Gee, I’ll be glad when I can stop talking about everybody dying for a while. This is about as depressing as finding yourself on a honeymoon with Gene Raymond.
So, yeah, Jeanette died (I was just so very diplomatic with my word choice right there. I would like a prize.) at 4:32pm, January 14, 1965. Her death certificate:
Note all the varied heart conditions listed. Also note the incorrect birthdate of 1907. She was born in 1903, but shaved 4 years off somewhere and that misinformation is on her crypt, too. She was flown back to California on January 15th. Her funeral was January 18th.
The press, of course, lost no time in finding Nelson. “The networks were there and I was crying,” was how he explained it later. The fact is, he stayed up talking to the press until 5:00 in the morning. The reporters actually stayed with him, the consensus of opinion being that he needed to talk and had nobody else to talk to.
Here is one very well-known example of Nelson talking to an interviewer within hours of hearing of Jeanette’s death.
She was stunning and startlingly beautiful. I mean, she would take your breath away. I remember the first time I actually met her, I was tongue tied and I didn’t quite know how to act.
…Okay, WHO TALKS LIKE THAT ABOUT SOMEONE IN WHOM THEY HAVE NO ROMANTIC INTEREST.
I mean really, even at her death–or maybe especially at her death–Nelson’s word choices are revealing. And gorgeous. Is it any wonder she was crazy about him? Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?
Even more importantly, the interview was ended because Nelson had broken down in tears.
The next day, January 15th, Nelson granted an interview to ABC News. Angela and I were able to locate this clip within the ABC archives, paid to have it digitized and we are excited to present it to you, here. This interview has not been seen by ANYONE since it originally aired. It is for educational purposes only and may not be reproduced anywhere except where expressly authorized by Angela or myself. Listen to the difference here, hours of telling the same stories later. He has pulled himself together somewhat, and started being more careful.
I just…… yeah.
This man is hurting.
The lines in his face are 3 feet deep, you can tell he hasn’t slept and his grief is palpable. He is speaking very slowly and chosing his words carefully, especially at the beginning, before he really gets his footing in the conversation. His voice getting all soft when he says “…big movies and a really big star,” just breaks my heart.
He points out that he met her at a party, rather than at the studio, and it was “under personal circumstances” rather than on a film. Booyah. Even though in reality, he’s actually not accurate about the time frame of the party where they met–they met before she made Merry Widow.
And he points out that, “She did most of the acting, believe me.” See? He knows he wasn’t a great actor so you can all just shut your mouths about it. What’s more, HE WASN’T ACTING when he was with Jeanette. Aside from the singing, he really stinks 98% of the time in his movies without her. I’ve said this for years. Either the man was a great actor or he wasn’t. The Saints love to slam him for his lack of acting chops on one hand and then say that his intense chemistry with Jeanette is “just acting” on the other. They like it when they can have things both ways, see. No. Please go watch the hand porn and finger pulling in Girl of the Golden West and the neck-blowing in Sweethearts and on and on and please, please tell me more about how he’s just acting, losers.
I love his face when he recalls them “always having our digs at each other.”
“We’d fight like cats and dogs sometimes, just to make people wonder.” …… Mr. Eddy, darling, we don’t wonder.
“And we had to cut it out because people started to believe it.” Well, yes, there’s a problem. Some people still do believe it.
“We never changed in our attitudes at all.” ❤ ❤ ❤
“We found ourselves…….elsewhere.” (post MGM) Yeah, he’s a little bitter about Metro still. You detect that in several places in this interview.
“I think it was wonderful of her to want to hold her head high.” — in regards to not slipping down into junky movies, but really also for her attitude about not lampooning their work in nightclubs, as he was more or less reduced to doing. He mentions taking out the skit he and Gale were doing where they “kidded” Rose Marie. It’s not funny, it’s cheap, he wasn’t a huge fan of doing that crap anyway but it sold tickets and let him keep working. Jeanette, in that sense, had more professional integrity (and worse health, but let’s pretend her health wasn’t a problem–she still wouldn’t have torn down everything she worked so hard to build up. She was proud of her movies.) and you get the feeling watching Nelson talk about how the “kidding” wasn’t funny right now that he regrets having done it in the first place. He is so damn supportive of her, all the way through this. Lots and lots of we this and we that. I like getting the sense that he is on her side, in her corner, that he knows why she did things that she did and he is sticking up for her. Even later, as he recalls the “doghouse” incident–which he mistakenly attributes to Sweethearts; in fact, it happened during Naughty Marietta, as a photo of the event can attest—and that’s a very, very well known story so you can see how shaken up, messed up and tired the man is. Nelson is usually very on point with the details. That mistake is interesting, in and of itself. Anyway, even as he recalls that incident, his telling of the anecdote comes from the perspective of someone who is on her side, even ending with the comment, “I mean, who doesn’t want to look at the rushes?” His delight with her antics and cleverness, even in this sad sort of retrospect, is also apparent. He’s proud of his girl.
And my favorite thing—him pointing out that she was smart. He starts out referring to her in present tense and corrects himself, which is sad, but I love that comment. J-Mac, he didn’t just want you for your hot bod. He likes your brain. 😉
He starts to talk about how they often talked on the phone, but is careful to go back and amend his words with my wife and I and she and Gene. Yep. ‘Kay. I’m sure Ann and Jeanette had SO MANY TOPICS on which to chatter away their idle time. Again, he’s more careful in this interview than in the first one. By the way, he mentions that he and Gale are going to rehearse the substitute material that afternoon. In reality, he got to rehearsal, sat in a chair and cried, unable to rehearse either of the replacement choices, and said as much to his audience that night.
(Paraphrased from Sweethearts, new edition, pages 516-517) Linda Knight (club member) was in the audience for the entirety of Nelson’s Anaheim run, which opened that day, January 15th. Nelson had, for a long time during his nightclub years, been in the habit of singing a special song for Jeanette at some point in the evening when Gale was offstage changing her costume–not always something the audience knew, but something that meant something to him and to her. The lights would be really low and Nelson would be illuminated with a pin spot on his face as he sang. Linda notes that this night, he was sweating profusely, was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. He sang I Married an Angel and Rose Marie seemingly okay, but choked up during the poignant little song from Bitter Sweet called If You Could Only Come With Me. Then, this night in Anaheim (as well as the closing performance, the only two nights he sang this song), the lights dimmed and Nelson’s special song was one which had been deeply significant to both him and Jeanette, and sung by both of them, for many years:
There’s a little brown road windin’ over the hill
To a little white cot by the sea
There’s a little green gate at whose trellis I wait
While two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me
There’s a gray lock or two in the brown of the hair
There’s some silver in mine too, I see
But in all the long years when the clouds brought their tears
Those two eyes o’ blue kept smilin’ through at me
And if ever I’m left in this world all alone
I shall wait for my call patiently
For if Heaven be kind, I shall wait there to find
Those two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me