Hollywood's Real-Life Tough Guy
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 12/06/2022
432 Pages, 6.12 x 9.25 x 1.44 in, 64 b&w illustrations
- Published: December 2022
Lawrence Tierney (1919–2002) was the kind of actor whose natural swagger and gruff disposition made him the perfect fit for the Hollywood "tough guy" archetype. Known for his erratic and oftentimes violent nature, Tierney drew upon his bellicose reputation throughout his career—a reputation that made him one of the most feared and mythologized characters in the industry.
Born in Brooklyn to Irish American parents, Tierney worked in theater productions in New York before moving to Hollywood, where he signed with RKO Radio Pictures in 1943. His biggest roles would come in Dillinger (1945), in which he played 1930s gangster and bank robber John Dillinger, and Robert Wise's film noir classic Born to Kill (1947).
Despite his natural talents, Tierney was trouble from the start, struggling with alcoholism and mental instability that emboldened him to start fights whenever and wherever he could. The continued bouts of alcohol-fueled rage, his subsequent stints in jail, and his continued attempts at rehabilitation curtailed his acting career. Unable to find work throughout much of the 1960s, he did a stint in Europe before eventually returning to New York, where he took odd jobs as a construction worker, bartender, and hansom cab driver.
In the mid-1980s Tierney returned to acting. With a somewhat cooler head, he established himself again with recurring roles in shows such as Seinfeld and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He would take on his final projects as a septuagenarian in Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Armageddon (1998), where his on-set behavior would once again draw the ire of his colleagues and studio representatives. He would go down swinging just shy of his eighty-third birthday, his tough-guy image solidly intact until the end.
In Lawrence Tierney: Hollywood's Real-Life Tough Guy, author Burt Kearns traces Tierney's storied life from his days as Dillinger, to his clash with Quentin Tarantino at the end of his film career, to his final public appearances. The first official biography of the late actor, the book draws on the writings of Hollywood reporters and gossip columnists who first reported on Tierney's antics, and exclusive interviews with surviving colleagues, friends, family members—and victims. Through their words and his research, Kearns paints a portrait of Tierney's brutish behavior and the industry's reaction to the pugnacious star, drawing parallels—and the line—between the man and the characters that made him a Hollywood legend.
1. Violence, Chaos, and Drunkenness
2. Poverty Row
3. Public Enemy #1
4. The Battle of Decker's Lawn
5. Falling Off the Table
6. Not So Tough – and Not Gene Tierney
7. The Drunk Farm
8. The Milk Wagon
9. "Hello, sucker."
10. The Anti-Tierney
11. In Like Dillinger
12. Taxicab Confessions
14. The Payoff
15. The Respectful Prostitute
16. 5:30 AM
18. Socialite Socked
19. Making Faces
20. Year of the Wag
21. Pink Elephants
23. Diminishing Returns
24. The Burglar
25. Get Your Kicks
26. Skidville Avenue
27. In Like Flynn
29. Incident at P.J.'s
31. "Highly confused and largely incoherent"
32. World's Fair
36. "From Stardom to Hansom"
37. "I think I'm going to jump"
39. All in the Family
40. Renaissance Man
41. Reservoir Dog
42. Natural Born Killer
44. Dead As Dillinger
Lawrence Tierney's life reflects the axiom that truth is stranger than fiction, yet inexplicably, no biographer had ever tackled the actor's decades of accomplishments and mistakes until now. With this impeccably researched work, Burt Kearns has proved himself more than capable of capturing his deeply flawed yet enormously talented and complicated subject. You'll turn the pages at a breakneck pace, wondering what scrape Tierney will get into next, only to race toward a powerful, unexpectedly poignant conclusion.~Dr. Jason A. Ney, Professor of Literature and Film, Noir City magazine Staff Writer
Lawrence Tierney is not only a look into the life of the extraordinary real-life tough guy actor, but a ringside seat to the Hollywood studio system from the 1940s right up until his death in 2002. Buckle up, boys. It's going to be a bumpy ride...~Danno Hanks, legendary Hollywood private eye
Lawrence Tierney was intelligent, handsome, and an excellent actor: he was also a human hand grenade. This is a fast-moving and fascinating portrait of a talented, sad, wildly self-destructive actor who made Errol Flynn and John Barrymore look like choir boys.~Eve Golden, author of Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn't Help It
There is finally a 'soup to nuts' biography of actor Lawrence Tierney who justifiably earned his reputation as Tinseltown's most combustible hellion. Although the actor's infamous temperament overshadowed his considerable talent, Burt Kearns' captivating book reveals there was a lot more to Larry Tierney than his police blotter and recycled Hollywood anecdotes.~Alan K. Rode, author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film
I have admired Kearns since he tried with some success to convert a sleepy Connecticut weekly into a suburban punk New York Post. Kearns is truly a tabloid baby, and this brilliant Hollywood bio noir is right in his wheelhouse. Rip it open with two fists and devour it in large caffeinated gulps.~Peter de Jonge, author of Shadows Still Remain and Buried on Avenue B
Lawrence Tierney was his own worst enemy and, if you had the misfortune to work with or anger him, he was yours, too. He was like some perpetually pugnacious character out of showbiz mythology who couldn't possibly be real. But Burt Kearns masterfully uncovers the man inside the legend, bringing Tierney to vivid, disturbing life with a richly detailed portrait of the boozing brute that's at once fascinating and often downright Shakespearean. Kearns skillfully explains why an industry that couldn't work with Tierney still found him irresistible—which tells you all you need to know about Hollywood.~Ray Richmond, author, Syndicated Entertainment writer/crtic, and University lecturer
With intense research, an insider's knowledge of the down-and-dirty tabloid press, and a real empathy for his subject, Kearns has delivered a great book on the underside of Hollywood: a nonstop, no-holds-barred journey through the seedy back alleys of show business and the darkest recesses of fame. Lawrence Tierney has been maligned as a drunken, brawling monster, but in this clear-eyed appraisal, he's the ultimate antihero, making the most unlikely comeback in Hollywood history—still raising unholy Hell while inspiring a new generation of actors and filmmakers along the way.~Legs McNeil, co-author of Please Kill Me, editor of Legsville.com
Lawrence Tierney was an alchoholic who must have been carrying a horseshoe that even he didn't know about! His story takes you to every glitzy Hollywood spot, along with every dank jail up and down the coast. The arrest records and bail amounts? Astonishing! To read that he spent time locked up in the Wayside Jail and Hollywood Wilcox Station—places I work today—is bewitching! Professionally, I would have thoroughly appreciated Tierney, a bread-and-butter client with no chance of skipping.~Raquel Vazquez, Hollywood's Queen of Bail
Lawrence Tierney barges into a bar. What could possibly go wrong? Burt Kearns' rollicking, relentless tour de force about the legendary tough-guy actor grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. On any given page you'll find the words drunk, fight, judge, blonde...One-quarter in and Tierney's already been arrested a dirty dozen times. Still there's compassion in this jaw-dropping, jaw-breaking tale and Kearns' depth of research and deft storytelling make it a don't miss. And as for the ending? There wasn't a dry eye in my house.~Susan Compo, author of Warren Oates: A Wild Life and Earthbound: David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to the Earth
You can learn a lot by reading the lines on Lawrence Tierney's face or the dents in his head, but better to read Burt Kearns' fantastic book and not risk the pugnacious actor smashing your face in for getting too personal. Of all the controversial and complicated souls Kearns expertly chased down during his Tabloid TV days, Tierney is—without question—the most dangerous and menacing of the bunch. He was a man of many busted parts, but Kearns puts him back together again for a fascinating read.~AJ Benza, author, '74 and Sunny; host, Fame is a Bitch podcast
Journalist Kearns delivers a hard-boiled if somewhat off-balance biography of movie tough guy Lawrence Tierney (1919–2002). Kearns tracks Tierney's long and tumultuous career, which was bookended by his 1945 breakout role starring in Dillinger (a film so successful that it "machine-gunned box office records") and a role in Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. Tierney had a few successes after Dillinger, among them the Oscar-winning The Greatest Show on Earth, but more notable were the roles he was considered for but ultimately lost (as Moses in a biblical epic and a spot in On the Waterfront). Kearns mostly focuses on his subject's rough-and-tumble lifestyle, in which he played "the hard-drinking tough guy in real life" and was once stabbed in the stomach during a fight. Kearns outlines his reputation in the industry for alcoholism and brushes with the law, making for a moving look at a figure whose anger, temper, and mental illness got in the way of his talent. This portrait of a man who "could have been a star" is a nice departure from the traditional Hollywood rags to riches story.~Publisher's Weekly