Guest Blog: The Misused Finances of Mrs. Gene Raymond

Friends, my partner-in-crime Angela has put together a hell of a good blog for you, using some papers from her holdings, and I’m happy to ‘host’ her in this space to share it. Anyone who attended the Mac/Eddy Club Meeting in Sturbridge on May first saw some of this material, but this was really the forum she needed to expand on it more fully. This information will not be shocking news to anyone with half a grain of sense, but you don’t have to take our word for it, as Angela is going to show you. Without further ado, here’s her post:

Pull up a chair folks, I’ve got a little story to tell and Katie, my collaborator in research and various other shenanigans, is kindly letting me use her blog to do it.

You know, sometimes it feels like we are conducting a search and rescue mission, and at other times it feels more like an archaeological dig – a long hard slog through layers of library dust and box upon box of moldering papers. But more times than can be attributed to mere coincidence, chunks of information drop into our laps like manna from heaven.   For example, this fragrant, yellowed folder with the typewritten pink label containing the redhead’s financial papers spanning the years 1954 – 1956 many of which are annotated in Miss MacDonald’s own hand. Actually, the documents in this folder and her “notations” do much of the story-telling. I just had to do a lot of math homework (which I hate) and much pondering (which I love) to whip it into a format I could present at the May 1st Mac/Eddy meeting in Sturbridge. Alas, there was far too much material to cover in the allotted meeting time so here I am with the rest of the story.

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I’ve been responsible for compiling enough financial reports in my over twenty-five-year corporate career to know what I was looking for/at. Jeanette, always astute in matters of business, was clearly in charge of the money according to the documentation in this folder. Emily West’s role as Jeanette’s secretary, was limited to administrative tasks such as organizing financial papers, reconciling bank statements against the check book and corresponding with the MacRaymonds’ various banks as well as with their business manager, Paul Jones. Jones worked for the LA firm of A. Morgan Maree Jr & Associates and the documentation indicates he managed the financial affairs for both Jeanette and Gene. Though one memo bears a signature block specifying the company as Bus. Mgrs. for Gene Raymond so it’s not clear if he was Gene’s business manager and they shared him or if something changed at some point. Of course, this was just a few months after an arrest warrant was issued for Jeanette for being a slumlord. So it was a pretty sensitive time for her and that may have had something to do with the wording. But more about that later.

The papers in this folder don’t account for each and every bank statement. Only records about significant events or circumstances in the couple’s fiscal history during this period were saved. Such records are typically purged every 7 years in line with tax requirements. These were kept because somebody thought it was important to document what happened. That same somebody’s hands were all over them as attested to by her scrawled notations and the lingering scent of her fancy French perfume. Luckily, it also gives us a glimpse at how they managed their money and precisely who was in charge of managing it.

The MacRaymonds’ monthly banking activities centered primarily around the co-signature account in the name of Gene and Jeanette A. Raymond. Household bills were paid from this account, and both Jeanette and Gene wrote checks on it for their day-to-day expenses: food, laundry, liquor, travel, household maintenance, charitable contributions, etc.  Paul Jones, the business manager, arranged to have monies regularly transferred to Gene’s private account or Jeanette’s concert account for their individual, discretionary use.

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Like the well trained numbers geekette I’ve become, I put all the account transactions into an Excel spreadsheet, then sorted and summed up the results. The findings were eye-opening but not surprising. Unlike people, numbers don’t lie; they are constants – two plus two always equals four. Which is why a certain lying presidential candidate is balking at making his tax return public. But that’s a hop down a different bunny trail.

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As you see above, over a 16-month period of time (February 1955 – June 1956) $8,400 was transferred to Jeanette’s concert account for her use while $13,050 was transferred into the Gene’s account for his. Remember, all the household bills, food, utilities, maintenance as well as travel and other expenses were paid from the co-sig account. Gene Raymond was drawing 1.5 times more money from their joint account for his sole benefit then his wife was for hers. In 1955, the average yearly income for an entire family was $5,000 so Gene was receiving a very generous allowance for what essentially amounted to walking-around money.

So who was funding the co-sig account? Not surprisingly, it was none other than Jeanette Anna MacDonald. Shocking! According to bank correspondence, Mrs. Raymond was the sole approver of fund transfers into the co-sig account from her various bank accounts. Below is a copy of a memo dated June 3, 1954 where Emily is notifying the bank that Mr. Raymond will be using checks on an account. The handwriting at the bottom of the memo is Jeanette’s. She is noting a $1,000 check was deposited to the account that Gene would be writing checks on it when he was traveling.

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On the following day, June 4, 1954, Jeanette issues another memo to the business manager alerting Jones of 20k sitting in a non-interest bearing account as well as some mortgage shares that needed attention. Seeking to optimize these assets she gives him the explicit direction, “This, of course is under the Jeanette MacDonald set-up and I shall naturally wish to keep it so.”

Note, she was keeping Gene from getting his hands on her funds a whole year before the Slumlord scandal hit the newspapers in May of 1955. Katie has briefly addressed this embarrassing incident in an earlier blog as follows:

On May 25th, 1955, an arrest warrant was put out for our girl because an apartment house which was titled in her name was not being kept in good repair and she was accused of being a “slumlord” — in actual fact there were property managers involved who may or may not have been doing their jobs, but Gene was the only one of them who had anything to do with the property. (He just probably lacked the funds to make the investment, hence why it was in her name).

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Flash-forward a year and a half. Jones addresses Jeanette directly in a memo dated December 15, 1955 informing her that if the business office releases all the checks written, the co-sig account will be overdrawn by $1,200. He suggests a transfer of $5,000.00 from the Jeanette A. MacDonald Property Account to cover everything, which she authorizes the next day, signing and returning the check almost immediately. One can almost sense her embarrassment.  So who do you think overspent the joint account? I am betting it wasn’t the economically cautious MacDonald!

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In Hollywood Diva, Edward Baron Turk’s biography of Jeanette MacDonald, when discussing Jeanette’s motivation in marrying Gene Raymond over her former fiancé, Bob Richie, Turk writes” Unlike Richie, Gene had amassed substantial personal wealth. To Jeanette’s mind there was little risk that he would ever descend to the fate of his beloved father and become dependent on her for support.” Well, that’s exactly what Jeanette ended up doing, supporting Gene in a style in which, by 1954, he’d become very accustomed to. He worked in theatre and television when he wanted, played golf, traveled and did Lord knows what else at his leisure all while having the respectability of being a “happily” married man and an air force reservist of rank. Gene, no doubt, had some income from his acting work, but a quick look at IMDB is not terribly impressive. Mr. Raymond’s “substantial personal wealth” is much like the Loch Ness Monster, you hear tell of it often enough, but sightings are rare and specious. The money and subsequent investments amassed by his wife during her heyday as a Hollywood mega-star was the engine that powered the MacRaymonds’ finances. Jeanette, from her earliest days on Broadway, was always the family money-maker. Nothing changed when she married Gene Raymond, she was still a heavy-hitter who, as these documents indicate, was consistently reaching into the deep pockets of her stylishly cut trousers to pay the freight for their comfortable life-style.

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The MacRaymonds – Christmas 1949

Speaking of life-styles of famous old-time Hollywood couples and their finances, let’s mosey on over to Pickfair for a glimpse at the MacRaymond’s good chums and fellow honeymooners, Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers.

And here they are in June of 1937, seated from left to right, newlyweds Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers and newlyweds Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond.

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If you’ve read Sharon Rich’s book Sweethearts, you know all about the strange honeymoon cruise the couples took together to Hawaii. Seems the two grooms had a love on the high seas thing going on – with each other. If you haven’t read the book, get it and read it.

You just never know where this cast of characters are going to show up. For instance, this summer, I read the memoir of an ex-CIA operative/mob accountant/artist/Beverly Hills theatrical manager/money launderer extraordinaire ­­­­named Chauncey Holt. The book’s title, Portrait of a Scoundrel: A Memoir of Spooks, Hoods and The Hidden Elite, is a good indication of why it was published posthumously. Chauncey has been described as “a man of flexible morals, yet with a conscience.”  Yeah, this guy was crooked as a corkscrew but he knew where the bodies were buried (literally) and was definitely connected.

It was while working as an accountant (under one of his aliases) in Beverly Hills, that he was referred for employment by a high powered client to a CPA firm owned by Edward George Stotsenberg. Turns out this firm handled all of Mary Pickford and Buddy Roger’s accounting work including the Mary Pickford Trust. Holt, who got his start as a mob accountant for the likes of no less than Meyer Lansky, and had helped establish money laundering schemes used by mob joints as well as for legitimate businessmen ­­­(namely Joe Kennedy and Mosses Anenberg), recognized the Trust as a perfect vehicle for laundering money.

Holt, in his role as auditor lost no time in laying the groundwork for channeling dirty monies via the trust thus washing them squeaky clean. He apparently had a knack for making most people like him but more importantly, they trusted him. Holt liked Pickford, he said, “Mary had a very dominate personality, and was an outstanding business woman, the equal of any man before woman’s lib became popular.” In addition to a communal honeymoon, that was another thing she shared in common with Jeanette. Unfortunately, the parallels didn’t stop there. Regretting her haste in divorcing Douglas Fairbanks, Mary went on to confide in Holt, “I should have known I couldn’t dominate Douglas.” She also told him that she’d “been married to two men and a spoiled child.” Chauncey Holt believed her meaning was clear, the two men were Fairbanks and her first husband, Owen Moore. The spoiled child, according to Holt, was Buddy Rogers who he referred to as a closeted homosexual. The Mary/Buddy financial situation was almost an identical set-up to the MacRaymonds. Buddy maintained his separate bank account and their assets were segregated, but his were nothing compared to hers, and she found it necessary to support him according to Holt who was responsible for auditing their finances.

I wonder if Jeanette and Mary every had a good sit-down together to talk this through. Would have probably done them a world of good. Each had long and overly idealized marriages that were more or less shams. Two strong business women married to weak men, the toll that exacted couldn’t be calculated in dollars and cents. These two sweethearts of the silver screen kept their heartbreak concealed from their public. Each, in her own manner, turned away the true love of her life and suffered mightily as a result. Pickford hid from the world, drowning her sorrows in booze. Jeanette, who believed she could use her legendary iron will to make herself fall in love with Gene and out of love with Nelson Eddy had learned a bitter lesson – her heart simply refused to yield.  She worked frantically to keep it all going, the marriage, her career, the secret rendezvous with Eddy. But below the surface, all the guilt, hurt, and disappointment, quietly simmering inside a delicate body, was slowly killing her.

As much as Chauncey Holt liked Mary, he despised Buddy Rogers, calling him “a fading playboy who fell in love the first time he looked in a mirror.” In addition to his accounting wizardry, Holt was a legitimately talented artist making a large portion of his money from the serious illustration of medical and anthropology books –crook or no crook, the guy was brilliant. He painted a portrait of Mary to be used in connection with a retrospective of her films at the LA County Museum. He also did the art work for their Christmas card, a scene for the 1927 film, Poor Little Rich Girl.

Rogers, said Holt, was jealous and commissioned him to paint his portrait as well. He was given a photograph to work from of Rogers holding a golf club. He painted him as if he were outdoors with the Thunderbird Golf Course in Palm Springs, where Mary owned a cottage in the background. Rogers, who was 68 years old at the time objected on two grounds. First, that he looked too old and second, he complained to the artist, “You’ve given me the hand of a working man; I never worked a day in my life.” Hmmm, I guess that’s considered a bragging point in some circles! Holt was forced to paint a second portrait which Rogers again rejected because “I look too old.” I think this is a rather flattering portrait, the artist did an excellent job. At this point, I would have opted for horns and a Snidely Whiplash mustache if I were rendering it.

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Portrait of Buddy Rogers at age 68. Artist: Chauncey Marvin Holt

Chauncey exacted his revenge by rationalizing the diversion of funds from the Trust which would in his words, “eventually have ended up with that arrogant parasite, Buddy Rogers, who would probably only lavish the money on one of the handsome, young homosexual prostitutes, that he often took to Palm Springs, or invited to Pickfair, where Mary Pickford was a recluse, who never left her second floor bedroom.”  I bet the photographer from Life Magazine never captured THAT party! Below is a photo of a guests attending a dinner party at Pickfair which the magazine did cover.

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Clockwise from Mary Pickford in the foreground are Clifton Webb, Mrs. Harold Lloyd, Gene Raymond, Norma Shearer, Buddy Rogers, Mabel Webb, Marty Arrouge, Jeanette MacDonald and Harold Lloyd.

Back at the Bel Air home of the MacRaymonds’, a series of bank memos beginning early in the year 1954, tell their own story of irresponsible money management by Mr. Raymond resulting in a swift and decisive response by his fiscally meticulous wife who was most assuredly not amused.

On February 23, 1954, Emily sent a request to the bank for a copy of the January co-sig statement, cancelled checks and bank book advising them that by mistake these items were “burned”. Yes, that’s right, burned. Apparently someone was toasting marshmallows in the fireplace and decided to throw a handful of bank documents in to get a really good conflagration going. Yeah. Right. That’s it. One wonders exactly what story the culprit came up with. I bet it was a whopper.

Well, however they came to be burned, they were ashes and Emily was in the proverbial pickle as it was her duty to balance the checkbook, reconciling it with the bank statement and providing it to the business manager for examination. Below is Emily’s request and the bank’s response which was sent airmail special delivery.

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Here’s the duplicate statement the bank sent which included dates and amounts but as they didn’t keep Photostats, there was no way from their end to identify what the checks were for. This is the way things were done in the dark ages, kids. Way, way before online banking.

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Note the handwritten “It could be – Paradise Inn.”

 

Emily used this information, along with the check registry/stubs, to reconstruct a “record of checks” to submit to Paul Jones in the business office. She was able to account for all but two checks which (surprise) Gene had written but had failed to fill in the check stub. This was assumed to be for his stay at the Paradise Inn in Phoenix where he was appearing in a stage play, Design for Living.­­­

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He’d already written one check to the Inn for $96.33 and had entered that on the registry. That obviously didn’t account for his entire stay there. Jeanette was already giving him an allowance and paying his living expenses. Was he now skimming money from the co-sig account to fund his extra-marital activities? Raise your hand if you think this guy was a lying sack of shit who was trying to hide what he was doing and how he was spending his wife’s money.

Then, in a memo to the business manager dated March 19, 1954, Emily sends Jones the reconstruction of the January statement advising, “I told you about the checks and the bank book stubs being burned, and the list attached will account for most of the checks. Perhaps the few left will turn up on the receipted bills. Will you please follow-up for me?” Thus, Emily washes her hands of the matter and no doubt, Mr. Jones will have a discreet talk with his client, Mr. Raymond. As if to leave no doubt of her meaning, Emily adds the following P.S. – “Mr. Raymond arrived late last night from Miami Beach. Mrs. R. is staying for a while as she caught a cold and is going to try to bake it out of her system.”

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No doubt Mr. R. beat it out of town due to the extreme drop in temperature when Mrs. R caught wind of his clumsy maneuverings.

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Fire and ice, indeed. Brrrr. Chilly enough for his wife to catch a cold. Funny, she didn’t return to the warmth of the California sun with him, preferring instead to remain in Miami to “bake it out”. With assistance, no doubt, from a former co-star of the baritone variety who was more than happy to light a roaring fire in her oven. He was always very helpful that way!

But wait, there’s more. The story takes another interesting twist after this debacle. By June of 1954, Emily is asking Jones for a listing of all the bank accounts and in November this year, Jeanette receives a response from a Bank VP to her inquiry on how to change the name on a specific account from Jeanette A. Raymond to Jeanette A. MacDonald.

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By the mid- December, she has issued a series of memos to all the banks listed requesting the same name change be made.

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The cracks in the MacRaymond union, which had been patched just a few short years before, were splitting wide open once more. By mid-1954, her relationship with Nelson, though not without problems, was back on track and heating up. Meanwhile, Jeanette is circling her wagons to protect her assets from a husband she no longer trusted. This is just the kind of thing one does in advance of seeking a divorce. The first step on an ill-fated journey that would end in heartbreak for her in 1957 when Nelson storms out of the lawyer’s office after learning his wife would clean him out in a negotiated divorce settlement. Too bad Nelson didn’t have the same foresight as Jeanette, he should have taken similar actions to protect his wealth from Ann!

It seems the shit hit the fan by September of 1954. On the second, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes of a MacRaymond divorce a follows: “Friends are shrieking ‘Nonsense!’ and ‘Impossible!’ to the rumors that Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond are writing an unhappy ending to all those happy years.” When, on the 17th, Jeanette, suffering from a high fever, collapses and is rushed to the hospital, it is later revealed that in addition to a viral infection, the collapse was brought on by nerves and exhaustion. Whatever marital fracas was happening between Jeanette and Gene, it wasn’t a secret. Friends knew and they were talking.

Alas, I wish the story these documents told was a happier one, but tell a story they do. Both Katie and I feel this information has fallen into our hands for a reason and we both feel a tremendous responsibility to Jeanette and Nelson to get it right. Sometimes it feels like a lot of heavy lifting, so much was covered up for so long by people who conspired to hide the facts for their own profit. We have a commitment, a moral obligation to work just a little harder to find out more of the truth – they deserve to have their say. So that’s why we keep researching, digging, wading through boxes of “stuff” long forgotten in dusty storage rooms. Because the devil is in the details, and sometimes he has a name and a face – but he does NOT have the last word.

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Wish You Were Here

On another note, the third installment in my MacEddy Alternate History (fiction) series, Wish You Were Here, was published a week or so ago, and is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Wish You Were Here takes place in 1949 and follows Smilin’ Through and The Message of the Violet. As this is a series, you need to have read those two before you read this one! Several people have finished it already and have been kind enough to respond favorably.

My next fiction project is an as-yet untitled Novella that I hope to have out before Christmas. It will follow in this same timeline, a year after the conclusion of Wish You Were Here.

Here is the link for the new book! https://www.amazon.com/Wish-Were-Here-Kathleen-OHara/dp/1537029630

Happy Reading!❤

 

On Opera and Insecurity

In my view, Jeanette Anna MacDonald is one of the most talented humans in an era rife with talented humans. Aside from her obviously glorious voice, she was a better actress than she was given credit for (including by herself) and an excellent dancer. A real Triple Threat. One of the world’s great beauties and most gifted charmers, she held masses in the palm of her tiny hand (Side note: Babygirl wore a size 2.25 ring. What.) whether in a performance venue or later in life with her prolific and endearing letter-writing and card-sending to friends and fans alike. She commanded generations of love and loyalty. As a lot of first generation fans have died, many who love her today were introduced to her by an older person in their lives. Comparatively few remain who actually met her, but in talking to as many of them as I’ve been able, the stories all portray a darling lady, funny and cagey and gracious. I interviewed a soldier who met her — because she insisted on staying after her concert performance until all “the boys” who wanted to meet her were able to do so. She “shook every hand, kissed every cheek” and by the time my interviewee reached her, she had removed her shoes from fatigue and was still signing and shaking away in her stockings. Typical Jeanette. Her core group of insiders remained largely the same over the years. Her secret-keepers. She maintained unbelievably cordial relationships with all the major exes in her life. Bob Ritchie is still calling her pet names decades later when he’s writing her back concerning her autobiography! Sunny Griffin said it best: “Nelson put her on a pedestal. She deserved to be on a pedestal.” Yes. Yes, she did. But not in the creepy JMIFC Golden Voiced Angel Diva Princess Snow Queen Perennial Virgin Doesn’t Cuss or Drink or Smoke way. More in the This is a Good and Kind Human Who is Doing the Best She Can Navigating a Difficult Life Scenario and Trying to Please Everyone with More Plates in the Air than You or I Will Ever Have and People Still Love Her and Want to Help Her because She is Worth It and has a Maddening Tendency to Put Her Own Happiness Last way.

Yet, despite the fact that she, by her own admission, had been, “Very, very blessed,” she also admitted, “My problems, I have glossed over, simply because they’re not as pleasant to tell about, for one thing. There are plenty of them, plenty of vicissitudes I had, many, many set-backs, and many disappointments. I had to do a lot of things I hated doing.”

This woman, who gave so much to so many, who at several different points of her life had the world at her feet, was fraught with crippling self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence and self-worth that is downright frightening. It stemmed from a childhood-then-womanhood of trying to please the mother who didn’t love her enough, who never made her feel that she WAS enough, whose best praise was “pretty good” — and it led into a string of self-sacrificing decisions that would steer the many-times unhappy course of her personal and professional lives. It can be hard to reconcile this side of Jeanette’s nature with the clever, far-sighted woman who sat out of work for months waiting for Gable to do San Francisco, who conducted herself around the country on tours, who was notoriously money-savvy. The fact is, Jeanette was excellent at giving the impression of control, of having a plan, and many times this could not have been further from the truth. Also present here is the adult woman who was afraid of the dark, who had to call secretary Emily into her bedroom at night to read to her and rub her neck (apparently Husband of the Century Gene is not capable of satisfactorily putting the Mac down for night-night) to help her fall asleep, and when Emily would start to creep out, a voice from the darkness would say, “I’m not asleep.”

God. She was such a baby on some levels. It’s the most heartbreaking/endearing thing ever. That’s the dichotomy that is Jeanette. That’s what Nelson Eddy termed the “girl-woman” — and he loved that in her. His nurturing nature (he’s literally SUCH a Cancer and she is SUCH a Gemini) made him a perfect person to handle the MacFreakouts. I am not downplaying his faults, but by God he was good at that, with her. He petted, he reassured, he was guardian to the girl and lover to the woman. Indeed, Nelson got his first kiss from her because he had listened to her cry her eyes out in his car after opera people snubbed her at a party that was their first “real” date. On the subject of Jeanette and sleep, Nelson said once, “There’s nowhere she gets it better than in my arms.” Indeed, she “slept like a baby” without her customary night-light, with Nelson in bed with her. By day, she was a businesswoman, a professional, sharp and astute. By night, she wanted to be held; she wanted to be somebody’s baby, to belong to someone. She never got over that desperate need for emotional intimacy, denied her by Anna at the beginning and by others in her life at the end. Our girl was not a loner. The days and days of interminable solitary waiting for the Inevitable at the end of her life are the cruelest form of torture that could possibly have been conceived. Her tears and insecurities frustrated the hell out of comparatively cold and awkward Gene Raymond. “I had to learn not to make an issue of anything, not to argue…I had to learn early that tears would get me nowhere,” “If I had to weep, I wept alone,” she wrote in her autobiography, continuing, “He accused me once, early in our marriage: You’re putting on an act, just like my mother used to. How could I forget words like those?”

My point in illustrating these sides of the person that was Jeanette MacDonald is that these insecurities followed her throughout her life, causing her to regress surprisingly from the professional adult to the child practically begging to be accepted and loved. As a digression, I believe this is related to why she never REALLY bucked the system, told Mayer to go fuck himself and married the man she loved, warts and all, instead of the store-brand version approved of by Anna B. MacMayer. It wasn’t really in her to break the rules, to disobey. She was too much of a pleaser for that, which is why she was wracked with a lifetime of guilt over the fact that she couldn’t stop herself loving Nelson, that she couldn’t stop participating in his love for her. Her greatest personal source of happiness, shrouded in the feeling that it was “wrong”. When asked, in an interview with Sharon Rich in the early 1980s, about how she felt about the relationship, Sunny Griffin’s instantaneous response was, “Very guilty. Very guilty.” Conversely, there were times when she would say, “The hell with the world, I’m having a good time. I’m in love and I’m being loved, why should I worry?” Those were the good times, the fun and easy times, the times when they would be daring and bold and do things like canceling or postponing professional engagements (yes, dears, they both did it) to be together. Of the thirty-two years they had, the tragedy is that they didn’t/couldn’t spend MORE time putting their love first.

“I want to be a grand opera star and buy a gold bed and a pink limousine for Mother,” the juvenile MacDonald is supposed to have said, according to her eldest sister, Elsie, and, indeed, in the 1940s, at the end of her tenure at MGM, Grand Opera was at the forefront of her mind. Jeanette decried her serious opera goals in later-life interviews, saying (I’m paraphrasing) that the public believes that opera is the ultimate goal for a singer, when it reality the recital (the singer + a piano, as opposed to a concert, which is the singer + orchestra) is the realest realization of a singer’s talent. I mean this gently, but we have a tendency, in life, when we have not met a goal or reached the highest level of our aspirations, to sort of re-arrange our telling of a thing to protect ourselves. All one has to do is look at Jeanette’s face on What’s My Line when she is asked if she ever appeared at the Metropolitan to know that this is a sore subject.

But…she performed in opera! Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Faust! In the forties! And got good-or-mostly-good reviews! So what am I talking about?

The Metropolitan and its snobby, political ways…and our Jeanette, whose staunch principles AND desperation to achieve a dream at whatever price absolutely highlight the paradox about which I’ve been going on.

In December, 1942, Jeanette had a meeting with Edward Johnson, the general manager of the Met. According to Jeanette, he “couldn’t have been more delighted” at the prospect of her singing at the Met. He suggested that she prepare Romeo et Juliette, because he had heard her sing parts of it in Rose Marie and thought she’d handled it well. She said she didn’t want to appear to be doing this as a stunt; she wanted to get into the Met on her own merits as a singer. He countered that one way to do that would be for her to enroll in Julliard, that they contribute $25,000.00 to the Met every year and so the Met sees fit to present one of their outstanding singers, every year. Jeanette said she couldn’t abide the idea of being so disloyal to her vocal teacher, Grace Newell, and while I believe that, I think that coaching privately as she did with Grace and Lotte Lehmann was one thing, but formally enrolling in school was not something she was all about—for a myriad of reasons. But I mean really, school??? For Jeanette, in the forties? They left it at a temporary draw, with Johnson’s assurances that he would “work on an angle with the Board of Directors”. So Jeanette left “on a cloud” (This hurts me, she was so freakin’ excited about the Met. I would like this post to not take a dark turn. Alas…) and set about learning the role of Juliet. By February, 1943, she writes Charles Wagner, her manager of some years, who in a few months would be unceremoniously fired, that she can now “sing ‘Juliet’ standing on my head, though I trust this will not be necessary” and goes on to say that she’s very anxious to get going with other aspects of putting the opera together, she’s about to head East and wants to devote March and April to rigorous preparation, so she’s not really feeling the idea of other concert dates unless they’re close by and handled easily and the money is better than what had previously been submitted to her for consideration.

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Shortly after that, she attended a luncheon with several Met stars and Johnson, who held her arm and started some smooth French conversation in her ear while cameras went off. Jeanette says in her autobiography that it had “a rather disillusioning effect, and since I couldn’t encourage him, I replied in English.”

So. He makes a pass and she rebuffs it. Remember that. Her principles, and everything. [She also describes him as “handsome tenor / white hair / beautiful features” — a quick Google will bear her out on all counts.]

Meanwhile, as this is going on, she’s busy LAYING THE SMACKDOWN on Charles Wagner, her concert manager. We have a pile of correspondence between the two of them and one thing is abundantly clear: HE was working for HER, not the other way around. (So, anyone who thinks that he had her in some sort of imprisonment on the road where she couldn’t say eff the police and go meet Nelson if she wanted to is not understanding the nature of their relationship. Jeanette, with this man, does what she damn pleases and tells him about it maybe. He is not a Mayer in her life…nor is he an Edward Johnson. In the final analysis with Wagner, he pissed her off one time too many and she got rid of him, something she never did with Mayer, with Anna or with Gene. She loved her mother. She always wanted her mother’s approval and never seemed to totally get it. With Mayer and Gene, she was flat out up against a wall, and with Gene, it’s interesting because SHE was the main breadwinner and CFO. On paper, they are something of a disaster, but she was stuck. Angela is working on a guest blog with boatloads of MacRaymond financial information that is going to pin your ears back. Hate to say we told you so, but we have original paper proof that Jeanette was financing everything and giving Worthless an allowance and Worthless was overdrawing the checking account and “losing” and “accidentally burning” the bankbook.)

Here is a primo example of savvy business Jeanette at her icy, outraged, bossy best, to Wagner:

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SHE is the boss and he just better get his act together.

But the other side of that coin is the woman who fiercely wants to perform at the Met, to matter as an important Artist and not just a movie star. She needs validation. She needs approval. The little girl needs to be reassured that she’s loved and valuable and wanted and in her mind, the Met can provide all of that.

So she opens Romeo et Juliette in Montreal on May 8, 1943. She played to a sold out three-week Canadian run, but the houses were such that they couldn’t make more than $9,000.00/night and the show cost $12,000.00/night to produce. Thus, though she and the opera itself (she was surrounded by a supporting cast of Met regulars, having no wish to be a standout among second-raters) were a critical success and a financial failure. Jeanette herself not only went without pay, but ended up digging into her own pockets to the tune of $25,000.00, which, spent more shrewdly, would have gotten her on the Met stage, achieving her dream.

All summer long, rumors are flying thick and fast about Jeanette singing at the Met. Louella says that Jeanette’s Metropolitan debut is “set for fall” but then Hedda Hopper writes on July 3, 1943: It cost Jeanette MacDonald plenty of her own cash to sing Romeo et Juliette in Canada. She hasn’t yet been signed to sing it at the Met. It would be smart of Jeanette and Nelson Eddy to team up for another picture, but quick.

She’s in, she’s out, she’s definitely in. The Met can’t wait to have her. The Met doesn’t want her. Edward Johnson promised her he was coming to Canada to hear her sing, then he doesn’t. This freaks her out not a little, because damn, she’s been spending all this time and now all this money trying to create for him “a Juliet of whom he might well be proud” and he doesn’t even come see it.

Then someone sends her this darling little item:

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Not only is that horribly bitchy and unfair of Ms. Hecht, but it also is press that sounds very definite about Jeanette’s signing with the Met, and Edward Johnson’s name is given as the party responsible for signing her, which had not happened. Wagner lets Jeanette know that Johnson is pissed about the press releases and that’s why he didn’t attend her R&J in Canada – he was “put on the spot”. Jeanette takes that to mean that Johnson is somehow accusing HER of planting them to try and force the Met’s hand, things are just not looking so good.

Finally, on October 10th, she writes just about the saddest letter I’ve ever seen. It’s intelligently written (and LONG), but she’s floundering, she’s confused, she’s out a lot of time and money and nobody is talking to her. She doesn’t take to the silent treatment very well, our Jeanette. She spends three pages begging him to explain, apologizing all over herself for stuff she didn’t do, practically doing cartwheels to get him to please please please talk to her. This is totally abnormal behavior for a star of her magnitude. Can you imagine Katharine Hepburn doing this? Of course you can’t.

Here is the letter in its entirety, of which only part has been quoted in the various Jeanette books (including her own). The “enclosure” she mentions is the above item from August 29th.

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And Johnson takes that PLEA for an explanation, and this is the response she gets. I kind of want to punch him.

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He totally blew her off.

The Met didn’t want her. And he didn’t have the balls to tell her that.

And he let her go through ALL THAT. She said she would have preferred his “cold, brutal no” to all the “shadowboxing” — and you cannot blame her.

#boycottMetOpera (okay I’m mostly kidding but JESUS H. ROOSEVELT CHRIST YOU MAKE MY GIRL CRY IMMA MAKE YOU CRY.)

And the tragic thing is, this is STILL ON JEANETTE’S MIND in February of the next year. Where a Kate Hepburn or a Bette Davis might have thrown that middle finger in the air and pranced away, Jeanette still wants the Met to love her.

To the point where she’ll do anything. Remember how she got all high and mighty before about Johnson making a pass at her?

Well, pipe this letter, which to my knowledge, has never before seen the light of day:

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J—-Jeanette. Um.

Honey, darling, love of my life……….did you just gently proposition the manager of the Met?

I–I kind of think you did.

Just let that sink in a minute. Yes, it’s delicately phrased. But this is 1944 and she’s married AND has a hot and heavy on the side who would be none-too-effing-amused by this. This dude Johnson blew her off last fall and now she’s trying AGAIN, this time with the etchings routine!!! Jeanette Anna!!

I’m NOT judging her. It’s pretty common knowledge that this was how you got deals done back in the day. It’s seedy and sexist and super gross, but if you don’t believe that was reality for MANY MANY MANY women, you’re delusional. They did what they felt they had to do and that’s all there is to it. But this is what I meant, earlier, when I said she regressed from professional adult to the child wanting to be validated…at any cost.

Jeanette may have been ready, willing and able to go balls to the wall with small fry like Wagner, her manager. She was a smart girl. And she had so MUCH talent and brilliance that it breaks my heart that she couldn’t just be like, “You don’t want me? The hell with you!” …instead, she keeps going back and back and back, seeking acceptance, and finally, at forty-one years of age, seemingly ready to go back to the early days and debase herself to see if that helps her cause. That is rooted in a deep-seated insecurity. When you have the confidence to believe that you are ENOUGH, you don’t beg someone to want you.

I use Katharine Hepburn as an example because I know her story very well. What did she do in 1938, when she was labeled Box Office Poison? She took her ass back to Connecticut. And then along came the Broadway version of The Philadelphia Story, and when Hollywood called her back, she owned the movie rights and she marched up to Mayer and demanded an UNHEARD OF amount of money for the script and herself as the lead. And we see where that got her. But like, when that happened, when she thought she was done in movies, she didn’t let people see that she was stressed out about it, she just said adios, mofos and bounced.

Jeanette was not equipped to do that. And for all of her acumen, ability and smarts, these people hurt her tender little feelings and I want to cut them. Recognizing and acknowledging that side of her is critical if you’re going to begin to get a real handle on who this woman was. She clung to her principles admirably as long as she could get her way with them, but when the chips were down, she was not above trying an alternate course of action. Long years in New York and Hollywood taught her about that. Sex was a tool, a business move, for a lot of these women. For Jeanette, it wasn’t until Nelson came along that sex got all tangled up with feelings and emotional weight and being in love, and the start of the Nelson Era is, in fact, the end of the Promiscuous Era. He made it good, he made it special, he woke her up and taught her about herself, got her to look through his eyes and understand herself. It’s erotic and amazing, what he did. She learned to value herself and her body no longer wanted to be a tool in the toolbox. Look at the difference in her between Naughty Marietta and Rose Marie. Girl —> Woman. That’s Nelson.

I say this to underscore how crucially, imperatively important this Metropolitan business was to Jeanette, in terms of identity and self-worth, if she was willing to regress to that sort of tired old trick—and even if she didn’t go through with it (this letter seems to be unanswered, so it appears that she didn’t, thank God), it crossed her mind to at least put out the feelers that could lead to her, in effect, selling herself for this ambition.

I’d love to go back in time to find Jeanette as a child and give her a good shake and say YOU. ARE. ENOUGH. You are brilliant and talented and beautiful and you. are. enough. You are not defined by your mother’s lack of approval or the Met’s lack of interest. So many people will admire and respect and love you because you’re awesome, and you don’t have to depreciate yourself for the rest of the world. You’re enough.

She never thought she was. And the ramifications of that are present everywhere in her life.

Many, many thanks to Angela for allowing me to borrow this priceless material for this blog.

 

Nelson Wants Them All to Know

So, all of y’all are familiar with the moment in I Married an Angel where they’re on the balcony, and they have the sort of fragmented bits of that gorgeous song, I’ll Tell the Man in the Street (If you want to hear a really beautiful version, Kristin Chenoweth sings it, look it up on youtube. I wish that song had been taken more seriously in this movie, it’s exquisite.) worked in to the mess with the locals hearing about how Willie married an angel, right?

It also probably has not escaped your notice that when Nelson sings I want them all to know / I love my angel so he seems to make eye contact with someone off camera to his left (our right) on the words “them all” and makes a very emphatic “so there” kind of face, returning his eyes to hers to sing about how he loves his angel so. On the next line, Jeanette is singing I’ll tell the world I’m your bride/I’ll shout it far and wide and she looks back over her left shoulder at the same person and gives a sort of “what are we going to do with him?” type shrug.

Which is freaking adorable. Not at all in character, either. It has nothing at all to do with Willie and his Angel.

I took a video of the lines in question with my phone, just for reference here:

So I have always assumed (maybe others have as well) that they were looking at Woody, their pal, their confidant, and that they were having one of those candid-type moments that seem to permeate their Van Dyke movies, especially this one. Jeanette’s unscripted laugh is the easiest example, but as I have her Angel script in my possession, I can prove several other slip-ups as well. (Nelson forgets his line in the scene with the secretary at the beginning, when he says, “Take a letter–” he flounders all around for the beginning of his line and then remembers it, saying, “Oh yes! Take a letter!” and Woody left it in the movie. There are other little things like that, nothing humongous, but fun for the nerd in all of us.)

Welp, now I can prove it. That it was Woody they were looking at, I mean. In searching for something else this morning, I came across this:

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Boom.

I realize this isn’t earth-shattering news, but it made my little heart so happy when I saw that photo and put these things together for real, instead of just thinking that’s the way it was. They are precious.

A little glance at MacEddy being MacEddy, adorably and candidly, with their best pal.

Visit to LA, 2016 Edition

Hi all,

I recently returned from a -very- intense few days in LA. Hopefully we are well on the way to being able to officially bring you some new and extremely important information. This has been brewing for months, but protocol must be observed in rolling it out. So for those of you kind people who have been waiting for me to blog, please know that it is coming.

Additionally, in the near future I will be doing an unrelated-to-the-LA-information post about Jeanette’s hard-fought battle to get onto the stage of the Metropolitan opera. Thanks to Angela, who is now the owner of some awesome papers and is kindly letting me use them for this blog, we have some very interesting things to highlight with regard to our girl’s foray into Grand Opera, how the Met essentially blew her off, and how doggedly determined she was to realize this dream–and the lengths (regression?) she would go to in her quest. The fact that she never appeared with the Met remained a sore subject for her. Also fascinatingly documented in these papers is her relationship with and subsequent firing of her manager, Charles Wagner. I will be able to tie this in with a post I made a long time ago, as I am now very familiar with the tone of this relationship based on primary source material. Exciting stuff!

We did, of course, go and visit Jeanette at Forest Lawn the first morning we were in LA. I had ordered her floral arrangements in advance and picked them up to deliver to the Freedom Mausoleum last Saturday. Though I really would prefer not to speak of this tacky display, I am bemused to point out that yet again, I have been to Forest Lawn a week after Jeanette’s June 18 birthday and yet again have had the dubious joy of removing the once-gaudy, now-dead, wilted flowers left behind by the APPRECIATING JEANETTE MACDONALD CLUB – SUE GARLAND, PRESIDENT. I say the name in very shouty all capitals because this group is apparently very very very interested in having their brand plastered all over literally everything, so hey, go nuts right? FREE PUBLICITY YOU ARE WELCOME. I know nothing about this group except that they are saints and their taste in flowers leaves something to be desired, but I think they are mighty …..something….. in needing to have their name literally taped. to. the. vase. as well as stuck in the flowers themselves. Why not tape a tag to each individual stem? Who are they doing this for? “ADMIRE US, WE GAVE THIS PERSON SOME FLUORESCENT DAISIES.”

No, but really:

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And not even real cards… though I must say this beats the wrinkled envelope that looked like it came from the bottom of somebody’s purse, stuck to the $4 plastic and cellophane potted flower!plant left on the floor, last year. There was another one of those on the floor this year, an Anniversary Gift from the Same Important Group. 

I mean, I really don’t want to be that person, like I think it’s nice that Jeanette gets remembered with flowers and it’s NOT a competition and it’s a free country, please send all your favorite people flowers and take care of their resting places with love. But I dunno man, not once in the now, what, five times that I’ve ordered flowers at Forest Lawn either for hand delivery by myself or placement by an employee — not once have I ever felt the need to smear my name or our names or the Mac/Eddy Club’s name all over it. There has never been a card or a name attached, period. I have this funny idea that they’re for Jeanette and she knows damn well who they’re from and that’s good enough for me and my friends. I’ll provide a picture for interested parties and be satisfied that I feel like a nice thing has been done for someone about whom we care deeply.

Speaking of which, here are the arrangements that Forest Lawn’s lovely flower shop made up this year. I just gave them color choices, this time, and they did the rest. I loved how they turned out. Side Note: I have never had trouble with any staff member at FL, despite the reputation the place has for being hard-nosed and strict. I love it there and have found ALL the staff to be pleasant and awesome.

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See, I have to feel like that looks like it was actually chosen as a gift for this particular recipient. Sorry I’m not sorry. I know that bringing up that other group’s stuff was petty and icky but their hypocrisy is thick and their desire to be advertised is garishly evident, so why not?

Lawd have mercy.

Forest Lawn was pretty emotional this year, in light of what is about to come to the fore. I know Angela and I both felt that, when we were there. Sniff. With us was our dear dear Mary Lynn and a woman named Margaret, who is in her eighties and making her first California voyage. She was so moved to be there and she thinks so much of our sweet songbird that it made the whole thing more special for the rest of us. Please feel loved, Jeanette. You ARE loved by so many, even if we can’t manage to get along.

We also went to see our man Mr. Eddy.

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Hollywood Forever’s flower shop was also ON POINT—they had just gotten a beautiful shipment when we were there and everything was fresh and gorgeous. I am always impressed with how cheap flowers are in LA! (All the more reason to get nice ones, amirite?)

Saturday evening we ate at Miceli’s and had the fun of Hollywood/Highland at night. Never gets old! Margaret and the rest of us hoofed it from Miceli’s all the way to Grauman’s — there was no way she could leave LA without visiting the hand and footprints! Oh, speaking of which, I had Miss Mac’s gloves in my bag the entire trip, everywhere we went, so at Grauman’s, I took this picture of the baby-sized gloves and the baby-sized hands that used to wear them. So cute. (Rest assured they were NOT put on the ground!!! My hand is underneath them!)

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Sunday was the meeting. Monday was an adventure unto itself, but one of those things that I’m going to wait a little while longer before blogging about it. I will be free to use more complete information very soon and it will make the post better as a result. Tuesday we spent at USC doing research, and of course we dropped by the Jeanette MacDonald Recital Hall to see the Pretty Pretty Pink Lady. The pictures do NOT do the thing justice. It is absolutely stunning. If you have the opportunity to get there, GO SEE IT. I wish it wasn’t up so high, but it’s probably safer that way. I stood on a stack of 4 chairs to get this picture.

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Still in the original frame. Here it is, with its most gorgeous subject, in 1962. This photo is one of my latest acquisitions and I am happy to provide an un-watermarked copy of this to most people, please just leave me a comment and I’ll make sure you get it! Just sick of finding my scans on ebay, etc.

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And that’s about all the non-news news I have for you!

Waffles a la Jeanette!

A fun post, this Friday:

Jeanette is widely considered to not have been that great of a cook. Both men in her life have acknowledged that she would leave the kitchen in a huge mess after she was finished, and she said it would take her most of the day to prepare a “not too difficult” meal, but she always said she had a great eye for produce and choice cuts of meat.

………Choice cuts of meat:

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Sorry, sorry, I’ll behave.

ANYWAY, okay, so there were a few dishes that were “specialties” of Jeanette’s: her baked beans, best when served with her hot Boston brown bread is sort of universally considered the best thing in her repertoire. Also of note, her homemade Philadelphia style peach ice cream. I’ve made all of the above and they’re all fabulous and I don’t even LIKE baked beans.

A MacDonald specialty that I had not tried until today, however, is her waffles. She used to make them on Sundays occasionally and have people over. Director Ernst Lubitsch used to eat FOUR (I was full after one).

So this morning, I figured it was time to try the waffles. Here is her recipe, in her own handwriting.❤

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PLEASE NOTE: that is a 1 for number of teaspoons of salt!!! The brown ring on the old paper obscures it and her quotation marks then become misleading. Do not put 4 teaspoons of salt in the batter!

This recipe makes batter for about 4 waffles, depending on the size of your waffle iron, I guess.

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Shout-out to Hana, one of my riding students who brings me fresh eggs from her chickens all the time!!

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Jeanette’s all like, “Add milk to make a thin batter.” That’s too vague for me, but it worked. Apparently she has a lot of faith in whoever is reading this recipe not to be Katie Gardner in the kitchen. Guys, Angela was cooking in my kitchen in September and she brought into my life the knowledge that my oven can broil things. It was big news to me.

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LOOKIT!!!!!!!!! It could have been darker but that was the first one and my angina was real.

My brother and sister-in-law were subjected to MacWaffles and they survived, and what’s more, they liked it.

So, another A+ for the Mac. Make the waffles.

Oh! And my friend Mary Lynn owns Jeanette’s original cookbook (in which she cut up old address labels and used them as tape, bless her), and it has been reproduced gorgeously into a spiral-bound volume that can be purchased at this link. Well worth it!!

 

‘LOVE’ is a Four-Letter Word

Hello, dear readers, I have returned with the latest dose of embarrassing nonsense from the people who designated themselves human components of Jeanette’s Figurative Chastity Belt.

I’ve heard that the so-called “Nelson fans” were merely “tolerated” at the old Clan Clave meetings of the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club, but if they made noise or applauded his solos during a film screening, they were asked to leave. This is how high tensions were about Nelson, the very presence of him on a movie screen with their Precious Princess Diva was enough to really freak these folks out, apparently. But why? Why, if they have nothing to be “concerned” about? Why so jumpy? Why so defensive? You do understand that it’s a movie, right? That it will play the same way it always has, every viewing, that applause and enthusiasm for Nelson aren’t going to make the film work any differently, so…………?

Side Note: Even today, people bitch about her being best remembered as one-half of the most famous singing duo in history …like that’s a problem. Nelson had a rather brilliant opera and concert career before he arrived in Hollywood, but nobody wants to talk about that. Jeanette was a star on Broadway and at Paramount, and her Paramount days are still highly regarded among anyone who actually has real knowledge of classic film, but the MGM/Nelson movies are where it’s at, for her. Even at MGM, her recording of the title song in San Francisco became the official song of the city. It was a big deal and that was a great movie… but we still think of her as Rose Marie. Do you think of Ginger Rogers without Fred Astaire? I mean, you can, as a person with film knowledge, you can talk about Kitty Foyle or Stage Door or any number of her solo films, but she will always be best and most fondly remembered as a partner, a teammate, half of the greatest dancing team ever. For Nelson and Jeanette, they each did commendable solo projects but it was together that they were best-known, best-loved and have been and will be best-remembered. They were both proud of that. That indelible perfection that happened between them, as a result of the exquisite blending of their voices is the stuff legends are made of, but the fact is their chemistry crackles when they aren’t singing, too. Between them, something worked.

I just think it’s really stupid—the Nelson hate, the Jeanette hate. I’ve seen it on both sides. You may prefer one or the other but for God’s sake appreciate them BOTH, because they appreciated each other. Once, Nelson threatened to disband his fan club because it was talking shit about Jeanette. You really think they’d applaud the efforts that are made to demean the other one?

The thing that sticks out to me is how that whole camp: Clara, Tessa, definitely Gene and maybe even Emily are so completely threatened by Nelson that they would strike him from the record at every turn and the hell with how Jeanette feels on the subject. It’s really amazing. Which, actually, brings me to the point of this blog post:

My research buddy Angela recently came across a couple of really interesting documents. (She also had the brilliant suggestion for the title of this post, so thanks, chum). The first is an article from the Rose Marie era, which was preserved by Clara Rhoades, JMIFC President, and was included in a pile of stuff that had been used for the club’s publication, The Golden Comet. This is just one example, but it’s hilarious and enraging all at once, of how these people edited an article that was, at the time, already like twenty-five years old, removing any reference that showed Nelson in a good, sexy, attractive, masculine light. Here is a part of the article that have been marked up by Clara before the thing was re-printed by her club. (The article is from Silver Screen magazine, December, 1935, and it is entitled: On Location with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.)

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So yeah, we have to cross out anything that makes Nelson look like the heartthrob that he indeed was to audiences at this time. He can’t be handsome or sexy or swoon-worthy, because then someone might get the idea that Jeanette was swooning just like most other red-blooded American girls. (And we are so insecure that we have to try to engineer people’s thoughts away from that BAD BAD territory, especially with young upstart Sharon Rich on hand, who has gotten close to Jeanette’s sister Blossom and who is LEARNING THINGS. And worse, she is SAYING THINGS OUT LOUD.) And then, sure, go ahead and change the author’s words there at the end, Clara. Gotta keep the minds of the members clean and elevated beyond thoughts of the pleasures of the flesh. THIS IS A VERY PIOUS GROUP, OKAY. Unless it involves members playing Rump Roast with underage boys, natch. We just don’t talk about that…………..

Now, as most of you know, Jeanette was given a Woman of the Year award in Philadelphia, February 26, 1960. Among the accolades and tributes of the evening, President Eisenhower sent a warm telegram to be read to the audience, and Nelson dashed off a letter as well with a tribute of his own.

A letter from Jeanette was included shortly thereafter in the “Mailbag” section of the Nelson Eddy Music Club’s publication, in which she quotes what Nelson said in his letter. After looking for most of the day, I finally found my copy of this and have included the selection in question below:

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Sweet, right? Yeah, we think so, too.

On page 320 of his book, Hollywood Diva, Edward Baron Turk quotes the same letter thus:

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Notice anything different? Here, have the first one again:

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Before I go any further, I want to point out that Dr. Maria Escano was the first person to discover this discrepancy, back in 2014. We were all very intrigued then, and outraged; why would Turk leave off the word “love” at the end of Nelson’s letter? WHY, INDEED?

I have decided to no longer blame Turk for censoring Nelson, only for being too big of an ass-kissing moron to see that it had been censored.

And why do I say that, you ask?

Well, because Angela recently came into possession of Nelson’s ORIGINAL letter. She has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce it here for this blog. It is a front and back page.

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Wait for it…

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White out. Literal white out. I am not even close to kidding right now. I wish I was.

What. The. Hell.

So, who did it?

Nelson? No, because the letter in its original state was quoted by Jeanette in HER letter of March 1 to the Music Club.

Jeanette? No, obviously. She reported it as it was written.

Gene? No—well, I mean, I guess he could have, but that would have been kinda dumb. I’m going with no.

Turk? No. I don’t give him that much credit for brains.

Clara Rhoades, JMIFC president, mythology-peddler and fact laundered extraordinaire? With a history of “editing” away everything good and handsome and sexy and wonderful about Nelson? Who had this stuff in her clutches to edit as she so chose?

Ding ding ding. We have a winner.

And just in case you don’t think the word “love” and a “&” symbol is under there, I asked Angela to take a flash photo of it. She reports that it’s plainly visible when holding the letter up to the light. I adjusted the contrast in the photo for the clearest viewing.

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So, please tell me how trustworthy these people are, again?

And please tell me why their condemnation of Sharon Rich and her tireless work holds ANY WATER, WHATSOEVER?

Come on, Clara. Come on, Saints. Where the hell do you get off editing someone’s words like that? And furthermore, as if this couldn’t get more idiotic or something, this wasn’t even a private letter! This was a few remarks written by Nelson to be read aloud in a public forum in which Jeanette was being honored. So what the hell is the problem with him giving her his continuous love? Why does that freak you out so much that you actually feel entitled to change the ending of the man’s letter? Who died and left you in charge of the Censorship Committee?

When you read the Golden Comet, when you talk to the “Saints” — know this. The information they perpetuate and the information their inmates continue to swear by is heavily, heavily edited. Heavily censored. You see only what they want you to see. These people are scared to death (for what reason, I still do not know) that what Blossom told Sharon, what Sharon has worked and worked and worked to learn about for decades since, what countless other people including Angela and myself have jumped in and worked on, too—they are scared to death that it’s true. Why? God only knows. My only guess is that so many of these people have never experienced, in their own lives, the desperate, frantic passion of a real and volatile love. They don’t understand it, they find it disconcerting and they don’t WANT to understand it. They don’t have the emotional capacity to grasp that something may be worth it, even if it’s horrifically difficult. Even if all the odds and your own non-deceitful moral compass are against you. Mr. and Mrs. Raymond, with their awkward Fred and Ethel Mertz sort of vibe and lack of sexy chemistry, make them comfortable. Clara’s loathing of Nelson is, as Angela just pointed out to me, borderline pathological. Why is she on such a mission to eradicate him?

I mean, the stuff Sharon has written isn’t always all sunshine and lollipops. A lot of it can be tough to stomach, or heartbreaking, or maddeningly frustrating, leaving you just dying to go back in time and make things better somehow. But she doesn’t white-wash and she doesn’t sugar-coat. And that’s more than can be said for The Keepers of Jeanette’s Imaginary Virtue. This is absolutely pathetic.

Meredith Willson was overheard to say once, after attending a JMIFC Clan Clave, “It was as if Nelson Eddy never existed.” And that was exactly the way they wanted it. After Jeanette died, Gene was their sort of Big Ticket Attraction at the meetings, and they gave him unmerited prominence in Jeanette’s professional life (he spent her money like water and was a Grade A Flop in just about everything except minor theatre and the Air Force, let’s be real here), and beefed up their personal life to make it some sort of untouchably wonderful thing. They did this to such an extent that they then had to tamper with documents to beat down any question that perhaps there was more to this story. If they weren’t damn scared of the fact that there WAS more than meets the eye here, they’d never have bothered trying to change everything all around.

As a post-script to this disgusting mess, I recently bought a picture on ebay of Jeanette as Juliette in Rose Marie. It had Clara’s address label on the back of it, a “please return to” sort of deal. It was peeling off, and I noticed writing underneath it. Jeanette’s. So I took Clara’s label the rest of the way off and put that garbage in the can where it belongs. Just let that sink in a minute. She actually pasted her own label over Jeanette’s handwriting. Quite the little self-important fan club personage, no? I mean, wow.