Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may remember a post I made a couple of weeks ago about cold-calling someone who could potentially have a story, and that I hoped he wasn’t dead.
I had found, in The JAM Project stuff, a little cache of letters and cards from Jeanette to this fellow named George, spanning a decent amount of time, some typed and some handwritten. In nearly every one, she’s thanking him for roses he has sent her. She tells him he spoils her “but I love it!” and she discusses various colors/varieties of roses he has sent. In one letter, she talks of downsizing from Twin Gables to the Comstock, and she notes that she has sent him a “surprise package” that “even though it may not be specifically your taste, with it comes a sentimental feeling that it will find a warm welcome.” (You GUYYYYYYSSSSSSS. I CANNOT WITH THIS HUMAN.)
In short, immediately, I was a big fan of George.
So I checked out the address on the packet of letters and plugged it into Google, and sure enough, George’s name came up, with his wife, Joanne, and a couple of phone numbers.
Could George possibly be alive, still?
Look, at this point, in 2018, finding new people to talk to who met/knew Jeanette is getting harder and harder. I don’t have any sort of agenda in trying to contact people, I just want to hear about what they have to say. Jeanette has intensely high approval ratings among practically everybody, but the stories are fun. They’re charming. They’re little glimpses at the woman I’ll never get to meet, and I love hearing them. (Also, I love old people. Win/win.)
So, I taught my riding lessons, choked down some dinner, organized all the George letters, got out my notebook and pen and swallowed the foreboding sense of extreme awkwardness when calling someone out of the clear blue, who has no idea you exist. Eep.
I try the first number. It rings and rings and rings and rings, no answer, no voicemail. Well, nuts, I was all worked up to it and everything.
I try the second number. This time I get a voicemail, but the voice in the recording sounds older; Joanne, no doubt. I put on my hilariously professional voice that never gets used in real life (doesn’t everybody have one of those?) and begin leaving the most awkward message of all time. Is it weird to say I hope you’re still alive? Yes. Don’t do that. (I didn’t, thank God.)
Mid-message-leaving, the phone is yanked up, and the same voice as was on the recording says, “Say all that again, please?”
So I repeat myself, my name, where I’m calling from, I assure her she doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall and say I think, maybe, that I’m looking for George…? (You know, in case he’s not dead…?)
“I very much doubt that, young lady, George has been dead for thirty-five years.”
“What did you want to talk to George about?”
“Jeanette MacDonald,” I say.
A pause, then a breath and a chuckle. “Oh, the other woman!”
I start laughing and it’s settled: I like this lady. With the ice broken, I give her my background and tell her I’m holding in my hand, at this moment, a bunch of letters and cards from Jeanette to George, that he had shared with the fan club. I ask for the story of George and Jeanette. How did they meet? I am told that George was a student at a music school at which Jeanette was coming in for a concert and some other “to-do” over a weekend. She had asked ahead of time for an escort/lackey/gofer type, perhaps they could appoint one of the students to be her helper while she was there? George was elected. He was all of nineteen at the time, and a photo exists from that weekend, and Joanne laughingly tells me how freshly scrubbed and young George looks in it. Joanne remembers this as about late 1952 or early 1953, but also recalled that this was a period in their lives when she and George didn’t really know each other. They had known each other as kids, then grew apart for a period of years, then found each other again as adults and married. George spent some time in the fifties near Warren, Ohio, and saw Jeanette in Bitter Sweet, as well as in concert any time she came near that area. By the time he and Joanne reunited, “George and Jeanette were firmly established and it was clear to me that in marrying him, I was taking Jeanette into my life, too.”
That didn’t and doesn’t sound like too much of a problem, to me.
I asked if she ever met Jeanette.
“Hell, no!” I am rebuked for my suggestion, humor evident in Joanne’s voice. “When he went to see her, that was George and Jeanette time. My job back then was to get him a good camera – I worked for Kodak – teach him to use it and get out of the way.”
I said that in the notes from Jeanette, she was always thanking him for flowers. Joanne remembered it well. It seems Jeanette got roses more often than she did, but she remains a grand sport about it. ❤ “It was quite a love story,” remembered Joanne. “When she was moving to that apartment, she sent George a beautiful sterling silver bowl. I’m looking at it, right now, in the living room. Solid sterling. Just a gorgeous piece, but that was like her, from what I always gathered. We were so, so sorry when she died. She was sick a long time.”
We ended a most enchanting, captivating conversation with Joanne taking my name and address, saying she’d look around for anything else that might be of interest, and she’d make a copy of the photo of George and Jeanette for me. She was rather elated to have a Jeanette contact, because “the younger people don’t care too much about this.”
Today, the mail brought an envelope from Joanne.
Isn’t he STINKING CUTE? GEORGE!!!!!!! #therealMVP
I salute you and everything you stand for, sir.
AND ALSO, JEANETTE ANNA, YOU JUST GO ON WITH YOUR BAD, BAD SELF.
I literally cannot even. Got herself a nice-looking college age admirer who is going to write her and send her flowers for birthdays and Christmases and no reason at all for the rest of her life, and his wife’s just gonna have to get on board with this fact. Such is her charm. This story is not a new one. It’s purely innocent and so, so adorable, but that J-Mac always did appreciate a tall, cute boy. I am 500% obsessed with this.
Also, the earrings that she’s wearing there (you can’t see them well, but they go with that dress and necklace) are on my vanity, as we speak, two feet away from me. HOW. This thing continues to blow my damn mind. There is nothing cooler than this, as far as I can tell. ❤ ❤
8 thoughts on “George”
Oh my God. What an wonderfully uplifting blog entry and how great that you got such a reception…”Oh, the other woman.” The lady sure has a sense of humour. I hope you hear more from her. George was obviously smitten and Jeanette, being the darling she was, kept in touch and made him feel so special I bet. Thanks for sharing, I am grinning like an idiot because this is simply adorable.
WOW!! What an enchanting story! Thank you for following up and then sharing this. LOVE the photo!
I’m sitting here with a goofy grin on my face. So excited with this story from beginning to end. The suspense…is anyone still alive on other end? Tearfully happy with the ending and that you have the earrings she’s wearing in the picture.
Going to share this with my BF, he was a journalism guy in college and will love your tenacity at digging into George’s story.
THAT PHOTO! They’re both so cute…
Jeanette MacDonald had to deal with a lifetime of serious chronic illness, yet always did her best to appear healthy (well-groomed down to the last detail, etc.). She was the epitomy of a STAR and it’s why we love her so.
I literally can’t deal with how adorable this all is. Jeanette is effing perfect, as far as I can see. Love. Thanks for the comment!
Have you ever tried contacting Nanette? She was alive and living in Studio City. Her son lives in England .Her third husband passed away and I think she has gone back to using the Vanderbilt name. But who knows?
I believe she is back to using the Vanderbilt name, yes, which is honestly a real stretch, considering that he was her stepfather for not very many years. I’m not positive, but I think it was fewer than ten. I’d be interested in talking to her, certainly, totally open to that, would love to hear anything she cared to share. We’ve run across several interesting articles concerning her, as well as an interview with her where she was being touted as an up-and-coming Grace Kelly. She was absolutely gorgeous. If she was quoted accurately in the interview, she had a pretty high-handed attitude about her great aunt at once point, and comes across as a real name-dropping, social climbing type, but who knows how accurate that is (though….she’s back to using Vanderbilt….so………). She also had some mental health issues at one point, because there’s an earlier version of Jeanette’s will that we have where she makes some provision to help with Nanette’s psychiatric care. That was not the case in the will that stood (the 1963 one), so something must have changed along those lines. Of course, Nanette’s biological father, Elsie’s son, caused a good amount of trouble for the family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about any of the family members’ relationship with her. Nanette had some strange behavior as a young adult (including being a literal “missing person” with articles written to that effect) but she certainly seems distraught at Jeanette’s funeral.
Such an endearing story! I do hope that Joanne takes a picture of the sterling silver bowl, would love to see it and any other mementos that JAM picked out.
Thank you for this adorable story about our adorable “Jenny,” and for all your hard work and research. I love ALL of your blogs — keep ’em coming!