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I'll never let you go. Never, never, never.
~ Ellen's declaration to Richard as she dies

Ellen "Berent" Harland is the main antagonist of the novel Leave Her to Heaven and its 1945 film adaptation.

She was portrayed by the late Gene Tierney.

Ellen becomes enraptured by author Richard Harland, and does everything in her power to keep him to herself.


Ellen presents herself as an affable, gregarious, and sympathetic figure who is obsessed with Richard because of his likeness to her deceased father, whom is heavily implied to have had an incestuous and abusive relationship with. In reality, Ellen is a psychotic and certifiable sociopath who becomes insanely jealous and mistrustful against anyone that she deems as a threat. Not even Richard's family members are safe from her violent, homicidal, and sanguinary tendencies as evidenced by her allowing Danny to drown in the lake, or her purposefully invoking a miscarriage by falling down the stairs. In the remake of the film, she even plans on murdering her own sister by poisoning her tea.

Ellen was always like this even as a child. During her argument with Ellen, Ruth reveals that Ellen had terrorized her family for an untold number of years to the point that they are conditioned to do allow her to do anything that she wanted in order to avoid crossing her. She ignored all attempts of Ruth trying to befriend her, and she ultimately pushed her father to the brink of death. While she claims to have loved her father, she really loved him because she saw him as a possession rather than as a person. The defining trait that Harland possesses is her narcissism; she only loves others as long as they benefit her in the end.

Leave Her to Heaven

Richard "Dick" Harland is convinced by his representative to take a vacation to New Mexico; while he's on the train, Richard meets a young woman, named Ellen Berent, who becomes infatuated with him due to him having a striking resemblance to her late father. Realizing that they were heading to the same ranch, Ellen introduces Richard to her family, aiming to marry him. She was to marry an ambitious attorney, Russell Quinton, but she disposes of her engagement ring in favor of marrying Harland. The two are married, and they seem to have a functional relationship, at least until Richard receives a call from his younger brother, Danny, informing him that he was hoping to move to the Back of the Moon to live with the couple. Ellen attempts to convince the doctor to reconsider transferring Danny, but she fails.

Ellen grew insanely envious of Richard's affection for his younger brother, and secretly plotted on how to eliminate him. Danny decides to set out for the lake, seeing how far he could swim. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Ellen accompanies him in a rowboat, and she tricks him into swimming too far from the dock, thus exhausting him. As he was a paralytic, his lower body began to weigh him down, and he began to sink. He calls out to Ellen for help, only to be met by her cold glare. Desperately trying to keep afloat, Danny ultimately succumbs, and drowns underneath the waves. Realizing that Richard was nearing the lake, Ellen puts on an act of hysteria as to take any suspicion off herself.

Sometime after the murder, Richard was still distraught over the loss of his beloved brother. Annoyed that Richard wasn't giving her any attention, Ellen inquires her adoptive sister, Ruth, on what to do. Ruth suggests that she give Richard a child, which Ellen begrudgingly accepts. Ellen didn't want the child herself, but she's convinced that it would get Richard to notice her. Ellen began to suspect that Ruth was seeing Richard behind her back, and she decides to purposefully fall off the stairs because she feared that the child would overshadow her. The unborn child dies, and Richard is told that it would've been a son. Ellen later receives a call about her husband's recent book, only to be horrified that it was dedicated to "a girl with a hoe." She confronts Ruth about her suspicions, blaming her for her failing marriage. Retaliating, Ruth reminds her that she made the family suffer for years, and that her obsession with her father pushed him to an early grave. Ellen is met by an enraged Richard who had recently concluded that Ellen was responsible for his personal tragedies. Initially unwilling to confess, Ellen admits her guilt, and states that she would continue killing in order to have Richard. Disgusted, Richard leaves Ellen.

Angered by the events that had recently transpired, Ellen concocts a scheme. Forging a letter, Ellen accuses Ruth of making death threats, and poisons herself by mixing arsenic into her coffee. Richard is called about his ex-wife's condition, and he returns to the ranch to bid farewell to her. Ellen tells Richard that she would never let him go, and she dies. The police are alerted to the scene, and they find the letter, thus implicating Ruth of the murder. Richard is drilled for information concerning his ex-wife's death, but he's unwilling to cooperate, at least until Ruth admits that she always loved Richard. Richard sternly proclaims that Ellen had poisoned herself and that she was responsible for the deaths of his brother and unborn child. Ruth is acquitted on all charges, but Richard is sentenced to two years in prison for withholding information from the court.

With Ellen's loss, Richard returns to Back of the Moon two years later, and he reunites with Ruth in a loving embrace.




  • Tierney was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Ellen.
  • In the remake, Ellen attempted to kill Ruth by poisoning her tea. Ironically, she herself dies when she drinks the tea out of anxiety.