Here’s a lovely thing that we uncovered in the holdings of The JAM Project! 8mm film of Jeanette (and the members of the JMIFC) at the 1962 ClanClave — which was also the club’s 25th Anniversary.
Most of you reading this will know the details of that weekend: Jeanette was directly involved in planning it, she gave a dinner for the group at The Luau restaurant (my friend Mary Lynn now has the check that paid for that meal…wild), she arranged for the group to tour MGM, have lunch in the commissary, etc. She invited everyone to Twin Gables, she posed for endless pictures… she was in general, generous, warm, delightful and perfect.
We’ve had this footage digitized for several months, but did not ‘break’ it before now because we wanted to show it as a surprise at the Mac/Eddy Club meeting on June 25th in LA. One of our members, Sandy Laderas, was a speaker at the meeting, sharing photos and personal reminiscences of the weekend and of meeting Jeanette and how wonderful she was, so she and I collaborated and The JAM Project provided supplemental material for her presentation. Mary Lynn brought the check and I put together a small talk that consisted of reading Jeanette’s letters – both to the club and to club president Clara, privately – planning the weekend and presenting this footage — in which you can see the then-eighteen year old Sandy in several shots, which was so cool. Why would we celebrate a JMIFC event at the Mac/Eddy Club’s meeting? Because of Jeanette — because that weekend was so indicative of her public self, of her kindness and generosity to the people who had loved her for years. It was just nice.
It meant a lot to Jeanette to give this weekend to her club. Her excitement in planning it was best voiced when she wrote Clara on May 17, 1962, saying in part, “I, too, am beginning to get quite a glow of anticipation. Just think how long it has been since I have met and seen many of the members!”
These were the young people who dogged her footsteps at the stage doors and train stations of the 40s. She was fond of them — she always made time for them. To enumerate Jeanette’s darling, wonderful interactions with her fans is to write an entire volume on the subject. They were a constant, unfailing source of love for her, to the extent that she kept up every kind of charade to allow them to maintain their illusions. It wasn’t deceit, it was selflessness.
Jeanette was not a well woman in 1962 — and she hadn’t been for several years. She would not get better. After ’62, you can count her “public appearances” on a few fingers. Indeed, she left the group while they were touring her home so that she could go to the doctor — and though she downplayed it, and seemingly acted like it was a matter of routine, it’s pretty freakin’ weird that she’d have ‘scheduled’ something like that during this weekend, especially on a day when the group was in her home. One wonders what was really going on — and what this weekend cost her, in terms of health. Sandy Laderas speaks of Jeanette as not looking or acting ill, and, indeed, in the footage, other than Jeanette being extremely thin (her arms in the Luau footage especially give this away), she appears bubbly, charming and charismatic — exactly the way she’s ‘supposed’ to be; exactly the way fans would remember her from previous interactions. I noted that when she leaves the group at Twin Gables, she glides right up the stairs with effortless ease. She was on. She was a professional. She was a star. She was prideful. She was a classy woman, and a good one. She was not going to burden the group with her struggles. She was never going to let these people see her fall. It is absolutely consistent with everything Jeanette is that she be this way, and my inclination is to believe that if that doctor’s appointment could have been avoided, it would have been. So… something else was brewing. For me, this is an excuse to love her more — but knowing more all the time about the hell she kept to herself is heartbreaking.
To bear out my above point, on September 11, 1962, Jeanette wrote Clara, in a letter concerning other club business and general news, “I do feel better, physically, and while the weight hasn’t started to accumulate, I must be patient and know that it will come as my own energy returns to normal. The above is for your own personal edification. But I wonder if, in your letter in the magazine to the members, you could indicate that you have heard from me, and that I am feeling so well again that you thought they would all want to know. For your own edification again – you see, Clara, I have had quite a few personal letters from some of the members saying they are sorry I have not been feeling well, and I feel that these thoughts are not healthy. Instead if they send thoughts to me and for me of good health and energy, etc., it has a more affirmative reaction. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and good wishes and happiness, as against commiseration, and pity, and all of the negative ideas that are floating around us.”
She closes with, “Thank you for your understanding and patience.”
That ought to tell you a whole, whole lot. And comparing her letters to Clara versus things like her 1963 desk diary and various medical records we now have — Clara knew more than the average bear, perhaps, as in the above excerpt, but Clara was still firmly on a need-to-know basis.
I love that picture.
Here’s the footage. Enjoy this extraordinary human being, giving her very best to people who love her.
Thanks once more to all who make this preservation and digitization effort possible. ❤
So I found this score in the JAM Project loot, it’s 23 pages long and, obviously, it’s what we know as “Czaritza” from Maytime. As with most of Jeanette’s personal music, it’s stamped with her blue name stamp, but unlike other pieces we have, this one doesn’t have any of her “work” on the inside. No writing, no breath marks, no evidence of being worked over with Grace, so I’m assuming this was a backup copy. Nevertheless, a cool find.
In reading the score, I have learned more about the Czaritza opera story itself (particularly apt in some of the art-imitating-life stuff that seemed to be a running theme with Maytime), which I think you will find interesting:
The Czarina is newly widowed. The Czar was murdered, and she’s being given a hard time because she isn’t sorry that he is dead. He was an evil, cruel man, a terrible ruler and she didn’t love him. This is part of the beginning, sung by her: “No shadow in my heart enshrouds the lordly but unloved departed one, God forgive me! Dead! May the thief who stole his life ever live! Oh, wicked wife, have you no sorrow? How black of soul you are. Your love betrays your Czar!”
So they caught the guy who killed the Czar and they bring him on in. Turns out it’s Petroff, with whom our sinful Czarina has been having a big fat steamy love affair (Welp. Hot Petroffs are hot, leave her alone.). She pleads with him to lie and say he didn’t do it. He argues that he did it to set Russia free from his tyranny…and also a little bit for Mr. Czar’s hot wife. He’s at peace about the whole thing “I lose but a life, and a nation is free”, the worst part is leaving Hotpants Czarina. She wishes she was going to be the one to die. She then tells everybody to get out, she wants a word with him. The Captain protests, “Your Majesty!”
Queenie gets real tall and corrects him: “Your Czar!” (That’s one of my favorite moments in the whole thing, not that anyone asked.)
So the minions beat it and we get to the duet and they sing powerful, powerful stuff:
How memory clings, my beloved, to dreams of yore
O, pitiless fate that our meeting means parting at death’s very door
There is no parting!
There is no ending!
Your heart is blended with mine
What fear you, I shall be near you, ever attending
Oh, beloved, my heart will not fail
There is no lasting farewell
Ever these vows shall prevail
Whether in Heaven or Hell
I love you
Heart! Beat with joy, for ecstasy is yours
Love alone endures
Love alone is yours, and it’s mine
Love is mine, O love is mine forever
O Soul! Soul! Sing a new refrain!
Dear one, oh! Hold me close
Two wildly beating hearts are one
And now death [Petroff sings ‘Give me death’]
Do what you will!
Our love will live beyond the deepest grave
We face you bravely
O Father of us all, His/My time has come, dear God!
Petroff: God be with you, Heaven keep my dearest one from harm and care
Czarina: Heaven rest the soul of my beloved one, Lord, hear the pray’r of my heart
Lord, hear my pray’r
Petroff: Dear one, I go to die, God be with you
Both: Love, goodbye
Anyone else around here completely cooked? Holy mackerel. Seems legit that he’d actually shed tears while singing this with his complicated lady love who is resolutely going to marry somebody else because she’s convinced that there are too many problems with the two of them, no matter how crazy they are about each other. The situation was just so hopeless. I mean, I get why she didn’t marry him then. I really do. I wouldn’t have married him either, in the thirties. But gosh, it’s just all so heartbreaking. And by the time he’d become marriage material, it was too late and too hopelessly muddled for all concerned and yeah, there were great moments, but the whole thing ended in devastation for everyone.
*screenshot of Nelson’s tear obtained by Kitty.
The infinite rightness of those two gorgeous beings in each other’s arms is just kiiiiiinda staggering. Look at ’em.
Oh! And here’s a bonus!Mac. Being really, really extra cute on the set. This photo is from her personal collection and was tucked into one of her embossed still boxes. ❤
She’s just sittin’ there on the floor in her Czarina suit hopin’ something happens soon.
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.
I wondered if it was a good idea to post this here, as this is a research/biography blog, but then I decided that it’s also my blog, and as such, I get to be the boss, so here goes.
Some of you know this (because you know me), but others may not: in addition to working closely with a good team and making trips and doing research uncovering new biographical details and adding context or evidence to things we already knew about Jeanette and Nelson, I also write fiction.
Before everyone steps into their judgey pants, I find that in some weird way, it makes me feel better, to give these two beautiful people a happier what-might-have-been. When you spend a lot of time examining the many times heartbreaking circumstances of their lives, it’s easy to get mired down in the sadness and frustration and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said or heard people say how we wish we could go back and somehow make things better for them……..and this is my consolation prize, in that way. We can’t fix or change what happened, but this is rather satisfying in its own fashion. I figured that at least some of you may identify or agree with that feeling, and as such, you guys might be the best people to share this with!
My first Mac/Eddy FICTION novel, Smilin’ Through, is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions. I released it one year ago as an eBook, have since changed to a different publisher and decided to re-format and re-issue it, with a couple of minor (very minor, if you’ve read it already there’s no need to re-download it) tweaks. I had a lot of people ask for it to be available in paperback, so I’ve done that.
The book starts just as Jeanette has finished making Cairo, and for our purposes, we assume that the events up to that point happened exactly as they actually did (and I should add here that source material from Sweetheartswas used with permission). She and Nelson are at a crossroads, career-wise, and they decide to change quite a few things in their lives. It’s a sexy book, not well-suited for young audiences, but neither is it pure “romance novel” — there are good love scenes (I hope they’re good, anyway!), but I worked awfully hard to have there be a well-researched, interesting, involved, plausible plot, too.
And if you’ve already read Smilin’ Through, thank you very much, and I have further news for you: I am almost finished with the sequel! The Message of the Violet is the second book in what appears to be becoming a series, and it will be out before Valentine’s Day! I will report back when it gets released. 🙂
And one thing more, I have a pretty vast selection of short stories available, for more information about those, comment on this post with your email address and I will be in touch!
Below: the covers for both books (The Message of the Violet is lacking the blurb on the back, I haven’t written it yet!) and I’d like to thank my talented friend Don for his collaboration on both of them. They are both sourced from old pieces of sheet music for the two songs that I’ve used as titles and I couldn’t be more pleased with them.
And yes, Kathleen O’Hara is a pen name, but it’s also my real first and middle names. Katie is short for Kathleen. And I thought it was perfectly splendid that Jeanette plays Kathleen O’Hara in the movie Smilin’ Through!
So when I’m not blogging, that’s usually where I am…….writing.
Okay, so this is not a never-before-seen photo or anything, but it IS an original, and better yet, it was JEANETTE’S original. It is from the estate auction and it arrived this morning, bearing the exact same “Jeanette” smell that is woven through the fibers of her scripts, book, gloves and scarf that now live with me. The dramatic/romantic part of my brain can’t help but love these little artifacts and desperately wish they could talk. What would they tell us? Who have those gloves held/shaken hands with? What has the I Married an Angel script seen behind dressing room walls? Laughter, tears, passion? The possibilities are endless.
I’ve bought a good number of photos from this auction and this is my first experience with one that has that very specific, very pretty fragrance. So, my mind is happily wondering…why is this one different? Did she like it, especially? Did she display it somewhere that the others weren’t? Did it, perhaps, line a drawer at her dressing table? Who knows. We’ll never know, of course, but it makes for fun thinking and I’m so, so glad this beautiful thing has found its way to me. ❤
Wall space is starting to really be hard to come by in my house, but I’m confident that this will find a spot to grace! I have scanned it at high resolution and unwatermarked here for anyone’s downloading and printing pleasure (click on it for the super-sized view), but please don’t alter or try to sell it. Thanks, and enjoy the Beauty and the Baritone in a sweet, sweet pose from Bitter Sweet!
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:
Fifty years ago today, we lost our dazzling Iron Butterfly.
An excerpt from Nelson’s letter to Jeanette’s fan club — incidentally, the same organization that tried (and old members of that defunct organization are still trying) at every turn to minimize his importance and vehemently deny the role he played in Jeanette’s life:
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. The world has done me the great honor to associate my name with hers in this sad time. It was indeed a privilege in life to have worked and played with Jeanette.
Later, he told the Boston Sunday Herald, “I’m asked to reminisce about my life with Jeanette. I am asked to recall funny happenings, so-called interesting incidents of our working life. People just don’t seem to understand that I’m terribly upset. That I am feeling extremely low. Besides which, it seems to me almost sacrilegious to talk of happier days at a time like this. I shall be at the funeral on Monday. It will be the most miserable day of my life.”
It’s bad enough that she died at age 61. The way she died, the way she was allowed to die, is, to me, the most horrifying chapter of this whole saga.
Nelson, who could only be described as in good, robust health before this happened, declined at an alarming rate of speed and joined her in death not quite 26 months later at age 65. A frequent happening among devoted couples of long standing. Don’t tell me that’s a coincidence. (Gene Raymond, a heavy smoker with a long history of drinking too much, made it to a few months shy of 90. Go figure.)
This is the part where I say that I could never have imagined that I would care so much about two people who died twenty years before I was born…but I’ve loved old movie stars my whole life, so that wouldn’t be strictly true. However, other people whom I’ve loved at this “level” — Katharine Hepburn immediately comes to mind — have had their truth universally accepted for a long time. Fifty years after Jeanette’s death, there are STILL people who would deny the truth about her life. There are STILL people who leave deliberately horrendous book reviews and nasty remarks for Sharon Rich, who has done more than anyone (except perhaps Jeanette’s sister Blossom, who made the choice to communicate the truth to Sharon all those years ago, and started this ball rolling) to get the word out about the truth of Jeanette’s story.
But we’re a valiant group. We keep meeting, we keep discussing, we keep adding bits and pieces of information to this story. We keep researching, we keep introducing new people to these movies, we keep Skype-ing and calling and texting and writing and making youtube videos and colorizing pictures and laughing and captioning and theorizing and screen-capturing and wanting to hug them and protect them and ask them questions and crack their heads together.
They deserve our best because they gave us their best.
They deserve our best because fifty years ago they didn’t have the support of a group of people who loved them for themselves, and not as idealized, angelic pedestal-sitters. Fifty years ago it wasn’t possible for them to live openly in a way that is possible today.
I want them to have the recognition that they deserve as artists who gave us a very unique and specific gift, and I want their truth to be understood. I know I’m not alone. I learned from the pioneer of this particular movement.
Basically, what I’m saying here is that I write this blog for Jeanette and Nelson. They are why I’m here and who I’m working for, because they are worth it. Keeping that in mind makes it very easy to elect to keep going.
God KNOWS we love you, Jeanette. We miss you terribly even though we never met you. We won’t stop studying and telling your truth. If this blog is helping do that, well, it’s a privilege.
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! 🙂