I’m going to just put this out there, because I’m sick of it being a thing that gets thrown into arguments. (We can’t deal with letters that say I love you and will always be devoted to you, and we can’t deal with blatant lonely unhappiness in Jeanette’s own handwriting in her 1963 desk diary and we can’t deal with data from people who knew them and we can’t actually seek out the provided source material, because, you see, these things make us uncomfortable and they rock our worlds a little and it’s SO MUCH MORE FUN to just go on pretending these things don’t exist, don’t you know, and our dear biographer Turk had access to these things, no doubt, and he left them out of his work — he was too busy writing schmaltzy captions for photos of Gene Raymond — yet somehow his work is the “legitimate” one, even though it has been proven that he doctored the text of a letter from Nelson that he DID include, because the original letter has been sourced elsewhere……etc etc ad nauseum) anyway, a favorite diversionary tactic is to never ever ever actually address what’s being talked about but make a big stink about something else in hopes that the actual thing that’s “onstage” at the moment will just disappear. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please thank your lucky stars and move on with your life.
Thus, we come around YET AGAIN to the subject of Jeanette’s sister, Blossom MacDonald Rock, and what she could or could not communicate to a young Sharon Rich, to start this whole ball rolling when they first met in 1970.
Blossom had a stroke. A stroke that left her with a speech difficulty that came and went but most of the time was present, from my best understanding. Still, Sharon speaks affectionately of Blossom’s many friends in the Home, of her tending of stray cats that hung around, of how she loved to go out for lunch and shop and how she still smoked and how she would visit other residents who were very ill or dying and be compassionate and comforting. A speech difficulty does not equal a vegetable, people. I know from my own experience–as does anyone who has known and loved a stroke victim–that you figure it out. You learn to make do. You learn to phrase things so they can be answered simply. I find it disgusting how head-swimmingly fast these people will write Blossom off as a brain-dead vegetable to try to negate Sharon’s relationship with her and what Blossom started with a promising young writer and a story that desperately needed to be told.
How else do you think Sharon was put in touch with her MANY early interviews with “name” people? Blossom gave her her address book and pointed to all the people she wanted Sharon to call.
The newest drum being beaten is about Blossom having dementia, which, you know, obviously invalidates everything because it was on her death certificate. *eyeroll* Honestly? You’re so sure she had dementia for the last 8 years of her life? You know, when she was attending the Clan Claves EVERY YEAR and attended Gene Raymond’s wedding weekend on a yacht in 1974? People with dementia have a very, VERY difficult time being taken out of their routine. I’m witnessing that right now in two areas of my life. A longtime friend of my grandmother’s just died like two days ago, with aggressive dementia. A couple of years ago she was just as sane and “with it” as she could possibly be. I just asked Sharon, today, about the last time she saw Blossom. It was December, 1977 and she admitted that there was a change in her, even from the fall of that year when she saw her before (with Brent Perry and Diane Goodrich; they took her the first issue of Mac/Eddy Today, which she loved), and that she was very depressed, very down, very quiet, but that she was lucid.
Here is Blossom with her grand-niece, Nanette (Elsie’s granddaughter) at the Clan Clave in 1973:
And there, behind Blossom, is a young Sharon Rich:
She attended the Clan Clave in 1977 and there is a color picture of her with Emily West, which, for the life of me I cannot find right now. People who have dementia not only have difficulty being removed from their daily routine (and I’m sorry, this club meeting isn’t important enough for Blossom to attend it if she was not in a fit state to do so) but they are also very unpredictable and can get loud, upset, belligerent, etc, out of nowhere. So meetings like the Clan Clave are not really a great fit for them, anymore, yet she kept showing up. But just for the sake of argument, let’s say she was officially diagnosed with dementia in 1976, 77, whatever…..does that negate everything that happened before then? Do you people frequently go around telling elderly people that their life before their final infirmity didn’t happen?
Your argument is invalid and having a copy of her death certificate proves absolutely nothing except that she died.
Now, onto the other topic, which seems to have reared its ugly head again, so it’s getting addressed:
The first time Jeanette and Nelson had sexual intercourse was called a “rape” in Sweethearts.
Let me get one thing straight, right now, because I am insulted on a personal level for everyone who fell into the periphery of accusation in a recent blog post. REPORTING THAT SOMETHING HAPPENED IS NOT THE SAME THING AS CONDONING IT, SUPPORTING IT, OR BEING HAPPY ABOUT IT. However, responsible reporting is reporting the good, the bad and the ugly. The JMIFC wasn’t really about that life, the whole responsible reporting bit. They edited heavily everything that was put out in their publication, the Golden Comet, or said at a meeting. They vetted potential speakers to make sure they wouldn’t say anything the least bit edgy. Everything from Jeanette’s sex life (HEAVEN FORBID THE WOMAN HAVE SEX OH MY GOD WHAT A HORRIFYING CONCEPT) to anecdotes of her temper and other basic human realness were stricken from the record, thus creating a “knowledge base” that bears little to no resemblance to actual real life.
There is an issue of “rape” in Sweethearts. Yep, there sure is. Yep, just like any modern day evolved woman, I find it horrifying and disgusting that such a thing would happen. But here are some truths, and I say this, again, WITHOUT CONDONING WHAT HAPPENED.
The word “rape” has, in the past, been romanticized. I am not saying that’s right or good or acceptable, I’m saying that it happened. It’s as regrettable as blackface, but it’s a thing. The most exciting, sexy scene in Gone with the Wind (1939) is Rhett carrying a visibly fighting and protesting Scarlett up the stairs to have his way with her, whether or not she consents, and the next time we see her she is smiling, singing and sated. The novel of GWTW came out in 1936, and I don’t need to explain its popularity to anyone. Again, I’m not suggesting that it’s right, but I’m also of the opinion that you cannot on any level look at the verbage of a mid-1930s situation like this with your 2015 Feminist Lens. It is necessary to examine everything we know, not just one word. Happily and necessarily, we are taking a much more serious stance on rape than has ever been taken, now, in this era, but you don’t know how that word was thrown around back then.
As far as Jeanette and Nelson are concerned, the origin of the “rape” anecdote WAS NOT BLOSSOM. It came from a different source, and Blossom was asked about it and confirmed it.
Jeanette and Nelson had been dating, had come very close to having sex many times and every time Nelson had stopped. He was trying, as idealistic as it seems, to not sleep with her until they were married. He was trying to be a gentleman, whereas she was totally willing (and consenting, obviously!) — and when your partner is telling you to go on, go on, stopping on the basis of your own plans of virtue can be insanely difficult.
Jeanette wanted sex, leading up to this incident. It was Nelson who was not “putting out”.
Now I adore Jeanette with every fiber of my being, but she was capable of being an out and out shit when she wanted to be. I personally love that about her, but then, it was never directed at me. Let’s take a look at what happened with Lina Basquette (an excerpt from her autobiography is in Issue #53 of Mac/Eddy Today). This was before things were “official” with Jeanette and Nelson, and our little cat already had her claws out. Woody Van Dyke arranges for Nelson and Lina to attend a party together, to basically check on Nelson’s man!pulse. They walk in together and see Jeanette, who immediately, in a total bitch move, seeing Nelson with this sex bomb of a woman, insults his sexuality, calls him Nelly and says he’s been using too much peroxide on his hair. Nevertheless, Nelson and Lina go back to Lina’s place, start going at it like rabbits and the phone rings. It’s Nelson’s mother, Isabel, who has been tipped off by SOMEONE hell bent on ruining his fun evening. I mean, come ON.
So, fast forward to this situation where Jeanette is wanting to get laid, bad, and Mr. Gentleman is trying really damn hard to be a gentleman. So she goes out with some other guy, gets photographed dancing with him, the pictures make the papers and the next day she goes over to have brunch with Nelson and Isabel. Don’t you think she knew exactly what she was doing, up to that point, anyway? Making him jealous on purpose? As the Baroness says in The Sound of Music, “Come, my dear, we are women.” I personally — nobody has given me any data on this, but it’s my belief, knowing that she’s a smart and strong-willed woman — think she went over there knowing perfectly damn well what was in that newspaper and knowing he was going to flip out when he saw it.
Flip out he did, and a fight ensued and Isabel removed herself from the situation. Now, this is pure speculation on my part, but it seems logical that a woman who would so easily insult a man’s sexuality in front of another woman (Lina) would CERTAINLY throw it in his face that he “won’t” [have sex with her] so maybe he “can’t”.
And then I think it got physical. They definitely had a fight and they definitely ended up in a rough sexual situation that left him extremely remorseful and about an inch tall afterwards.
Do I think he snuck up on her like a creeper and held her down and forced himself on her against her will while she screamed in protest? Of course I freaking don’t.
Do I think this man who was KNOWN for a temper and anger issues (Frances Marion refused his proposal of marriage on those exact grounds, among many examples) finally and regrettably snapped? Do I think Jeanette pushed him on purpose, but didn’t expect things to go that far or get that out of hand?
Yes. And yes.
Do I hate parts of that situation? Yep. But I don’t think this is a black and white issue.
And he was in full-on crisis mode afterwards. And Jeanette, this grown up, strong-willed woman, elected in that moment to move on with him. To work out what had just happened to them. Anyone who had been violently raped/assaulted, but most especially the strong-willed type, would NEVER have sat there and figured it out afterwards. That right there is proof that, for whatever else it may be (and at the risk of repeating myself, I’m not saying it’s a good thing) this ISN’T that sort of situation. And one thing led to the next, they had sex again, Jeanette said it was “everything I dreamed of and more” and she “lost control” for the first time. And that ending was how she remembered it and how she reported it to her sister, who grinned about it when Sharon asked her.
I hate the use of the rape word. HATE IT. Because I don’t think this was that. I don’t condone what did happen, but I also don’t put Nelson in the category of some disgusting offender in a dark alley. Sharon hates it too, by the by, but she is telling the story as it was told to her, which is what she does. She, in fact, addressed this precise issue herself, tonight, on maceddy.com. Interesting reading, and she’s far better qualified than I to speak on this issue and why it was so necessary to include in the book. The link to her exact post is here. It’s very informative. Read it.
And, while we’re on the subject of rape, I’d like to see a little outrage directed at the alleged rapists in the now-defunct Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club, one of whom is still active in this “fandom” to this day. I’d like to see some outrage directed at Clara and Tessa, who KNEW what was going on and hid it, making them complicit. That goes for every other member of that organization who knew about it and hid it. I’d like to see some of the underage male victims of this “most heinous of assaults” get some justice, even at this late date. Because, after all, if there’s going to be outrage, it should be all-encompassing, lest we fall into the trap of becoming hypocritical. And I would like to apologize to Jeanette for the MOCKERY that club made of her name after she died, by allowing their weekends to become little more than fiestas of debauchery.
9 thoughts on “Blossom Time… and that “R” Word”
While we are making all these presumptions of Jeanette and Nelsons motives during their romance, I’d like to inject some other assumptions into this piece that may deflect some of the anger that is apparent in this blog post.
First, I’m not angry at Tessa and Clara. I feel very thankful for them for they probably helped Jeanette still feel the undying devotion of her fans until the end. I’m pretty sure she was grateful to them as well for keeping the fan fires burning and promoting her career and legend even after death.
I’m also grateful to Tessa and Clara for hoarding all of Jeanette’s momentos, documents and secrets. You go into a heavy discussion about how rape might have been understood in a prior era without understanding how an affair would have been frowned upon and ruined the lives and legends of two great people, two gifted talents. Perhaps Tessa and Clara understood the gravity of the secrets in accordance to the norms and mores of their time enough to keep them hidden. Just remember Ingrid Bergman’s affair that almost ruined her career and what about the Clark Gable and Loretta Young’s love child who believed she was adopted due to her mothers fear of her affair being revealed. I truly believe Tessa and Clara may have been upholding Jeanette’s wishes. Maybe Jeanette may have never wanted this publicly known because of her wish for privacy in terms of examining what she may have believed was her private morality.
And lastly, I hold no anger to Tessa and Clara because that is not my burden, not my vendetta, not my cross to bear. Jeanette and Jeanette alone has a stake in her legacy and she allowed Tessa and Clara to partake in it. If Jeanette wanted the situation any other way, she would have wrote “Nelson” in her datebook instead of “visitor.” She was keeping her secrets for anyone who dared access her private notes because she may have never wanted this known. Jeanette was not a stupid woman nor immoral, she was a woman of her time that may have wanted her skeletons left hidden in her closet.
Look, I have little doubt that the affair is factual, but I get somewhat tired of the misplaced rage. Tessa, Clara, Nelson, Gene, Ann, Isabel, Blossom and Jeanette are all long long long gone. Respect their memories enough to discuss their truths with objectivity and honor because nothing can change what’s past and the truth behind their secrets have gone somewhere that your anger can never reach.
Hi Faye, thank you very much for taking the time to write out your extremely well put together comment!
Your first point is absolutely accurate. I’ve said that before, too. Much of Jeanette’s happiness in her last years came from the love of the people in her fan club and the attention that they paid her. I absolutely know that to be true and I feel a sense of gratitude for that. Lord knows she had precious little else making her happy in that time, so yes, that’s wonderful.
No, believe me, I do understand how an affair would have been seen back then. It’s incredibly frustrating that it had to BE an affair. Jeanette and Nelson, according to people who knew them, wanted to be able to live freely with each other. Nelson’s problems with Ann are ultimately what stopped that, Jeanette and Gene could have divorced at any time. Since Nelson wasn’t free, there wasn’t much point in Jeanette being free — that seems to be the way they saw it. Not saying I love that rationale, but nobody asked me.
The misplaced rage goes all the way around (!!), on both sides of this “argument”. My rage, especially in this post, has to do with the people alive in 2015 who constantly say things like “there is no proof” when they won’t look at what has been provided because it doesn’t come from someone they know, or make a career out of slamming Sharon Rich when they’ve never read Sweethearts. I’m not a fan of the head-in-the-sand routine. I don’t work for Sharon, I know her and like her very much, but I don’t work FOR her. It’s just that in my findings, she’s the one who is correct. And with the stuff now coming out that Clara and Tessa hid, again, she is the one who is correct.
But again, thank you very much for your perspective. I welcome and appreciate it.
I also want to add, here, that I don’t for one minute really believe that Jeanette wanted this kept a secret for all eternity. I think everyone played their roles as they HAD to in the circumstances that constantly surrounded them. Blossom loved her sister dearly, knew her inside and out, and I don’t believe she ever would have involved Sharon if she thought Jeanette would not have wanted it known. Blossom never profited from any of this in any way, she gained nothing monetarily in doing this. I also happen to know for an absolute ironclad FACT that Clara and Tessa were both on lifetime salary with Gene. Tessa still draws a (small, less than $300 I was told) check from what remains. That’s way way way fishy for fan club presidents. I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head who has the president of their fan club on a lifetime supply of hush money. Clara and Tessa lied and lied and lied through the years. People who negate the Nelson/Jeanette affair STILL say that. They laundered facts and had a fit when things happened like Sharon producing the baptismal record that proved that Jeanette was born in 1903. They flipped out over that. Is it better to have the truth out there than for their lies to continue into perpetuity? I think it is. I think so much of this story is heartbreakingly sad, but I think understanding what they went through together, what they had to hide and how very, very intensely they loved each other (and made each other crazy) is important. They were good, decent, kind, moral people who had to live a life of unusual circumstances.
Faye, thank you for your thoughtful commentary. Just a few considerations I’d like to add to this discussion.
As far as Tessa and Clara go, they promoted Gene Raymond, the club and themselves as much as they did Jeanette. And they were compensated monetarily – for life. Her sister, Blossom, knew her sister’s wishes, that she hated hiding her relationship with Nelson and that wanted her true story told. That’s why she entrusted Sharon Rich with the information she did, opening her address book to her which she used to gather first-hand accounts and construct a realistic picture of her life. Meredith Wilson, a close friend of both Jeanette and Nelson was interviewed. He made the wry and telling comment regarding the JMIFC, “it was as if Nelson never existed.” Like it or not, Jeanette and Nelson, were American’s Singing Sweethearts, not Gene and Jeanette. That he was systematically excluded did not go unnoticed nor did it serve to enhance Jeanette’s legacy.
In the end, Jeanette wasn’t all that thrilled with her saccharine, sanitized image, stating “some think I wouldn’t say shit if I had a mouth full of it.” But just as you accurately pointed out, times being what they were, her career and image would have been destroyed. Thankfully, in this respect, things are different now, the need for secrecy is long past. Her legacy can now be entrusted to people who love her unconditionally, who can accept the flaws and foibles along with the beauty and brilliance. People who are willing to tell the truth with the understanding and compassion that was lacking fifty years ago. The good old days were not so good for people who bucked the system back then. Rage at the injustice of the societal constraints and pressure they lived with is an appropriate and justified response.
When I first learned the truth, four years ago, I had the same qualms you do about revealing something that they both went to great lengths to keep concealed. However, the reasons they needed to keep it concealed, no longer exists. Set aside all the drama, trauma and secrecy. The fact that these two incredibly beautiful and talented human beings existed and actually loved each other fiercely for over thirty years is a story that needs to be told, needs to be shouted from the rooftops — a tale of love, hope and endurance for a callous world.
Another exceedingly well thought out and well written blog Katie. This incident proves them both to be temperamental but very human, and in spite of it their love was endless. As I said on Sharon’s blog, if Jeanette had been at all frightened or repulsed by such an incident, she wouldn’t have hung about for a second round.
Thank you all so much for your contributions, and Katie, thank you for your blog! It is so interesting to read Faye’s very thoughtful reply to it, and then the contributions by Angela and maceddy7. Not much one can add, but I do feel that, watching and listening from a distance, rightly or wrongly, Jeanette and Nelson’s incredible contribution to the industry in which they worked was malignantly and purposefully negated. Therefore it is doubly important for researchers like Katie and Sharon et al to come forward and continue to bring the truth to the fore.
I think we all are on the same page regarding their feelings for each other – but somebody PLEASE explain to me how she could have married Gene! Ditto then Nelson and Ann. It is as you say just a very human story of very human (although brilliant, exceptional, talented, beautiful, etc. etc.) people, who actually through their own actions created their own tragedy. And then perpetuated it by living a lie in public, for whatever compelling reasons they had.
I have now read Sweethearts multiple times, watched all their movies multiple times, am actively following your and Sharon’s blog, because like you, I have such love and compassion formthese two wonderful human beings. But they were deeply flawed, we cannot deny that, and that just makes them human. And normal. And tragic. But also …. To have known such love? That is splendid. I salute you all.
Hi Clara, welp, I’ll take a crack at it. It’s complex and Sharon did a good job of explaining why Jeanette married Gene in her book “Sweethearts”. Mayer and her mother were opposed to a Jeanette and Nelson marriage but ultimately, Jeanette made the decision based on who she thought she could make a viable marriage with. I believe Nelson’s possessiveness and his temper were the primary reasons she decided to marry Gene. I also believe she loved Gene but wasn’t in love with him. Then, after a violent incident with Nelson in August, 1936, she announced her engagement to Gene. It was a practical decision — she was in love with Nelson but whatever happened convinced her a marriage would not work. She had been quoted in a magazine as giving this advice,”the way to get over a broken romance was to focus on someone else and start feeling romantic about them.” She thought she could actually “will” herself to be in love with Gene. We all know how well that worked out for her.
Ann Franklin ingratiated herself with Nelson’s mother and coached by her good friend and Eddy confident, Doris Kenyon, found all the chinks in Nelson’s armor. She knew just how to handle him. She played her cards like a pro and when the time was right, sprang the trap and then never let him go. That’s my 2 cents worth anyway!
Thanks Angela! I think you are very, very close to the truth! It is incredible that after all this time, they move one so passionately. And what an exact science hindsight is!
Thanks again also for all the other insights you give! I hunger for all details that are not covered in Sharon’s book, as that, plus these blogs, (e.g. Katie’s and Sharon’s) are my only points of reference. I love for instance having read in Katie’s blog that Jen threw Nelson’s pinky ring in Lake Tahoe in a jealous fit! It made me smile . . .what passion, what temper!
Regarding the dementia issue – my husband suffers from dementia (NOT Alzheimers), he was diagnosed 5 years ago, and there are times when he is perfectly lucid, perfectly remembers everything regarding the 1970’s and 1980’s but cannot remember that he has already eaten his breakfast this morning! It is an established fact that dementia patients keep their long term memories till last – their confusion is in the here and now! And that’s my two cents worth! Thanks again for taking the trouble to reply. Much appreciated.
P.S. Do I need to apologize that my name is Clara? Hope you won’t hold that against me! You all have yourselves a good day, and as we say in Afrikaans : “Mooi loop!”