This is Your Life: Revamped!

It was impossible to have this not be a priority. Among many, many cans of film, The JAM Project has possession of Jeanette’s original of This is Your Life — the one that they say at the end of the show that they’re giving her. The film strip is dated and stamped — this is it. The wrapping the film is in is labeled in Gene’s handwriting; the reel itself is labeled in Jeanette’s.

If you don’t think that is ridiculously cool, WHY are you reading this blog!?!?

So anyway, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that every “version” of this show currently out there is grainy, gritty, blurry, etc — we’ve all been happy to have it, of course, and memorized it and loved it and watched it over and over again, anyway, but if there was a chance that a better copy could be made with the technology available to us in 2017, we had to look into that, especially considering its significance in the Jeanette and Nelson story.

Jeanette’s film looked to be in remarkably good shape for being almost sixty-five years old. We knew this transfer was going to be expensive, but we marshaled the troops and got it done — and it’s digital now, so it’s forever. What a coup. That feels awesome. Beyond my ongoing gratitude to Lynda, Mary Lynn and Angela for making The JAM Project a reality, I want to make sure we also express our tremendous thanks to the people who helped with the financing of This is Your Life specifically, to make it available for everyone to enjoy at no cost: Leslie, Tracy, Charlotte, Annette, Scott, Lynda and Mary Lynn (in no particular order).

When our guys at the lab told us that it looked “very good”, my palms got a little sweaty. It’s their job to be critical, so it must look pretty darn awesome. Turns out it does. I feel so good about us getting this done. I’m sure YouTube will compress it and maybe we’ll lose a tiny edge of that greatness, but what arrived on our flash drive is grand — and it will be grand for posterity.

An additional thank you to Tracy for taking the mp4 file we got back from the lab and boosting the volume a bit. The sound is SO much richer than what we’ve had in the past — I’m picking up all kinds of nuance that we didn’t have previously — but the volume needed a little help.

Without further ado, this is your life, Jeanette MacDonald.** ❤

**complete with RIDICULOUS and AWFUL Anita Louise and Unqualified-to-Speak-Male-Accomplice live Hazel Bishop commercials. My personal Hell, when I get there, ’cause there ain’t no doubt I’m going — ask around! — will consist of these on a loop, I am convinced.

Okay I thought I was done with the commentary but can I just say that this dress is a lot cuter now that you can see the detail on it? It actually matches the pictures that were taken that night now, lol. She’s so cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLYTHE: The Interview

Social media is really a marvelous innovation. Imagine my delight when I was minding my own business in early May and Blythe K. materialized, making a comment that she had known Jeanette MacDonald, and had, in fact, sat on her lap as a child. Never one to shy away from striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know, I sent her a message and, as she familiarized herself with the efforts of The JAM Project, she responded to me, telling me that she had a gold compact that had belonged to Jeanette, with her initials on the back, and she’d like to send it to me.

I was floored. What?! I didn’t even know this woman! I asked her if she was kidding. She responded, “No. My memories are enough. It sits in my drawer. She’d be pleased to know someone who loves her has it. I love her too…but I sat on her lap.”

I think this is the part where I mention that I’ve spent a lot of time in my conversations with Blythe slack-jawed and not able to believe my own stupid luck. When I was able to formulate a coherent response to this last message, I asked if I might call her, to chat with her and hear the story of the childhood lap-sitting (HOW IS THIS EVEN FAIR, UNIVERSE?) as well as how she came into possession of such a treasure. She responded affirmatively and gave me her number. I called her that evening and sat, spellbound, as she told me about her grandmother, a Philadelphia native and friend of the MacDonald sisters, as well as her own encounters with the clearly-adored woman she still refers to as “Miss Jeanette”. Anecdote after anecdote painted a now-familiar picture of an exquisitely beautiful human being whose warmth and grace illuminated everything she touched. Ask pretty much anyone who ever met her and that’s what you get. Read the stories in the Golden Comets of the 1940s when Marie Waddy Gerdes was president; the star meeting fans at the stage door and remembering their names; the concert artist asking teenage girls how they’re getting home, making sure they will be safe in unfamiliar cities; meeting them for ice cream; wiring ahead to let them know when her train is getting in, to give them the chance to come and meet her; inviting them to her Bel Air home when they had occasion to visit California and driving them back to town afterwards. This is Jeanette. This is, consistently, Jeanette. All warm friendliness with a ready smile and quick, bantering wit, never too far gone into the stratosphere to be one of the gals, but too extraordinary to truly pass as a mere commoner.

The difference, with Blythe, is that her recollections are from the perspective of a child. She was three when they met, and later four, and seven and eight and lastly, she was fifteen. Many of the details of her knowledge came from later (read: adult) conversations she had with her grandmother, whose pre-Hollywood-yet-enduring-through-Hollywood friendship status meant that she knew all about the MacDonald status quo. In this first conversation, after hearing another episode of how sweet Jeanette was with this young girl, I made the observation that encounters with little Blythe were probably a real gift to the childless soprano, saying, “You know how badly Jeanette wanted to have children, and couldn’t.”

Her response caught me totally off-guard: “Well you know how badly Jeanette wanted to be with Nelson, too!”

Holy hell. Hoooooooly hell. I squeaked, found my voice, and replied, “Oh really, what do you know about all of that?”

And she told me. Boy, she told me. We were on the phone over two hours, that first night. As our conversation was winding down, I asked if she’d consent to a formal interview, because hers is a story that needs to be shared. I told her I wanted to interview her for my blog, and to use her as a source for my eventual, someday, MacDonald book. She jumped on board with me immediately, and at the end of May, we had another long phone call, this time done in a more formal interview style, which I taped and have transcribed. I don’t think I can adequately express my gratitude to her for allowing me the privilege of sharing her memories. She’s never been interviewed before, she’s never talked to anyone connected with the MacDonald/Eddy story, other than people she knew in her own life. Her recollections are fresh, yet blessedly familiar. She is a brand new source, in the year 2017. With everything else that’s come to light for us in the past couple of years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Thank you so much for this, Blythe.

I want to also thank Angela for her support on this quest, for helping me formulate interview questions, being the double-checker for my currently overworked brain, and for pow-wowing with me to make sure that when this interview was executed, it was as complete as humanly possible.

Here is our interview, done May 31, 2017:

KG: I’d like to start with a little background on your grandmother and how she came to know the MacDonald sisters and family.

BK: Grandmother was telling me that she met the MacDonald girls in, I think, the second or third grade. They kind of hung around together because they didn’t live too far from each other and they spent a lot of time together and played at each other’s homes.

KG: Which sister was the closest to her age?

BK: She was between Jeanette and Blossom, a little older than Jeanette. According to my grandmother, Jeanette was a bit of a brat. She was the young one, she was beautiful and everybody had a tendency to spoil her. Anyway, they grew up together and I know that Miss Jeanette was at Grandmother’s wedding, and Grandmother was at her wedding. Grandmother was not real happy with Gene, she never would tell me why, ‘cause those were adult things, but she didn’t like him. I think that was the only time she ever saw him, I’m not sure. But anyway, as I say, they grew up together – not best friends, because eventually Jeanette moved away and when she got into movies she kind of drifted across the country, but she’d drop by to see Grandmother [when she was home] and one particular time she did, I was there.

KG: When were you born, if you don’t mind my asking?

BK: 1942. [The first time I met her] I was about three years old and an adorable child, I have to say. I remember her walking in, and I remember this because she was so beautiful, with this gorgeous red hair and this wonderful smile and kind, oh my God, she was kind to me. And she bent down and said, ‘Hi, Sweetheart,’ and she picked me up and carried me over to a chair and sat down with me on her lap and sort of chatted with me – a few things you would say to a child – and Grandmother, of course Grandmother insisted I call her ‘Miss’ Jeanette because she was an adult and I wasn’t, but Miss Jeanette would not let me call her Miss MacDonald. And Grandmother said Miss Jeanette sang, and I said, ‘Will you sing for me?’ and she said she would – and she did!

KG: Oh, gosh. What did she sing?

BK: She sang Sweethearts to me, because she had just called me Sweetheart. And it was good, it was wonderful. I can still hear her. I wish I could have been around her more, but of course she was in Hollywood and didn’t get around to us all that often. She was nice, she was gentle, and my childish memory is that she smelled good. And, you know, she spent more time talking to Grandmother, but she didn’t ignore me! I could tell by the way that she had her arm around me while I was on her lap and she’d squeeze my arm occasionally – she knew I was there.

KG: [Unintelligible flailing of someone who can’t believe that this conversation is actually real life right now.] Tell me about the compact.

BK: Well, I was sitting on her lap, this would have been when I was about three or four years old, and her purse was next to us on the sofa, and like any child I was interested in the purse, so I went into her purse and there was this shiny gold compact with all these glittery stones on it. So I pulled it out…and I started chewing on it. And she looked at me and said, ‘Oh, do you like that?’ and I said, ‘Yes. Pretty,’ and she said, ‘Well, you can keep it.’ So she let me have it but she made my grandmother remove the powder from it because if I was going to put the thing in my mouth, she was worried that I’d swallow the powder and get sick. She would have been a really good mother. So Grandmother took the powder out, and I got to keep the compact. Another day she was there, I was interested in her nail polish; she had nail polish in her purse, so she pulled it out and put some color on some of my fingers and oh, I was so proud! She had a handkerchief in there, nail polish, lipstick and a compact, I loved it, but Grandmother about had my head and gave me a talking-to about the privacy of pocketbooks. Miss Jeanette may have thought it was okay from her point of view, but she never argued when Grandmother reprimanded me, that wasn’t done. But she was so into the child – not ignoring my grandmother or anything, but unlike so many adults who are like, ‘Alright, kid, go,’ – she wasn’t at all like that. And of course Grandmother would remind me if I was interrupting too much – and she was correct in that. I loved the relationship that I had with Miss Jeanette. Everybody behaved themselves. Everybody was a lady, everybody was nice. It was just cool.

KG: What do you remember most about her at that time, being so little?

BK: What I remember most is how good she smelled, how beautiful her hair was and how soft her voice was. She talked to me like an adult. She talked to me, softly, like an adult. No baby talk. Of course, nobody ever did that with me. But when I say she was kind – she was this beautiful, beautiful woman, and whenever I saw her she was always fixed up very nicely. The first time I sat on her lap, I reached up and grabbed her hair and pulled it out of the hairdo – and she was fine! My grandmother was like ‘Oh, MY GOD!’ and Miss Jeanette was like, ‘It’s fine! It’s just hair, I can do it again!’ She was a real sweetheart. And she felt good – she didn’t grab you and hold you, she held you gently. There was an essence about her, an aura, as they would say today, that drew me to her. I was very sad when she died; very, very sad. I have great memories. Oh, and I met the sisters, too; Elsie and Blossom.

KG: What did you think of them?

BK: I liked them fine. Well – I really liked Blossom. She was really fun, she was a nice person. They both looked like Jeanette – I mean, you could tell they were sisters. They weren’t as beautiful as her, but they had a familial resemblance. Jeanette was tiny, though. She was tiny, she was small-boned. She was a little lady.

KG: Did you ever meet Gene Raymond?

BK: No. But I did meet the other one.

KG: Nelson?

BK: Yes.

KG: Tell me about that.

BK: When I was a little bit older, about seven [note: 1949], she came down [to Florida] with her co-star, Nelson Eddy. That’s how she introduced him to me. “This is my co-star.”

KG: [laughing] Her co-star. Oh, I see.

BK: What else was she supposed to call him? She’s not going to say my lover in front of a little girl! They were very appropriate with a little girl around. When she introduced me, I made to shake his hand and he picked my hand up and kissed the back of it and I thought I had grown up! I was grown up, now – if it had been up to me I never would have washed that hand. I thought he was wonderful. I could tell he had a sense of humor, whenever someone said something he’d kind of have a smile on his face, he was jokey, he’d kind of smirk.

KG: He twinkled. His face twinkled.

BK: Yes. Right. But whenever he spoke to her it was so kind, so gentle. And his arm was always around her. Around her shoulders. Around her waist. Always around her. They were very casually dressed, very relaxed. She had sandals on, if I remember correctly—yes, she did, I remember, because her toenails were painted such a bright red and that fascinated me. So they went in and hugged Grandmother and had a seat on the sofa and he had his arm around her, he’d rub her arm, and the two of them sat there and looked at each other and I thought what are they looking at each other for? Of course, I’m seven years old, what do I know?

KG: So they were very comfortable, then, being in their relationship in front of her?

BK: Oh, yeah. My grandmother did not judge her friends. She approved of their relationship, she said ‘I tried to talk her into divorcing that clown!’ There was just this feeling between them that even as a child, I sensed. I can close my eyes and see how they were. They were always smiling at each other; they looked at each other like ‘Oh my God, I love this person.’ That didn’t happen a whole lot in what I knew; these people were obviously very fond of each other. So Miss Jeanette was talking about flowers, which she just loved, and I happened to mention there was a place nearby called Sunken Gardens, and she thought that she and Mr. Eddy and I should go down there, so we did, we went to the garden, and I was having a good time skipping along and I would hear Miss Jeanette behind me, ‘Don’t go too far, now don’t go too far! Blythe, please don’t go too far,’ and I would turn around to talk to them and they’d be walking along slowly, talking and holding hands. I thought grown up people holding hands was kind of neat. We spent probably an hour or an hour and a half there, she was explaining all the plants to him. Even as a child, I could sense a gentleness there, between the two of them, he was kind of like…kind of protective, of her. Oh, and then I wanted an orange from a tree and it was too high for me to reach, so he picked me up and said, ‘Don’t let anybody catch us, I don’t know if we can do this or not!’ And here’s Miss Jeanette saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to get in trouble!’ And then there was a part where I was walking in between them, holding their hands.

KG: Oh, my God. That’s wonderful.

BK: And when I got tired – Sunken Gardens is big – he’d pick me up and carry me for a bit and then put me back down. And finally it was time to go, and so that was that afternoon. It was a lovely afternoon.

KG: Did you stop anywhere else on your way home?

BK: We stopped to get some ice cream. We stopped at one of the places on 4th Street that had – at that time – ice cream.

KG: You got ice cream with Jeanette. Of course, you did, that’s what one does with Jeanette. Oh. My. God.

BK: She liked peach ice cream, that was her favorite. He liked chocolate, so he got chocolate and I got chocolate and we had the ice cream and went on home. They stayed for a little while longer and I left the room because you don’t want a kid around when you’re going to talk grown-up talk. That happened a couple of times when I was really small, you know, I don’t know what they were discussing but I have a feeling it was something to do with Nelson and/or Gene, you could kind of hear the voices, Grandmother’s particularly. I’m just so sorry that everything I had from back then [except the compact] got destroyed in that hurricane, because when I was small, she sent me a couple of birthday cards. Anyway, I thought Nelson Eddy was great. He was very kind to me, very kind to a child and very kind to her, to Miss Jeanette. That was the only time I ever saw him. When they went to leave, he picked me up and he said, ‘It’s been nice meeting you, little one,’ and he kissed me on the cheek. And Miss Jeanette looked at me and said ‘Now aren’t you a lucky girl?’

KG: I think it was mighty nice of her to share her man with you!

BK: [laughing] Yeah, thank you so much for sharing your man with this kid. She was laughing when he gave me that little kiss. At the time, I thought she meant I was lucky because he was this great movie star but now…

KG: That was something I wanted to ask you – you’re telling me this story recalling your memories as a child, from a child’s perspective. Now, as an adult, looking back, are you able to describe that relationship differently? In terms of romantic, or—well it seems pretty clear they were more than just friends.

BK: In retrospect, I could see that these were two people who cared deeply about each other, who related in the gentlest way. My father didn’t beat my mother or scream at her or anything else, but he certainly didn’t treat her the way Nelson treated Jeanette! One thing I thought was amazing was how much they enjoyed being at Grandmother’s house, they enjoyed me, they enjoyed each other. They weren’t in any hurry to go anywhere, they spent a lot of time with us that day. They’d talk to Grandmother and then every now and then they’d lean their heads together and talk amongst themselves. I remember her soft voice and his soft voice and I thought I was in heaven – it was warm and affectionate toward me, toward each other, toward Grandmother. It wasn’t like a couple of married people being like, ‘Oh Geez, we have to stop in for this visit.’

KG: So they were really happy to have this time to spend together.

BK: Right! Oh, yeah. Very much so. I think by the time I was nine I’d realized that.

KG: I think those moments of relaxation where they could be together were really rare for them.

BK: Especially a trip to Florida!

KG: I really think that you were probably more of a gift to them than you realize, certainly more than you realized as a child, because of how very badly they wanted to have children.

BK: Not only that, I think that with a child there, and paying attention to me – it’s more fun for two people in love with each other than sitting around talking to an adult. They could use that toward this little kid – and me in my total innocence, I thought he was handsome and she was gorgeous and I’d just died and gone to heaven, which I probably had. But I think that was relaxing, too. They didn’t have to be ‘on’ like they would in a crowd.

KG: Did your grandmother know anything about Jeanette having been pregnant?

BK: All she told me was that she had lost several children. She left it at that. And, as a cardiac nurse, I can tell you that those miscarriages were the best thing for her – she never could have carried to term, because of her heart, because of the amount of fluids her body would have taken on, she would have died of a heart attack.

KG: I just think it’s so awesome that you know firsthand that their love story is indeed true.

BK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. I don’t know how anyone could think there was [a doubt]. Nelson aside, this passionate redheaded woman is married to …to this? Come on.

KG: What else do you know about Gene Raymond?

BK: Miss Jeanette never mentioned him in my hearing, ever.

KG: That’s interesting.

BK: As a matter of fact, when I got to be about seven or eight, I remember hearing my grandmother discussing them with my grandfather, and making little comments about Gene, and I knew they were insulting; I didn’t know what they were, but I knew they were insulting. And Grandmother told me when I saw Miss Jeanette again not to mention Gene. My feeling about that is that she was there to forget him, don’t want to think about him. How a woman so kind and so beautiful could have been so unhappy in her marriage – it breaks my heart.

KG: All in all, what was your grandmother’s opinion of Gene?

BK: I asked her about their wedding, because I wasn’t around then. Was she pretty – yes. Was he handsome? And she said no. She said Gene was like a colorless Nelson Eddy. And she didn’t speak about him much after that. Later, I learned that she didn’t like him because of the way he treated her – he treated her like a trophy wife. She looked good on his arm and that was about the size of it, and that pissed Grandmother off. She never saw this herself, but she heard about it from people who knew both Jeanette and Gene. She tried to talk Miss Jeanette into divorcing him, but that didn’t work, and what was the point? As to whether she was abused or not, she didn’t say. But I knew Grandmother well enough to know her tone of voice [when she talked about him]. It’s bad enough that your husband is out being unfaithful to you, but when he’s out being unfaithful to you with a man—!

KG: Adds insult to injury.

BK: God, I guess! But maybe it wasn’t so bad, maybe his liking men saved her from a lot of problems.

KG: Can you tell me anything else about your grandmother attending Jeanette’s wedding?

BK: She said it was gorgeous, everything was perfect, but Jeanette didn’t look all that buoyant. She did for the pictures, she was JEANETTE for the pictures. But when the cameras weren’t on, she was subdued. Brides aren’t subdued! Not unless they’re that kind of person anyway, which she wasn’t.

KG: What did your grandmother think of Nelson Eddy?

BK: She seemed to like him very much. She met him at their wedding. And she said – now, a lot of this information I got when I was older, I wasn’t asking these questions when I was seven! – she said he was very gracious to what he called the non-Hollywood people that Miss Jeanette knew. She really liked him. So when Miss Jeanette and Nelson Eddy came down that time I met them, Miss Jeanette said she was bringing a guest and Grandmother said she hoped it wasn’t that Gene person and – it wasn’t!

KG: So when you saw them at your grandmother’s house, that was in Florida.

BK: Yes.

KG: Did she ever tell you how they happened to be in Florida together? Did their professional plans converge there or…?

BK: She didn’t say, but my feeling was they were on vacation together down there and she wasn’t about to talk about that! There is probably a great deal I could have gotten out of my grandmother but I trusted her discretion about her friends.

KG: Did your grandmother ever mention anything about Jeanette’s earlier relationships? Jack Ohmeis, Irving Stone, Bob Ritchie?

BK: The only one I heard her talk about was Ritchie.

KG: What did she think of him?

BK: She thought he was a con man. A con artist. He used her.

KG: My impression there is that it was romantic at first and devolved into a convenient arrangement that kept other people away from her. She wore a ring on her engagement finger that she actually bought herself, but people assumed it was from him and that she was off the market to other suitors.

BK: Yeah. Yes. And I can see her in my mind’s eye – she was just a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman. They’d have been on her like fleas on a dog. You know, I don’t think she would have been less in love with Nelson if Gene had been a real man to her – which he wasn’t – but I do think she’d have been less unhappy. If he’d been a husband to her, emotionally and physically – but he really wasn’t. He liked guys.

KG: Did your grandmother know that he liked guys?

BK: Mm-hmm!

KG: Did she talk about that?

BK: The only thing she would say was that he was ‘funny’ – she meant it in the same way she meant it when she talked about someone else we knew, and that’s what ‘funny’ meant. She would say, ‘Charlie’s kind of funny, the same way Gene Raymond is funny.” And I knew how Charlie was funny!

KG: Do you think she and Jeanette discussed this about Gene?

BK: Oh, I do. I think they discussed a lot. Of course, I wasn’t around for that.

KG: Oh, of course, but I was wondering if you found out later that this was something they talked about.

BK: I do think so, because of the way she said his name and the way she referred to the marriage. You knew that they had discussed it. I mean, Grandmother was not around the two of them enough to come to the conclusion on her own that he was gay. They day they got married – Grandmother never met Gene again, I don’t think, she didn’t see him.

KG: So her whole opinion on Gene would have been based on what Jeanette was telling her.

BK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Jeanette was her friend! She wasn’t going to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ – she might have asked her what the hell she was thinking, though.

KG: How did she find out they’d gotten engaged?

BK: She got an announcement.

KG: And what did she think about that?

BK: She was happy for them because she hadn’t met Gene yet! Meeting him turned her off. Grandmother was kind of snobby about who hooked up with her friends, none of them were ever good enough. She said he was a watered-down Nelson. He did poorly resemble Nelson, but he was a real creep-o, from what Grandmother related later.

KG: I can tell you he went through her money like it was water. We have stacks of their financial records and he’s spending it as fast as she can put it in.

BK: Oh, yeah. And if not physically, he was probably verbally abusive to her. A man like that would be – and when I say ‘a man like that’ I don’t mean a gay man. I mean a man who is so inferior in talent and notoriety to his wife – he would absolutely have to assert his manhood somehow. The groping thing you see in pictures is him saying ‘This is MY trophy.’ One thing I’ve noticed in the pictures, is that Jeanette – oh, I’m going to call her Jeanette, I’m old enough to call her Jeanette and Grandmother’s dead, so Jeanette – if you look at the pictures of her with Gene and the pictures of her with Nelson, and she’s laughing, the laugh is different. With Nelson it’s full blown, head thrown back laughing. With Gene it’s laughing…kinda-sorta. She’s being kind to her husband, or she’s laughing so she doesn’t get yelled at later. It just doesn’t look like the wholehearted laugh that you see when she’s laughing with Nelson.

KG: When was the last time you saw her?

BK: When I was about fifteen [approx. 1957 or early 1958]. She was singing in Philadelphia – I think she had a concert, I can’t even remember what it was, but anyway, I went, and I thought well, I’ll go backstage and say hi. So I remember walking into the backstage area and she looked up and – ‘BLYTHE!!’ – I was fifteen! She hadn’t seen me in years! I was just thrilled that she remembered who I was, even though, God knows, I’d changed! And she recognized me immediately! I was thrilled, so thrilled.

KG: So did she come rushing over and hug you?

BK: Oh yes! But! She said, ‘Excuse me,’ to everybody who was around her. Didn’t shove them and push them aside. That was another thing that I always liked when I saw her; she was polite, she was gracious. When she was there, and that time she and Nelson were there [at Grandmother’s], everything was ‘Thank you so much, we really appreciate it.’ Most people would say, ‘Geez, how lucky are you to have me in your house?’ But that wasn’t the way she was. When I was with her, this last time I saw her, she did say that she had to say hello to these people – but she took me by the hand and dragged me around with her. She didn’t abandon me off in a corner. She was letting me know that she needed to do this but I was to stay with her. So I did, and we spent an hour or so in her dressing room, drinking—I drank soda, she drank coffee.

KG: She did drink coffee!

BK: Uh-huh.

KG: Huh. That’s really hilarious, because people used to insist that she didn’t. No coffee or tea or alcohol.

BK: This was at night, she was probably tired and still had a long rest of the night to go. And …she was drinking coffee. Why would anybody care—why would that even become a debate?

KG: It’s the Clara and Tessa sideshow.

BK: [sigh] Oh. Mm-hmm.

KG: When did your grandmother pass away?

BK: In the eighties.

KG: So you would have had a lot of chances to talk to her as an adult, then.

BK: Oh yes, I got a lot more of her impressions then.

KG: Was your grandmother aware that Jeanette and Nelson had been dating and had, in fact, become engaged during Rose Marie?

BK: That I don’t know. I do know that she knew they were together, a lot. And when I say together, I mean in the most intimate way. Physically. She knew that.

KG: So she knew they were sleeping together.

BK: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I finally got her to tell me that a lot later.

KG: Oh, please tell me!

BK: Well I think I said something about the fact that I’d heard that they were lovers, and she said yes, that was true, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, what do you think of that?’ and she said, ‘None of my damn business, Jeanette was happy!’ Back then, if you were lovers, it meant you were in love as well as the physical. And I’d get to a certain point in my questioning and Grandmother would say, ‘That’s personal.’

KG: Well, from what we know…

BK: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, with those two.

KG: No, it certainly doesn’t.

BK: Let me tell you something, nowadays, lovers in Hollywood are nothing but slags and whores, going from man to man to man and woman to woman to woman, but these two were not like that. She was raised to be a lady.

KG: You know, that’s something I feel all the time, working this intimately on someone’s life like this – it’s so wonderful to find that they are everything you hope they are. She was not perfect, she made a variety of decisions for which I’d like to go back in time and shake her, but man she was wonderful.

BK: She was perfect, to me. I was a child and she was beautiful and gentle and that’s the way I always remember her and I don’t want to remember her any other way, and I won’t! I’ve met the woman. She held me. She kissed me. She sang to me. She was a fairy princess, as far as I was concerned. I think the one word that sums up who she was is the old Southern term lady. Miss Jeanette was a lady. That doesn’t mean she was stiff and cardboard, but she knew how to act in public. She knew how to treat people. She was a lady. I can’t remember ever hearing her say, in my little girl ears, anything bad about anybody, not even Gene. She did to my grandmother, but it was not for the ears of children.

KG: Did you say you have a picture of her?

BK: There was one of her standing in front of my grandmother’s house. I’ll have to look and see if I can find it, it may have been destroyed in the hurricane that ruined so many of my things.

KG: What was your impression of Jeanette’s health when you knew her? Was she healthy, was she active?

BK: Well – she wasn’t sick. I got the impression when I saw her at fifteen that she was a little frail. Her heart was giving her problems, then.

KG: It’s so amazing to be able to talk to you and to be able to share your story. This is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. One of the best things about it, if I can be perfectly frank with you, is that it’s not trashy. It’s not sordid. There’s no scandal here.

BK: Well you don’t get trashy in front of a child!

KG: I’m so excited to be having this conversation, I can’t even tell you. It’s so cool.

BK: I’ll tell you, I think that Miss Jeanette would be so glad that you’re happy that I’m sharing this with you. She doesn’t have children, she doesn’t have family. Her memory can live on this way.

The Czarina

So I found this score in the JAM Project loot, it’s 23 pages long and, obviously, it’s what we know as “Czaritza” from Maytime. As with most of Jeanette’s personal music, it’s stamped with her blue name stamp, but unlike other pieces we have, this one doesn’t have any of her “work” on the inside. No writing, no breath marks, no evidence of being worked over with Grace, so I’m assuming this was a backup copy. Nevertheless, a cool find.

In reading the score, I have learned more about the Czaritza opera story itself (particularly apt in some of the art-imitating-life stuff that seemed to be a running theme with Maytime), which I think you will find interesting:
The Czarina is newly widowed. The Czar was murdered, and she’s being given a hard time because she isn’t sorry that he is dead. He was an evil, cruel man, a terrible ruler and she didn’t love him. This is part of the beginning, sung by her: “No shadow in my heart enshrouds the lordly but unloved departed one, God forgive me! Dead! May the thief who stole his life ever live! Oh, wicked wife, have you no sorrow? How black of soul you are. Your love betrays your Czar!”
So they caught the guy who killed the Czar and they bring him on in. Turns out it’s Petroff, with whom our sinful Czarina has been having a big fat steamy love affair (Welp. Hot Petroffs are hot, leave her alone.). She pleads with him to lie and say he didn’t do it. He argues that he did it to set Russia free from his tyranny…and also a little bit for Mr. Czar’s hot wife. He’s at peace about the whole thing “I lose but a life, and a nation is free”, the worst part is leaving Hotpants Czarina. She wishes she was going to be the one to die. She then tells everybody to get out, she wants a word with him. The Captain protests, “Your Majesty!”
Queenie gets real tall and corrects him: “Your Czar!” (That’s one of my favorite moments in the whole thing, not that anyone asked.)
So the minions beat it and we get to the duet and they sing powerful, powerful stuff:
How memory clings, my beloved, to dreams of yore
O, pitiless fate that our meeting means parting at death’s very door
There is no parting!
There is no ending!
Your heart is blended with mine
What fear you, I shall be near you, ever attending
Oh, beloved, my heart will not fail
There is no lasting farewell
Ever these vows shall prevail
Whether in Heaven or Hell
I love you
*
Heart! Beat with joy, for ecstasy is yours
Love alone endures
Love alone is yours, and it’s mine
Love is mine, O love is mine forever
O Soul! Soul! Sing a new refrain!
Dear one, oh! Hold me close
Beloved, Beloved!
Two wildly beating hearts are one
And now death [Petroff sings ‘Give me death’]
Do what you will!
Our love will live beyond the deepest grave
We face you bravely
O Father of us all, His/My time has come, dear God!
Petroff: God be with you, Heaven keep my dearest one from harm and care
Czarina: Heaven rest the soul of my beloved one, Lord, hear the pray’r of my heart
Lord, hear my pray’r
Petroff: Dear one, I go to die, God be with you
Both: Love, goodbye
Anyone else around here completely cooked? Holy mackerel. Seems legit that he’d actually shed tears while singing this with his complicated lady love who is resolutely going to marry somebody else because she’s convinced that there are too many problems with the two of them, no matter how crazy they are about each other. The situation was just so hopeless. I mean, I get why she didn’t marry him then. I really do. I wouldn’t have married him either, in the thirties. But gosh, it’s just all so heartbreaking. And by the time he’d become marriage material, it was too late and too hopelessly muddled for all concerned and yeah, there were great moments, but the whole thing ended in devastation for everyone.
*screenshot of Nelson’s tear obtained by Kitty.
The infinite rightness of those two gorgeous beings in each other’s arms is just kiiiiiinda staggering. Look at ’em.
Oh! And here’s a bonus!Mac. Being really, really extra cute on the set. This photo is from her personal collection and was tucked into one of her embossed still boxes. ❤
She’s just sittin’ there on the floor in her Czarina suit hopin’ something happens soon.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

I come to you with another Very Great Thing from The JAM Project!

Imagine my delight when I was going through the collection of film and found something we didn’t even know existed! The discovery was a 1955 screen test that Jeanette did for NBC. There is no date, other than 1955, on the box, but it is labeled in Jeanette’s handwriting, so that’s super fun as well. My assumption is that this is some sort of test for Prima Donna, which aired February 1, 1956; an episode of Screen Directors Playhouse that was written (real awkwardly) by Gene Raymond. NBC aired Screen Directors Playhouse, so this checks out on that level. I could certainly be wrong, but this came to us with no context and I’ve never read anything else about it — had never heard of it before it was in my hands. If someone knows something that I don’t about the purpose for this screen test, I’d be happy to learn about it.

The screen test is silent and in black and white, which is funny because Jeanette wrote on the box “Color Test B&W” ……….thank you for that, Miss MacDonald. ‘Preciate ya.

Maybe it was shot in color and they gave her a black and white version of it? Eh? Anyway, we have the black and white one that belonged to her.

Guys, she is SO GORGEOUS. So, so, so, so incandescently beautiful at age fifty-two. This, this is a star. Also, I LOVE her hair. Love it. I’ve done my best lip-reading and made a transcript, which I will include below (which is certainly not infallible, of course, but she’s chattering away in typical MacFashion, so it’s only natural to want to translate). It’s not perfect, but it does, I think, get across the jist of what she’s saying.

Enjoy her. ❤

Here is my rough transcript of what she’s saying:

:07 Okay gentlemen – are you looking at me? Am I pretty? …Come on. [THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART. YES. YOU ARE PRETTY. YOU ARE SO PRETTY. YOU ARE THE PRETTIEST ONE. WHAT IS AIR.]

:17 Ah and go to this side – see what happens

:25 Oh, you want me to look like this … sad … alright.

:33 There, is that so good? That’s good.

:40 Way up here…

:45 Alright (smiling)

:48 Oh no, that wouldn’t be good. (adjusting fur and looking down) There. This is as far down as I go.

1:02 Really? That’s good. Well that’s what I [don’t know this part] to.

1:13 Yeah.

1:14 Well if you’re ready, this is a fast [don’t know this word], he said. But anyway when I’m looking into the camera – that side – [there’s a phrase here that I haven’t got yet] But I always want to look straight to the audience (gesturing) which would be there. Then the [one word I don’t have] there…see?

1:35 Oh now with my singing which would usually be up there, you see – or there

1:59 [I’ve got nothing. Working on it. She’s cute.]

2:02 Now, for every second afterwards I’m singing to the camera because I think that [something about the audience and being selfish]. So… [don’t know the last phrase].

Ohhhhhhhh, Jeanette. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

I want to conclude by thanking everyone who has helped to make these digital transfers possible. This is an expensive process and you are directly responsible for helping us accomplish the goal of sharing these treasures. I’d specifically like to thank Di, Annette, Margaret, Leslie, Brenda, Sandra, Melissa, Tracy, Christy and Philip. I hope I am not leaving anyone out!! Your support is so appreciated by the The JAM Project!

His Madonna

Recently, interesting new documentation has come to light in the form of an unpublished manuscript that Nelson Eddy wrote and titled A Will of Evil. The manuscript was entrusted to a woman named Linda, who knew Nelson in his last years. It is not outstanding prose (and certainly not Nelson’s best writing, by a country mile) but it provides interesting insight into where his head was in his last years, with compelling parallels drawn to many things that occurred in his real life relationship with Jeanette. The book is available on maceddy.com as well as Amazon. Angela and I helped Sharon edit her introductory comments — and that, for the time being, anyway, is where my remarks end.

Most compellingly for the ongoing story of Jeanette and Nelson, however, is a colored pencil drawing that Nelson did of Jeanette that also ended up in Linda’s possession. It has been published inside the book as well as a smaller version the back cover, so it could be seen in color, and very recently, Sharon published it on maceddy.com as well. Her post is available at this link.

The drawing is exquisite. It’s intimate, it’s serene; it’s absolutely beautiful. He’s not just drawing a picture of someone, he’s lovingly rendering this woman who is dearly known to him.  And it’s not a posed “draw me like one of your French girls” situation, either; her hair is wet and water droplets are dripping down her back, as though she has just stepped out of the shower. More intimacy. This is not glamorous, this is everyday real life. Her body is accurate to the last detail; the tiny wrists, the tall expanse of chest, the way her face looks without makeup…I mean, wow. The love that went into this work is leaping off the page. And look at the knowing, secretive serenity on her face, and the way he highlighted her abdomen. Nelson titled this work My Madonna…is she, perhaps, newly pregnant here? Was that the reason for the drawing? You can see his title on the left edge, along with his NE signature.

For those of you who still “need to see concrete proof” that these people were involved…….welp. Here ya go.

For those of you who still contend that this story is made up, just screw off, really. Get some new lines.

Thanks to those involved in getting this published. It’s important.

I elected, as Sharon did, to put the drawing behind a link rather than pasting it into the body of a blog post. The historical significance of this piece of ironclad, “smoking gun” evidence cannot be denied and the reverence with which this gorgeous work of art was created is totally obvious, but even so, it’s a nude.

Nelson’s drawing of his Madonna can be viewed by clicking right here.

 

 

From The Golden Comet…

golden-comet

From the Golden Comet, Spring Issue, 1945, when Marie Waddy (later Gerdes) was President. The good ol’ days, as it were.

Amazing.

They used to put Nelson on the cover of the Comets with her, too.

Gasp.

They sure did kiss each other a lot, is all.  Not that that means anything, of course. Totally normal to have a married man friend walk your married self to your car, chat a while, put his arms around you and kiss you before you leave. Yep.

Love them!

Sweetheart, Sweetheart, Sweetheart…

Where do I begin?

Do I start by saying this is one of the Big Things that I so often mention on this blog as going on behind the scenes? Because that’s true; this is one of those things. One of those things that months of stress and organization and strategizing with three fabulous partners accomplished. The JAM Project was formed, by us—that’s Angela and me and our dear friends Mary Lynn and Lynda, to take care of what’s left of Jeanette’s estate, plus the remaining holdings of the JMIFC. We have it. There. Secret’s out. Now you know, officially.

There is so much to say; so many, many directions in which to go. There are falsehoods to correct and new truths to bring to the fore. There will be time for all of it, eventually. These months have been heartbreaking and euphoric at once; the victories have been outstanding but the fresh devastation of just how complicated and difficult this good woman’s life was has been incredibly painful. We’ve only just scratched the surface of the material in our possession and already our minds are blown.

Today, though, I want to focus on one of the victories.

On September 25, 1957, Jeanette and Nelson teamed up for what would be their second and final television appearance together. The show was The Big Record, hosted by Patti Page. This show has long been considered MacEddy Holy Grail. It’s been lost for decades, squirreled away by the Co-Presidents of the JMIFC. Reports from people who saw it, long ago, are consistent in that they all indicate the obvious closeness between the two stars. Our assumption has been that that’s why the JMIFC hid it; Jeanette and Nelson just looked too damned cozy. They used to show it at the ClanClave meetings, but that friendly trend came to a screeching halt when a young Sharon Rich started writing about Jeanette and Nelson’s real-life relationship. And people who had known them started talking to her – and these previously-embraced-club-members were quickly disavowed and labeled pathological liars. We have those letters, too. Life’s grand. Anyway, the JMIFC war on Nelson Eddy was on. The censorship and “editing” done by Clara Rhoades to strip Nelson of any virtue at all and remove him as much as possible from Jeanette’s professional and personal lives is alive and well to this day in the club’s filing cabinets. It was as though suddenly Nelson was Voldemort – and to complete this imagery and bring it back to the topic at hand, The Big Record is a Horcrux. (For you non-Harry Potter folks, a Horcrux is an object in which a Dark Wizard has hidden a portion of his soul for the purpose of attaining immortality. “This is actually a perfect analogy,” she says, self-congratulating.)

[Weeellll…Clara and Tessa obviously didn’t read the books because they never did destroy the Horcrux; they just hid it. So now…mwahahahahaha, WE RISE.]

So for years, long before I came on the scene, far longer than I’ve been alive, The Big Record was unavailable to be seen. I know Sharon had looked for it. Angela and I have combed universities and other important libraries to no avail. We’ve tried the CBS archive and got nothing. There were, by our reckoning, two copies left in the world – Jeanette’s, and the one Patti Page herself had.

Welp.

The very moment I was turned loose among the trunks and trunks of cans of film in this collection, I had only one title in mind – and then, there it was. But it wasn’t Jeanette’s. This was in a green plastic film can and it was labeled, “Good Condition, 5/71,” and there wasn’t a ton of film in it. So the piece we have as of this writing was made from Jeanette’s copy—and God only knows where that is. We don’t have the whole show. We don’t even have most of it. Sharon released the audio track on a CD on maceddy.com that is their big segment: Jeanette sings Italian Street Song, Nelson sings Out of the Night, and they chat with Patti Page and then do a duet of Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life as well as a small medley of other tunes from Naughty Marietta. We don’t have any of that.

Jeanette did a portion of the show in her white and lavender concert dress that she wore a lot in this time period. Here, she and Nelson are talking to Patti Page:

bigrecordpattipage

This is what the dress looked like in color:

1957julyconcert

Anyway, it seems that after this segment, she went offstage and changed gowns, because there are photographs of her with Nelson that are supposed to be from the same show, but she’s wearing the pink strapless dress and pearls that everyone will recognize from the cover of their Favorites in Hi-Fi album.

bigrecordend

This, friends, is what we’ve got. Jeanette in her pink strapless, singing Will You Remember with her Nelson. Two minutes of these incandescently beautiful people making magic together as only they can. We found a guy in Arizona to transfer the film to digital media. He cleaned and restored and color-corrected it. He removed as much of the graininess as possible while keeping the integrity of the film intact and he stabilized the jumpiness. Due to the age and questionable storage practices for all these years, the sound is a little warped in spots—trust and believe it’s not Jeanette and Nelson hitting bad notes! While unfortunate, we assume everyone will have no problem overlooking it.

Physically they have aged, but somehow they are utterly, gorgeously unchanged since the 1930s. Their radiant joy in performing together is palpable. They are doing what they love to do, with the person with whom they love to do it. Nelson’s enormous, boyish pride in the woman he loves is leaping off the screen. Jeanette’s energy and ecstasy at being in his arms is unmatched in what we’ve seen of her other work from this decade. (Also, I have to feel like this is the end of the show, because the MacDonald Nerves are absolutely nowhere to be found.) They are two halves of a whole, blissfully united and we get to watch. They are on national television, but you get the sense that their audience has nothing to do with it; these people are performing to and for each other and that’s it. We are watching something very private happen very publicly, just as we did for eight films. This quality that is theirs alone is what drew people to them and kept them begging for more. They have incredible voices, but the truly mesmerizing thing about them is that they are every bit as emotionally effective with no sound.

It is with enormous delight that we share this with all of you. So many of us on the Jeanette and Nelson story spend hundreds of tireless hours researching and digging and discussing the ins and outs and ups and downs of their lives, but in moments like these, we can all just step back, secure in the knowledge that these people tell their own story so much better than we ever could. All they need is a platform. I know I can speak for the four of us of The JAM Project when I say that it is an honor and privilege to be able to give them that very thing, sixty years after the fact.

…Aren’t you glad I didn’t spoil that really great surprise at the end???????

I think it’s pretty clear why this hasn’t been made available before now. 😀 😀 😀

What follows is a blow-by-blow of everything that has killed me about this two minutes of wonder in the six hundred times I’ve watched it so far. Don’t read this until you watch the video.

Okay, we can start with the first twelve seconds. Nelson, with purposeful stride, crossing the stage to get his girl and leading her back into position for their song. His face is just absolutely more than I can handle. He is beaming, he’s into it, he’s excited, he’s happy. Nelson’s performance in this two-minute clip completely annihilates his entire career with Gale Sherwood. What I mean by that is that, in all of the available material of him performing with Gale, I personally have never seen this level of sincerity, of realness, with her. Or with anyone else, for that matter. This is his girl. Has been his girl for twenty-some years, now. Will always be his girl. He’s being allowed to adore her in public and he’s enjoying that to the full. Jeanette, in observance of his intent, gives him the first of many humongous grins as she reaches her hand into his, her eyes on his as they move back across the stage. His face when he’s walking backwards is precious. The man is in heaven. He breaks their eye contact to look her up and down, as if he’s never seen her before. Is he, perhaps, admiring the wardrobe change? Cause that’s real cute, if he is. Jeanette will, always and forever, be his favorite dish. “I know her,” he said once, “And what she is to me can never be marred by age.” He makes that very clear and they haven’t even opened their mouths yet. Jeanette, for her part, has the first of many self-conscious moments in this segment, looking down after staring into Nelson’s face for a few seconds. I imagine that’s like looking directly into the sun. He’s so intense that it’s overwhelming for her and she’s the first one to break contact—this is a pattern we see over and over again with these people. Is she afraid she’ll give too much away if she keeps looking? Does she know too well the effect he has on her? She always did have a sense of reserve, that way. That’s why her tears on This is Your Life are so compelling. You expect her to be in control.

Jeanette takes the first line of the song. As she’s singing, her free hand comes out, slowly and naturally. And Nelson looks down at it before clasping it in his. These people are adorable. (This is one of the places where the sound is warped, I assure you homegirl knows her notes.) During the “Will you love me ever?” line, Nelson’s face moves very slightly – this is at about second 23 or 24. Something about his face, which we can’t see, makes Jeanette hand over the second humongous grin as she sings the word “ever”. I wonder if he didn’t wink at her, or something. She’s looking into his eyes and her face reacts. Good Lord.

Nelson takes the second line, and now we’re looking at his face and Jeanette’s back. He draws both of her hands up between their chests, covering them with his for just a moment, then seems to have a change of heart and wraps his arm around her instead. What I didn’t notice until I’d reviewed this several times, is if you watch her arm, her arm wraps around him in response to his arm wrapping around her. We catch Jeanette being very Hollywood for a moment, gazing off into the distance, but when they sing “my dearest one” together, his eyes seek hers and hers snap back to them. At the end of “one”, Nelson starts to smile at her but has to draw breath for the next line. Jeanette continues gazing up at him on the first “Sweetheart, Sweetheart,” really drinking him in, standing there looking like an open vessel into which he is pouring this well-worn song. She’s receptive, she somehow still, all these years later, isn’t the least bit tired of this. Not even a little. (Well okay Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ look how the man is looking at her I don’t think I’d be tired of that either.) On the third “Sweetheart,” we get the third big smile, which is immediately followed by her opening her hand and laying it on his chest, another signature MacEddy move.

“Though our paths may sever” contains some abject tenderness. Nelson once again wants to put his arm around her, so he does, and she responds with her arm in the same way. He pulls her in close and his chin finds its way into her hair. There’s a tiny moment where his eyes close as they settle into that position (albeit briefly). However, the best part about this is when Nelson’s chin goes into her hair, her chin makes a tiny snuggling motion. These people love to be close to each other. They love to be touching. We’ve known that for so long from the way they are on film and in candid shots on the radio and at parties and things through the years, but it’s so much more fun to get to watch it in action. Nelson is at his nurturing, tender best with her and she loves it. She always was like that, thriving on affection. However, they can’t stay that way for long, because there’s another couple of lines to sing.

On “to life’s last faint ember” we see their hands – her right and his left – rejoining and getting back into position between them. I’d really love to know what’s so delightful about “faint ember” because these two find something on those words about which they exchange a really darling mutual smile. And I love what happens next. Right as they start the “will you remember” line, Nelson gives their joined hands a little shake, it’s kind of like he gets a better grip on hers. It’s like a little jolt of underscoring.

As they sing “springtime,” they share another little mutual smile. Nelson almost seems to be the one to push them to their next positions, pulled back from each other, still holding hands. These two wrote the book on how to sing in duet. He’s still looking at her like he’d enjoy having her for lunch, and on “lovetime” we see him give her the up and down once over for the second time in two minutes, looking extremely pleased with what he’s seeing. They break apart with one hand to fan out to the audience on “May” and Jeanette almost loses her scarf on one arm, but a quick flip of her hand fixes that. At the end of their long note, you see Nelson do a little cutoff jerk on her hand, as if he’s feeling the end of their song.

Then comes the good part. (What? This is ALL ‘the good part’!!!) Nelson immediately pushes her scarf up off of her hand so he can kiss it – and it’s not a wee little peck, either. His intensity and courtliness makes her laugh a sweet, self-conscious, grinning laugh, from which she dissolves into her ever-graceful curtsy. She curtsies just great. So pretty. She murmurs a ‘thank you’ to the audience and Nelson jiggles her hand like we’ve seen him do before. He does that with her. When she stands up, he passes the hand he’s holding to his other hand (he ain’t about to let go of her!) and puts his arm around her waist, and they swoop in facing each other and the first time I watched this my heart leapt into my throat because I was thinking, “Holy crap, he’s gonna kiss her!” But nah, they apparently remembered themselves at the last minute and settle for beaming at the still-applauding audience, with Nelson giving her another little jiggle, during which her two little hands come up and wrap around his big one.

And then it happens. It’s as natural as breathing. Jeanette MacDonald looks at Nelson Eddy and puckers her lips. It doesn’t look the least bit pre-meditated. It looks like something she’s used to doing. A reflex. A habit. I don’t know what on earth she was thinking, except maybe in the moment, she wasn’t thinking. It seriously kind of looks like she didn’t mean to do it, like she forgot herself in this private-public moment. That’s much rarer for her than it is for him, which makes this five million times more valuable. She wants a kiss. She wants this man to kiss her. She tells him – and us – very clearly. Right there in front of God and everybody. And then, Nelson, bless him—you give the boy an inch and he takes a mile—Nelson loses NO TIME in taking her up on her offer and zooming his mouth into hers, right onto his very favorite bottom lip, which appears to both delight her and scare her to death and she manages to play it off by shaking her finger at him and making some flustered gesture which we must assume is meant to tell him that he’ll mess up her makeup if he kisses her. Too bad he already did. And then she dissolves into schoolgirl-esque giggles and we see the textbook flustered MacDonald Hand to Throat while Nelson exuberantly pats her back, looking really pleased with himself. I MEAN, DAMN. G’HEAD, GUYS. YOU DO IT. YOU JUST DO IT.

brkiss

Excitement aside, this kiss is a very interesting look at the same dynamics that have been in play here for twenty years. So often, Jeanette has to assume the role of the “adult” in the relationship because Nelson won’t. We’ve read of Nelson, on a radio show with a studio audience, wanting to kiss her in front of the curtain. That was in the 40s and this is identical behavior in the next decade. Jeanette simply has more reserve than Nelson, especially where ‘going public’ with their relationship is concerned. That’s why it’s so utterly, fabulously compelling that she is the one who initiates the kiss. It would have been exciting but not surprising if it had been Nelson. To have it be her is something else again. Still and all, you can see her go on immediate retreat when his mouth touches hers. Jeanette, as I’ve written about before, was a rule-follower by nature. She was not deceitful, she was not dishonest, she was not a cheat. That’s why she cared so much what Mayer thought, folks. Whether she could or could not do what she wanted in the face of her boss is totally beside the point. To say that Mayer wouldn’t “let” her do something is over-simplifying the situation. Jeanette’s conscience dictated that she toe the line. It is not in her nature to have an affair. It just isn’t. That’s why this is so complicated. Twenty-some years into her relationship with Nelson and marriage to Gene Raymond, she still isn’t the affair type. The situation is hopelessly compounded by the fact that there is no earthly way she can quit Nelson. Their bodies and eyes and betray them with regularity, but this kiss comes dangerously close to crossing a line in this public space. Jeanette cares what people think and what they say. Nelson doesn’t. Kissing him in an unscripted way on this national stage is outside the limits of her personal propriety. It’s one thing to do it, it’s a whole other thing to do it and have everybody know. This situation is, yet again, a dichotomy. Her playful, affectionate nature would love a kiss (she initiated it, can I just repeat that here?!) but her sense of guilt will not allow her to go with it.

Another thing it’s important to note here is that this television appearance happened shortly before the meeting Jeanette orchestrated in a New York attorney’s office with all four spouses present. The topic of this pow-wow was two divorces. Gene and Ann were agreeable, but when Nelson was struck by how severely he’d be taken to the cleaners, he balked and that was the end of that, causing another serious rift between them in 1958. But what you’re seeing here is two people who, yet again, have marriage on their minds. Sunny Griffin said, in his videotaped interview with Sharon Rich, that they discussed getting married all the time (this was in the fifties); marriage was something in which they were both interested. The mid-fifties were a really good period for them as a couple, with a lot of time spent together in New York. By the time they did The Big Record they were in such a good place personally that Jeanette was working behind the scenes to arrange for Ann and Gene to come to New York and talk turkey. While the outcome of the meeting was not good, what we are seeing is the happiness that prompted the meeting in the first place. It makes sense, when considering this part of the story, that Jeanette’s reserve would be in evidence when Nelson kisses her—why would she want to screw something up in the home stretch? Nelson never did care about that kind of thing, not where she was concerned.

brhandkiss

This is their story. This is the story. These two people and how much they loved each other and the hard-fought reality of that love is the story. The pride on Nelson’s face as he shares the stage with the love of his life has struck me perhaps more deeply than anything else about this longed-for footage. I have yet to see film or photograph that shows Nelson this happy in the last decade of his life. Losing her killed him. He lost everything. Here, he has everything; his girl and his music. His entire world is in his arms. To borrow a phrase coined by Isabel Eddy upon watching her son with Jeanette, he is “beaming like a headlight.” She is there and she is his in front of everyone in these moments. We might as well be back in the café in Maytime, looking at him and his beautiful adorable glamorous glorious radiant indescribable vision of perfected loveliness (shake). It is staggering to consider how strong they were, how they were able to hold onto each other and keep going, somehow. These people buried their child. They lost seven other pregnancies. They’d had a multiple-year breakup and had been unable to survive without each other. They’d made life-ruining decisions and had to live with the torture of the consequences. Life has chewed them up and spit them out and yet, still, they stand on this stage and find tremendous, powerful ecstasy in each other. That’s the story. That’s why we’re here.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

brnoselaugh

EDIT: Though the film strip and film can in JAM Project possession are BOTH LABELED “Big Record”, hence why anyone would assume that this was, in fact, from The Big Record, the footage we have had digitized is, in fact, from Lux Video Theatre, which was done in December of 1956. Obviously we want to be correct in what we put out there, though in fact it matters little which show this is from; neither has been available in decades, either is a MOST delightful and RARE surprise and we’ll digitize any film like this that we get our hands on, anyway — what matters is watching the way they are together. People of the Internet still have their panties in a bunch over the fact that we called it what it was labeled as, even though repeated acknowledgement has been made that, yes, it’s from Lux, it was labeled wrong, not our fault, nobody has footage of either show for comparison, please take a breath.