The MacEddyRaymonds, Part 1

Hi again.

Took a day off to write a chapter of the fiction novel I’m also working on, but alas, I returned, just as annoyed as ever that people are still being thick about the Eddy and the Mac.

So. Jeanette and Gene Raymond. Where does one, like, even start? On a doorstep? Well, if we’re to believe the much-publicized version of events, that’s how they met. On a doorstep, at a party. Apparently she got there before he did. He whistled. She turned around (oh, lord, J-Mac), subsequently they introduced themselves to each other (“I’m Jeanette MacDonald.” ….Cool story, I’m sure he’d never have known that.) and when the hostess opened the door, “Oh, how nice of you to come together!” Great.

So, they sort of started hanging out. They both liked to ride. They both liked to dance and socialize. Jeanette was approximately 47 times cooler than Gene on the Hollywood Social Ladder and so having her as a convenient way to get to all the good parties must have been super awesome. He played that card for a good twenty-some years more, until she got fragile and not so cool anymore and not so good for those party invites and then she got ignored and neglected and didn’t even have a phone in her bedroom and didn’t have a nurse for two weeks between having a nurse and going to Texas on a goddamn commercial plane (WHAT THE FUCK GENE RAYMOND. SERIOUSLY. PUT THE WOMAN ON A PRIVATE FLIGHT SO PEOPLE DON’T, YOU KNOW, AUTOGRAPH SEEK WHILE SHE’S OVER HERE TRYING TO DIE.)  to die in a hospital awaiting the surgery she should have had months before. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s actually stick, for now, to the time of life when I don’t want to strangle Gene with my bare hands!

So there they are. Hanging out. Casually dating. Why is Jeanette even on the market for a man at this point? After Naughty Marietta and Rose Marie, she was entangled in the considerable charms and bed sheets of Nelson Eddy, right?

Weeee–eeellll……

So here’s the deal, in a nutshell. Marietta is a wonderful beginning. Sparks a’flyin’ every which way. By the time they’re done with that movie, they’re “a thing”. Nelson’s mom is a little dubious. Babygirl had quite the reputation for having some pretty busy drawers back in the day and may-or-may-not have been getting private summons to L.B.’s office for you-know-what even as Nelson was moving in. Hilarious that Isabel Eddy is put off by this, considering how much MORE wild her own son was! Luise Rainer was told by Mayer that, “Jeanette MacDonald sits on my lap when she signs a contract with me.” (And no, that’s not a rumor, I’ve seen the footage of those words coming out of her mouth.) So whether that’s true or not (the fact that Rainer reported it is true, I’m saying whether or not the actual action is true), Mr. Mayer had it pretty bad for our Redhead. So when she takes a liking to Nelson, whom Mayer does not particularly like…….well, Mayer decided he likes Nelson even less, basically. Anna MacDonald, Jeanette’s mom, doesn’t like Nelson either. She sees him as a threat. Funny, she never felt that way about Gene. Why? Because her daughter a) wasn’t passionately in love with Gene and b) Gene never tried to alter the course of her career. Nelson had opinions about what she did. You know, because he legit gave a damn. Anna perceived Nelson’s opinions + the fact that Jeanette was really into him as a direct threat to her own security.

So after Marietta wraps, Nelson and Jeanette continue to date and, reportedly, he got pissed because she went out dancing without him–even though he hated to go out–and he saw her picture in the paper at some nightclub and they had a fight about it. Both of them were a lot immature back then. He was probably worse, but she was no picnic. He was jealous and on the possessive side of annoying. So they have a fight about it over at his and his mom’s house (who, by this point, has seen enough of Jeanette that she has decided she loves her and that feeling lasted the rest of Isabel’s life. The two became very close.) she politely excuses herself and beats it. Nelson stomps upstairs in a huff, Jeanette follows him to continue fighting (one of those “last word” types, I imagine she was) and, welp, whaddya know, at long last, the relationship is consummated. It was rough and Jeanette’s shirt got torn. Nelson, horrified at himself for having been something of a brute, is freaking out with remorse. She’s trying to get dressed. Her shirt is torn and she needs an alternate plan for clothing and….oh, hey, round two. She, of course, told her sister Blossom all this later, and intimates that, list of conquests or not, she “lost control” for the first time with Nelson. And the crowd cheers.

But then things hit a snag, because Nelson wants to get married. He wants Jeanette to quit movies and raise a family and follow him around on concert tours. She thinks that is a pile of steaming BS and tells him so. So, at an impasse, they sort of break up. That’s when she met Gene. So she really is just hanging around with Gene, dating him casually, while being unable to resist Nelson when he comes sweeping in with renewed efforts around August of ’35. So they resume and leave to go shoot Rose Marie on location at Lake Tahoe. Here’s a couple of pictures of them dating around this time:

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They went to see Maytime on stage (the film version of which was soon to be theirs) and this picture was taken backstage with the leading lady.

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See his arm around her? See her perfectly RIDICULOUS grin? See his??

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Definitely dating. So all you people who say they were NEVER romantically involved—adios! She even says that in the squeaky clean, severely edited, mostly-only-useful-for-her-handwritten-notes autobiography manuscript. She alludes to “whatever attraction Nelson and I may have had for each other” (does NOT deny it) and mentions dating him.

Okay so off to Lake Tahoe they trot, romance rekindled. Jeanette is, even for her, unusually barfy on the curvy roads, but just attributes it to the curvy roads and change in altitude. They have a blissful time there, love in Indian Summer, if you will, and everything’s grand. Her sometimes boyfriend/financial adviser/old flame Bob Ritchie came up to Tahoe to visit and even brought her a puppy (the way to Jeanette’s heart: cake, ice cream and puppies) and she basically told him, “Thanks for the puppy. Bye!” So that relationship, which began in her New York days, was done. Here’s a candid shot of her on Lake Tahoe with Nelson. Please do not miss the way he is looking at her:

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She had, back in LA, spotted an emerald ring that she loved, and Nelson, hoping for a better result the next time he brought up marriage, had reportedly spent $40,000.00 in 1935, making that rock his. In today’s money, that ring cost him $700,211.31. You might say the boy was serious. Up in the pines and sparkling waters of Tahoe, he tries again. She says yes. Here’s the rock:

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And then things become, as they UNFAILINGLY DO WITH THESE PEOPLE, mucho complicado.

Jeanette is pregnant. Nelson finds this new development utterly thrilling. They’ll sneak off and elope and that’ll be that.

Oh, guys, if only. If only. (Although, really, it is my belief that if they had married then, the relationship would not have lasted. I think they needed to go through some of these tougher times to realize really how much they loved each other. I think, had they married in 1940-42 or even later, it would have been until death. They needed to grow up and realize how important they were to each other. They hadn’t done that quite yet in 1935, I don’t think.)

Jeanette, being the good little employee that she is and not having it in her to totally a) rebel (she was sassy, for sure, but by and large she was a pretty law-abiding citizen) and b) throw very personal cold water in Mayer’s face, decided she had to call the studio and talk to Mayer. Understand that back then, in long term contracts, you had to have studio approval to marry, divorce or have a child. So she was trying to play this by the rules. Nelson’s idea that it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission was a far better one, in this case.

Mayer says absolutely no on all fronts. Are we shocked? No marriage, and “get rid of the problem” ASAP.

She doesn’t want an abortion, but she doesn’t know what to do. She tells Nelson, he flips because she called Mayer behind his back, they have a huge fight, he stomps off, and poor Jeanette miscarries (she had a heart condition which made miscarriage exponentially more likely–something to be explored in a future post). She got in touch with her sister, Blossom, who went to Tahoe to be with her. Nelson doesn’t believe that she miscarried, he’s being a stubborn jackass at this point and accuses her of having an abortion and lying about it to him. They are done, done, done. For a few minutes, anyway. Blossom dropped everything and came to be with baby sister as she tried to get over her miscarriage and breakup and while she was there, she took this photo of Jeanette, wearing her glasses that she needed in private life and playing checkers with Jimmy Stewart, who had a supporting role in the movie.

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Back in Hollywood, Nelson has cooled down and taken a walk and they try to talk it out and apparently spend the weekend together alternately committing mental suicide over their differences and screwing. They shot the finale, which, if you inspect it, has a real air of tenderness and poignancy to it—Jeanette’s face especially, kissing Nelson’s hand, holding it against her face… They’re stupid for each other, but they can’t get it together.

Jeanette needs a pal. She needs somebody to hang around with, to keep her company, to take her places and try to breathe some sense of fun back into her life. Gene is just that guy. He’s cute, he’s not too threatening, he’s not too demanding, he thinks whatever she wants to do with her life and career is fine, he doesn’t form strong opinions…in short, at that time in her life, he was just what the doctor ordered. Mayer, by the by, is thrilled with this. Nelson is out and the pretty damn effeminate Raymond is in. Good. There are rumors all over about Gene’s tendencies, so this will hush those up and keep Nelson “away”, too. Can we please just take a gander at Gene Raymond around this time?

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….Darling.

So this goes on for a while and Jeanette suckers herself into believing that Gene has what it takes to make her happy. She says that he’s, “like Nelson, but without the rough edges.” Or any edges. I have never understood how anyone thinks the two men look alike, but there are people who think they do, and, indeed, they used to get mistaken for one another in public, which was very convenient for Nelson, I’m sure.

Gene proposed with a square-cut sapphire–not as thick or as grand as the emerald, but it’s still a very pretty ring. Here’s a picture (this is after they were married, you can see her wedding band as well):

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And here’s their official engagement picture. They…..aren’t even making eye contact. She’s looking to the left of his face. Jeanette’s face is very much the lights are on but there’s no one home.

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And that is where I leave you, in this first installment of this massive topic. There’s literally no way to cover all this in one blog post.

‘Til soon—

 

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It was Bound to Happen…

I finally bit the bullet and did it. A MacEddy blog. Lord knows that these two fruitbats (gentle teasing of our two subjects is A-OK, kids, relax) take up a truly ridiculous amount of my time and space in my head. No day is complete without some sort of MacEddy discussion with someone on some level. So, really, it’s not all that surprising that I’d be here, doing this. The thing is, if you’re an old movie person like I have been since before I can remember, sooner or later you’re doing to discover MacDonald and Eddy, MGM’s Singing Sweethearts of the 1930s and early 40s. Eight glorious, romantic musicals (lots of operettas), lots of frilly costumes with huge skirts for Jeanette and uniforms and marching songs for Nelson. Something or someone always tries to keep them apart but you know before you even begin that they belong together and will end up thus, on some level (shut up, Maytime. Nobody asked you, Bitter Sweet.). Now, either that’s your thing or it isn’t. It’s totally my thing. I have a penchant for the “teams” — Astaire and Rogers, Tracy and Hepburn, Powell and Loy, Bogart and Bacall, Mickey (but my God he’s annoying, RIP) and Judy….you get it. Bonus points if said team happens to be, erm, a team in real life. That is the stuff that makes my little heart go pitter-pat.

Nelson and Jeanette were very much a team, for eight movies, and very much a “team” for over thirty years (there were a few bad years in the mix here and there, but overall, they sort of never got out of each other’s heads once they met) behind the scenes. True Life: They also each were married to other people: Jeanette to second-stringer Gene Raymond who was never quite as cool anywhere as he was when wearing Jeanette on his arm, and Nelson to silent film director Sidney Franklin’s ex, Ann, about whom nobody seems to have anything nice to say, including people who knew her.

The thing is, there are these “official” fan clubs for each star; the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club (JMIFC) and the Nelson Eddy Appreciation Society (NEAS), who are both very much by the book about the marriages of their subjects. Everything was hunky dunky (does anyone else love Christmas in Connecticut?) and here are some pictures just so everyone sees that everything is awesome. Jeanette and Nelson made movies together AND THAT’S IT. Crazy how both of these people had these long perfect marriages in such a scandal-ridden town, eh? I mean, it’s not impossible, but the odds are not in their favor. But I digress.  These groups have really not let up, even though these two people have been dead for half a century, and so there’s still a raging war going on between the people who insist that they had these perfect marriages and nothing between them (those are called “Saints” in MacEddy language)….and the rest of us (“Sinners”) who are totally on board with the fact that they dug each other, even though their lives were a couple of hot, complicated messes.

I guess I just want to say that while I make no secret and never have of which side of the fence I’m on here, I’m not going to try to force anyone to believe anything. I am hoping to write a collection of essay-style posts (supplemented with photographs and audio files) that just ask questions. I want to point out the curious, the interesting, the noteworthy. I’m not trying to play like I was right there in the dressing room with them, but there is certainly a mountain of evidence that would point in the direction that they did, in fact, love each other. I’m not naive enough to think I’ll get the multi-decade crusty old Saints to jump on the MacEddyinLove bandwagon (even though I would lay money that at least two of them are reading this! Hey, guys!)—and I fully acknowledge that we have our fair share of crazy over here in Sinner Land, too. I live it, kids. And there are days when I just am like, “Please stop talking.” But ultimately, you can’t control anything but you. What pisses me off beyond all recognition, though, is when I ask some of the aforementioned Saints LEGIT QUESTIONS (“Why did it take a court summons for perfect husband Gene Raymond to pay for Jeanette’s funeral?” “Why did Nelson Eddy move into the same (Comstock) apartment complex as Jeanette RIGHT AFTER SHE MOVED THERE?” Etc, etc) and I have yet to get a straight answer or even an “I don’t know” from any of them! The replies go from being horribly offended that I would even dare to make such vile insinuations with my questions to “I can’t bear to think about her/him being unhappy.” (So….are you saying you acknowledge that this is possible and it hurts your head to think about it? Or…? I mean, people are unhappy all the time. I’m unhappy that my DVD of The Cat and the Fiddle didn’t come in the mail today. Welcome to the real world, sweet cheeks. Sometimes we are unhappy. Buck up.) and finally, the ultimate cop-out of, “Their personal lives are none of our business.” AKA “I don’t have a good answer so I’m saying this.” I mean, okay, maybe it’s not our business but biography of historical figures happens when people know stuff that isn’t their business, because it’s intriguing and interesting.

So I imagine I’ll be posing a lot of “riddle me this” type questions. Hell, at least I’m getting them off my chest. And maybe somebody in the privacy of their home will read some of this sometime and think that maybe they haven’t got this 100% right. Or maybe people will find this blog who have not previously cared about this story and hop on board. It’s really a fascinating tangle. It really is. You find yourself loving these two people so fiercely that you’d sell organs to go back in time and crack their heads together and be like, “NO, THIS IS BAD. DON’T DO IT.” You find yourself perplexed and alternately elated when little pieces fall into place at unexpected times (say, after your biographer friend has already sent off the revised book to the publisher and then has to GET IT BACK to put the new info in. This has been a fun afternoon.) and sometimes you sit and feel like you’re right back where you started.

I dunno. Look at Jeanette’s face in this picture. She doesn’t look like she’s hearing a word of Woody (that’s W.S. Van Dyke, their favorite director and beloved pal) and Nelson’s conversation, but she sure is looking all piney at Nelson. Sigh. They are cute.

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