Jeanne Eagels, the first American actress posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “The Letter,” died suddenly today in 1929. Now WE know em


Eugenia “Jeanne” Eagles was born June 26, 1890 in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the age of 2, she moved with her family to Kansas City, Missouri.

She attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School, and often appeared in Kansas City pageants and festivals.

At the age of 10, her father died and she quit school to work in a department store to help support her five other brothers and sisters.

Her interest in acting led to a variety of roles for small venues of local theater.

Jeanne then left Kansas City at the age of 15 to tour the Midwest as a dancer with the Dubinsky Brothers’ traveling theater show.

She married Morris Dubinsky and eventually went on to play the leading lady in several comedies and dramas put on by the Dubinskys.

Then in 1911, Jeanne left her husband and moved to New York City where she worked in chorus lines.


She had brown hair, but beached it blond and eventually became a Ziegfeld Girl.

Jeanne changed the spelling of her last name from Eagles to Eagels because she thought it looked better in lights.

Then in September of 1912, Jeanne joined the Broadway cast of “Mind the Paint Girl” at the lyceum Theatre in a supporting role.

Jeanne appeared in her first motion picture in 1915.

She made three films with Thanhouser Film Corporation in 1916 and 1917 while playing opposite George Arliss in three successive Broadway plays.

Then in 1918, Jeanne appeared in the Broadway show “Daddies” until illness forced her to leave the production.

She traveled to Europe to recover, and then returned to appear in several Broadway shows between 1919 and 1921.

Then in 1922, Jeanne landed her first staring role in the Broadway play “Rain” based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham and written by John Colton.

In the production she played “Sadie Thompson,” a free-wheeling and free loving spirit who confronts a fire-and-brimstone preacher on a South Pacific island.

She went on to tour with the play for the next two seasons and returned to Broadway for a farewell performance.

In 1925, Jeanne married Edward Harris “Ted” Coy, a former Yale University football star turned New York City stockbroker.

Then in 1926, Jeanne was offered the part of Roxie Hart in the Broadway play “Chicago,” however she walked out on the show while still in rehearsals for unknown reasons.

In 1927, she appeared in the Broadway comedy “Her Cardboard Lover” in which Jeanne appeared on stage with Leslie Howard.

She joined the cast on tour as well for several months, after missing some Broadway performances due to ptomaine poisoning.

Jeanne returned to Broadway in July of 1927 for an Empire Theater show before being cast in the MGM film “Man, Woman and Sin” opposite John Gilbert.


Jeanne Eagles and Jack Gilbert on location for their later  film, "Man, Woman and Son." (Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Jeanne Eagles and Jack Gilbert on location for their later film, “Man, Woman and Son.” (Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

She divorced her second husband in 1928 and again went on tour with Broadway plays.

Jeanne was then banned from performing for 18 months by Actors Equity for failing to appear for a performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The ban did not stop Jeanne from working in film, and she made two “talkies” for Paramount Pictures, including The Letter and Jealousy (both released in 1929).

The Letter

The Letter

Just before she was to return to the Broadway stage in a new play, Jeanne Eagels died suddenly upon visiting a private hospital in New York City on October 3, 1929, at the age of 39.

Medical examiners disagreed on the cause of death — there were three separate coroner’s reports, all reaching different conclusions—but the available evidence pointed to the effects of alcohol, a tranquilizer, 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.

Jeanne Eagels was then posthumously nominated for the third annual Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Letter.

This was the first time any actor, male or female, was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award, but the Oscar went to Mary Pickford for the film Coquette.

Now WE know em




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