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:
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.
“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:
“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?
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”.
“Can’t locate GR”
“_____ (illegible) all night and threw up my breakfast” Then she went somewhere and “threw up on way home”. 😦
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:
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.
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….
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”:
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:
And on June 25, she’s dealing with more dizziness:
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”
And on the 18th of August:
She’s just not well, guys.
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.
“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.
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?