Forgive the hiatus, but I continue to feel committed to only blogging when I have something significant to say (aside from the photo sharing posts!)… Quality, not quantity, has always been my attitude with this blog, but I’m here!
Great and interesting documentation continues to pour from the Estate Auction of JMIFC Co-President Tessa Williams. I’m thrilled that we (the pro-Nelson contingent) have gotten our hands on a lot of That Which They Hid, and I am also thrilled to see some of the Gene Raymond letters starting to surface (nice letters, lots of wartime stuff when he was gone). Apparently people had to get hopping mad for that to happen, but whatever, it’s happening. The thing that amuses me is that they are, of course, being presented like their existence disproves the Jeanette and Nelson love affair. Really, the only thing you can do is roll your eyes at the short-sightedness.
That being said, I have been genuinely interested in and amused by the correspondence between Mr. and Mrs. Raymond, though not at all surprised by it. And hey, now we know La Mac dug a Singapore Sling in addition to a Tom Collins….she’s a gin girl! Me too!
Incidentally, that reminds me, I recently obtained some copies of magazine interviews and articles which Jeanette herself got to edit before they went to press. (I wonder how often that happened? That makes a LOT of things interesting, if that happened a lot. Something I need to look into further. I would assume this sort of thing was usually Helen Ferguson’s jurisdiction…and I have a ‘biography’ that she wrote about Jeanette, it’s a small stack of typed pages and it is LAUGHABLY “PR”.) Anyway, this 1937 article has Jeanette’s handwritten edits all over it. In the interview, she had relayed an example of ‘having to work at’ her relationship with Gene. It seems that he had a great day at the races and wanted to ‘celebrate’ [drink] afterwards. She’d been working that day and had to work the next day, and she says in this interview that she didn’t drink while she was working. Gene called her and asked her to come meet him and it was clear to her on the phone that he had already started ‘celebrating’. So she was miffed at him, it was a work night for her, he was off being silly somewhere and she wasn’t in the mood, but she went and joined him and went against her no-drinking-while-working policy and ordered a bottle of white wine and attempted to be present in the moment with him. She then crosses out that whole passage as it was written up for the article and writes in longhand in the margin, “Even when I was telling you about this I sort of had the feeling I wouldn’t like it on acct of the cocktail and wine angle — you know!”
Oh, good heavens, Jeanette. So it’s fine that you DID IN FACT like to drink socially (as evidenced in how many pictures??) but you are already starting to protect the innocent little minds and ideals of the perennial virgins who will one day dig an alligator-filled moat around your towering pedestal and make it completely impossible for you to come down and be a real human being ever again. Ah, nuts. So at least some of this is your fault. Thanks for that.
But guys, this is a perfect example of CLASSIC MACDONALD DUALITY. CLASSIC. Yeah, she did this. She’s not saying she didn’t do it, she’s saying she didn’t want it in print. Mm-hmm. She is such a freaking Gemini. And this is from 1937…so it is easy to understand that 20+ years later, she (and Helen Ferguson, Clara, Tessa, etc) had groomed this image to such perfection that to topple it, to humanize herself, whether it’s to admit that she loved another man or that she actually knew her way around a cocktail hour just fine…to disillusion these people’s childlike reverence is to get totally crucified by the disillusioned party. It’s a shame that it was that way, but to some extent, she dug her own grave. And I think on some level she probably didn’t regret it. I think at the end of her life the greatest source of unconditional love she had was that club. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I will, personally, ALWAYS be grateful to the membership for that. If they made her feel important and loved (even with a cockeyed view of her life), God bless ’em, because I don’t think anybody else in her life was doing that. I think the reasons for that are many and in a couple of cases, self-inflicted (keeping certain people at arm’s length to ‘protect’ them), but there we have it.
At the same time, when you paint yourself into a corner like that, you’re stuck. You can’t get out.
The protection of an image is something that disappeared with the Studio System (and GOD KNOWS we could do with it in this modern era……). People today don’t understand it very well, I don’t think. Hollywood has always been a town full of all kinds of intrigue…it’s not any worse now than it ever was. Nothing has changed about the way people behave. What has changed is that people used to care how it looked to outsiders, and now they don’t.
Jeanette loved her fans and she was a firm believer in people having ideals. She was against the “earthy realism” of the entertainment industry that was coming into vogue towards the end of her life. One can understand how it felt important to her to look and behave and seem to be a certain way, for their benefit, to allow these people to keep their illusions, and you have to love her for that.
That doesn’t mean that’s the whole story.
So is it wrong for us to dig and try to figure out that whole story? No, I don’t think so. As far as the squeal of “it’s nobody’s business if they did or didn’t”……oh, grow up, that’s a cop-out response made by someone who is uncomfortable with what the entire field of biography is about. The details of someone’s life. The person behind the legend. The human at the core of the image. The contents of biographies are, by definition, filled with stuff that isn’t anyone’s business. When you are famous, people want to know your business. I love the lady dearly. I didn’t take any pleasure in reporting, for example, her end of life misfortunes. I agonized over that desk diary post for weeks and worked on writing it for days—which is why it was not blogged about right when we got it. It broke my heart, but if our goal is to better understand her (not just the fun and glamorous parts) then it needed to be included in the periphery of knowledge.
What I’m finding really laughable is the assumption that every little news or gossip item can be taken 100% at face value (because absolutely everything in life is ironclad black or white and nuance is not a real thing that exists, obviously)…for example: oh, she says she’s sick in this article, this one and that one. Look, I’m not saying she definitively wasn’t sick, in January of 1941, on her concert tour, and I never said I could prove that she met Nelson. I can’t. AT THE SAME TIME…putting myself in that position for a moment, if I’m going to step out of character and cancel/reschedule a concert for the first time ever, trust and believe that I’m going to give everyone the same story. I’m going to see a doctor to satisfy my insurance, I’m going to cough loudly in front of my manager and make sure to hold a hankie when talking to the press, and yep, I’d probably let my husband think I was sick, too, since I’m off to sleep with someone else. It is far easier and less messy that way. The whole concept of an ‘affair’ is that it is done on the sly. Do people honestly expect to find an article that says, “Yes, I’m faking sick so I can go sleep with my lover, bye.”…? I’m not saying it definitely happened, in this instance. I found some stuff that looked mighty good. What I am saying is that if you can’t learn to be sneaky, in Hollywood, you have absolutely no chance of a private life. This woman had already become expert at this stuff—she was romantically involved with more than one man at a time in New York, she non-committed her way around an “interesting” potentially marital situation with Bob Ritchie, she then dated a new series of men in the 30s, had it hot and heavy with one and ultimately decided to marry another while writing about her pre-marital feelings to some of the old romantic attachments from the New York days. The girl knew how to juggle and keep basically everyone adoring her!
Listen, I don’t dispute the sentiments in the newly-surfaced Gene Raymond correspondence. I do not think she’s being insincere or putting on an act. But just because she’s writing sweet, caring, charming letters to him does not, of necessity, mean that she isn’t involved with someone else, too. And I would think she WOULD be writing him loving letters, for God’s sake the man is overseas during WWII!!! Hell, if nothing else, she was a very patriotic American and was doing her bit from the home front for her far away soldier. She wore his wings, too. I don’t understand why that is being presented like it’s some earth-shattering discovery. She did marry him, after all, and she did stay married to him. What’s with all the desperation to prove that they loved each other? I imagine she had at least some kind of at least occasional physical relationship with him, too. To my mind, the presence of these affectionate letters just highlights Gene Raymond’s inexcusable, disgusting neglect at the end of her life. It’s easy to love someone when they are young and beautiful and at the top of their game. It’s a real test of love to love them the same way when they are older, falling apart and failing, not glamorous, not useful and no longer the toast of the town. Jeanette’s 1963 desk diary is a glimpse into her situation as she saw it at that part of her life, and it effing sucks.
Using the letters to attempt to disprove a relationship with Nelson is not sound reasoning. Period. And of course, Gene’s “I love you” is supposed to be taken as 500% affirming and Nelson’s “I love you and will always be devoted to you” is a friendly thank-you note. Guess what, people? That’s not how logic works.
But getting back to her duality, her Gemini-ness, as it were….this is something Jeanette heartily and readily acknowledged. Here’s her Gemini symbol charm that we see frequently dangling from her arm, for example:
And Gene alluded to it in his references to the “twin girl” in his limerick:
One twin I could smother
But I do love the other…..
Well, Mr. Raymond, you may be onto something, and when one thinks of it that way, one is sort of bowled over by his boldness in that rhyme. Yeah, I bet he could have cheerfully smothered the ‘one twin’. The way I see it, so many things point to her ‘double life’ existence, honestly, why is it so shocking that there are two men involved here? One for the suburban, churchy, party-going, duty-bound, Republican, social Mrs. Raymond of the Fan Clubs and Interviews and one for the ‘extravagant wretchess’, the ‘stunning and startling’ beauty, the brilliant, impassioned, sexy woman who never seems to quite cross paths with Mrs. Raymond…
And there’s another thing–churchy Republican Mrs. Raymond should belong to some staid old institution of a church…but where does Jeanette attend regularly, both on Sundays and midweek for classes as evidenced in her 1963 desk diary? The Church of Religious Science. Very New Age-type stuff for someone as reportedly square and straight-and-narrow as Jeanette, yet it makes perfect sense for her in so many other ways.
She lived a compartmentalized life. That’s not uncommon in the stars of her era. It’s not uncommon in the stars of this era, either.
You know, as I was considering all this, I was reminded of my grandmother. There was a man named Jack who went to VMI (the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, about an hour away) whom she dated when they were college-age and was crazy about, and it was mutual, but it didn’t end in marriage because of, from what I can understand, family stuff on his part. So along comes the war, and she met my grandfather on a ship and they got married in 1946. They were married 27 years, had three children, he was a wonderful man, a great husband and he died in 1973 when my mom was in high school. Meanwhile, Jack had also gotten married and was still married, and it was not a happy marriage. After my grandfather died, she and Jack, with whom she had never totally lost touch, resumed a relationship of sorts–he never did get a divorce, but the two of them went abroad together, took trips together, talked on the phone at all hours of the night, etc. I took my first steps in Jack’s beach house. Once, my grandmother made the (at the time) startling (to me) statement, “I loved your grandfather but he was not the love of my life.” She was still having late night phone conversations and receiving gifts in the mail from Jack right up until her death at age 91, in 2010. I live in her house now, and just a few months ago, when cleaning out a closet, I found a box with Jack’s class ring from VMI in it, and a poem he had written her when he gave it to her. And it was then that I understood that even though by all accounts, she loved my grandfather and they had a great marriage and there were scores of people who saw her happy marriage in action…it always was Jack, in her heart of hearts.
That’s a real life situation that happens to people all the time. That doesn’t invalidate what she wrote to or felt for my grandfather, just like Jeanette’s letters to and from Gene Raymond do not invalidate her lasting love for Nelson Eddy. This is one of the things that makes her so endlessly fascinating, but given the dual nature that is so visible in so many other facets of her life, and given her demonstrated ability to handle more than one man at a time, I fail to understand why this is surprising. I also fail to understand why this is a condemnation of her character. I think she had marvelous character. I think she was a person of tremendous strength and integrity; a good, generous, kind and warm human being. I think she had a hell of a lot on her plate and I think she did the very best she could to please the most people the majority of the time. I think she tried harder than practically anyone I’ve ever researched or read about to live up to a certain standard, to be worthy of the praise and admiration heaped upon her and I think when she fell short of that, she suffered guilt for it. Loving Nelson Eddy, doing what she had to do to be with him when she could–I could stand and cheer for her, for them. The power of their love, after everything that they endured, when most people would have given up and broken up…it’s awe-inspiring. It’s something neither of them could ever really shake. It tortured them, it wrecked them more than once, but they always found their way back to each other. It’s a heartbreaking story, but it is the MOST beautiful story.