Hi, yes, I’m back, I’m still here, life happens – is happening – at breakneck speed, but I have something (someone) important to write about and it can’t wait. I’ve got to tell you about Di.
I’ve loved Jeanette and Nelson for a long time. I was fifteen when I discovered them, or thereabouts – back in the days of dial-up AOL and a shared family computer with parental settings for the number of hours my brother and I were allowed to access the internet. This was right around getting my learner’s permit, my first cell phone (a navy Nokia with the pull-up antenna, am I dating myself yet?) — I graduated high school in 2004. I’ll be 35 on Friday. I don’t talk to most of the people I went to high school with, but I’m still connected to several friends that I met while I was that age. One of them is my age, and, coincidentally, was in the room the first time I saw Jeanette and Nelson (in Maytime), it was in fact her taped-off-TCM VHS tape that had flown with her up from Florida on one of our many crazed Old Hollywood BFFs weeks that are more memorable than most of the rest of that time in my life. We are still friends, still text, still visit, I mean, hell, she sent me a story on Instagram this very morning.
One of the other friends from that era is Di.
Di left us early in the morning of September sixth. We found out early yesterday. Today, we’ve been given permission to share the news among the groups. Today, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and reflect on a long and wonderful friendship.
I mentioned the shared-family-computer, limited-internet-time world that I lived in during this time in my life — this was before Facebook, back when Yahoo Clubs, then Yahoo Groups were the “social media” for the “fandom” type gathering. I’m talking myspace, livejournal, message boards — man, we were LIVING. So, naturally, being freshly in love with the Singing Sweethearts and wanting to do nothing else but talk about them with other like-minded folk, I joined the Yahoo Group for the Mac/Eddy Club. I feel like there were multiple groups, some spin-offs, but basically it was the same group of people. Bernadette, the old social media moderator, was welcoming and sent me her bonus copy of Sweethearts, since I didn’t have one, and several of the other members were nice to me as well, as I gained a foothold in this veeeerrrrrrrrrrrrry complicated little corner of the world.
But Di was my first buddy.
Nearly 40 years my senior, we hit it off immediately. She lived in England, so was always online at wild hours compared to when I was, but we exchanged messages in the group, and then via email, and then on her “ning” site, which was my FAVORITE online MacEddy home for a long, long time, and then, in March of 2009, she got on Facebook. I just looked that up. Some time later, she founded the Facebook group, The Iron Butterfly and the Golden Baritone, which just celebrated ten years of active members and frequent postings. Di has written short stories (and we wrote a few together, Round Robin style, back in the day) and several novels about Jeanette and Nelson, in which she tried to fix things for them and give them a happier life; she amassed a truly ridiculous collection of postcards, sheet music, and other collectibles (which she never hesitated to share if someone else was lacking a piece for their collection – ask me how I know, and how much of my sheet music came from her, and how many hours she spent on Skype laughing uproariously at my pathetic attempts to plunk out familiar melodies on my piano), she had a massive library of photos which she enjoyed tweaking and colorizing in a blatant refusal to allow her beloved duo to be “just” lying there in two-dimensional black and white. She never, ever saw them that way. She never wanted to profit from them, she never wanted to exploit them; she just wanted everyone to love and remember them the way she did. She agonized over the hand life dealt them. She mourned for what might have been, and gloried in the magic they made together. She was the best of us in that way.
I think many of us know that particular Di, and that many of our experiences with her are alike. I’ve already seen remarks from several of our closest group of friends in discussing Di today that she was the first person to befriend them on the MacEddy scene.
I am fortunate that my friendship with her extended beyond “just” MacEddy — for years I paid for an international calling service Skype offered so we could talk on her landline phone, then when she figured out how to use Skype on her computer, we switched to that. I knew a lot about her life and she knew a lot about mine. My first Jeanette office (across the house from where Miss MacDonald lives now; she outgrew that space but quick!) was painted and decorated while she watched and kept me company from overseas. Whenever she saw I was calling, she would usually pick up with some variation of, “–and what do YOU want, you cheeky bitch?” and I don’t know how else to convey the tone of our relationship than to quote her thus. Di’s wit….quick, sharp, acerbic. Hilarious. Biting. Great with an immediate clapback. I loved -LOVED- to give her a hard time. A search through years and years of back and forth comments on our group posts will testify to this fact. Nothing gave me more glee than to do things like craft her a birthday card out of the most insidious Gene Raymond photos I could find, or tease her in countless other ways, but she handed it right back in spades and we always knew it was all in fun.
Di was always on my side. The “group” has factions and fractures and drama — I swear to God poor Jeanette has more drama among her fans than ANYONE and let me tell you I have been around the Old Hollywood fan scenes a long time. Jeanette fans take the entire cake. If you’re reading this, you know. There was often “something” brewing “somewhere” and Di could be counted on to stand up for her people. She was incredibly loyal to her friends, and I’m proud that I was one of them. More important than that, to me, anyway, was her loyalty to Jeanette and to Nelson, separately and together. When things took an unsavory turn, Di basically said “not on my watch” and said and did whatever she thought was prudent to maintain her staunch belief that we advocate for them, who are no longer here to advocate for themselves. She never, ever apologized for sticking her neck out that way.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, aside from the four of us directly involved, was more unabashedly thrilled than Di when we acquired what is known as The JAM Project, what remained of Jeanette’s estate and personal papers. Nobody was quicker to contribute towards film preservation efforts or flowers for Jeanette and Nelson at Christmas. (Don’t read that wrong, we have an incredible and generous group of friends and Jeanette and Nelson have NEVER ONCE been left wanting for anything we’ve needed to raise money for, I’m just specifically saying Di was always right there at the front of the line.)
Angela and I were always conspiring to work around Di’s health situation and get her over to the USA. I deeply regret that we were never able to make it happen. Still, she loved my Cocker Spaniel, and my horses, from afar, and her daughter Erin and I share a love of theatre and performing. We always had lots to talk about. For two people who never met in person (and she always said that the very first thing she would do upon meeting me for the first time would be to “give you a great swat, which you deserve”) we shared a long and meaningful friendship. She is not the first nor the last friend I’ve made through internet communities for loving certain stars, but she is certainly among the most memorable and cherished.
Her passing has weighed on me like a heavy, sad brick ever since I learned of it. I know she wouldn’t like that (we were forever telling each other to “buck up” which is exactly what she would think I needed to do right now – I also learned “bugger off” from her and a few other choice phrases, bless her) — but damn, I will miss her. I will miss her wit and her banter and her unwavering support of and belief in me and in what will ultimately be a biography I hope will be worthy of Jeanette.
This is by no means a complete history; that would take all night. But I’ve thought about her, and about doing this, all day, and when I sat down to my computer, this is what fell out of my fingers: the thoughts as organized as I can make them, fifteen plus years into knowing someone. She was a good, good friend.