Monday, June 26, 2017

Jeanne Eagels, 1890-1929

Jeanne Eagels in The Letter (1929)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Jeanne Eagels, who was born on this day in 1890. She made some silents in the 1910s, but spent most of her time on stage, working with George Arliss and Leslie Howard among others. She stayed on Broadway throughout the 1920s, appearing in the original New York production of Rain, among others. She finally returned to Hollywood and made one more silent, followed by two talkies, The Letter and Jealousy, although only the former survives.

But Eagels is sadly more known for her personal life, one of failed marriages and drug and alcohol abuse. She was using heroin by the time she made The Letter, and that heroin addiction was soon to kill her. (I mentioned in a post several years ago that after her death, there were three autopsies performed, all of which came to a different conclusion, but it's pretty obvious the drug addiction had a big part to play in her death.) It's fascinating to watch The Letter because Eagels is skeletal and cadaverous, looking like a train wreck waiting to happen. And she gives a brilliant performance. The Bette Davis remake is better known, and Davis does well, but Eagels gets to do things Davis couldn't thanks to the code, and that makes the Eagels version a more interesting movie.

In the 1950s, a heavily sanitized biopic of Eagels' life was made, starring Kim Novak.

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