke, as her father had taken everything she had to save his collapsing business. Gene's parents divorced and she never spoke to her father again.

Gene became pregnant, and was pleased at the thought of her chaotic life was starting to mellow out. One week before her maternity leave she appeared at the Hollywood Canteen to greet returning soldiers. She was stunned to see her face covered with German measles a few days later. Doctor's thought she would be okay, but Gene gave birth to her daughter, Daria, prematurely. She also discovered that her daughter was partially blind, deaf, and severely retarded.

She was now very fragile, but she threw herself into her career, and made her greatest films, Laura, and Leave Her to Heaven. Both were a tremendous success. Oleg was now a talented designer, who was receiving attention of his own. He began cheating on his fragile wife.

Her marriage was collapsing and public fights between the couple were not uncommon, usually over Oleg's infidelity. Gene was anguished and desperate to cure her daughter, and she finally had to face the fact that her there was no hope for Daria, and send her to a home.

Howard Hughes was now becoming a wedge in the marriage. He tried to convince Gene to divorce Oleg and marry him. But there was another man in Gene's life. She met John F. Kennedy on the set of her current movie and a romance began. Gene was warned to dump JFK because he had political ambitions, and would never consider marrying a divorced woman.

She decided not to divorce Oleg, and gave him the opportunity to design her clothes for The Razor's Edge, and they had a healthy child, Christina. While on vacation with Jack Kennedy, the future president finally admitted that we could not marry her because his career would not allow it. Gene was devastated.

Tierney began to realize that there was something wrong with her. She became paranoid. This finally led she and Oleg to finally divorce. Now on a trip to Europe, Gene met Prince Aly Khan, the ex husband of Rita Hayworth. She was thrilled to be with him because Aly was strong, and represented an escape from her own stress, and insecurities.

She was now having trouble remembering her lines and Aly's father was adding to their stress when he publicly opposed their relationship. Aly gave her an ultimatum that she would either go with him to his country and leave her family, or they would not marry and go their separate ways.

When her romance with Khan was over she was becoming weak on the set. Humphrey Bogart was trying to help her remember her lines in order to get through the picture. At 34 Gene was ill, and experiencing delusions. She was institutionalized and subjected to shock treatments. The institute eventually gave her more than 19 treatments.

Emphysema, and Gene Tierney's Final Days

Not long after she was released, Gene was discovered by her daughter walking on the ledge of her building, several flights up. Gene stated that she did not wish to kill herself, but she just did not know what she was dong. Another institution treated Gene and released her after Gene demonstrated that she was mentally stable.

She married Howard Lee, who was a gentle and soft spoken man. The kind of man she had always needed. Shortly after being released Gene suffered a relapse when faced with the reality of day to day life.

She took a job as a saleswoman in a department store as an effort to bring herself back to reality. The job gave her a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and Gene was proud of her job.

Gene Tierney wrote her autobiography and died in 1991 of emphysema at the age of 70.

Thelma Todd. 1930s "Ice Cream Blonde"

Thelma Todd and her husband Pat DiCicco

Thelma Todd. Murder or Suicide

Thelma Alice Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and by all accounts was a straight A student who worked hard. She intended to become a school teacher, however, in her mid teens her plans had changed drastically after entering a few beauty pageants, and winning the title of Miss Massachusetts of 1925. During her reign as a beauty queen she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and her career as a movie star began.

Thelma was fortunate to appear in numerous movies where she was given the opportunity to show off her beauty while at the same time she learned the art of acting. As the talkies rolled in, Todd was given the opportunity to expand her talent when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear in comedies alongside Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers. In 1931 she was given her own series, teamed with ZaSu Pitts for a broad slapstick comedy series. Ever the entrepreneur, Hal Roach was attempting to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy. When Pitts left Roach in 1933, she was quickly replaced by Patsy Kelly as the funny but unattractive half of the female comedy team. 1931 was also the year Miss Todd became romantically involved with Roland West and even costarred with him in his next movie. Thelma was now living the fast life in every way. Her beautiful, blond bombshell looks attracted the attention and admiration of numerous beaux, who nicknamed her "Hot Toddy."

She married Pat DiCicco in 1932 and as a couple they were involved in many public drunken brawls. One such fight resulted in Thelma being rushed into the ER for an emergency appendectomy. They were eventually divorced in 1934, and not a moment too soon. Besides drunken fights, Todd was involved in numerous car accidents and the studio eventually ordered that she have a chauffeur to take her around.

The Todd short subjects often cast her as a hard working girl having all kinds of calamities, and trying her best to remain poised and elegant despite the embarrassing antics of her goofy sidekick. The series was popular, but not to the extent of the Laurel and Hardy series, which transcends generations.

Thelma Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedianne, and Roach loaned her out to other studios where she not only exploited her beauty as "The Ice Cream Blond", but her unique and greatly improving talent as a serious actress. She appeared in high dramas such as the original 1931 film version of The Maltese Falcon. During her career she appeared in a total of119 films.

Although she seemed to be living dangerously and irresponsibly on one level, she did a curiously sensible thing by purchasing good solid real estate. Todd must have been thinking about capitalizing on her career with good business sense. She bought a piece of land on the Pacific Coast Highway and built a cafe on it called, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe. On closer look, however, she was running the cafe with her boyfriend, Roland West. The couple lived above the Cafe in adjoining rooms, and seemed to have a loud and unstable relationship similar to her marriage with Pat DiCicco.

In August 1934, she successfully opened her Pacific Palisades cafe and called it, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe. It attracted a diverse clientele of celebrities, tourists and had a reputation as being an important hangout for notorious mobsters.

Todd continued her short-subject series through 1935, and was featured in the full-length Laurel and Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl. This was her last film; she died after completing all of her scenes, but most of them were never seen by the public. Producer Roach, in effort to keep ties to the murder controversy away from his studio, deleted all of Todd's work and limited her appearance to one musical scene. Her dialogue was reworked with another actress.

On the morning of Monday, December 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, an actress and former wife of Todd's "friend" and business partner, Roland West. Carmen's house was approximately one block from the peak of Todd's restaurant. Todd's death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. It appeared that Todd turned the keys to her ignition while parked in the garage. Her head was slumped over the steering wheel, and her nose was broken.

Todd had a wide circle of friends and associates as well as an active social life; police investigations revealed that she had spent the last night of her life at the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood night spot. At the restaurant, she had had a brief but unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DeCicco. DeCicco had wanted to be seated next to his former wife and when Todd had not yet arrived, he began trying to replace her with another woman. He finally found someone to be his date and when Thelma Todd finally arrived, she was embarrassed and humiliated by his antics. But despite unpleasantries with her ex, her friends stated that she was in good spirits, and saw nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for committing suicide.

The detectives concluded at first that Todd's death was accidental, the result of she either warming up the car to drive it or using the heater to keep herself warm. There was plenty of evidence pointing to Todd having too much to drink and dozing off, and there was also hard evidence that pointed to murder. The Grand Jury ruled her death as a suicide. Since her body was cremated, a second, more thorough autopsy could not be carried out. It was believed that she was the target of a mob extortion, and refused to pay up. It is also possible that she was locked in the garage by her assailant after she started the car. Blood from a wound was found on her face and dress, leading many to believe that she was knocked out and placed in the car so that she would die of toxic carbon monoxide fumes. Then there was the angle that one of the men in her life was jealous.

What ever the real cause was Todd's death certificate states her cause of death as accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Adding more fuel to the fire, there was a murder two years later involving Todd's ex-husband Pat DiCicco and another movie actor as the victim. According to E.J. Fleming's book The Fixers, about Hollywood's legendary "fixers" Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, Wallace Beery, and gangster Pat DiCicco, allegedly beat comedy actor Ted Healy to death in the parking lot of the Trocadero nightclub in 1937. The book says that Beery was sent to Europe by the head of the studio, Louis B. Mayer, one of the Men Who Built Hollyood, for a few months while a story was manufactured about three college students killing Healy. Immigration records confirm a four-month-long trip to Europe by Wallace Beery part right after Healy's death. There has been some minor evidence supporting this theory since the books release. Some pencil drawings done by Healy, who was an artist, of Wallace Beery have a curious connotation in light of this new evidence.

Todd's death made big headlines again in1952 when Ronald West was on his deathbed, and according to Chester Morris, he confessed to murdering Thelma Todd.

The Thelma Todd Cafe

The Todd Cafe today

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    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 4 years ago from California

      Thank you Jodah. Gene Tierney is one of those rare creatures who is such a natural beauty that it almost hurts to look at her. Unfortunately, that is one of few blessings in life that she could ever really enjoy.

      Thelma Todd's is most definitely a mysterious story.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful hub. Both tragic stories though. Gene Tierney was definitely one of the most beautiful actresses of all. I remember seeing a couple of her old moves and was amazed at how stunning she was without having become more famous, now I know her story.

      The Thelma Todd story was even more tragic, and it does appear she was murdered. Voted up.

    • profile image

      noirwatcher 5 years ago

      Thee most beautiful woman to ever live.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 5 years ago from Ireland

      Great Hub. She had a tough life as so many of Hollywood's greats seemed to have.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      She was a beautiful lady. Sad to know that her life had some turmoil and pain to it. I wonder if her smoking caused her child's illness. I have to admit I have not heard of her before but I learned much from reading your hub.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      It really is a tragedy, she was very talented but the problem probably was with her being so dependent on others. I didn't know she was involved with JFK, but shouldn't been so surprised. Great hub!

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

      wonderful hub, but tragic story. i think people forget how much impact a parent's behavior has on shaping the way we see and cope with the world...

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      This lady was one of the gentle beauties of her time. I was totally unaware of the terrible tragedies life visited upon her and her eventual mental breakdown -- so very sad. It seems sometimes beauty is a curse rather than a blessing. Excellent work! Best/Sis