Best remembered for her comic performance in Singin’ in the Rain as the vain and talentless silent movie star Lina Lamont.
Jean Hagen born as Jean Shirley Verhagen on August 3, 1923 in Chicago, to Christian Verhagen, a Dutch immigrant, and his Chicago-born wife, Marie. The family moved to Elkhart, Indiana, when she was 12 and she subsequently graduated from Elkhart High School. She studied drama at Northwestern University, where she was a roommate of actress Patricia Neal. She graduated from Northwestern in 1945.
Hagen began her show business career in radio in the 1940s. Her film debut was as a comical femme fatale in the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn classic, Adam’s Rib, directed by the iconic George Cukor in 1949. The Asphalt Jungle (1950) provided Hagen with her first starring role alongside Sterling Hayden. Hagen received excellent reviews playing “Doll” Conover, a woman who sticks by criminal Dix’s side until the bitter end. She appeared in the film noir Side Street (1950) playing a gangster’s sincere, but none-too-bright, nightclub-singer girlfriend.
Hagen is best remembered for her comic performance in Singin’ in the Rain as the vain and talentless silent movie star Lina Lamont. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for this memorable performance.
By 1953, she had joined the cast of the television sitcom Make Room for Daddy. As the first wife of Danny Thomas, Hagen received three Emmy Award nominations, but after three seasons, she grew dissatisfied and left the series. Thomas, who also produced the show, reportedly did not appreciate Hagen’s departing the successful series, and her character was killed off rather than recast.
Although she made frequent guest appearances in various television series, Hagen was unable to successfully resume her film career in starring roles. After appearing with Fred MacMurray in the Disney comedy The Shaggy Dog (1959), the remainder of her career Hagen played supporting roles, such as Marguerite LeHand, personal secretary to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello (1960), and the friend of Bette Davis in Dead Ringer (1964). In the 1960s, Hagen’s health began to decline and she spent many years hospitalized or under medical care.
In 1976, she made a comeback of sorts playing character roles in episodes of the television series Starsky and Hutch and The Streets of San Francisco and made her final appearance in the 1977 television movie Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn.
Jean Hagen married actor Tom Seidel, who originated the role of Dr. Sanderson in the play Harvey, on June 12, 1947, in Brentwood, and had two children, Christine Patricia Seidel (born August 26, 1950) and Aric Phillip Seidel (August 19, 1952 – September 9, 2012). After a marriage fraught with domestic violence, she divorced Seidel on November 1, 1965, in Los Angeles, California.
Hagen died at age 54 of esophageal cancer on August 29, 1977, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, and was buried in Chapel of the Pines Crematory.