1962 Color Footage

Hi all!

Here’s a lovely thing that we uncovered in the holdings of The JAM Project! 8mm film of Jeanette (and the members of the JMIFC) at the 1962 ClanClave — which was also the club’s 25th Anniversary.

Most of you reading this will know the details of that weekend: Jeanette was directly involved in planning it, she gave a dinner for the group at The Luau restaurant (my friend Mary Lynn now has the check that paid for that meal…wild), she arranged for the group to tour MGM, have lunch in the commissary, etc. She invited everyone to Twin Gables, she posed for endless pictures… she was in general, generous, warm, delightful and perfect.

We’ve had this footage digitized for several months, but did not ‘break’ it before now because we wanted to show it as a surprise at the Mac/Eddy Club meeting on June 25th in LA. One of our members, Sandy Laderas, was a speaker at the meeting, sharing photos and personal reminiscences of the weekend and of meeting Jeanette and how wonderful she was, so she and I collaborated and The JAM Project provided supplemental material for her presentation. Mary Lynn brought the check and I put together a small talk that consisted of reading Jeanette’s letters – both to the club and to club president Clara, privately – planning the weekend and presenting this footage — in which you can see the then-eighteen year old Sandy in several shots, which was so cool. Why would we celebrate a JMIFC event at the Mac/Eddy Club’s meeting? Because of Jeanette — because that weekend was so indicative of her public self, of her kindness and generosity to the people who had loved her for years. It was just nice.

It meant a lot to Jeanette to give this weekend to her club. Her excitement in planning it was best voiced when she wrote Clara on May 17, 1962, saying in part, “I, too, am beginning to get quite a glow of anticipation. Just think how long it has been since I have met and seen many of the members!”

These were the young people who dogged her footsteps at the stage doors and train stations of the 40s. She was fond of them — she always made time for them. To enumerate Jeanette’s darling, wonderful interactions with her fans is to write an entire volume on the subject. They were a constant, unfailing source of love for her, to the extent that she kept up every kind of charade to allow them to maintain their illusions. It wasn’t deceit, it was selflessness.

Jeanette was not a well woman in 1962 — and she hadn’t been for several years. She would not get better. After ’62, you can count her “public appearances” on a few fingers. Indeed, she left the group while they were touring her home so that she could go to the doctor — and though she downplayed it, and seemingly acted like it was a matter of routine, it’s pretty freakin’ weird that she’d have ‘scheduled’ something like that during this weekend, especially on a day when the group was in her home. One wonders what was really going on — and what this weekend cost her, in terms of health. Sandy Laderas speaks of Jeanette as not looking or acting ill, and, indeed, in the footage, other than Jeanette being extremely thin (her arms in the Luau footage especially give this away), she appears bubbly, charming and charismatic — exactly the way she’s ‘supposed’ to be; exactly the way fans would remember her from previous interactions. I noted that when she leaves the group at Twin Gables, she glides right up the stairs with effortless ease. She was on. She was a professional. She was a star. She was prideful. She was a classy woman, and a good one. She was not going to burden the group with her struggles. She was never going to let these people see her fall. It is absolutely consistent with everything Jeanette is that she be this way, and my inclination is to believe that if that doctor’s appointment could have been avoided, it would have been. So… something else was brewing. For me, this is an excuse to love her more — but knowing more all the time about the hell she kept to herself is heartbreaking.

To bear out my above point, on September 11, 1962, Jeanette wrote Clara, in a letter concerning other club business and general news, “I do feel better, physically, and while the weight hasn’t started to accumulate, I must be patient and know that it will come as my own energy returns to normal. The above is for your own personal edification. But I wonder if, in your letter in the magazine to the members, you could indicate that you have heard from me, and that I am feeling so well again that you thought they would all want to know. For your own edification again – you see, Clara, I have had quite a few personal letters from some of the members saying they are sorry I have not been feeling well, and I feel that these thoughts are not healthy. Instead if they send thoughts to me and for me of good health and energy, etc., it has a more affirmative reaction. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and good wishes and happiness, as against commiseration, and pity, and all of the negative ideas that are floating around us.”

She closes with, “Thank you for your understanding and patience.”

That ought to tell you a whole, whole lot. And comparing her letters to Clara versus things like her 1963 desk diary and various medical records we now have — Clara knew more than the average bear, perhaps, as in the above excerpt, but Clara was still firmly on a need-to-know basis.

I love that picture.

Here’s the footage. Enjoy this extraordinary human being, giving her very best to people who love her.

 

Thanks once more to all who make this preservation and digitization effort possible. ❤

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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?

Mrs. Gene Raymond — Some Interesting Insight

Well, a group of photocopies of Jeanette and Gene Raymond’s letters have surfaced. My feeling about this is that I think they are the copies of letters and telegrams that Edward Baron Turk was given for his book, Hollywood Diva. Several of these are referenced in his book—so it would make sense that that’s what this is, especially since they are photocopies, since this collection at large also included letters from Turk and promotional materials concerning the book. Going along with that theory, my partner in crime Angela just made the astute observation that if these were indeed the copies of letters that Turk had to work from——a) they’ve picked the best of the bunch to show him—no matter who ‘they’ is, and b) if there was anything in this bunch that concretely disproved her relationship with Nelson, he would surely have played those cards in his book. But—-nope, nothing. And actually, from what we see here (which I acknowledge is a limited amount of what is in the collection) and what we see quoted in Turk’s book, well………Jeanette’s letters to Irving Stone and Bob Ritchie were much sexier, flirtier and more fun that this business. With that in mind, check this out.

Included with the auction listing are select pages of letters, including this one:

JAMletterranttoGRwar

For anyone who may have trouble deciphering homegirl’s handwriting, a translation:

(This is the second/middle page of a longer letter)

(2) it meant something to you as a man to serve your country – But you are doing that and well, as your promotion must indicate, and now your decision to change your job for one of more danger and daring has me confused. — I feel that in your man world over there, the excitement, call to arms!, pressure, honor even—has given you a purely one sided viewpoint — and you’ve forgotten that you have a responsibility to me as well as your country — you are fighting for me and home, et al, you know, and yet, honey, without you — the me and home doesn’t count much — we both need you to be complete and while you think I’ve been very swell and brave and understanding, don’t overestimate me as a woman. I’m just as hysterical as little Mary Jones at certain prospects and when those prospects are magnified by the job you seem to find necessary, I keep asking myself (and you) Why, Why – Why? Why the field? — What’s wrong with intelligence? — It’s just as important a branch of the service as any other — I’m certain of that — and it would seem to me more important to a fellow like you because you can and must have an important place in the reconstruction to follow this war — and you can only do it on a politically equal basis. Perhaps I don’t make myself clear (the other letter was so much better) but things are heading towards a very rosey !!! future (Rose is one shade of red
 
Well, she sure is giving him an earful!
Yes, she does sound concerned and yes, she does call him honey, and yes, she did care about him–that much is obvious. But she is clearly not happy with his decision making skills.
LOL re: his “man world over there”
And that last bit about a “very rosey!!! future” — Angela has just offered this, which I think is brilliant and absolutely correct:
Also about the rosy future, i.e. rosy being a shade of red, that is a blatant political statement regarding communism. She is telling him he has an important role to fight commies at home after the war, NOT an important role in HER life. That’s putting their relationship in a very unromantic light. Her romantic feelings were reserved for only one man, Nelson Eddy.
Angela’s freakin’ brilliant, people.
[EDIT!!!!]
In this post, originally, I had made some commentary on one of the letters in this bunch (which, yes, the ebay listing DID SAY these were letters from Jeanette TO GENE, so that is the information I was going on) and as it turns out, a copy of the letter in question was provided to me and it was, in fact, not addressed to Gene. It would have been utterly hilarious if it had been, but it wasn’t, so I stand corrected on that. I have no problem at all admitting that I was wrong, but that will not happen until I see satisfactory documentation. In this case of this one letter, I was wrong, and as you can see, have edited this post accordingly. Carry on.
[END EDIT]
Here are the telegrams:
JAMtelegrams
The top one is from 1935, the bottom from 1936, a month after their engagement was announced. She and Nelson were very much on the outs at this moment and she was trying like hell to be an excited bride to be. Gene was no threat to her, no challenge to her, not like Nelson was. The relationship with Nelson was constantly challenging. Gene was the safe option. And anyone who has ever been in love before knows there is a distinct difference between the “safe” choice, of whom you might be quite fond — and someone who is irrevocably entrenched in your heart, right or wrong, forever.
Side note: I purchased Jeanette’s green gloves that were recently on ebay. They are tiny and perfect and I’m just beyond words.
Gloves3 Gloves2

Oh, For a [Real] Man!

If there’s one thing you learn QUICKLY when you become a Jeanette MacDonald fan, it’s that you have to pick a “side” regarding what you believe about her marriage to Gene Raymond and her relationship with Nelson Eddy. You can say you’re staying neutral, or that you don’t care, or that it doesn’t matter because you just enjoy her work and think her personal life was nobody’s business. Yeah, that’s great and all, but that’s not really how this works. When you’re a member of the uber-famous, your life, to some extent, becomes everybody’s business. That’s the price of fame, kids. If nobody was interested in the private, personal lives of famous people, the field of biography wouldn’t be a thing. We care. We’re interested. Actually, we’re fricking nosy. And because we care, we form opinions. We study. We dig. We become Cold Case Detectives and Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

I’m a big fan of analyzing pictures. It’s not foolproof, it’s maybe not always 100% accurate, but it’s fascinating. Without going into a lot of the technicalities (which, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably pretty aware of anyway) of who was where, when and why, what I’d like to do with this post is just offer my thoughts on some pictures. I’ve already made my case about Gene’s unfathomably unforgivable handling of Jeanette at the end of her life, and if I go into all that again, I’ll just get pissed and rant a lot. If you need to review that, find the post about it.

There is no arguing that the two “main” men in Jeanette’s life were Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond, no matter what stance you decide to take on the workings of her relationships with them. She actually knew Nelson first (late 1933) and dated him first, so their relationship is longer, but in general terms, give or take a couple of years, the length of the two relationships is comparable. Both relationships continued until her death in 1965.

I think Gene is a useless jerk, basically. Sometimes amusing, sometimes affable, sometimes watchable, sometimes harmless, but usually, he’s just kind of a dick. He drinks too much, he has an inferiority complex and he acts like a shitty little bully with his body language. He’s not more famous than Jeanette, he’s not wealthier than Jeanette, and on one hand he had absolutely no problem being kept by a wealthy, older woman (he married again, into a similar situation, after Jeanette died); on the other hand, he seems to be kind of frustrated—and you can hardly blame him, if we’re being honest—but his frustration manifests itself in the way he treats Jeanette. She was “the balls” in the operation, no doubt, (and I’m quoting someone who worked with the two of them on The Guardsman), but at the same time, there were many cases of people witnessing him acting like an ass: browbeating her mercilessly at a dinner party where they were the guests (until someone had to actually tell him to knock it off) while Jeanette just looked at her lap and took it. There is the well known story of him throwing the plate of party snacks at the wall in 1961, Jeanette was helping fix stuff for a party that night and Gene came in, drunk, and flipped his lid. People say that she would have left him in a heartbeat if he actually treated her badly, but that’s WAY over-simplifying the situation. One of her friends, when asked why she stayed with Gene, answered, “Guilt.” I think she did care for him and I think she did feel bad about involving him in some of this mess, to some extent. At the same time, he certainly didn’t starve and as long as he didn’t try to keep her from seeing Nelson, stuff was status quo. Anyway, the moments cited above are just a couple of examples, and certainly every marriage has rough parts, but there is a frequent undercurrent of dischord and tension in their pictures together. Yes, I know there are sweet pictures of them, there’s no denying it. I’ve seen them. However, I also find that Jeanette frequently looks “social” with Gene—politely happy but not lit from within and glowing. She looks like the elevator isn’t going to the top floor—her smile doesn’t reach her eyes. Many times, she does not look happy and comfortable with his hands on her.

I’ll be blunt: the way he touches her a lot of the time skeeves me right the hell out. He grabs her hard, his fingers look like they’re digging, it looks like he’s trying to overpower her. It looks like it’s about control. He looks like he squeezes too hard. His hands are not gentle, loving, sexy or kind. They are awkward and they handle her roughly. It’s frickin’ weird. He has a thing about grabbing her upper arms. If you’ve ever seen Smilin’ Through, you may have noticed it in the way he holds her throughout the movie.

SmilinThroughArm

Or in real life:

CharmingRaymond

(She looks SO sarcastic in that picture.)

And with Ralph Edwards:

thisisyourliferalphgene

I mean, he could just as easily have his hand on her waist in SO MANY pictures, but he prefers the arm hold thing (less intimate and loving; more controlling). And he isn’t grabbing her hard in the last picture, but it’s still very much a “thing” that he does. These examples are just a sample of the plethora of pictures where you can see it, all from different periods in their lives. And he’s the only person I have ever seen consistently hold her arms like this. I have a couple thousand pictures of her lying around on various hard drives and flash drives and have been interested in her for about thirteen years. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I know enough to have an opinion based on available evidence.

Here’s a shot of her and Nelson “backstage” at a radio broadcast in 1945. At first glance, it’s a cute picture of them:

bruisesLowRes

But let’s look more closely at her arm and hand:

bruisesArrows

The bruised vein on the back of her hand looks like she could have just inadvertently hit it on something, right? No big deal.

But the bruises on her arm are clearly fingerprints. Three of them. And who do we know who constantly grabs her by the upper arms?

Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

Makes you a little sick, doesn’t it? I’ve never grabbed someone hard enough to bruise their skin in multiple places, but I imagine you’d have to do it pretty hard. So, was she trying to wrench away when she hit the back of her hand and caused the other bruise? Who knows.

I was fortunate to be able to view/work with an episode of Toast of the Town, August 5, 1951, at the Library of Congress. Gene acted as MC that week and Jeanette was the guest star. Here she is trying to remove his hand from her inner arm:

Genegetoffme

I hope to be able to provide the actual video footage of this happening some day, but he grabs her by her inner arm and her hand immediately flies up to loosen it. You’re hurting her, asshole. Let go.

And speaking of their appearance on that show, WHY does he have to have this weird deathgrip on her arm?

Genegetoff2

Is it not enough that he’s already holding her hand? I’m telling you, this two-handed control thing that he does with her is really effing strange.

Genegetoff3

She’s fully enchanted with his clutching and slobbering, as you can see. 1948-1952 was a stinking rough time by all accounts anyway, but gee.

And then there’s this charming moment:

strangle

Was he drunk, here? Was he goofing off? I don’t know, but this picture does not make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Fred MacMurray is just trying to not get involved. Jeanette looks like she would appreciate it if he DID get involved. I’m not sure exactly what her expression is conveying, but it isn’t delight. Maybe quit strangling her, Gene.

And, at first glance, when I saw this next picture, I thought it was adorable. No lie. And I even said so on facebook. Which launched some conversation, including Angela’s very well-made points that made me reconsider that first opinion. Upon actual study of it, here we go again. Can’t you let her just……put her arm around you if she wants to? Why ya gotta hold her hostage all the time?

behindGeneJ

She does not seem to be participating in this picture as much as he wants her to. You’re trying too hard, sir.

I can’t find the picture that made this super clear (if I do, I’ll edit the post to include it), but another thing Angela and I were talking about with regard to Gene’s treatment of her is that Gene seems to have no problem blowing his cigarette smoke in her face. We’ve seen it in a number of pictures where he’s doing this, but I don’t have any of them saved as “smokeblowing.jpg” so it would take forever to find them. When I do, I’ll stick them in. But……she’s not a smoker. So, again, don’t be a dick, Gene.

I just get a snarky, sarcastic vibe from them 60% of the time. And I get a “he looks abusive” vibe 25% of the time. And 15% of the time they look cute.

And then there’s Nelson.

Nelson, who was photographed with her hundreds and hundreds of times, both posed promotional photo shoots for their films and candid shots, over their 32 year relationship.

Nelson, who has a really hard time keeping his hands off of her, but whom I have never, EVER seen with his hands on her in anything other than a loving, gentle, supportive, interested and often sexy way.

We’ve seen them look unmistakably pissed at each other:

firstmaytimeglares

But notice how their clear displeasure is manifested through looks, not potentially harmful touching. This is how grown-ups argue, Mr. Raymond.

These two people stare at each other a lot, often when the other is not looking back at them. I have never seen her look at Gene, or anyone else, for that matter, with the same expression with which she is staring at Nelson in that second picture. My God.

Staringwoodyandthekids

Study Nelson here (click on the photo to enlarge it), between shots of I Married an Angel. We know Jeanette had a lifelong phobia of stairs, which may have something to do with why she’s being secured in place here. Nelson has one arm around her back and his other hand is on her stomach, keeping her steady and balanced. Notice that he is watching her body and that his face is pretty serious—the boy is singularly devoted to keeping her safe. He’s probably not thinking that in so many words, but his face and stance indicate that he’s not about to let anything happen to her. And the thing I love about this, too, is how relaxed her arm is, on his shoulder. She’s not gripping on for dear life because she KNOWS he’s got her. She’s comfortable enough to be arranging her dress and not look like she cares at all about being up there. She trusts him.

TyingJonthestairs

On the subject of stairs, look at this darling gentleman, giving a tutorial on how to hold a lady’s arm in a supportive and sweet way. There’s a perfectly good railing behind him, but who wants that when he’s right there to offer his gallant assistance?

NMset

He brings her flowers on the set.

candidfirstmaytimeflowersRMcandidflowers

He cuddles her on the set and manages to not look like a creeptastic control freak bully. His hands and arms are gentle and cozy.

maytimecandid

He holds her hand without cutting off her circulation.

SWsethands

holdinghands

candid1stMaytime

He finds ways to clue people in to how he feels, even during staged publicity shoots. I’m sure he was ORDERED to hold her finger like this. Don’t you think?

ontherock

He sits with his arm draped around her. Not all clutchy and grippy and weird, but relaxed and easy because it belongs there and this feels natural to these people.

Radiolookingatmusic maytimecandidAngela

When given the choice between the arm grip and the waist, Nelson picks the waist just about every time.*

*(and he doesn’t give two shits that Gene is standing right there, either.)

melchiorsmaceddyrecordingarmmaytime

But they don’t even have to be touching to completely slay you with the way that they look at each other. Adrian might as well not even be there.

Adrian

And that never changed. Ever.

favoritesinhifirec sweet

Nelson treats her like he loves her. He touches her like he loves her. He looks at her like he loves her. He talks about her like he loves her.

Nelson is, for the most part, secure in himself—certainly as compared to Gene. He doesn’t need to overpower her, control her or put her down to get the limelight. He doesn’t bully her or yank her around. He adores showing her off. He leads the applause and acts like her biggest fan. He embarrasses her with the laser-like focus of his adoring attention. One of my favorite tiny moments is during a recorded rehearsal for one of their radio shows—she finishes her solo and there’s no real applause because there’s no audience, but you hear Nelson in the background saying, “Pure talent!”

That’s a real man, guys.

Of course they fought, and they had break-ups, and there are many things we wish we could go back and tell them to do differently, but that’s not the point of this post.

Why is this hard to comprehend? I mean, it’s one thing to maybe misinterpret one picture or a few pictures, but there are hundreds of these and they all tell the same story.

PS: A couple of these good scans came from the collection of Maria Escano, and I so appreciate being able to use them to help illustrate the (rather obvious) points of this blog! Thank you, Maria! 🙂

The Book You Need to Study

Check this out, two posts in one day!

(Trying to get this stuff done while it’s still fresh in my mind from the trip.)

I cannot stress enough how important I think Jeanette’s autobiography manuscript is. Obviously, Sweethearts is the sort of “mother ship” book, but if you are seriously interested in MacDonald reading beyond that, her autobiography manuscript should absolutely, 100% be your next stop.

Get it here. After that, your next move should be to devour The Irving Stone Letters, but that’s a subject for another post.

Jeanette talked on and off, many times, about working on/finishing her autobiography. It never did get published. One of the most basic problems was that it was not “juicy” enough to be considered an exciting read—well, that falls in line perfectly with the MacDonald publicity machine, public image and fan club offerings, right? Square, square, square. Boring, fuddy-duddy, churchy, Republican, suburban-type has-been movie star.

(…who liked to do the wild thing with Nelson Eddy in the sweet, sweet night.)

(…and said bad words.)

(…and actually consumed alcohol.)

She worked on her book a lot, and revised it a lot, and submitted it and was told to cut some of the early childhood, that people were more interested in after she got on the stage, so she did that. She hired people to help her and ultimately, it didn’t matter. She was not in good health and browbeating herself over what to include or not include in her book was too taxing. Fredda Dudley Balling, a well-known magazine writer, worked extensively on this project with Jeanette and noted that Jeanette could really only work a few hours a day, but the two of them soldiered on until they had this 350 page manuscript. When they submitted it, it came back all cut up with 50 pages of material deleted and that was the last straw. According to a letter from Fredda Balling dated March 6, 1965, Jeanette (in 1960, when this was happening) called her in frustrated tears and explained what had happened with the publishers basically pulverizing her manuscript. That was it. At great expense, Jeanette sold bonds, returned the sizable advance against presumed royalties and abrogated her contract.

The autobiography was done for.

That is, until it was discovered and put into the hands of Sharon Rich, who annotated it and got it out there for us to enjoy and study.

Study being the right word. Some of the things Jeanette has to tell us in this book are charming and amusing and wonderful. But the very BEST part is the handwritten notes literally all over the manuscript. She adds stuff, changes stuff, crosses things out, makes notes in margins, does [incorrect] math in margins…..it is a total field day for the person interested in studying this fascinating human being.

Here’s a sample page.

sampleautobiopage

I mean, the whole book is like that. There are VERY few pages that she hasn’t marked up in some way. Fascinating stuff.

In and of itself, that’s plenty of reason to own this book.

While we were in Washington, I was thumbing through this thing for the 923842738429384236275347534953th time (why do I have to always lug such huge books with me everywhere I go?), and Angela and I got to talking about it. I did something with the pages of this book, the visual of which absolutely struck her and she insisted that I demonstrate the same thing on the blog. I agree, it’s pretty damn compelling.

Okay, so we’ve already said that this manuscript is 350 pages long, right? And that it was summer of 1960 that she was busy trying to get it finished.

So, as an experiment, let us open the book to its exact middle.

Oh. It’s 1930-31, she’s in Europe proving that her eye didn’t get shot out by an outraged royal. (True story. Buy the book.)

Well, okay, so she’s covered her childhood, her Broadway days and the very, very earliest part of her film career (up through 1930’s Oh, For a Man!). You get the sense that she’s a little behind schedule. You’re halfway through the book and she hasn’t even sung the Indian Love Call one freakin’ time! She hasn’t even met either of the two most significant men in her life, Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond. She hasn’t discussed her marriage, she hasn’t confessed to a red hot love affair, she hasn’t talked about grand opera or WWII or MGM or ANY of that! Kinda funny.

Now, she discusses meeting Nelson, dating Nelson, the “attraction” they “might” have had for each other, meeting Gene and dating Gene. And this, dear readers, is the time in Jeanette’s life when the shit started really really hitting the fan and it never actually stopped. Here’s a crazy visual:

autobiovisual

The gap where my fingers are? Yeah, on that page she has just gotten engaged to Gene. She has recently finished making Rose Marie. So we’re in, like, 1936. And look how LITTLE of her book is remaining. (Please note that I’ve pulled up only her manuscript pages. Sharon’s writings before and after have been left down with the covers on either side to get an accurate “measurement” of the manuscript.)

Why is it that she is so verbose about her early life, first boyfriend, stage work, traveling, European tour, Paramount movies………and then she gets to the mid-1930s—-the biggest, brightest, most meteoric time in her WHOLE LIFE—-and she can suddenly get from there to 1960 in NINETY-TWO PAGES???????? In a 350 page book, the last 92 pages take us from 1936 to 1960. That seems seriously, seriously off. (PS, I’m using the page numbers on the typewritten manuscript, not the page numbers that include all the annotations, etc. So yes, this number is real Jeanette pages.)

Why, then, is it like that? Why is she so tight-lipped (fingered?) about 1936-1960?

Here’s a list of what she was up to in that time period:

Films:

San Francisco

Maytime

The Firefly

Girl of the Golden West

Sweethearts

Broadway Serenade

New Moon

Bitter Sweet

Smilin’ Through

I Married an Angel

Cairo

Follow the Boys

Three Daring Daughters

The Sun Comes Up

Television Work: Numerous guest spots, two with Nelson, game shows, plus Prima Donna and Charley’s Aunt

Scores and scores of radio performances (many with Nelson) and recordings. National concert tours nearly too numerous to mention, beginning in 1939. One tour entirely for the War effort. TONS of war work, volunteer work, boards and causes and political involvements by the dozen. Two grand operas. A skirmish with the Met. An album of “Favorites” with Nelson that went gold almost immediately. Summer stock runs in The King and I  and Bitter Sweet.

That darling “marriage” to Gene Raymond, Grandest Useless Rat Fink of All Time. That happened, too.

……………….Ninety-two pages, Jeanette? Really? Of course, she does cover many of those things I mentioned, but she does so in a cursory sort of way, for the most part. If you’re looking for fantastic anecdotes about the Nelson movies or Nelson in general or, really, any other fun stories about most of her professional life, look elsewhere. She doesn’t have a lot to say.

Really, really weird. Until you stop and think that maybe she’s so cursory and tight-lipped about her life, starting in 1936, because she can’t talk about a solid 70% of it. Why?

Because it’s wrapped up around Nelson Eddy, that’s why. Because she was in love and she chose a hellishly complicated, stressful existence because she couldn’t kill that love. She doesn’t trust herself to talk in depth about working with Nelson, that much is obvious. And Nelson is so involved in nearly every other part of her life and his influence colored many of her decisions. So she just can’t talk about it. The readers would have loved to hear her thoughts about getting together with him in 1957 for TV and to record an album! But she doesn’t even mention it! Odd. I don’t care if you like Nelson or not. I don’t care if you like him better than Jeanette. The simple fact is that these two people, both incredible on their own, were BEST KNOWN, BEST LOVED and BEST REMEMBERED TOGETHER. It is with EACH OTHER that they were their best. It is because of their involvement with EACH OTHER that we are still talking about them at all. So a book about either one of them, written by them or not, must, by definition, include a lot of data about the other one. Except this one really doesn’t. And that’s just fricking strange. That should be an immediate red flag.

Because this woman, in 1960, was afraid to come clean about her life to the VERY PEOPLE who, in 1937, flooded MGM with heartbroken letters when she DIDN’T marry Nelson. Her frickin’ fan club had spewed so much Perfect Marriage bullshit for so long that these people have been totally convinced that her life was actually like that. She had a club President STEP DOWN (Marie Waddy Gerdes) from being President because she got to know and love Jeanette (named her kid Jeanette, too), and knew the real story, and chose Jeanette’s confidence and friendship over continuing to row the Golden Comet boat. If you really want to make yourself hurl, read the way these people wrote about her. I mean, yeah, it’s nice and all, but it is so totally saccharine that nobody could POSSIBLY, EVER live up to the ridiculous standard to which Jeanette was held. The hypocrisy is really stunning, when you consider the behavior of these people at club meetings and online since her death. They worship at the shrine of her imagined angelic, pure perfection, and act like total asses to anyone who might suggest that she was —-WHOA—- a real and fallible human being.

We are our own brand of batshit crazy, no doubt, but at least we know she puts on her pants one leg at a time like everyone else. At least we don’t freak the eff out when someone mentions that she enjoyed a Tom Collins or liked sex. I mean, good grief, those things are part of the person, just as much as her strong faith and red hair.

And yet, in 1960, her career had left her, her health was quickly leaving her, and the people who wrote her letters and sent her cards and paid attention to her and made her feel like a Big Fat Movie Star were those fans. Those fans with their totally outrageous pedestal. Imperfect and horribly flawed though they and their viewpoint were/are, they showered her with love and affection and in the final analysis, she couldn’t bear to disillusion them. She chose to put them first, to repay their love in kind, to let them keep their illusions. Jeanette put herself last many times in life. Too many. If she had delivered the shattering truth that they had been misled all these years, they would have crucified her and she couldn’t possibly have withstood their desertion. Not at that stage of the game. Those fans kept her going when little else was around to distract her from a rapidly declining existence.

She had toyed with telling the truth, but in the end, she didn’t. She didn’t outright lie (much)….she just avoided telling the whole story. And thus, the biggest and most important part of her prolific life can be treated in 92 pages.

And what about that marriage? Wasn’t that supposed to be the most glorious thing that ever happened? Why aren’t there endless tales of happiness and wonder and romance? That’s what the fan club printed ad nauseum all those years.

In actual fact, of the personal things she does talk about in those 92 pages, quite a bit of it at the end is devoted to how unhappy she was, many times. Gene was cold. Gene accused her of using her tears as a weapon, so she never felt like she could cry around him. That’s ridiculous. Gene’s mother was an unholy bitch. Gene came home from the war a changed man, and not for the better. Gene won’t answer her when she asks if he loves her. Gene doesn’t tour with her because he just ends up being Mr. MacDonald and she can’t handle the whining, so it’s better for everyone that he doesn’t go. You wonder how on earth he’s compatible with this sweet, warm, funny, sensitive woman. Gene didn’t want children. She did, badly. Desperately. But upon returning from her honeymoon, she notes that, “There was one subject I didn’t allow myself to pursue, except in my private daydreaming. The MacRaymonds had no children.” She never says anything about infertility. She just says the subject is off the table. Several other times, she writes of her longing to be a mother. Every single time, without fail, those passages are crossed out. Too painful. And she did have multiple failed pregnancies, just not with Gene. So it’s painful and it touches on the part of her life she’s not discussing, so it has to go. She also hides the truth about her health and her heart. She glosses over things that were tough.

In conclusion, I really would urge you all to buy the autobiography. Study it. Listen to the things she says, but maybe listen even harder to everything that she doesn’t say. It will astound you.

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! 🙂

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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:

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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.

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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!!

I’ll See You Again, Part 5 (EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE)

IT’S THE LAST DEATHBLOG HOORAY.

Maybe not last ever ever, but last for right now. I’ve been taking great pains to say everything I can think of to say right now, because I want to leave this bizness alone for a while. What was originally conceived as a 3-part blog (because of the 3 new chunks of footage we had to reveal) became a 5-part blog, but I would like to think I’ve been as complete as possible with the data we have right now. Anyone who sticks with this story in a serious way for a long time knows that, even all these years later, pieces of information are STILL being brought to light. It’s pretty amazing.

The story of Nelson’s death is well known. He was performing in Miami, March 5th, 1967, just after having returned from touring in Australia, when he became unable to speak and the side of his face went numb. He asked the audience to bear with him a moment, he was having trouble getting the words out. He then asked Ted (Paxson, accompanist and longtime friend) to play Dardanella, and maybe he’d get the words back. Ted, seeing that something was way wrong, jumped to his feet and got Nelson off the stage. Offstage, Ted and Gale (who had been offstage changing her costume–Nelson was getting ready to do the solo “special” song he sang for Jeanette every performance) helped him into a chair and called an ambulance. Nelson was unable to speak by the time the ambulance arrived, and would never speak again. He lost consciousness and died at 7:30 the next morning: March 6, 1967.

Ann Eddy didn’t go to Florida, she just waited for Nelson’s body to be shipped home.

The funeral held for Nelson goes directly against his long-held wishes, which he even went so far as to state in his will in 1959. Despite him telling the press that he was going to go change his will after witnessing the “circus” of Jeanette’s funeral, he didn’t actually do this. The 1959 will (and codicil dated June 19, 1964) is the one that stood. Nelson’s will and codicil are printed in full in Issue #53 of Mac/Eddy Today.

The final clause in Nelson’s will is as follows:

I believe the body is useless after death; therefore, I request the simplest and most inexpensive funeral possible, in any Protestant form, cremation and disposal of the ashes according to law. Let there be no sorrow over the remains, for at that time the soul will have found its destined way to the infinite. 

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The man is a poet even in his flippin’ will. Its destined way to the infinite…. Oh, Nelson.

A sad comment on Nelson’s tiny circle: Jeanette’s will is full of many thoughtful personal bequests, and it is easy to take away even from that that she had many friends. The only personal bequests in his will are to Ann, her son Sidney Franklin, Jr., Ted, Gale, his dad, his half-sister and his manager. And he didn’t even LIKE two of those people. The World O’ Eddy was very, very small.

Just like Gene’s display of bad taste before her, Ann Eddy, eager to snatch her 15 minutes of fame, merrily chucked Nelson’s PRINTED WISHES right out the window and did exactly what the heck she pleased.

Was he cremated? Nope. It was an open casket service, just as Jeanette’s was.

Was it the simplest and most inexpensive funeral possible? No way.

Here is the third installment of the footage that Angela and I paid to have digitized—color footage from Nelson’s funeral. Like the others, it has never been seen since 1967. Don’t share it around the internet without our permission—it can only come from one possible place at this point, so we’ll know. 😀

Yes, Gene was a pallbearer. Yes, he looks pretty sad about it all. Yes, I still want to punch him in the mouth when he calls Nelson “Nels.”

Fun fact: He remarried and HIS WIFE’S NAME WAS NELSON. Bahaha.  Nelson Ada Hees, known as Nels. You can’t even make this stuff up. So at the end of the day, Gene got what may have been his fondest wish. (She was a wealthy heiress from Canada, and though their marriage was reported to not be a happy one, it also lasted until she died. Absolutely no liking-to-freeload-on-wealthy-women pattern here at all.)

Lloyd Nolan, on the other hand, looks absolutely devastated. He was, along with Z. Wayne Griffin, also a pallbearer for Jeanette. His remarks are very interesting in their wording, and his grief is palpable.

The funeral proceedings were broadcast over loudspeaker to those outside. Doesn’t sound very small and private, really. Granted, there are WAY fewer members of the general public there, but even so, hoopla was not what Nelson wanted.

AND THEN THIS HAPPENED:

geneannnelsonsfuneral

Why, oh why, didn’t you two darlings get married? You’d have been so stunningly perfect for each other.

During the exchange pictured above, Ann was overheard making a remark to Gene which has been reported with two different wordings, nevertheless, both “sides” acknowledge that it happened.

“Now they can sing together forever,” is how Ann is quoted in Sweethearts.

Similarly, in Edward Baron Turk’s Hollywood Diva, Ann is quoted saying,  after walking over to Gene and kissing him, “Now they will sing beautiful music together again.”

Well, I mean, EITHER WAY, right…???

It’s a fitting end to all this.