Lou Hagen sparkled her way through 80 years, and never failed to waft a bit of glitter dust in the paths of everyone she met. If you knew her, you would know that the metaphor was in no way overstated. She was just that beautiful a person.
Born Grace Eloise Sidwell on June 6, 1921 in East St. Louis, Illinois, she became a member of the popular singing trio Lee, Lynn and Lou while still in her teens. They had their own radio show, and were heard coast-to-coast. Before she was even 20, she was singing with the famed Ray Noble Orchestra.
It was that engagement which sealed her fate, for playing trombone in that band was our own hero. They became fast friends and sweethearts. Even the band breaking up, her return to Illinois, the Second World War, and most of all, the objections of her father, couldn't keep them apart.
They were married on November 23, 1942. It was unquestionably a marriage made in heaven, Again, this is not hyperbole. It is understatement.
Lou Hagen's life was filled with wonderful things - Earle, her two sons Deane and Jim, her faith and her music, the exquisite works of art she collected, her always striking wardrobe, and of course, her good works and the charm and vivacity she always lavished on everyone.
After fighting several life-threatening illnesses over a period of years, Lou Hagen passed away on February 14, 2002. A light like hers shines on forever, and she will never be forgotten by anyone who knew her.
One of these people is the distinguished producer and novelist Ernest Frankel. Here is how he remembers Lou.
"Lou was my friend. I will always treasure her memory. I will always love her.
Love was what her life was about. Love was part of everything she did, and everything she valued. She loved music. She loved her home. She loved this country. She loved her friends. She loved her church. She loved gossip and golf and shopping -my, how she loved shopping!. She loved Tiffany's and Saks and Neiman Marcus and Nora Martin and, with ecumenical fervor, she loved St. Johns. She loved funny stories and political arguments and light beer; and she loved all of you who have come to say goodbye this afternoon.
She loved Brom, who -for nine years- grasped her hand, and guided her through The Valley And she loved Jeff, who enhanced her life with his friendship. And, I believe, she loved me. And Louise.
Most of all she loved her family. She cherished her sons, Deane and Jim, and reached out to them always with love and understanding. And she adored Earle, who was ever and always the love of her life, her confidant and colleague, her sweetheart of nearly sixty years; and she gloried in the genius she had nurtured, was in awe of his exceptional talent, holding most dear his capacity for love and humor and tenderness and friendship and compassion.
Lee, Lou and Lynn
Lou always gave everyone -well, nearly everyone- the benefit of the doubt. Even her reluctant mother-in-law, who reacted to the news of her son's upcoming marriage by presenting Lou with the gift of a wedding dress, a wedding dress never to be forgotten, a wedding dress reflecting Earle's mother's mood- A BLACK wedding dress. And then, to make the ceremony even more memorable, when there was some question as to whether a minister or a rabbi would preside, Earle's mother accepted a compromise by graciously offering to find a judge. And she did. By some quirk of fate, he turned out to be a JEWISH judge.
Lou and Earle Hagen with sons Deane and Jim
Thirty-five years later, on their wedding anniversary, Earle asked Lou what she wanted as a gift. She told him her fondest wish. And since he never denied her anything, he made the arrangements. So it was that countless Hagen friends, responding to an invitation, huddled against a chill wind in the parking lot of the Calabasas Country Club in Los Angeles, speculating on what madness had brought them there, when two large buses arrived. Even as we took our seats, and sped off down the freeway, we had no idea where we were going. The UCLA-USC football game? The Magic Kingdom at Disneyland? Lou's Street of Dreams, Rodeo Drive?
Celebrating 35 years together in 1977
Minutes later, the buses dropped us off at a small, white, clapboard church. Even as we were ushered to our seats, we heard Lou's favorite music, followed by the strains of The Wedding March from Lohengrin. We turned to see Lou, three and a half decades late, playing out her fondest wish as she strode down the aisle, this time, with teary-eyed friends in the pews, and Deane and Jim as solemn ushers, and her balding groom, in formal dress, awaiting his bride at the altar. Lou, radiant and triumphant at last, took her vows once more, this time in a White Wedding Dress, this time with a Baptist Minister officiating.
It was but another example of Lou's patience, and her wry sense of humor, and her ties to tradition, and her good-natured willingness to forego getting angry in favor of getting even.
Although she was remarkably good-natured and even-tempered, although she was always tolerant of those with whom she disagreed, she was also capable of honest rage at what she perceived as injustice. And with it all, she had the strength and wisdom and wit and courage and compassion to deal with both the pleasures and the pain life deals out. -And to do so without complaint.
Ernest and Louise Frankel
with Hagens in happy times
She had the uncommon power to make us understand that the principal interest of life is to celebrate living, to enrich and enjoy each moment, to measure our lives in deeds, not years. And she did it all naturally, without pretense, by reaching out to all around her.
It can rarely be said that a woman had no enemies. But in her case, it's true. Lou was universally loved. She made it easy for everyone else to be generous and thoughtful and kind, because she was generous and thoughtful and kind to everyone. All of us who knew and loved her have our memories, those personal, indelible phantoms locked in our minds that reveal her as we knew her, that explain why we remember her with deep and abiding affection. And all of us know that among her most endearing qualities was that open, warm, welcoming, loving manner that made being with her a delight.
A favorite fishing trip photo
In sum, we loved Lou not simply because she was a gentle, rare and loving person, but also because she was loyal and unselfish and empathetic, because she didn't take herself too seriously, and took her obligations very seriously, because she was unfailingly decent, and capable of both joy and passion, and most of all, because she awakened the best in us, showing us by example that strength of character makes all things possible. And so, she has left her unique imprint on us all.
Lou, a calm and beguiling smile on her face is surely here. I think, perhaps, if she could comfort us now, she might quote the poet, saying:
"Do not stand by my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am a diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
And she has not. She lives on in all of us whose lives
she touched and enriched."
It is our honor to be able to dedicate this website to Lou Hagen's memory, and we hope that her presence here will be an inspiration to others, as she has been to us.
Read about the wonderful accolades friends and community paid to Earle Hagen on April 19, 2003 during ceremonies inaugurating his star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame, including Earle Hagen's own tribute to his wife.