“The Knight on the White Charger”

…is one of the ways that Sunny Griffin described what Nelson was to the woman who adored him. I know he said it. I’ve seen the footage. And really, what a perfect way to describe what goes on between their eyes.

Angela recently acquired this stunning, crystal clear photograph and was kind enough to allow me to post it here. Please don’t attempt to profit from her generosity.

This is one of my favorite shots of them, because of everything it stands for. These people are not young, especially if you consider how many years they had left, at this point. It’s not Naughty Marietta time anymore. They’ve sung all their songs together. They’ve been through heaven and hell and decades and breakups and eight films and personal triumphs and poor decisions and regrets and secrecy and bitterness and stalled career moves and laughter and tears and practical jokes and fake feuds and health struggles. They’ve sung for presidents (FDR for him, Ike for her), they’ve officiated the funeral of their best friend. They’ve buried their child. They’ve recorded an album of Favorites that went Gold. They’ve married the wrong people. They’ve confided in some people and kept their silence among others. They’ve kept up appearances. They’ve lied to protect themselves and their spouses and their careers. They’ve let their eyes and their emotions give them away. They’ve been good, honorable, kind, trustworthy, decent human beings. They’ve been late-blooming emotional adolescents, growing up and realizing too late what they were throwing away. They’ve lied to allow their fans to keep their illusions, unrealistic as they may be, because when the chips are down, they can’t bear to disappoint and disillusion their faithful. They’ve had to live with and in some cases be tortured by their choices.  They’ve served their country with honor. They’ve given millions of people hours of happiness, while never fully being able to realize that happiness for themselves, in their own lives. They’ve loved each other with a power mere mortals can’t begin to comprehend and they’ve lost each other but every time they’ve found their way back again. They’ve neglected to put enough faith in the sheer scope of what they had together. They’ve doubted each other when they should have trusted. They’ve said no when they should have said yes. They’ve had to come, at long last, to the realization that maybe it won’t ever work out for them.

Everything has changed.

Nothing has changed.

And still they hold each other; Jeanette cradled in Nelson’s arms, one around her shoulders and one at her waist.

And still they have that special, special something between their eyes.

This is not the best picture ever taken of Jeanette. I am 99% sure that she’s wearing a wig in this picture, the hairline at the back of her neck looks that way. She did do that, in her 1963 desk diary she has notes of appointments with wig fitters…and she had not performed in several years.  I think Jeanette is pretty much perfect, always; the only reason I bring up the wig is to point out how much Nelson’s eyes don’t appear to see it. In this picture, we see Jeanette looking up at her white knight with a delicacy and an adoration that I have simply never seen beamed at Gene Raymond.

The look on Nelson’s face is utter magic. He’s young and, yes, sexy here in a way we never see in this part of his life with the other two women. Ann makes him look like, to paraphrase Angela, a crabby old man about to yell at someone for walking on his grass. (LOL!) Gale makes a rather odd pairing with him. Onstage they worked well. Up closer, well, they look sort of odd together, the age difference very apparent. With Jeanette, we see tender Nelson. Adoring Nelson. Gentle, wicked, artistic, sensitive Nelson, holding his muse. The look on his face is full of knowledge and history.

OlderMacEddy

You get the sense that their bodies are older but that is not what they see when they look at each other.

What I see is two people who had every curve ball known to man thrown at them, but who ultimately stood the test of time and found their way back to each other over and over and over and over again.

NMfalling

Thank you for sharing the picture, Angela.

Advertisements

Diaries and Letters and Shades of Gray

If there’s one thing that Jeanette is like really, really creepy good at, it’s keeping more than one iron in the fire. Consider the published book of her writings, The Irving Stone Letters, which offers a very authentic, often hilarious, sometimes TMI (“isles-pay”??? REALLY???), sometimes frustrated, thoroughly chatty picture of our unfiltered 1920s (and early 30s) MacDonald: Broadway Baby, singing sensation, party girl, tease, drinker of port, user of rude words, milk farm inmate.

Here’s a really fantastic thing. If you have this book, flip to page 41. Monday, September 13, 1927. The handwritten original follows. Jeanette begins:

“Irving dearest– Do you miss me–I wonder–I’ve never missed anyone so much before–really seems a nuisance to come out from rehearsal and find no Big Irving.”

(PS she had a hangover Sunday, people in the world who think she didn’t drink…)

Later in the letter:

“Nextly, I saw the ex [Jack Ohmeis] and, my dear, I could hardly look him in the eye and when he made love to me I was very much afraid I’d fess up but I know that wouldn’t have helped matters and every once in awhile during the evening I found myself thinking of you and you & me. Well, you can imagine.”

BOOM. Two involvements. One soprano. And she’s very open about it, but in a way that leads Irving to believe that he is still the Number One Man.

And then along comes Bob Ritchie, and while still corresponding on the reg and seemingly involved with Irving Stone, she (in a letter so lovey-dovey it is positively tooth-rotting) writes Bob:

“Gee! Gosh! I get almost sick thinking about you and how far away you are — oh daddy darling of mine, I could weep for the love of you–I’d give almost anything to have you fold me in your arms tonite and whisper, ‘I love you.'”

And later, in the same letter:

“I’m going to beddy now, my own–I also mean my own bed but I do wish it were yours. Move over! All I can think of now is you and how much I love & miss you. I’ll write more tomorrow. I’m tired now but I want you to know you’re my life and love and I’m yours forever and ever.”

Jeanette, for whatever else she may or may not have been, was no nun, folks. She had the gift of gab in real life and she was a prolific letter writer all through her life. She has the real gift of making the recipient feel like they are the only person in the entire world that she could possibly ever care about. In these early letters, we see these patterns being established–patterns that she would continue. Recently, a lengthy and thoroughly charming letter from Jeanette to Gene Raymond, surfaced. Jeanette is alternately worried, proud, political, bossy and flirtatious with her husband, who was overseas during the war. It was presented like it was a Giant Missile of Truth that was going to shatter every argument, every shred of research that has suggested that this marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

I’m sure she DID love Gene. I’m sure she DID miss Gene. I’m sure she WAS worried about Gene. After all, she did marry the guy, did she not? And she did call him, by her own admission, c. 1948, and ask if he loved her, and followed that up with asking him if he wanted a divorce. Obviously she cared on at least some level. He may not have been her first choice, but when she got engaged to him in 1936, following a break up with Nelson Eddy, who, for that moment in time could not seem to get a grip on his delayed adolescence — and when she walked down the aisle to him in 1937, she decided he was the safe choice, the sane choice. Gene got along with her mother. Gene didn’t threaten her career in any way shape or form. Gene didn’t make known to her any anger issues or general craziness. Gene liked to dance, ride, swim and play tennis. Gene was good looking and fun at parties. Yeah, Gene’s mom was a holy terror, but lots of people deal with in-law drama and live to talk about it. Gene did not challenge her. Take it from someone who has the footage of the two of them performing on Toast of the Town, doing the little patter song Gene wrote called How D’ya Do—he can’t bat in her league. The ONLY way they can perform together is for her to come DOWN to his level.

(Side Note: I viewed Jeanette’s scrapbooks at UCLA while I was in LA and there’s a freaking HILARIOUS article in the one dedicated to The Guardsman that says it’s good, she’s good, and “all it needs is Nelson Eddy”……..I laughed, and then I considered how perfectly succinct of a statement that was about literally everything. Nelson in that show with her? You couldn’t have gotten them to Broadway fast enough. Gene? Meh.)

Nelson was a whole other animal. They were so, so alike on so many levels. They were both insatiably ambitious, both driven, both perfectionists, both had made their way the hard way and paid their dues. Both brilliantly talented. Both dealing with some childhood scars. Jeanette would never stop trying to please her mother, who never gave her the validation her heart truly needed. Nelson had a lot of residual anger from the terrible behavior of and abandonment by his father. The sex was, by all accounts, mind-blowing, and the blending of their voices too sublime for mere mortals to stand without complete implosion. But they made each other effing nuts.

Many people have commented on that: they either couldn’t keep their hands off each other or they weren’t speaking. Middle ground is not something that really happens with the Eddy and the Mac. They can’t resist each other, and sometimes they are exactly what each other needs more than anything, but sometimes they are not good for each other.

And along comes Gene, into the middle of this business. He’s cute and fun and cultivates Jeanette’s friendship and doesn’t try to run her straight to bed. Nelson is still over here demanding that she kick the movie racket and get busy with the barefoot and pregnant routine, and the hell with all her hard work. I make no apology for the man; he was divine and gorgeous and a wonderful guy and probably heaven in bed but he also had a lot of growing up to do at this particular juncture and I wouldn’t have married him, then, either. I would have, later, but that’s not what we’re talking about. To that end, in the mid 30s, non-threatening Gene was probably really, really good for her. When you take into account the Nelson vs. Gene, passion vs. sanity, highs and lows vs. stability and a good tennis game…well, Jeanette’s choice of husband may not be all that shocking. Gene may not light her fire like Nelson does, but sometimes, at the end of the day, a good night’s sleep ranks higher than mad passion. The complications arise with the fact that it’s just NOT. THAT. SIMPLE.

None of this discounts, I don’t think, Nelson’s lasting presence in her life. From her napping in his arms on the set of Maytime to her pregnant belly, visible in Sweethearts, to how many many many darling candid shots of them on the radio, to This is Your Life, to Nelson getting on a plane and attending Jeanette’s opening of The King and I in 1956 in full evening dress (in an outdoor venue) and her skipping the opening night party to melt away into the darkness with him, to Nelson VERY COINCIDENTALLY leasing an apartment in the same complex as her, at the end, to being on the receiving end of condolences and handshakes at her funeral like he’s the widower, Nelson is almost always there. Barring a couple of breakups, Nelson’s presence is everywhere. It’s documentable. It’s provable. Jeanette talks about being attracted to and dating Nelson, before she married Gene, in her autobiography. We’ve recently made public an original letter from Nelson, Christmas of 1935, where he tells her he loves her and will always be devoted to her. That should tell you something. The fact that, from the page where she gets engaged to end of her book is only ninety-two pages should tell you SO. MUCH. MORE. Sometimes it’s not always just in black and white. Sometimes the most important things are unsaid. Surely from 1936 to the early 1960s, told in her own words, should fill more than ninety-two pages. So why is it pared down like that? She writes prolifically from her early childhood up through Naughty Marietta. And then the details vanish. The anecdotal stuff is sparse. No real fun on-set stories. Nothing about what it was like, making all those movies with Nelson. Nothing, in short, that the fans wanted to read about. What couldn’t she talk about? Doesn’t the possibility exist that so much of what was in her life was so caught up with someone she wasn’t “supposed to” love…so she couldn’t talk about it? And everything that she COULD talk about from a +/-25 year period, safely, without Nelson, filled………….ninety-two pages.

The mistake I think we ALL make, as people who love Jeanette, is we are too entrenched in our insistent belief that she is absolutely, black and white, 100% on one “side” or the other of how we view her life. She was, after all, a Gemini, was she not? I think she had a hell of a lot on her plate and I think she did the best she could under her very bizarre set of circumstances. I do not believe she was immoral or a bad person. I do not judge her AT ALL for doing what she did. I think she should have had all the happiness in the world. Since it’s documentable that she had way more than her fair share of misery, I’m pretty much all about her grabbing happiness wherever she can find it. Sometimes I think that person was probably Gene. Many times I think that person was Nelson. Some people want to pretend Nelson was never a thing, that it’s really the Jeanette and Gene show 800% of the time. Meredith Wilson’s wry comment, upon attending a Clan Clave was, “It’s like Nelson never existed.” Some people can’t come to terms with the fact that yes, Nelson slept with other women, including Gale Sherwood, who–good lord above–if you want to talk about someone who has been on the receiving end of a lot of misplaced hate, look no further. Some people want to pretend Gene doesn’t exist, or can’t see a picture of him without making a derogatory remark. Some people actually like Ann Eddy…………….????????? Like it or not, it was as a team that Nelson and Jeanette were best known, best loved and best remembered. Like it or not, Gene and Ann are important players in this story. For me, I’m not the most anti-Gene Raymond person in the world, actually, most of the time. There’s a couple of instances in their younger days that make me want to rip him limb from limb, but I’m basically more-or-less ok until Jeanette’s heath starts failing and he starts neglecting the ever loving shit out of her, entertaining his ManFriends in his half of the apartment while Jeanette needs help and is being ignored on her side. That’s when we have a big, big problem, and that, of course, is what is being discussed later in this post. Don’t even get me started on the commercial plane to Houston.

I will suggest that Jeanette’s life was not one-dimensional or able to be completely pinned down in her writings to one person—to or from, for or against. That goes for both sides. What these writings DO do is give us a more complete picture, more data, a better story, more clarity, a larger window into the psyche of this woman. Ultimately, if EVERYONE gets a better understanding of Jeanette and her life, then on some level, this complete weirdness has been a success. I must admit it’s refreshing, anyway, to see the Saints getting on board with the idea that MacDonald Sex is a thing. Clap clap clap. She married Gene Raymond. I’ve always assumed that, at one time or another, that meant she had sex with him, too. I also know that they had separate bedrooms and later, separate (though adjoining) apartments. Jeanette made her marriage work. Honestly, on SOME kind of level, so did Nelson. Everybody limped along in this supremely jacked up world they lived in, since there wasn’t a solution in sight that worked for all four people, despite the many, many discussions and attempts. Two of them died far too young, and there is no way in hell you’ll ever convince me that Jeanette’s death did not directly impact Nelson’s.

The bottom line is, Jeanette demonstrated an early-established ability to keep more than one pot on the boil at a time. What her letters to any/all/either of her men prove concretely, is that she’s following her own pattern and she’s doing what she needs to do to keep on keepin’ on, in her life. I myself am eager to read absolutely everything that’s out there, because ALL of it has value and ALL of it is part of this story. Everything is a piece of the greater puzzle.

But while we’re sharing meaningful handwritten data, here’s some more stuff from Jeanette’s 1963 desk diary, ten months’ worth (she didn’t write in November or December, as she was in the hospital) of her daily comings and goings, appointments, eating habits, weight and health information.

I mentioned, both on this blog and in my presentation at the June Mac/Eddy Club Meeting, that the word “alone” is in here more times than I can even count.

Well. I did count them, last night, and the total is 44.

Forty-four times in ten months, Jeanette feels alone enough to make a note of it. Dozens of times, she writes “stayed home” next to plans that had been written previously, and even more frequently than that, she writes “no sleep” to begin her day. I really don’t know how this woman kept going as long as she did on this little rest. She tried to take a nap almost every day, but frequently she didn’t get her nap, either.

Gene is almost never home. He’s in New York for a month, from Feb 25 to March 23. He’s in Chicago, in Philadelphia, he’s at March Field doing his Air Force stuff all the time, he’s in Santa Ana, he’s anywhere but with her, a solid 80-85% of the time, and MANY of his engagements are social. And like, I recognize that the man is working, too, but it’s very clear, even from reading these pages, that Jeanette is not well. She would, in fact, be dead 15 months after her last entry in this book. Gene couldn’t arrange to be around to take care of her, but he certainly found time to have a documented involvement with Jan Clayton (they were both heavy drinkers), per HER own letters. He basically intimated that Jeanette didn’t have long to live and, rather than divorce her, he’d just wait until she died and then he and Jan would get married at an appropriate time. Of course, this never happened, but PLEASE, GENE, BE MORE OF A LOWLIFE. (Sweethearts, page 496)

Here are just a few examples of her concerning health entries:

Jan28

Jan30

She’s dizzy, frequently. She went to her Science of Mind church class and had a “turn”. On top of which, she’s getting a cold, and spent the next week seeing doctors daily for nose washes and the like. She isn’t sleeping and she feels like hell.

Feb1

“Can’t seem to eliminate urine” and “Seem to have laryngitis” so she calls her doctor and he tells her to stop taking her Phenergan. Naturally, I looked it up, and it seems like it is used for pretty much everything that ails her, from allergies to insomnia to motion sickness to nausea and dizziness. The problem is, there are potentially dangerous interactions with people who have heart trouble. Here’s an informative description of the drug. Yikes. And obviously it wasn’t helping her sleep, but it was making it so she couldn’t urinate. Dear God, poor Jeanette. Seems like every normal bodily function gets screwed up in this poor woman’s body at some point or other.

I feel like a loving spouse, when their partner is this ill, would scale back their own activities to, you know, maybe be around more. MORE TO THE POINT, this woman shouldn’t effing be left alone! What the hell is his problem, joyriding around with his friends when she’s having dizzy spells, she’s not sleeping, she is underweight–and that’s without having any of these other issues like colds and vomiting and hysterical crying because she thinks she’s dying and various bathroom troubles. Didn’t he take an “in sickness and in health” vow, MacRaymond marriage enthusiasts? I guess his idea of supportive care is firing her nurse, taking her phone out of her bedroom, dumping drugs in her fruit juice, telling visitors she was sleeping and couldn’t see them and leaving her to rot, unattended for 8 days and then shipping what’s left of her to Texas on a commercial flight when ANY FAN OFF THE STREET would have taken better care of her. But I’m getting way ahead of myself, here. Oh, heck, we’re getting to that place where I feel like hell’s too good for Gene.

Anyway, as you can see:

Feb2and3

“GR not home” — another thing to note on this page, that’s Gene’s handwriting at the top, “GR – MC”. So for those of you wondering why she wrote “Visitor!!” instead of “Nelson’s here!!!1one!” — well, here’s the proof that Gene had access to this book, if he wanted it. So why is she going to give him something else to flip out about? They have enough fights and bad spells between them in this 10 month period alone, and that’s with him hardly ever being home!!!…….so what was the rest of the time like?

Feb4thru7

Oh, look. She’s sick enough that she doesn’t go to her Science of Mind class, which she attended as often as she was able and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed and found interesting, and…………..Gene’s gone a lot. Once at a meeting, once to a banquet and once “away all day”.

cantlocateGR

“Can’t locate GR”

March19

“_____ (illegible) all night and threw up my breakfast” Then she went somewhere and “threw up on way home”. 😦

March23migraine March24twomigraines

Gene arrived home after being gone a month. She had a migraine that night and TWO migraines the next day. THAT IS NOT GOOD. Those are only a few of the many migraines she had this year. It is known that she had a benign brain tumor, most likely diagnosed in 1960 (Fredda Balling notes how very, very sick Jeanette was when they were trying to work on her autobiography) and, of course, migraines are widely recognized as one of the symptoms. More information on that relationship here. Further, several pieces of documentation exist that suggest that Jeanette was seeing an oncologist at UCLA about this, and indeed, appointments at UCLA are noted several times in this diary.

On page 496 of Sweethearts, it is noted that sometimes when she and Nelson were on the phone, she would get “hysterical” and be frightened that she was dying (sourced from both Blossom and Sunny Griffin). Funny story, when this diary came to the fore, Jeanette herself writes of going into hysterics more than once:

April10hysterics

She had a “bad nite” and “GR home very late”, she weighs only a hundred pounds but she’s skipping meals and Gene is gone again all day. I’m getting out of sequential order here, but here is the other mention of her “hysterics” on July 15. She had no sleep and no nap, is overtired and gets hysterical.

July15hysterics

June 6, she and Gene have a “big fight” — she had gone to the apartment to meet with the guy who was doing some design and decorating for them, and Harold didn’t show up, which resulted in her presumably coming “home too early” and encountering Gene, which it looks like she could have avoided if she had waited longer….

June6bigfight

And, as I’ve already published, she was alone on her 60th birthday (which makes me sad…this woman LOVED birthdays and loved to make a big deal out of them, loved to give parties for birthdays, loved to have a fuss made over her birthday, was absolutely always eating birthday cake in a picture, etc etc and this is a huge milestone birthday and nobody seems to give a rat’s ass), and Gene showed up for dinner but there was a “big quarrel” that evening about the “same old thing”:

snip3

snip4

There was no “our” apartment. There was a his and hers, two units with an adjoining door. Rather an odd arrangement for a happily married couple, especially when one of the partners is not well, nevertheless, observe Jeanette’s clear distinction between his and hers, June 20 and 21:

June20grside June21myside

And on June 25, she’s dealing with more dizziness:

June25dizzy

She washed her hair, obviously wasn’t feeling well because she canceled Harold, then was “terribly dizzy after dinner” — oh, and Gene showed up in time to eat, it seems.

August 8: “not much sleep” and “GR pretty bad”

Aug8GRprettybad

And on the 18th of August:

Aug18badday

She’s just not well, guys.

Sept11

Gene says he’s going to the apartment to “arrange books” but isn’t back as of 3:45AM. He “says he went for a drive up coast” and “I went over twice, started calling at 11:30, no A[nswer]” and “GR in awful mood” …..So he’s lying and defensive about it? That’s what I’m reading, anyway.

Oct8hadspellcanttalk

“Had spell can’t talk”

On page 503 of Sweethearts, it is noted that it was rumored that she had a small stroke around this time and that her speech was temporarily affected. This is without anyone ever seeing this diary until now.

Oct11migraine

And another migraine. There are at least 3 or 4 more that I didn’t clip for the purposes of this post. That’s not normal.

My thanks to Maria and Angela for their partnership with me on this diary. Posts like this will really just take all the fun out of everything, because you find yourself feeling so awful that Jeanette’s last years were so unhappy and unhealthy. But I think to pretend everything was just hunky dory, fine and great, is to do her a far greater disservice. It’s important to understand the facts of what she was going through, so that one can understand how other facts fit into this puzzle. Some of the stuff you read about her, you honestly don’t want to be true–that’s human nature. I think if all of us who love her had the choice, we’d have her tucked away into a blissful marriage with a perfect man, because we love her and want her to be happy. Sadly, that was not the case. It’s not “fun” — but it’s reality, and sometimes reality isn’t fun. I’ve seen the phrase “it’s complicated” being mocked in regards to this story….but, isn’t it?

One Kiss

I am currently sitting in the dining room of the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Washington, D.C. This is our last morning here in the city, and we’re taking this time to review our research of the past two days and start to get it organized for sharing. I want to start out by thanking Sharon Rich for her complete support of Angela’s and my research. Just as in June, the last time we did this, Sharon has been only a text away the entire time and her excitement about what we are doing has only fueled ours.

The thrilling thing for both of us is that every time we have taken special interest in a detail of this story (the devil is in the details!) and tried to hunt it down, it has supported Sharon’s research and claims. The example that immediately springs to mind is that Sharon wrote in Sweethearts about what she had been told about Nelson’s involvement in Jeanette’s funeral and how he was the last one of the honorary pallbearers to come out of the church because he paused an extra moment with the casket before it was closed. In June, as you remember, we unearthed raw, unedited funeral footage of both Jeanette’s and Nelson’s funerals. This footage had never been seen and, guess what, Sharon didn’t even know that it existed, folks. It literally was unused footage in the bowels of the ABC archives….and guess who the last guy out of the church is, before the casket comes out? Nelson. A small thing, but a vitally important thing, one that validates what Sharon was told by a source, one of those sources that you delightful creatures out in Saint Land like to claim are not real or truthful. And those tiny, important things happen all the time.

That was really the nature of this trip. It would be a bit much for us to expect the same total windfall that we experienced in June, with a half-hour’s worth of never before seen television footage, as well as priceless radio recordings that tell their own story and were considered lost. This trip was more about the details. The stack of articles we found and printed is two inches thick. Countless others were saved to flash drives or made note of. Several rare recordings were obtained, as well as some never-released press pictures that we had to handle with white linen gloves. I love that stuff. There were a few other things, too. All in good time, dear readers.

The subject I’m going to discuss today concerns early production on New Moon and one of Jeanette’s many radio appearances around this time. As we know, relations were quite strained between Jeanette and Nelson as they went into production in the fall of 1939. Nelson had made the unfortunate, irrevocable mistake of marrying Ann Franklin in January, Jeanette subsequently tried to off herself, it was just general bad times for a good while. They hadn’t spent any time together. I seem to remember some ass telling Jeanette that Nelson was at a party she was at, and her blanching and being like, “Nelson, here?” and making excuses to get the heck home. Woody Van Dyke, their dear and trusted friend, was the original director on New Moon, with Robert Z. Leonard producing, but early on, Woody got pulled off the project to go expedite matters on I Take This Woman. Pop Leonard took over directorial duties as well (hence the camera making rampant love to Jeanette’s eyes in a few close-up shots. Watch Pop Leonard’s other Jeanette movies, namely Maytime and The Firefly, and you see a love affair between his lens and Jeanette’s big, gorgeous eyes).

Variety notes that pre-recording the score of New Moon began on October 23, 1939. That’s a Monday. In Sweethearts, Sharon notes that New Moon began on November 6, 1939–also a Monday, two weeks later. Given these two dates, I think it’s safe to assume that the November 6th date means principle photography—the start of shooting, in other words. Two weeks for pre-recording is a legit window. In the manuscript of her doomed autobiography, Jeanette notes October 28, 1939, as the start of New Moon. That was a Saturday, for those keeping score here, and seems less likely than the other two dates, which work together. Maybe she meant 23? Who knows. Anyway, that’s all the data—someone is likely slightly mistaken, but the ballpark remains the same.

new moon note

In the early moments of production, Jeanette was very professionally cool towards Nelson, not making a fuss but not doing one iota more than she had to, either. Nelson, desperate to make things right between them and reconcile with her, was trying all manner of things to break down her walls. He fouled up majorly, and knew it, and needed her to acknowledge his profound remorse. The thing I love about these two is it is never, EVER about “I don’t love you” or “I’m not in love with you” or “I’ve stopped loving you”…….loving each other was never their problem. It was everything else. Even at their lowest lows (and they had some appallingly low ones), the acknowledged that they loved each other. It wasn’t a question. It never seemed to be a threat or ammunition between them in a fight…they both knew the score.

As she was preparing to work on One Kiss, one of her solo numbers in the film, and one of the most erotically lyric-ed songs she ever recorded, in my opinion (yeah it’s a pretty tune but LISTEN TO THE WORDS, yo!) Nelson sent her the following note, which I copied from Sweethearts, but it is sourced from the Isabel Eddy memoirs:

Sing even if you don’t mean it – sing it just for me. You can take all the time you want, but you are coming back to me, you have to. Meanwhile, remember this, my love for you is indestructible. No matter what happens, nothing and no one in all the universe can change or hurt it. Remember that.

Oh, Nels.

So, here’s my thing. I’m preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetty sure (no way to be 100% positive, I guess), but I’m pretty sure they weren’t hanging around for each other’s solo recording sessions on this movie. Maybe on other ones when they were using any excuse to be together, but the atmosphere being what it was, I would bet that our little Ice Queen either outright insisted on recording alone or just….worked it out that way.

Variety states on October 24, 1939, that she had recorded One Kiss “yesterday” — so Monday, the 23rd. That’s a solo. I’m guessing that Nelson hadn’t heard it yet because he wasn’t on hand for her solo sessions. But she would have gotten his note.

Variety10.24.39

However, on October 29th, 1939 (a Sunday), Jeanette made an appearance on a radio show called Community Chest. And……guess what she pulls from her repertoire to sing.

🙂

This recording has never been made available before. We found it in the Library of Congress’s collection back in June and submitted a request for it to be digitized. We heard it for the first time on Monday, recorded a copy and here we are.

Now, could she have chosen to sing this because she was rehearsed for it, having just recorded it that prior week? Yeah, sure she could. BUT, what sticks out to me about this is the fact that New Moon wasn’t released until June 28th, 1940, a full eight months after this. Additionally, though the Romberg operetta is called New Moon, the film version starring MacDonald and Eddy was originally titled Lover, Come Back to Me. So, first of all, I think it’s too early for her to be doing publicity for the movie that had JUST started pre-recording (how many other projects get to the pre-recording stage and then get shelved or discarded? Many.)—-the fact is, according to the practices of the time, it was way too early in the game for her to be singing songs from the movie to publicize it. And, since Lover, Come Back to Me was the original working title, if she WAS doing this for publicity, why didn’t she sing that? It would have been the title song. Fred MacMurray even points this out in the sort of faded out sounding post-script to her performance. Or she could have easily have sung any number of the songs she had already made uber famous. One Kiss is, indeed, an interesting choice.

We know Nelson and Jeanette used this kind of thing to communicate with each other. To me, it seems highly, highly likely that this choice was in response to his note. Think about it. Think how safe this is–he isn’t around, isn’t physically there, so she doesn’t have to talk it out with him afterwards, or look him in the eye, or get grabbed up in his arms when she knows she doesn’t have the power to resist him. It’s an olive branch. A safe olive branch, from a distance. Yes, I got your note. Yes, I still love you. Yes, I’m singing this for you. Consider how she looks in the film, during Wanting You. She is all Professional Actress Face for the beginning of the number, then we see her resistance crumble, we see her breathing like she’s just sprinted a mile. Then we see that tentative, cautious hand reach out towards him and with that, his entire performance changes and sweeps her along with it. This choice of song is like that hand. She wants him, wants what they have, but she’s scared of the avalanche.

WantingYouTakeMeNow

A Concert Tour Rendezvous

Hello again,

This post has been in the making for some time–I just hadn’t gotten around to doing it until now. I figured I’d better, because a week from today, Angela and I will be back at the Library of Congress doing more research, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there are things waiting for us that we set in motion in June…things that you will NOT want to miss! So get excited, you’ll read it here first!

In the meantime, I figured it was the best time to go ahead and get this other post written and done.

Yearly (sometimes not every consecutive year, but commonly in the 40s), Jeanette and Nelson made concert tours. Usually, these tours overlapped, and by that I mean that usually there was an overlap of time during the tours that they were both out on the road. Occasionally, their tours took them within a few hours of each other by train or car. Sometimes, they even snuck along with each other on tour. Jeanette (in her first trimester of pregnancy) traveled with Nelson in April, 1938, on the Eastern leg of his concert tour, prior to them making Sweethearts. This has been thoroughly confirmed and sourced in Sharon Rich’s book, Sweethearts, new edition (print version), page 245.

A few years ago, I had occasion to speak with a resident of a retirement home (I occasionally tour retirement/nursing homes within the general 100 mile radius to talk about movies and movie stars and Hollywood and WWII. Those are my favorite audiences. We are simpatico.) who gave me an interesting tidbit on this subject.  A woman at Westminster Canterbury, one of the classiest retirement communities in the area (where I have been asked to lecture more than once!) told me about growing up in and around Philadelphia. She was an avid Nelson fan and saw him in concert every time he was remotely local. As I was mingling with the group after my presentation, she approached me and asked if I had any idea if Jeanette MacDonald ever accompanied Nelson on his tours. I said yes, that we have had people come forward and say that she was there some of the time, on the road with Nelson or meeting up with him at a particular stop. A look of sly vindication crossed her features and she said, “Oh, I thought so!” When I asked her why, she said she had seen Nelson give a concert in Philadelphia “back in the Forties” and the weather was cold and miserable. Because of this, only a few people went to the stage door that night, and actually, when Nelson emerged, he told them all to go home before they caught cold! She remembers a woman, whom she described as “very willowy and slender” wearing slacks and a trench coat, with a scarf over her…wait for it….bright red hair. This woman, with her head down, walked purposefully from the stage door to the waiting car. Before she had reached the car, a voice from back inside yelled, “Jenny! Your purse!” upon which the redhead wheeled around, exclaiming, “Where have I parked my brain tonight?” and trotted back after her purse. She got into the car, and when Nelson came out, he got into the same car. The woman I talked to pointed out that she must have been backstage the whole time because, “She wasn’t dressed up enough to have been out front.” She said, “My friend and I always felt sure that was Jeanette MacDonald. There were rumors that they loved each other.”

I LOVE STUFF LIKE THAT. Let me point out, too, that this woman had never read Sweethearts. She had no bias, she was just going on rumors that circulated at the time, as well as her own instincts.

Anyway, it was not unheard of for them to “meet up” on tour. The last time Angela and I were at the LOC (in June), I was working my fingers to the bone in the Newspaper Reading Room, trying to export as many articles as I could get my hands on. Many of them I didn’t even stop and read: if it looked interesting, I grabbed it while the grabbing was good and worried about reading it later. But something that caught my eye mentioned Jeanette making a tour stop in Roanoke, VA, in January of 1941. Roanoke is less than a 40 minute drive from my house, so that was cool, and I made a mental note to look into that, reflecting that Nelson sang for FDR’s inauguration in 1941, and wondering if the dates were similar and if, by chance, the paths (and perhaps, you know, bodies) of our twosome had crossed.

Later on, as I had time, I snooped around the internet trying to figure out where I could access the archives of the Roanoke Times, which surely would have covered La MacDonald coming to town. Finding the library that I needed, I composed an email and sent it off, only to get an automated response that the “Virginia Room” section of the library (where the newspaper archives are) was closed for renovations, and that research requests would be handled on a very limited basis. There might be a long turnaround time so don’t hold your breath, basically. Oh. Well, okay. So I moved on with my life. Fast forward a couple of months and I was teaching a riding lesson one afternoon when my phone heralded the arrival of a most excellent email. Not only did the Roanoke Times cover the event, but some kind librarian had gone through the microfilm and copied a couple of articles and a picture and attached them to the email. JOY! I love librarians.

And then I read what I read and I nearly died. I smelled smoke in a big big way and I called poor Sharon screeching in her ear. I just know she loves it when I do that…..

Nelson and Jeanette were super local to each other between January 19 and 25, is the gist of it. And while that might be enough to get us excited, that also leaves plenty of room for that to be totally coincidental and not a big deal.

BUT.

It gets better.

Okay, I’m about to impart a whole LOT of data, so try to stay afloat. I’ll present it in the most organized way possible, but there’s a lot of material here. I’ve spent a bunch of hours trawling through newspapers and calling libraries in various cities, trying (and sometimes succeeding) to get scans of newspaper articles from their towns about this tour. I originally only cared about January of 1941, but I ended up researching the entire tour. For each month, I printed out a calendar and penciled in information on each day for which I found data. I also made a map of their tour locations! I succeeded in nailing down every single date of every concert that either of them gave on this tour, and in many occasions, got the name of the theatre or venue where they sang. I’d like to thank Sharon and Maria for helping come up with a few dates that I was missing. Sharon also provided me with her list of tour stops against which to check my newspaper digging work–I’d transposed one date, but by and large, they were right on! 🙂

notes

map

First thing you need to know is that Jeanette started touring in November, 1940, and her tour wrapped up on February 28th of 1941, in Asheville, NC. It was supposed to end on the 16th, but she had to make up two concerts that she missed earlier. That’s crucial information, but just hold on. She scrammed back to LA in early March, presumably took a long nap and started shooting Smilin’ Through on March 26th. Nelson’s tour kicked off officially February 11, 1941, in Tucson, AZ, and went until April 17th. He had a radio engagement April 20th back in Hollywood. So, all told, we’re talking about six months of total time that one or both of these guys was on the road. That’s a long time to be 99% apart from someone you love—and these people did this almost every year for a while there. When Nelson got home, Jeanette was working on Smilin’ Through and he went to work on The Chocolate Solider in June.

So here’s the fun stuff:

January 18: Jeanette concert, Memorial Hall, Columbus, OH

January 19: Nelson sings for FDR inauguration. Ann Eddy is present for this, BUT SHE GOES BACK TO LA RIGHT AFTERWARD. We don’t have any mention of Nelson leaving the East Coast until mention of him singing in San Diego on February 4th. (However, an item ran on January 25th with Nelson’s nominations for the “Ten Best” songs for shower singing and general pleasure. In addition to The Road to Mandalay and The Star Spangled Banner, he lists Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and I’ll See You Again….and….wait for it……Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes. Right, Nels, because that was such a peppy, upbeat, awesome song… Has NOTHING to do with the fact that girlfriend is about to sing it in her next picture, I’ll bet!)

January 20: Jeanette sings at City Auditorium in Huntington, WV. So she’s about 5-6 hours away from Nelson by train at that point. She hops the train to Pittsburgh, where she is scheduled at Syria Mosque on the 23rd. Now she’s 3.5-4 hours by train from Washington. And, having already arrived in Pittsburgh, after singing to rave success in Huntington, she gets “sick”.

Let me pause right here to point out that Jamannamac here is a total pro and very much the show must go on. To illustrate my point….remember that time she LITERALLY HAD A HEART ATTACK during The King and I in 1956? In the middle of the show? AND FINISHED THE SHOW? Or how about that time she was puking her guts up during The Guardsman in 1951—actually leaving the stage to yak in the wings and coming back onstage and staying with it and doing the show.

Newspapers all pointed out that canceling this Pittsburgh concert on the 23rd was the first time in all her national tours that she had not kept a scheduled date. So either she was really, really, really dying OR she was willing to do it to spend a day or so with Nelson under the radar. Since she sang in Roanoke TWO DAYS LATER to rave reviews (a two hour show and over an hour of encores), was in exceptional voice and generally brought down the house…..I’m basically forced to think that she was not, in fact, dying.

As of January 22nd, her concert had not yet been canceled, but our girl was already on the train to Washington. She was in DC on the 23rd, the day of her canceled Pittsburgh concert, and was supposed to go on to Roanoke, where she was scheduled on the 25th. But, FUNNY STORY, she MISSES HER TRAIN in DC on the 23rd!!

She misses her train.

Misses.

Her train.

Well, I mean, it’s hard to catch a train when you’re all, like, trapped under a baritone, am I right?

And she’s “forced” to spend “another” (a word that indicates MORE THAN ONE. So she was there on the 22nd, too.) night in Washington. You know, with Nelson in town and nary a spouse for thousands of miles.

snip

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

The article is badly faded and hard to read, but after detailing that she had to spend “another” night in Washington, it goes on to say that she didn’t receive the press in Roanoke, that she walked straight to the waiting car and was taken to the Hotel Roanoke (less than a mile from the train station, I’ve been there MANY times, it’s classy and gorgeous and old and wonderful and it also is less than a mile from the venue where she performed, which has been torn down and replaced with the Roanoke Civic Center).

Here’s how she looked getting off the train in Roanoke:

Roanokearrivalpic

After bringing down the proverbial house in Roanoke, she cancels Asheville, NC, where she was scheduled on the 28th. (Magic! Sick again!!!) This time, her “doctor” orders her to go to Florida to recover from her “cold”. Okay, I don’t care how famous you are, when was the last time ANY of you reading this were sent to Florida to get over a cold? I just really wonder if that doctor’s last name wasn’t Eddy. I just really do.

Roanoke1941

She did go to Florida, alright, but we don’t see or hear from her again until she sings at Municipal Auditorium in Orlando on the 31st. From there, she zipped down to Havana on the 3rd of February and sang at Sociedad Pro-Arte. There was an uncomfortable political scene with President Batista being directly involved only a short distance from where the concert was. This frightened her and she left right after the show to come back to the US, preferring not to spend the night in Havana. All this time, not only is Gene Raymond well-documented in Los Angeles, as is Ann Eddy, there is not one SMELL of where Nelson is or what he’s doing–the only thing that seems certain is that he was NOT in California. No mention of his homecoming from Washington, which would have been mentioned by someone, somewhere. No blurb about him being on a train or plane or anything. We only start hearing about him again in preparation for his concert in San Diego on February 4th.

I started out only caring about January, but I found that, as always, knowing all of the background data enhanced the story significantly. You have to figure, if you are that close to your significant other (4 hours by train, instead of on the opposite coast), after that much time apart, and knowing you won’t have the chance to see them again for months—it might well be worth it to you to postpone a couple of engagements to spend time with them, even if that is terribly out of character. ESPECIALLY when you can do it this sneakily. I just can’t see her legit canceling for a cold under these circumstances. Maybe I’m wrong, but this woman had a LIFETIME of colds, allergies and hay fever. If she canceled an engagement every time she had ear/nose/throat problems, she’d hardly ever work. In her autobiography manuscript, she notes her frequent colds and her ability to sing “over, under and around them”…so, again, it must have been pretty damned important for her to postpone two shows. Her outstanding performance in Roanoke between bouts of being sick also belies any condition as serious as what the papers claimed. Incidentally, she added Pittsburgh and Asheville on to the end of her tour, singing there on the 24th and 28th of February, respectively.

And, ya know, this candid shot that everyone loves of them on the set of Smilin’ Through? Yeah, that was taken after he got home from his tour. If they hadn’t seen each other much since their rendezvous in late January, that might explain the ridiculous grins and happy arms.

SmilinThroughCandidhires

Nelson’s all like I could eat you with a spoon.

Jeanette’s all like Why on earth do you need a spoon?

Just some food for thought, all this business. I thought it was interesting, and I think it seems highly likely.

Stay tuned for Library of Congress Treasures, Round Two!!

The Sterilization of Jeanette MacDonald

I’m ba-aack. 😀

So, yesterday, I posted a bunch of photos in one of my favorite Facebook groups, including one of Jeanette, Claude Jarman, Jr., and Lassie (or maybe it was Major, Lassie’s stand in?) sitting in a tent, around a heater, obviously cold, on the set of The Sun Comes Up, Jeanette’s final movie. This picture launched a whole LONG discourse between myself and several of the members of the group about Jeanette’s last two films.

Disclaimer: I love all of Jeanette’s movies. All of them, with the possible exception of The Vagabond King. So understand that the forthcoming criticisms are, yes, criticisms, but there is MUCH to love and appreciate about these movies just the way they are.

Also understand that being personally critical of Jeanette is not something at which I’m super good. I ain’t about getting hit by lightning and homegirl’s aim is pretty spot on. So.

Now, for Three Daring Daughters (can we please agree to refer to it from now on as TDD? Yeah? Great.), MGM cast the current “it” guy, Jose Iturbi, incredible pianist, heavily accented short little fellow, as Jeanette’s love interest. He’s supposed to rock her world so hard that she abandons the “shackles” of being a single mom to three teen/preteen girls and marries him on a whim during an extended boat trip. Oh. Okay. Well, for starters, our Jeanette is a tallish (5’5″), willowy beauty…and she’s legit taller than him in her heels and upswept hair. And for me, that’s sort of an immediate buzzkill. They look …not sexy… together. This is the movies and stuff like that matters, I’m sorry. Secondly, there is absolutely no passion. No clinch. No “I shouldn’t, it’s wrong, I’m so responsible but ohhhhhhhhhhh do it again, don’t stop……” scene that would have lent a shred of authenticity to the idea of this very strong, independent, intelligent single mom (she’s the editor of a high powered magazine) throwing caution to the wind. We don’t see her actually throw the caution. We see her blow out a candle and in the next scene she’s ditched the Serious Mom Wigs and has cute shorter curly hair. And as if to remind us how super wild and kinky the honeymoon was, that scene also has the one kiss in the movie—-an afterthought peck in fadeout. Like they’ve been married 112 years, not approximately 12 seconds.

And see, this ticks me off. Louise Morgan really, if treated better by the script, could have become Jeanette’s most compelling portrayal, but she doesn’t get half a chance. In the scene where she’s wearing this gorgeous orangey-coral dress and hum/singing along to You Made Me Love You, floating in via piano from the next cabin, you get a glimpse of what might have been. You see Louise yearn. You hear this low, soft voice, and the way she’s lounging around on the sofa…yep, this is a woman who is in touch with the fact that she maybe has been missing out on some Man Things since she ditched the girls’ father. She is sexy. She is gorgeous. She experiences desire. She has layers and feelings and longings—it occurs to her, and us, that maybe she’d like a kind of love that doesn’t come from her kids. Maybe she’d like to be a woman and not just Mommy.

(Now just imagine that the camera cuts to Nelson Eddy playing that damn piano. …Now that everyone is a little giddy in the pants, I’ll remind you all that it wasn’t Nelson. Many sorries.)

The fact that Jeanette is able to bring us these layers in that very short space of time is a tribute to what she is capable of as an actress. Then the camera reveals that it’s Mr. Iturbi and the viewer is sort of like, “…Oh.” But see, we see Sexy Jeanette for half a second, and lest that get dangerous (MOM CHARACTERS CANNOT BE SEXY!!!! ESPECIALLY JEANETTE MACDONALD MOM CHARACTERS BECAUSE SHE’S STILL A VIRGIN GUYS.), we have to temper that with Very Safe G-Rated Little Piano Man. I promise, I’m really NOT hating on Mr. Iturbi. I think he’s a great talent, Jeanette said he was good to work with, he was sweet to the kids (particularly Ann Todd who played Ilka, as she was a pianist), and he’s charming in a cute way. But as a romantic leading man for my girl Jeanette he is totally unsatisfying.

And THIS, friends, is the crux of the problem.

MGM—as many things as it did well and right with regard to the motion picture art form—mishandled the MacDonald sexuality.

Let me put you in touch with Jeanette Anna of the pre-MGM days.

They called her The Lingerie Queen of the Talkies.

Famous Quote: “I’m sure people must say about me, on the screen, ‘Good gracious, is Jeanette MacDonald going to take off her clothes – again?'”

undiesbackJeanetteUndies  youngandsultry  undies

I mean, hell, Maurice Chevalier measured her boobs in Love Me Tonight:

chevalierboobmeasurement

And she totally mouth-kissed a girl in One Hour With You:

WTFJeanette

Yeah, yeah, that was all Pre-Code. I get it. I do. BUT……it’s also a little hilarious how the general public opinion of Jeanette contains words like “highbrow” and “prissy” and “proper” and “ladylike” and “icy” and “frigid” and on and on and on. THE ABOVE PICTURES ARE HOW SHE GOT FAMOUS IN THE MOVIES, PEOPLE.

She was on Broadway first. She was Musical Theatre, not Opera—and she really wanted to be “Opera”—something that would fascinate her about Nelson Eddy when they met. HE was “Opera”…..she was “Musical Theatre” and nary the twain shall meet. Usually. She proved ’em wrong. 🙂

So Jeanette gets to Metro and she makes The Cat and the Fiddle, which I think of as sort of a transition for her, because she looks prettier (she was always beautiful but EVERYBODY is a little prettier at Metro, that’s just how it works) but she still is retaining the threads of the Jeanette that the movie audiences know. And there’s some suggestiveness here; the main characters are shacked up but not married, there’s kissing in bed, she tells him about basically dreaming about him naked, etc. It came out in 1934, that pivotal year for The Code, which applied to all movies released on or after July first (Thanks, Sharon, I hadn’t remembered the date)—and it seems to have squeaked out just in time, as most of it was filmed in 1933. Then came The Merry Widow, which Metro produced but which brought together the team she already had established elsewhere: Chevalier and director Ernst Lubitsch. So really, aside from the sheer BEAUTY of the production—the sets and costumes are VERY Metro and VERY lavishly beautiful—it doesn’t really feel like an MGM movie. Lubitsch made everything he did have that pre-code feel. As Jeanette discusses in her interview with Tony Thomas later in life, his specialty was whimsical innuendo.

The big image change happened when she and Nelson teamed up for Naughty Marietta. The movie, as we all know, was a barn-burning sensation, launched the Mac/Eddy team and so on and so forth—it has MUCH to commend it on every level, but the fact of the matter is that gone forever was the Jeanette that movie audiences had known and enjoyed previously.

Mariettaembrace

She’s stunning and startlingly beautiful, to coin a phrase, all swathed in period costume after period costume. She’s coquettish and coy but never seriously sexual. The typical pattern is that we see her first, she gets the first song, he’s usually not as important in life station as she is, he likes her immediately, she doesn’t like him, then she REALLY likes him but is hard to get, then they sing a duet and are officially in love until struggles force them to part but they usually are reunited (and if not, he gets to die on her powdered bosom a couple times). The “formula” is not complicated. Nobody cares about this. When the two of them open their mouths to sing, the rest of the world can go hang itself. They were the absolute best at what they did and that’s all there is to it. You can be someone who likes Jeanette better or likes Nelson better, I think we all have our preferences, but if you can’t recognize that it was TOGETHER that they were best known, best loved and did their best work…….well, you’re an idiot.

But the fact of the matter is that her figure, and indeed, her actual sexual presence, went from being her stock in trade (apart from her voice, obviously) to what Modern Screen (If I’ve mis-attributed that quote, please correct me, but I’m almost positive it was Modern Screen, in the little gossip blurbs, and I think I have the actual copy of the magazine where it’s mentioned) termed the “best kept secret in Hollywood.”

That’s what happens at Metro, friends. Family pictures, you know.

(I’m not knocking that either, really. I think we could use a hell of a lot more family pictures in this day and age.)

The thing is, as their personal relationship developed, so did their chemistry on screen. Jeanette and Nelson can’t help but be sexy together. Please observe this clip, a zoomed in look at their hands duing the Obey Your Heart sequence in Girl of the Golden West. I’m not going to go into all the back story of what was going on (but Sharon did a great and recent analysis of it, go here.) but the fact of the matter is that nobody in 1937 is going to DIRECT this sort of hand play in a very Code-happy studio environment. Just look:

I mean, please imagine that he was doing that to ANY OTHER part of her body. Pick one. That is some seriously sexy business right there, and her thumb is playing right back. My point is, moments of sexy show up in every single movie, whether the studio wanted them to or not, Hayes Code be damned. But why did Metro want her to be seen as such an innocent type? Could it be that Mayer, who long-nursed a personal soft spot for Jeanette, didn’t want her charms on display? Could it be that the more intense the passion looked with Nelson, the less the public would be enamored of the humongous studio sponsored marriage to Gene Raymond? I mean, selling Gene to the public as Jeanette’s husband was a hard enough job anyway. But marrying her off to the absolutely-NEVER-threatening-to-the-ivory-tower Raymond ensured that she was seen as prim, boring, prudish and dispassionate. And then her damn fan club took it from there and here we are.

Amazing too, how they are shunted off into separate pictures when things are a little too risky. Rosalie and The Firefly happened between Maytime and Girl of the Golden West. What else happened in that era? Jeanette’s wedding. Letting them be together at work was too risky. They might decide to rage against the Machine and run off together. Something might slip. They were blissfully happy, even though Jeanette was married, during the making of Sweethearts, until Jeanette lost Nelson’s child at around six months of gestation. The Mayer Machine just BARELY gets away with keeping that under wraps, and promptly ushers Jeanette into Broadway Serenade and Nelson into Let Freedom Ring and Balalaika. And what else happens? Oh, yeah, drunk and majorly fucked up Nelson elopes with Ann Franklin. And Jeanette tries to kill herself at the end of production on Broadway Serenade, to which she always referred as being her least favorite movie she ever did. (As always, these episodes and subsequent documentation can be explored in more detail by reading Sweethearts by Sharon Rich.)

It just annoys me that too many of Jeanette’s Metro pictures have her being a one trick pony—even if it’s one HELL of a trick. She was a good actress, a splendid comedienne, but also capable of beautiful depth of feeling, especially as she aged. Her performance in The Sun Comes Up is absolutely gorgeous. Helen Winter has a little bit more of a meaty script than Louise Morgan does in terms of internal character development, but is just as short on the leading man front. Lloyd Nolan was a great guy and a personal friend of Jeanette’s and Nelson’s, but he doesn’t exactly spark with her on the screen. Which probably suited everyone just fine, because again, Jeanette is not allowed to be sexy, and CERTAINLY not when she’s playing a mom. I mean, it makes you long for her to have played a mom like Maureen O’Hara’s character Maggie in The Parent Trap…THAT is a transformation. She’s a great mom, but the reunion scene between Maggie and Mitch is swoon-worthy. Very romantic and very, very sexy. I didn’t say it needed to be dirty. It doesn’t. That isn’t. But it’s real.

Jeanette was on her way out after I Married an Angel. She did Cairo to finish out her contract (I effing love that movie) and wouldn’t be seen again at Metro until Three Daring Daughters. There was great “Welcome Home” fanfare about her return to her old stomping grounds after years of absence, but it seems that once she was there, they weren’t really sure what to do next. She was still exquisite, still had the best soprano voice in the movies, and wasn’t really old enough (well, okay, she was 43, so according to what she liked to tell people, that would make her 39…and she looked late thirties) to be shoved around the bend into Mom-dom. Nelson strongly objected to her playing Mom roles, perhaps because he knew that once she did that, she wouldn’t be able to go back to playing a real romantic lead—which he knew damn well, publicly and privately, she should have still been doing. She rallied for Nelson to be cast in TDD and wrote Hedda Hopper that it would have been a “hot” box office reunion….and how right she was. That movie with Nelson would have been ENTIRELY different. And Metro would have had to admit that she was sexy. That he was sexy. That they were sexy together. This was no mannered, powdered wig period piece…this was a modern movie. If Louise Morgan had met Nelson Eddy on that ship instead of Jose Iturbi….I mean, can you imagine? Sexy, sexy. Perhaps that’s exactly why it didn’t happen. The studio wasn’t ready to make a grown up movie about grown up people. The idea that you can raise your kids and still feel the tingles for the right man who reminds you that you’re female……yeah, apparently that wasn’t a thing at Metro. Pity. It would have been great. Look at this candid of TDD-era Jeanette (with Iturbi) WITHOUT the wigs that made her matronly in the movie:

withIturbi

She doesn’t look old enough to be the mother of a high school graduate. She just doesn’t. Don’t effing tell me all that was left to her were Mom roles. Nelson, pal, you were EXACTLY right.

TDDprettyeyes

A screen capture from TDD. Look how gorgeous. Staaaaaaahp it.

Perhaps the best way to end this much-longer-than-anticipated post is with this anecdote:

Sometime in the 1940s, Nelson Eddy had occasion to see Monte Carlo, one of Jeanette’s Lingerie Queen Pre-Code films. (You know, the one where she runs around in her underwear and sings Beyond the Blue Horizon on a train. That song became one of her signature numbers.) Upon seeing it, his comment was:

“That’s the Jeanette I know.”

The defense rests.

 

Pic Spam and Non-Apologies

Hi, friends. Last blog post was super heavy, and I’m afraid, in the coming weeks, that I’m going to have to cover some more heavy topics, as we are just now starting to reap the benefits of some of our requested research materials. I saw some things this evening that were both incredible and sad, and Angela and I will be working together to share them with you all soon. The fact is, when you set out to study someone’s private life—it no longer is relevant whether or not things are “your business” — certainly, biography is a form of writing that has existed for many hundreds of years. You find out a great many things that aren’t your business. Yet I don’t see the field at large vanishing anytime soon. When a person has been dead for half a century, you can’t just call them and interview them. You have to fact-find, and dig, and research, talk to people who knew them, befriend archivists at the Library of Congress, etc etc—and try to piece together their story. What you cannot do is pretend parts of their life didn’t happen, or ignore things because they aren’t to your taste or they make you personally unhappy. This isn’t, in fact, about you. So while I’m bummed just like you guys about a future that looks a little grey with some sad posts, I won’t apologize for it. I feel strongly that these things need to be heard and read and said and observed and understood, if we are ever to gain a true sense of these tremendously complex beings we’ve decided to love. I do, however, have some ideas in mind for ways to lighten the mood, so stick with me. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures of the Beauty and the Baritone. ❤

Image

Costume Designer Adrian is there and nobody gives a damn. 

Image

Nearly ten years into this thing and he still makes her self-conscious. 

Image

Y so touchy, Nels? Y so happy, Jeanette?

Image

I just love this picture. Always have. They look so easy and relaxed and happy together.

Image

With Woody, the man who was probably their single greatest friend. Look at the way she’s openly gazing at Nelson. Yeah. 

Image

And speaking of gazing, check out homeboy.

 

Sigh. And this is why we do what we do.

 

The MacEddyRaymonds, Part 3

In case anyone didn’t believe me, here’s another picture of Jeanette trying to buck up and pull it together to get the duet shot on the set of Maytime. See the Kleenex in her hand?

Image

And things appear not much better on her wedding day. Have you ever seen a glummer looking group of girls?

Image

Yep, your eyes are correct, she had Ginger Rogers as a bridesmaid. Possibly the best thing about the whole affair. That’s her sister Blossom, matron of honor, next to her in the dress that is a slightly different shade than the others. Adrian designed the dress. There is no doubt that Jeanette was a gorgeous bride, but generally speaking, brides are supposed to be happy.

There is really no question that MGM sponsored the entire thing. It was rumored to have cost $25,000.00 — a rumor which Jeanette herself protested loudly, saying SHE would never have done that (she definitely wouldn’t have, our girl was a bit of a tightwad. I say that in a loving way.), and that it actually cost more like $5,000.00. Well. Maybe that’s what she paid. Her Adrian wedding gown had an 18 foot double tulle train, by the by. Wilshire Methodist is a sizeable church (and check this out, Homegirl is right there on their church history page! Gotta love Hollywood! http://www.ewilshireumc.org/about/our-church-history.html), the entire thing was decked out in roses, etc etc etc. It was, as I said in the last post, Hollywood’s answer to the Royal Wedding. My grandmother was just out of high school when this happened and she remembered it very well. She was good and ticked about it, too, but that’s another story. 😉

The wedding was the talk of all the magazines and columns, and MGM was vigorously supportive of that–as it happens, the good publicity of the wedding was helping to mask the seriously dark and messed up story of Patricia Douglas, the woman whose story was told in the 2007 documentary, Girl 27. Basically, she was an extra at MGM, got told to go to a party for some MGM businessmen, was forced to drink a lot of alcohol, got raped, had the balls to speak up about it and vanished. Here’s an article about the documentary: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jan/18/girl-27-uncovers-37-rape-case/?page=all It’s worth watching, just because it is really eye-opening for those of you still living in fantasy land about the power these studios and these executives had over people. Many, many beloved movies were made on Mayer’s watch, of course, the man had a definite genius in a lot of ways, and not all of his relationships were horrendous, but he absolutely was capable of wielding his power in disgusting, invasive, harassing, abusive, REALLY FREAKING ILLEGAL ways, and we’ve seen enough evidence of it and heard enough testimony from enough sources that it is brutally naive to think otherwise. Yeah, Jeanette was a headstrong, sassy girl, and on some level was a “pet” of Mayer’s, but to believe he didn’t have a stranglehold on her is ….just naive. So anyway, having a big, pretty wedding to push to the front pages helped slip the Patricia Douglas case quietly out the back door.

Nelson was under studio pressure to sing at the wedding–after all, Allan Jones, Jeanette’s current co-star, was ushering, and the guest list of 250+ of Jeanette’s very closest movie star friends read like a super impressive Who’s Who in Hollywood. Columnists called the wedding “overdone musical comedy” and one snarky one wondered whether the newlyweds would “stay up all night to watch the reviews come in.” Jeanette made note of Nelson’s (understandably) negative reaction in her autobiography manuscript:

ImageImage

“Oh, here you are. I wondered where you were.”

“No, I’m not going to come to your Goddamned wedding.” To be completely fair, she does not attach Nelson’s name to this quotation in her notes (she wouldn’t need to, they were her personal notes and SHE knew who said it!), but this was known by several sources to be his reaction. I can’t prove that, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include this very interesting set of notes.

Image

“No correction possible thru conversation.” (So they can’t talk it out?)

Image

Gene said, “I can’t take pen and paper away from her.”

What the HELL does THAT mean??? So it sounds to me like Nelson won’t discuss things with her, so she’s trying to write him to give him some sort of explanation/understanding/insight/peace/who knows. Gene doesn’t like this, but he “can’t take pen and paper away from her” — meaning that he can’t sit on her to prevent her writing to him.

It is also interesting to point out that much of the sensitive material (the “juicy” stuff) has been scribbled over or crossed out by Jeanette, or she has made notes to change the wording of certain passages to make them more PC. It is also a fact that she wrote ex-flame Bob Ritchie to tell him he would be “coming off extremely well” in her book. Bob Ritchie was a total prick to her on many occasions, so it’s clear that she’s doctoring the truth. Jeanette is not stupid, guys. She knew damn well what her fan club was made of: a bunch of sycophantic ass-kissers who refused (oh hell, present tense too, there are still some of them around!) to believe she ever did anything other than float around the world being perfectly perfect with glitter and rainbows flying out her ass. I mean, seriously. Please go to Jeanette MacDonald Fan Club dot com. DO NOT TAKE MY WORD FOR THIS. It’s like…..way worse than a bad acid trip. This is the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay whacked out crazypants business she was dealing with. And she met a lot of these people, and she was absolutely adorable to them, and to their credit, they made her feel loved and important later in her life when she wasn’t getting a whole lot of that feeling from the rest of the world. (And Gene got to be a sort of ceremonial figurehead and thus had something to do once a year for the last 30 years of his life…) For that–for letting our girl know that SOMEONE loved and appreciated her—and I mean this completely sincerely–I will always thank them. And gently remind them that she was, in fact, a human being.

But anyway, Jeanette is their Golden Voiced Angel Diva! She can’t possibly drop the ball now and admit that she occasionally liked a cocktail and also really, really enjoyed Nelson Eddy in the midnight hour. Someone legit said that if it was true that she and Nelson were in love, they would burn their entire collection. What’s she supposed to do? Keep playing the role, or lose the devotion that, in her latter years, was one of the only positive things she had in her life. For her, the choice was clear, and understandable. A personal favorite MacDonald quotation of mine that sums up the situation perfectly is, “They wouldn’t let me say shit if I had a mouthful.” Hence, the book was HEAVILY edited—and this is 99.9% of the reason it never saw the light of day until Sharon got it out there. I hope to go into more detail about it in the future, because, imperfect though it is on a variety of levels, it is enormously revealing.

Can I just mention that this is the same group of people who went apeshit when Sharon produced Jeanette’s baptismal record that proved she was born in 1903, not 1907? Okay, she took a few years off her age–many if not most of the stars did, back then. We don’t care and we don’t judge her for it, we’re JUST POINTING OUT A FACT, YO. But there was a, “Jeanette would never tell a lie!” sort of backlash from this group. Oy. Vey.

Getting back to the subject at hand, here’s poor Nelson, looking terminally ill on Jeanette’s wedding day:

Image

Yeah.

It’s worth noting too that, according to Nelson’s mother (who he was living with at the time), he posed for this picture, skipped the reception, came home and got good and drunk. Then, we know he wrecked his car a week later, and gave his address as 1330 Angelo Drive, which is the first known use of the address for the home he and Jeanette would ultimately share as a most excellent hideout, called “Mists”. Just FYI.

A most interesting source that Sharon Rich uses in Sweethearts is Rev. Richard Halverson, United States Senate Chaplain, who worked as Jeanette chauffer/butler back in the day–pre and post Gene. The interview is fascinating. Halverson describes a sweet, fun, inquisitive Jeanette when she was by herself (before the marriage), who was interested in his faith and his future plans, who never treated him like a “servant” and was easy to get along with. Along comes Gene, who essentially was a jerk to Halverson–rude, distant, very much “better” than “the servants”, someone who “hadn’t really made it, not like Nelson Eddy, for example.” He also describes him as “effeminate” and “bossed her around” and she “took it.” Halverson also witnessed Jeanette with Nelson, and while he claimed he was unaware of a romantic relationship between them, he said that she got along with Nelson very well, that Nelson was a jokester, they had a lot of fun on the set and Nelson made her laugh a lot. His parting words were, “I wonder why she didn’t marry Nelson Eddy?”

Yeah, around these parts, we like Nelson better too, sir.

For Jeanette’s part, she notes in her autobiography that, after her Honolulu honeymoon, there was “a lot of understanding to be done, a lot of matching my ways to his” (no, bad call, don’t do that, we like your ways a lot better) and she learned that “tears would get me nowhere.” And ultimately, she also learned information on her honeymoon that would lead her to say that “there was one subject I didn’t allow myself to pursue.” Her final statement sort of lands with a loud, ominous clunk:

“The MacRaymonds had no children.

Now. What newlywed woman learns something on her honeymoon that tells her with certainty that she’s not having kids with the guy she just married? Like……they were engaged for almost a year, folks. Surely they discussed this.

But that’s fodder for a different post.

Don’t catch cold!