Day 21 of Noirvember: All About Jean (Hagen)
Blessed with a talent for versatility, Jean Hagen is probably best known for her performance as a self-centered silent screen star in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but she was also featured in three films noirs: The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Side Street (1950), and The Big Knife (1955). Today’s Noirvember entry shares some fun facts about this underrated actress.
Born in Chicago in 1923, Hagen’s given name was Jean Shirley Ver Hagen. After shortening her name, she would later lament, “I wish I’d kept it Ver Hagen.”
Hagen’s father was a native of Holland who came to the United States at the age of 25 to study opera.
After attending high school in Elkhart, Indiana, Hagen attended Northwestern University, where her roommate was another aspiring actress – Patricia Neal. Hagen’s first child, Patricia Christine, is named after Neal.
When she was just starting out as an actress in New York, Hagen made ends meet by ushering at the Booth Theatre. The play on stage at the Booth was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur – Hecht was at the theater one night and asked Hagen what she thought of the production. “’It stinks,’ I told him quite frankly,” Hagen recalled. “He argued with me, and asked me how I would like to appear in it. Did I!” Hagen was given a small part in the play, but before she was able to assume the role, she came down with appendicitis and was hospitalized. After her recovery, she took over the part, making her Broadway debut in 1946.
Hagen made her screen debut in Adam’s Rib (1949), starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Hagen played “that tall job” who is responsible for disrupting the marriage of Tom Ewell and Judy Holliday.
For her performance in Singin’ in the Rain, Hagen earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but she lost to Gloria Grahame for The Bad and The Beautiful (1952).
Hagen played Margaret Williams, Danny Thomas’s wife on TV’s Make Room for Daddy. She was twice nominated for an Emmy, but after just a year, she’d grown tired of the role. “Margaret Williams is a dear,” Hagen said, “but I can’t see her raising any male blood pressure.” She eventually left the series and her character was killed off.
Join me tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!