So, all of y’all are familiar with the moment in I Married an Angel where they’re on the balcony, and they have the sort of fragmented bits of that gorgeous song, I’ll Tell the Man in the Street (If you want to hear a really beautiful version, Kristin Chenoweth sings it, look it up on youtube. I wish that song had been taken more seriously in this movie, it’s exquisite.) worked in to the mess with the locals hearing about how Willie married an angel, right?
It also probably has not escaped your notice that when Nelson sings I want them all to know / I love my angel so he seems to make eye contact with someone off camera to his left (our right) on the words “them all” and makes a very emphatic “so there” kind of face, returning his eyes to hers to sing about how he loves his angel so. On the next line, Jeanette is singing I’ll tell the world I’m your bride/I’ll shout it far and wide and she looks back over her left shoulder at the same person and gives a sort of “what are we going to do with him?” type shrug.
Which is freaking adorable. Not at all in character, either. It has nothing at all to do with Willie and his Angel.
I took a video of the lines in question with my phone, just for reference here:
So I have always assumed (maybe others have as well) that they were looking at Woody, their pal, their confidant, and that they were having one of those candid-type moments that seem to permeate their Van Dyke movies, especially this one. Jeanette’s unscripted laugh is the easiest example, but as I have her Angel script in my possession, I can prove several other slip-ups as well. (Nelson forgets his line in the scene with the secretary at the beginning, when he says, “Take a letter–” he flounders all around for the beginning of his line and then remembers it, saying, “Oh yes! Take a letter!” and Woody left it in the movie. There are other little things like that, nothing humongous, but fun for the nerd in all of us.)
Welp, now I can prove it. That it was Woody they were looking at, I mean. In searching for something else this morning, I came across this:
I realize this isn’t earth-shattering news, but it made my little heart so happy when I saw that photo and put these things together for real, instead of just thinking that’s the way it was. They are precious.
A little glance at MacEddy being MacEddy, adorably and candidly, with their best pal.
…is one of the ways that Sunny Griffin described what Nelson was to the woman who adored him. I know he said it. I’ve seen the footage. And really, what a perfect way to describe what goes on between their eyes.
Angela recently acquired this stunning, crystal clear photograph and was kind enough to allow me to post it here. Please don’t attempt to profit from her generosity.
This is one of my favorite shots of them, because of everything it stands for. These people are not young, especially if you consider how many years they had left, at this point. It’s not Naughty Marietta time anymore. They’ve sung all their songs together. They’ve been through heaven and hell and decades and breakups and eight films and personal triumphs and poor decisions and regrets and secrecy and bitterness and stalled career moves and laughter and tears and practical jokes and fake feuds and health struggles. They’ve sung for presidents (FDR for him, Ike for her), they’ve officiated the funeral of their best friend. They’ve buried their child. They’ve recorded an album of Favorites that went Gold. They’ve married the wrong people. They’ve confided in some people and kept their silence among others. They’ve kept up appearances. They’ve lied to protect themselves and their spouses and their careers. They’ve let their eyes and their emotions give them away. They’ve been good, honorable, kind, trustworthy, decent human beings. They’ve been late-blooming emotional adolescents, growing up and realizing too late what they were throwing away. They’ve lied to allow their fans to keep their illusions, unrealistic as they may be, because when the chips are down, they can’t bear to disappoint and disillusion their faithful. They’ve had to live with and in some cases be tortured by their choices. They’ve served their country with honor. They’ve given millions of people hours of happiness, while never fully being able to realize that happiness for themselves, in their own lives. They’ve loved each other with a power mere mortals can’t begin to comprehend and they’ve lost each other but every time they’ve found their way back again. They’ve neglected to put enough faith in the sheer scope of what they had together. They’ve doubted each other when they should have trusted. They’ve said no when they should have said yes. They’ve had to come, at long last, to the realization that maybe it won’t ever work out for them.
Everything has changed.
Nothing has changed.
And still they hold each other; Jeanette cradled in Nelson’s arms, one around her shoulders and one at her waist.
And still they have that special, special something between their eyes.
This is not the best picture ever taken of Jeanette. I am 99% sure that she’s wearing a wig in this picture, the hairline at the back of her neck looks that way. She did do that, in her 1963 desk diary she has notes of appointments with wig fitters…and she had not performed in several years. I think Jeanette is pretty much perfect, always; the only reason I bring up the wig is to point out how much Nelson’s eyes don’t appear to see it. In this picture, we see Jeanette looking up at her white knight with a delicacy and an adoration that I have simply never seen beamed at Gene Raymond.
The look on Nelson’s face is utter magic. He’s young and, yes, sexy here in a way we never see in this part of his life with the other two women. Ann makes him look like, to paraphrase Angela, a crabby old man about to yell at someone for walking on his grass. (LOL!) Gale makes a rather odd pairing with him. Onstage they worked well. Up closer, well, they look sort of odd together, the age difference very apparent. With Jeanette, we see tender Nelson. Adoring Nelson. Gentle, wicked, artistic, sensitive Nelson, holding his muse. The look on his face is full of knowledge and history.
You get the sense that their bodies are older but that is not what they see when they look at each other.
What I see is two people who had every curve ball known to man thrown at them, but who ultimately stood the test of time and found their way back to each other over and over and over and over again.
There is a subject, one that is known to most of the fans of these people (whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact remains that pretty much everyone who has read up on Jeanette and Nelson knows that this subject is “a thing”) that I have mentioned before, have snarkily illustrated before in photographs, but have never written about before in detail on this blog.
Jeanette and Nelson, who had been broken up, reconciled at the end of production on Girl of the Golden West. She was married to Gene, at this point, and had been for about seven months. Nelson was (visibly) drunk during much of the production on Girl, the whole shoot was something of a fiasco and it is the only MacDonald/Eddy picture without a good duet. Obey Your Heart was recorded, but was unable to be filmed, because the stars were having such a miserable time and, professional people or not, could not get through the filming of this number. Sharon Rich blogged at length about this situation, read about it here. Sometime in the latter half of January, 1938, Jeanette became pregnant with Nelson’s child.
She didn’t tell Nelson about it right away. In fact, it wasn’t until one morning when they were together and he was awakened by the “pre-dawn sound of her retching” (Sweethearts, page 249) that she confirmed that she was about three months along, and that she wanted this baby very much, even though the timing was crappy with them about to start a new movie. And, you know, the minor inconvenience of her being very publicly married to another man. Still, Nelson was overjoyed, excited and ultimately his “pregnancy symptoms” were worse than hers.
Side Note: It has never been clear to me, or anyone, I don’t think, what exactly our twosome thought was going to happen when she popped this kid out while married to another man. Like…..?????? Guys? Hello? THAT IS A PROBLEM. It seems that Nelson had some scheme wherein they would finish the movie they were starting, Sweethearts, then melt into the horizon while she got a divorce and he told Sybil Thomas of “some doctor in Arizona” (Sweethearts, page 249) who would deliver the baby and falsify a birth certificate. (And, what? Claim that it was born 8.5 months early???) Well, gee, Nels, that sounds one hundred percent fail-proof. Solid plan, sir.
Anyway, sadly, we would never know how they were going to get out of that particular mess, because Jeanette went into premature labor around July 19, at approximately 26 weeks, and their baby boy, whom they would call Daniel, after Jeanette’s beloved and lost-too-early father, did not make it. The newspapers didn’t report anything until July 26th, when it was claimed that she was operated on the night before for an “abscess in her right ear”.
Jeanette’s pregnancy is very noticeable in several shots of the final print of Sweethearts, as well as in a number of posed and candid pictures from the set of that movie. Most striking is the change in her bust size. Jeanette was not a busty woman, ever. She writes in her autobiography of stuffing her bra with stockings in her Broadway days, before the advent of the padded bra, and in any number of the millions of shots of her, it’s obvious that she never was big in that department.
To illustrate my point, well, I sure don’t mind posting this gorgeous shot again:
There is nothing happening in the boob department. Compare that to this:
Not only can you see a little baby belly, but her bust size alone should make this completely obvious. Never at any other point in her life, padded bra or not, was she EVER this big. I guess one of the obvious questions is, “Oh, couldn’t she be wearing a padded bra?” But……..no, she’s never been “that kind” of star (a busty sex bomb)…and I see no reason why she’d need to be bustier in this movie than in any other film, where she is quite small busted, consistently. Adrian had certainly dressed her before without feeling compelled to do that. So I’m forced to believe that those are real. (This above is one of Angela’s digitizations from Margaret Herrick, used without worry because it is already a well-known photo. However, one of the librarians there used to be in the Nelson Eddy Appreciation Society and asked us, rather nervously, “Do…..you guys know Sharon Rich?” By the time we left, we felt pretty confident that we had shown her things in a different, HUMAN light. When Angela ordered this picture for digitization, she came over to us with it and goes, unsolicited, “I know why you’re getting this one! It’s a belly shot!” ….Proof, friends, that this is visually obvious, even to someone who would have been predisposed, once upon a time, to “not see it”. Sue, if you’re reading this, it was great fun spending time with you!!!)
Here is a well-known candid picture taken on Jeanette’s birthday, June 18. If you look below Nelson’s cuff, you can see that her pregnancy is in evidence here, too:
And on Nelson’s birthday, June 29th, his impending fatherhood is being blatantly toasted with a bottle of champagne capped with a baby bottle nipple:
Another thing that strikes me as very interesting is the change in Jeanette’s size during the course of the Pretty as a Picture number. This is one of the points that has caused some dissent about was-she-or-wasn’t-she: she looks smaller during the song than she does during the dance break. And that’s true! They sing and she’s one size, then they go to the dance floor and THERE IS A CUT, they dance, she is MUCH larger, THERE IS ANOTHER CUT, she’s “thin” again and they sing the last few bars and conclude the song with a kiss.
What is obvious to me is that they shot this sequence, something was wrong with the dance break or it wasn’t good enough or they maybe didn’t even do it right then, and they didn’t get around to re-shooting it until much later. The dance break is clearly spliced in, and that could have happened for any number of reasons. However, even though she’s smaller during the singing parts, her pregnancy is still evident:
That’s at the very end, after the second cut (so this is consistent with the first portion. It’s the middle portion that doesn’t match.) but her little belly is right there, front and center. The dress is clinging to her body. That is NOT the dress. What’s more, there appears to be a seam perpendicular to the waistband that seems “bulky” — as if this dress was made to allow for an alteration. Adrian isn’t really known for bulky seams, ya know?
Here is how she looks during the dance break. Clearly, she is bigger here:
Once again, if this belly was truly the dress and not her body, it wouldn’t cling so perfectly to her obvious pregnancy.
Here is a video I put together of all the shots I had immediately at my disposal where they are happily expectant:
Unfortunately, as we all know, it was not to be.
One day on the set, (no date provided) Jeanette took an accidental fall as she ran up a flight of stairs. Her character is angry and delivers an “I can’t take all of this any longer!” speech, turns on her heel and runs up the stairs. She appears to step in the front of her dress and falls, on her stomach, on the stairs, and she is quick-witted enough to push herself off to the side, absorbing the latter half of the impact and slide on her hip.
From off camera, someone (it sounds like Lucile Watson) calls out, “Oh, dear, be careful!”
Jeanette, red-faced, whips around and snaps, “Why? Am I gonna fall down again?” and runs up the stairs successfully this time. That dialogue was not included in the original script (obviously), but director Woody Van Dyke left the shot in the movie, rather than ask his pregnant star to re-shoot it.
In early July, it should be noted here, that Jeanette was attending a party at Woody and Ruth Van Dyke’s home, wearing a cotton dress and a bandanna that half covered her face. Nelson showed up and pulled the scarf away from Jeanette’s face, revealing that she was bruised badly. Nelson flipped out, having previously threatened to kill Gene if he laid a hand on Jeanette, and he ran out the door, ultimately beating Gene up so badly he had to go to the hospital, according to Woody, via Ruth. Gossip columns noted this, one saying he’d fallen down a flight of stairs and the other saying he’d been mobbed by hysterical fans (…ha). (Sweethearts, page 253, and Sharon Rich’s interview with Ruth Van Dyke). We don’t know exactly what happened to Jeanette during that fight with Gene, only that the side of her face was bruised as a result. There is no data as to whether or not she suffered any trauma to her midsection (a fall, being shoved or struck, etc), but the possibility certainly exists.
The existing medical data is very sketchy, but it is sourced from several different people (Blossom, Sybil Thomas, Marie Collick and Jeanette herself) and the consensus of opinion was that Jeanette complained of “nagging” pain in her back and middle after the fall on the stairs (Sweethearts, page 260). There’s a bit of conventional wisdom that says, “You can’t shake a good apple out of the tree,” but applied to this woman, who was pregnant a number of times without ever carrying to term (her problem was not conception, it was retention) — it does not seem all that surprising that this might be just enough to push an already questionable scenario over the edge.
Ultimately, Jeanette collapsed in Nelson’s arms while filming, he carried her to her dressing room and she promptly began hemorrhaging. “I never saw so much blood in my life,” he said to Sybil Thomas. The following details were related by Sybil, two wardrobe employees interviewed by Brent Perry, which he discusses on camera (I have seen the footage, it is shown at club meetings occasionally), and other bits were confirmed by makeup genius William Tuttle, in a taped conversation (that is in the process of being digitized) between himself, Judy Burns and Sharon Rich, circa 1982. He wasn’t at the studio that summer, but knew all about Jeanette’s pregnancy by Nelson and what had happened. His somewhat puzzling remark on the whole situation was that, “Nelson didn’t do right by her.” Set designer Herbert Gahagan who worked with Jeanette on The Guardsman (play) as well as in films, who had friends in the publicity department, also verified the pregnancy.
The details piece together as follows (this can be found on page 261 of Sweethearts):
– Nelson wraps the heavily bleeding Jeanette in blankets while Woody calls for a car. Nelson holds her all the way to the hospital. She lapses in and out of consciousness, and bleeds through the blankets, soaking his clothes. The studio sends over a change of clothing for him. When they got to Good Samaritan, attendants had to pry her out of his arms, he was in such a state. Nelson has to be sedated.
– Several sources confirmed the sex of the child. It was a boy and, even though his birth and death would never legally be recorded, they named him Daniel Kendrick, both family names.
– Marie Collick verified that Nelson had given the baby a proper burial on private property in or near Ojai, California. Many, many attempts have been made to find this tiny grave, none successful. It is likely that this private cemetery is now under a parking lot or road. The grave was simply marked “Daniel” with something that looked like a cherub on it. Marie was in the car when Nelson wanted to stop there to lay flowers. Sharon put out an ad in local papers, looking for anyone to come forward who may be able to help locate the grave, but as far as she got were two people who remembered seeing Nelson and Jeanette there together, but still could not lead her to the exact spot. (Sweethearts, page 263).
So, what happened to Jeanette that would result in heavy bleeding and premature labor at roughly six months of pregnancy?
I asked Dr. Maria Escano about it, wondering what conditions existed with those sort of symptoms. She gave me a description of “abruptio placenta” (thank you, Maria!), and then I found this helpful and informative article which I encourage everyone to read thoroughly. In a nutshell:
Placental abruption (abruptio placentae) is an uncommon yet serious complication of pregnancy.
The placenta is a structure that develops in the uterus during pregnancy to nourish the growing baby. If the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely — it’s known as placental abruption. Placental abruption can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients and cause heavy bleeding in the mother.
Placental abruption often happens suddenly. Left untreated, placental abruption puts both mother and baby in jeopardy.
It is most common later in pregnancy. Jeanette was six months along. Symptoms include vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain and back pain. Check, check and check. In some cases, placental abruption can develop slowly, as a result of trauma or injury to the abdomen, as from a fall. A factor that increases the risk of this happening is any kind of blood clotting disorder. Jeanette notoriously had thin blood and was “a bleeder”. Consider her accounting of her botched tonsillectomy in her autobiography. She hemorrhaged then, and her father was scared she was going to bleed to death. They could not get her to stop bleeding for a terrifying amount of time. This bears out Nelson’s statement about never having seen so much blood in his life—this is not the first time she’s had a situation in which she bled profusely and there was trouble stopping it. Also, this condition is more common in older women. Jeanette was 35, not old by any means but that has long been considered on the later side to begin the child-bearing process. She’d be considered automatically a “higher risk” pregnancy by today’s standards, just because of her age. When you add in her Rheumatic Heart Disease, she’s an even more risky candidate. One of the potential complications is shock due to blood loss. Jeanette was, by all accounts, acting very shocky in the car, lapsing in and out of consciousness. Check. For the baby, this condition can lead to premature labor and stillbirth.
Going by the data we have, having sought a medical opinion, read up on the subject myself and looking at how perfectly this fits on so MANY levels, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is exactly what happened. It has been suggested by at least two sources that Daniel was born alive and then died (as in, within a few minutes), but definitive data has not come forward, and without legal documentation, it is possible that we will never know. In researching babies born at this period of gestation, it seems that there is a choice to make regarding the kind of care they will receive: life saving care or comforting care as they pass on, depending on the severity of the baby’s problems and the level of “premature” in question. The lack of birth and death records in this situation do not bother me one bit. If he was nonviable; if he was stillborn, his birth/death would not have been recorded anyway, as stillbirths were not compulsory statistics to record in the US until the mid-twentieth century. This very lengthy article is fascinating and sad reading for anyone curious as to how stillbirth was handled, legally and otherwise, during, before and after this time. Given the situation–these high profile people, this very dangerous, VERY premature birth (which, had he lived, would probably have meant that he would have faced serious developmental problems as a result), the fact that Jeanette was legally married to another man–this is pure conjecture, but one is forced to wonder if, with Nelson sedated and Jeanette presumably unconscious (these were the “Twilight Sleep” days, when women were routinely unconscious for the delivery of their babies), someone thought that this baby not making it was “for the best”. With technology being what it was in 1938, it seems highly unlikely that he would have survived, anyway, even if he had been born alive.
Afterwards, Jeanette, unsurprisingly, sank into a deep depression, feeling an “utter failure” (Sweethearts, page 263). I originally took those words at face value, that she was grieving the loss of her child, but as I was researching, I was made aware of the social stigma of shame surrounding women who “failed” to produce a live child. This was very much a thing, according to the article I referenced earlier, for a lot longer than I had realized! This stigma was alive and well when Jeanette and Nelson were growing up–back in the days when large families were much more common. I’m 28 and don’t have children, so I was simply not aware of how this used to be viewed, and thought it interesting to add here on a cultural context level. Further, babies who were stillborn frequently were not permitted to be buried in church cemeteries, particularly in the Catholic church, as they had not been baptized and therefore wouldn’t be going to heaven, they couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground. They were buried in a different plot, along with suicides and non-Christians. Now, Nelson and Jeanette were not Catholic, but this is a little picture of the worldview, before and at a time when they were growing up. It stinks. There was a lot of ground to be made up between that sort of treatment of the stillborn and what we do now, with recognition (some states issue a special kind of birth certificate now, mostly for the comfort of the parents), funerals, photo sessions, etc. It strikes me as appalling and sad that Jeanette and Nelson had so little time to grieve for their loss.
Jeanette was still “indisposed” the week of August 8-12, according to the report of one of Nelson’s fan club presidents who traveled from Montreal to visit the set. Nelson returned to Chase and Sanborn on August 7 and reported to work to shoot On Parade the following week. The “switchboard” sequences were also filmed this week, since they didn’t need Jeanette for those. (Sweethearts, pages 263-264) As soon as she was released from the hospital, Jeanette was shunted back to the studio, stuffed back into a costume and put back to work, finishing Sweethearts. This photo is dated August 16, 1938, which was a Tuesday, and either her first or second day back at work. All she had left to do was the “tour” montage and the finale musical number. This photo is one that I had photocopied at the Margaret Herrick Library, and I am hardly able to describe the grief and strain on these beautiful features. She looks haggard and ten years older. She looks, I think, like someone whose throat hurts because they’re trying not to cry. She has a larger-than-usual wrap around her and one hand on her stomach.
Statistics show that couples who experience miscarriage are 22% more likely to split up, and couples who experience stillbirth are 40% more likely. Here’s a great article that talks a lot about that study. When we look at the loss of this baby, and the next year or so in the lives of Jeanette and Nelson, we see a lot of upheaval (breakups and makeups, fighting over just when Jeanette was going to get a divorce [rumors were flying about a Mac/Raymond divorce in the trades, The Hollywood Reporter and Look magazine], the final fight and breakup because she insisted on finishing her current movie, Broadway Serenade, rather than pack up and go to Reno RIGHT NOW, Nelson’s subsequent elopement with Ann Franklin, Jeanette’s immediate suicide attempt, etc, etc). When you consider that these people were never really allowed time to emotionally bury their child, that her pregnancy and, indeed, their off-camera relationship had to be hidden, that they were supposed to appear like everything was fine and dandy and could never acknowledge their loss in anything but the most inner circles…well, it doesn’t seem surprising that the stress and pressure would get to them, on top of their already super high-tension existence.
Today, flowers were placed at Jeanette’s resting place at Forest Lawn, Glendale, in memory of the baby boy they lost but couldn’t acknowledge publicly.
To conclude yet another very somber blog, I offer this happier picture, possibly the closest thing to a “maternity shot” we’ll ever see (unless the photos of her and Nelson taken at Stonyvale ever surface, please GOD!!!) — a glowing Jeanette, posing with her hands on her little secret:
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.
Or in real life:
(She looks SO sarcastic in that picture.)
And with Ralph Edwards:
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:
But let’s look more closely at her arm and hand:
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:
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?
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.
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:
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?
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:
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.
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.
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?
He brings her flowers on the set.
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.
He holds her hand without cutting off her circulation.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
And that never changed. Ever.
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! 🙂
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.
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:
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.”
Jeanette’s will has been printed in full, including Codicil, in Issue #52 of Mac/Eddy Today. It in itself is really very standard, although an interesting read for people with this particular sort of interest. She takes care of her family, her secretary, etc, and makes many thoughtful bequests to friends, famous and not. An animal lover like me will appreciate the fact that she left specific instructions regarding any pets she may own at the time of her death (any pet was supposed to go to her secretary)–she didn’t have any pets when she died, but still, I love that she put that in there. She was a good animal mom.
Of note is that Emily West (secretary) received the magnificent star sapphire brooch/necklace that Jeanette wore every other day for all time (or so it seems, anyway). Emily got the pin itself and the matching platinum and diamond chain that made it a necklace. Historian and friend and daughter of good friend, Madeline Bayless, was able to answer a question of long-standing when she reported that her father, Jim Bayless, mentioned Nelson talking about what he’d gotten “his girl” for Christmas—this. Nelson. Not Gene, as has been said so many times. This was just confirmed again, in person, in front of a large group, with Madeline, on June 29th at the MacEddy Club meeting. And look how publicly and how often Jeanette wore it. HAH.
Another document around this time estimates the value of the estate at “$1,000,000.00 +” and I would imagine that that is certainly true, and probably a conservative estimate. Jeanette had a joint checking account with Gene and a couple of rather insignificant savings accounts with him, but the bulk of her money was separate (smart girl) and she had upwards of ten bank accounts in total.
This, of course, leads me to my main point in this post.
Gene Asshole-of-the-Decade Raymond didn’t bother to make sure Jeanette’s final bills were taken care of. For months. Like, he ended up having to go to court about it. He and the executor of Jeanette’s estate were also sued for non-payment on the rent for the two Comstock Apartments. Additionally, during Jeanette’s probate, it was revealed that she had made a huge loan to Gene (who the heck, in a happy and normal marriage, makes loans to their spouse???????) and (of course) Gene attempted to have this debt waived, and the executors said no.
Here is the first item for your consideration—-an unpaid hospital bill from Jeanette’s final stay at UCLA, the last ten days of 1964.
Ohhhhkay. This is only a fricking $370.00 bill. Her insurance covered $847.20 of the $1217.20 total. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY DOLLARS, PEOPLE. Not like we’re talking huge sums here. Note that it says “Date of first pub. notice to creditors: Feb 24, 1965.” — the woman’s bills should NEVER have had to go to a collections agency. I do hold the executor 7% responsible, as well, but the fact is a bill of this nature would have been mailed to the home. Probably right around the time she was dying, yes, so yeah, there may have been chaos happening, but it never should have been so tardy that the Superior Court of California is getting involved. Strike forty-two, Gene.
Next, this lovely little document informs us that Useless also let her funeral go un-paid-for for months and months. Four of them, as far as I know with the documentation we have. Who knows when it was actually settled.
Now see, this should piss you off. I don’t care if you’re on Team Happy MacRaymonds or not, This. Should. Make. You. Angry. For Jeanette’s dignity. Like, we get that you hung around for the money, Gene, but maybe TRY to have a drop of class and, you know, pay her final expenses before you skip merrily away? So sick. This crap is public record and a woman as smart and careful and QUIET with her money as Jeanette was, who had a healthy amount of pride and more than her share of class considering what she was up against half the time—-she’d have been so embarrassed.
Unfortunately, this is not out of character for Mr. Raymond. On May 25th, 1955, an arrest warrant was put out for our girl because an apartment house which was titled in her name was not being kept in good repair and she was accused of being a “slumlord” — in actual fact there were property managers involved who may or may not have been doing their jobs, but Gene was the only one of them who had anything to do with the property. (He just probably lacked the funds to make the investment, hence why it was in her name).
And though he was arrested a number of times over the years on various charges with a homosexual theme, only one of them that we know of actually made it to the books. Here it is, reprinted from the source notes of Sweethearts, and it’s totally obvious that the case number has been tampered with (you can see this even better in a higher quality scan, sorry). Jeanette had to shuck out $1,000.00 bucks to hush it up–far from the only time she did that. This was January, 1938–seven months into this delightful marriage.
I mean, for God’s sake, Nelson was a very, very, VERY flawed and complex and complicated man, and he did a lot of shit I’m not thrilled about or proud of, as someone who is “on his side” — but at least he wasn’t a total schmuck. At least he LOVED Jeanette. What kind of man lets his wife bail his ass out of jail? Oh, yeah, the same kind of man who doesn’t pay for her funeral. Right. As I said, I don’t give a damn who Gene slept with or what his sexual preferences were—I merely care that he treated Jeanette badly and with no respect. And he carried that tradition on after her death, it seems, with this documentation. And it REALLY ticks me off that he’d then go–year after year–to her fan club functions and talk about what a wonderful magnificent delightful fabulous amazing woman she was.
It was a rough few days. Interesting that, though he could only have been described as being in good health when Jeanette died, Nelson declined rapidly and would be dead just under 26 months later. He drank, he didn’t watch his health, he pushed himself beyond all reason, driving himself harder and harder, working ridiculous hours and keeping ambitious schedules to escape having to be alone and think. He aged ten years overnight and the man known for his boyish energy and vitality would never look boyish again.
Nelson’s anguish is palpable even in his letter to the JMIFC…..the pro-Gene, Happy MacRaymonds Originial Saint Brigade. I quote:
Your grief is mine – as you must know. And I appreciate the many letters expressing sympathy to me personally in the passing of a great lady, a most beautiful songbird, Miss Jeanette MacDonald. I cannot believe such loveliness is stilled.
He goes on to say: It was indeed a privilege in life to have worked and played with Jeanette, and to have loved her as a close friend.
After that, he very respectfully tries to put the spotlight back on Gene. I love the as you must know—because so many, MANY people in THAT CLUB were so shitty about Nelson, just as members of Nelson’s club were shitty about Jeanette–so shitty, in fact, that he threatened to disband the whole thing if they didn’t knock it off.
(Side note: they’re still super shitty about Nelson. At a “Clan Clave”, when screening any MacEddy picture, you may applaud duets or Jeanette solos, but NOT Nelson solos. If you do, you will be told that you are being “tolerated” but to not make any noise. I am completely serious right now.)
One of the most telling statements from Nelson during this time was this: I shall be at the funeral on Monday. It will be the most miserable day of mylife.(Boston Sunday Herald, Jan 17, 1965.)
Of his life? Not his mom dying or an experience he had during WWII when he was doing top secret work for the Counter-Intelligence Corps…nope. Saying goodbye to Jeanette. Worst day of his life.
William Tuttle, MGM makeup man, did Jeanette’s makeup for her funeral. Edward Baron Turk reports that he “lovingly restored luster to her complexion.” In actual fact, he confirmed that she was “very blue” and he had to do her makeup twice over to cover that fact. In a tape-recorded interview, Tuttle let on that he thought the open casket at Jeanette’s funeral was a) really, really distasteful given her emaciated appearance and b) Gene’s idea. According to the source notes in Sweethearts, Tuttle actually talked more about how Jeanette looked in death and other details about her funeral but due to his friendship with Gene Raymond, he asked for the tape recorder to be turned off. (For many years, he was a featured part of the JMIFC gatherings.) That’s fine with me. The whole thing sucks so much already, it’s so distasteful and unworthy of her that I really just don’t need to know. Gene really, as her husband of record despite his douchebag tendencies in this era, could have spared her being put on display when she didn’t look her best. Hell, *I* know Jeanette well enough to know that she wouldn’t have wanted people to see her like that, and she died 21 years before I was even born. Once, when she was asked if she minded people wanting to take her picture, she replied that she didn’t but she preferred it when they asked her or at least said something first so she would be prepared and “not snapped in some awkward position.” She took pride in her appearance and, you know, as one of the world’s great beauties, this should not be shocking. Nevertheless, in typical tacky Raymond fashion, she’s laid out like for all to see, complete with “orange Harpo Marx wig.” For the love of God. Nelson termed the whole affair “a circus” and indeed, it was. Experiencing Jeanette’s funeral was enough to make Nelson say he was going to go right home and change his will. (He did not, in fact, do this, but he wanted to be cremated. However, you’ll see soon enough that his wishes weren’t carried out.)
Here is some footage that is available online–slightly different than the 36 second clip that’s on youtube. You can see a distraught and lost looking Nelson walking in, licking his lips as he did a number of times in emotionally charged interviews from this week of his life. He catches up with Ann and Gale (did he not arrive in the same car with them? Did he arrive in the same car but have to take a moment to gather himself before he could face walking through the circus to get into the church?) and continues walking.
Lloyd Nolan gave her eulogy, and I am sorry, I love the man to death (he looks like a grasshopper though, f’real) but that is the trippiest, most vomitous piece of drivel I’ve ever read. The only thing worse than that eulogy is the famously barfy pink and yellow Jeanette website run by the trolliest troll who isn’t who he says he is. Why do I feel like Dorothy Kilgallen right now. Anyway. And they piped her own voice all over the place—inside the church and outside to the surrounding areas (thousands and thousands of fans turned out to stand around the church–that’s pretty cool)–and I personally find the use of her voice to be pretty tacky. Her music, maybe, but—I don’t know, for the people who were keenly feeling her loss, that might have not been the most appropriate choice.
Her one request, as far as music went, was I’ll See You Again. Digest that. And freaking cry.
According to historian and personal friend Madeline Bayless (daughter of Jim Bayless, a sound recording guy who worked extensively with Nelson, built the home recording equipment Nelson had, saw him and Jeanette together many times and went on to be one of the founders of Capitol Records. Look him up, kids.), Nelson was allowed to add a couple of personal touches, as far as Jeanette was concerned. One that we’ve been able to figure out is the fact that the JMIFC write-up of her funeral notes her “lovely hands clasping a pink rose and the same white prayer book she carried at her wedding.” Uh, the book she carried at her wedding was PINK, and embossed with a J and a G on the front. Nelson gave her a WHITE book of Psalms. Whoops. The other thing is that Nelson was the last person to walk past the casket–the last person out of the Family Room–and he stood there for a long moment. The report is that it was then that he slipped her emerald ring back onto her finger, or at the very least placed it in her casket. I hope to God that’s true. When you see Nelson walk out of the church in the footage, later, he is at the back of the pack–so that, at least, is consistency that we can see. The casket was then closed for good, so that would have been the ideal moment to place the ring inside—that way nobody would get it.
Nelson gave Jeanette’s obituaries a total of 14 pages in his scrapbooks, underlining and making notes of things on certain clippings, most notably that she “shared headlines with Johnson Inaugural.” There he is again, being proud of his girl. At her funeral, he was an honorary pallbearer, among many other famous names from Hollywood and political circles. You can google that on your own. The list is super impressive. However, during the service, he didn’t sit with the other pallbearers; he went into the Family Room and sat next to Blossom. After Jeanette’s funeral, he never socialized with Gene, her family, or her other associates again. He was done. Strange, don’t you think, since both couples were such great and wonderful friends….? He only saw Blossom once more after the funeral and he totally broke down, saying, “I didn’t know she was so sick.”
That, of course, was of Jeanette’s own design. This is the hardest thing for me, emotionally, to think about in this whole story. Jeanette knew several things: 1) Nelson always saw her as young and beautiful and he had a really hard time dealing with the reality of her failing health. This is so common among couples who have been together a long time—one has a really hard time accepting that the other is failing. 2) She knew she was dying. She knew it would kill Nelson, too. She called it—she said he wouldn’t live long. He didn’t. 3) She knew he would be wracked with guilt over not being there, but at the same time she knew he HAD TO WORK. He had to. He could not function, not working. He had been horrendously poor as a kid and in his later life, Ann got her hands on his money at every damn turn, no matter how hard he tried to keep it where she couldn’t get it. He had put away money to take Jeanette away with him, thinking that they were older now and nobody would care—and then he found that the money he thought he’d saved was gone. So he worked. He couldn’t live with the idea of being poor. 4) He would have dropped this all in a flash, however, to come to her, but she couldn’t have him under those circumstances, pitying her. She was a proud woman and she was one hell of a lot stronger than she’s usually given credit for being. How would you like your boyfriend, your lover, your soulmate–the person for whom you want to be beautiful and sexy and satisfying–hanging around when you can’t stand in the shower long enough to shave your legs or you need help getting to the bathroom? He would have been there in a heartbeat, but she kept him away.
My take on this all is that she wanted to leave him with his memories–she wanted him to remember their better times together, not the fact that he witnessed her death. She put him away from her to spare him. She was neglected and treated like crap and not given attention and assistance that she needed, but Jeanette MacDonald was NOT a victim. She forbade Blossom to call Nelson when Blossom wanted to, to tell him how things really were. As heartbreaking as her final days were, I have to believe that she did it on her terms. She loved Nelson so selflessly, so powerfully, that she could rise above her need for him in order to spare him.
That, folks, is what love is. And THAT is what makes this story so tragic. That she had to make those kinds of decisions. However, in retrospect, you see the thread of how she handled this and if your respect and admiration for who she was doesn’t grow tenfold you have no soul.
What I have to offer you here is another discovery Angela and I made during our researching weekend together. Like the Nelson interview in the last post, it has not been seen by anyone since it was originally taped for use in the news coverage of her death and funeral, and similarly, we paid for this to be digitized from the original reel of footage. Do not post this elsewhere online without permission from one of us.
Here is extensive ABC news coverage of Jeanette’s funeral at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Glendale. What strikes me about this footage is, first of all, after her casket passes in front of the honorary pall bearers en route to the hearse, the men (obviously a sad, sad group–she was so loved, and it’s clear) break into a more informal group and Nelson is the recipient of so many condolence handshakes, started off by Lauritz Melchior. Even as he is trying to get away, people are approaching him to shake his hand. Where did Ann and Gale get to? Several of the “featured players” in this footage were on hand for both Jeanette’s and Nelson’s funerals–they shared pall bearers. Nobody talks to Gene when he leaves behind Blossom, Nanette, Elsie, Barney and Emily +1. Gene is, yet again, the forgotten man when Nelson is around. We may as well be back on This is Your Life.
Secondly, you can see Nelson emerging from the church with the honorary pall bearers. He is at the back of the group. This is consistent with the earlier report about him being the last person to stand at the casket before it was closed.
Thirdly, you see Blossom being absolutely darling as she comforts the very, very beautiful Nanette, who, by the way, is Elsie’s granddaughter. Very easy in this few seconds to observe the difference in the two sisters and why Jeanette was so close to Blossom and not at all to Elsie. We’ve seen/read about this many other times. Emily looks pretty broken up and I swear to God she’s wearing one of Jeanette’s hats. And there’s Gene, for whom the expression always a bridesmaid, never a bride seems to have been coined. Neither of his sisters-in-law are with him, nor is Emily. He’s just sort of in line–nobody comforting him or really even paying him much attention.
Gee, I’ll be glad when I can stop talking about everybody dying for a while. This is about as depressing as finding yourself on a honeymoon with Gene Raymond.
So, yeah, Jeanette died (I was just so very diplomatic with my word choice right there. I would like a prize.) at 4:32pm, January 14, 1965. Her death certificate:
Note all the varied heart conditions listed. Also note the incorrect birthdate of 1907. She was born in 1903, but shaved 4 years off somewhere and that misinformation is on her crypt, too. She was flown back to California on January 15th. Her funeral was January 18th.
The press, of course, lost no time in finding Nelson. “The networks were there and I was crying,” was how he explained it later. The fact is, he stayed up talking to the press until 5:00 in the morning. The reporters actually stayed with him, the consensus of opinion being that he needed to talk and had nobody else to talk to.
Here is one very well-known example of Nelson talking to an interviewer within hours of hearing of Jeanette’s death.
She was stunning and startlingly beautiful. I mean, she would take your breath away. I remember the first time I actually met her, I was tongue tied and I didn’t quite know how to act.
…Okay, WHO TALKS LIKE THAT ABOUT SOMEONE IN WHOM THEY HAVE NO ROMANTIC INTEREST.
I mean really, even at her death–or maybe especially at her death–Nelson’s word choices are revealing. And gorgeous. Is it any wonder she was crazy about him? Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?
Even more importantly, the interview was ended because Nelson had broken down in tears.
The next day, January 15th, Nelson granted an interview to ABC News. Angela and I were able to locate this clip within the ABC archives, paid to have it digitized and we are excited to present it to you, here. This interview has not been seen by ANYONE since it originally aired. It is for educational purposes only and may not be reproduced anywhere except where expressly authorized by Angela or myself. Listen to the difference here, hours of telling the same stories later. He has pulled himself together somewhat, and started being more careful.
I just…… yeah.
This man is hurting.
The lines in his face are 3 feet deep, you can tell he hasn’t slept and his grief is palpable. He is speaking very slowly and chosing his words carefully, especially at the beginning, before he really gets his footing in the conversation. His voice getting all soft when he says “…big movies and a really big star,” just breaks my heart.
He points out that he met her at a party, rather than at the studio, and it was “under personal circumstances” rather than on a film. Booyah. Even though in reality, he’s actually not accurate about the time frame of the party where they met–they met before she made Merry Widow.
And he points out that, “She did most of the acting, believe me.” See? He knows he wasn’t a great actor so you can all just shut your mouths about it. What’s more, HE WASN’T ACTING when he was with Jeanette. Aside from the singing, he really stinks 98% of the time in his movies without her. I’ve said this for years. Either the man was a great actor or he wasn’t. The Saints love to slam him for his lack of acting chops on one hand and then say that his intense chemistry with Jeanette is “just acting” on the other. They like it when they can have things both ways, see. No. Please go watch the hand porn and finger pulling in Girl of the Golden West and the neck-blowing in Sweethearts and on and on and please, please tell me more about how he’s just acting, losers.
I love his face when he recalls them “always having our digs at each other.”
“We’d fight like cats and dogs sometimes, just to make people wonder.” …… Mr. Eddy, darling, we don’t wonder.
“And we had to cut it out because people started to believe it.” Well, yes, there’s a problem. Some people still do believe it.
“We never changed in our attitudes at all.” ❤ ❤ ❤
“We found ourselves…….elsewhere.” (post MGM) Yeah, he’s a little bitter about Metro still. You detect that in several places in this interview.
“I think it was wonderful of her to want to hold her head high.” — in regards to not slipping down into junky movies, but really also for her attitude about not lampooning their work in nightclubs, as he was more or less reduced to doing. He mentions taking out the skit he and Gale were doing where they “kidded” Rose Marie. It’s not funny, it’s cheap, he wasn’t a huge fan of doing that crap anyway but it sold tickets and let him keep working. Jeanette, in that sense, had more professional integrity (and worse health, but let’s pretend her health wasn’t a problem–she still wouldn’t have torn down everything she worked so hard to build up. She was proud of her movies.) and you get the feeling watching Nelson talk about how the “kidding” wasn’t funny right now that he regrets having done it in the first place. He is so damn supportive of her, all the way through this. Lots and lots of we this and we that. I like getting the sense that he is on her side, in her corner, that he knows why she did things that she did and he is sticking up for her. Even later, as he recalls the “doghouse” incident–which he mistakenly attributes to Sweethearts; in fact, it happened during Naughty Marietta, as a photo of the event can attest—and that’s a very, very well known story so you can see how shaken up, messed up and tired the man is. Nelson is usually very on point with the details. That mistake is interesting, in and of itself. Anyway, even as he recalls that incident, his telling of the anecdote comes from the perspective of someone who is on her side, even ending with the comment, “I mean, who doesn’t want to look at the rushes?” His delight with her antics and cleverness, even in this sad sort of retrospect, is also apparent. He’s proud of his girl.
And my favorite thing—him pointing out that she was smart. He starts out referring to her in present tense and corrects himself, which is sad, but I love that comment. J-Mac, he didn’t just want you for your hot bod. He likes your brain. 😉
He starts to talk about how they often talked on the phone, but is careful to go back and amend his words with my wife and I and she and Gene. Yep. ‘Kay. I’m sure Ann and Jeanette had SO MANY TOPICS on which to chatter away their idle time. Again, he’s more careful in this interview than in the first one. By the way, he mentions that he and Gale are going to rehearse the substitute material that afternoon. In reality, he got to rehearsal, sat in a chair and cried, unable to rehearse either of the replacement choices, and said as much to his audience that night.
(Paraphrased from Sweethearts, new edition, pages 516-517) Linda Knight (club member) was in the audience for the entirety of Nelson’s Anaheim run, which opened that day, January 15th. Nelson had, for a long time during his nightclub years, been in the habit of singing a special song for Jeanette at some point in the evening when Gale was offstage changing her costume–not always something the audience knew, but something that meant something to him and to her. The lights would be really low and Nelson would be illuminated with a pin spot on his face as he sang. Linda notes that this night, he was sweating profusely, was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. He sang I Married an Angel and Rose Marie seemingly okay, but choked up during the poignant little song from Bitter Sweet called If You Could Only Come With Me. Then, this night in Anaheim (as well as the closing performance, the only two nights he sang this song), the lights dimmed and Nelson’s special song was one which had been deeply significant to both him and Jeanette, and sung by both of them, for many years:
There’s a little brown road windin’ over the hill To a little white cot by the sea There’s a little green gate at whose trellis I wait While two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me
There’s a gray lock or two in the brown of the hair There’s some silver in mine too, I see But in all the long years when the clouds brought their tears Those two eyes o’ blue kept smilin’ through at me
And if ever I’m left in this world all alone I shall wait for my call patiently For if Heaven be kind, I shall wait there to find Those two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me
You know, there are many times when I stick up for ol’ Gene Raymond. I mean, obviously, Jeanette was married to the guy for nearly 28 years; there is absolutely no way that every day with him was hell. Jeanette was pretty royally screwed by her situation, but she’s also not going to occupy half of a marriage with a person who treats her like shit every day.
He did treat her like shit. He just didn’t do it every day. And he was really awesome at weaseling his way back into her good graces, too.
There are enough pictures of her genuinely having fun with Gene, or being genuinely affectionate with Gene, that you can surmise that things were fine. I try to be real—I know people who literally won’t look at a picture of them together without saying something nasty. Sort of exactly how someone who sent me a .jpg of one of the 1938 Nelson/Jeanette birthday kisses (like I’d never seen it or something) with the file name “jeanetteswewwwww” (translation: Jeanette / sweethearts / ewwww)—and no, shockingly, that person is NOT seven years old! My, but we’re a terribly mature bunch.
Anyway, I recently saw the episode of Toast of the Town where Gene acted as MC and Jeanette was a featured guest and they were absolutely wonderful together. Adorable. Not sexy, but very, very cute. I watched it at least 4 times and enjoyed it tremendously. Things between them, in August of 1951, look pretty chummy.
…Which makes perfect sense, since she was broken up with Nelson at that time, trying desperately to kick some life into her problematic relationship with Gene, and keep her career going at the same time. She wouldn’t reconcile with Nelson until November, 1952.
But anyway…suffice to say I am no great lover of Gene Raymond, but I tolerate him a lot better than some people do. Except now. This is not one of those times. Gene Raymond was never a truly A-list star. He was much more of a featured player who could land a lead role next to a REALLY BIG female star, who was carrying the picture (Crawford, Stanwyck, etc). I first became familiar with him in Flying Down to Rio, because I love Fred and Ginger. Even as a kid, I found him sort of obnoxious. My grandmother didn’t like him, I remember that from the early days of watching Fred and Ginger movies. I didn’t understand WHY she didn’t like him until much later, when I discovered Jeanette and talked to Nanny about her. Nanny was a big Nelson and Jeanette fan. She remembered Jeanette marrying Gene (“that fairy”), and was most displeased about it. Kind of like the rest of the movie-going world. Gene was never anywhere close to Jeanette in terms of stardom, he never made the money that she did—and he was happy to let her be the star and balls of the “family” and never posed a threat to her career. Which, incidentally, was a major selling feature back in 1936/7 when the man Jeanette really DID want to marry was trying to throw his weight around about her career. Stupid idiot dick move, Nels. That was no time to be a chauvinist. She worked her ass off for what she had; respect that.
And like, homeboy Gene was totally –at the very least– batting for both teams. Now I firmly support marriage equality and this is not a statement about that at all. I want gay people to be able to marry, I just really wish they wouldn’t marry Jeanette, is what I’m saying. It isn’t a question that Gene went for the guys. We know men, plural, who were intimate with him. And I don’t even care about that. I DO NOT CARE. I care that he treated my girl like shit. I care that one of the men with whom he was intimate–who was actually closer to Jeanette than Gene–distracted him with a “good time” because he was beating up on Jeanette. I care that that same man reported that Jeanette, ill and weak, was calling for help while Gene “entertained” men in another part of the home. I care that Gene, when he could no longer use Jeanette as a ticket to all the good parties because age/idleness (she was quickly becoming irrelevant in the 60s, which was another problem with getting her autobiography published as she was not willing to spill anything to make it super newsworthy–and with good reason. Oh, that’s an idea for another post.) and poor health were catching up with her, appeared to not give a flying fuck about her health, safety or happiness.
That’s not conjecture. Consider the following data from Jeanette’s final days:
Jeanette had a whole slew of health problems, many of them long-standing. Most notably, her heart was failing. She also had a benign but inoperable brain tumor that caused severe headaches, a list of allergies “as long as both arms,” as she put it, along with the fact that she had a hard time gaining weight, caught cold easily and as time went on became increasingly more fragile. Her heart was for sure the biggest concern, though, and heart problems are noted on her death certificate. She was done, professionally, by 1959—at age 56. She kept a hope alive right up to the end that something else would come along for her, but it didn’t and it’s doubtful whether she could have withstood the work, even if it did. Her last professional dream was to play the Mother Abbess in the film version of The Sound of Music…..can you imagine??? What a fabulous swan song that would have been. Sigh. But there was just no way.
December 21, 1964: Jeanette needs to go to the hospital–she has abdominal adhesions. Nelson was home temporarily (he spent most of his time in these years touring with his nightclub act) and he had previously had an agreement with UCLA that he could sign whatever surgical release was needed for Jeanette (this usually must be done by a family member). He’d done it before. However, this was Christmas week and many “regular” staff members were off, and nobody seemed to know anything about this. Gene was needed. Gene was absent. Nelson then spent hours searching gay and straight bars on Santa Monica Blvd. for Gene—and finally located him in one. How do we know this? Among other sources, actor Robert Mitchum was in one of the bars and recalled Nelson Eddy coming in, frantically searching for Gene Raymond.
I should point out here that Jeanette was no longer living at Twin Gables. She and Gene were renting two apartments (8C and 8D) at The Comstock (East) (still standing today and 8D is available right now!) — something Jeanette really hated. She loved Twin Gables. These apartments are HUGE and very, very upscale—-why did they need two? Especially if they were so happily married and she was in poor health…doesn’t add up. But here’s a copy of their lease:
The great thing, though? After Jeanette moved to The Comstock……………..GUESS WHO ELSE LEASED AN APARTMENT THERE?????
Nelson Eddy. I do not kid.
Comstock West, Seventh Floor.
The best part? His damn wife didn’t even KNOW about the apartment until after his estate was settled. Then the crazy hag moved into it.
But seriously. GF moves to a swank apartment complex and he JUST SO HAPPENS to get an apartment in the same complex like 10 minutes later????
(Not us, girls.)
Also of note, around this time Jeanette consulted well-known pyschic Phyllis Woodbury (google her). Jeanette had, for several years, been a member of the Church of Religious Science and was interested in spirituality/psychic stuff, just like Nelson was, while remaining basically Protestant in her beliefs. The interview is referenced in Sweethearts and printed in Issue #40 of Mac/Eddy Today. It’s both an interesting look at Jeanette’s psyche at the time and also yet another confirmation of her relationship with Nelson.
Anyway, so Nelson has this apartment at The Comstock, which is awesome when he’s there, but he wasn’t there much because he was on the road. However, when he was on the road, he called Jeanette daily. His nightclub partner Gale Sherwood was entertaining some people in Australia, and Nelson rushed by them to get to the phone and locked the door for privacy. “It’s time for his phone call with Jeanette,” she explained. “They talk every day.” (New edition of Sweethearts, page 511.)
Okay, that all makes sense. When you’re weak and sickly and in bed a lot, it seems obvious that the phone would be your best friend and a great means of passing your idle time. Nelson also verified in an interview with ABC News on Jan 15, 1965, that he spoke with Jeanette frequently by telephone.
However, it seems that the phone—her lifeline, her one contact with the outside world—was removed from her room because it was “bothering” her. Calls were diverted to Gene’s apartment and answered either by him or by the cook, Mary, whereupon the caller would be told Jeanette was sleeping or too sick to talk to them. And how do we know this?
Susan Nelson was the private duty nurse who was hired to take care of Jeanette at UCLA during her stay at the end of 1964. Her interview has been transcribed into Issues #54 and #55 of Mac/Eddy Today, and is referenced in Sweethearts as well as being audio recorded. She mentions the fact that Jeanette spent Christmas in the hospital. She also mentions how sweet Jeanette was when she found out Susan was pregnant. She was “pretty much an invalid” but at Christmastime there didn’t seem to be any indication that she’d be dead in a few weeks. Susan did say that she needed “nursing care” not just a companion, and that back then it wasn’t like our modern day ICU system–people hired private nurses to take full time care of someone who would be in a modern ICU situation. Susan regretted not asking Jeanette about Nelson, especially as the other employees mentioned that Nelson had come to see her in the hospital one day when Susan was off-duty. Other than that, Jeanette had very, very, very few visitors.
When Jeanette was discharged on December 31, 1964, Susan remained employed as her nurse and made daily visits to The Comstock to see her, until January 4, 1965. She was not asked to return past that day, nor was any other nurse hired. This meant that Jeanette had no medical assistance of any kind from January 5th until January 12th. Susan verified that Jeanette did NOT have a phone in her room. Gene handled the calls. Mary was apparently bathing and feeding Jeanette. This was a woman who needed help getting to the bathroom, in her condition. Susan described her as, “very, very weak.” Jeanette’s sister Blossom was busy working on The Addams Family so she could only get by to visit Jeanette early or late and was often told that Jeanette was sleeping. On one occasion Blossom found Jeanette alone and trying desperately to drag herself to the phone in the living room to call Nelson. Blossom helped her make the call, during which she “came to life” and chatted with Nelson, and after which Blossom went to the kitchen to make her sister something to eat. She found only a can of Campbell’s Tomato Rice Soup in the cabinet. That’s it. This didn’t alert Blossom at the time, who seems to have thought outside food was being brought in. (For more details about these details, visit Chapter 29 of Sweethearts.)
Sunny Griffin, who, BY THE BY, spoke at the 1977 Clan Clave (JMIFC pow-wow) and was greeted warmly by Gene as a good friend of Jeanette’s, mentioned that Gene was spiking Jeanette’s juice with sleeping pills. MAYBE THAT’S WHY SHE WAS ALWAYS SLEEPING WHEN PEOPLE TRIED TO CHECK ON HER. Jeanette was a lifelong insomniac which has been well documented and reported by the kid herself, so if the report is that she’s asleep everytime somebody calls or drops by to check on her, either somebody is lying and trying to cut her off from people who make her happy, or she’s drugged.
There were vague plans for Jeanette to be taken to Houston for Dr. Michael DeBakey to perform a new kind of heart surgery on her. Susan Nelson was under the impression they would be leaving immediately following her last day with Jeanette, January 4th. The fact is, Jeanette wasn’t moved until January 12th, and when she was moved, she was moved on a goddamn commercial plane, which is TRULY, in my opinion the most God-awful thing Gene could have done to her, beyond the neglect she suffered in her own home and the indignity of an open casket at her funeral. Susan Nelson asserts that Jeanette was far “too sick to be on a commercial plane” and……….I just, like….seriously, with ALL the people they knew in high places—politics and Hollywood and everything, not to mention all of Gene’s Air Force connections—he literally couldn’t come up with ONE flipping person with a private plane?? Yes, by all means, let’s take this very famous woman who looks like shit, can’t even get to the toilet by herself and is dying AND PUT HER ON A COMMERCIAL FLIGHT WITH MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC GAWKING AT HER.
Fuck YOU, sir.
I mean, for God’s sake, an AMBULANCE met them on the tarmac! Even Edward Baron Turk, preferred biographer o’ the Saints, admits that it was a “noonday Continental flight” and that it “upset Jeanette’s stomach” (she always hated air travel and it always made her queasy) and that she “shivered beyond control” on the ride from the plane to the hospital, murmuring that she only wanted to fall asleep.
Dr. DeBakey said she was, “in very bad heart failure and too emaciated for surgery.”
Too emaciated for surgery.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
Additionally, when they left for Houston, Gene phoned down to the doorman to ask him to drive them to the airport. Jeanette had to be carried downstairs—the doorman did it, NOT Gene—and he was tall and broad and he reported that an incoherent Jeanette thought he was Nelson.
She hadn’t had qualified medical help for eight days. The last nurse to see her at home left a very very weak, ill woman. She gets to the hospital on a commercial flight and is too emaciated for surgery. They put her on IV feedings in hopes that she would stabilize enough to withstand the operation on her heart, but at 4:32PM, January 14th, 1965, Jeanette passed away. The PR version of events claims a beautiful dramatic I-love-you climax, but more telling is the fact that Jeanette—who was not lucid at the time of her death—asked to have her feet rubbed. According to Sybil Thomas, Nelson was the only person who rubbed her feet. (Makes sense, she hated her feet and was weird about them.)
And that’s not even all. I just have to end this post somewhere.
In case you are visually impaired, that is a frame-by-frame animation of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald’s dressing room kiss in the 1938 movie Sweethearts.
And, you know, Mr. Eddy is casually teasing the bottom lip of his very strictly business platonic friend and co-worker, the very happily married Mrs. Gene Raymond (you know, the same chick he made out with just as friends when it was her birthday)….WITH HIS TONGUE. And she’s just smiiiiiilin’…………………..
I mean come on, you can see her blinking hard to avoid Gable’s “hangover breath” in San Francisco and looking generally yucked out by Barrymore in Maytime. And here, you can see a sly little smile. Yes you can.
But here, let me clarify:
Please note that the space between their mouths is black. The background is black. Also their mouths are open but we won’t mention that.
Awwwwwwwwwwshit. Nelson slippin’ her the tongue. Bad Nels.
The year is 1938. They are at MGM, working on a movie fully in compliance with the Hays Code. Remember how Jeanette is so blissfully Mrs. Gene Raymond and now Nelson is like…..gay or sexless or wooden (well, maybe after they shot this scene. Heh.)……….I mean, it’s a tiny thing, but here it is. A tiny thing, but DEFINITELY A THING.