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.

Advertisements

A Concert Tour Rendezvous

Hello again,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

It gets better.

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

notes

map

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

So here’s the fun stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

She misses her train.

Misses.

Her train.

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

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

snip

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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

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

Roanokearrivalpic

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

Roanoke1941

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

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

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

SmilinThroughCandidhires

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

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

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

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

I’ll See You Again, Part 3 (EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE)

NEsuperimpose

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 my life. (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.

http://footage.net/VideoPreviewPop.aspx?SupplierID=efootage&key=22209303&type=Global

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.

Here it is.

I’ll See You Again, Part 1

Hello again, dear Readers.

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:

ComstockLease

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????

Oh, okay.

(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.

Pic Spam and Non-Apologies

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

Image

Costume Designer Adrian is there and nobody gives a damn. 

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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

Image

And speaking of gazing, check out homeboy.

 

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

 

The Happy Bridegroom – January 22, 1939

Get excited, kids, this is a humdinger.

Last weekend at the Library of Congress, Angela and I were able to listen to Nelson’s most elusive Chase and Sanborn radio broadcast from January 22, 1939—three days after his misguided and heavily intoxicated elopement with Ann Franklin.

Before I go into those details, Angela has written up a little piece about her experience at the LOC, so I’m enclosing it here. Thanks, Angela! 😀

June 13, 2014, Washington DC – Library of Congress – My social media status reflects my current location as I add a photo of my research tools: a pen, a Library of Congress reader card, a pink work request slip and a black and white composition book.

“What are you researching and for what reason?”

Somehow that comment from a friend of long gone High School days annoyed me. I had to think a bit on how to answer. Just how did I end up here and why had I cancelled a planned spa day to wake up at the crack of stupid and take a jostling commuter bus from Herndon, VA into Washington, DC?

“Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.” I answered.

“Should have known – since they are your faves.”

My faves? Really? Does that even begin to describe it? And do you really care? Most of my friends and family certainly don’t. Their eyes glaze over whenever I mention the dreaded names. Except Chris, she understands. She recently told me of the time she took a 12 hour bus ride from her college in Boston to meet up with a fellow Judy Garland fan somewhere in Minnesota. Speaking as her mom, I’m glad I didn’t know it then, speaking as a fellow fan girl, all I can say now is, I raised her right.

So here I am, awaiting my fellow MacEddy obsessive and comrade in arms, Katie, a young girl with an old soul. We’ve been plotting this for weeks but are not nearly prepared enough and we know it. We are frantically texting as she approaches the city by train and each can sense the others nervousness over how it will go. I know my job and set about culling information and targeting available research opportunities as I await her arrival.

Phyllis, the research volunteer de jour, gives me the lay of the land and recommends the reading room providing detailed directions. The Madison building is a large rectangle and color coded she explains, I nod. “What are you researching?” Phyllis asks. I tell her and guess what? She actually knows who they are and even a bit about them. This is promising. I love retiree volunteers.

“Go to Reading Room 113,” she tells me. “Performing Arts, that’s where you’ll find the radio programs.”

So I scamper off. There I meet and befriend Jan M, maybe a few years older than me, hard to tell. Jan is the archetypal librarian, frumpy skirt, support hose, no nonsense shoes; her steel grey hair is pulled back into a low pony tail. Only the kohl rimmed eyes bespeak of the girl she once was. I glance at her younger self staring at me from the name badge she wore clipped to her neat sweater. Yes, I knew that girl, I could picture her walking my High School halls. She wore jeans and Birkenstocks, her long hair parted in the middle, no makeup except for black lined eyes. She spoke very precisely, was serious, focused and knew what she wanted to do with her life, unlike the rest of us.

Jan helps me find what I’m looking for and it’s just dumb luck that the January 22, 1939 Chase and Sanborn program is already digitized and available for listening. Oh, I had to spell Sanborn for her; Jan must not be a coffee drinker but she is very anxious to help. I set up an appointment for later that morning and text my co-conspirator to alert her of our rendezvous location. I love research librarians.

Katie arrived overheated from her three block hike (Blogger’s Note: “Sweaty and disgusting” is more like it! The cab let me out too early and I had a huge purse and super heavy backpack and I found out which building I was supposed to be in and ran the 3 blocks in 95 degree heat. Yuck.) but anxious to get to work. We queued up our recording in Booth 15 and began. All I can say is I was gob smacked (thank you my British friends for that lovely word) as I listened with St. Anthony and the Blessed Mother jangling away on my wrist as I furiously wrote in my composition book, Katie scribbling out a bit of mumbled dialogue I’d missed. I love bright young researchers.

Two days later, I am back in Connecticut, at my real job. “Did you have a nice vacation?” My colleague asks me. I whip out my Library of Congress official reader card and show her. A fellow bibliophile and longtime book club member, she looks at it longingly and sighs.

“Yes, I had a wonderful time.”

 

So that takes us up to where we were in Booth 15, getting ready to listen to newlywed Nelson on Chase and Sanborn. Sharon had told us that it was going to really mess us up, and boy, she wasn’t kidding. Right from the beginning, you sense that something is “up” with Nelson—anyone familiar with his radio work (and he did a TON of it) knows that his style is easy and affable, interspersed with the great singing that made him famous. Only, on this day, he doesn’t want to come to the microphone. You hear the other people trying to improvise to make up for the fact that he didn’t jump in when he should have, and then, finally, he mutters, completely audibly, “I must have the wrong script.” What, in real life? You sure do, brother. To me, that sounds like a sideways way of saying he doesn’t want to participate in any of this wedding talk. The playing of the wedding march, in this context, sounds brash and horrible. The idea that they’re all having a good laugh and talking about throwing rice (and maybe they did, the studio audience is laughing)—while he is totally silent—is just a great big helping of awkward sauce. And then the normally yakkity-yak Nelson doesn’t say ONE WORD. Just goes into his first song. Weird, weird, weird.

Is this a good time to point out that absolutely nobody likes Ann Eddy? Because…absolutely nobody likes Ann Eddy.

Then he sings the lament from the opera Boris Gudounov, usually sung by a basso; a favorite role of Nelson’s idol, Feodor Chaliapin, so on a normal day in normal context, it is understandable that he’d be interested in singing it. Sort of the same reason why I can only ever make Baked Beans using Jeanette’s recipe. Boris was done in English at the Met in 1963, sung by Jerome Hines. This particular selection can be heard at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UGIy-wdAqI for anyone wishing to compare the legit Metropolitan translation with what Nelson sings.

I have, to the best of my ability, transcribed Nelson’s lyrics. One wonders where they came from. Did he do this translation himself? It is entirely possible; he spoke Russian. He frequently did this sort of work with his songs. To say this is a dark-as-hell piece is putting it mildly. Let us remember that Nelson, while a great singer, was no actor and never claimed to be (check him out in his movies without Jeanette sometime. Oy. I love the guy to the ends of the earth, but….oy.). What he was, was a seriously professional musician. Dramatic interpretation of a piece is one thing—singing off key is something else. Nelson would never have done it on purpose, and the fact that he does–repeatedly in this selection—really speaks to his highly heightened emotional state.

And why is he so emotional? Well, for starters, he’d basically been blackmailed into this marriage with Ann. Trustingly naive Nelson had unburdened to this older woman, whom he thought was merely a friend of his mother’s, during the many nights she was a guest in their home when Nelson was having trouble in his relationship with Jeanette. He talked way, way, way too much. Ann got him into a compromising position and essentially forced his hand with everything she knew about Jeanette and their relationship—the depths of exactly what she knew that was so very, very damning may never be fully realized. The bottom line is, she had him just where she wanted him: emotionally broken, beaten down and blackmailed over a barrel. According to Isabel Eddy, his mom, after he passed out from whatever substance he was on for the very brief, very clinical ceremony, he asked what they were doing on a train. Well, shit. Ann Eddy won that round and she would have him painted into a corner for the rest of his life.

Here is my best transcription of Nelson’s lyrics of the sad tzar’s lament. Please note how vastly different they are from the English translation used at the Met. The meaning is essentially the same, but some of the word choice is very, very interesting (and yes, this is very dramatic, very flowery language. This is opera, people.):

I stand supreme in power

Five years and more my reign has not been troubled

Yet happiness eludes my sad and tortured soul

In vain I hear astrologists foretell long years of life in power

Peace and glory

No life, no power, no promises of glory

No praise from the crowd

Can soothe my aching heart

I look among my children to find comfort

And soon to see a brilliant marriage feast prepared

For my Kseniya, my dearest daughter

But cruel death has struck the one she loved

How heavy is the hand of God in His wrath

How merciless a doom awaits the sinner

In gloom I walk, grim darkness surrounds me

No single ray of light bring solace

My heart is torn with anguish, it’s hopeless and weary

Naught avails me

A secret terror haunts me

I wait, I tremble

With all my heart I implore saints above

And a God I beseech to grant me mercy

And I with all my power; all of Russia I feared and envied

In tears have vainly begged for pardon

[Cannot make out this line]

Pestilence, disloyalty, starvation!

Like a beast of prey the hungry peasants are prowling

The land is bare, Russia weeps

[Nelson’s voice is breaking on this next line and I can’t understand it, maybe something about a flood?]

And groaning under the weight of the burden

And awful and great pain inflicted

I’ll throw the flame on me

They who loved me, they hate my very name

Openly curse me

And now my sleep has fled, at night I see visions

A blood be-spattered child appears to me

Sobbing in anguish, writhing, lamenting

Praying for mercy and mercy was not granted

Blood from his wounds is falling, loudly he cries

With death he struggles…oh God in Heaven….oh my God.

Let’s not forget that July 26th of the previous year, Jeanette had lost their son at about six months of gestation (newspapers reported her hospitalization, and the subsequent one in September, but cited ear problems as the reason). She was, by her own admission, a “bleeder”—very thin blood. She had difficulty with bleeding after several surgical procedures, including her somewhat botched tonsillectomy. On that occasion, Nelson had “never seen so much blood in his life” …sad, yeah, but it had to have been on his mind. The man is crying at the end of this selection.

 

Some wise-ass decided, the day after Nelson’s elopement, to run onto the set at MGM where Jeanette was winding up filming on Broadway Serenade, and loudly announce that Nelson had eloped in the night. Jeanette screamed, ran off the set, locked herself in her dressing room and downed a bottle of sleeping pills. Woody Van Dyke, beloved pal and frequent director of our Sweethearts, got wind of what had happened and, finding Jeanette’s dressing room door locked, kicked it in and found her on the floor. L.B. Mayer himself arrived on the scene and carried Jeanette to the car, cursing Nelson the entire time, saying he [Nelson] had killed his beautiful star. Jeanette’s stomach was pumped and she recovered, only to attempt suicide again a week later. The source for this information? Woody Van Dyke’s wife, Ruth. This story was verified by Eddy associate Marie Collick, two people who worked in wardrobe, Ken Hollywood (studio guard) and Isabel Eddy, whose letters of that time indicate that she was spending time with Jeanette, whom she adored, basically keeping suicide watch.

News of this had to have gotten back to Nelson. Having an easier time understanding his mental state now? Damn, the poor man.

For his final selection, Nelson changed gears completely and will effing tear your heart out and step on it with his rendition of Little Grey Home in the West. Angela and I played this for Di on Skype Sunday afternoon and all three of us were in tears. It’s just so sad, and so unfair. Here, have a sad graphic:

Image

He wasn’t talking about Ann, kids. He just….wasn’t. There’s no way. And of all the songs he could have picked to end this hour of despair, this choice is one of the most poignant he could have made. There are dozens of songs he could have sung and we would have been all “OH EM GEE He’s singing to Jeanette!” but seriously….this sweet little song they had sung together in happier times just aches with romantic simplicity and longs for domestic bliss….two things that nobody has EVER accused him of having with Ann.

Here it is, guys—all of Nelson’s parts of the radio broadcast from January 22, 1939. Please listen for yourselves. Angela put the video together.

People are so quick to over-simplify their situation. The truth of the matter is that Ann held all the cards that Mayer didn’t. After their tenure at Metro was over, Jeanette COULD HAVE divorced Gene. Nobody has ever said Gene wouldn’t let her out. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t—what was the point of her getting a divorce when Nelson couldn’t? Nelson could not/would not stand for Jeanette getting tarred and feathered in the public with the dirt Ann had on her. For someone as willful as Nelson to be that gun-shy about Ann…well, she must have had a hell of a hand of cards to play. We only know some of that data. For Jeanette’s part, at least, at minimum, being married to Gene gave her the “protection” of being Mrs. SOMEBODY—I can’t think of her wanting to deal with being gorgeous, unmarried and in love with a married man. I can’t think that she was in any mood to deal with the eligible bachelors of Hollywood. On some level, it worked. Some of the time, anyway, at this point in their lives.

 

Sigh. :-/

 

 

A Small Hiatus

As I deal with a lot of Real Life Craziness and await the forthcoming new data which very well may directly alter my a few of my possible blog post topics, I gotta hold off on tyrannical rants for just a minute. 

And I gotta get my novel done, guys. I really really really am close. Within a few chapters. Ahhhhh!!

In the interim, let’s play pictures:

Image

Jeanette, Nelson and Nelson’s later-years singing/nightclub partner, Gale Sherwood. Gale is right in the thick of things, but they only have eyes for each other. Always. Freaking always. (Look for a post about this particular triangle in the near future.)

Image

Neglected Nelson mopes as Jeanette feeds Woody Van Dyke. I love this picture.

Image

I would love to know what the hell is happening. Obviously we know what scene this is….but like, did they cut and she was still hungry? Is this a rehearsal? Whaaaa? 

“They et and et until they threw up. Then they got married. The End!”

 

That’s all. This was a quality post. Goodbye.