In Defense of Gene Raymond

Okay, y’all, I have to say it. I’ve thought about the forum to air these feelings and I think it has to be here, in a space that belongs to me — lest I be accused of causing drama on Facebook……HEAVEN FORBID!!

I am sick. to. death. of the constant, brainless, non-stop bashing of Gene Raymond.

I am sick of it.

Over it.

Done with it.

Please do not be confused: I am no great fan of his. I find him, at best, pretty talentless and self-absorbed, and at worst, abusive and cruel. He had a drinking problem that I think only grew worse with time. Video footage from the Clan Claves in the last 20 years of his life show a crude, drunken, coarse, dirty old man with a penchant for interrupting the speakers to hear his own voice. I’ve looked through hundreds of photos of him posing with Clara, Tessa, and others at these meetings, and he is red-faced, glassy-eyed and holding a drink in just about every single one of them. I think Jeanette would have been mightily embarrassed by his behavior. I think she was often embarrassed by him during her time on earth – but as she was not without her own contributing factors to the mess they were in, I think she took it on the chin as best she could. I think Jeanette put up with a lot that other women wouldn’t have — and that she, indeed, may not have if it were not for her own “sins” and sense of guilt. I believe that in many ways, Jeanette felt responsible for Gene’s life being what it was, so she “took” a lot more from him than most lesser human beings would.

The man spent her money like it was water, both during her life and after. We have the financial records of that – it’s not a matter of choosing to believe it or not. Angela did a whole presentation on it, and recently, I’ve found more finance documents that simply illustrate the point further. He was a user.

I’ve written reams and reams on what I think of Gene at the end of Jeanette’s life. I’m not going to address that again here, except to say that based on those events, Hell’s too good for him.

HOWEVER.

She married him. She chose him. She had her reasons for doing it and she walked down that aisle in the wedding of the decade without a gun being held to her head. At the point in her life where she was, in that moment, given her circumstances and without the help of a crystal ball, she decided Gene was the best option, and once she had made up her mind, she saw it through. She stayed married to him until her death. There was talk of divorce, there were even attempts at divorce, but at the end of the day, and after many struggles on many levels, they stayed together.

There must have been something good about this man. He must have had redeeming qualities. I’ve seen enough “I love you” in her hand, addressed to him, and in his hand, addressed to her, that I must accept that love was there. After all, if we are going to insist that everyone accept Nelson Eddy’s written I love you, which we are, we must also accept Gene Raymond’s. To not do that is to remove any modicum of logic from the proceedings. If we assume Nelson meant it because he wrote it, we must also assume Gene meant it, because he wrote it. Neither party is alive anymore for us to grill on the subject. I think there is a lot of gray area that is up for discussion about the context and the timing of those declarations of love, but what cannot be denied is their existence. You cannot look at one and pretend to not see the other.

What that does is complicate matters even further. The woman had a husband. The woman had a lover. Just because you prefer one doesn’t mean the other doesn’t exist, or that both relationships are not valid. Jeanette was a good and honest and honorable woman. She was not deceitful or sneaky. Unfaithfulness was not in her makeup — yet an affair happened, because she, though she believed she could will herself to love someone (there’s a whole article about that, from the first half of the 30s), she couldn’t will herself not to love someone else. Jeanette freely admitted that she couldn’t cry in front of Gene, that he accused her of putting on an act. That’s totally not compatible with Jeanette’s sensitive nature, but Gene was not good at handling that side of her. She fiercely, from earliest childhood, wanted to be a mother. Gene didn’t like kids and didn’t want them, and indeed, it’s virtually impossible to picture them co-parenting. It seems clear from the writings of the parties involved (and, indeed, from looking at them…) that Nelson touched and commanded some part of her soul that Gene never accessed or understood. Nelson and Jeanette had something on a level mere mortals seldom do. Nelson saw HER. Not status, not money, not arm candy. He saw her. He nurtured her, he listened to her, he introduced her to her own sexual force in a way no previous partner had, and he put her in charge of her feminine power. The Jeanette of Rose Marie is a grown-ass woman. Those are good drugs. In every other area of her life, Jeanette exhibited a very strong Gemini duality. In that way, this double life existence is unsurprising. I believe that, in addition to her health problems, which were numerous and very real, the stress of living this way had everything to do with her death at age 61 — and Nelson’s, just two short years later.

But back to Gene, I am just tired of the childish “eeeewwwww” variety of response every time a photo that includes him is published. I am tired of the slapping at him at every opportunity, for no other reason than his picture being available. It’s reductive, it’s obnoxious and it needs to stop. After a while, it becomes supremely disrespectful of JEANETTE, that we would be this rude about the person she chose to marry. We have a bunch of pictures and stuff in the holdings of The JAM Project that I’d like to share, but when you consider the large amount of time it takes to scan, edit, watermark, file and post these photos, quite honestly it doesn’t seem worth it to me for the kind of reception they will get. SHE MARRIED THE MAN. THERE ARE CUTE PICTURES OF THEM TOGETHER. THERE ARE SWEET TELEGRAMS AND LETTERS. IT HAPPENED. I’m not asking anyone to adore Gene, goodness knows I do not, and I love Nelson fiercely, but…..enough’s enough.

Look, if you want to go for Gene’s jugular on a particular issue, I’ll be right there with you. There are plenty of occasions where such discourse is warranted. But we are not children, and we need to stop acting like children who can’t even look at the man without having to make some sort of snotty remark. Yeah, I used to be guilty of it, too. I can own that, but as time has gone on (and I personally have moved on in my journey of trying to understand this exceptional woman and the ins and outs of her life), it’s just not entertaining anymore. It serves no purpose. I have altered my stance, which is something we are all allowed to do, because I love Jeanette and I take seriously the incredible opportunity afforded me by having access to the things I do. I value her as a human being, as a voice, as a talent, as a citizen, as a patriot, as a woman, without affiliation with ANY man. As someone serious about working on her life story, I have to accept and acknowledge all parts of her life, not just the ones I like. If we put the time we spent Gene-bashing towards something more worthwhile, such as getting beneath the surface of why she married him, why she stayed with him, why she forgave him and how Nelson fits into all of that — the discussion would be a lot more interesting.  It’s OKAY to be mad at Gene….or Nelson….or Jeanette, for that matter. It’s okay to wish things had been different, or to ache for a period of time when you know one of them was hurting the other. It’s not okay to make any of these people into one-dimensional cardboard cutout stock characters. These were human beings. We weren’t there and they couldn’t predict the future. I trust Jeanette and I firmly believe that, with factors like her reputation and her personal sense of responsibility weighing heavily upon her, she tried her damnedest to do her best, given the hand she was being dealt in whatever moment. We’re only human, any of us. These people, too.

I kind of think Gene was a lousy actor, and not a great songwriter, despite Jeanette’s best efforts to pimp his work. I think it’s pretty widely accepted that his greatest accomplishments lay with the Air Force. He served his country overseas during the bloodiest, most awful war in human history, and continued on to a distinguished career in the Air Force, after the war was over. For that reason alone, if you can’t get there any other way, he has to be given some basic respect.

For the record, I couldn’t give two shits about Gene’s sexual preferences. I believe there’s certainly evidence enough that he was bisexual, and it matters only because of some of the choices he made and some of the consequences thereof, especially as framed within the context of the era. Some of these situations directly impact the story. While I’m sure it made some kind of impact on their marriage and the trajectory of their relationship, I don’t think it’s the feature presentation, here. Far from it.

I just feel like there are enough heartbreaks and things to be mad at in the lives of these people without us having to go to that place every single time there’s a picture. If we want to continue in our righteous anger about Clara and Tessa stripping Nelson out of everything they could get their hands on (and BOY do we have overwhelming evidence of that), and the rest of their followers going right along in that vein, we need to step up our own game.

Here are some photos. They’re cute photos. And my saying so does not make me disloyal to Nelson, for God’s sake. We have to think with more nuance and less in terms of absolutes.

London, 1959.

Hawaii, 1948.

At a party the Mills gave for her after her Carnegie Hall recital, October 16, 1950.

Pretty sure if there was one thing Jeanette loved more than cake, it was JEANETTE CAKE. 😉

 

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Chicago, 1948

I was contacted recently by my friend Linda Tolman, who let me know that she was visiting her friend Shirley Otto (formerly Shirley Zion) in California, and that Shirley was sending her off with this article she wrote for the Musical Echos in March of 1948, concerning seeing Jeanette in concert in Chicago and meeting with her backstage after the show. Linda and Shirley thought I might like to publish Shirley’s article here on the blog, and they were certainly correct!! The stories of people’s interactions with Jeanette are ALWAYS fascinating and wonderful — please, if you have one or know of one that you would like to have shared, get in touch with me!

I received the pdf scan of Shirley’s article from Linda, and have attached it here. You may read it by clicking on this link: Shirley Otto Article 1948

My thanks to both Linda and Shirley for thinking of me in connection with this lovely account of Jeanette in-and-after performance, which I’m sure everyone will enjoy as much as I did! ❤

Last night, I was working through yet another box of JAM Project stuff, and I put my hands on an envelope containing…………..you’ll never believe this…………….all the photos Dorothy Spangler took that night, that Shirley writes about in her article. Go back and re-read the end of the article. We have those photos! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ANYTHING????? I am constantly gobsmacked by how neatly these pieces fit together, so much of the time. Crazy, crazy.

Jeanette onstage during the show, in the gown Shirley describes, after removing hat and gloves. Photo: Dorothy Spangler

One of several photos (this is the best one) of Jeanette, backstage, chatting with Shirley and Dorothy. Photo: Dorothy Spangler

Here is Jeanette posing with Dorothy. If you read the article, Shirley writes that Dorothy asked her to take the photo and she didn’t know how to use the camera. Dorothy’s notation on this photos is that it was double exposed because Shirley didn’t know how to use the camera…..LOL! Photo: Shirley Zion Otto

Unreal that totally by chance, we’ve been able to put these photos and this article together! How fun is this?!?!

Enjoy, everybody!

 

This is Your Life: Revamped!

It was impossible to have this not be a priority. Among many, many cans of film, The JAM Project has possession of Jeanette’s original of This is Your Life — the one that they say at the end of the show that they’re giving her. The film strip is dated and stamped — this is it. The wrapping the film is in is labeled in Gene’s handwriting; the reel itself is labeled in Jeanette’s.

If you don’t think that is ridiculously cool, WHY are you reading this blog!?!?

So anyway, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that every “version” of this show currently out there is grainy, gritty, blurry, etc — we’ve all been happy to have it, of course, and memorized it and loved it and watched it over and over again, anyway, but if there was a chance that a better copy could be made with the technology available to us in 2017, we had to look into that, especially considering its significance in the Jeanette and Nelson story.

Jeanette’s film looked to be in remarkably good shape for being almost sixty-five years old. We knew this transfer was going to be expensive, but we marshaled the troops and got it done — and it’s digital now, so it’s forever. What a coup. That feels awesome. Beyond my ongoing gratitude to Lynda, Mary Lynn and Angela for making The JAM Project a reality, I want to make sure we also express our tremendous thanks to the people who helped with the financing of This is Your Life specifically, to make it available for everyone to enjoy at no cost: Leslie, Tracy, Charlotte, Annette, Scott, Lynda and Mary Lynn (in no particular order).

When our guys at the lab told us that it looked “very good”, my palms got a little sweaty. It’s their job to be critical, so it must look pretty darn awesome. Turns out it does. I feel so good about us getting this done. I’m sure YouTube will compress it and maybe we’ll lose a tiny edge of that greatness, but what arrived on our flash drive is grand — and it will be grand for posterity.

An additional thank you to Tracy for taking the mp4 file we got back from the lab and boosting the volume a bit. The sound is SO much richer than what we’ve had in the past — I’m picking up all kinds of nuance that we didn’t have previously — but the volume needed a little help.

Without further ado, this is your life, Jeanette MacDonald.** ❤

**complete with RIDICULOUS and AWFUL Anita Louise and Unqualified-to-Speak-Male-Accomplice live Hazel Bishop commercials. My personal Hell, when I get there, ’cause there ain’t no doubt I’m going — ask around! — will consist of these on a loop, I am convinced.

Okay I thought I was done with the commentary but can I just say that this dress is a lot cuter now that you can see the detail on it? It actually matches the pictures that were taken that night now, lol. She’s so cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1962 Color Footage

Hi all!

Here’s a lovely thing that we uncovered in the holdings of The JAM Project! 8mm film of Jeanette (and the members of the JMIFC) at the 1962 ClanClave — which was also the club’s 25th Anniversary.

Most of you reading this will know the details of that weekend: Jeanette was directly involved in planning it, she gave a dinner for the group at The Luau restaurant (my friend Mary Lynn now has the check that paid for that meal…wild), she arranged for the group to tour MGM, have lunch in the commissary, etc. She invited everyone to Twin Gables, she posed for endless pictures… she was in general, generous, warm, delightful and perfect.

We’ve had this footage digitized for several months, but did not ‘break’ it before now because we wanted to show it as a surprise at the Mac/Eddy Club meeting on June 25th in LA. One of our members, Sandy Laderas, was a speaker at the meeting, sharing photos and personal reminiscences of the weekend and of meeting Jeanette and how wonderful she was, so she and I collaborated and The JAM Project provided supplemental material for her presentation. Mary Lynn brought the check and I put together a small talk that consisted of reading Jeanette’s letters – both to the club and to club president Clara, privately – planning the weekend and presenting this footage — in which you can see the then-eighteen year old Sandy in several shots, which was so cool. Why would we celebrate a JMIFC event at the Mac/Eddy Club’s meeting? Because of Jeanette — because that weekend was so indicative of her public self, of her kindness and generosity to the people who had loved her for years. It was just nice.

It meant a lot to Jeanette to give this weekend to her club. Her excitement in planning it was best voiced when she wrote Clara on May 17, 1962, saying in part, “I, too, am beginning to get quite a glow of anticipation. Just think how long it has been since I have met and seen many of the members!”

These were the young people who dogged her footsteps at the stage doors and train stations of the 40s. She was fond of them — she always made time for them. To enumerate Jeanette’s darling, wonderful interactions with her fans is to write an entire volume on the subject. They were a constant, unfailing source of love for her, to the extent that she kept up every kind of charade to allow them to maintain their illusions. It wasn’t deceit, it was selflessness.

Jeanette was not a well woman in 1962 — and she hadn’t been for several years. She would not get better. After ’62, you can count her “public appearances” on a few fingers. Indeed, she left the group while they were touring her home so that she could go to the doctor — and though she downplayed it, and seemingly acted like it was a matter of routine, it’s pretty freakin’ weird that she’d have ‘scheduled’ something like that during this weekend, especially on a day when the group was in her home. One wonders what was really going on — and what this weekend cost her, in terms of health. Sandy Laderas speaks of Jeanette as not looking or acting ill, and, indeed, in the footage, other than Jeanette being extremely thin (her arms in the Luau footage especially give this away), she appears bubbly, charming and charismatic — exactly the way she’s ‘supposed’ to be; exactly the way fans would remember her from previous interactions. I noted that when she leaves the group at Twin Gables, she glides right up the stairs with effortless ease. She was on. She was a professional. She was a star. She was prideful. She was a classy woman, and a good one. She was not going to burden the group with her struggles. She was never going to let these people see her fall. It is absolutely consistent with everything Jeanette is that she be this way, and my inclination is to believe that if that doctor’s appointment could have been avoided, it would have been. So… something else was brewing. For me, this is an excuse to love her more — but knowing more all the time about the hell she kept to herself is heartbreaking.

To bear out my above point, on September 11, 1962, Jeanette wrote Clara, in a letter concerning other club business and general news, “I do feel better, physically, and while the weight hasn’t started to accumulate, I must be patient and know that it will come as my own energy returns to normal. The above is for your own personal edification. But I wonder if, in your letter in the magazine to the members, you could indicate that you have heard from me, and that I am feeling so well again that you thought they would all want to know. For your own edification again – you see, Clara, I have had quite a few personal letters from some of the members saying they are sorry I have not been feeling well, and I feel that these thoughts are not healthy. Instead if they send thoughts to me and for me of good health and energy, etc., it has a more affirmative reaction. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and good wishes and happiness, as against commiseration, and pity, and all of the negative ideas that are floating around us.”

She closes with, “Thank you for your understanding and patience.”

That ought to tell you a whole, whole lot. And comparing her letters to Clara versus things like her 1963 desk diary and various medical records we now have — Clara knew more than the average bear, perhaps, as in the above excerpt, but Clara was still firmly on a need-to-know basis.

I love that picture.

Here’s the footage. Enjoy this extraordinary human being, giving her very best to people who love her.

 

Thanks once more to all who make this preservation and digitization effort possible. ❤

BLYTHE: The Interview

Social media is really a marvelous innovation. Imagine my delight when I was minding my own business in early May and Blythe K. materialized, making a comment that she had known Jeanette MacDonald, and had, in fact, sat on her lap as a child. Never one to shy away from striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know, I sent her a message and, as she familiarized herself with the efforts of The JAM Project, she responded to me, telling me that she had a gold compact that had belonged to Jeanette, with her initials on the back, and she’d like to send it to me.

I was floored. What?! I didn’t even know this woman! I asked her if she was kidding. She responded, “No. My memories are enough. It sits in my drawer. She’d be pleased to know someone who loves her has it. I love her too…but I sat on her lap.”

I think this is the part where I mention that I’ve spent a lot of time in my conversations with Blythe slack-jawed and not able to believe my own stupid luck. When I was able to formulate a coherent response to this last message, I asked if I might call her, to chat with her and hear the story of the childhood lap-sitting (HOW IS THIS EVEN FAIR, UNIVERSE?) as well as how she came into possession of such a treasure. She responded affirmatively and gave me her number. I called her that evening and sat, spellbound, as she told me about her grandmother, a Philadelphia native and friend of the MacDonald sisters, as well as her own encounters with the clearly-adored woman she still refers to as “Miss Jeanette”. Anecdote after anecdote painted a now-familiar picture of an exquisitely beautiful human being whose warmth and grace illuminated everything she touched. Ask pretty much anyone who ever met her and that’s what you get. Read the stories in the Golden Comets of the 1940s when Marie Waddy Gerdes was president; the star meeting fans at the stage door and remembering their names; the concert artist asking teenage girls how they’re getting home, making sure they will be safe in unfamiliar cities; meeting them for ice cream; wiring ahead to let them know when her train is getting in, to give them the chance to come and meet her; inviting them to her Bel Air home when they had occasion to visit California and driving them back to town afterwards. This is Jeanette. This is, consistently, Jeanette. All warm friendliness with a ready smile and quick, bantering wit, never too far gone into the stratosphere to be one of the gals, but too extraordinary to truly pass as a mere commoner.

The difference, with Blythe, is that her recollections are from the perspective of a child. She was three when they met, and later four, and seven and eight and lastly, she was fifteen. Many of the details of her knowledge came from later (read: adult) conversations she had with her grandmother, whose pre-Hollywood-yet-enduring-through-Hollywood friendship status meant that she knew all about the MacDonald status quo. In this first conversation, after hearing another episode of how sweet Jeanette was with this young girl, I made the observation that encounters with little Blythe were probably a real gift to the childless soprano, saying, “You know how badly Jeanette wanted to have children, and couldn’t.”

Her response caught me totally off-guard: “Well you know how badly Jeanette wanted to be with Nelson, too!”

Holy hell. Hoooooooly hell. I squeaked, found my voice, and replied, “Oh really, what do you know about all of that?”

And she told me. Boy, she told me. We were on the phone over two hours, that first night. As our conversation was winding down, I asked if she’d consent to a formal interview, because hers is a story that needs to be shared. I told her I wanted to interview her for my blog, and to use her as a source for my eventual, someday, MacDonald book. She jumped on board with me immediately, and at the end of May, we had another long phone call, this time done in a more formal interview style, which I taped and have transcribed. I don’t think I can adequately express my gratitude to her for allowing me the privilege of sharing her memories. She’s never been interviewed before, she’s never talked to anyone connected with the MacDonald/Eddy story, other than people she knew in her own life. Her recollections are fresh, yet blessedly familiar. She is a brand new source, in the year 2017. With everything else that’s come to light for us in the past couple of years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Thank you so much for this, Blythe.

I want to also thank Angela for her support on this quest, for helping me formulate interview questions, being the double-checker for my currently overworked brain, and for pow-wowing with me to make sure that when this interview was executed, it was as complete as humanly possible.

Here is our interview, done May 31, 2017:

KG: I’d like to start with a little background on your grandmother and how she came to know the MacDonald sisters and family.

BK: Grandmother was telling me that she met the MacDonald girls in, I think, the second or third grade. They kind of hung around together because they didn’t live too far from each other and they spent a lot of time together and played at each other’s homes.

KG: Which sister was the closest to her age?

BK: She was between Jeanette and Blossom, a little older than Jeanette. According to my grandmother, Jeanette was a bit of a brat. She was the young one, she was beautiful and everybody had a tendency to spoil her. Anyway, they grew up together and I know that Miss Jeanette was at Grandmother’s wedding, and Grandmother was at her wedding. Grandmother was not real happy with Gene, she never would tell me why, ‘cause those were adult things, but she didn’t like him. I think that was the only time she ever saw him, I’m not sure. But anyway, as I say, they grew up together – not best friends, because eventually Jeanette moved away and when she got into movies she kind of drifted across the country, but she’d drop by to see Grandmother [when she was home] and one particular time she did, I was there.

KG: When were you born, if you don’t mind my asking?

BK: 1942. [The first time I met her] I was about three years old and an adorable child, I have to say. I remember her walking in, and I remember this because she was so beautiful, with this gorgeous red hair and this wonderful smile and kind, oh my God, she was kind to me. And she bent down and said, ‘Hi, Sweetheart,’ and she picked me up and carried me over to a chair and sat down with me on her lap and sort of chatted with me – a few things you would say to a child – and Grandmother, of course Grandmother insisted I call her ‘Miss’ Jeanette because she was an adult and I wasn’t, but Miss Jeanette would not let me call her Miss MacDonald. And Grandmother said Miss Jeanette sang, and I said, ‘Will you sing for me?’ and she said she would – and she did!

KG: Oh, gosh. What did she sing?

BK: She sang Sweethearts to me, because she had just called me Sweetheart. And it was good, it was wonderful. I can still hear her. I wish I could have been around her more, but of course she was in Hollywood and didn’t get around to us all that often. She was nice, she was gentle, and my childish memory is that she smelled good. And, you know, she spent more time talking to Grandmother, but she didn’t ignore me! I could tell by the way that she had her arm around me while I was on her lap and she’d squeeze my arm occasionally – she knew I was there.

KG: [Unintelligible flailing of someone who can’t believe that this conversation is actually real life right now.] Tell me about the compact.

BK: Well, I was sitting on her lap, this would have been when I was about three or four years old, and her purse was next to us on the sofa, and like any child I was interested in the purse, so I went into her purse and there was this shiny gold compact with all these glittery stones on it. So I pulled it out…and I started chewing on it. And she looked at me and said, ‘Oh, do you like that?’ and I said, ‘Yes. Pretty,’ and she said, ‘Well, you can keep it.’ So she let me have it but she made my grandmother remove the powder from it because if I was going to put the thing in my mouth, she was worried that I’d swallow the powder and get sick. She would have been a really good mother. So Grandmother took the powder out, and I got to keep the compact. Another day she was there, I was interested in her nail polish; she had nail polish in her purse, so she pulled it out and put some color on some of my fingers and oh, I was so proud! She had a handkerchief in there, nail polish, lipstick and a compact, I loved it, but Grandmother about had my head and gave me a talking-to about the privacy of pocketbooks. Miss Jeanette may have thought it was okay from her point of view, but she never argued when Grandmother reprimanded me, that wasn’t done. But she was so into the child – not ignoring my grandmother or anything, but unlike so many adults who are like, ‘Alright, kid, go,’ – she wasn’t at all like that. And of course Grandmother would remind me if I was interrupting too much – and she was correct in that. I loved the relationship that I had with Miss Jeanette. Everybody behaved themselves. Everybody was a lady, everybody was nice. It was just cool.

KG: What do you remember most about her at that time, being so little?

BK: What I remember most is how good she smelled, how beautiful her hair was and how soft her voice was. She talked to me like an adult. She talked to me, softly, like an adult. No baby talk. Of course, nobody ever did that with me. But when I say she was kind – she was this beautiful, beautiful woman, and whenever I saw her she was always fixed up very nicely. The first time I sat on her lap, I reached up and grabbed her hair and pulled it out of the hairdo – and she was fine! My grandmother was like ‘Oh, MY GOD!’ and Miss Jeanette was like, ‘It’s fine! It’s just hair, I can do it again!’ She was a real sweetheart. And she felt good – she didn’t grab you and hold you, she held you gently. There was an essence about her, an aura, as they would say today, that drew me to her. I was very sad when she died; very, very sad. I have great memories. Oh, and I met the sisters, too; Elsie and Blossom.

KG: What did you think of them?

BK: I liked them fine. Well – I really liked Blossom. She was really fun, she was a nice person. They both looked like Jeanette – I mean, you could tell they were sisters. They weren’t as beautiful as her, but they had a familial resemblance. Jeanette was tiny, though. She was tiny, she was small-boned. She was a little lady.

KG: Did you ever meet Gene Raymond?

BK: No. But I did meet the other one.

KG: Nelson?

BK: Yes.

KG: Tell me about that.

BK: When I was a little bit older, about seven [note: 1949], she came down [to Florida] with her co-star, Nelson Eddy. That’s how she introduced him to me. “This is my co-star.”

KG: [laughing] Her co-star. Oh, I see.

BK: What else was she supposed to call him? She’s not going to say my lover in front of a little girl! They were very appropriate with a little girl around. When she introduced me, I made to shake his hand and he picked my hand up and kissed the back of it and I thought I had grown up! I was grown up, now – if it had been up to me I never would have washed that hand. I thought he was wonderful. I could tell he had a sense of humor, whenever someone said something he’d kind of have a smile on his face, he was jokey, he’d kind of smirk.

KG: He twinkled. His face twinkled.

BK: Yes. Right. But whenever he spoke to her it was so kind, so gentle. And his arm was always around her. Around her shoulders. Around her waist. Always around her. They were very casually dressed, very relaxed. She had sandals on, if I remember correctly—yes, she did, I remember, because her toenails were painted such a bright red and that fascinated me. So they went in and hugged Grandmother and had a seat on the sofa and he had his arm around her, he’d rub her arm, and the two of them sat there and looked at each other and I thought what are they looking at each other for? Of course, I’m seven years old, what do I know?

KG: So they were very comfortable, then, being in their relationship in front of her?

BK: Oh, yeah. My grandmother did not judge her friends. She approved of their relationship, she said ‘I tried to talk her into divorcing that clown!’ There was just this feeling between them that even as a child, I sensed. I can close my eyes and see how they were. They were always smiling at each other; they looked at each other like ‘Oh my God, I love this person.’ That didn’t happen a whole lot in what I knew; these people were obviously very fond of each other. So Miss Jeanette was talking about flowers, which she just loved, and I happened to mention there was a place nearby called Sunken Gardens, and she thought that she and Mr. Eddy and I should go down there, so we did, we went to the garden, and I was having a good time skipping along and I would hear Miss Jeanette behind me, ‘Don’t go too far, now don’t go too far! Blythe, please don’t go too far,’ and I would turn around to talk to them and they’d be walking along slowly, talking and holding hands. I thought grown up people holding hands was kind of neat. We spent probably an hour or an hour and a half there, she was explaining all the plants to him. Even as a child, I could sense a gentleness there, between the two of them, he was kind of like…kind of protective, of her. Oh, and then I wanted an orange from a tree and it was too high for me to reach, so he picked me up and said, ‘Don’t let anybody catch us, I don’t know if we can do this or not!’ And here’s Miss Jeanette saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to get in trouble!’ And then there was a part where I was walking in between them, holding their hands.

KG: Oh, my God. That’s wonderful.

BK: And when I got tired – Sunken Gardens is big – he’d pick me up and carry me for a bit and then put me back down. And finally it was time to go, and so that was that afternoon. It was a lovely afternoon.

KG: Did you stop anywhere else on your way home?

BK: We stopped to get some ice cream. We stopped at one of the places on 4th Street that had – at that time – ice cream.

KG: You got ice cream with Jeanette. Of course, you did, that’s what one does with Jeanette. Oh. My. God.

BK: She liked peach ice cream, that was her favorite. He liked chocolate, so he got chocolate and I got chocolate and we had the ice cream and went on home. They stayed for a little while longer and I left the room because you don’t want a kid around when you’re going to talk grown-up talk. That happened a couple of times when I was really small, you know, I don’t know what they were discussing but I have a feeling it was something to do with Nelson and/or Gene, you could kind of hear the voices, Grandmother’s particularly. I’m just so sorry that everything I had from back then [except the compact] got destroyed in that hurricane, because when I was small, she sent me a couple of birthday cards. Anyway, I thought Nelson Eddy was great. He was very kind to me, very kind to a child and very kind to her, to Miss Jeanette. That was the only time I ever saw him. When they went to leave, he picked me up and he said, ‘It’s been nice meeting you, little one,’ and he kissed me on the cheek. And Miss Jeanette looked at me and said ‘Now aren’t you a lucky girl?’

KG: I think it was mighty nice of her to share her man with you!

BK: [laughing] Yeah, thank you so much for sharing your man with this kid. She was laughing when he gave me that little kiss. At the time, I thought she meant I was lucky because he was this great movie star but now…

KG: That was something I wanted to ask you – you’re telling me this story recalling your memories as a child, from a child’s perspective. Now, as an adult, looking back, are you able to describe that relationship differently? In terms of romantic, or—well it seems pretty clear they were more than just friends.

BK: In retrospect, I could see that these were two people who cared deeply about each other, who related in the gentlest way. My father didn’t beat my mother or scream at her or anything else, but he certainly didn’t treat her the way Nelson treated Jeanette! One thing I thought was amazing was how much they enjoyed being at Grandmother’s house, they enjoyed me, they enjoyed each other. They weren’t in any hurry to go anywhere, they spent a lot of time with us that day. They’d talk to Grandmother and then every now and then they’d lean their heads together and talk amongst themselves. I remember her soft voice and his soft voice and I thought I was in heaven – it was warm and affectionate toward me, toward each other, toward Grandmother. It wasn’t like a couple of married people being like, ‘Oh Geez, we have to stop in for this visit.’

KG: So they were really happy to have this time to spend together.

BK: Right! Oh, yeah. Very much so. I think by the time I was nine I’d realized that.

KG: I think those moments of relaxation where they could be together were really rare for them.

BK: Especially a trip to Florida!

KG: I really think that you were probably more of a gift to them than you realize, certainly more than you realized as a child, because of how very badly they wanted to have children.

BK: Not only that, I think that with a child there, and paying attention to me – it’s more fun for two people in love with each other than sitting around talking to an adult. They could use that toward this little kid – and me in my total innocence, I thought he was handsome and she was gorgeous and I’d just died and gone to heaven, which I probably had. But I think that was relaxing, too. They didn’t have to be ‘on’ like they would in a crowd.

KG: Did your grandmother know anything about Jeanette having been pregnant?

BK: All she told me was that she had lost several children. She left it at that. And, as a cardiac nurse, I can tell you that those miscarriages were the best thing for her – she never could have carried to term, because of her heart, because of the amount of fluids her body would have taken on, she would have died of a heart attack.

KG: I just think it’s so awesome that you know firsthand that their love story is indeed true.

BK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. I don’t know how anyone could think there was [a doubt]. Nelson aside, this passionate redheaded woman is married to …to this? Come on.

KG: What else do you know about Gene Raymond?

BK: Miss Jeanette never mentioned him in my hearing, ever.

KG: That’s interesting.

BK: As a matter of fact, when I got to be about seven or eight, I remember hearing my grandmother discussing them with my grandfather, and making little comments about Gene, and I knew they were insulting; I didn’t know what they were, but I knew they were insulting. And Grandmother told me when I saw Miss Jeanette again not to mention Gene. My feeling about that is that she was there to forget him, don’t want to think about him. How a woman so kind and so beautiful could have been so unhappy in her marriage – it breaks my heart.

KG: All in all, what was your grandmother’s opinion of Gene?

BK: I asked her about their wedding, because I wasn’t around then. Was she pretty – yes. Was he handsome? And she said no. She said Gene was like a colorless Nelson Eddy. And she didn’t speak about him much after that. Later, I learned that she didn’t like him because of the way he treated her – he treated her like a trophy wife. She looked good on his arm and that was about the size of it, and that pissed Grandmother off. She never saw this herself, but she heard about it from people who knew both Jeanette and Gene. She tried to talk Miss Jeanette into divorcing him, but that didn’t work, and what was the point? As to whether she was abused or not, she didn’t say. But I knew Grandmother well enough to know her tone of voice [when she talked about him]. It’s bad enough that your husband is out being unfaithful to you, but when he’s out being unfaithful to you with a man—!

KG: Adds insult to injury.

BK: God, I guess! But maybe it wasn’t so bad, maybe his liking men saved her from a lot of problems.

KG: Can you tell me anything else about your grandmother attending Jeanette’s wedding?

BK: She said it was gorgeous, everything was perfect, but Jeanette didn’t look all that buoyant. She did for the pictures, she was JEANETTE for the pictures. But when the cameras weren’t on, she was subdued. Brides aren’t subdued! Not unless they’re that kind of person anyway, which she wasn’t.

KG: What did your grandmother think of Nelson Eddy?

BK: She seemed to like him very much. She met him at their wedding. And she said – now, a lot of this information I got when I was older, I wasn’t asking these questions when I was seven! – she said he was very gracious to what he called the non-Hollywood people that Miss Jeanette knew. She really liked him. So when Miss Jeanette and Nelson Eddy came down that time I met them, Miss Jeanette said she was bringing a guest and Grandmother said she hoped it wasn’t that Gene person and – it wasn’t!

KG: So when you saw them at your grandmother’s house, that was in Florida.

BK: Yes.

KG: Did she ever tell you how they happened to be in Florida together? Did their professional plans converge there or…?

BK: She didn’t say, but my feeling was they were on vacation together down there and she wasn’t about to talk about that! There is probably a great deal I could have gotten out of my grandmother but I trusted her discretion about her friends.

KG: Did your grandmother ever mention anything about Jeanette’s earlier relationships? Jack Ohmeis, Irving Stone, Bob Ritchie?

BK: The only one I heard her talk about was Ritchie.

KG: What did she think of him?

BK: She thought he was a con man. A con artist. He used her.

KG: My impression there is that it was romantic at first and devolved into a convenient arrangement that kept other people away from her. She wore a ring on her engagement finger that she actually bought herself, but people assumed it was from him and that she was off the market to other suitors.

BK: Yeah. Yes. And I can see her in my mind’s eye – she was just a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman. They’d have been on her like fleas on a dog. You know, I don’t think she would have been less in love with Nelson if Gene had been a real man to her – which he wasn’t – but I do think she’d have been less unhappy. If he’d been a husband to her, emotionally and physically – but he really wasn’t. He liked guys.

KG: Did your grandmother know that he liked guys?

BK: Mm-hmm!

KG: Did she talk about that?

BK: The only thing she would say was that he was ‘funny’ – she meant it in the same way she meant it when she talked about someone else we knew, and that’s what ‘funny’ meant. She would say, ‘Charlie’s kind of funny, the same way Gene Raymond is funny.” And I knew how Charlie was funny!

KG: Do you think she and Jeanette discussed this about Gene?

BK: Oh, I do. I think they discussed a lot. Of course, I wasn’t around for that.

KG: Oh, of course, but I was wondering if you found out later that this was something they talked about.

BK: I do think so, because of the way she said his name and the way she referred to the marriage. You knew that they had discussed it. I mean, Grandmother was not around the two of them enough to come to the conclusion on her own that he was gay. They day they got married – Grandmother never met Gene again, I don’t think, she didn’t see him.

KG: So her whole opinion on Gene would have been based on what Jeanette was telling her.

BK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Jeanette was her friend! She wasn’t going to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ – she might have asked her what the hell she was thinking, though.

KG: How did she find out they’d gotten engaged?

BK: She got an announcement.

KG: And what did she think about that?

BK: She was happy for them because she hadn’t met Gene yet! Meeting him turned her off. Grandmother was kind of snobby about who hooked up with her friends, none of them were ever good enough. She said he was a watered-down Nelson. He did poorly resemble Nelson, but he was a real creep-o, from what Grandmother related later.

KG: I can tell you he went through her money like it was water. We have stacks of their financial records and he’s spending it as fast as she can put it in.

BK: Oh, yeah. And if not physically, he was probably verbally abusive to her. A man like that would be – and when I say ‘a man like that’ I don’t mean a gay man. I mean a man who is so inferior in talent and notoriety to his wife – he would absolutely have to assert his manhood somehow. The groping thing you see in pictures is him saying ‘This is MY trophy.’ One thing I’ve noticed in the pictures, is that Jeanette – oh, I’m going to call her Jeanette, I’m old enough to call her Jeanette and Grandmother’s dead, so Jeanette – if you look at the pictures of her with Gene and the pictures of her with Nelson, and she’s laughing, the laugh is different. With Nelson it’s full blown, head thrown back laughing. With Gene it’s laughing…kinda-sorta. She’s being kind to her husband, or she’s laughing so she doesn’t get yelled at later. It just doesn’t look like the wholehearted laugh that you see when she’s laughing with Nelson.

KG: When was the last time you saw her?

BK: When I was about fifteen [approx. 1957 or early 1958]. She was singing in Philadelphia – I think she had a concert, I can’t even remember what it was, but anyway, I went, and I thought well, I’ll go backstage and say hi. So I remember walking into the backstage area and she looked up and – ‘BLYTHE!!’ – I was fifteen! She hadn’t seen me in years! I was just thrilled that she remembered who I was, even though, God knows, I’d changed! And she recognized me immediately! I was thrilled, so thrilled.

KG: So did she come rushing over and hug you?

BK: Oh yes! But! She said, ‘Excuse me,’ to everybody who was around her. Didn’t shove them and push them aside. That was another thing that I always liked when I saw her; she was polite, she was gracious. When she was there, and that time she and Nelson were there [at Grandmother’s], everything was ‘Thank you so much, we really appreciate it.’ Most people would say, ‘Geez, how lucky are you to have me in your house?’ But that wasn’t the way she was. When I was with her, this last time I saw her, she did say that she had to say hello to these people – but she took me by the hand and dragged me around with her. She didn’t abandon me off in a corner. She was letting me know that she needed to do this but I was to stay with her. So I did, and we spent an hour or so in her dressing room, drinking—I drank soda, she drank coffee.

KG: She did drink coffee!

BK: Uh-huh.

KG: Huh. That’s really hilarious, because people used to insist that she didn’t. No coffee or tea or alcohol.

BK: This was at night, she was probably tired and still had a long rest of the night to go. And …she was drinking coffee. Why would anybody care—why would that even become a debate?

KG: It’s the Clara and Tessa sideshow.

BK: [sigh] Oh. Mm-hmm.

KG: When did your grandmother pass away?

BK: In the eighties.

KG: So you would have had a lot of chances to talk to her as an adult, then.

BK: Oh yes, I got a lot more of her impressions then.

KG: Was your grandmother aware that Jeanette and Nelson had been dating and had, in fact, become engaged during Rose Marie?

BK: That I don’t know. I do know that she knew they were together, a lot. And when I say together, I mean in the most intimate way. Physically. She knew that.

KG: So she knew they were sleeping together.

BK: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I finally got her to tell me that a lot later.

KG: Oh, please tell me!

BK: Well I think I said something about the fact that I’d heard that they were lovers, and she said yes, that was true, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, what do you think of that?’ and she said, ‘None of my damn business, Jeanette was happy!’ Back then, if you were lovers, it meant you were in love as well as the physical. And I’d get to a certain point in my questioning and Grandmother would say, ‘That’s personal.’

KG: Well, from what we know…

BK: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, with those two.

KG: No, it certainly doesn’t.

BK: Let me tell you something, nowadays, lovers in Hollywood are nothing but slags and whores, going from man to man to man and woman to woman to woman, but these two were not like that. She was raised to be a lady.

KG: You know, that’s something I feel all the time, working this intimately on someone’s life like this – it’s so wonderful to find that they are everything you hope they are. She was not perfect, she made a variety of decisions for which I’d like to go back in time and shake her, but man she was wonderful.

BK: She was perfect, to me. I was a child and she was beautiful and gentle and that’s the way I always remember her and I don’t want to remember her any other way, and I won’t! I’ve met the woman. She held me. She kissed me. She sang to me. She was a fairy princess, as far as I was concerned. I think the one word that sums up who she was is the old Southern term lady. Miss Jeanette was a lady. That doesn’t mean she was stiff and cardboard, but she knew how to act in public. She knew how to treat people. She was a lady. I can’t remember ever hearing her say, in my little girl ears, anything bad about anybody, not even Gene. She did to my grandmother, but it was not for the ears of children.

KG: Did you say you have a picture of her?

BK: There was one of her standing in front of my grandmother’s house. I’ll have to look and see if I can find it, it may have been destroyed in the hurricane that ruined so many of my things.

KG: What was your impression of Jeanette’s health when you knew her? Was she healthy, was she active?

BK: Well – she wasn’t sick. I got the impression when I saw her at fifteen that she was a little frail. Her heart was giving her problems, then.

KG: It’s so amazing to be able to talk to you and to be able to share your story. This is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. One of the best things about it, if I can be perfectly frank with you, is that it’s not trashy. It’s not sordid. There’s no scandal here.

BK: Well you don’t get trashy in front of a child!

KG: I’m so excited to be having this conversation, I can’t even tell you. It’s so cool.

BK: I’ll tell you, I think that Miss Jeanette would be so glad that you’re happy that I’m sharing this with you. She doesn’t have children, she doesn’t have family. Her memory can live on this way.

The Czarina

So I found this score in the JAM Project loot, it’s 23 pages long and, obviously, it’s what we know as “Czaritza” from Maytime. As with most of Jeanette’s personal music, it’s stamped with her blue name stamp, but unlike other pieces we have, this one doesn’t have any of her “work” on the inside. No writing, no breath marks, no evidence of being worked over with Grace, so I’m assuming this was a backup copy. Nevertheless, a cool find.

In reading the score, I have learned more about the Czaritza opera story itself (particularly apt in some of the art-imitating-life stuff that seemed to be a running theme with Maytime), which I think you will find interesting:
The Czarina is newly widowed. The Czar was murdered, and she’s being given a hard time because she isn’t sorry that he is dead. He was an evil, cruel man, a terrible ruler and she didn’t love him. This is part of the beginning, sung by her: “No shadow in my heart enshrouds the lordly but unloved departed one, God forgive me! Dead! May the thief who stole his life ever live! Oh, wicked wife, have you no sorrow? How black of soul you are. Your love betrays your Czar!”
So they caught the guy who killed the Czar and they bring him on in. Turns out it’s Petroff, with whom our sinful Czarina has been having a big fat steamy love affair (Welp. Hot Petroffs are hot, leave her alone.). She pleads with him to lie and say he didn’t do it. He argues that he did it to set Russia free from his tyranny…and also a little bit for Mr. Czar’s hot wife. He’s at peace about the whole thing “I lose but a life, and a nation is free”, the worst part is leaving Hotpants Czarina. She wishes she was going to be the one to die. She then tells everybody to get out, she wants a word with him. The Captain protests, “Your Majesty!”
Queenie gets real tall and corrects him: “Your Czar!” (That’s one of my favorite moments in the whole thing, not that anyone asked.)
So the minions beat it and we get to the duet and they sing powerful, powerful stuff:
How memory clings, my beloved, to dreams of yore
O, pitiless fate that our meeting means parting at death’s very door
There is no parting!
There is no ending!
Your heart is blended with mine
What fear you, I shall be near you, ever attending
Oh, beloved, my heart will not fail
There is no lasting farewell
Ever these vows shall prevail
Whether in Heaven or Hell
I love you
*
Heart! Beat with joy, for ecstasy is yours
Love alone endures
Love alone is yours, and it’s mine
Love is mine, O love is mine forever
O Soul! Soul! Sing a new refrain!
Dear one, oh! Hold me close
Beloved, Beloved!
Two wildly beating hearts are one
And now death [Petroff sings ‘Give me death’]
Do what you will!
Our love will live beyond the deepest grave
We face you bravely
O Father of us all, His/My time has come, dear God!
Petroff: God be with you, Heaven keep my dearest one from harm and care
Czarina: Heaven rest the soul of my beloved one, Lord, hear the pray’r of my heart
Lord, hear my pray’r
Petroff: Dear one, I go to die, God be with you
Both: Love, goodbye
Anyone else around here completely cooked? Holy mackerel. Seems legit that he’d actually shed tears while singing this with his complicated lady love who is resolutely going to marry somebody else because she’s convinced that there are too many problems with the two of them, no matter how crazy they are about each other. The situation was just so hopeless. I mean, I get why she didn’t marry him then. I really do. I wouldn’t have married him either, in the thirties. But gosh, it’s just all so heartbreaking. And by the time he’d become marriage material, it was too late and too hopelessly muddled for all concerned and yeah, there were great moments, but the whole thing ended in devastation for everyone.
*screenshot of Nelson’s tear obtained by Kitty.
The infinite rightness of those two gorgeous beings in each other’s arms is just kiiiiiinda staggering. Look at ’em.
Oh! And here’s a bonus!Mac. Being really, really extra cute on the set. This photo is from her personal collection and was tucked into one of her embossed still boxes. ❤
She’s just sittin’ there on the floor in her Czarina suit hopin’ something happens soon.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

I come to you with another Very Great Thing from The JAM Project!

Imagine my delight when I was going through the collection of film and found something we didn’t even know existed! The discovery was a 1955 screen test that Jeanette did for NBC. There is no date, other than 1955, on the box, but it is labeled in Jeanette’s handwriting, so that’s super fun as well. My assumption is that this is some sort of test for Prima Donna, which aired February 1, 1956; an episode of Screen Directors Playhouse that was written (real awkwardly) by Gene Raymond. NBC aired Screen Directors Playhouse, so this checks out on that level. I could certainly be wrong, but this came to us with no context and I’ve never read anything else about it — had never heard of it before it was in my hands. If someone knows something that I don’t about the purpose for this screen test, I’d be happy to learn about it.

The screen test is silent and in black and white, which is funny because Jeanette wrote on the box “Color Test B&W” ……….thank you for that, Miss MacDonald. ‘Preciate ya.

Maybe it was shot in color and they gave her a black and white version of it? Eh? Anyway, we have the black and white one that belonged to her.

Guys, she is SO GORGEOUS. So, so, so, so incandescently beautiful at age fifty-two. This, this is a star. Also, I LOVE her hair. Love it. I’ve done my best lip-reading and made a transcript, which I will include below (which is certainly not infallible, of course, but she’s chattering away in typical MacFashion, so it’s only natural to want to translate). It’s not perfect, but it does, I think, get across the jist of what she’s saying.

Enjoy her. ❤

Here is my rough transcript of what she’s saying:

:07 Okay gentlemen – are you looking at me? Am I pretty? …Come on. [THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART. YES. YOU ARE PRETTY. YOU ARE SO PRETTY. YOU ARE THE PRETTIEST ONE. WHAT IS AIR.]

:17 Ah and go to this side – see what happens

:25 Oh, you want me to look like this … sad … alright.

:33 There, is that so good? That’s good.

:40 Way up here…

:45 Alright (smiling)

:48 Oh no, that wouldn’t be good. (adjusting fur and looking down) There. This is as far down as I go.

1:02 Really? That’s good. Well that’s what I [don’t know this part] to.

1:13 Yeah.

1:14 Well if you’re ready, this is a fast [don’t know this word], he said. But anyway when I’m looking into the camera – that side – [there’s a phrase here that I haven’t got yet] But I always want to look straight to the audience (gesturing) which would be there. Then the [one word I don’t have] there…see?

1:35 Oh now with my singing which would usually be up there, you see – or there

1:59 [I’ve got nothing. Working on it. She’s cute.]

2:02 Now, for every second afterwards I’m singing to the camera because I think that [something about the audience and being selfish]. So… [don’t know the last phrase].

Ohhhhhhhh, Jeanette. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

I want to conclude by thanking everyone who has helped to make these digital transfers possible. This is an expensive process and you are directly responsible for helping us accomplish the goal of sharing these treasures. I’d specifically like to thank Di, Annette, Margaret, Leslie, Brenda, Sandra, Melissa, Tracy, Christy and Philip. I hope I am not leaving anyone out!! Your support is so appreciated by the The JAM Project!