“He had acting experience, a street-savvy survival instinct that would allow him to support himself no matter how show business turned out, and all the elements that would lead to trouble ahead. The anger, temper, weakness for alcohol, violence, and even the seeds of mental illness he’d carry through ‘Reservoir Dogs and beyond, were part of his DNA when he entered the world … into a home that had its share of love and pampering, but also a hotbed of violence, chaos, and drunkenness.”
That newspaper editor in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” might have been talking about Tierney when he said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Kearns has his hands full printing the facts, only slightly less colorful though they are. Take how Tierney landed the plum role as gangster John Dillinger. To hear Tierney tell it, the then-broke and out-of-work actor heard about the “Dillinger” project, snuck into the studio executives’ office, stole the script, and the next day barged into their office and acted out one the script’s big dramatic scenes. He was signed for the film.
“That was how it happened,” Kearns writes. “But not quite.” After take two of the story, he concludes, “That’s exactly how it happened—only not exactly.” Tierney bedeviled Kearns probably as much as he did directors and costars.
There are a lot of “man behaving badly” anecdotes here, but Kearns does not glorify Tierney or winkingly give him a pass. Still, Tierney is an undeniably colorful personality. Oscar-nominated screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, whose unconventional screen bios lean toward larger-than-life, off-center characters, were Tierney’s neighbors for a time. Recalls Karaszewski, “He must’ve seen me with a script, and it was like, ‘Oh, you’re in the movie business? I’m an actor.’ I immediately looked him up—and looking up Larry in the days before Google was a matter of opening my Hollywood Babylon book … Every picture I could find of Larry had him with a bloody face. But he was just a big old guy who lived next door.”
Hollywood loves a comeback story, and the tireless character actor enjoyed a Tierney-assaince in the 1980s. He has the distinction of barking out the last words heard on “Hill Street Blues”‘ final episode. He was the manager of the California Angels in “The Naked Gun.” Critics cited him as the best thing about Norman Mailer’s otherwise panned crime drama, “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.” Finally, he landed a plum role in John Sayles’ epic ensemble drama, “City of Hope.”
Such was his heat that Karaszewski and Alexander created a role for him in “Problem Child 2,” which they scripted. But at the audition, he “was in one of his moods,” Alexander tells Kearns. So the scene was cut from the film.