The Star:Fan Responsibility Ratio

Fan Culture.

Surely it encompasses more than what I’m about to talk about – and surely I’m not an expert on all its aspects. But what has stuck in my craw lately is the question: where is the end of responsibility of a famous person to their fan base?

I’m speaking, of course, of Jeanette, but I’m positive that this question can/will/should be asked about millions of other stars – perhaps especially those whose image is “wholesome” – are they responsible to you, the fan, the nameless face in the crowd, the ticket-buying member of the public, the backstage idolater, the writer of the fan letter, the requester of the autograph – are they responsible to you every moment of their off-camera, off-stage lives?

Do you think they should be?

Do they think they should be?

In Jeanette’s case, I feel that at least one or two of those questions could be answered in the affirmative, and I think that’s grossly, damningly unfair.

When Jeanette was young, on Broadway in the Roaring Twenties, she was in a series of not-too-successful musicals (though her personal notices were almost always great), lots of them silly/bawdy/slightly naughty in the style of the day. When she was tapped by Lubitsch for The Love Parade, 1929, right on up through her move to MGM which yielded The Cat and the Fiddle, and SO famously, The Merry Widow, in 1934, before she was teamed with a baritone we know and love and the rest was history, she developed her screen persona as the sexy singing girl who spent a lot of time in her underwear or taking elaborate baths on camera. She was known as the Lingerie Queen of the Talkies, and said, as most of you reading this will know already, “I’m sure people must say about me, on the screen, ‘Good Gracious, is Jeanette MacDonald going to take off her clothes – again?’”

But something happened at MGM, the way it so often did at the biggest and best of the grand old studios; Jeanette was given a type. She had a highbrow voice, an exquisite, well-bred face, and a talent for combining the fairy tale damsel in distress with a sassy raised eyebrow. She was a Disney Princess before they were a thing. In her movies with Nelson, she’s nearly always elevated in stature over him – the princess, the opera star, the opera star, the saloon-owning-non-bandit, the rich girl, the—you get the idea. Nelson is the soldier, the Mountie, the music teacher. She’s always a little high above us all, virginal, pure, and, as a magazine of the time commented, one of the best figures in Hollywood suddenly became swathed so deep in ruffles and crinolines that whenever Charles did get Marianne into that wedding night cabin it probably took him 3 hours just to get her undressed…! (The magazine didn’t say that last part, I did. The magazine talked about one of the best figures in Hollywood being hidden in all the period clothes.)

And hey, who am I to argue? (Well, I’m about to argue.) Her movies were phenomenally successful. She was given the class treatment all the way – Adrian, Stothart, C.S. Bull – all the top guys worked on her projects, and she and Nelson made the studio a crapload of money. They had a formula that worked, and so they worked it. Can’t really blame them, but one has only to watch her in Firefly, in Three Daring Daughters and The Sun Comes Up to just weep with bitterness over how horrendously she was limited by that formula. Her Nina Maria is hands down, far and away the smartest character she ever played; politically important, toe to toe with the men, diabolically sneaky, impossibly charming, layered, absolutely brilliant work. We are not distracted by Nelson and her chemistry with him (I mean that in the nicest way, Nels, but you two DO tend to go on…) and she really rolls up her sleeves and gets to work. She got a rare opportunity to be smart. Really smart, not just coyly clever. Her Louise Morgan and Helen Winter could have been the most compelling characters of her career, had their stories been treated as important woman’s stories, instead of “family” fluff. I love both of those movies dearly, but my point is – she had so, so, so, so much more to give as an actress, and in limiting her to the immediately lucrative, MGM stifled her talent such that we’ll never know what she could actually have done.

That’s a small digression, but it works back around to my point that the generation of people who grew up going to her movies, and the generation after them that fell in love with her when her films were re-issued for television – these people got an idea of what she must be like, watching her and hearing her sing.

The fact is, they weren’t all wrong.

And then, in 1939, she started going on concert tour, all over the country. She went a number of times. Over the next two decades, she put hundreds of concerts and recitals and two grand operas under her belt. Anyone bearing a membership card to either of her two fan clubs had a personal invitation from her to come backstage after the show and say hello. She always arranged it with the theatre security, and I cannot tell you how many hundreds of “meeting Jeanette” stories I’ve had the joy of reading. I haven’t read a single negative one. Ever. She took an enormous job upon herself and did it magnificently. When she was tired, when she wasn’t feeling well, when she had already given of herself for hours, she made herself available to these people and gave them amazing memories.

This generous woman also wrote a letter to the membership of each of her two fan clubs, faithfully, for more than twenty-five years, for their three-or-four journals per year. Musical Echoes and the Golden Comet always begin with a letter from Jeanette, as long as she lived. Added to that, she kept up a ridiculous mountain of personal correspondence with these folks, many of whom traveled great distances to her concerts and developed a real and lasting, if distant, friendship with her. She was included in their Christmas card-sending; put on prayer lists at their churches, she heard about jobs and marriages and babies and school grades and everything else. She was absolutely a part of people’s lives. When she dispersed her Bel Air home in 1963 and moved to an apartment at the Wilshire Comstock, she carefully packaged up possessions too numerous to make the downsizing move and sent them out to these people, all across America, little pieces of herself lovingly scattered among these loyal friends of long-standing, these people who had hustled backstage to meet their favorite star some twenty years before, written her their adoration and somehow the conversation had never ceased since.

There is no doubt, especially as her world grew smaller and quieter in the last few years of her life, that these people were a tremendous source of love for her. They made her feel adored, important. They remembered her when she wasn’t professionally active, they cheered her up when she was progressively sicker and sicker. Giving to them was something she could still do, even when she couldn’t perform.

(It may also be prudent to point out here that I’ve taken her heart x-rays to one of the prominent cardiac surgeons in my state, and his professional opinion is that her 1960 films are absolutely damning. She was sicker than most anyone knew, for longer than most anyone knew, and it breaks my heart to type that, when my office is literally filled with her attempts to keep going, even knowing she was a ticking bomb. She wrote(!) the most brilliant TV treatment in 1961 and filed it with the Writer’s Guild. She had so many ideas and wanted so badly to go back to work, but having discussed her case with this completely objective medical professional, her 1959 retirement makes horrifyingly perfect sense. It had nothing to do with her voice. She couldn’t get breath support to sustain the notes. She couldn’t get enough oxygen to her brain to carry a show. Perhaps she had that sort of live-like-you-are-dying approach with the fans, giving of herself as hard and long as she could, with everything she had to give them, because she knew she wouldn’t be here much longer.)

All this to say that Jeanette for sure, completely, absolutely contributed to the public’s perception of her. She knew she had a particular kind of image, and she lived up to it. She never let them know she suffered, that she was unhappy, that things weren’t all they were cracked up to be at home. She got, in her lifetime, thousands and thousands of letters shoving her higher and higher onto a pedestal. As one of her friends accurately commented, she deserved to be on a pedestal. But nobody should have to live up there. It’s unfair and it’s unhealthy. While it’s wonderful that she gave so generously of her time and talent, it’s dead wrong to expect her to conduct her life to the bullshit standards you’ve decided to apply to her – and during the course of her life and really in the half-century since it ended, that’s what has happened.

Jeanette had a truly outrageous sense of personal responsibility. Perhaps it stemmed from becoming the family breadwinner when most kids are busy worrying about ninth or tenth grade; perhaps it was simply in her personal makeup the same way her innate goodness was. She also had – to a fault – a teeming compunction to please. Easily guilted, easy to manipulate into acting against her own personal happiness or best interest in the name of doing what’s best for someone else. So…she was the perfect candidate for what she became: a woman trying with all her might to keep up the image, lest she shatter someone’s illusions.

It’s gut-wrenching, the way she writes a personal letter to club president Clara Rhoades detailing how bad she feels, how she can’t gain weight, how she isn’t getting better, but telling Clara to please not share that with the members, and in the same envelope, enclosing a letter for the Comet, chattering gaily away about this and that. It’s awful to read Happy Birthday Alone and then the details of a brutal fight with Gene in her desk diary on June 18, 1963 – her 60th birthday – and then to see her lie through her teeth to the fans about how she spent her day. It’s not a malicious lie. She’s not a liar. It’s the necessity of her state, it’s the making the best of her status because she knows she’ll never get out of it.

Private Jeanette and Public Jeanette had vastly different realities. Public Jeanette covered for Private Jeanette as dictated by what Public Jeanette had become: an ideal, a safe, conservative, churchy, ladylike Princess Maytime, always with a kind word and benevolent gesture for a lowly commoner. There was enough of that in her, really in her, to make it completely believable. She WAS so many of these things, it’s easy to think that’s the whole story. Charming, kind, deeply principled, warm, loving, friendly, generous, funny, ladylike – all words that can be used to describe the real woman. No doubt.

Private Jeanette was also lonely, scared, frustrated, self-deprecating, unhappy – sometimes individually, sometimes all at once. I certainly don’t mean to say she was these things all the time, but her circumstances were such that she could not help herself, eventually. It only takes a few hundred happy marriage magazine spreads before the public really gets attached to that idea, and to admit you’re unhappy, tremendously unhappy, have been for years, how the thing is a fricking mess – well it’s tantamount to lying and Princess Maytime can’t do that, because to do that would be to shatter the illusions of the public, and then to be tried and hung in the Court of Public Opinion, especially in the era in which she lived. In so many of her choices, especially in the latter part of her life, she chose NOT to do so many things that might have bettered her state, because she didn’t want to disappoint anyone, she didn’t want to let them down. She believed in the power of one’s illusions. She believed in the power of sentiment, of old-fashioned decency, of make believe and pretty things. Anyone who is familiar with her comments regarding the entertainment industry in the fifties and sixties knows what I mean. She stood in staunch defense of the kind of movie she made, and while I wish she’d gotten to branch out and really test herself and all her prodigious talent, I understand what she means. We live in a world of precious little sentiment. I don’t know what on earth she’d do in 2018.

She tried her best to give her people a life example that lived up to her body of work. Because of that, she missed opportunities for happiness, for love, for improved health, for a potentially longer life, and for simple honesty that would have ultimately saved her so much time and trouble.

Surely she’s responsible for a good bit of that, either deliberately (when she did things like hand-edit articles about her to strike any references to her social drinking, so that people really believed she didn’t), or because of the way she was wired, to be responsible and to please people so they’d love her. Thank Anna MacDonald for that last part. Don’t get me started.

But how much of that is the fan responsible for? Why is it okay for someone to put that kind of responsibility on another human, to make someone else your example for living in such a way that it becomes an unforgivable crime for their foot to slip?

I get where Jeanette was coming from, albeit on a much smaller scale. I teach horseback riding, and have a whole flock of girls ages 9-17, some of whom I’ve had for many years. I feel keenly the responsibility to these girls to model good things for them. Good things with regard to our sport and good things with regard to life. I watch my mouth, in front of them. I watch my language on the social media to which they have access. I watch my behavior. I know they are watching, I know they are listening, and that matters to me. I have the complete trust of their parents, to be a positive presence in the lives of their kids, to be a trusted adult to whom they can turn, to have an environment here in my home and at my farm where they are safe, learning, having fun. I promise there are parts of my life these kids don’t know about, and that’s fine and as it should be. Where I differ from Jeanette (hahahahahahahahahahaha where shall I start?) is that I’m allowed to authentically live my life without apology, in an era that expects me to apologize less.

The demographic of MacDonald fan I have patience for less than any other is the people who “can’t bear to think about it” or “prefer to live in their own fantasy world” – I’ve seen both of those things in print within the last week. My suggestion, then, is to limit yourselves to the movies only, and don’t get involved in biographical discussions, because nobody’s real life is the way Photoplay spins it, and nobody’s real life is smooth sailing from beginning to end, even if that is comfortable for you.

Without allowing this to become political, I saw a cartoon the other day that had two identical illustrations, one labeled RIGHT and one labeled WRONG. “Right” said, I can’t, because of my religion. “Wrong” said, You can’t, because of my religion.

That’s how I feel about this. The inability or unwillingness to process the documentable underbelly of what this woman lived through (with or without Nelson Eddy) does not negate the fact that it happened, even if someone doesn’t want to participate. Just because someone has intimacy issues and/or a very strange relationship with sex does not mean SHE didn’t have it, and like it, with someone she loved. Or multiple partners. In short, and on whatever topic, the fan’s personal shit does not verify or negate her story, and I don’t know what it is about Jeanette that seems to attract the notion that it does. Your inability to process the fact that you spent X number of years buying into a façade, hook, line and sinker really has nothing to do with her life, and you’re really selfish to put that on her and demand that she live up to it. Someone once said that if it was true that Jeanette loved Nelson, that she would burn her entire collection. Like oh my God, really? Do you love the person or do you love what the person represents to you? Do you love the person or do you love the image? Do you love Public Jeanette or do you care about a whole gorgeously flawed being? I’m not sure some of you know.

Jeanette felt so accountable to this nonsense, to upholding people’s ideals, that she ultimately died in a rotten awful way because she did not feel that she could be honest about what was going on, about her health or her home life, because she was not being valued as a whole person, she was being valued as a beautiful beacon of something that doesn’t even really exist. If I knew absolutely nothing else about the relationship between Jeanette and Gene Raymond, Jeanette’s 1963 desk diary would make me ask questions about abuse in her home. True, she lived in an era where people let it all hang out a lot less, and also true, she had her pride. But when an incredibly straightforward and honest woman is doing these sorts of calisthenics to put the “correct” foot forward, it’s about more than that. Her mother didn’t love her enough, no matter what she did, how hard she worked, how high she sang, how much money she made. Her mother loved her conditionally. She lived with that reality until 1947. She knew damn well what conditional love was, and how easily it could be turned off. By the 1960s, the love from her fans was one of the biggest forces in her life. Would she risk turning it off by saying, “Look, I know I’ve made things look good for a long time, but here’s what’s actually going on…” – of course she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. She needed what they were giving her. If she’d had a really secure home, I’d wager that would have been considerably less important.

Yeah, it’s sad. Yeah, it’s hard. Yes, it will make you feel deeply. It will make you intensely sad, if you allow it to, and I think you should. It’s depressing as hell to uncover the truth of just how hard some of this stuff was for her. But she lived it, and at some point, it feels incredibly disrespectful to her to simply opt out of dealing with it. Be here or don’t. Don’t dismiss her life because it makes you uncomfortable. If you’re going to get into this story, be open to all of it and recognize that it’s not about you. It’s not and never was Jeanette’s job to be one way or the other FOR YOU. She was hired to sing and make pretty movies. Her extreme generosity after hours and for all those years does not mean it’s okay to continue the tradition of demanding that her story only be written one way.

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George

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may remember a post I made a couple of weeks ago about cold-calling someone who could potentially have a story, and that I hoped he wasn’t dead.

I had found, in The JAM Project stuff, a little cache of letters and cards from Jeanette to this fellow named George, spanning a decent amount of time, some typed and some handwritten. In nearly every one, she’s thanking him for roses he has sent her. She tells him he spoils her “but I love it!” and she discusses various colors/varieties of roses he has sent. In one letter, she talks of downsizing from Twin Gables to the Comstock, and she notes that she has sent him a “surprise package” that “even though it may not be specifically your taste, with it comes a sentimental feeling that it will find a warm welcome.” (You GUYYYYYYSSSSSSS. I CANNOT WITH THIS HUMAN.)

In short, immediately, I was a big fan of George.

So I checked out the address on the packet of letters and plugged it into Google, and sure enough, George’s name came up, with his wife, Joanne, and a couple of phone numbers.

Could George possibly be alive, still?

Look, at this point, in 2018, finding new people to talk to who met/knew Jeanette is getting harder and harder. I don’t have any sort of agenda in trying to contact people, I just want to hear about what they have to say. Jeanette has intensely high approval ratings among practically everybody, but the stories are fun. They’re charming. They’re little glimpses at the woman I’ll never get to meet, and I love hearing them. (Also, I love old people. Win/win.)

So, I taught my riding lessons, choked down some dinner, organized all the George letters, got out my notebook and pen and swallowed the foreboding sense of extreme awkwardness when calling someone out of the clear blue, who has no idea you exist. Eep.

I try the first number. It rings and rings and rings and rings, no answer, no voicemail. Well, nuts, I was all worked up to it and everything.

I try the second number. This time I get a voicemail, but the voice in the recording sounds older; Joanne, no doubt. I put on my hilariously professional voice that never gets used in real life (doesn’t everybody have one of those?) and begin leaving the most awkward message of all time. Is it weird to say I hope you’re still alive? Yes. Don’t do that. (I didn’t, thank God.)

Mid-message-leaving, the phone is yanked up, and the same voice as was on the recording says, “Say all that again, please?”

So I repeat myself, my name, where I’m calling from, I assure her she doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall and say I think, maybe, that I’m looking for George…? (You know, in case he’s not dead…?)

“I very much doubt that, young lady, George has been dead for thirty-five years.”

Oh.

“What did you want to talk to George about?”

“Jeanette MacDonald,” I say.

A pause, then a breath and a chuckle. “Oh, the other woman!”

I start laughing and it’s settled: I like this lady. With the ice broken, I give her my background and tell her I’m holding in my hand, at this moment, a bunch of letters and cards from Jeanette to George, that he had shared with the fan club. I ask for the story of George and Jeanette. How did they meet? I am told that George was a student at a music school at which Jeanette was coming in for a concert and some other “to-do” over a weekend. She had asked ahead of time for an escort/lackey/gofer type, perhaps they could appoint one of the students to be her helper while she was there? George was elected. He was all of nineteen at the time, and a photo exists from that weekend, and Joanne laughingly tells me how freshly scrubbed and young George looks in it. Joanne remembers this as about late 1952 or early 1953, but also recalled that this was a period in their lives when she and George didn’t really know each other. They had known each other as kids, then grew apart for a period of years, then found each other again as adults and married. George spent some time in the fifties near Warren, Ohio, and saw Jeanette in Bitter Sweet, as well as in concert any time she came near that area. By the time he and Joanne reunited, “George and Jeanette were firmly established and it was clear to me that in marrying him, I was taking Jeanette into my life, too.”

That didn’t and doesn’t sound like too much of a problem, to me.

I asked if she ever met Jeanette.

“Hell, no!” I am rebuked for my suggestion, humor evident in Joanne’s voice. “When he went to see her, that was George and Jeanette time. My job back then was to get him a good camera – I worked for Kodak – teach him to use it and get out of the way.”

I said that in the notes from Jeanette, she was always thanking him for flowers. Joanne remembered it well. It seems Jeanette got roses more often than she did, but she remains a grand sport about it. ❤ “It was quite a love story,” remembered Joanne. “When she was moving to that apartment, she sent George a beautiful sterling silver bowl. I’m looking at it, right now, in the living room. Solid sterling. Just a gorgeous piece, but that was like her, from what I always gathered. We were so, so sorry when she died. She was sick a long time.”

We ended a most enchanting, captivating conversation with Joanne taking my name and address, saying she’d look around for anything else that might be of interest, and she’d make a copy of the photo of George and Jeanette for me. She was rather elated to have a Jeanette contact, because “the younger people don’t care too much about this.”

Today, the mail brought an envelope from Joanne.

Isn’t he STINKING CUTE? GEORGE!!!!!!! #therealMVP

I salute you and everything you stand for, sir.

AND ALSO, JEANETTE ANNA, YOU JUST GO ON WITH YOUR BAD, BAD SELF.

I literally cannot even. Got herself a nice-looking college age admirer who is going to write her and send her flowers for birthdays and Christmases and no reason at all for the rest of her life, and his wife’s just gonna have to get on board with this fact. Such is her charm. This story is not a new one. It’s purely innocent and so, so adorable, but that J-Mac always did appreciate a tall, cute boy. I am 500% obsessed with this.

Also, the earrings that she’s wearing there (you can’t see them well, but they go with that dress and necklace) are on my vanity, as we speak, two feet away from me. HOW. This thing continues to blow my damn mind. There is nothing cooler than this, as far as I can tell. ❤ ❤

The Carmel Myers…Thing

Today, I am bringing you another piece of film, courtesy of The JAM Project. We have had it digitized and ready to go for a couple of months but a plethora of other responsibilities has kept me from sitting down and putting together a blog post about it.

Many of you may have, by now, seen Jeanette’s appearance on The Carmel Myers Show — which is, without question, the most cringeworthy, hilariously awkward thing that has ever been available to view. (I mean, she did a good number of guest spots on TV game/panel shows that have been considered “lost” — so we will probably never see them and who knows what fantastic nonsense she got up to on those shows.) It has previously been available in a super low-quality, grainy version, and there’s another copy of it floating around on YouTube, but this one is made from Jeanette’s film, and it’s the clearest and best version of it that I’ve ever seen, certainly, and what you may not have seen is the few minutes before Jeanette’s appearance…oh Lord, definitely pull up a chair for that. Even though this is a “lesser” appearance as far as Jeanette is concerned (like, by a country mile), we still felt that it was worth salvaging HER print of it, and having a good copy preserved in perpetuity, so we went ahead and spent the money and did it. Our thanks to Brad and the crew at Video Conversion Experts for once again exceeding our expectations and being fantastic to work with! They have been educational, patient, prompt and such an important part of the team. They have treated Jeanette’s stuff with utmost care and respect and have returned it in perfect condition every time. I would recommend their services to absolutely anybody — just fantastic. 🙂

The Carmel Myers Show was done August 7, 1951, just two days after Jeanette and Gene appeared together on Toast of the Town. (I think Jeanette’s haircut is awfully cute, not that anybody asked, but I do.) It is the most cloying, ridiculous mess one has ever seen — like, on WHAT PLANET do you have Jeanette on your show and literally bust out the uke and have the titanium balls to sing at her — not once, but twice — with your marginal-at-absolute-best voice?! Just………….like……………I get it if you can’t pay her to sing and if she’s being a good egg and appearing to spend a few minutes chit-chatting and tripping over her words because TV makes her nervous and holy God she’s adorable but like……if you’re not letting her/paying her to sing, then YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT SING EITHER.

This is, without question, the only appropriate response. Thanks, J-Mac, for keeping it real for the folks at home:

(Is your bosom stuffed? It is. It is migrating away from your person. It is leaving. Somebody get the girl some double-sided tape, STAT.)

It is impossible to watch this thing without absolutely sobbing. Also………..um, that is the most sanitized and fluffed over version of the Louella Parsons story that has ever been told.

Side note: some jerk stole Jeanette’s diamond wristwatch that she left in the dressing room when she went out to shoot this scant few minutes of television. ……..SERIOUSLY?! She has to endure Carmel Myers and the uke AND she gets her watch stolen. Nice.

If you’ve seen Toast of the Town, you’ll know that there’s some super awkwardness when Nelson’s name is brought up during the “interview” segment (Gene is acting as host and Jeanette is the guest). She says the most frequently asked question she gets is, “Why didn’t you marry Nelson Eddy?” and Gene goes, “Well, why didn’t you?” and she responds by this very weird blast of out of character nervous cackling and turns upstage, leaving her back to the camera while she pulls herself together. It’s sort of funny until it isn’t. Then it’s just weird.

Jeanette and Nelson were photographed together for the “last” time at the Melchiors’ 25th Anniversary party, May 26, 1950. They would not be seen together again until November 12, 1952, when Nelson surprised her (and made her cry) on This is Your Life. Their personal breakup of over two years took its toll on both of them, but they reconciled immediately following This is Your LifeToast of the Town and The Carmel Myers Show both fall into the window when she and Nelson were on the outs, and as such it is interesting that when Carmel shows pictures from Jeanette’s movies, not one of them was from a Nelson film. Was that prearranged? One kind of has to think it was, to avoid Jeanette having to discuss him/them on the air. I feel like it was weird enough with someone “safe” like Gene — it would have the potential to get way weirder with someone like Carmel. I mean, say what you want to about Jeanette being a great big deal in her own right and I will agree with you all day long, but if you’re like….recalling glorious moments from her past films….it seems pointed and strange to pick only movies that Nelson wasn’t in. Let’s just toss a sheet over the elephant in the room and pretend nobody can see it. (It’s also interesting to note that it was during this time period that the proposed reunion film Will You Remember was being discussed for Jeanette and Nelson…and Gene was the self-styled talent broker, trying to get Nelson on board, trying to schmooze him, making appeals to Nelson’s sexiness, calling him Nels, in general being his assy self, as Angela demonstrates in her presentation at this link, go to one minute in to get to the relevant info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScwIS_NYaYo&feature=youtu.be  Turk incorrectly interjects this into the timeline where it suits him, on page 305 of Hollywood Diva, he places this occurrence in 1954, to suit the mood of frustration on Jeanette’s part and to make Nelson look like a jerk. Angela now owns the script [which is effing delightful and would have been for them what The Barkleys of Broadway was for Fred and Ginger–sigh!!] and all original correspondence surrounding it — it’s all from 1951. The attitudes surrounding it were personal and not professional. Jeanette and Nelson were not speaking and Gene is over here trying to play messenger boy. Trust and believe, Gene, if they wanted to talk, they would not need your help.)

Also, where is the fly swatter with which to slap the hell out of Carmel when she does that insufferable humming at the end? It’s a reeeeeeeeeeeal toss-up, friends, about which is worse: Carmel Myers or Anita Louise doing the Hazel Bishop commercials. You look at that and think… my God, Jeanette weathered the fifties JUST. BEAUTIFULLY.

Here’s the show:

As this is the last video that will be shared by The JAM Project for the foreseeable future, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the incredible help we have had over the past year in providing this material to the public, on YouTube, for everyone to enjoy at no charge. We have felt from the beginning that this is the right thing to do, and have thrown our collective shoulder into making it happen.

We fundraised among a group of people who love Jeanette and Nelson and believe in our work and I want to thank them for this roster of restored, preserved and digitized film:

Digitized 1/30/17

Clip from Lux Video Theatre, with Jeanette and Nelson

and

1955 NBC Screen Test of Jeanette

$220.40

Digitized 2/15/17

1962 ClanClave Footage (Luau/Twin Gables)

$113.85

Digitized 6/21/17

This is Your Life

$949.50

Digitzed 7/15/17

Person to Person

$519.19

Digitized 10/19/17

The Carmel Myers Show

$472.58

So…….$2,275.52 has been spent in the last year for cleaning/restoring/digitizing/preserving film to share. That’s incredible! And that doesn’t even include the cost of other preservation/digitization efforts, such as having Jeanette’s personal collection of like 250 11×14’s scanned, all the audio digitization my brother has done for us, and transferring a few transparencies into incredible color photos. HUGE gratitude to our dear friends around the world, whose donations to this project and purchasing of autographed pictures and a few extra books, etc, from the holdings, have made this possible for everyone. In no particular order and hoping against hope that I have not excluded anyone: Annette, Margaret, Angela, Di, Lynda, Leslie, Mary Lynn, Tracy, Charlotte, Peter, Philip, Scott, Melissa, Sandra and Gabrielle. When I say this could not have been done without you — boy, do I mean it. Our dear Miss Mac is not an inexpensive proposition. Good thing she’s cute. 😉

Big gratitude to our friend Blythe, who gave me my first ever new source interview, and was kind enough to recall her precious childhood experiences with “Miss Jeanette” and her “co-star”. Printing that sheer delight of an interview was one of the MacHighlights of 2017.

My thanks also and in particular to my trusty pal Angela, who owns Jeanette’s Metropolitan Opera correspondence and the MacRaymond financial documentation, both of which have been the subject of extensive blog entries here at The Case for Jeanette and Nelson, with high resolution scans. It’s hard to strike the balance of wanting to put good material forward, (which I think it is safe to say we have done!) but also knowing it is absolutely correct and imperative to hold things back for the eventual book. Luckily, there is so much here that we’ve been able to do both in a satisfactory way. Angela also owns the original of Nelson’s 1960 letter, in which the word “love” — which was quoted by Jeanette when she sent a note to his fan club after being honored as the Philadelphia Woman of the Year — was whited out, presumably by Clara, Tessa or Gene Raymond, and the censored letter was then quoted, with censorship in place, in Hollywood Diva. Suck on that, kids. Nelson can’t express love for Jeanette (in a letter that was going to be read out loud in public for God’s sake!) without somebody trying to strike it from the record. What’re y’all afraid of, hmm? (That has, of course, also been scanned, photographed against the light so you can see the word “love” under the white-out, and has been made the subject of its own blog.) Angela, the use of this material has furthered everyone’s knowledge of the details behind the scenes — and has contributed greatly to our understanding of what was actually going on in the life of this incredible human being. Thanks, buddy.

And here, here’s a thing. A real, real, real cute thing. An unretouched, crystal clear, oh-em-gee-someone-hold-me sort of cute thing.

Another January 14th

It’s been fifty-three years today since Jeanette Anna MacDonald has been in the world, and this year, like all the others since she departed, people who love her pause on this day to remember her, to reflect on her life and death and, depending on how they feel — depending on which Jeanette they believe in, for there are several, and the people who claim to love her have this very frustratingly human tendency to be enamored of the facet of this woman that is most convenient for them — maybe they get a little angry. Angry at how she was treated, at how she died, at the secrecy and lies and horseshit that surrounded her before death and after death and in all the years since. Angry at how she’s been exploited, at how she’s paid the bills for so many people during her life and after, and wondering where it got her.

And maybe the people who get a little angry get a little sad, too. Sad that someone so wonderful and gifted and good had such a struggle with her health. Sad that she didn’t live even a few more years, into the era of medical advances that could have saved her. The last half of the 1960s was groundbreaking for heart surgery and cardiac care, and she just missed it. Sad that she’s so pigeonholed and misunderstood and tug-o-warred in the name of fandom. Sad that she put herself last, that, while often very savvy and forthright professionally; personally, she let guilt, responsibility and her overwhelmingly decent nature keep her from making choices that would have found her happier, less wracked with stress and probably alive longer.

It’s a day that just doesn’t feel great, for a lot of reasons.

Jeanette, I have to tell you, was one of the very finest people who has ever lived. Reading this, you may already believe that about her — but let me reiterate for you that it is true. She was the genuine article. Beyond the obvious and overstated cliche that nobody’s perfect — for me, she comes pretty close. But I feel guilty saying that, because that’s been the opinion of so many, back when she was alive, and I’ve seen evidence of the enormous and crippling pressure that put on her. Angela said, the other day, upon reading a sweet anecdote of Jeanette’s usual graciousness written by someone who encountered her at the Starlight Theatre in 1956, that, “She never disappoints you. Never.” And — really — that’s so true. So. True. I have never once felt disappointed in her. I have spent, over the last year, hundreds of hours trawling through boxes and boxes and boxes and multiple filing cabinets crammed full of artifacts of her life. I’ve researched and written about her for years now, but the holdings of The JAM Project are an entirely different species of MacAnimal. I’ve read her letters to people who owed her money — sometimes large sums. I’ve read her letters to a fanatical fan who was on some kind of psycho bent and was writing angrily and aggressively to her, whom she took the time to personally deal with; to dress down for sure, but also to soothe and try to help. (And when I read her treatment of this person who had treated her badly, it broke my heart for the 700th time that she didn’t have children to raise and discipline and teach to do right. She’d have been so good at it.) I’ve read reams of correspondence between her and her lawyer, negotiating her 1939 MGM contract in particular. I’ve seen her hurt and confused when Edward Johnson of the Metropolitan Opera says one thing and does another with regard to her being asked to appear there. I’ve read more fan accounts of meeting her than I ever thought possible. I’ve read a letter from someone who recalled talking to her about Misty, her Skye Terrier, near the end of her life, and that she began to cry, talking about him. I’ve interviewed several new sources, and made a new and very well-respected contact who has turned over several of HIS old interviews to me, including one with George Cukor in the seventies (who spoke on the record in this interview about his firsthand-at-MGM-knowledge of Jeanette and Nelson’s relationship BY. THE. WAY.), because Jeanette was discussed. The Jeanette material has never been published, because she was not his subject, but he is graciously allowing me to publish it, in due course.

But, getting back to my point before I go down too much of a bunny trail, here: I have read more by and about this woman in the past year than any human should; way, way more than has ever been published or released, stuff that never was intended to see the light of day, and I have never been more impressed by her than I am right now. Who you are when nobody is looking is who you really are, and she was solid gold. She’s funny, she’s bossy, she’s saltier than most people would probably expect, she’s absolutely smart as a whip. Observing her memos about percentages and cuts and taxes and which move is the most professionally and financially advantageous is a sight to behold. She’s sweet and kind and considerate and, though she’s not given to extravagant spending, she’s amazingly generous with her time, with her personal attention, and that’s a much bigger deal than throwing money at something (though she did that, too, when the occasion warranted). There have been times when I wish she hadn’t done something, or I cringe because I know how the story ends — but never, never has she disappointed me. Angela’s sentiment is not a new one. We’ve said it over and over.

But I’m back to my thought about feeling guilty. It’s not Jeanette’s job to keep our illusions about her intact.

Louder, for the back row: It is not Jeanette’s job to keep our illusions about her intact.

So, basically, it’s nice and all, that she hasn’t ever disappointed me, but the thing that I constantly feel the need to express is it’s NOT ABOUT ME. OR YOU. OR YOUR CLUB. OR YOUR BELIEF SYSTEMS. OR YOUR HANGUPS ABOUT SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS. OR YOUR RELIGION. OR YOUR CRUSH ON HER. OR YOUR FANTASY ABOUT THE OLD DAYS AND HOW COTTON CANDY EVERYTHING WAS.

I wish to God she’d been less perfect, less responsible. I wish to God she hadn’t felt like she owed her fans/the public her life, her happiness and ultimately her health. I almost wish she’d been meaner and more selfish. I wish she’d been as sure of herself privately as she was publicly. I wish she hadn’t written “alone” so horribly many times in the eleven months she kept up her 1963 desk diary. I wish she hadn’t felt like she’d made her bed so she’d better lie in it. I wish the fortune she worked her ass off to build had given her some real happiness, instead of setting her husband up nicely for his next life and paying life salaries of the two people whose loyalty he bought, literally, with money and attention and hoards of her stuff.

I can’t change what happened, and neither can you. But neither can we pretend her authentic life didn’t exist — which means that people who think they know or have predetermined suppositions of who and what she is…are going to be made uncomfortable. That’s not her problem. Don’t make it her problem. Either get on board with her, accept her for who she was – not who you want her to be – or find somewhere else to play. Jeanette was a good person. An honest, moral, principled person (and because of that, was also quite tortured). She loved her country and gave tremendously of herself in the service of it. She was uniquely and gorgeously gifted and she shared her gifts generously with the world at just the right time. She was beloved by millions and she appreciated and respected. the. hell. out. of. that. She was, with deadly certainty, worthy of being loved and admired. She certainly isn’t disappointing. But I want people to quit worshiping an image, and start understanding that it is her actual humanity that is admirable and lovable, and that it isn’t up to her to uphold your fantasies. Let her be a person. Let her life be complicated – it was. Let her not always have made your personal favorite choice – she did, no matter who you are. Love her, still, but get her off the pedestal. It’s unhealthy for you and it’s unfair to her authentic story.

People who think she couldn’t be pushed around in private because of who she was in business are especially missing the layers and levels of nuance that make up a whole person. The same woman who actively told her lawyer how to lawyer and wrote “I beg of you to quote me” on a particularly snarky point about MGM negotiations allowed Gene Raymond to waltz his way through so much of HER money it’s absolutely unconscionable and outrageous. That paperwork exists. It’s not up for argument. Bank statements and correspondence, all the nonsense about Mr. Raymond not being able to account for the checks that overdrew the joint account which Jeanette had to cover with her income account because he said the bank book “accidentally got burned” — what the hell. Were you having a cookout in the study? How does that even happen? Business Jeanette would have cut that supply off, but quick! She was not about the reckless spending of the dollar! Personal Life Jeanette felt, I think, super guilty about How Things Were and took it on the chin. Gene got away with murder (…) because she felt it was her fault that his life went the way it did. He was paid well for his pains, that is absolutely certain. That’s but one example of the dichotomy. One example of her sucking it up and dealing with it because she figured she had contributed to the mess she was in. Maybe that was correct thinking, but maybe she shouldn’t have been so stoic. She was so, so responsible. She wasn’t given to having other people deal with her problems. She didn’t want people to know that she suffered, and that is a broad brush that paints a wide stroke. She wanted people to enjoy her, to admire her. She had a real need to be petted and praised. She took being looked up to terribly seriously. She didn’t want people to know the gory or unpleasant details, not because they weren’t true or didn’t happen, but because she didn’t want others to be burdened. She was a master at putting a good face on it. How punishingly unfair is that?

Please, if you want to do something to honor Jeanette’s memory in 2018, set her free from the cage of your own inhibited opinions about what she was allowed to be, who she was allowed to love and how she was allowed to conduct her life. Allow her to have been a luminous, exquisite presence on this earth, appreciated for her contributions and her own truth. If you care enough about it, work to find out what that truth is… and be open to it when you find it. Understand that not everything is face value. Some things are black and white. Some are gray. Loving Nelson does not make her some kind of crazed harlot, nor does it nullify her many virtues and principles. Staying married to Gene doesn’t make her weak, nor does it automatically mean her marriage was good. Her marriage existed. Period. She had a husband. She had a lover. Her life was complicated. Understand that people connected with her story have done twisted and dishonest and manipulative things. If you care, work to get past that. Work to put the pieces together. Stop taking her up on her offer to be this beacon of untroubled ladylike perfection and get a little more on the level of, “No, stop. I know your life was stressful and you weren’t feeling well and you need to know you’re really damned remarkable for handling everything you did with such crazy amounts of grace.” She didn’t just suddenly die one day, guys. She was sick for a long, long time. Years. What she was, was incredibly brave and ridiculously strong. It’s time to allow her to stop carrying so much of that by herself and start understanding her as a human being.

I’m pretty fed up with the fan groups, at this point. I am sad to say that because I have many wonderful friends of long standing that were made because of them, and because there are some awfully nice folks out there that I really love and enjoy. Many, many good times have been had, but by and large, they have devolved into the bitchiest, nastiest, mismanaged cesspools of drama-mongering imaginable and 99% of this unnecessary stupidity has absolutely nothing to do with Jeanette or Nelson or Gene, but rather with a bunch of people who need something better to do, who never seem to make contributions of discussion or research, but definitely can always be counted on to make trouble. When the headache of dealing with that outweighs the importance of the work being done, something has to change. When the leadership doesn’t step up and protect the integrity of the organization and its contributors and call people out on their shit, the organization falls apart and the contributors’ contributions dry up, which benefits nobody. When this is such a drain on one’s brainpower that one doesn’t even want to deal with the topic of Jeanette at all, that’s a problem. Jeanette does not deserve that. I am absolutely blessed that Jeanette is not responsible for feeding me. She does not and will not pay my bills, which I hope is somewhat refreshing for her, wherever she is. I have a career that has nothing to do with her, thank God. She does not keep the lights on in my house (though occasionally she has been accused of turning one off!). I go out and fill my day, every day, with hours of productive activity that are in no way connected to Old Hollywood, and I am fulfilled and inspired by my work. I am not rich, but I can recognize my own privilege. Freedom is absolutely wealth. I think desperation does terrible things to otherwise good people. The work I do, the stuff I write, the time I spend on this project, for this great, great woman who so fiercely and richly deserves to be loved and admired and understood, I do because I want to, because, still and all, I love her and find her fascinating. I choose to be here, and that active choosing is something I have to protect. If I can’t choose freely to work on this because I want to, then it’s time for me to bow out, because I will undoubtedly begin producing work that sucks. Jeanette will never be a have-to for me. That’s the biggest and most obvious way that I can think of to respect her life.

If you are on Jeanette’s side, honestly, on some level, we are on the same team. Perhaps we should try acting like it. She deserves so much better.

On an unrelated note, here are the arrangements that were placed for her for the holidays:

We Will Remember ❤

Person to Person, 1958

On October 31, 1958, Jeanette and Gene were guests on Edward R. Murrow’s popular program Person to Person, in which he invades the homes of famous people and talks to them with subsequent awkward results. (If you haven’t see the one that the Bogarts are on….oh God….you owe that to yourself.)

The JAM Project now has possession of Jeanette’s reel of their appearance on this show, so off it went to our friend Brad in Arizona, who did his usual masterful job of cleaning, restoring and digitizing the film. Never in a million years did we think we’d have the opportunity to work with Jeanette’s originals and bring such great digitizations into the world. This work is made possible by a great group of supportive friends who have helped us defray the costs of working with this precious old material — we appreciate you SO much, and the fact that because of you, we are able to continue to make this valuable, and, in many cases, RARE material available to the public at no cost.

This episode finds Mr. and Mrs. MacRaymond in an apartment at 888 Park Avenue, but not the one where they’d lived for several years previously — that one became occupied by the J. C. Penneys (which is a thing I think about EVERY time I walk into that store). They had a thing where they’d swap houses, so Yvonne (Eastman Kodak heiress) and Harry Mills (J.C. Penney executive) were out in Bel Air at Twin Gables for the time being, and they were in the Mills’ apartment at 888. PS, I really love it when Jeanette waves to people in a TV camera. What. A. Dork. ❤ ❤

Gene, your makeup game is especially strong this evening. As is the acute panty-dropping that happens when you sit there and smoke like a chimney next to the most sensitive sinuses on Planet Earth. Ugh.

Watch it here. Blog continues below.

I recently wrote about fondness and love and all that that existed at some point or other between these two, but I don’t really find it in evidence in this piece and never have. They do not appear to be congruent, here. Jeanette is sarcastic and catty in a way that she simply never is with anyone else on television or in interviews, and certainly not with Nelson, who renders her completely kittenish. Gene is sitting there while she talks, sort of ‘doing his bit’ on a very surface level. Newly visible in this restored version of the show are little under-her-breath mutterings, like when they’re talking about Gene being an “air fiend” and he says, “Just up in the air, Ed, just up in the air,” Sassypants mutters, “Most of the time….” Snort. Hadn’t caught that one before.

But mostly:

“This has been going on for years, Ed. Uh – he – uh – uh, Nelson signs Gene’s name and Gene signs Nelson’s name.

My fellow Americans.

(And non-Americans. Everybody, in fact.)

You DO realize, I trust, that that silly, non-thinking slip is immensely revealing, do you not?

NOBODY SEES NELSON EDDY IN THE WILD AND SAYS, “HARK! I THINK THAT IS GENE RAYMOND!”

Nelson was much, much, much more famous than Gene ever thought about being. Indeed, Gene’s greatest fame came from who married him, not from any outstanding personal success.

The likelihood of someone seeing Nelson out in the world and thinking it’s Gene is certainly slim to none. The only way anyone would make that mistake is if Nelson was WITH JEANETTE and someone saw them together and assumed it was Jeanette and her husband. At which point Nelson, being Nelson, would certainly sign Gene Raymond’s name and keep up the ruse.

Whereas it is totally plausible that some member of the public would see Jeanette actually with Gene and assume that she’s with her famous movie partner, just as in the story Jeanette tells here, whereupon Gene would obligingly sign Nelson’s name and probably be galled in the process. “What did you say, deeearrrrrrrrr?” (Lord.) Honestly, how embarrassing is that story? How embarrassing is it that he’s so indistinguishable that that is what his life has become, at this point? I imagine it was hard to be Gene, sometimes. Not that that’s an excuse for his often shitty behavior, it isn’t, but I imagine it was difficult to be constantly compared to Nelson Eddy and lose every. single. time. That would never have happened had the two men not had Jeanette in common. But Jeanette married Nelson “lookalike” Gene (a thing I have never understood — they don’t look alike), who isn’t as talented or as handsome or as tall or as famous, who can’t really sing, who is a pretty lousy songwriter, who isn’t nearly as good at The Sex, etc, etc, etc. I think I’d be getting myself into the Air Force, too. That’s one place Nelson can’t follow him, one place where he can have his own success.

And Jeanette has a slight dingbat moment (she gets nervous on TV, okay, and she’s an honest creature by nature) and glibly reports that Nelson signs Gene’s name, and it’s been going on for years.

You guyssssssssssssss…

On another note, she looks poofy around the middle, and that’s because of the way she was mic’d for this — she had a bulky steel belt around her and had to choose a dress that fit over all that business, hence the empire-waist gown. She hasn’t gone paunchy all of a sudden.

I don’t even know what to say about that hot mess of a story about the fan…like, Catty MacDonald is super done talking about Gene’s war shit and his piston and valve thingy is just not doing it for her and it’s time for us all to remember WHY WE ARE EFFING HERE. So she has another fan “inside” — you know, as opposed to in the wilderness of the dining room, so back we prance to see it.

Jeanette. Baby. Darling. *whisper* Nobody cares.

I MEAN YES, PRECIOUS, PLEASE SHOW US YOUR OTHER FAN. PLEASE.

Gene dutifully traipses after her with a look on his face like he’s wondering if he has to wait until they go off the air before he shoves her out the window.

“I’ve made up my own story about it, actually, I don’t know whether it’s true or not, OBVIOUSLY it couldn’t be,” …but I’m going to tell you about it anyway because I am the star of this operation and it’s time for me to have a moment where I remind everybody that I sing and I ham it up generally and then I make an unrelatable pop-culture reference that puts me out of touch with kids today.

Oh, oh, oh. My sweet, beautiful, funny Jeanette. This is not your finest moment. I cringe, a little, seeing you like this. Sarcastic and ….God, I hate to say it, but…. older. Angela and I were discussing just today about how she has this forever young quality about her so much of the time, she has this beautiful girlishness and never seems old — but I’m going to have to amend that. She seems older here, and harder. She and Gene seem like they could break out bickering literally at any second. It feels tense, and like they are very self-aware about being on camera. I don’t like seeing her this way. I like her soft and girlish and coquettish — Nelson brings that out in her in the extreme, but she’s also like that on What’s My Line, The Name’s The Same, and in interviews — I just found one from 1962 where the guy is flirting with her and she is flirting right back and loving it and sounds about twenty-three. It’s the Gene influence that makes her hard — she was the same way when they did Toast of the Town. I don’t feel like this is an authentic representation of her true self, on this show. What it is, however, is super interesting, so enjoy it in better quality that has previously been seen!

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. 😉

 

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!