Friends, my partner-in-crime Angela has put together a hell of a good blog for you, using some papers from her holdings, and I’m happy to ‘host’ her in this space to share it. Anyone who attended the Mac/Eddy Club Meeting in Sturbridge on May first saw some of this material, but this was really the forum she needed to expand on it more fully. This information will not be shocking news to anyone with half a grain of sense, but you don’t have to take our word for it, as Angela is going to show you. Without further ado, here’s her post:
Pull up a chair folks, I’ve got a little story to tell and Katie, my collaborator in research and various other shenanigans, is kindly letting me use her blog to do it.
You know, sometimes it feels like we are conducting a search and rescue mission, and at other times it feels more like an archaeological dig – a long hard slog through layers of library dust and box upon box of moldering papers. But more times than can be attributed to mere coincidence, chunks of information drop into our laps like manna from heaven. For example, this fragrant, yellowed folder with the typewritten pink label containing the redhead’s financial papers spanning the years 1954 – 1956 many of which are annotated in Miss MacDonald’s own hand. Actually, the documents in this folder and her “notations” do much of the story-telling. I just had to do a lot of math homework (which I hate) and much pondering (which I love) to whip it into a format I could present at the May 1st Mac/Eddy meeting in Sturbridge. Alas, there was far too much material to cover in the allotted meeting time so here I am with the rest of the story.
I’ve been responsible for compiling enough financial reports in my over twenty-five-year corporate career to know what I was looking for/at. Jeanette, always astute in matters of business, was clearly in charge of the money according to the documentation in this folder. Emily West’s role as Jeanette’s secretary, was limited to administrative tasks such as organizing financial papers, reconciling bank statements against the check book and corresponding with the MacRaymonds’ various banks as well as with their business manager, Paul Jones. Jones worked for the LA firm of A. Morgan Maree Jr & Associates and the documentation indicates he managed the financial affairs for both Jeanette and Gene. Though one memo bears a signature block specifying the company as Bus. Mgrs. for Gene Raymond so it’s not clear if he was Gene’s business manager and they shared him or if something changed at some point. Of course, this was just a few months after an arrest warrant was issued for Jeanette for being a slumlord. So it was a pretty sensitive time for her and that may have had something to do with the wording. But more about that later.
The papers in this folder don’t account for each and every bank statement. Only records about significant events or circumstances in the couple’s fiscal history during this period were saved. Such records are typically purged every 7 years in line with tax requirements. These were kept because somebody thought it was important to document what happened. That same somebody’s hands were all over them as attested to by her scrawled notations and the lingering scent of her fancy French perfume. Luckily, it also gives us a glimpse at how they managed their money and precisely who was in charge of managing it.
The MacRaymonds’ monthly banking activities centered primarily around the co-signature account in the name of Gene and Jeanette A. Raymond. Household bills were paid from this account, and both Jeanette and Gene wrote checks on it for their day-to-day expenses: food, laundry, liquor, travel, household maintenance, charitable contributions, etc. Paul Jones, the business manager, arranged to have monies regularly transferred to Gene’s private account or Jeanette’s concert account for their individual, discretionary use.
Like the well trained numbers geekette I’ve become, I put all the account transactions into an Excel spreadsheet, then sorted and summed up the results. The findings were eye-opening but not surprising. Unlike people, numbers don’t lie; they are constants – two plus two always equals four. Which is why a certain lying presidential candidate is balking at making his tax return public. But that’s a hop down a different bunny trail.
As you see above, over a 16-month period of time (February 1955 – June 1956) $8,400 was transferred to Jeanette’s concert account for her use while $13,050 was transferred into the Gene’s account for his. Remember, all the household bills, food, utilities, maintenance as well as travel and other expenses were paid from the co-sig account. Gene Raymond was drawing 1.5 times more money from their joint account for his sole benefit then his wife was for hers. In 1955, the average yearly income for an entire family was $5,000 so Gene was receiving a very generous allowance for what essentially amounted to walking-around money.
So who was funding the co-sig account? Not surprisingly, it was none other than Jeanette Anna MacDonald. Shocking! According to bank correspondence, Mrs. Raymond was the sole approver of fund transfers into the co-sig account from her various bank accounts. Below is a copy of a memo dated June 3, 1954 where Emily is notifying the bank that Mr. Raymond will be using checks on an account. The handwriting at the bottom of the memo is Jeanette’s. She is noting a $1,000 check was deposited to the account that Gene would be writing checks on it when he was traveling.
On the following day, June 4, 1954, Jeanette issues another memo to the business manager alerting Jones of 20k sitting in a non-interest bearing account as well as some mortgage shares that needed attention. Seeking to optimize these assets she gives him the explicit direction, “This, of course is under the Jeanette MacDonald set-up and I shall naturally wish to keep it so.”
Note, she was keeping Gene from getting his hands on her funds a whole year before the Slumlord scandal hit the newspapers in May of 1955. Katie has briefly addressed this embarrassing incident in an earlier blog as follows:
On May 25th, 1955, an arrest warrant was put out for our girl because an apartment house which was titled in her name was not being kept in good repair and she was accused of being a “slumlord” — in actual fact there were property managers involved who may or may not have been doing their jobs, but Gene was the only one of them who had anything to do with the property. (He just probably lacked the funds to make the investment, hence why it was in her name).
Flash-forward a year and a half. Jones addresses Jeanette directly in a memo dated December 15, 1955 informing her that if the business office releases all the checks written, the co-sig account will be overdrawn by $1,200. He suggests a transfer of $5,000.00 from the Jeanette A. MacDonald Property Account to cover everything, which she authorizes the next day, signing and returning the check almost immediately. One can almost sense her embarrassment. So who do you think overspent the joint account? I am betting it wasn’t the economically cautious MacDonald!
In Hollywood Diva, Edward Baron Turk’s biography of Jeanette MacDonald, when discussing Jeanette’s motivation in marrying Gene Raymond over her former fiancé, Bob Richie, Turk writes” Unlike Richie, Gene had amassed substantial personal wealth. To Jeanette’s mind there was little risk that he would ever descend to the fate of his beloved father and become dependent on her for support.” Well, that’s exactly what Jeanette ended up doing, supporting Gene in a style in which, by 1954, he’d become very accustomed to. He worked in theatre and television when he wanted, played golf, traveled and did Lord knows what else at his leisure all while having the respectability of being a “happily” married man and an air force reservist of rank. Gene, no doubt, had some income from his acting work, but a quick look at IMDB is not terribly impressive. Mr. Raymond’s “substantial personal wealth” is much like the Loch Ness Monster, you hear tell of it often enough, but sightings are rare and specious. The money and subsequent investments amassed by his wife during her heyday as a Hollywood mega-star was the engine that powered the MacRaymonds’ finances. Jeanette, from her earliest days on Broadway, was always the family money-maker. Nothing changed when she married Gene Raymond, she was still a heavy-hitter who, as these documents indicate, was consistently reaching into the deep pockets of her stylishly cut trousers to pay the freight for their comfortable life-style.
The MacRaymonds – Christmas 1949
Speaking of life-styles of famous old-time Hollywood couples and their finances, let’s mosey on over to Pickfair for a glimpse at the MacRaymond’s good chums and fellow honeymooners, Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers.
And here they are in June of 1937, seated from left to right, newlyweds Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers and newlyweds Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond.
If you’ve read Sharon Rich’s book Sweethearts, you know all about the strange honeymoon cruise the couples took together to Hawaii. Seems the two grooms had a love on the high seas thing going on – with each other. If you haven’t read the book, get it and read it.
You just never know where this cast of characters are going to show up. For instance, this summer, I read the memoir of an ex-CIA operative/mob accountant/artist/Beverly Hills theatrical manager/money launderer extraordinaire named Chauncey Holt. The book’s title, Portrait of a Scoundrel: A Memoir of Spooks, Hoods and The Hidden Elite, is a good indication of why it was published posthumously. Chauncey has been described as “a man of flexible morals, yet with a conscience.” Yeah, this guy was crooked as a corkscrew but he knew where the bodies were buried (literally) and was definitely connected.
It was while working as an accountant (under one of his aliases) in Beverly Hills, that he was referred for employment by a high powered client to a CPA firm owned by Edward George Stotsenberg. Turns out this firm handled all of Mary Pickford and Buddy Roger’s accounting work including the Mary Pickford Trust. Holt, who got his start as a mob accountant for the likes of no less than Meyer Lansky, and had helped establish money laundering schemes used by mob joints as well as for legitimate businessmen (namely Joe Kennedy and Mosses Anenberg), recognized the Trust as a perfect vehicle for laundering money.
Holt, in his role as auditor lost no time in laying the groundwork for channeling dirty monies via the trust thus washing them squeaky clean. He apparently had a knack for making most people like him but more importantly, they trusted him. Holt liked Pickford, he said, “Mary had a very dominate personality, and was an outstanding business woman, the equal of any man before woman’s lib became popular.” In addition to a communal honeymoon, that was another thing she shared in common with Jeanette. Unfortunately, the parallels didn’t stop there. Regretting her haste in divorcing Douglas Fairbanks, Mary went on to confide in Holt, “I should have known I couldn’t dominate Douglas.” She also told him that she’d “been married to two men and a spoiled child.” Chauncey Holt believed her meaning was clear, the two men were Fairbanks and her first husband, Owen Moore. The spoiled child, according to Holt, was Buddy Rogers who he referred to as a closeted homosexual. The Mary/Buddy financial situation was almost an identical set-up to the MacRaymonds. Buddy maintained his separate bank account and their assets were segregated, but his were nothing compared to hers, and she found it necessary to support him according to Holt who was responsible for auditing their finances.
I wonder if Jeanette and Mary every had a good sit-down together to talk this through. Would have probably done them a world of good. Each had long and overly idealized marriages that were more or less shams. Two strong business women married to weak men, the toll that exacted couldn’t be calculated in dollars and cents. These two sweethearts of the silver screen kept their heartbreak concealed from their public. Each, in her own manner, turned away the true love of her life and suffered mightily as a result. Pickford hid from the world, drowning her sorrows in booze. Jeanette, who believed she could use her legendary iron will to make herself fall in love with Gene and out of love with Nelson Eddy had learned a bitter lesson – her heart simply refused to yield. She worked frantically to keep it all going, the marriage, her career, the secret rendezvous with Eddy. But below the surface, all the guilt, hurt, and disappointment, quietly simmering inside a delicate body, was slowly killing her.
As much as Chauncey Holt liked Mary, he despised Buddy Rogers, calling him “a fading playboy who fell in love the first time he looked in a mirror.” In addition to his accounting wizardry, Holt was a legitimately talented artist making a large portion of his money from the serious illustration of medical and anthropology books –crook or no crook, the guy was brilliant. He painted a portrait of Mary to be used in connection with a retrospective of her films at the LA County Museum. He also did the art work for their Christmas card, a scene for the 1927 film, Poor Little Rich Girl.
Rogers, said Holt, was jealous and commissioned him to paint his portrait as well. He was given a photograph to work from of Rogers holding a golf club. He painted him as if he were outdoors with the Thunderbird Golf Course in Palm Springs, where Mary owned a cottage in the background. Rogers, who was 68 years old at the time objected on two grounds. First, that he looked too old and second, he complained to the artist, “You’ve given me the hand of a working man; I never worked a day in my life.” Hmmm, I guess that’s considered a bragging point in some circles! Holt was forced to paint a second portrait which Rogers again rejected because “I look too old.” I think this is a rather flattering portrait, the artist did an excellent job. At this point, I would have opted for horns and a Snidely Whiplash mustache if I were rendering it.
Portrait of Buddy Rogers at age 68. Artist: Chauncey Marvin Holt
Chauncey exacted his revenge by rationalizing the diversion of funds from the Trust which would in his words, “eventually have ended up with that arrogant parasite, Buddy Rogers, who would probably only lavish the money on one of the handsome, young homosexual prostitutes, that he often took to Palm Springs, or invited to Pickfair, where Mary Pickford was a recluse, who never left her second floor bedroom.” I bet the photographer from Life Magazine never captured THAT party! Below is a photo of a guests attending a dinner party at Pickfair which the magazine did cover.
Clockwise from Mary Pickford in the foreground are Clifton Webb, Mrs. Harold Lloyd, Gene Raymond, Norma Shearer, Buddy Rogers, Mabel Webb, Marty Arrouge, Jeanette MacDonald and Harold Lloyd.
Back at the Bel Air home of the MacRaymonds’, a series of bank memos beginning early in the year 1954, tell their own story of irresponsible money management by Mr. Raymond resulting in a swift and decisive response by his fiscally meticulous wife who was most assuredly not amused.
On February 23, 1954, Emily sent a request to the bank for a copy of the January co-sig statement, cancelled checks and bank book advising them that by mistake these items were “burned”. Yes, that’s right, burned. Apparently someone was toasting marshmallows in the fireplace and decided to throw a handful of bank documents in to get a really good conflagration going. Yeah. Right. That’s it. One wonders exactly what story the culprit came up with. I bet it was a whopper.
Well, however they came to be burned, they were ashes and Emily was in the proverbial pickle as it was her duty to balance the checkbook, reconciling it with the bank statement and providing it to the business manager for examination. Below is Emily’s request and the bank’s response which was sent airmail special delivery.
Here’s the duplicate statement the bank sent which included dates and amounts but as they didn’t keep Photostats, there was no way from their end to identify what the checks were for. This is the way things were done in the dark ages, kids. Way, way before online banking.
Note the handwritten “It could be – Paradise Inn.”
Emily used this information, along with the check registry/stubs, to reconstruct a “record of checks” to submit to Paul Jones in the business office. She was able to account for all but two checks which (surprise) Gene had written but had failed to fill in the check stub. This was assumed to be for his stay at the Paradise Inn in Phoenix where he was appearing in a stage play, Design for Living.
He’d already written one check to the Inn for $96.33 and had entered that on the registry. That obviously didn’t account for his entire stay there. Jeanette was already giving him an allowance and paying his living expenses. Was he now skimming money from the co-sig account to fund his extra-marital activities? Raise your hand if you think this guy was a lying sack of shit who was trying to hide what he was doing and how he was spending his wife’s money.
Then, in a memo to the business manager dated March 19, 1954, Emily sends Jones the reconstruction of the January statement advising, “I told you about the checks and the bank book stubs being burned, and the list attached will account for most of the checks. Perhaps the few left will turn up on the receipted bills. Will you please follow-up for me?” Thus, Emily washes her hands of the matter and no doubt, Mr. Jones will have a discreet talk with his client, Mr. Raymond. As if to leave no doubt of her meaning, Emily adds the following P.S. – “Mr. Raymond arrived late last night from Miami Beach. Mrs. R. is staying for a while as she caught a cold and is going to try to bake it out of her system.”
No doubt Mr. R. beat it out of town due to the extreme drop in temperature when Mrs. R caught wind of his clumsy maneuverings.
Fire and ice, indeed. Brrrr. Chilly enough for his wife to catch a cold. Funny, she didn’t return to the warmth of the California sun with him, preferring instead to remain in Miami to “bake it out”. With assistance, no doubt, from a former co-star of the baritone variety who was more than happy to light a roaring fire in her oven. He was always very helpful that way!
But wait, there’s more. The story takes another interesting twist after this debacle. By June of 1954, Emily is asking Jones for a listing of all the bank accounts and in November this year, Jeanette receives a response from a Bank VP to her inquiry on how to change the name on a specific account from Jeanette A. Raymond to Jeanette A. MacDonald.
By the mid- December, she has issued a series of memos to all the banks listed requesting the same name change be made.
The cracks in the MacRaymond union, which had been patched just a few short years before, were splitting wide open once more. By mid-1954, her relationship with Nelson, though not without problems, was back on track and heating up. Meanwhile, Jeanette is circling her wagons to protect her assets from a husband she no longer trusted. This is just the kind of thing one does in advance of seeking a divorce. The first step on an ill-fated journey that would end in heartbreak for her in 1957 when Nelson storms out of the lawyer’s office after learning his wife would clean him out in a negotiated divorce settlement. Too bad Nelson didn’t have the same foresight as Jeanette, he should have taken similar actions to protect his wealth from Ann!
It seems the shit hit the fan by September of 1954. On the second, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes of a MacRaymond divorce a follows: “Friends are shrieking ‘Nonsense!’ and ‘Impossible!’ to the rumors that Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond are writing an unhappy ending to all those happy years.” When, on the 17th, Jeanette, suffering from a high fever, collapses and is rushed to the hospital, it is later revealed that in addition to a viral infection, the collapse was brought on by nerves and exhaustion. Whatever marital fracas was happening between Jeanette and Gene, it wasn’t a secret. Friends knew and they were talking.
Alas, I wish the story these documents told was a happier one, but tell a story they do. Both Katie and I feel this information has fallen into our hands for a reason and we both feel a tremendous responsibility to Jeanette and Nelson to get it right. Sometimes it feels like a lot of heavy lifting, so much was covered up for so long by people who conspired to hide the facts for their own profit. We have a commitment, a moral obligation to work just a little harder to find out more of the truth – they deserve to have their say. So that’s why we keep researching, digging, wading through boxes of “stuff” long forgotten in dusty storage rooms. Because the devil is in the details, and sometimes he has a name and a face – but he does NOT have the last word.