Much of her upbringing was completed in Connecticut, and she attended two years in Brillamont finishing school in Switzerland. In 1938 she returned to the US and attended Miss Porter's School.
At 17 she vistited Wartner Brothers' Studio in California, where director Anatole Litvak, suggested that Tierney become an actress owing to her beauty. The studio offered her a contract which she refused upon her parents' advice.
After her coming-out party as a debutante, on September 24, 1938, she pursued acting, but at her father's insistance, "in the legitimate theater." She studied acting in Greenwich Village, and was the protegee of Broadway producer-director George Abbot.
Her Broadway debute was in What a Life, in 1938 where she carried a bucket of water across the stage. One critic noted in Variety magazine, that "Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I've ever seen."
Tierney eventually signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures in 1939. She eventually went on to star in her best known role as the title character in the 1944 movie Laura. She went on a year later, in 1945, to be nominated for an Academy Awards for her performance in Leave Her to Heaven. Other notable roles were as Miranda Well in Dragonwyck with Walter Huston and Vincent Price in 1946, as Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs Muir in 1947, and Anne Scott in The Left hand of God in 1955.
Tierney was married twice, first to Oleg Cassini, with whom she had two daughters, and subsequently to Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee. Between the two she was involved withe John F. Kennedy for a year, though Kennedy indicated he could never marry her due to her political ambitions. (When he eventually won the 1960 Presidential Election, she set him a note of congratulation, though she later indicated she voted for Richard Nixon because, "I thought that he would make a better President.")
In 1991, Tierney died of emphysema in Houston Texas. She was then interred in Glenwood Cemebary in Houston Texas.