Liz Smith is a legendary columnist whose career began in the 1950s. She has known everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Madonna, and continues to offer her wise and witty opinions on today’s entertainment world. In her regular New York Social Diary column today, she has written an in-depth review of Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed.
The liberties taken with Jeanne’s life were extraordinary. Now, there is some redress in a new book, Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed by Eric Woodard and Tara Hanks. And of course, the real story is far more interesting than the exaggerations.
Eagels, who began working on stage as a teenager, was an intense woman and an even more intense actress, one who seemed lit from within, a fire too hot not to cool down and too blazing not to take a toll. Her great legacy was a staggering four-year run as Sadie Thompson in the stage adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s Rain. This role would define her, in ways both positive and negative. There were those who felt that the always highly strung Eagels was driven over the edge, playing this role for such a long time.
She was fiercely independent, intelligent, resistant to authority (she famously fought against joining Actor’s Equity) and subject to substance abuse … A Life Revealed offers a startling look at the actress and her times. Stage work remains hard work, but in Jeanne’s day it was downright grueling. Her climb to the top was long, and once she attained stardom, she intended to keep it … Her films were few, but her strange, unique quality was just as evident on screen, especially in 1929’s The Letter …
I recommend this new book because it is packed with detail and drama, and does bring Jeanne Eagels into 21st century focus as an ambitious, driven woman who often fought the system, but could not defeat her own demons.