Jeanne Eagels

Jeanne Eagels

Infobox Actor
name = Jeanne Eagels

birthdate = Amelia Jean Eagles
birthdate = birth date|1894|6|26
location = Boston, Massachusetts
deathdate = death date and age|1929|10|3|1894|6|26
deathplace = New York City, New York
spouse = Edward Harris Coy (1925-1928)
academyawards =

Jeanne Eagels (June 26, 1894October 3, 1929) was an actress on Broadway and in several motion pictures. She was a former Ziegfeld Follies Girl who went on to greater fame on Broadway and in the emerging medium of "talkies" (films with sound).

She was posthumously considered for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1929 role in "The Letter" after dying suddenly that year at the age of 35. That nomination was not only the first posthumous Oscar consideration for any actor, male or female; it was also the first time any woman had been considered for a posthumous Oscar in any competitive category. [ [ List of posthumous acting Oscar nominees] ]


Amelia Jeannine Eagles Born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 26, 1894. At the age of two she along with her family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri. She attended St. Joseph's parochial school and Morris Public School. She quit school shortly after her first communion to work as a cash girl in a department store. It was in Kansas City that she began her acting career, appearing in a variety of small venues at a very young age. Her ambitions were such that she left Kansas City around the age of 15 and toured the Midwest with the Dubinsky Brothers' traveling theater show (the same Dubinsky family whose descendants would later found AMC Theatres). At first she was a dancer, but in time she went on to play the leading lady in several popular comedies and dramas put on by the Dubinskys. She married Morris Dubinsky, who frequently played villan roles. It is unconfirmed, but the couple may have had a son adopted by family friends. Because she often made up stories about herself, her family and her upbringing, factual information about Eagels' early life is practically nonexistent.

Around 1911, she came to New York City to advance her acting career. Because of the stiff competition for parts, once again she had to work her way up from the chorus. Even in the chorus line she excelled and she eventually became a Ziegfeld Follies Girl. During this period, one of her acting coaches was Beverly Sitgreaves, who had once shared the stage with the great French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Eagels was in the supporting cast of "Mind The Paint Girl" at the Lyceum Theatre in September 1912. The play featured Billie Burke and William Raymond.

She changed the spelling of her surname to "Eagels," allegedly because this spelling looked better in lights. Although she struggled for recognition as a dramatic actress, her beauty, talent, and luck led to her getting bigger parts in better shows. Her stage career blossomed, and in 1915 she appeared in her first motion picture. In 1916 and 1917 she made three films for Thanhouser Film Corporation.

David Belasco said of her, "Beautiful, ah yes, with that wonderful golden hair, blue angelic eyes, sweet mouth, and cunning nose. Her eyes were hard and bitter but shined with ambition. Thousands of girls have come to me, but never such a girl as Jeanne Eagels, with the air of a Duse, the voice of an earl's daughter, and the mien of a tired, starved little alley cat." Her hair was actually brown, but she bleached it when she came to New York.

Her greatest success, and her favorite role, was Sadie Thompson in "Rain", which she played for two years on Broadway, and two more years on tour in the early 1920s. In 1925 she married stockbroker Ted Coy, a Yale graduate and famous college football player.

She talked fast and gestured with her hands. Few knew or understood her. She was explosive, mercurial, neurotic, loyal, generous, and sweet. She usually ignored all except the humblest members of her company. She hated most managers, interviews, movies, gossip, autograph seekers, night clubs, and Actors Equity. She liked dogs, auction sales, dill pickles, and ice cream with cherries. Her philosophy was "Never deny. Never explain. Say nothing and become a legend." The cause of her untimely death at the age of 39 was never clearly established, but pathology reports focused on the cumulative effects of alcohol or drug abuse. None which ever was conclusive in the three autopsies performed.

Many rumors and stories regarding Jeanne Eagels' life were presented later in an unauthorized biography published after her death, "The Rain Girl: The Tragic Story of Jeanne Eagels". Written by Ed Doherty and published 1930, the book portrayed Eagels in a rather negative light. The result lead to a lawsuit filed by her mother which later was dismissed. In 1957, Columbia Pictures produced the film "Jeanne Eagels" with Kim Novak, in which Eagels is depicted as starting her career as a scantily-clad carnival dancer and avoiding any real facts about her early life and times.

Early stage work

Eagels eventually won recognition and kudos playing opposite the stage actor George Arliss in three successive plays. In 1918 she appeared in "Daddies", a David Belasco production, and won even more notice. She quit this show due to illness (probably sinusitis) and she subsequently travelled to Europe. She appeared in several other Broadway shows between 1919 and 1921, but in 1922 she made her first appearance as a star in the bona fide hit, the play "Rain" by John Colton, in turn based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham. Eagels played the character of Sadie Thompson, a free-wheeling and free-loving spirit who confronts a fire-and-brimstone preacher on a South Pacific island. This role would be played on film by Gloria Swanson (1928) Joan Crawford (1932), and Rita Hayworth (1956). Critics raved about her tense, smoldering, and vivid performance. The house was packed nearly every night for two years. She went on tour with "Rain" for two more seasons, and returned to Broadway to give a farewell performance in 1926.


In 1925, Eagels married Edward Harris "Ted" Coy, a former Yale University football star. Their marriage was rocky and they divorced in 1928. They had no children together.

Later career

In 1926 Eagels was offered the part of "Roxie Hart" in the (nonmusical) play "Chicago", which was written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, but Jeanne walked out of this role during rehearsals, possibly due to conflicts with the director. After much speculation about her next play, she chose a comedy, "Her Cardboard Lover" (1927), in which she appeared on stage with Leslie Howard. She then went on tour with "Her Cardboard Lover" for several months. After missing some performances due to ptomaine poisoning, Eagels returned to the cast in July 1927 for an Empire Theater show.

After a season on Broadway she took a break to make a movie. She appeared opposite John Gilbert in the MGM film, "Man, Woman and Sin" (1927), which was directed by Monta Bell. Critics said she looked great and was very attractive playing the role of "Vera Worth", a capricious vamp. She plays the mistress of the newspaper publisher who employs her as the society editor.

In 1928, after failing to appear for a performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Eagels was banned by Actors Equity from appearing on stage for 18 months. The ban did not stop Eagels from working in film, and she made two "talkies" for Paramount Pictures, including "The Letter" and "Jealousy" (both released in 1929). Her performance in "The Letter" garnered high praise from critics and she was considered for a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Death and legacy

Just before she was to return to the Broadway stage in a new play, Eagels died suddenly at a private hospital in New York City on 3 October 1929 at the age of 35. Medical examiners disagreed on the exact cause of death, toxicology not being the science it is today, but the available evidence pointed to the effects of alcohol or heroin. After services in New York, Eagels received a second funeral service when her body was returned to Kansas City, where she was buried in Calvary Cemetery. She was survived by her mother, Julia Eagles, and several brothers and sisters.

The story of her death was covered by a young crime reporter named Samuel Fuller, later a noted film writer and director.

Eagels was posthumously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in "The Letter", but the Oscar went to Mary Pickford for the film "Coquette". Eagels' performance in this film inspired many actors new to the medium of talking pictures, including Bette Davis, who repeated the role in the 1940 remake of the film.

In 1957, a film biography entitled "Jeanne Eagels" was made by Columbia Pictures, starring Kim Novak as Eagels. The film was a mostly fictionlized account of Eagels' life


* New York Times, "This Week To See Rush Of New Plays", September 8, 1912, Page X4.
* Kansas City Star "Another Kansas City Girl 'Arrives' October 5, 1913 Page 15
* Kansas City Post "Jeanne Eagles passes up Wales to play 'Rain" before mother April 10, 1925 page 29
* New York Times, "Jeanne Eagels Playing Again", July 13, 1927, Page 20.
* New York Times, "The Vacillating Vampire", December 5, 1927, Page 26.
* Great Stars of the American Stage," copyright 1952 by Daniel Blum, Page 80.

External links

* [ Jeanne Eagels page]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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