Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Miss Jeanne Eagels

 It may seem like I am choosing rather obscure stars of the silent era...but bear with me. When people who aren't hardcore about silent film think of the men and women involved, the usually suspects pop up. Chaplin. Pickford. Keaton. Gish. And yes, there is no denying that they were greats of the era and in Hollywood's history. But, I want to bring to the fore front those actors and actresses who are lesser known, but still just as great. There aren't tons of books and websites on Olive Thomas or Max Linder or Viola Dana, etc. Case in point, Jeanne Eagels. If anyone has heard of her, it will most likely be from either the movie about her (kinda) starring Kim Novak or about her early death due to drugs and alcohol.

I think I first came across Jeanne in her photographs, which is how I came across a lot of these people. I do own a copy of her film The Letter although it is a shitty copy. But, I mean, its a treasure that it survives. Being able to hear a silent film star talk is just very cool to me. So, I am happy that it still exists. She was great in it, but she didn't get to live up to the stardom that she could have achieved.

She was born Eugenia Eagles on June 26, 1890 in Kansas City, Missouri to Edward and Julia Eagles. She had two sisters, Edna and Helen. And three brothers, George, Leo, and Paul. Her father died in 1910, leaving her mother to care for her six children. Shortly after her first communion, Jeanne quit school to work at a department store.

She acted in small plays around her hometown, and eventually left home at age 15 to go on the road with the traveling theatre company, the Dubinsky Brothers. She eventually married Morris Dubinsky, and the two may have had a son who was later adopted by friends, but it is unconfirmed.

In 1911, she came to New York and worked as a chorus girl until she eventually became a Ziegfeld Girl. And in 1915, she appeared in her first film. She briefly worked for Thanhouser, making three films between 1916 and 1917.

In 1922, she starred as Sadie Thompson in the play "Rain." She garnered rave reviews and toured with the show for four years.

In 1925, Jeanne married Edward Harris Coy. But, the marriage was rocky and they divorced in 1928.
After mounting troubles with her lack of appearances in stage shows, she was banned by the Actors Unity from appearing in plays for 18 months. So, instead, she appeared in two talkies. The most famous of which, The Letter, garnered her a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Just before she was going to start a new play, Jeanne died suddenly on October 3, 1929 at age 39. The exact cause of death could not be determined by the examiners, but it was attributed to the effects of heroin and alcohol. A funeral was held in New York City, then another was performed in her hometown of Kansas City. She was later interred at Calgary Cemetery.

It was not revealed until later that Jeanne had a long history with drugs and alcohol and that it was eventually the cause of her death. Studio heads covered up her stints in sanitariums, citing them as recovering from illness. They even cited her death as a stroke at first.

"I'm the greatest actress in the world and the greatest failure. And nobody gives a damn." ~~ Jeanne Eagels

** 10/23/10 ** I was really confused looking at the 1900 Census because I didn't seen Jeanne's name anywhere. Well, I have learned that her birth name was Eugenia and not Amelia. So, I have fixed that above. Learn something new everyday! Her father Edward is listed as a carpenter under employment.  


  1. i love your blog! glad to see i am not the only young person interested in silent film stars!

  2. Thank you! And I am glad to know there are more people out there like me who love silent films :) Thanks for reading!!

  3. Just watched my first Jeanne Eagels movie tonight - The World and the Woman. She was really a lovely actress. I didn't realize she had died so tragically :-( Thanks for doing a profile of her.

    1. It is awful what happened to her. She definitely had potential to be a great star.