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The life and wild times of the late Lawrence Tierney will soon be put on the page.
Author, journalist and documentary producer Burt Kearns confirms to The Hollywood Reporter that he is writing Tierney’s biography, which has been acquired by the University Press of Kentucky for publication in 2022.
Born in 1919, the Brooklyn-raised Tierney, who died in 2002, broke into the business in the early 1940s and earned a reputation for playing intense, tough-guy characters like mobsters, murderers and bank robbers. His fame came quickly thanks to a star turn in the film Dillinger, which cast him as the notorious gangster John Dillinger. He became an in-demand star in the Hollywood studio system and leveraged his fame to star on the stage and small screen but as his profile grew, so did his temper and rap sheet.
Tierney had multiple brushes with the law and would often get into drunken barroom brawls and vicious confrontations. Following a period of career exile punctuated by homelessness, Tierney had a career resurgence with some bit parts in films and TV shows — including on an episode of Seinfeld where he played Elaine’s father — before being cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs as Joe Cabot.
But his behavior on both of those projects threatened to overshadow the work and once again jeopardized his prospects. He reportedly stole a knife while working on Seinfeld and put it in his jacket until Jerry Seinfeld confronted him. Tierney claimed he planned to make a joke about the famous scene from Psycho, but the experience disturbed the cast and his planned recurring role was scrapped. On Reservoir Dogs, he was said to have sparred with Tarantino and multiple actors while also getting drunk and dropping his pants outside a bar, on one occasion.
“The worst moment on set was the last 10 minutes of the last day of the first week we were shooting,” Tarantino has reportedly said. “Me and Larry got into a fist fight. It was more of a shoving match frankly. Harvey Keitel and Lawrence [Bender] broke it up. I fired Larry in front of everybody, the crew applauded because they’d hated him.”
Per Kearns, the book will cover “often raucous recollections” from a diverse range of Hollywood filmmakers and actors who knew Tierney well, including Reservoir Dogs actors, the screenwriting-producing team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, film historian David Del Valle, and writer-directors Jeff Burr and C. Courtney Joyner, among others. The book’s release will be timed to coincide with next year’s 30th anniversary of Reservoir Dogs.
It’s not the first time a book has been in the works about Tierney’s life. Writer-director-producer Rick McKay was said to have been in talks with Tierney to do a biography after writing a magazine article about him. However, Tierney passed away before they could finish their collaborations.
For Kearns, the deal comes after his partnered with Jeff Abraham on the 2019 tome The Show Won’t Go On: The Most Shocking, Bizarre, and Historic Deaths of Performers Onstage. Kearns, who is repped by Lee Sobel of the Lee Sobel Literary Agency, also wrote the tabloid television memoir Tabloid Baby.
“Tierney’s life was more action-packed and outrageous than any movie,” says Kearns, who wrote and produced the 20th Century Fox Burt Reynolds comedy Cloud 9 with Academy Award-winner Al Ruddy. “What’s most amazing is the number of people contacting me to talk about their experiences with him. Larry was far more influential and complicated than his tabloid image would suggest. He really was a ‘force of nature’ — onscreen and off.”
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