I am currently sitting in the dining room of the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Washington, D.C. This is our last morning here in the city, and we’re taking this time to review our research of the past two days and start to get it organized for sharing. I want to start out by thanking Sharon Rich for her complete support of Angela’s and my research. Just as in June, the last time we did this, Sharon has been only a text away the entire time and her excitement about what we are doing has only fueled ours.
The thrilling thing for both of us is that every time we have taken special interest in a detail of this story (the devil is in the details!) and tried to hunt it down, it has supported Sharon’s research and claims. The example that immediately springs to mind is that Sharon wrote in Sweethearts about what she had been told about Nelson’s involvement in Jeanette’s funeral and how he was the last one of the honorary pallbearers to come out of the church because he paused an extra moment with the casket before it was closed. In June, as you remember, we unearthed raw, unedited funeral footage of both Jeanette’s and Nelson’s funerals. This footage had never been seen and, guess what, Sharon didn’t even know that it existed, folks. It literally was unused footage in the bowels of the ABC archives….and guess who the last guy out of the church is, before the casket comes out? Nelson. A small thing, but a vitally important thing, one that validates what Sharon was told by a source, one of those sources that you delightful creatures out in Saint Land like to claim are not real or truthful. And those tiny, important things happen all the time.
That was really the nature of this trip. It would be a bit much for us to expect the same total windfall that we experienced in June, with a half-hour’s worth of never before seen television footage, as well as priceless radio recordings that tell their own story and were considered lost. This trip was more about the details. The stack of articles we found and printed is two inches thick. Countless others were saved to flash drives or made note of. Several rare recordings were obtained, as well as some never-released press pictures that we had to handle with white linen gloves. I love that stuff. There were a few other things, too. All in good time, dear readers.
The subject I’m going to discuss today concerns early production on New Moon and one of Jeanette’s many radio appearances around this time. As we know, relations were quite strained between Jeanette and Nelson as they went into production in the fall of 1939. Nelson had made the unfortunate, irrevocable mistake of marrying Ann Franklin in January, Jeanette subsequently tried to off herself, it was just general bad times for a good while. They hadn’t spent any time together. I seem to remember some ass telling Jeanette that Nelson was at a party she was at, and her blanching and being like, “Nelson, here?” and making excuses to get the heck home. Woody Van Dyke, their dear and trusted friend, was the original director on New Moon, with Robert Z. Leonard producing, but early on, Woody got pulled off the project to go expedite matters on I Take This Woman. Pop Leonard took over directorial duties as well (hence the camera making rampant love to Jeanette’s eyes in a few close-up shots. Watch Pop Leonard’s other Jeanette movies, namely Maytime and The Firefly, and you see a love affair between his lens and Jeanette’s big, gorgeous eyes).
Variety notes that pre-recording the score of New Moon began on October 23, 1939. That’s a Monday. In Sweethearts, Sharon notes that New Moon began on November 6, 1939–also a Monday, two weeks later. Given these two dates, I think it’s safe to assume that the November 6th date means principle photography—the start of shooting, in other words. Two weeks for pre-recording is a legit window. In the manuscript of her doomed autobiography, Jeanette notes October 28, 1939, as the start of New Moon. That was a Saturday, for those keeping score here, and seems less likely than the other two dates, which work together. Maybe she meant 23? Who knows. Anyway, that’s all the data—someone is likely slightly mistaken, but the ballpark remains the same.
In the early moments of production, Jeanette was very professionally cool towards Nelson, not making a fuss but not doing one iota more than she had to, either. Nelson, desperate to make things right between them and reconcile with her, was trying all manner of things to break down her walls. He fouled up majorly, and knew it, and needed her to acknowledge his profound remorse. The thing I love about these two is it is never, EVER about “I don’t love you” or “I’m not in love with you” or “I’ve stopped loving you”…….loving each other was never their problem. It was everything else. Even at their lowest lows (and they had some appallingly low ones), the acknowledged that they loved each other. It wasn’t a question. It never seemed to be a threat or ammunition between them in a fight…they both knew the score.
As she was preparing to work on One Kiss, one of her solo numbers in the film, and one of the most erotically lyric-ed songs she ever recorded, in my opinion (yeah it’s a pretty tune but LISTEN TO THE WORDS, yo!) Nelson sent her the following note, which I copied from Sweethearts, but it is sourced from the Isabel Eddy memoirs:
Sing even if you don’t mean it – sing it just for me. You can take all the time you want, but you are coming back to me, you have to. Meanwhile, remember this, my love for you is indestructible. No matter what happens, nothing and no one in all the universe can change or hurt it. Remember that.
So, here’s my thing. I’m preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetty sure (no way to be 100% positive, I guess), but I’m pretty sure they weren’t hanging around for each other’s solo recording sessions on this movie. Maybe on other ones when they were using any excuse to be together, but the atmosphere being what it was, I would bet that our little Ice Queen either outright insisted on recording alone or just….worked it out that way.
Variety states on October 24, 1939, that she had recorded One Kiss “yesterday” — so Monday, the 23rd. That’s a solo. I’m guessing that Nelson hadn’t heard it yet because he wasn’t on hand for her solo sessions. But she would have gotten his note.
However, on October 29th, 1939 (a Sunday), Jeanette made an appearance on a radio show called Community Chest. And……guess what she pulls from her repertoire to sing.
This recording has never been made available before. We found it in the Library of Congress’s collection back in June and submitted a request for it to be digitized. We heard it for the first time on Monday, recorded a copy and here we are.
Now, could she have chosen to sing this because she was rehearsed for it, having just recorded it that prior week? Yeah, sure she could. BUT, what sticks out to me about this is the fact that New Moon wasn’t released until June 28th, 1940, a full eight months after this. Additionally, though the Romberg operetta is called New Moon, the film version starring MacDonald and Eddy was originally titled Lover, Come Back to Me. So, first of all, I think it’s too early for her to be doing publicity for the movie that had JUST started pre-recording (how many other projects get to the pre-recording stage and then get shelved or discarded? Many.)—-the fact is, according to the practices of the time, it was way too early in the game for her to be singing songs from the movie to publicize it. And, since Lover, Come Back to Me was the original working title, if she WAS doing this for publicity, why didn’t she sing that? It would have been the title song. Fred MacMurray even points this out in the sort of faded out sounding post-script to her performance. Or she could have easily have sung any number of the songs she had already made uber famous. One Kiss is, indeed, an interesting choice.
We know Nelson and Jeanette used this kind of thing to communicate with each other. To me, it seems highly, highly likely that this choice was in response to his note. Think about it. Think how safe this is–he isn’t around, isn’t physically there, so she doesn’t have to talk it out with him afterwards, or look him in the eye, or get grabbed up in his arms when she knows she doesn’t have the power to resist him. It’s an olive branch. A safe olive branch, from a distance. Yes, I got your note. Yes, I still love you. Yes, I’m singing this for you. Consider how she looks in the film, during Wanting You. She is all Professional Actress Face for the beginning of the number, then we see her resistance crumble, we see her breathing like she’s just sprinted a mile. Then we see that tentative, cautious hand reach out towards him and with that, his entire performance changes and sweeps her along with it. This choice of song is like that hand. She wants him, wants what they have, but she’s scared of the avalanche.