The Carmel Myers…Thing

Today, I am bringing you another piece of film, courtesy of The JAM Project. We have had it digitized and ready to go for a couple of months but a plethora of other responsibilities has kept me from sitting down and putting together a blog post about it.

Many of you may have, by now, seen Jeanette’s appearance on The Carmel Myers Show — which is, without question, the most cringeworthy, hilariously awkward thing that has ever been available to view. (I mean, she did a good number of guest spots on TV game/panel shows that have been considered “lost” — so we will probably never see them and who knows what fantastic nonsense she got up to on those shows.) It has previously been available in a super low-quality, grainy version, and there’s another copy of it floating around on YouTube, but this one is made from Jeanette’s film, and it’s the clearest and best version of it that I’ve ever seen, certainly, and what you may not have seen is the few minutes before Jeanette’s appearance…oh Lord, definitely pull up a chair for that. Even though this is a “lesser” appearance as far as Jeanette is concerned (like, by a country mile), we still felt that it was worth salvaging HER print of it, and having a good copy preserved in perpetuity, so we went ahead and spent the money and did it. Our thanks to Brad and the crew at Video Conversion Experts for once again exceeding our expectations and being fantastic to work with! They have been educational, patient, prompt and such an important part of the team. They have treated Jeanette’s stuff with utmost care and respect and have returned it in perfect condition every time. I would recommend their services to absolutely anybody — just fantastic. 🙂

The Carmel Myers Show was done August 7, 1951, just two days after Jeanette and Gene appeared together on Toast of the Town. (I think Jeanette’s haircut is awfully cute, not that anybody asked, but I do.) It is the most cloying, ridiculous mess one has ever seen — like, on WHAT PLANET do you have Jeanette on your show and literally bust out the uke and have the titanium balls to sing at her — not once, but twice — with your marginal-at-absolute-best voice?! Just………….like……………I get it if you can’t pay her to sing and if she’s being a good egg and appearing to spend a few minutes chit-chatting and tripping over her words because TV makes her nervous and holy God she’s adorable but like……if you’re not letting her/paying her to sing, then YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT SING EITHER.

This is, without question, the only appropriate response. Thanks, J-Mac, for keeping it real for the folks at home:

(Is your bosom stuffed? It is. It is migrating away from your person. It is leaving. Somebody get the girl some double-sided tape, STAT.)

It is impossible to watch this thing without absolutely sobbing. Also………..um, that is the most sanitized and fluffed over version of the Louella Parsons story that has ever been told.

Side note: some jerk stole Jeanette’s diamond wristwatch that she left in the dressing room when she went out to shoot this scant few minutes of television. ……..SERIOUSLY?! She has to endure Carmel Myers and the uke AND she gets her watch stolen. Nice.

If you’ve seen Toast of the Town, you’ll know that there’s some super awkwardness when Nelson’s name is brought up during the “interview” segment (Gene is acting as host and Jeanette is the guest). She says the most frequently asked question she gets is, “Why didn’t you marry Nelson Eddy?” and Gene goes, “Well, why didn’t you?” and she responds by this very weird blast of out of character nervous cackling and turns upstage, leaving her back to the camera while she pulls herself together. It’s sort of funny until it isn’t. Then it’s just weird.

Jeanette and Nelson were photographed together for the “last” time at the Melchiors’ 25th Anniversary party, May 26, 1950. They would not be seen together again until November 12, 1952, when Nelson surprised her (and made her cry) on This is Your Life. Their personal breakup of over two years took its toll on both of them, but they reconciled immediately following This is Your Life. Toast of the Town and The Carmel Myers Show both fall into the window when she and Nelson were on the outs, and as such it is interesting that when Carmel shows pictures from Jeanette’s movies, not one of them was from a Nelson film. Was that prearranged? One kind of has to think it was, to avoid Jeanette having to discuss him/them on the air. I feel like it was weird enough with someone “safe” like Gene — it would have the potential to get way weirder with someone like Carmel. I mean, say what you want to about Jeanette being a great big deal in her own right and I will agree with you all day long, but if you’re like….recalling glorious moments from her past films….it seems pointed and strange to pick only movies that Nelson wasn’t in. Let’s just toss a sheet over the elephant in the room and pretend nobody can see it. (It’s also interesting to note that it was during this time period that the proposed reunion film Will You Remember was being discussed for Jeanette and Nelson…and Gene was the self-styled talent broker, trying to get Nelson on board, trying to schmooze him, making appeals to Nelson’s sexiness, calling him Nels, in general being his assy self, as Angela demonstrates in her presentation at this link, go to one minute in to get to the relevant info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScwIS_NYaYo&feature=youtu.be  Turk incorrectly interjects this into the timeline where it suits him, on page 305 of Hollywood Diva, he places this occurrence in 1954, to suit the mood of frustration on Jeanette’s part and to make Nelson look like a jerk. Angela now owns the script [which is effing delightful and would have been for them what The Barkleys of Broadway was for Fred and Ginger–sigh!!] and all original correspondence surrounding it — it’s all from 1951. The attitudes surrounding it were personal and not professional. Jeanette and Nelson were not speaking and Gene is over here trying to play messenger boy. Trust and believe, Gene, if they wanted to talk, they would not need your help.)

Also, where is the fly swatter with which to slap the hell out of Carmel when she does that insufferable humming at the end? It’s a reeeeeeeeeeeal toss-up, friends, about which is worse: Carmel Myers or Anita Louise doing the Hazel Bishop commercials. You look at that and think… my God, Jeanette weathered the fifties JUST. BEAUTIFULLY.

Here’s the show:

As this is the last video that will be shared by The JAM Project for the foreseeable future, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the incredible help we have had over the past year in providing this material to the public, on YouTube, for everyone to enjoy at no charge. We have felt from the beginning that this is the right thing to do, and have thrown our collective shoulder into making it happen.

We fundraised among a group of people who love Jeanette and Nelson and believe in our work and I want to thank them for this roster of restored, preserved and digitized film:

Digitized 1/30/17

Clip from Lux Video Theatre, with Jeanette and Nelson

and

1955 NBC Screen Test of Jeanette

$220.40

Digitized 2/15/17

1962 ClanClave Footage (Luau/Twin Gables)

$113.85

Digitized 6/21/17

This is Your Life

$949.50

Digitzed 7/15/17

Person to Person

$519.19

Digitized 10/19/17

The Carmel Myers Show

$472.58

So…….$2,275.52 has been spent in the last year for cleaning/restoring/digitizing/preserving film to share. That’s incredible! And that doesn’t even include the cost of other preservation/digitization efforts, such as having Jeanette’s personal collection of like 250 11×14’s scanned, all the audio digitization my brother has done for us, and transferring a few transparencies into incredible color photos. HUGE gratitude to our dear friends around the world, whose donations to this project and purchasing of autographed pictures and a few extra books, etc, from the holdings, have made this possible for everyone. In no particular order and hoping against hope that I have not excluded anyone: Annette, Margaret, Angela, Di, Lynda, Leslie, Mary Lynn, Tracy, Charlotte, Peter, Philip, Scott, Melissa, Sandra and Gabrielle. When I say this could not have been done without you — boy, do I mean it. Our dear Miss Mac is not an inexpensive proposition. Good thing she’s cute. 😉

Big gratitude to our friend Blythe, who gave me my first ever new source interview, and was kind enough to recall her precious childhood experiences with “Miss Jeanette” and her “co-star”. Printing that sheer delight of an interview was one of the MacHighlights of 2017.

My thanks also and in particular to my trusty pal Angela, who owns Jeanette’s Metropolitan Opera correspondence and the MacRaymond financial documentation, both of which have been the subject of extensive blog entries here at The Case for Jeanette and Nelson, with high resolution scans. It’s hard to strike the balance of wanting to put good material forward, (which I think it is safe to say we have done!) but also knowing it is absolutely correct and imperative to hold things back for the eventual book. Luckily, there is so much here that we’ve been able to do both in a satisfactory way. Angela also owns the original of Nelson’s 1960 letter, in which the word “love” — which was quoted by Jeanette when she sent a note to his fan club after being honored as the Philadelphia Woman of the Year — was whited out, presumably by Clara, Tessa or Gene Raymond, and the censored letter was then quoted, with censorship in place, in Hollywood Diva. Suck on that, kids. Nelson can’t express love for Jeanette (in a letter that was going to be read out loud in public for God’s sake!) without somebody trying to strike it from the record. What’re y’all afraid of, hmm? (That has, of course, also been scanned, photographed against the light so you can see the word “love” under the white-out, and has been made the subject of its own blog.) Angela, the use of this material has furthered everyone’s knowledge of the details behind the scenes — and has contributed greatly to our understanding of what was actually going on in the life of this incredible human being. Thanks, buddy.

And here, here’s a thing. A real, real, real cute thing. An unretouched, crystal clear, oh-em-gee-someone-hold-me sort of cute thing.

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Another January 14th

It’s been fifty-three years today since Jeanette Anna MacDonald has been in the world, and this year, like all the others since she departed, people who love her pause on this day to remember her, to reflect on her life and death and, depending on how they feel — depending on which Jeanette they believe in, for there are several, and the people who claim to love her have this very frustratingly human tendency to be enamored of the facet of this woman that is most convenient for them — maybe they get a little angry. Angry at how she was treated, at how she died, at the secrecy and lies and horseshit that surrounded her before death and after death and in all the years since. Angry at how she’s been exploited, at how she’s paid the bills for so many people during her life and after, and wondering where it got her.

And maybe the people who get a little angry get a little sad, too. Sad that someone so wonderful and gifted and good had such a struggle with her health. Sad that she didn’t live even a few more years, into the era of medical advances that could have saved her. The last half of the 1960s was groundbreaking for heart surgery and cardiac care, and she just missed it. Sad that she’s so pigeonholed and misunderstood and tug-o-warred in the name of fandom. Sad that she put herself last, that, while often very savvy and forthright professionally; personally, she let guilt, responsibility and her overwhelmingly decent nature keep her from making choices that would have found her happier, less wracked with stress and probably alive longer.

It’s a day that just doesn’t feel great, for a lot of reasons.

Jeanette, I have to tell you, was one of the very finest people who has ever lived. Reading this, you may already believe that about her — but let me reiterate for you that it is true. She was the genuine article. Beyond the obvious and overstated cliche that nobody’s perfect — for me, she comes pretty close. But I feel guilty saying that, because that’s been the opinion of so many, back when she was alive, and I’ve seen evidence of the enormous and crippling pressure that put on her. Angela said, the other day, upon reading a sweet anecdote of Jeanette’s usual graciousness written by someone who encountered her at the Starlight Theatre in 1956, that, “She never disappoints you. Never.” And — really — that’s so true. So. True. I have never once felt disappointed in her. I have spent, over the last year, hundreds of hours trawling through boxes and boxes and boxes and multiple filing cabinets crammed full of artifacts of her life. I’ve researched and written about her for years now, but the holdings of The JAM Project are an entirely different species of MacAnimal. I’ve read her letters to people who owed her money — sometimes large sums. I’ve read her letters to a fanatical fan who was on some kind of psycho bent and was writing angrily and aggressively to her, whom she took the time to personally deal with; to dress down for sure, but also to soothe and try to help. (And when I read her treatment of this person who had treated her badly, it broke my heart for the 700th time that she didn’t have children to raise and discipline and teach to do right. She’d have been so good at it.) I’ve read reams of correspondence between her and her lawyer, negotiating her 1939 MGM contract in particular. I’ve seen her hurt and confused when Edward Johnson of the Metropolitan Opera says one thing and does another with regard to her being asked to appear there. I’ve read more fan accounts of meeting her than I ever thought possible. I’ve read a letter from someone who recalled talking to her about Misty, her Skye Terrier, near the end of her life, and that she began to cry, talking about him. I’ve interviewed several new sources, and made a new and very well-respected contact who has turned over several of HIS old interviews to me, including one with George Cukor in the seventies (who spoke on the record in this interview about his firsthand-at-MGM-knowledge of Jeanette and Nelson’s relationship BY. THE. WAY.), because Jeanette was discussed. The Jeanette material has never been published, because she was not his subject, but he is graciously allowing me to publish it, in due course.

But, getting back to my point before I go down too much of a bunny trail, here: I have read more by and about this woman in the past year than any human should; way, way more than has ever been published or released, stuff that never was intended to see the light of day, and I have never been more impressed by her than I am right now. Who you are when nobody is looking is who you really are, and she was solid gold. She’s funny, she’s bossy, she’s saltier than most people would probably expect, she’s absolutely smart as a whip. Observing her memos about percentages and cuts and taxes and which move is the most professionally and financially advantageous is a sight to behold. She’s sweet and kind and considerate and, though she’s not given to extravagant spending, she’s amazingly generous with her time, with her personal attention, and that’s a much bigger deal than throwing money at something (though she did that, too, when the occasion warranted). There have been times when I wish she hadn’t done something, or I cringe because I know how the story ends — but never, never has she disappointed me. Angela’s sentiment is not a new one. We’ve said it over and over.

But I’m back to my thought about feeling guilty. It’s not Jeanette’s job to keep our illusions about her intact.

Louder, for the back row: It is not Jeanette’s job to keep our illusions about her intact.

So, basically, it’s nice and all, that she hasn’t ever disappointed me, but the thing that I constantly feel the need to express is it’s NOT ABOUT ME. OR YOU. OR YOUR CLUB. OR YOUR BELIEF SYSTEMS. OR YOUR HANGUPS ABOUT SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS. OR YOUR RELIGION. OR YOUR CRUSH ON HER. OR YOUR FANTASY ABOUT THE OLD DAYS AND HOW COTTON CANDY EVERYTHING WAS.

I wish to God she’d been less perfect, less responsible. I wish to God she hadn’t felt like she owed her fans/the public her life, her happiness and ultimately her health. I almost wish she’d been meaner and more selfish. I wish she’d been as sure of herself privately as she was publicly. I wish she hadn’t written “alone” so horribly many times in the eleven months she kept up her 1963 desk diary. I wish she hadn’t felt like she’d made her bed so she’d better lie in it. I wish the fortune she worked her ass off to build had given her some real happiness, instead of setting her husband up nicely for his next life and paying life salaries of the two people whose loyalty he bought, literally, with money and attention and hoards of her stuff.

I can’t change what happened, and neither can you. But neither can we pretend her authentic life didn’t exist — which means that people who think they know or have predetermined suppositions of who and what she is…are going to be made uncomfortable. That’s not her problem. Don’t make it her problem. Either get on board with her, accept her for who she was – not who you want her to be – or find somewhere else to play. Jeanette was a good person. An honest, moral, principled person (and because of that, was also quite tortured). She loved her country and gave tremendously of herself in the service of it. She was uniquely and gorgeously gifted and she shared her gifts generously with the world at just the right time. She was beloved by millions and she appreciated and respected. the. hell. out. of. that. She was, with deadly certainty, worthy of being loved and admired. She certainly isn’t disappointing. But I want people to quit worshiping an image, and start understanding that it is her actual humanity that is admirable and lovable, and that it isn’t up to her to uphold your fantasies. Let her be a person. Let her life be complicated – it was. Let her not always have made your personal favorite choice – she did, no matter who you are. Love her, still, but get her off the pedestal. It’s unhealthy for you and it’s unfair to her authentic story.

People who think she couldn’t be pushed around in private because of who she was in business are especially missing the layers and levels of nuance that make up a whole person. The same woman who actively told her lawyer how to lawyer and wrote “I beg of you to quote me” on a particularly snarky point about MGM negotiations allowed Gene Raymond to waltz his way through so much of HER money it’s absolutely unconscionable and outrageous. That paperwork exists. It’s not up for argument. Bank statements and correspondence, all the nonsense about Mr. Raymond not being able to account for the checks that overdrew the joint account which Jeanette had to cover with her income account because he said the bank book “accidentally got burned” — what the hell. Were you having a cookout in the study? How does that even happen? Business Jeanette would have cut that supply off, but quick! She was not about the reckless spending of the dollar! Personal Life Jeanette felt, I think, super guilty about How Things Were and took it on the chin. Gene got away with murder (…) because she felt it was her fault that his life went the way it did. He was paid well for his pains, that is absolutely certain. That’s but one example of the dichotomy. One example of her sucking it up and dealing with it because she figured she had contributed to the mess she was in. Maybe that was correct thinking, but maybe she shouldn’t have been so stoic. She was so, so responsible. She wasn’t given to having other people deal with her problems. She didn’t want people to know that she suffered, and that is a broad brush that paints a wide stroke. She wanted people to enjoy her, to admire her. She had a real need to be petted and praised. She took being looked up to terribly seriously. She didn’t want people to know the gory or unpleasant details, not because they weren’t true or didn’t happen, but because she didn’t want others to be burdened. She was a master at putting a good face on it. How punishingly unfair is that?

Please, if you want to do something to honor Jeanette’s memory in 2018, set her free from the cage of your own inhibited opinions about what she was allowed to be, who she was allowed to love and how she was allowed to conduct her life. Allow her to have been a luminous, exquisite presence on this earth, appreciated for her contributions and her own truth. If you care enough about it, work to find out what that truth is… and be open to it when you find it. Understand that not everything is face value. Some things are black and white. Some are gray. Loving Nelson does not make her some kind of crazed harlot, nor does it nullify her many virtues and principles. Staying married to Gene doesn’t make her weak, nor does it automatically mean her marriage was good. Her marriage existed. Period. She had a husband. She had a lover. Her life was complicated. Understand that people connected with her story have done twisted and dishonest and manipulative things. If you care, work to get past that. Work to put the pieces together. Stop taking her up on her offer to be this beacon of untroubled ladylike perfection and get a little more on the level of, “No, stop. I know your life was stressful and you weren’t feeling well and you need to know you’re really damned remarkable for handling everything you did with such crazy amounts of grace.” She didn’t just suddenly die one day, guys. She was sick for a long, long time. Years. What she was, was incredibly brave and ridiculously strong. It’s time to allow her to stop carrying so much of that by herself and start understanding her as a human being.

I’m pretty fed up with the fan groups, at this point. I am sad to say that because I have many wonderful friends of long standing that were made because of them, and because there are some awfully nice folks out there that I really love and enjoy. Many, many good times have been had, but by and large, they have devolved into the bitchiest, nastiest, mismanaged cesspools of drama-mongering imaginable and 99% of this unnecessary stupidity has absolutely nothing to do with Jeanette or Nelson or Gene, but rather with a bunch of people who need something better to do, who never seem to make contributions of discussion or research, but definitely can always be counted on to make trouble. When the headache of dealing with that outweighs the importance of the work being done, something has to change. When the leadership doesn’t step up and protect the integrity of the organization and its contributors and call people out on their shit, the organization falls apart and the contributors’ contributions dry up, which benefits nobody. When this is such a drain on one’s brainpower that one doesn’t even want to deal with the topic of Jeanette at all, that’s a problem. Jeanette does not deserve that. I am absolutely blessed that Jeanette is not responsible for feeding me. She does not and will not pay my bills, which I hope is somewhat refreshing for her, wherever she is. I have a career that has nothing to do with her, thank God. She does not keep the lights on in my house (though occasionally she has been accused of turning one off!). I go out and fill my day, every day, with hours of productive activity that are in no way connected to Old Hollywood, and I am fulfilled and inspired by my work. I am not rich, but I can recognize my own privilege. Freedom is absolutely wealth. I think desperation does terrible things to otherwise good people. The work I do, the stuff I write, the time I spend on this project, for this great, great woman who so fiercely and richly deserves to be loved and admired and understood, I do because I want to, because, still and all, I love her and find her fascinating. I choose to be here, and that active choosing is something I have to protect. If I can’t choose freely to work on this because I want to, then it’s time for me to bow out, because I will undoubtedly begin producing work that sucks. Jeanette will never be a have-to for me. That’s the biggest and most obvious way that I can think of to respect her life.

If you are on Jeanette’s side, honestly, on some level, we are on the same team. Perhaps we should try acting like it. She deserves so much better.

On an unrelated note, here are the arrangements that were placed for her for the holidays:

We Will Remember ❤