Cast & Crew
In Kansas City, Missouri, in the late 1910s, Jeanne Eagels, a young waitress filled with dreams of stardom, enters a beauty contest at the local carnival. Although a traveling salesman had promised Jeanne first prize in exchange for sexual favors, carnival owner Sal Satori awards the prize to another contestant. As the carnival packs up that night, Jeanne approaches Sal, and claiming that she rightfully won the contest, brashly asks him for a job. The coarse Sal begrudgingly hires Jeanne, and after becoming romantically involved with her, promotes her to the position of "hootchy kootchy" dancer. One day, the police come to the carnival and arrest Jeanne for her "obscene" dancing. At the trial, the judge is so dazzled by Jeanne and her skimpy, bespangled costume, that he dismisses the case. Exhilarated by their court victory, Sal decides to sell the carnival and go into business with his brother Frank in Coney Island. As soon as they reach New York, Jeanne informs Sal that she has arranged to take acting lessons from renowned drama coach Mme. Neilson. Although he wants to settle down with Jeanne and start a family, Sal resigns himself to Jeanne's decision, hoping that she will soon tire of acting. When Jeanne meets with the imperious Mme. Neilson, however, the teacher calls her a cheap carnival performer. After Jeanne reacts vehemently, Neilson, impressed by her fervor, agrees to take her on as a student. Jeanne begins her climb to fame after the star she is understudying goes on vacation and Jeanne takes her place to much acclaim. When Jeanne spurns Sal's family celebration in her honor for a press party, Sal returns to Coney Island, angry and alone. Later that night, an elated Jeanne comes home, sheds her clothes and plunges in to the sea. Sal runs in after her, and after they reconcile, he proposes. When Jeanne replies that she is auditioning for a new play, Sal realizes that they have grown apart. After the play opens in Washington, D.C. to scathing reviews, theatrical producer Al Brooks escorts Jeanne to a party held at the estate of a wealthy dowager. There, Jeanne meets the dowager's indolent nephew, the soon-to-be-divorced John Donahue, whose sole achievement in life was to be named All American in college. Now promoted as "the golden girl," Jeanne fears that her play will fail on Broadway. Outside the theater one day, actress Elsie Desmond, who was once considered a golden girl until her career was dimmed by alcohol and drugs, approaches Jeanne and shows her a copy of Rain , a play she optioned in the hope of making a comeback. Jeanne promises to talk to Brooks about the play, but upon reading it, envisions herself as its star. Upon discovering that Elsie's option has lapsed, Jeanne lies that Elsie wanted her to play the lead and convinces Brooks to produce it. When Sal learns of Jeanne's betrayal, he accuses her of acting despicably and breaks off their relationship. On opening night, just as Jeanne is about to walk on stage, Elsie stops her and denounces her as a monster. When the audience, unable to contain their admiration for Jeanne's performance, breaks out in applause in the middle of the second act, Sal leaves the theater, defeated. After Elsie publicly accuses Jeanne of stealing her play, Jeanne goes to talk to her, but when she arrives Elsie's hotel, Jeanne finds a shoe on the windowsill and sees Elsie's body lying in the street below, a victim of suicide. Racked by guilt and remorse, Jeanne is comforted by Sal, but she lashes out at him and turns to John. Soon after, John informs Jeanne that his divorce is final and asks her to marry him. Two years later, as Jeanne begins to drink heavily, the press tags her with the sobriquet "Gin Eagels," and when her drunkenness causes the cancellation of several of the play's performances, Actor's Equity complains that Jeanne's absences are depriving the play's actors of their paychecks. Meanwhile, Sal has become a successful businessman, having opened a of chain theaters and carnivals with his brother, but still longs for Jeanne. As the years pass, Jeanne and John descend into the depths of alcoholism, causing their relationship to deteriorate. While Jeanne is in Hollywood filming a movie, the stagehands derisively refer to John as "Mr. Eagels." Their marriage now meaningless, Jeanne divorces John and is forced to pay him a large settlement. As Jeanne prepares to open a new play in New York, she finds Sal standing in an alley in back of the theater, gazing at her poster. After Jeanne bitterly asserts that she plans to "stay on top," Sal rejects her offer to attend the opening. That night, a drunken Jeanne arrives at the theater and sends for an unscrupulous doctor to administer sedatives to keep her going. After the doctor injects the drug, Jeanne goes on stage and begins to behave irrationally, finally collapsing in front of the audience. After Jeanne's play is cancelled, Actor's Equity forbids her to work on the legitimate stage for eighteen months. Witnessing Jeanne's desperation and humiliation, Sal offers her a job at his vaudeville theater, performing in between the trained seal act and the slapstick comedians. One day, a wistful Jeanne visits Sal at the amusement park and after confessing her desperate unhappiness, asks him to marry him. Although he still loves her, Sal replies that Jeanne is "not the marrying kind." Later, in her dressing room, Jeanne is sexually accosted by a leering comedian. When she tries to resist, the man throws her to the floor, calls her a drunken tramp and leaves. Hysterical, Jeanne swallows a handful of pills, causing her to hallucinate. Thinking that she hears her cue, Jeanne collapses and dies while descending the stairs to the stage. A few days later, after Jeanne's last film opens at a New York theater, a tearful Sal sits in the audience, watching the shadowy figure of Jeanne singing "I'll Take Romance."
Joe De Santis
George De Normand
Helen Marr Van Tuyl
George J. Lewis
William "tex" Carr
Charles S. Gould
Oscar Hammerstein Ii
Franklin Hansen Jr.
Jeanne Eagles (1957) -
Novak was hardly a Jeanne Eagels "type," but to notoriously controlling Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn, that didn't matter. In 1957, the year the sort-of biopic Jeanne Eagels was made, Novak had already been in Hollywood for four years. Cohn had signed her upon her arrival there, in 1953, hoping to groom her in the mold of Marilyn Monroe. She'd already received notice for supporting roles in three pictures - Picnic and The Man with the Golden Arm (both 1955), and The Eddy Duchin Story (1956); Jeanne Eagels was to be her first starring vehicle. There was no stopping Cohn.
But ultimately, the film - one of three consecutive pictures the actress would make with director George Sidney -- was so heavily fictionalized that Novak's suitability, or lack thereof, is hardly an issue. (One of Eagels' family members even sued the studio upon the movie's release, claiming it portrayed the actress as a "dissolute and immoral person;" the suit was settled out of court.) If Novak sometimes seems awkward or out of place in Jeanne Eagels, she is also at times deeply touching, foreshadowing some of the dreamy fragility she would show just a year later in her finest role, as Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo. Jeanne Eagels opens with Jeanne, fresh-faced and starry-eyed, arriving at a carny show, intent on winning a bathing-beauty contest that, she believes, has been fixed in her favor. But the carnival's owner, Jeff Chandler's Sal Satori, refuses to go along with the fix. Jeanne is upset, but not discouraged: She begs Sal to take her with him on the road. He agrees, at first reluctantly. Though she puts her estimable assets to work as a "cooch" dancer (even, at one point, being arrested for indecent exposure), she dreams of being a serious actress, a goal she eventually achieves with the help of acting coach Nellie Neilson (Agnes Moorehead), who ends up guiding her toward a sensational Broadway debut.
The movie handles the inevitable slide into alcohol and drug use delicately - at one point Jeanne alludes to the rumor that she uses heroin, though we never, of course, see her doing so. Novak may not be particularly good at playing drunken or drugged-out, but here and there, she shines: Early in the picture, when she begs Sal to take her with him, she manages to strike a balance between fierce, unspoken ambition and schoolgirl innocence - Novak is wonderful at conveying eagerness and optimism, untinged with anxiety or foreboding that things may not go according to plan. As Jeanne, she simply plunges forward; her innocence gives her a radiant, pearly glow.
Later, after Jeanne has rebuffed Sal's repeated and sincere marriage proposals - she's too ambitious to slow her career down for him - she realizes that the man she has married, ex-college football star John Donahue (Charles Drake), is all wrong for her. The two share a final, drunken New Year's Eve; Novak conveys a woozy unhappiness in this scene that's slightly awkward, though it's perhaps all the more affecting for that - there's something unpolished and raw about it.
Through the years, Novak would earn a reputation as a beautiful but stiff actress, a creature to be looked at and admired but not necessarily respected. But even her weakest performances show fascinating moments of fragility balanced with determination. In real life, upon her arrival in Hollywood, Novak fought to hang onto her sense of self: Cohn had wanted to change her name from her given one, Marilyn Pauline Novak, to Kim Marlowe. Novak, having grown up in a working-class Chicago neighborhood, was proud of her Czech heritage, and stood firm: She would change her first name, but not her last. As film critic Dave Kehr wrote in The New York Times in 2010, "Her hybrid stage name already seemed to contain the contradiction that would shape her career: part manufactured Hollywood glamour, part Midwestern authenticity. Elusive and ethereal at one moment, she could be frankly, thrillingly carnal the next."
Novak's gifts as a performer are easier, of course, to appreciate in retrospect. At the time of its release, Jeanne Eagels was savaged by critics. The (unnamed) critic for the New York Times wrote, "The kindest way to appraise 'Jeanne Eagels' is simply to call it embarrassing." Naming Novak specifically, the critic goes on: "Whatever possessed Columbia to cast this comparative fledgling, with her nice light comedy flair as one of Broadway's immortals, remains a studio secret."
But perhaps part of what we're seeing in Novak's sometimes awkward performance is a woman's resistance to being groomed as a Hollywood goddess. Cohn insisted on having Novak's hair dyed white-blonde, later tweaked to be blonde with a lavender tinge - it didn't matter that Novak reportedly loathed the color. But Novak was certainly no fool when it came to money: She raised a stink after learning that Chandler had been paid $200,000 for Jeanne Eagels, in contrast to the measly $13,000 she received, prompting Cohn to grumble, in a 1957 Time magazine cover story on the actress, "They all believe their publicity after a while. I have never met a grateful performer in the picture business."
Still, Novak would have the last laugh. In the year or so after Jeanne Eagels, she not only made Vertigo, the movie that would preserve her beauty forever in the minds of moviegoers; she fell head over heels for Sammy Davis, Jr. (Chandler was instrumental in introducing the couple.) Reportedly, Cohn was so appalled and distraught by the affair that he suffered a mild heart attack; he recovered from that one, but died from another later that year. His creation, defiantly, has long outlived him.
The New York Times
Samuel Fuller, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking, Knopf, 2002
Sam Kashner, "The Color of Love," Vanity Fair, September 2013
Producer: George Sidney
Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: John Fante, Daniel Fuchs, Sonya Levien, from a story by Daniel Fuchs
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence and Jerome Thoms
Cast: Kim Novak (Jeanne Eagels), Jeff Chandler (Sal Satori), Charles Drake (John Donahue), Agnes Moorehead (Nellie Neilson), Larry Gates (Al Brooks), Virginia Grey (Elsie Desmond), Murray Hamilton (Chick O'Hara)
[Black-and-white, 108 minutes]
By Stephanie Zacharek
Jeanne Eagles (1957) -
Cohn had groomed Novak to be a love goddess for the silver screen in the mold of Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, and Rita Hayworth. The latter was also under contract to Columbia, but she had disappointed Cohn with her marriages and her rebellious behavior toward him and the studio. His plan was to replace the mutinous Hayworth with his new sensation, Novak. However, Novak balked at his machinations and at the sex goddess image he created for her.
In her early films, Cohn clearly cast her to display her glamour and sex appeal, and the accompanying publicity campaign followed suit. In Pushover (1954), she plays the femme fatale; in Picnic, she plays Madge, the town beauty who embodies male desire and aspiration; movie magazines called her the girl with the lavender-tinted hair who liked to sit among her lavender cushions. Yet, Novak's interpretation of the love goddess did not simmer and burn with passionate desire; instead she played her characters coolly, passively, and with little expression. At best, her demeanor gave her characters a vulnerability, or made them as enigmatic as the Sphinx; at worst, her characters seemed emotionless, leaving Novak open to criticism that she possessed a limited acting range. Much has been written about her passive-looking face and anesthetized vocal delivery. Detractors denigrate her abilities, while supporters claim her style was a deliberate attempt to add class and mystery to her sex-symbol image. Either way, a tension exists between Novak's image as a love goddess or sex symbol and her refusal to play into it. Leave it to Alfred Hitchcock to understand the nature of this tension and then to exploit it. In the first half of Vertigo (1958), Novak does not actually play a character but a cool, enigmatic "ideal" that the protagonist falls in love with; in effect, he falls for an illusion that has been made up, or created. In the second half of the film, she plays a down-to-earth character whose honesty and dimension hold little appeal for the protagonist.
Jeanne Eagels differed to a degree from Novak's other roles. Cohn and the studio hoped to increase her cache as a movie star by showcasing her in a meaty role that would reveal her potential as a serious actress. In promotional material from Columbia, the real-life Jeanne Eagels was touted as the "best native actress of the century," a stretch even by the standards of Hollywood publicity. Eagels had been an unpredictable and temperamental actress who became famous for her starring role as Sadie Thompson in Rain. She made a few films, most notably The Letter and Jealousy (both 1929), before she died in 1929. Reading between the lines of the promotional material, the idea was to compare Eagels and Novak; if Novak was playing someone designated the "best native actress," then she too must be worthy of such praise. The public was warned, however, not to expect the film to be faithful to the facts. Jeanne Eagels opens with the contradictory statement, "...all events in this photoplay are based on fact and fiction."
Yet, no one wanted the public to forget that she was the studio's major female star and its premiere love goddess. The opening credits of Jeanne Eagels are played over a scene in which a wide-eyed, spirited Novak strides into view from the background. She walks briskly up to the camera until she is caught in a perfect medium shot. As she smiles, a title card flashes "Starring Kim Novak." No other actor appears in the credit sequence, and viewers are immediately reminded that it is completely Novak's vehicle. The lighting by cinematographer Robert Planck enhances her star status, often bathing her in light, or outlining her feminine silhouette in high-contrast lighting. To underscore Novak's sex appeal, the first dialogue scene involves Eagels showing off her body in a swimsuit to a traveling salesman who has coaxed the young girl into entering a beauty contest at the local carnival. (Novak had also been a beauty queen. Supposedly, she had been the reigning Miss Deep Freeze for an appliance company when she came to Hollywood.) Later, Eagels works the carnival as a scantily clad "cooch" dancer. When she is arrested on a morals charge for her provocative dance, the carnival manager gets her off the hook with the judge by comparing her physique to the Venus de Milo. In a visual joke, Novak's extended chest and exposed abdomen are tightly framed in the foreground, but her head is cut off in the composition so that she resembles the famed statue. The astonished judge is so taken by the young woman's physique that he dismisses the case-a humorous reminder that Kim herself was famous for her full figure. The publicity may have been designed to promote Novak as a serious actress but certain scenes and shots in the film recalled her star image-a classic cake-and-eat-it-too scenario typical of the star system.
Challenged by the role of Jeanne Eagels, Novak immersed herself in learning all she could about the ill-fated actress who died from drug addiction and alcoholism at age 35. She read a great deal about Eagels, plastered photos of the actress in her dressing room, and listened to phonograph records of music from the 1920s. She requested that an accordionist play "Poor Butterfly" on the set to set the proper mood, which was a throwback to the silent era when music was played on the set to keep actors in character. More significantly, Novak played Eagels at a higher energy level than was typical for her. From the moment when a young, smiling Jeanne first bounces across the screen, Novak offers more emotion, more expressions, and more vocal changes than in any of her earlier films. The high point of Novak's performance was the scene near the end of Eagels' marriage to John Donahue when the two spend New Year's Eve together drinking in excess. Eagels turns to wish Donahue a "Happy New Year" only to discover he has passed out. She screams the words in his ear, passionately kisses her unconscious husband, and then throws herself on top of him. The scene is raw with emotion and brutal to watch, but Novak effectively captures the character's tortured soul. Rarely in her career would she play such a temperamental and unpredictable character that would prompt her to push beyond the cool, complacent surface of her star image.
Despite Novak's atypically expressive performance, Variety claimed that she was "dull," and not "tempting or temperamental" enough. But, they were also critical of other cast members, including Jeff Chandler, who costarred as colorful carnival manager Sal Satori. Chandler, who was a popular actor with female audiences during the 1950s, was prematurely gray, which lent his characters an air of authority. Unsung in this role because it was Novak's vehicle, he offers a heart-wrenching performance as Sal, who begins as Eagels' protector, climbs to new heights as her lover, and then falls in status when his carny background becomes a hindrance to her career.
Working on Jeanne Eagels exhausted Novak, and the film's mixed reviews were a disappointment. When she discovered that Chandler had received $20,000 for his role, and she received only $13,000, she took on Harry Cohn. She fired her agent, hired the William Morris Agency to represent her, and refused to report for her next film. Cohn immediately suspended her, but William Morris paid Novak the equivalent of her salary, so she rode out the suspension. Eventually, Cohn relented and offered her a contract worthy of a major star.
Producer: George Sidney
Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: Daniel Fuchs, Sonya Levien, and John Fante, based on a story by Fuchs
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Music: George Duning
Editor: Viola Lawrence and Jerome Thoms
Art Director: Ross Bellah
Costumes: Jean Louis
Cast: Jeanne Eagels (Kim Novak), Sal Satori (Jeff Chandler), Mme. Neilson (Agnes Moorehead), John Donahue (Charles Drake), Al Brooks (Larry Gates), Elsie Desmond (Virginia Grey), Equity Board President (Gene Lockhart), Frank Satori (Joe De Santis), Chick O'Hara (Murray Hamilton), Quartermaster Bates (Snub Pollard).
by Susan Doll
Jeanne Eagels - Kim Novak stars in the 1957 Biopic JEANNE EAGELS on DVD
Eagels most famously originated the role of Sadie Thompson in the 1922 production of Rain, playing the role for four years both on Broadway and on the road. She'd had a few film roles beforehand but made more of a real transition to the screen in 1927, opposite John Gilbert in Man, Woman and Sin. She would appear in only two further films, however, until her drug-related death in 1929. In 1930 she received a posthumous Academy Award nomination for The Letter (1929).
The film Jeanne Eagels takes quite a few liberties with Eagels' life, but the general arc of the story is true, with her strong ambition driving her to personal and professional self-destruction. (Eagels' descendants were so angry at her depiction here that they sued the studio over it.)
From the moment we meet Eagels in this film, at a Kansas City carnival beauty contest, she is portrayed as driven to succeed, desperate to win. She doesn't, but she does land a job as a "coochie" dancer and starts to develop a romance with carnival owner Sal Satori (Jeff Chandler). Sal dreams of domestic bliss, but Jeanne is consumed with her own ambitions of getting to New York and becoming an actress. Jeanne rockets to stardom so quickly that she is unable to handle it psychologically, and she turns to the bottle. Meanwhile, her professional success inevitably leads to intense conflict with Sal, and it is here where the heart of the story really lies.
This was a favorite role of Novak's, and she certainly gives it her all. It was the first film she was asked to truly carry alone; while co-stars Jeff Chandler and Agnes Moorehead were certainly well-known names, it's Novak who appears in just about every single scene. By the end of the picture she's even undergone 45 costume changes. It was a gamble for Columbia chief Harry Cohn to give this part to Novak, but Cohn said it didn't matter -- Novak was hugely popular, and audiences would show up regardless. They did show up, but looking at the film today, it does seem that she may not have had quite enough experience at this point to deliver a consistently convincing performance in such a complex and demanding role. Some scenes are terrific, while others verge into histrionics. It's clear that she and director George Sidney were consciously trying to embody the real-life exaggerated character that was Jeanne Eagels, but exaggerated acting and line-readings in an otherwise straight drama are very risky because they can come off as unintended -- as they sometimes do here. The script is also problematic; while Eagels did indeed shoot to stardom, the film shows her appearing for her first meeting with an uninterested drama coach (Agnes Moorehead), and then suddenly getting a Broadway role. We don't even see her learning to act, and the transition comes off as abrupt and unrealistic. Later, when alcoholism rears its head, it comes on too suddenly, consequently feeling almost contrived.
The overall production, however, is superb and does much to hold one's attention. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography captures the highly detailed, imaginative art direction, and one certainly believes one is in the time period shown on screen. Chandler and Moorehead give very good performances, and there is an exceptional, brief turn from Virginia Grey as a washed-up, aging actress desperate for a comeback. Movie buffs will also be fascinated to see real-life director Frank Borzage playing himself, directing Jeanne Eagels in a Civil War film -- this never actually happened but it's still fun to see.
Kim Novak was and still is a famously private, guarded star. It's easy to forget just how popular she was in the late 1950s. She was a sex symbol but never embraced that label. Her film performances are also richly varied, another reason her persona is as mysterious and indefinable as her most famous character, Madeleine in Vertigo (1958).
She has emerged from her private life recently to promote this DVD collection, and she also is present in the special supplements, taking part in some audio commentary as well as an excellent 17-minute featurette about her life and career -- though she refused to be photographed in close-up for it. Jeanne Eagels features about 22 minutes' worth of audio commentary with Novak and film historian Stephen Rebello, and it's a fascinating treat. She says that when she researched the role, Eagels' films weren't available for her to see, but she was able to meet with people who knew her, like her stand-in and secretary. She says that Chandler "was like a brother to me," and reveals that George Sidney hired a musician who'd worked with Eagels to play songs on set to create a proper mood. "She was an exaggerated person," Novak says of Eagels. "She was bigger than life."
The rest of the Kim Novak Collection is reviewed here.
For more information about Jeanne Eagels, visit Sony Pictures. To order Jeanne Eagels (It is only available as part of the Kim Novak Collection), go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Jeanne Eagels - Kim Novak stars in the 1957 Biopic JEANNE EAGELS on DVD
The working title of this film was The Jeanne Eagels Story. Although the Daily Variety review notes that the film featured a written disclaimer stating "all events in the photoplay are based on fact and fiction," the viewed print contained no such disclaimer, and the character of "Sal Satori" was fictional. Jeanne Eagels, born June 26, 1894 in Kansas City, MO, appeared in Kansas City pageants, festivals and local stages from the age of seven. She later toured the Midwest with the Dubinsky Brothers Tent Repertoire Company, and in 1911, arrived in New York where she rose to fame in the role of "Sadie Thompson" in Somerset Maugham's Rain. Eagels appeared in five films before dying from an overdose of heroin on October 3, 1929. Eagels died five days after her last film, Jealousy opened in New York. In Jeanne Eagels, the name of her final film was changed from Jealousy to Forever Young. As portrayed in the film, Eagels was suspended by Actors Equity for chronically canceling her performances.
According to a May 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Jerry Wald purchased the rights to Eagels' life story while he was vice-president in charge of production at Columbia. After Wald left the studio to become an independent producer, the rights were turned over to him as part of his twelve-picture deal with the studio. According to a December 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, technical advisors Charles and William Couch originally worked as carnival barkers, and veteran showmen Jimmy Woods and Roy Kabat were hired to assure the authenticity of the carnival sequence. A December 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Mac Miller was tested for the part of "John Donahue." Although February and May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news items add Billy Griffity and Frank Sully to the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
Although the CBCS lists an actress "Nanette Fabares" as a "teenager," neither actress Nanette Fabray (whose real surname was Fabares), nor her niece Shelley Fabares appeared in the film. A March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news items add that the final theater scene in the film was shot at the shuttered Ritz Theater in Los Angeles. According to December 1956 and January 1957 Hollywood Reporter news items, location shooting was done at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, CA and at the RKO-Pathé lot. Joseph Novak, credited as "Patron" in the cast, was the father of star Kim Novak. Although director Frank Borzage and his brother Lew, an assistant director, appeared as the director and assistant director of Eagels' film, in reality they never worked with the actress.
Released in United States Summer August 1957
Columbia had to fight a lawsuit for $950,000 from relatives of Jeanne Eagels.
Released in United States Summer August 1957