In Defense of Gene Raymond

Okay, y’all, I have to say it. I’ve thought about the forum to air these feelings and I think it has to be here, in a space that belongs to me — lest I be accused of causing drama on Facebook……HEAVEN FORBID!!

I am sick. to. death. of the constant, brainless, non-stop bashing of Gene Raymond.

I am sick of it.

Over it.

Done with it.

Please do not be confused: I am no great fan of his. I find him, at best, pretty talentless and self-absorbed, and at worst, abusive and cruel. He had a drinking problem that I think only grew worse with time. Video footage from the Clan Claves in the last 20 years of his life show a crude, drunken, coarse, dirty old man with a penchant for interrupting the speakers to hear his own voice. I’ve looked through hundreds of photos of him posing with Clara, Tessa, and others at these meetings, and he is red-faced, glassy-eyed and holding a drink in just about every single one of them. I think Jeanette would have been mightily embarrassed by his behavior. I think she was often embarrassed by him during her time on earth – but as she was not without her own contributing factors to the mess they were in, I think she took it on the chin as best she could. I think Jeanette put up with a lot that other women wouldn’t have — and that she, indeed, may not have if it were not for her own “sins” and sense of guilt. I believe that in many ways, Jeanette felt responsible for Gene’s life being what it was, so she “took” a lot more from him than most lesser human beings would.

The man spent her money like it was water, both during her life and after. We have the financial records of that – it’s not a matter of choosing to believe it or not. Angela did a whole presentation on it, and recently, I’ve found more finance documents that simply illustrate the point further. He was a user.

I’ve written reams and reams on what I think of Gene at the end of Jeanette’s life. I’m not going to address that again here, except to say that based on those events, Hell’s too good for him.

HOWEVER.

She married him. She chose him. She had her reasons for doing it and she walked down that aisle in the wedding of the decade without a gun being held to her head. At the point in her life where she was, in that moment, given her circumstances and without the help of a crystal ball, she decided Gene was the best option, and once she had made up her mind, she saw it through. She stayed married to him until her death. There was talk of divorce, there were even attempts at divorce, but at the end of the day, and after many struggles on many levels, they stayed together.

There must have been something good about this man. He must have had redeeming qualities. I’ve seen enough “I love you” in her hand, addressed to him, and in his hand, addressed to her, that I must accept that love was there. After all, if we are going to insist that everyone accept Nelson Eddy’s written I love you, which we are, we must also accept Gene Raymond’s. To not do that is to remove any modicum of logic from the proceedings. If we assume Nelson meant it because he wrote it, we must also assume Gene meant it, because he wrote it. Neither party is alive anymore for us to grill on the subject. I think there is a lot of gray area that is up for discussion about the context and the timing of those declarations of love, but what cannot be denied is their existence. You cannot look at one and pretend to not see the other.

What that does is complicate matters even further. The woman had a husband. The woman had a lover. Just because you prefer one doesn’t mean the other doesn’t exist, or that both relationships are not valid. Jeanette was a good and honest and honorable woman. She was not deceitful or sneaky. Unfaithfulness was not in her makeup — yet an affair happened, because she, though she believed she could will herself to love someone (there’s a whole article about that, from the first half of the 30s), she couldn’t will herself not to love someone else. Jeanette freely admitted that she couldn’t cry in front of Gene, that he accused her of putting on an act. That’s totally not compatible with Jeanette’s sensitive nature, but Gene was not good at handling that side of her. She fiercely, from earliest childhood, wanted to be a mother. Gene didn’t like kids and didn’t want them, and indeed, it’s virtually impossible to picture them co-parenting. It seems clear from the writings of the parties involved (and, indeed, from looking at them…) that Nelson touched and commanded some part of her soul that Gene never accessed or understood. Nelson and Jeanette had something on a level mere mortals seldom do. Nelson saw HER. Not status, not money, not arm candy. He saw her. He nurtured her, he listened to her, he introduced her to her own sexual force in a way no previous partner had, and he put her in charge of her feminine power. The Jeanette of Rose Marie is a grown-ass woman. Those are good drugs. In every other area of her life, Jeanette exhibited a very strong Gemini duality. In that way, this double life existence is unsurprising. I believe that, in addition to her health problems, which were numerous and very real, the stress of living this way had everything to do with her death at age 61 — and Nelson’s, just two short years later.

But back to Gene, I am just tired of the childish “eeeewwwww” variety of response every time a photo that includes him is published. I am tired of the slapping at him at every opportunity, for no other reason than his picture being available. It’s reductive, it’s obnoxious and it needs to stop. After a while, it becomes supremely disrespectful of JEANETTE, that we would be this rude about the person she chose to marry. We have a bunch of pictures and stuff in the holdings of The JAM Project that I’d like to share, but when you consider the large amount of time it takes to scan, edit, watermark, file and post these photos, quite honestly it doesn’t seem worth it to me for the kind of reception they will get. SHE MARRIED THE MAN. THERE ARE CUTE PICTURES OF THEM TOGETHER. THERE ARE SWEET TELEGRAMS AND LETTERS. IT HAPPENED. I’m not asking anyone to adore Gene, goodness knows I do not, and I love Nelson fiercely, but…..enough’s enough.

Look, if you want to go for Gene’s jugular on a particular issue, I’ll be right there with you. There are plenty of occasions where such discourse is warranted. But we are not children, and we need to stop acting like children who can’t even look at the man without having to make some sort of snotty remark. Yeah, I used to be guilty of it, too. I can own that, but as time has gone on (and I personally have moved on in my journey of trying to understand this exceptional woman and the ins and outs of her life), it’s just not entertaining anymore. It serves no purpose. I have altered my stance, which is something we are all allowed to do, because I love Jeanette and I take seriously the incredible opportunity afforded me by having access to the things I do. I value her as a human being, as a voice, as a talent, as a citizen, as a patriot, as a woman, without affiliation with ANY man. As someone serious about working on her life story, I have to accept and acknowledge all parts of her life, not just the ones I like. If we put the time we spent Gene-bashing towards something more worthwhile, such as getting beneath the surface of why she married him, why she stayed with him, why she forgave him and how Nelson fits into all of that — the discussion would be a lot more interesting.  It’s OKAY to be mad at Gene….or Nelson….or Jeanette, for that matter. It’s okay to wish things had been different, or to ache for a period of time when you know one of them was hurting the other. It’s not okay to make any of these people into one-dimensional cardboard cutout stock characters. These were human beings. We weren’t there and they couldn’t predict the future. I trust Jeanette and I firmly believe that, with factors like her reputation and her personal sense of responsibility weighing heavily upon her, she tried her damnedest to do her best, given the hand she was being dealt in whatever moment. We’re only human, any of us. These people, too.

I kind of think Gene was a lousy actor, and not a great songwriter, despite Jeanette’s best efforts to pimp his work. I think it’s pretty widely accepted that his greatest accomplishments lay with the Air Force. He served his country overseas during the bloodiest, most awful war in human history, and continued on to a distinguished career in the Air Force, after the war was over. For that reason alone, if you can’t get there any other way, he has to be given some basic respect.

For the record, I couldn’t give two shits about Gene’s sexual preferences. I believe there’s certainly evidence enough that he was bisexual, and it matters only because of some of the choices he made and some of the consequences thereof, especially as framed within the context of the era. Some of these situations directly impact the story. While I’m sure it made some kind of impact on their marriage and the trajectory of their relationship, I don’t think it’s the feature presentation, here. Far from it.

I just feel like there are enough heartbreaks and things to be mad at in the lives of these people without us having to go to that place every single time there’s a picture. If we want to continue in our righteous anger about Clara and Tessa stripping Nelson out of everything they could get their hands on (and BOY do we have overwhelming evidence of that), and the rest of their followers going right along in that vein, we need to step up our own game.

Here are some photos. They’re cute photos. And my saying so does not make me disloyal to Nelson, for God’s sake. We have to think with more nuance and less in terms of absolutes.

London, 1959.

Hawaii, 1948.

At a party the Mills gave for her after her Carnegie Hall recital, October 16, 1950.

Pretty sure if there was one thing Jeanette loved more than cake, it was JEANETTE CAKE. 😉

 

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