Tuesday, March 8

The Brothers

Sons of a New York aqueduct police chief who had show business aspirations himself, Larry and Jerry Tierney, five years a part in age, grew up to be movie actors as did, briefly, a third brother, Edward.  Larry would enter the business as Lawrence Tierney and Jerry would change his name to Scott Brady.  It always astonishes me when the kids of cops and ministers go bad and both Tierney brothers had scrapes with the law as adults, although presumably no actor ever had more notoriety in this regard than Lawrence.  The brothers fussed and feuded with one another and spent a lot of their adult years not speaking.  Both would probably have cringed to think they were combined in one piece like this.

Lawrence Tierney was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919.  His old man was tough on him and the other boys, too.  But perhaps as the eldest, Larry got it the worst from a parent at his most inexperienced.  His solace was sports and in high school he was the man.  He excelled in track and earned a scholarship to Manhattan College but he could not tolerate the regimen and he quit.  He knocked around in menial jobs all over the country.  It might be suggested that the hardscrabble life he observed, the mean streets he travelled had something to do with the type of person he became.  During the Depression he lived in a few squalid places, often outdoors, and saw firsthand how some people were abused and he determined he would rather be the abuser than the abused.  He had long had a smart mouth and now added an expertise with his fists. 

Back in New York and sometime after he ended one of his better-paying jobs as a catalogue model for Sears-Roebuck, he came to the attention of a theatrical agent who suggested he try stage acting. His old man supported the idea whole-heartedly.  Tierney imagined it would bring about a lot of money without doing a lot of hard work.  In the not too distant future he would change his mind about some of that.

He hitched his wagon to a couple of theater groups and while at  the American-Irish Theater, an RKO talent scout discovered him. He found Tierney's smoldering good looks and bad-boy demeanor just right for the studio, especially in its crime-thrillers and film noirs.  He was offered a contract in 1943.  

For two years he was only offered supporting parts in B films.  That would result in most newcomers thinking they were not much valued.  Tierney didn't care.  He collected wages... that was most important to him.  He hadn't the usual lofty notions that most new actors had. 

In 1945 he made the first of two films he is most remembered for.  It's not coincidence that in both films he was a thug... a criminal... a psycho.  It was typecasting.  The first was the title role in Dillinger.  He was sheer perfection, frightening really, as the vicious gangster.  That same year he also managed a decent costarring role in an A war film, John Wayne's Back to Bataan

His second memorable role was as the brutal killer in Born to Kill (1947), the subject of an upcoming posting.  One of the most uncompromising film noirs ever made, it is my favorite Tierney role.  Watching him made me wince, so audacious were the things he said and did.  New York film critic Bosley Crowther said the film was morally disgusting, an offense to the normal intellect.  I get it but history calls it a significant noir.  The same year he was almost as compelling in The Devil Thumbs a Ride.  Just imagine that the title says it all.  By this time, Tierney had established a reputation for being a drunk and for being extremely difficult to get along with.  Members of his various casts were intimidated by him. 

At minimum he was exhausting to be around.  One was always on pins and needles.  At worst he raged, broke things, busted walls and doors.  Outside of the studio he got into barroom brawls, choked a cab driver, broke a college student's jaw, assaulted cops and broke down a woman's door and assaulted her boyfriend. He spent more time in jail on drunk and disorderly charges or assault and battery, most of which was duly reported in the press, that movie execs limited his appearances.  It's shocking that he worked at all. 

He actually worked very little in the 1950s, although he was impressive in a small role in my treasured The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), trying to wrestle the circus away from Charlton Heston.  What other movie work he was offered was certainly in inferior material although he made a number of television appearances.  The 1960s weren't much better. 

In 1973, he was stabbed in a bar.  In 1975 he said he was simply entering a woman's high-rise apartment when she jumped out the window.  Some, of course, whispered that he pushed her but charges were never filed.

During the 70s and 80s he worked frequently as a bartender, crane operator and steel worker but he also managed to land some small parts in better-known films.  He played a corrupt cop in Prizzi's Honor (1985), he was inspired casting as Ryan's O'Neal's hard-drinking father in Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987) and was the leader of a vicious gang of killers in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992).  He sporadically worked in films until 2000 but most roles were little more than single scenes. 

Some say he mellowed a little in his last few years.  Others would say that it must have been hell being Lawrence Tierney.  The old bastard, who knew very little peace in his life, died peacefully in his sleep at age 82 in Los Angeles in 2002.  Though never married, he left behind a daughter.

Scott Brady didn't have the notoriety of his older brother and as a result his career was more successful.  That is not to say he rose to the upper ranks of the Hollywood hierarchy because he did not.  He was a B movie actor who made mainly westerns and crime dramas.  He was sold to the public as a hunk and managed to remove his shirt, revealing a hairy chest, in most of his outdoor extravaganzas.  He had a fun, outgoing demeanor in most films and in his personal life.  While his brother occupied much space in newspapers, Brady did the same in movie magazines which breathlessly reported who he was dating (Gwen Verdon, Dorothy Malone).

Like his older brother, Brady was a jock in high school, earning letters in track, basketball and football and like both of his brothers, he was popular with the girls.  Enlisting in the Navy right out of high school, he made a name for himself as a boxer.  With nowhere to go and nothing in mind for himself after his discharge, he decided to head for Hollywood where Lawrence was already making films.  He secured a movie job with one of the poverty-row studios mainly because of his boxing skills.  He was then pumped up about an acting career thinking there might be something for him in Hollywood and it escalated more as people began telling him he was handsome enough to be an actor.  Nonetheless, he chose to get some training at an acting school and to work on ridding himself of his thick Brooklyn accent.

It's been said that he changed his name from Gerard Tierney to Scott Brady in an effort to not capitalize on his brother's fame but it's closer to the truth to say it was to distance himself from his brother's unsavory reputation.  It's not likely he told that to Lawrence but the brothers had words over the name change.

While still working on poverty row he lucked out with an assignment in He Walked by Night (1948) playing a cop out to nab a cop killer (Richard Basehart).  It is a taut little film noir that still plays well when seen today and helped establish Brady in Hollywood.  He played a similar role in Port of New York (1949) only this time he was out for drug dealers.  The film is more famous as Yul Brynner's debut.  Despite the cornball title, he made a good showing in his first western, The Gal Who Took the West (1949), romancing his leading lady, Yvonne DeCarlo, off screen as well.  Also in 1949 was Undertow, another exciting little noir, with Brady as a parolee out to catch the killer for whom he did prison time.  I still recall a great chase scene involving the two leading ladies, Dorothy Hart and Peggy Dow.  Who?

20th Century Fox requested his services in 1951 for one of the best films he ever did, The Model and the Marriage Broker, with Jeanne Crain and that fabulous scene-stealer Thelma Ritter.  It showed his facility for romantic comedy and he and Crain were a feast for the eyes.  Unfortunately he followed this up with a ridiculous western starring Jane Russell, Montana Belle (1952).  In 1955 he showed up in a musical with both Crain and Russell, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.  It was pure fluff but the undiscerning public loved it.

I discovered Brady in 1952, the year I discovered movies.  By then he had signed on with Universal-International, the home of colorful B flicks.  Brady made two of those that year, Untamed Frontier and Yankee Buccaneer.  He was a bad guy in the first, working Shelley Winters over pretty good.  In the latter, all pirate silliness, he and Jeff Chandler battled over beautiful Suzan Ball. 

In 1954 he made his most famous movie, Johnny Guitar.  No one thought much of the film while it was being made or for some years afterwards but for many more years now it has been considered a cult classic.  I loved it and can't imagine any western movie fan not feeling the same.  Brady is on fire as The Dancin' Kid, an outlaw who has the hots for one butch woman while another butch woman loves him and of course the two women hate one another.  There was a war going on behind the scenes and one was either in Joan Crawford's camp or Mercedes MacCambridge's.  Nonetheless, the casting was flawless.

I also thought he excelled in one of those colorful (I mean colorful)  B westerns, Mohawk (1956), a rarely seen look at the Revolutionary War.  It had the usual skirmishes and unfortunately some scenes that were unintentionally funny.  Brady played an artist at a army fort with three ladies brushing up against him.  That same year, while the saddle was still warm, he joined Barbara Stanwyck in one of her classic B westerns, The Maverick Queen

In 1957 he was arrested on a narcotics charge although he beat the rap.  Despite his claiming that it was a frame (if true, could his big brother have been behind it?), Hollywood took a dim view and there's goes the career.  It didn't help that in 1963 Brady was barred by the New York State Harness Racing Commission from participating in the sport due to his association with known bookmakers.  From here on-- and he worked through 1984-- his career veered off in a direction I am sure he didn't care for.  He worked in one C film after another, some pretty cheesy stuff. 

To make ends meet, no doubt, he began doing a lot of television, even headlining his own series, a western, Shotgun Slade.  He also began working on the stage, including a Broadway turn with Andy Griffith in Destry Rides Again.  He had a memorable year in 1967.  After years of carousing and now with a weight gain, he married and stayed that way until he passed away.  Unfortunately, the same year he probably made one of his worst career decisions when he turned down the role of Archie Bunker in TVs All in the Family.

In 1979 he had a prominent supporting role in The China Syndrome.  His last film, in 1984, featured him as a sheriff in Gremlins.  The following year he passed away at age 60 in Los Angeles from pulmonary fibrosis.  He had been on constant oxygen for a couple of years.  In 1960 he and Lawrence had another falling out and apparently never spoke again.

Next posting:
The Directors


  1. Two lives which might make two wonderful movies. Did you mention UNDERTOW? I have to check if it ever crossed the ocean. Ciao

  2. I certainly agree that Lawrence Tierney's life has all the makings of a good film. Yes, I mentioned "Undertow" with your favorite Peggy Dow. Did you miss it?