Jean Hagen (1923-1977)

'Jean Hagen
Jean Hagen
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Jean Hagen was an American movie actress whose career began in 1949 and who appeared over the next three years in three important movies each of which has been selected for the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: 'Adam's Rib', 'The Asphalt Jungle' and 'Singin' in the Rain'. In the latter, her performance in the difficult comic role of the silent film star Lina Lamont earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Her career was cut tragically short as her health declined in the 1960s. After spending many years under medical care, she died of esophageal cancer in 1977 at the age of 54


She was born Jean Shirley Verhagen on August 3, 1923 in Chicago. Her father was Dutch and her mother American.. The family moved to Elkhart, Indiana in 1935 and Jean attended Elkhart High School. Afterwards, she studied drama at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, graduating in 1945.

Show Business Career

From an early age Jean's ambition was to be an actress and apart from part time jobs in 1946 as a cigarette girl in a nightclub,, then a theater usher, all her working life was as an actress.


To further her career, Jean moved to New York in 1945, where she roomed with Patricia Neal. In that year she began in radio, performing in 'Light of the World', 'Hollywood Story', and 'Grand Central Station'. using her maiden name (Jean Verhagen), she played Betty Webster on 'Those Websters'.


Jean showed that she had real talent and eventually broke into Broadway theater, when she appeared in the plays "Swan Song," "Another Part of the Forest," "Ghosts" and "Born Yesterda y' and finally, in 1949, she had a leading role in the seventeenth century tragedy, 'The Traitor'.


Also in 1949 Jean made her film debut as a comical femme fatale in the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn film 'Adam's Rib', directed by George Cukor. It was a small but important part and her performance led to her first starring role in 'The Asphalt Jungle' in 1950. The movie was a big success and cemented Jean's growing reputation for skilful comic acting.

Singin' in the Rain
Jean's best known movie appearance came in 1952 in 'Singin' in the Rain' when she played the vain, silent film star Lina Lamont. The movie's action takes place in 1927 at the time when Talkies were starting to take over from Silent movies. Lina Lamont had a terrible squeaky voice and an appalling accent which gives rise to numerous richly comic moments. Jean received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her superb performance, losing out to Gloria Grahame in 'The Bad and the Beautiful'.


Following her 'Singin' in the Rain' success, in 1953 Jean joined the cast of the television sitcom ' Make Room for Daddy', which later changed its name to 'The Danny Thomas Show'. Over three seasons she was nominated for three Emmys for her role as Margaret Williams, the long-suffering wife of Danny Thomas. Nevertheless she became tired of the predictability of the role and subsequently left the series. After she made the decision to leave, the writers killed off her character, rather than recast the role. Hers was the first TV character to be killed off in a family sitcom.

For the rest of her career, Jean concentrated mainly on television acting. She made guest appearances on numerous television shows, including 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' in 1955, 'Wagon Train' in 1957 and 'The Andy Griffith Show' in 1960.

Later Career

Despite staying in the public eye with her frequent guest appearances on television, Jean was unable to resume her film career in starring roles.

She briefly returned to the big screen in 1959 with Fred MacMurray in the Disney comedy 'The Shaggy Dog' and in supporting roles in ''Sunrise at Campobello' in 1960 and 'Dead Image' in 1964. The lack of suitable work was difficult for her to accept and she started drinking. She endured a downward spiral of alcoholism and illness for the rest of her life.

Jean was married once, in 1947 to actor Tom Seidel while she was appearing in the play 'Dear Ruth' in Connecticut The couple had two children, Christine and Aric. Seidel later divorced her in an effort to stop her drinking.

The onset of throat cancer necessitated her early retirement in the mid-60s and Jean ended up living mainly at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, alternating with brief respites from the cancer, when she was able to work on various TV shows. She made her final acting appearance in 1977 in the television movie 'Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn'.

Jean Hagen died of esophageal cancer on August 29, 1977, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. She was buried in the Chapel of the Pines Crematory. She was aged 54, an actress of great talent whose career was all too brief.

Jean Hagen Academy Awards

One Nomination:
Best Supporting Actress ... Singin' in the Rain (1952)

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Jean Hagen Filmography

Side Street
The Asphalt Jungle
A Life of Her Own
Night Into Morning
No Questions Asked
Shadow in the Sky
Singin' In The Rain
Carbine Williams
Latin Lovers
Half a Hero
The Big Knife

Spring Reunion
The Shaggy Dog