Lawrence Tierney [Wiki] made a name for himself playing the John Dillinger in the eponymous biopic, “Dillinger,” which was released in 1945. He quickly established himself as a brawler around town, including two incidents that made news in early 1946.
The first of these was late in the evening of January 19. According to the Los Angeles Times, the incident occurred when a party was winding down at the home of John Decker, 51, whom the Times described as a “portrait artist, bon vivant, companion of the late John Barrymore and crony of Hollywood’s famed.” Decker lived at 1215 Alta Loma Road [map].
The principal combatants were Tierney, 27, and William Kent, whose stepfather owned Mocambo, the famous nightclub a block or two up the hill on the Sunset Strip. Also on hand were actors Jack LaRue and William Mowbray, 50, and Diana Barrymore, 25, daughter of John Barrymore (and great-aunt of Drew), as well her cousin Sammy Colt, the son of Ethel Barrymore.
Here’s Tierney’s take on the incident, as told to the Times:
“Kent was insulting and obnoxious to me. He told me that ‘anyone who likes Errol Flynn is no good.’ I didn’t particularly like or dislike Mr. Flynn. I just met him for the first time that night. He was at the party, too. I didn’t strike Kent, but I wish I had now. Anyway he taunted me as I was leaving the party and then he struck at me. We came to grips and then rolled around the ground. About that time, Larue came out on his way home, saw us and as he tried to separate us he fell to the ground. That was when he hurt himself.”
William Kent’s version:
Diana Barrymore said she got involved after Tierney hit her cousin, Sammy:
“Tierney was insulting to a girlfriend of mine at the party. I guess he thinks he’s Dillinger off screen, too. Anyway, he was ill-mannered and rude. He said to me, “Oh you want to fight, huh?” and I told him, “No, I had enough fighting during four and a half years with the RAF and the U.S. Army.” Anyway, he waited for me outside and the jumped me.
“Jack LaRue came out, saw us rolling around and tried to mediate it. He’s a friend of Tierney. Somehow he was knocked down and his head hit the running board of a car.”
“Mr. Tierney was hitting quite a few people. Then he hit my cousin [Sammy Colt]. I became rather angry. He hit Sammy very hard and it was all very bloody, you know. So I slapped Mr. Tierney. That’s all. What did Mr. Tierney do? Why, he just looked at me and then went on to fight Mr. LaRue. It was really an unfair advantage for Mr. Tierney since LaRue’s a bit older.”
The British actor Alan Mowbray took LaRue to West Hollywood Emergency Hospital, where a cut on the back of his head was treated.
Host John Decker told the Times:
“All I know is there are fights around here all the time — almost every night. There are so many of them that I don’t even pay any attention to them — too many night clubs around this neighborhood, I guess…
“Certainly there was drinking. What would a party be without drinking? I had a party here and everybody came early. When the last of our guests left shortly after 3 o’clock there was some sort of scuffle outside. I went to bed.”
In spite of everything, Decker told the Times, “We had a nice party, though.”
About a month later, on Feb. 21, 1946, the Times reported that Tierney was being sued for $7,600 in damages for injuries sustained by Paul E. de Loqueyessie, a French national, who claimed that Tierney attacked him “maliciously and without provocation” around 3 a.m. at the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Blvds., which is about three blocks southeast of Decker’s apartment.
A month after the incident at La Cienega and Santa Monica, the Times reported, that “[Tierney] was arrested last Saturday night near the Mocambo Club on the Sunset Strip, after an asserted brawl in the night spot. He asserted that William Kent, stepson of the Mocambo’s owner, made abusive remarks to him. Kent denied the allegation.”
In addition to the fight with William Kent, Tierney served 10 days in county jail in January 1945 after his third conviction for drunkenness.
Tierney bookended his career playing gangsters, starting with “Dillinger” and ending with a memorable performance as Joe Cabot in “Reservoir Dogs,” in 1992. He died in 2002.