She was posthumously considered for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1929 role in The Letter after dying suddenly that year at the age of 39. That nomination was the first posthumous Oscar consideration for any actor, male or female.
Jeanne Eagels was born in Kansas City, Missouri to Edward and Julia Sullivan Eagles (1865–1945) on June 26, 1890 of German and Irish descent. Her parents were married on April 26, 1886 in Platte City, Platte County, Missouri. Although many biographies state that her birth name was Amelia Jeanne Eagles, her actual birth name was Eugenia Eagles according to both the 1900 and 1910 United States Federal Censuses for Kansas City, Missouri. Her sister, Edna, also had a daughter named Eugenia. According to her obituary and census records, she was the second oldest child. Her siblings were Edna, George, Helen, Leo, and Paul.
Her father died on February 15, 1910 in Kansas City, leaving his 44-year-old widow with six children to raise. Eagels attended St. Joseph's Catholic School and Morris Public School. She quit school shortly after her First Communion to work as a cash girl in a department store.
Jeanne Eagels, 1921, in a fashion photo wearing a dress and cape by Paris couturier, Madeleine Chéruit
Jeanne Eagels was an American actress on Broadway and in several motion pictures. She was posthumously considered for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1929 role in The Letter after dying suddenly that year at the age of 39. Her famous lesbian relationships included friend Mercedes de Acosta, an American poet, playwright, and novelist, and lover Libby Holman, an American torch singer and stage actress who also achieved notoriety for her complex and unconventional personal life.
Eagels began her acting career in Kansas City, appearing in a variety of small venues at a very young age. She left Kansas City around the age of 15 and toured the Midwest with the Dubinsky Brothers' traveling theater show. At first, she was a dancer, but in time she went on to play the leading lady in several comedies and dramas put on by the Dubinskys. She married Morris Dubinsky, who frequently played villain roles.
Around 1911, she moved to New York City, working in chorus lines and eventually becoming a Ziegfeld Girl. Her hair was brown, but she bleached it when she went to New York. During this period, one of her acting coaches was Beverly Sitgreaves. Eagels was in the supporting cast of Mind The Paint Girl at the Lyceum Theatre in September 1912. Eagels played opposite George Arliss in three successive plays in 1916 and 1917.
In 1915, she appeared in her first motion picture. She also made three films for Thanhouser Film Corporation in 1916-17.
In 1918, she appeared in Daddies, a David Belasco production. She quit this show due to illness and subsequently travelled to Europe. She appeared in several other Broadway shows between 1919 and 1921.
In 1922, she made her first appearance as a star in the play Rain, by John Colton, based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham. Eagels played her favorite role, that of Sadie Thompson, a free-wheeling and free-loving spirit who confronts a fire-and-brimstone preacher on a South Pacific island. She went on tour with Rain for two more seasons, and returned to Broadway to give a farewell performance in 1926.
In 1925, Eagels married Edward Harris "Ted" Coy, a former Yale University football star turned stockbroker. They had no children and divorced in 1928.
In 1926, Eagels was offered the part of Roxie Hart in Maurine Dallas Watkins's play Chicago, but Eagels walked out of this role during rehearsals. She next appeared in the comedy Her Cardboard Lover (1927), in which she appeared on stage with Leslie Howard. She then went on tour with Her Cardboard Lover for several months. After missing some performances due to ptomaine poisoning, Eagels returned to the cast in July 1927 for an Empire Theater show.
After a season on Broadway, she took a break to make a movie. She appeared opposite John Gilbert in the MGM film Man, Woman and Sin (1927), directed by Monta Bell.
In 1928, after failing to appear for a performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Eagels was banned by Actors Equity from appearing on stage for 18 months. The ban did not stop Eagels from working in film, and she made two "talkies" for Paramount Pictures, including The Letter and Jealousy (both released in 1929).
Just before she was to return to the Broadway stage in a new play, 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.
She was survived by her mother Julia Eagles and several brothers and sisters.
Eagels was posthumously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Letter, but the Oscar went to Mary Pickford for the film Coquette.
In 1957, a mostly fictionalized film biography entitled Jeanne Eagels was made by Columbia Pictures, starring Kim Novak as Eagels.
Libby Holman (May 23, 1904 – June 18, 1971) was an American torch singer and stage actress who also achieved notoriety for her complex and unconventional personal life.
Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman was born May 23, 1904, in Cincinnati, Ohio to a Jewish lawyer and stockbroker, Alfred Holzman (August 20, 1867 - June 14, 1947) and his wife, Rachel Florence Workum Holzman (October 17, 1873 - April 22, 1966). Their other children were daughter Marion H. Holzman (January 25, 1901 - December 13, 1963) and son Alfred Paul Holzman (March 9, 1909 - April 19, 1992). In 1904, the wealthy family grew destitute after Holman's uncle Ross Holzman embezzled nearly $1 million of their stock brokerage business. At some point, Alfred changed the family name from Holzman to Holman. She graduated from Hughes High School on June 11, 1920, at the age of 16. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati on June 16, 1923, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Libby Holman later subtracted two years from her age. insisting she was born in 1906. She gave the Social Security Administration 1906 as the year of her birth.
In the summer of 1924, Holman left for New York City, where she first lived at the Studio Club. Her first theater job in New York was in the road company of The Fool. Channing Pollock, the writer of The Fool, recognized Holman's talents immediately and advised her to pursue a theatrical career. She followed Pollock's advice and soon became a star. An early stage colleague who became a longtime close friend was future film star Clifton Webb, then a dancer. He gave her the nickname, "The Statue of Libby." Her Broadway theatre debut was in the play The Sapphire Ring in 1925 at the Selwyn Theatre, which closed after thirteen performances. She was billed as Elizabeth Holman. Her big break came while she was appearing with Clifton Webb and Fred Allen in the 1929 Broadway revue The Little Show, in which she first sang the blues number, "Moanin' Low" by Ralph Rainger), which earned her a dozen curtain calls on opening night, drew raves from the critics and became her signature song. Also in that show she sang the Kay Swift and Paul James song, "Can't We Be Friends?" The following year, Holman introduced the Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz standard "Something to Remember You By" in the show Three's a Crowd, which also starred Allen and Webb. Other Broadway appearances included The Garrick Gaieties (1925), Merry-Go-Round (1927), Rainbow (1928), Ned Wayburn's Gambols (1929), Revenge with Music (1934), You Never Know (1938, score by Cole Porter), and the self-produced one-woman revue Blues, Ballads and Sin-Songs (1954). (Picture: Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter)
Louisa Carpenter, new manager of Robin Hood Theatre, July 1941.
Libby Holman was an American torch singer and stage actress notorious for her unconventional personal life. Louisa D'Andelot Carpenter was a du Pont heiress, Jazz Age socialite, aviatrix, and bon vivant. Holman married Zachary Smith Reynolds, the heir to the R. J. Reynolds's tobacco company. When Reynolds was found dead and Holman framed for his murder, Carpenter paid the bail. Libby and Louisa raised their children and lived together and were openly accepted by their theater companions.
Holman enjoyed a variety of intimate relationships with both men and women throughout her lifetime. Her famous lesbian lovers included the DuPont heiress Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter (October 16, 1907 - February 8, 1976), actress Jeanne Eagels and modernist writer Jane Bowles. Louisa met Libby at a horse show in Manhattan in 1929 and the attraction was immediate. Carpenter was to play a significant part throughout Holman's lifetime. They raised their children and lived together and were openly accepted by their theater companions. She scandalized some by dating much younger men, such as fellow American actor Montgomery Clift, whom she mentored.
Holman took an interest in one fan, Zachary Smith Reynolds, the heir to the R. J. Reynolds's tobacco company. He was smitten with her from the start, despite their seven-year age difference. They met in Baltimore, Maryland in April 1930 after Reynolds saw Holman's performance in a road company staging of the play The Little Show. Reynolds begged friend Dwight Deere Wiman, who was the show's producer, for an introduction to Holman. Reynolds pursued her all around the world in his plane. With the persuasion of her former lover, Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter, Holman and Reynolds, who went by his middle name, married on Sunday, November 29, 1931 in the parlor of Monroe, Michigan. Reynolds wanted Holman to abandon her acting career, she consented by taking a one-year leave of absence. During this time, however, his conservative family was unable to bear Holman and her group of theater friends, who at her invitation often visited Reynolda, the family estate near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Accusations and arguments among them were common. (Picture: Jeanne Eagels)
In 1932, during a 21st birthday party Reynolds gave at Reynolda for his friend and flying buddy Charles Gideon Hill, Jr., a first cousin to Reynolds's first wife Anne Ludlow Cannon Reynolds, Holman revealed to her husband that she was pregnant. A tense argument ensued. Moments later, a shot was heard. Friends soon discovered Reynolds bleeding and unconscious with a gunshot wound to the head. Authorities initially ruled the shooting a suicide, but a coroner's inquiry ruled it a murder. Holman and Albert Bailey "Ab" Walker, a friend of Reynolds's and a supposed lover of Holman's, were indicted for murder. (Picture: Jane Bowles)
Louisa Carpenter paid Holman's $25,000 bail in Wentworth, North Carolina, appearing in such mannish clothes that bystanders and reporters thought she was a man. The Reynolds family contacted the local authorities and had the charges dropped for fear of scandal. Holman gave birth to the couple's child, Christopher Smith "Topper" Reynolds, on January 10, 1933. Free after the trial, Libby and Louisa raised Libby’s sickly son Christopher Reynolds. Over the next few years, they moved between Delaware and Florida, and Louisa even adopted a daughter she named “Sunny.” Their “Boston marriage” was widely known and accepted. And the two women were often photographed with matching bobbed haircuts, tennis whites, and deep tans -- like adolescent country club boys, someone commented.
The relationship matured, faded, yet continued through the 50’s with Libby’s return to theatre life and fabulous parties with stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Montgomery Clift. Louisa retreated to the countryside of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. On June 18, 1971, Libby Holman committed suicide in the front seat of her Rolls Royce in the garage of her Connecticut mansion. Louisa Carpenter eventually adopted two more children and split her time between her farm near Easton, Maryland, and another farm in Ocala, Florida, where she raised racehorses. She died in 1976 when her private plane crashed near Easton.
Journalist Milt Machlin investigated the death of Smith Reynolds and argued that Reynolds committed suicide. In his account Holman was a victim of the anti-Semitism of local authorities, and the district attorney involved with the case later told Machlin that she was innocent.
In 1934, Broadway producer Vinton Freedley offered Holman the starring role in the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes, but she declined.
A 1933 film, Sing, Sinner, Sing, was loosely based upon the allegations surrounding Reynolds' death.
Holman married her second husband, film and stage actor Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Holmes, in March 1939. He was twelve years her junior. She had previously dated his older brother, Phillips Holmes. In 1940, both brothers, who were half-Canadian, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Phillips was killed in a collision of two military planes in August 1942. When Ralph returned home in August 1945, the marriage quickly soured and they soon separated. On November 15, 1945, Ralph Holmes was found in his Manhattan apartment, dead of a barbiturate overdose at age 29.
Holman adopted two sons, Timmy (born October 18, 1945), and Tony (born May 19, 1947). Her natural son Christopher ("Topper") died on August 7, 1950 after falling while mountain climbing. Holman had given him permission to go mountain climbing with a friend on California's highest peak, Mount Whitney, not knowing that the boys were ill-prepared for the adventure. Both died. Those close to Holman claim she never forgave herself. In 1952 she created the Christopher Reynolds Foundation in his memory.
In the 1950s, Holman worked with her accompanist, Gerold Cook, on researching and rearranging what they called earth music. It was primarily blues and spirituals that were linked to the African American community. Holman had always been involved in what later became known as the Civil rights movement. During World War II, she tried to book shows for the servicemen with her friend, Josh White, but they were turned down on the grounds that "we don’t book mixed company."
"Libby and Josh were beyond brave, although perhaps she did not quite realize what she was taking on in 1940s America. When they started rehearsals for their first show in a New York club, she arrived at the front door and was welcomed. Josh was directed to the staff entrance round the back. Libby waited till the day they were due to open, after the owners had spent a vast amount on publicity, and told them she was not going to sing in their club until they changed their racial door policy. She won. In Philadelphia, Josh was refused a room at the hotel in whose bar they sang nightly. Libby ranted and told them: ‘Take down the American flag outside and fly the fucking swastika, why don’t you!’ When they were told by officials that the US Army did not tolerate mixed shows, Libby replied: ‘Mixed? You mean boys and girls?’"In 1959, through the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, she underwrote a trip to India by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, both of whom became close friends with Holman and her husband, Louis Schanker. Holman also contributed to the defense of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and writer arrested for taking part in antiwar demonstrations.
Her third and last husband was well known artist/sculptor Louis Schanker. They married on December 27, 1960. Although Holman did not have to work after her marriage to Reynolds, she never completely gave up her career, making records and giving recitals. One of her last performances was at the United Nations in New York in 1966. She performed her trademark song, "Moanin' Low."
For many years, Holman reportedly suffered from depression from the combined effects of the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the recent presidential election loss by Eugene McCarthy, the deaths of young men in the Viet Nam war, her anguish over the untimely death of her own son and the illness and rapid deterioration of her friend Jane Bowles. She also was considered never the same after the death of Montgomery Clift in 1966. Friends said that she lost some of her vitality.
On June 18, 1971, Holman was found nearly dead in the front seat of her Rolls Royce by her household staff. She was taken to the hospital where she died hours later. Holman's death was officially ruled a suicide due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning. In view of her frequent bouts with depression and reported past suicide attempts, none of Holman's friends or relatives were surprised by her death.
Holman's papers are at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center of Boston University. In 2001, a successful effort was made by local citizens to save her Connecticut estate, Treetops, from development. It straddles the border of Stamford and Greenwich. As a result, the pristine grounds were preserved. Treetops is part of the Mianus River State Park, which is overseen by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Treetops is located just south of the Mianus River Park. The mansion itself is now in private ownership, The grounds are magnificent and the house has undergone extensive restoration. In 2006, Louis Schanker's art studio, located on a hill overlooking the property, began a new life as the home of the Treetops Chamber Music Society.
Lillian Faderman notes that many women prominent in New York theater, such as Beatrice Lillie, Jeanne Eagels, Tallulah Bankhead, and Libby Holman, established public reputations as sexually adventurous women with both female and male partners. Their association with respectable Broadway theater gave them economic security as well as the social freedom to live their lives outside the cultural and sexual mainstream. --Bronski, Michael (2011-05-10). A Queer History of the United States (Revisioning American History) (Kindle Locations 2632-2635). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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