Jean Hagen was a talented actress who rose to fame in the 1950s with her memorable roles in films such as Singin’ in the Rain, The Asphalt Jungle, and Adam’s Rib. She was also a popular TV star, appearing in the sitcom Make Room for Daddy and several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. However, behind her glamorous image, Jean Hagen had a turbulent personal life and a declining career that led to her premature death at the age of 54. What was the cause of death of Jean Hagen, and what were the factors that contributed to her downfall? This article will explore the life and death of Jean Hagen, one of Hollywood’s most tragic tales.
Early Life and Career
Jean Hagen was born on August 3, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois, to Christian and Marie Verhagen. Her father was a Dutch immigrant and her mother was a Chicago native. Jean had a happy childhood and a passion for acting from an early age. She and her sister LaVerne would perform plays in their basement and entertain their family and friends. Jean graduated from Elkhart High School in Indiana and then attended Northwestern University, where she studied drama and became roommates with future actress Patricia Neal. Jean and Patricia moved to New York together after graduation and pursued their acting careers.
Jean Hagen started her show business career in radio, appearing in various programs such as Light of the World, Hollywood Story, and Those Websters. She also made her Broadway debut in Swan Song and acted in other plays such as Another Part of the Forest, Ghosts, and Born Yesterday. She married actor Tom Seidel in 1947 and had two children with him, Christine and Aric.
Jean Hagen made her film debut in 1949, playing a comical femme fatale in Adam’s Rib, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. She impressed the critics and the audiences with her natural and witty performance. She followed this with another successful role in The Asphalt Jungle, playing a loyal but naive girlfriend of a criminal. She also appeared in the film noir Side Street, playing a gangster’s moll.
Singin’ in the Rain and Make Room for Daddy
Jean Hagen’s most famous role came in 1952, when she played Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain, one of the greatest musicals of all time. Lina Lamont was a spoiled and talentless silent film star who had a shrill and annoying voice that clashed with the advent of sound films. Jean Hagen played the role with such humor and flair that she stole the show from the main stars, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. She also demonstrated her versatility by dubbing Debbie Reynolds’ singing voice in one scene, as well as her own character’s speaking voice. Jean Hagen received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, but lost to Gloria Grahame for The Bad and the Beautiful.
Jean Hagen also became a TV star in 1953, when she joined the cast of the sitcom Make Room for Daddy, starring Danny Thomas. She played Margaret Williams, the wife of Danny and the mother of their two children. She was praised for her comedic timing and chemistry with Thomas, and received three Emmy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. However, Jean Hagen decided to leave the show after the third season, reportedly due to creative differences with Thomas and the producers. She was replaced by Marjorie Lord, who played Danny’s second wife and remained on the show until the end.
Career Decline and Personal Problems
After leaving Make Room for Daddy, Jean Hagen’s career began to decline. She appeared in a few more films, such as The Big Knife, The Shaggy Dog, and Sunrise at Campobello, but none of them matched her earlier success. She also guest-starred in some TV shows, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train, and The Twilight Zone, but did not land any regular roles. She also tried to return to Broadway, but her play The Traitor flopped after only six performances.
Jean Hagen’s personal life also suffered during this period. She divorced Tom Seidel in 1965, after 18 years of marriage. She also struggled with alcoholism and depression, and became reclusive and isolated from her friends and family. She also developed health problems, such as arthritis and throat cancer. She underwent surgery and radiation therapy, but her condition worsened over time.
Death and Legacy
Jean Hagen died of esophageal cancer on August 29, 1977, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, a retirement home for actors. She was 54 years old. She was buried at Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. She was survived by her two children, who inherited her estate.
Jean Hagen’s death was mourned by her fans and colleagues, who remembered her as a talented and versatile actress who could play comedy and drama with equal skill. She was also praised for her kindness and generosity, as well as her courage and dignity in facing her illness. She left behind a legacy of memorable performances, especially in Singin’ in the Rain, which is considered one of the best films ever made. Jean Hagen may have had a tragic life, but she will always be remembered as a Hollywood star.