Hello Classic film fans (and fashionistas!) This entry is part of the Gene Tierney 95th birthday Blogathon. I chose to write about an important man in Ms. Tierney’s life, her first husband, Oleg Cassini. I didn’t know too much about Mr. Cassini, so I really enjoyed researching and writing this post.
Fashionistas and classic movie goers alike know Oleg Cassini as an iconic designer whose clients were just as famous as he was. But to Gene Tierney, he was more than just a designer; he was just simply her husband.
The story of Oleg Cassini and Gene Tierney’s relationship is equal parts joy and sorrow- from the Romeo and Juliet beginnings and the thrilling elopement to heartbreak and inevitable divorce. It all started when the pair met- Oleg was 27, working as a costume designer at paramount, and Gene was 20, and a new actress at 20th Century Fox. For Gene, she was absolutely smitten and it wasn’t too long after they met when the talk of marriage came up. As much as Gene was keen to marry Oleg, her parents were not convinced, as they disapproved of Oleg being Russian- Italian, an immigrant, and a divorcee. Mr. and Mrs. Tierney also accused Oleg of being a fortune hunter. Fox studios were also not supportive of the relationship, as they forced Gene to go on arranged “dates” with other studio players.
Defying her parents and the studio, Gene and Oleg flew to Las Vegas and on June 1, 1941 the pair eloped. Gene used the alias of her latest film role, Belle Starr and gave her name as “Gene Eliza Taylor Tierney” when signing the registration. Instead of wedding rings, the pair exchanged Gene’s earrings. Their marital bliss would be short lived however, for once Gene’s father learned of her elopement; he cut her off from his cooperation, Bel- Tier- which was linked to her contract and income. Meanwhile Oleg was fired from Paramount.
In 1942, while Gene was on the rise in Hollywood, Oleg enlisted in the US Calvary corps and gave up his title of Count to become an American citizen. The following year Oleg was discharged and moved to New York where he opened his salon. By this point, Gene’s career was really taking off and during the filming of Heaven Can Wait, she discovered she was pregnant. However, once again Gene’s happiness would be short lived, as in June of that year while at the Hollywood Canteen greeting US servicemen, she caught German Measles from a fan who snuck of out quarantine. Gene was terribly concerned, and although doctors assured her both she and the child would be fine, on October 15 1943, she gave birth prematurely to Antoinette “Daria” Cassini. At birth, Daria only weighed 3 pounds two ounces and required an entire blood transfusion. It wasn’t long afterwards that it was discovered she was partially deaf, blind with cataracts, and severely mentally disabled. It only got worse when in 1944, when Gene came face to face with the same fan and it was confessed the fan “just had to meet her”. Gene was heartbroken over the fact it was her stardom that was responsible for the fan sneaking out. Daria’s condition along with Gene’s own depression put a strain on her and Oleg’s marriage and in October of 1946, the pair separated.
During the separation both Gene and Oleg were linked with others. Gene was romantically involved with the future President Kennedy (whom she met of the set of Dragonwyck), Prince Aly Kahn (Rita Hayworth’s ex-husband), Tyrone Power (her frequent co-star), Kirk Douglas, and Howard Hughes- who despite her rejections, made sure Daria received the best medical care; the pair then remained good friends. Oleg on the other hand was linked to Anita Ekberg, Linda Evans, Jill St. John, and various models.
Though the two were separated Gene and Oleg did remain in contact with each other and two years later in 1948 the pair reconciled. The couple’s second daughter, Christina Cassini, was born later that November. Oleg continued to work in Hollywood, working on costumes for some of Gene’s films and even made a cameo appearance in her 1950 film Where the Sidewalk Ends. By 1952, relations between Gene and Oleg were once again strained, as Gene was by now a household name in Hollywood. They divorced for good on February 28 1952.
In 1960, Gene eventually married Texas oilman Howard Lee, Hedy Lamaar’s former husband. The two remained together until Howard’s death in 1981. While Oleg never remarried, he had an on/off relationship with Grace Kelly, eventually resulting in a failed engagement when Grace broke it off to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In the end, Oleg and Gene remained a part of each other’s lives until her death in 1991. Looking back on his time with Gene, Oleg later said “Gene is the luckiest, unlucky girl in the world; all of her dreams came true, at a cost”.
Mr. Cassini died in 2006, while Daria passed in 2010. Christina Cassini died earlier this year in April at the age of 66 in Paris.