Most people remember the actress Jean Hagen for her role as Lina Lamont in the popular 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain. What many people don’t know, however, is that her role as Lina Lamont was likely the highest point in her career- and her life.
Many famous actors and actresses who went on to perform in all sorts of films and TV shows. However, while some celebrities have long and fulfilling careers, others are less fortunate. In the case of Jean Hagen, not only did her career spiral, but her personal life did, as well. In today’s video, we’re going to take a look at Jean Hagen’s dark and tragic history. Make sure you stick around until the very end, where we’ll reveal what caused her to die at such a young age.
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Facts Verse Presents: The Downward Spiral of Jean Hagen’s Life & Career
Jean Hagen was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 3rd, 1923. Young Jean was born to two proud parents, Christian and Marie Verhagen. Mr. Verhagen was a Dutch immigrant, but his wife Marie was born and raised in Chicago.
Jean Hagen’s sister, LaVerne, recalled her childhood with fondness. In one interview, she stated “Our childhood was wonderful, nothing but happiness. Our parents were very family-oriented people, very close. And I can’t remember when Jean wasn’t interested in acting.” LaVerne went on to explain that she and her sister would perform plays in their basement together when they were very young.
When she was just twelve years old, she and her parents moved to Elkhart Indiana. After graduating from Elkhart High School, Jean went on to pursue her love of drama at Northwestern University. While she was in college, Jean met and became roommates with Patricia Neal, who would go on to become an incredibly famous actress. Patricia Neal is best known for several roles, including Emily Eustace Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as her role as Alma Brown in the movie Hud.
The two got along amazingly well, and they stuck together as best friends for many long years. They acted in college together, and both girls were revered by their peers and professors for their amazing acting talent.
In 1945, Jean Hagen successfully graduated from Northwestern University. While she had fun working the switchboard at her college dorm and making appearances on radio programs, Jean felt it was time to move onto bigger and better things. Patricia Neal felt the same way, and the two moved to New York together, where they became roommates once again.
Jean Hagen rekindled her talent for radio shows, but this time, it was on a much bigger scale. In 1945 alone, she appeared in radio shows such as Grand Central Station, Light of the World, and Hollywood Story. She also worked as an usher for a time.
While she was ushering for the play Swan Song at the Booth Theater, Jean began to criticize the show. Little did she know, however, that the playwrights were right next to her, and overheard everything! Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were polite, however. Not only did they introduce themselves to Jean, but they also suggested that she try out for a minor role to replace a cast member who had fallen ill.
After a brief struggle with appendicitis, Jean took the two playwrights up their offer, and she was overjoyed to learn she had landed the role.
Jean Hagen’s career took off after that. Two months after Swan Song, she appeared in the play Another Part of the Forest, and she was joined by her friend Patricia Neal. She continued to appear in several other plays, including Ghosts, Born Yesterday, and The Traitor.
While she was busy acting, Jean also met Tom Seidel, a fellow actor who worked on several films in the early 1940s. The two fell in love, and they married in 1947. While Seidel decided to become an agent later on in life, Jean knew that her passion truly lay in acting, and she continued to pursue her dreams of the big screen.
While Jean was acting in the play The Traitor, producers Sam Zimbalist and Anthony Mann decided to travel to New York. The two were working on pre-production business for their upcoming MGM film, Side Street. While in New York, Zimbalist and Mann watched a few shows, including The Traitor. They were impressed by Jean Hagen’s performance, and they approached her after the show. She was auditioned the very next morning, and almost immediately after, she was signed to a contract with MGM.
After her filming with Side Street was over, she was cast as Beryl Caighn in the film Adam’s Rib. Although her role as a home-wrecker was upstaged by the wonderful performances of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Jean knew that she had found her calling. The film was immensely popular, and it garnered much attention for Jean.
In 1950, John Huston chose to cast Hagen in yet another film, this one entitled The Asphalt Jungle. He described Hagen as having a “wistful, down-to-earth quality rare on the screen. A born actress.”
The noir film was a great opportunity for Jean, but it only contained two female roles. Unfortunately for her, another actress decided to show up to the screen tests; Marilyn Monroe. Of course, Marilyn Monroe was an instant hit among the producers, and Jean was extremely nervous that she wouldn’t even land a role in the film. However, Marilyn Monroe was still quite young at the time, and not as experienced as Jean. Jean was extremely lucky, and she won the starring female role of the film, “Doll” Donovan.
Jean performed excellently as a comical femme fatale, and she relished the fame. Later that year, however, she became pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to a lovely daughter, who she named Christine Patricia, in honor of her best friend, Patricia Neal. After a brief rest with her new child, however, Jean decided it was time to get back on the big screen. She acted in a few minor films, such as A Life of Her Own and No Questions Asked, but her roles were far less important than what was to come.
Then came the highest point in Jean’s career. In fact, it was probably the highest moment of her entire life! Even though she auditioned against many talented actresses, including Barabara Lawrence and Nina Foch, Jean Hagen was cast as Lina Lamont in the hit musical film, Singin’ in the Rain.
Jean was incredibly surprised that she landed the role because it was entirely different from her previous roles up to that point. The character Lina Lamont was a failed actress with an awful singing voice and a ditzy personality. Director Stanley Donen could have easily cast an untalented actress to play the character, but he knew that the role would pop if it was played by an accomplished actress. He chose Jean Hagen because he admired her skills, and he wasn’t at all disappointed with her performance.
While Jean Hagen was usually cast in comedic or hard-boiled roles, she enjoyed playing dramatic roles more. She felt she was being type-casted by MGM, and it grew tiresome after a while. After her contract with MGM ran out, she decided to try something new.
Jean began acting in the sit-com television show Make Room for Daddy (which was later renamed The Danny Thomas Show). She played the main character’s wife, Margaret Williams. Jean appeared in a total of 117 episodes for the show, and she was nominated for a total of three Emmys. Even though she performed excellently on the show, Jean hated her role, and after three years, she decided to quit. At the time, when actors would leave a show, their character would usually be recast by a new actor. However, producer Sheldon Leonard explained that Jean Hagen was irreplaceable. They decided to kill off Margaret Williams, making her the first character to ever be killed off in a TV show.
Jean, meanwhile, decided to spend more time at home with her two children, Christine and Aric (who she gave birth to in 1952). While she loved her children dearly, Jean suddenly felt purposeless, now that she had nothing to act in. As a result, Jean started drinking.
Despite Jean’s growing dependency on alcohol, she decided to end her temporary retirement and return to film. However, the film industry was much less kind to her than it had been in the past. She guest-starred in a few popular television series and managed to land a few minor roles in movies, but it wasn’t the same. She became increasingly depressed, and her health began to fail as a result of her alcoholism.
Jean’s alcoholism became so pronounced that her husband, Tom Seidel, chose to divorce her. He had hoped it would help alleviate her dependency, but it only made things worse. She began to drink so heavily that she fell into a coma in 1968. After waking from her coma, Jean vowed to never drink again.
Unfortunately, after her alcoholism problem was solved, Jean was plagued with a new problem; throat cancer. She moved to Germany in an attempt to find a cure not available in the United States, but nothing worked. She moved to the Motion County Picture Country Hospital in California. She battled with cancer for many long years, and while the symptoms were occasionally lenient enough for her to act in a few more minor roles, she eventually succumbed to the disease on August 29, 1977. She was only 54 years old.
People all over the country mourned her death, but nothing could bring back the unique talent and spirit of Jean Hagen. If she hadn’t died so young, do you think Jean Hagen would have lost her acting career later in life, or do you think she would have rekindled it? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe to Facts Verse for more videos!