Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Jeanne Eagels appeared in Thanhouser films in 1916 and 1917.
Additional Research: Jeanne Eagels Site
Biographical Notes: The following paragraphs are based upon information derived from numerous newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and other contemporary sources.
According to accounts published in her lifetime, Jeanne Eagels, christened as Jeannine, was born in Boston on June 26, 1890, of an Irish mother and a Spanish father, Edward and Julia Sullivan Eagels. Her father's surname originally was said to have been Aguilar, equivalent to "eagle" in Spanish, and it was misspelled in English as "Eagels." From the age of two she spent her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. In her entire life she had only a year and a half of formal education. Her father was an unrealistic idealist who always had trouble supporting his family.
When she was six years old, her father had the idea of sending her to an instructor for "parlor training," in which she was taught dance steps, the recital of poetry, and the reading of simple scenes from plays. She later recalled that at the age of seven she was given the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by her "parlor training" teacher. In another recollection, she named her first play as Hamlet.
Little Jeanne was fascinated by acting and decided to become an actress. At the age of 12 she was with the Woodward Stock Company in Kansas City, in the role of Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin, later touring in The Outcast, East Lynne, Camille, The Great Pursuit, and other plays. Her first appearance in New York City was at the age of 17, in Jumping Jupiter, at the Lyceum Theatre.
Around this time, Jeanne Eagels married Maurice Dubinsky, who operated a traveling vaudeville tent show, and by whom she had a child. The marriage ended in divorce, and in 1911 she is said to have married actor John Barrymore. If so, little about the union ever appeared in print. The marriage is said to have ended in divorce about a year later. Her early marriages were soon forgotten and were not mentioned in the publicity, much of it unwelcome, she received when she became well known a few years later.
In October 1912 she essayed a two-line bit part as Olga Cook, with Billie Burke, in The Mind-the-Paint Girl, for which the producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, paid her $35 per week. Later she supported Julian Eltinge in The Crinoline Girl. She was on the stage in many plays with George Arliss, including The Professor's Love Story, Disraeli, and Hamilton, the latter opening at the Knickerbocker Theatre, New York City, on September 17, 1917.
Into Film: Seeking a diversion in 1914, Miss Eagels investigated motion pictures. In March of that year she was seen in the Reliance production of A Lesson in Bridge, in which she was listed as "Jeanne Eagle" in some notices (this information concerning her stint with Reliance is from film historian Anthony Slide). The next year she was in films under the management of Arnold Daly (whose productions were released through Pathé) and had a leading role in the December 1915 release, The House of Fear, in which Arnold Daly, Ina Hammer, Sheldon Lewis, Martin Sabine, Charles Laite, Charles Krause, and William Bechtel were also seen. While in films, she continued to act on the stage, and in November 1915 she was before the footlights in the role of Miriam in The Outcast.
In March 1916 Jeanne Eagels was on stage at the Shubert Theatre, New York City, in The Great Pursuit. In September 1916 she toured in the George V. Hobart comedy, What's Your Husband Doing? On December 16, 1916, The New York News announced that Miss Eagels had been signed for a role in The Laughter of Fools, staged by the Charles Frohman Company.
With Thanhouser: Jeanne Eagels joined Thanhouser in August 1916. She was among Thanhouser's roster of screen players through part of 1917, and appeared in The World and the Woman, Fires of Youth, and Under False Colors, working with Thanhouser on an intermittent basis. After finishing The World and the Woman, she went back to the stage.
The New Rochelle Pioneer, August 26, 1916, told of her coming to Thanhouser: "Miss Jeanne Eagels, one of the better known of the young actresses, has been signed by Edwin Thanhouser to be starred in the special feature production to be called The World and the Woman. The story was especially written for Miss Eagels by Philip Lonergan. Eugene Moore is directing the picture. Miss Eagels has been named by New York dramatic critics as one of the few young actresses who are destined to achieve great success in the coming season. Miss Eagels followed Elsie Ferguson in the leading role in Outcast last season and showed such ability that she was promptly signed by Joseph Brooks. Miss Eagels was a member of the all-star cast in The Great Pursuit and when she completes her engagement in New Rochelle she is to be featured by Mr. Brooks in a Broadway production."
An article in The Moving Picture World, April 7, 1917, told of the success the actress had achieved in her first Thanhouser film: "Due to the success of her initial Thanhouser-Pathé feature, The World and the Woman, Mr. Edwin Thanhouser has engaged Miss Jeanne Eagels for further productions. Desiring to start work with her immediately, Mr. Thanhouser has made arrangements with the management of The Professor's Love Story, which Miss Eagels is playing with George Arliss of the Knickerbocker Theatre, New York, to permit the actress to resume her studio work immediately. Mr. Frederick Warde has been assigned by Mr. Thanhouser to co-star with Miss Eagels."
After Thanhouser: In late 1917 and early 1918 she was with the World Film Corporation in New York City and Fort Lee, New Jersey for a short time, and for that company appeared in minor roles, including work with the Peerless division. For World, she acted in The Cross Bearer, an eight-reel feature released in March 1918. Directed by George Archainbaud, the cast also included Montagu Love, George Morgan, Anthony Merlo, Edward Elkas, Charles Brandt, Eloise Clement, Albert Hart, Alec B. Francis, Kate Lester, Fanny Cogan, and Henrietta Simpson. Little about her work with World has ever appeared in print. The 1918 edition of the Motion Picture Studio Directory noted that she had blonde hair, a "blonde complexion," and enjoyed horseback riding and swimming. She was 5'4" tall and weighed 120 pounds. Her natural hair color was brown but for much of her career she bleached it blonde. Her eyes were blue.
The 1920s: After Miss Eagels' motion picture debut she remained active on the stage, telling a reporter that she could not decide which medium she preferred, therefore she would probably remain in both. In September 1918, the actress was on stage in Daddies, at the Belasco Theatre in New York City, which garnered mixed reviews. Then came roles in A Young Man's Fancy and The Wonderful Thing, the latter opening at the Garrick Theatre, New York City, on January 25, 1920, later going to The Playhouse in the same city. In the late summer and autumn of 1920 she spent five months in Europe, to rest and regain her strength, following an illness.
In November 1922 she was seen under the management of Sam H. Harris at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York City, in the role of Sadie Thompson in Somerset Maugham's play, Rain, a part which brought her great fame and was performed on the road for the next several years. The Chicago Tribune, October 6, 1925, called Miss Eagels' acting in Rain, at the Harris Theatre, something "to see, to laud, and long to remember." In 1925, another company of Rain featured Miss Olga Lindo in the role of Sadie Thompson, a situation which caused some confusion with the public. Rain brought Miss Eagels great financial rewards as well, and from her earnings she purchased a large home in Ossining, New York, where she maintained a kennel of 30 dogs on a 29-acre farm.
On July 24, 1923, Frank J. Wilstach, a press agent, issued a release which related that in her spare time Miss Eagels had been studying the wages paid to stage players over the years and had compiled a list of important players of the previous century and the compensation they received. This mention in the 1920s of an intellectual pursuit was in sharp contrast to her other publicity, which mainly treated her acting or the problems of her personal life.
Gossip and Scandal: Jeanne Eagels' private life was the subject of much gossip and comment in the 1920s. In March 1921 she was living in an apartment on the fifth floor of a building at 17 West 57th Street. New lessees, who wanted to remodel the structure, sought to buy the year and a half remaining on her lease and renewal option. When the actress would not respond to their offers, they made life difficult by altering the exits on the lower floors, by removing elevator service for periods of time, and other harassments. Miss Eagels countered by offering her lease for $25,000, but the building lessees refused, after which the actress obtained a court injunction forcing them to restore proper access to her apartment.
In early November 1923 the New York City papers carried reports that the actress would marry Whitney Warren, Jr., which both parties denied. On the evening of August 26, 1925 she secretly married Edward Harris ("Ted") Coy, a former Yale Class of 1910 football hero, who was employed by a New York City insurance firm, Smythe, Sanford & Gerard, with offices at 68 William Street.
The marriage was rocky, and numerous reports of problems surfaced in the press. The December 26, 1926 issue of the New York Morning Telegraph stated that Dame Rumor was wrong again, and that contrary to ugly reports emanating from Chicago, Jeanne Eagels and her husband were quite happy and, in fact, were giving a big Christmas party. "It is indeed a regrettable fact that fame often breeds publicity that is cruel and sometimes not altogether true."
In February 1928, Miss Eagels initiated divorce proceedings against Coy, charging cruelty. She alleged that her husband had mistreated her twice; first, on January 15, 1926, when he attacked her; and the second time, on November 4, 1927, when he struck her in the face with his fists, after which the couple lived apart. A couple years later Ted Coy died at the age of 47 in New York Hospital.
Miss Eagels' actions on stage became increasingly erratic. Once, while in New York City, she interrupted a performance to leave the stage for a drink of water. On other occasions, she arrived from a few minutes to over an hour late for curtain time or, in the case of a performance for Her Cardboard Lover in Boston, she showed up several days after the scheduled opening. She was a victim of violent mood swings and was happy one day and sullen the next.
In mid-March 1928, a great scandal arose when she was due to play Her Cardboard Lover on the road in Milwaukee and St. Louis, but elected instead to neglect her $1,800 per week role, to remain with friends in Chicago and "make whoopee," as an article in The Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1928, put it. The other personnel of the company were given a week's salary and then told to return to New York City. Miss Eagels at first refused to discuss reasons for her non-appearance, but later stated that she was ill, adding that "a dozen doctors" could back up her claim. For the deed, the Actors' Equity Association decreed that she be barred from the stage for a year and a half and fined her two weeks' salary, an amount equal to about $3,600. Soon thereafter, she said that she would defy the Equity ruling and appear the next season in Carita. However, the punishment was sustained.
Back on the Screen: In the late 1920s Miss Eagels appeared in several films. In the November 1927 release of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Man, Woman, and Sin she essayed the leading role of Vera Worth, the society editor for a newspaper. Others appearing in the picture included John Gilbert, Gladys Brockwell, Marc MacDermott, Philip Anderson, Hayden Stevenson, Aileen Manning, and Charles K. French. During her forced hiatus from the footlights, Jeanne Eagels turned to motion pictures once again and was seen and heard in her first talking picture, The Letter, based on a play of the same name by Somerset Maugham, for which she was nominated for a 1928-9 Academy Award for Best Actress. Supervised by Monta Bell and directed by Jean DeLimur, the Paramount film was released in April 1929 and featured Miss Eagels in the lead feminine role, as Leslie Crosbie.
This was followed by her second sound picture, Jealousy, also a Paramount production directed by Jean DeLimur, from a scenario by Eugene Walter (who years earlier was seen in a Thanhouser film). Jeanne Eagels essayed the leading feminine role, that of Yvonne. In the film, Yvonne is the owner of a gown shop bought for her by an elderly admirer, a fact she conceals from her husband, Pierre, a struggling artist.
The official Paramount publicity for Jealousy gave the impression that this was only the second picture of Miss Eagels' entire career, and that the first was Man, Woman, and Sin, directed by Monta Bell, who later became a production executive with Paramount's studio in Astoria, Long Island, New York. Her Thanhouser films were ignored. Miss Eagels was to have appeared in a third Paramount Famous Lasky film, The Laughing Lady, released in December 1929, but her participation was cancelled by her poor health. The leading feminine role, of Marjorie Lee, was played by Ruth Chatterton instead.
Her Death: During the 1920s, Miss Eagels was in and out of hospitals and sanitariums many times, as she contended with what were described by the press as "illnesses." Although she was treated at St. Luke's Hospital, New York City, during the second week of September 1929, for eye ulceration caused by a sinus infection, most of her medical problems were due to alcoholism and drug addiction.
Late in the afternoon of October 3, 1929, Miss Eagels was stricken at her home at 1143 Park Avenue, New York City. She was taken by her maid, Christina Larson, to a nearby private facility, the Park Avenue Hospital, at 591 Park Avenue. A few minutes before seven in the evening, the face of the actress suddenly contorted, and then she collapsed, lifeless, across the bed. Dr. Alfred Pellegrini, assistant to the absent Dr. Cowles, was called for, but when he arrived there was nothing to be done.
Several hours later, the body was transferred to Campbell's Funeral Church, 66th Street and Broadway, where Dr. Thomas A. Gonzales, deputy chief medical examiner, performed an autopsy which showed the cause of death as alcoholic psychosis. Later, Charles Norris, chief medical examiner, stated that her death was not caused by alcoholic psychosis, as first thought, but from an overdose of chloral hydrate, a sedative and soporific. This finding was seconded by Alexander O. Goettler, toxicologist for the City of New York. Eight months later, Dr. Thomas A. Gonzales issued still another revision, stating this time that the actress had died from an overdose of heroin.
David Belasco, the well-known theatrical manager and producer, tried to paint a silver lining to the cloud, and in a statement published in The New York Post, October 5, 1929, commented: "I probably knew her better than most people here in New York. She had gone through many varied experiences . As I remember the girl she was charming, sympathetic, kind, and gentle. She had been told that she was consumptive, but she led a quiet and sweet life. She had spasms of pain which caused her great concern; she wasn't a bit like the temperamental star many probably thought her to be. She did not take a drink except when it was ordered by her physician, and this was necessary for her health. In the latter days of her life she did not drink for the pleasure of it. I shall always remember Jeanne Eagels as a splendid comrade, as a person who was good and generous to her friends, and as one who could not overcome a temperament that was no fault of hers."
Miss Eagels' body was on view at Campbell's Funeral Church, in the Louis XIV room, where three years earlier the body of Rudolph Valentino, the romantic screen hero, had rested. A memorial service conducted on October 5th by Rev. James M. Gillis was attended by an estimated 300 to 500 people, including numerous stage and screen figures. The publicity given to the event attracted about 3,000 curiosity seekers, who could not be accommodated for the service but who filed past her bier before and after. Later, her casket was placed aboard the Twentieth Century Limited and sent over the rails to Kansas City for burial. Just before her death, she planned a comeback on Broadway and was studying a new play, Diana, based on the life of dancer Isadora Duncan, written by Irving Kaye Davis.
Jeanne Eagels was survived by her mother, who lived in Los Angeles; a sister, Helen, who lived in New York City; a sister, Mrs. W.K. Ackerly, who lived in Needles, California; and two brothers, George and Paul, who were residents of Los Angeles. Until a short time before Miss Eagels' death, her father had lived with her in Ossining.
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