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.
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 Sweethearts was 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.
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:
This story should have a happier ending.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Girl of the Golden West
I Married an Angel
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.
Jeanette’s will has been printed in full, including Codicil, in Issue #52 of Mac/Eddy Today. It in itself is really very standard, although an interesting read for people with this particular sort of interest. She takes care of her family, her secretary, etc, and makes many thoughtful bequests to friends, famous and not. An animal lover like me will appreciate the fact that she left specific instructions regarding any pets she may own at the time of her death (any pet was supposed to go to her secretary)–she didn’t have any pets when she died, but still, I love that she put that in there. She was a good animal mom.
Of note is that Emily West (secretary) received the magnificent star sapphire brooch/necklace that Jeanette wore every other day for all time (or so it seems, anyway). Emily got the pin itself and the matching platinum and diamond chain that made it a necklace. Historian and friend and daughter of good friend, Madeline Bayless, was able to answer a question of long-standing when she reported that her father, Jim Bayless, mentioned Nelson talking about what he’d gotten “his girl” for Christmas—this. Nelson. Not Gene, as has been said so many times. This was just confirmed again, in person, in front of a large group, with Madeline, on June 29th at the MacEddy Club meeting. And look how publicly and how often Jeanette wore it. HAH.
Another document around this time estimates the value of the estate at “$1,000,000.00 +” and I would imagine that that is certainly true, and probably a conservative estimate. Jeanette had a joint checking account with Gene and a couple of rather insignificant savings accounts with him, but the bulk of her money was separate (smart girl) and she had upwards of ten bank accounts in total.
This, of course, leads me to my main point in this post.
Gene Asshole-of-the-Decade Raymond didn’t bother to make sure Jeanette’s final bills were taken care of. For months. Like, he ended up having to go to court about it. He and the executor of Jeanette’s estate were also sued for non-payment on the rent for the two Comstock Apartments. Additionally, during Jeanette’s probate, it was revealed that she had made a huge loan to Gene (who the heck, in a happy and normal marriage, makes loans to their spouse???????) and (of course) Gene attempted to have this debt waived, and the executors said no.
Here is the first item for your consideration—-an unpaid hospital bill from Jeanette’s final stay at UCLA, the last ten days of 1964.
Ohhhhkay. This is only a fricking $370.00 bill. Her insurance covered $847.20 of the $1217.20 total. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY DOLLARS, PEOPLE. Not like we’re talking huge sums here. Note that it says “Date of first pub. notice to creditors: Feb 24, 1965.” — the woman’s bills should NEVER have had to go to a collections agency. I do hold the executor 7% responsible, as well, but the fact is a bill of this nature would have been mailed to the home. Probably right around the time she was dying, yes, so yeah, there may have been chaos happening, but it never should have been so tardy that the Superior Court of California is getting involved. Strike forty-two, Gene.
Next, this lovely little document informs us that Useless also let her funeral go un-paid-for for months and months. Four of them, as far as I know with the documentation we have. Who knows when it was actually settled.
Now see, this should piss you off. I don’t care if you’re on Team Happy MacRaymonds or not, This. Should. Make. You. Angry. For Jeanette’s dignity. Like, we get that you hung around for the money, Gene, but maybe TRY to have a drop of class and, you know, pay her final expenses before you skip merrily away? So sick. This crap is public record and a woman as smart and careful and QUIET with her money as Jeanette was, who had a healthy amount of pride and more than her share of class considering what she was up against half the time—-she’d have been so embarrassed.
Unfortunately, this is not out of character for Mr. Raymond. On May 25th, 1955, an arrest warrant was put out for our girl because an apartment house which was titled in her name was not being kept in good repair and she was accused of being a “slumlord” — in actual fact there were property managers involved who may or may not have been doing their jobs, but Gene was the only one of them who had anything to do with the property. (He just probably lacked the funds to make the investment, hence why it was in her name).
And though he was arrested a number of times over the years on various charges with a homosexual theme, only one of them that we know of actually made it to the books. Here it is, reprinted from the source notes of Sweethearts, and it’s totally obvious that the case number has been tampered with (you can see this even better in a higher quality scan, sorry). Jeanette had to shuck out $1,000.00 bucks to hush it up–far from the only time she did that. This was January, 1938–seven months into this delightful marriage.
I mean, for God’s sake, Nelson was a very, very, VERY flawed and complex and complicated man, and he did a lot of shit I’m not thrilled about or proud of, as someone who is “on his side” — but at least he wasn’t a total schmuck. At least he LOVED Jeanette. What kind of man lets his wife bail his ass out of jail? Oh, yeah, the same kind of man who doesn’t pay for her funeral. Right. As I said, I don’t give a damn who Gene slept with or what his sexual preferences were—I merely care that he treated Jeanette badly and with no respect. And he carried that tradition on after her death, it seems, with this documentation. And it REALLY ticks me off that he’d then go–year after year–to her fan club functions and talk about what a wonderful magnificent delightful fabulous amazing woman she was.
Like he even had a fraction of a clue.
When we left off, Gene and Jeanette had just gotten engaged. Their engagement was formally announced August 20, 1936.
Maytime started production that same week, the third co-starring vehicle for Jeanette and Nelson. Without delving too much into why Maytime was in production for such a long while, suffice to say there were basically two versions of the film—Irving Thalberg was heavily involved the first one, but then he died, so they pretty much scrapped the whole thing, changed the story, changed a lot of the cast and tried again.
So here they are at some sort of rehearsal/script meeting for the first Maytime. Jeanette had JUST announced her engagement to Gene and look at these faces:
That’s the thing that’s so cool about these guys—there is always SOMETHING going on…sometimes they look like they need to get a room, sometimes they look like they hate each other, but never is there nothing going on.
Nevertheless, as the director talks to them on the set sometime after this picture was taken, you see where their hands are….
She’s marrying somebody else, they’ve screwed themselves over in the way they’ve handled things (but it is NOTHING compared to how much more screwed over they would eventually get) …and yet they are still sitting here, obviously not happy, but holding hands. Because they love each other, people. In spite of everything and through it all, for the rest of their lives. And here they are in a private candid moment on the same set:
So, once again, they become a couple–engagement or not. By the time the original Maytime was scrapped and the “second version” was beginning, there was a distinctly different tone in their candid pictures on the set. For instance, here is probably one of the most telling candid pictures EVER of them:
She’s sitting on his lap, guys. His arm is around her. They are holding hands and talking and neither of them is looking at the camera. WHAT COULD THIS POSSIBLY MEAN??????
And another, in a lighthearted vein. Robert Montgomery visits the set, and Jeanette can only pay attention to Nelson’s antics behind him:
But Maytime was a real struggle for our twosome, emotionally. The duet Will You Remember was a damn nightmare. They couldn’t get it in the can without one or both of the stars becoming emotional. Finally, in desperation, “Pop” Leonard told Nelson to look at the tree–if you watch the duet, you can see that he, at times, does just that, and doesn’t look at her face. Here is a picture of Jeanette trying to pull herself together during the emotional filming of that sequence:
This is not the only candid picture that shows her with a crumpled Kleenex in her hand, either. At the end of that sequence, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that that kiss was “juicy” enough for the now-infamous Maytime Spit String to occur:
Bahahahahahaha. Sorry, this post was making me sad. Nothing like lightening the mood with a little MacSpit.
When they shot the Czaritza sequence, our dear Nelson was a hot mess, and the clarity of the Warner Archive DVD lends itself to the finding of ManTears. You see, she was willing to call off her engagement, but it was very public (Hollywood’s answer to the recent Royal Wedding, don’tcha know) and so that was a big fat No Can Do from the front office. There’s more to that, which I will explore in Part 3. So they were in love and screwed. Story of their lives. Here is the “wooden” Eddy being quite emotional (thanks to Kitty for the capture of this excellent find!):
She sees it, too. This is the moment right before she reaches up and strokes the back of his head. You know—either Nelson was a REALLY REALLY GREAT WAY ABOVE AND BEYOND AWESOME ACTOR…………….or he wasn’t. Just as in the opera sequence he’s singing, he’s in love with this girl and he knows he’s going to lose her and it’s beyond his control. Worst feeling in the world? Yeah, probably.
One more candid from the set of Maytime, this time thanks to Angela:
Hand on her back/the back of her chair, just resting there because he likes to touch his girlfriend a lot.
Coming up in Part 3: the wedding looms closer, and we will explore some attempted negotiations to call it off, as well as analyzing some extremely telling notes, handwritten by Jeanette, that deal with this time in her life.
For those of you who don’t think there’s anything to see here….please get your eyes checked. In all seriousness, if all I do with this blog is make you QUESTION what you’ve been told by some old crusty politically correct fan club…I’m doing my job.
I’ll be back!
I finally bit the bullet and did it. A MacEddy blog. Lord knows that these two fruitbats (gentle teasing of our two subjects is A-OK, kids, relax) take up a truly ridiculous amount of my time and space in my head. No day is complete without some sort of MacEddy discussion with someone on some level. So, really, it’s not all that surprising that I’d be here, doing this. The thing is, if you’re an old movie person like I have been since before I can remember, sooner or later you’re doing to discover MacDonald and Eddy, MGM’s Singing Sweethearts of the 1930s and early 40s. Eight glorious, romantic musicals (lots of operettas), lots of frilly costumes with huge skirts for Jeanette and uniforms and marching songs for Nelson. Something or someone always tries to keep them apart but you know before you even begin that they belong together and will end up thus, on some level (shut up, Maytime. Nobody asked you, Bitter Sweet.). Now, either that’s your thing or it isn’t. It’s totally my thing. I have a penchant for the “teams” — Astaire and Rogers, Tracy and Hepburn, Powell and Loy, Bogart and Bacall, Mickey (but my God he’s annoying, RIP) and Judy….you get it. Bonus points if said team happens to be, erm, a team in real life. That is the stuff that makes my little heart go pitter-pat.
Nelson and Jeanette were very much a team, for eight movies, and very much a “team” for over thirty years (there were a few bad years in the mix here and there, but overall, they sort of never got out of each other’s heads once they met) behind the scenes. True Life: They also each were married to other people: Jeanette to second-stringer Gene Raymond who was never quite as cool anywhere as he was when wearing Jeanette on his arm, and Nelson to silent film director Sidney Franklin’s ex, Ann, about whom nobody seems to have anything nice to say, including people who knew her.
The thing is, there are these “official” fan clubs for each star; the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club (JMIFC) and the Nelson Eddy Appreciation Society (NEAS), who are both very much by the book about the marriages of their subjects. Everything was hunky dunky (does anyone else love Christmas in Connecticut?) and here are some pictures just so everyone sees that everything is awesome. Jeanette and Nelson made movies together AND THAT’S IT. Crazy how both of these people had these long perfect marriages in such a scandal-ridden town, eh? I mean, it’s not impossible, but the odds are not in their favor. But I digress. These groups have really not let up, even though these two people have been dead for half a century, and so there’s still a raging war going on between the people who insist that they had these perfect marriages and nothing between them (those are called “Saints” in MacEddy language)….and the rest of us (“Sinners”) who are totally on board with the fact that they dug each other, even though their lives were a couple of hot, complicated messes.
I guess I just want to say that while I make no secret and never have of which side of the fence I’m on here, I’m not going to try to force anyone to believe anything. I am hoping to write a collection of essay-style posts (supplemented with photographs and audio files) that just ask questions. I want to point out the curious, the interesting, the noteworthy. I’m not trying to play like I was right there in the dressing room with them, but there is certainly a mountain of evidence that would point in the direction that they did, in fact, love each other. I’m not naive enough to think I’ll get the multi-decade crusty old Saints to jump on the MacEddyinLove bandwagon (even though I would lay money that at least two of them are reading this! Hey, guys!)—and I fully acknowledge that we have our fair share of crazy over here in Sinner Land, too. I live it, kids. And there are days when I just am like, “Please stop talking.” But ultimately, you can’t control anything but you. What pisses me off beyond all recognition, though, is when I ask some of the aforementioned Saints LEGIT QUESTIONS (“Why did it take a court summons for perfect husband Gene Raymond to pay for Jeanette’s funeral?” “Why did Nelson Eddy move into the same (Comstock) apartment complex as Jeanette RIGHT AFTER SHE MOVED THERE?” Etc, etc) and I have yet to get a straight answer or even an “I don’t know” from any of them! The replies go from being horribly offended that I would even dare to make such vile insinuations with my questions to “I can’t bear to think about her/him being unhappy.” (So….are you saying you acknowledge that this is possible and it hurts your head to think about it? Or…? I mean, people are unhappy all the time. I’m unhappy that my DVD of The Cat and the Fiddle didn’t come in the mail today. Welcome to the real world, sweet cheeks. Sometimes we are unhappy. Buck up.) and finally, the ultimate cop-out of, “Their personal lives are none of our business.” AKA “I don’t have a good answer so I’m saying this.” I mean, okay, maybe it’s not our business but biography of historical figures happens when people know stuff that isn’t their business, because it’s intriguing and interesting.
So I imagine I’ll be posing a lot of “riddle me this” type questions. Hell, at least I’m getting them off my chest. And maybe somebody in the privacy of their home will read some of this sometime and think that maybe they haven’t got this 100% right. Or maybe people will find this blog who have not previously cared about this story and hop on board. It’s really a fascinating tangle. It really is. You find yourself loving these two people so fiercely that you’d sell organs to go back in time and crack their heads together and be like, “NO, THIS IS BAD. DON’T DO IT.” You find yourself perplexed and alternately elated when little pieces fall into place at unexpected times (say, after your biographer friend has already sent off the revised book to the publisher and then has to GET IT BACK to put the new info in. This has been a fun afternoon.) and sometimes you sit and feel like you’re right back where you started.
I dunno. Look at Jeanette’s face in this picture. She doesn’t look like she’s hearing a word of Woody (that’s W.S. Van Dyke, their favorite director and beloved pal) and Nelson’s conversation, but she sure is looking all piney at Nelson. Sigh. They are cute.