Oscar Actors: Eagles, Jeanne (Nominee)–Background, Career, Awards

Research in Progress (May 9, 2021)
Jeanne Eagles Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Nationality: US

Social Class: Lower-Middle; father carpenter

Race/Ethnicity/Religion: Irish descent

Family: second of 6 children

Education:

Training: cash girl in department store, then dancer, vaudeville.

Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut: teenager

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: The Letter; aged 39

Other Noms: 1, posthumous

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film:

Career Output:

Film Career Span: 1913-1929

Marriage: As teenager, she married Morris Dubinsky, who played villains.

Politics:

Death: 39; drug addict (suicide)

Jeanne Eagels (born Eugenia Eagles; June 26, 1890–October 3, 1929) was an American stage and film actress.

A former Ziegfeld Girl, Eagels went on to greater fame on Broadway and in sound films.

She posthumously was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her 1929 role in The Letter after dying suddenly that year at the age of 39.

That nomination was the first posthumous Oscar consideration for any actor, male or female.

Eugenia Eagles was the second of six children born to Edward, of German and French Huguenot descent, and his wife Julia Eagles (née Sullivan), who was of Irish descent.

Her birth year is given as 1888, 1890 (official bio year), 1891, 1892, 1893 (death certificate).  Jeanne, who later changed the spelling of her surname to “Eagels,” would later claim that her father was a Spanish architect and she was born in Boston. In reality, she was born in Kansas City, Missouri and her father was a carpenter.

Eagels attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Morris Public School. She quit school shortly after her First Communion to work as cash girl in a department store.

Eagels began her acting career in Kansas City, appearing in small venues at very young age. She left Kansas City around the age of 15 and toured the Midwestern U.S. with the Dubinsky Brothers’ traveling theater show.

Initially, she was a dancer, and in time, she went on to play the leading lady in comedies and dramas put on by the Dubinskys. As a teenager, she married Morris Dubinsky, who frequently played villain roles.

Around 1911, she moved to New York, working in chorus lines and eventually becoming a Ziegfeld Girl. Her hair was brown, but she bleached it when she went to New York. During this period, one of her acting coaches was Beverley Sitgreaves.

Eagels was in the supporting cast of Mind the Paint Girl at the Lyceum Theatre in September 1912.

Eagels played opposite George Arliss in 3 successive plays in 1916 and 1917.

In 1915, she appeared in her first picture.

She also made 3 films for Thanhouser Film Corporation in 1916–17.

In 1918, she appeared in Daddies, a David Belasco production. She quit this show due to illness and subsequently traveled to Europe.

She appeared in other Broadway shows between 1919 and 1921.

In 1922, she made her first appearance as star in the play “Rain” by John Colton and Clemence Randolph, based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham.

Eagels played her favorite role, Sadie Thompson, free-wheeling and free-loving spirit who confronts fire-and-brimstone preacher on a South Pacific island. She tour with “Rain” for two more seasons and returned to Broadway to give  farewell performance in 1926.

In 1926, Eagels was offered the part of Roxie Hart in Maurine Dallas Watkins’s play “Chicago,” but Eagels walked out of this role during rehearsals.

She next appeared in the comedy Her Cardboard Lover (1927), in which she appeared 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 break to make a movie. She appeared opposite John Gilbert in the MGM film Man, Woman and Sin (1927), directed by Monta Bell.

Banned

In 1928, after failing to appear for 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, and she made two sound films for Paramount: The Letter and Jealousy (both released in 1929).

Eagels was married twice. Her first marriage was to actor Morris Dubinsky whom she married as a teenager. The couple had a son who either died (causing Eagels to have a nervous breakdown), or who was given up for adoption after the couple separated. Eagels and Dubinsky eventually divorced.

In August 1925, Eagels married Edward Harris “Ted” Coy, former football star at Yale University who became stockbroker. They had no children and divorced in July 1928.

During the peak of her success, Eagels began abusing drugs and alcohol and eventually developed addiction. She went to several sanatoriums, trying to kick her dependency. By the mid-1920s, she had begun using heroin. When she entered her 30s, Eagels began suffering from bouts of ill health exacerbated by excessive substance abuse.

In September 1929, Eagels underwent eye surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. She was also suffering from breathing problems and neuritis. After a ten-day stay, Eagels returned to her apartment on Park Avenue.

On October 3, 1929, Eagels and her secretary walked to the Park Avenue Hospital for appointment. While talking to doctor, she began having convulsions and died shortly thereafter.

The assistant chief medical examiner who performed Eagels’ autopsy concluded that she died of “alcoholic psychosis.”  He stated that while Eagels had not consumed alcohol in the two days preceding her death, she had been “acting strangely” and suffering from hallucinations three or four days before she died. Toxicology reports revealed that Eagels still had alcohol in her organs when she died in addition to heroin and chloral hydrate (a sedative Eagels regularly took to sleep).

Her death was attributed to overdose of the chloral hydrate.

Eagels posthumously was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for The Letter.

In 1957, a mostly fictionalized film biography, titled Jeanne Eagels, was made by Columbia, where she was portrayed by Kim Novak.

Eagels’ family sued Columbia over the way Eagels had been depicted in the movie.

Filmography

1913 The Ace of Hearts
1913 The Bride of the Sea
1914 A Lesson in Bridge Mrs. Willis
1915 The House of Fear Grace Cramp
1916 The World and the Woman, A Woman of the Streets
1917 The Fires of Youth Billy’s Sister Credited as Jeanne Eagles
1917 Under False Colors Countess Olga
1918 The Cross Bearer Liane de Merode
1919 The Madonna of the Slums
1927 Man, Woman and Sin Vera Worth

Sound
1929 The Letter, Leslie Crosbie, Nominated for Best Actress
1929 Jealousy, Yvonne (lost film).