Q: I recall hearing that Jena Engstrom quit acting due to illness. What was the illness?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

No one seems to know (apart from Engstrom herself, presumably), and we have to remember that the story played out in a very different era for the news business. 

Engstrom enjoyed a brief but prolific acting career, appearing in 25 different titles over just five years in the early 1960s. Her final screen appearance came in 1964, when she was just 22.

Indeed, her career was so promising that, despite never having had a starring role in a major production (all her parts were supporting ones), she made newspaper headlines after she fell ill in 1963 and had to be replaced in the series "The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters."

A story that ran in the San Antonio (Texas) Express and News on Nov. 24, 1963, said that she had made "a complete recovery from her recent illness" and "should be able to resume her career at any casting call now."

Sadly, it seems the story was wrong, as she had to drop out of another production the following year due to a similarly unspecified illness.

That news ran in the L.A. Times in June 1964. Her final TV appearance, in an episode of "The Virginian," came just three months later, meaning it was likely taped before the second role cancellation, and so that second illness was in fact the end of her acting career. 

One can assume that this story would have been covered quite differently in today's media landscape. Were a rising star (and daughter of another famous person -- Jena's mother was an even more successful actress) to drop out of two different roles in similar circumstances today, the media wouldn't be likely to leave it at "illness." 

But the press of the 1960s did, and so that's as much as we know. It seems that she did eventually recover, as she's alive and (as far as we know) well to this day at age 76.


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