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.
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! 🙂
I’m about to bring something totally adorable to your lives. Prepare yourselves for your day to be vastly improved.
Our Jeanette was many things, and the word “perfect” sometimes comes to mind…….a description she hated, by the way, along with “angelic” and all its synonyms……..but she’s so gorgeous and talented and funny and smart that the word is tempting. She was a shrewd businesswoman, loyal, kind, patriotic and cagey. She’s also a smart ass, sarcastic (we were in fits over some of the stuff we were reading that she said to newspaper reporters), insecure, a worrier by nature, and emotionally, a late bloomer. She had a bratty streak a mile wide. Of course, we love her, so we just nod along with all of these things and conclude with, “Yep, she’s perfect.” Oh well.
A quality that I find MOST endearing is how nervous she got before an audience. She once wistfully said, “Every audience I’ve ever had: concert, radio, opera or television, has always heard something less than my best.” (And considering how very very magnificently she sang on so MANY of those occasions, that’s saying something!) In the recording booth, she was at ease, as she was on the motion picture soundstage. But her live audiences always got the Nervous Nellie side of her personality. She pinpoints her first attack of nerves (she was a ballsy, fearless kid at one point) in her autobiography manuscript as an occasion when she was allowed to sing at school, before the principal who disliked her and was constantly railing against a kid her age doing theatre work. The woman looked such daggers at her that she totally dried up and was unable to perform, much to her shame and embarrassment. (I have an aunt who used to do that shit to me, it’s legit. And it’s no good.) For the rest of her life, that feeling of terror lingered, which is something she bitterly regretted.
For anyone who has not seen it, I recommend The Voice of Firestone TV appearance (available on DVD) for a very real look at what I’m talking about. The typical pattern for Jeanette is that when she gets nervous, she sings too fast, pushing the orchestra, and her gaze goes directly to the ceiling instead of out to the audience. The shrewd listener who knows her voice well can detect her getting very “breathy” when she’s nervous, as well as sliding a few notes together here and there instead of stepping gently onto the center of each one. The Voice of Firestone was Jeanette’s first TV appearance, and between the quite laughable production values and Jeanette’s nervousness, it’s quite an experience. I don’t mean she’s in bad voice, she isn’t, but………well, just get the dvd and you’ll know what I mean.
One of the things Angela and I had digitized at the Library of Congress was Jeanette’s appearance on the Ford Symphony Presents program. This clip is dated November 4, 1945 and she sings two numbers, the first being Juliette’s Waltz Aria that was one of her (and my) favorite showcase pieces. Considering that she was doing opera around this time period, and Romeo et Juliette was one of the operas she was doing (Faust was the other), you’d think she’d be well-rehearsed, confident and have all the bugs worked out. But here are the MacDonald nerves in bold array, complete with slipping and sliding and the most delightful SQUEAK on a top note towards the end. She never does that!!!! Her high notes are her stock in trade! It’s 500% adorable and I can’t tell you how many times we played it back. We joked that it sounds like Nelson pinched her bottom at that exact moment. 😉
Here is Ford Symphony Presents Jeanette MacDonald:
Lest anyone think that we’re giving her a hard time by posting this, we’re not. She still sings it 33948723427384236 times better than you or I or anyone reading this blog possibly could. But her nervousness makes her human. As I said before, it’s terribly endearing.
And speaking of the MacNerves, I’d like to share a real treasure–this has not been available outside of the “vault” that owns it since it originially aired on August 5th, 1951. Here is Jeanette singing (and dancing!! GORGEOUSLY!!!!) selections from The Merry Widow. This is another thing that we found in June and we are very pleased to share it with you, here.
Several things to look for:
She’s gorgeous and brilliant and sublime and amazing and fantastic and looks awesome I love her costume and AHHHHHHHHHHH NEW JEANETTE THAT WE’VE NEVER SEEN OH MAHH GAHHHHHH!!!!!
But, for real:
She’s very nervous. In addition to exhibiting the “symptoms” I wrote about above, she nearly trips on her first entrance. (Anyone else want to hug her a little?) Also, notice that when she walks down the stairs, she has carefully coordinated someone there to hold her hand. She was deathly afraid of stairs, a fact that was documented way back in 1931 or so and never subsided. And check out how much of her choreography (which I’d bet you $900 she arranged herself—maybe not the other dancers, but judging by what she did on other TV projects, I bet she just sort of told her partner how it was going to be and that was that.) is identical to the Merry Widow Waltz in the movie! Nearly 20 years later and she still knows it. Adorable. Also, I always thought, in Vilia, it was the “spell” of her beauty…….not the “thrill” of her beauty, and a quick Google search verified this……so………uh, Jeanette?
BUT LOOK AT HER BEAUTIFUL DANCING I CANNOT HANDLE IT.
She looks fabulous. And I like her big stagey bows and dramatic pseudo-kiss blowing at Gene, who was replacing Ed Sullivan as the MC for the week.
That’s all. Admire the soprano. Adore the soprano. That’s an order. 😀
I am currently sitting in the dining room of the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Washington, D.C. This is our last morning here in the city, and we’re taking this time to review our research of the past two days and start to get it organized for sharing. I want to start out by thanking Sharon Rich for her complete support of Angela’s and my research. Just as in June, the last time we did this, Sharon has been only a text away the entire time and her excitement about what we are doing has only fueled ours.
The thrilling thing for both of us is that every time we have taken special interest in a detail of this story (the devil is in the details!) and tried to hunt it down, it has supported Sharon’s research and claims. The example that immediately springs to mind is that Sharon wrote in Sweethearts about what she had been told about Nelson’s involvement in Jeanette’s funeral and how he was the last one of the honorary pallbearers to come out of the church because he paused an extra moment with the casket before it was closed. In June, as you remember, we unearthed raw, unedited funeral footage of both Jeanette’s and Nelson’s funerals. This footage had never been seen and, guess what, Sharon didn’t even know that it existed, folks. It literally was unused footage in the bowels of the ABC archives….and guess who the last guy out of the church is, before the casket comes out? Nelson. A small thing, but a vitally important thing, one that validates what Sharon was told by a source, one of those sources that you delightful creatures out in Saint Land like to claim are not real or truthful. And those tiny, important things happen all the time.
That was really the nature of this trip. It would be a bit much for us to expect the same total windfall that we experienced in June, with a half-hour’s worth of never before seen television footage, as well as priceless radio recordings that tell their own story and were considered lost. This trip was more about the details. The stack of articles we found and printed is two inches thick. Countless others were saved to flash drives or made note of. Several rare recordings were obtained, as well as some never-released press pictures that we had to handle with white linen gloves. I love that stuff. There were a few other things, too. All in good time, dear readers.
The subject I’m going to discuss today concerns early production on New Moon and one of Jeanette’s many radio appearances around this time. As we know, relations were quite strained between Jeanette and Nelson as they went into production in the fall of 1939. Nelson had made the unfortunate, irrevocable mistake of marrying Ann Franklin in January, Jeanette subsequently tried to off herself, it was just general bad times for a good while. They hadn’t spent any time together. I seem to remember some ass telling Jeanette that Nelson was at a party she was at, and her blanching and being like, “Nelson, here?” and making excuses to get the heck home. Woody Van Dyke, their dear and trusted friend, was the original director on New Moon, with Robert Z. Leonard producing, but early on, Woody got pulled off the project to go expedite matters on I Take This Woman. Pop Leonard took over directorial duties as well (hence the camera making rampant love to Jeanette’s eyes in a few close-up shots. Watch Pop Leonard’s other Jeanette movies, namely Maytime and The Firefly, and you see a love affair between his lens and Jeanette’s big, gorgeous eyes).
Variety notes that pre-recording the score of New Moon began on October 23, 1939. That’s a Monday. In Sweethearts, Sharon notes that New Moon began on November 6, 1939–also a Monday, two weeks later. Given these two dates, I think it’s safe to assume that the November 6th date means principle photography—the start of shooting, in other words. Two weeks for pre-recording is a legit window. In the manuscript of her doomed autobiography, Jeanette notes October 28, 1939, as the start of New Moon. That was a Saturday, for those keeping score here, and seems less likely than the other two dates, which work together. Maybe she meant 23? Who knows. Anyway, that’s all the data—someone is likely slightly mistaken, but the ballpark remains the same.
In the early moments of production, Jeanette was very professionally cool towards Nelson, not making a fuss but not doing one iota more than she had to, either. Nelson, desperate to make things right between them and reconcile with her, was trying all manner of things to break down her walls. He fouled up majorly, and knew it, and needed her to acknowledge his profound remorse. The thing I love about these two is it is never, EVER about “I don’t love you” or “I’m not in love with you” or “I’ve stopped loving you”…….loving each other was never their problem. It was everything else. Even at their lowest lows (and they had some appallingly low ones), the acknowledged that they loved each other. It wasn’t a question. It never seemed to be a threat or ammunition between them in a fight…they both knew the score.
As she was preparing to work on One Kiss, one of her solo numbers in the film, and one of the most erotically lyric-ed songs she ever recorded, in my opinion (yeah it’s a pretty tune but LISTEN TO THE WORDS, yo!) Nelson sent her the following note, which I copied from Sweethearts, but it is sourced from the Isabel Eddy memoirs:
Sing even if you don’t mean it – sing it just for me. You can take all the time you want, but you are coming back to me, you have to. Meanwhile, remember this, my love for you is indestructible. No matter what happens, nothing and no one in all the universe can change or hurt it. Remember that.
So, here’s my thing. I’m preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetty sure (no way to be 100% positive, I guess), but I’m pretty sure they weren’t hanging around for each other’s solo recording sessions on this movie. Maybe on other ones when they were using any excuse to be together, but the atmosphere being what it was, I would bet that our little Ice Queen either outright insisted on recording alone or just….worked it out that way.
Variety states on October 24, 1939, that she had recorded One Kiss “yesterday” — so Monday, the 23rd. That’s a solo. I’m guessing that Nelson hadn’t heard it yet because he wasn’t on hand for her solo sessions. But she would have gotten his note.
However, on October 29th, 1939 (a Sunday), Jeanette made an appearance on a radio show called Community Chest. And……guess what she pulls from her repertoire to sing.
This recording has never been made available before. We found it in the Library of Congress’s collection back in June and submitted a request for it to be digitized. We heard it for the first time on Monday, recorded a copy and here we are.
Now, could she have chosen to sing this because she was rehearsed for it, having just recorded it that prior week? Yeah, sure she could. BUT, what sticks out to me about this is the fact that New Moon wasn’t released until June 28th, 1940, a full eight months after this. Additionally, though the Romberg operetta is called New Moon, the film version starring MacDonald and Eddy was originally titled Lover, Come Back to Me. So, first of all, I think it’s too early for her to be doing publicity for the movie that had JUST started pre-recording (how many other projects get to the pre-recording stage and then get shelved or discarded? Many.)—-the fact is, according to the practices of the time, it was way too early in the game for her to be singing songs from the movie to publicize it. And, since Lover, Come Back to Me was the original working title, if she WAS doing this for publicity, why didn’t she sing that? It would have been the title song. Fred MacMurray even points this out in the sort of faded out sounding post-script to her performance. Or she could have easily have sung any number of the songs she had already made uber famous. One Kiss is, indeed, an interesting choice.
We know Nelson and Jeanette used this kind of thing to communicate with each other. To me, it seems highly, highly likely that this choice was in response to his note. Think about it. Think how safe this is–he isn’t around, isn’t physically there, so she doesn’t have to talk it out with him afterwards, or look him in the eye, or get grabbed up in his arms when she knows she doesn’t have the power to resist him. It’s an olive branch. A safe olive branch, from a distance. Yes, I got your note. Yes, I still love you. Yes, I’m singing this for you. Consider how she looks in the film, during Wanting You. She is all Professional Actress Face for the beginning of the number, then we see her resistance crumble, we see her breathing like she’s just sprinted a mile. Then we see that tentative, cautious hand reach out towards him and with that, his entire performance changes and sweeps her along with it. This choice of song is like that hand. She wants him, wants what they have, but she’s scared of the avalanche.
So, yesterday, I posted a bunch of photos in one of my favorite Facebook groups, including one of Jeanette, Claude Jarman, Jr., and Lassie (or maybe it was Major, Lassie’s stand in?) sitting in a tent, around a heater, obviously cold, on the set of The Sun Comes Up, Jeanette’s final movie. This picture launched a whole LONG discourse between myself and several of the members of the group about Jeanette’s last two films.
Disclaimer: I love all of Jeanette’s movies. All of them, with the possible exception of The Vagabond King. So understand that the forthcoming criticisms are, yes, criticisms, but there is MUCH to love and appreciate about these movies just the way they are.
Also understand that being personally critical of Jeanette is not something at which I’m super good. I ain’t about getting hit by lightning and homegirl’s aim is pretty spot on. So.
Now, for Three Daring Daughters (can we please agree to refer to it from now on as TDD? Yeah? Great.), MGM cast the current “it” guy, Jose Iturbi, incredible pianist, heavily accented short little fellow, as Jeanette’s love interest. He’s supposed to rock her world so hard that she abandons the “shackles” of being a single mom to three teen/preteen girls and marries him on a whim during an extended boat trip. Oh. Okay. Well, for starters, our Jeanette is a tallish (5’5″), willowy beauty…and she’s legit taller than him in her heels and upswept hair. And for me, that’s sort of an immediate buzzkill. They look …not sexy… together. This is the movies and stuff like that matters, I’m sorry. Secondly, there is absolutely no passion. No clinch. No “I shouldn’t, it’s wrong, I’m so responsible but ohhhhhhhhhhh do it again, don’t stop……” scene that would have lent a shred of authenticity to the idea of this very strong, independent, intelligent single mom (she’s the editor of a high powered magazine) throwing caution to the wind. We don’t see her actually throw the caution. We see her blow out a candle and in the next scene she’s ditched the Serious Mom Wigs and has cute shorter curly hair. And as if to remind us how super wild and kinky the honeymoon was, that scene also has the one kiss in the movie—-an afterthought peck in fadeout. Like they’ve been married 112 years, not approximately 12 seconds.
And see, this ticks me off. Louise Morgan really, if treated better by the script, could have become Jeanette’s most compelling portrayal, but she doesn’t get half a chance. In the scene where she’s wearing this gorgeous orangey-coral dress and hum/singing along to You Made Me Love You, floating in via piano from the next cabin, you get a glimpse of what might have been. You see Louise yearn. You hear this low, soft voice, and the way she’s lounging around on the sofa…yep, this is a woman who is in touch with the fact that she maybe has been missing out on some Man Things since she ditched the girls’ father. She is sexy. She is gorgeous. She experiences desire. She has layers and feelings and longings—it occurs to her, and us, that maybe she’d like a kind of love that doesn’t come from her kids. Maybe she’d like to be a woman and not just Mommy.
(Now just imagine that the camera cuts to Nelson Eddy playing that damn piano. …Now that everyone is a little giddy in the pants, I’ll remind you all that it wasn’t Nelson. Many sorries.)
The fact that Jeanette is able to bring us these layers in that very short space of time is a tribute to what she is capable of as an actress. Then the camera reveals that it’s Mr. Iturbi and the viewer is sort of like, “…Oh.” But see, we see Sexy Jeanette for half a second, and lest that get dangerous (MOM CHARACTERS CANNOT BE SEXY!!!! ESPECIALLY JEANETTE MACDONALD MOM CHARACTERS BECAUSE SHE’S STILL A VIRGIN GUYS.), we have to temper that with Very Safe G-Rated Little Piano Man. I promise, I’m really NOT hating on Mr. Iturbi. I think he’s a great talent, Jeanette said he was good to work with, he was sweet to the kids (particularly Ann Todd who played Ilka, as she was a pianist), and he’s charming in a cute way. But as a romantic leading man for my girl Jeanette he is totally unsatisfying.
And THIS, friends, is the crux of the problem.
MGM—as many things as it did well and right with regard to the motion picture art form—mishandled the MacDonald sexuality.
Let me put you in touch with Jeanette Anna of the pre-MGM days.
They called her The Lingerie Queen of the Talkies.
Famous Quote: “I’m sure people must say about me, on the screen, ‘Good gracious, is Jeanette MacDonald going to take off her clothes – again?'”
I mean, hell, Maurice Chevalier measured her boobs in Love Me Tonight:
And she totally mouth-kissed a girl in One Hour With You:
Yeah, yeah, that was all Pre-Code. I get it. I do. BUT……it’s also a little hilarious how the general public opinion of Jeanette contains words like “highbrow” and “prissy” and “proper” and “ladylike” and “icy” and “frigid” and on and on and on. THE ABOVE PICTURES ARE HOW SHE GOT FAMOUS IN THE MOVIES, PEOPLE.
She was on Broadway first. She was Musical Theatre, not Opera—and she really wanted to be “Opera”—something that would fascinate her about Nelson Eddy when they met. HE was “Opera”…..she was “Musical Theatre” and nary the twain shall meet. Usually. She proved ’em wrong. 🙂
So Jeanette gets to Metro and she makes The Cat and the Fiddle, which I think of as sort of a transition for her, because she looks prettier (she was always beautiful but EVERYBODY is a little prettier at Metro, that’s just how it works) but she still is retaining the threads of the Jeanette that the movie audiences know. And there’s some suggestiveness here; the main characters are shacked up but not married, there’s kissing in bed, she tells him about basically dreaming about him naked, etc. It came out in 1934, that pivotal year for The Code, which applied to all movies released on or after July first (Thanks, Sharon, I hadn’t remembered the date)—and it seems to have squeaked out just in time, as most of it was filmed in 1933. Then came The Merry Widow, which Metro produced but which brought together the team she already had established elsewhere: Chevalier and director Ernst Lubitsch. So really, aside from the sheer BEAUTY of the production—the sets and costumes are VERY Metro and VERY lavishly beautiful—it doesn’t really feel like an MGM movie. Lubitsch made everything he did have that pre-code feel. As Jeanette discusses in her interview with Tony Thomas later in life, his specialty was whimsical innuendo.
The big image change happened when she and Nelson teamed up for Naughty Marietta. The movie, as we all know, was a barn-burning sensation, launched the Mac/Eddy team and so on and so forth—it has MUCH to commend it on every level, but the fact of the matter is that gone forever was the Jeanette that movie audiences had known and enjoyed previously.
She’s stunning and startlingly beautiful, to coin a phrase, all swathed in period costume after period costume. She’s coquettish and coy but never seriously sexual. The typical pattern is that we see her first, she gets the first song, he’s usually not as important in life station as she is, he likes her immediately, she doesn’t like him, then she REALLY likes him but is hard to get, then they sing a duet and are officially in love until struggles force them to part but they usually are reunited (and if not, he gets to die on her powdered bosom a couple times). The “formula” is not complicated. Nobody cares about this. When the two of them open their mouths to sing, the rest of the world can go hang itself. They were the absolute best at what they did and that’s all there is to it. You can be someone who likes Jeanette better or likes Nelson better, I think we all have our preferences, but if you can’t recognize that it was TOGETHER that they were best known, best loved and did their best work…….well, you’re an idiot.
But the fact of the matter is that her figure, and indeed, her actual sexual presence, went from being her stock in trade (apart from her voice, obviously) to what Modern Screen (If I’ve mis-attributed that quote, please correct me, but I’m almost positive it was Modern Screen, in the little gossip blurbs, and I think I have the actual copy of the magazine where it’s mentioned) termed the “best kept secret in Hollywood.”
That’s what happens at Metro, friends. Family pictures, you know.
(I’m not knocking that either, really. I think we could use a hell of a lot more family pictures in this day and age.)
The thing is, as their personal relationship developed, so did their chemistry on screen. Jeanette and Nelson can’t help but be sexy together. Please observe this clip, a zoomed in look at their hands duing the Obey Your Heart sequence in Girl of the Golden West. I’m not going to go into all the back story of what was going on (but Sharon did a great and recent analysis of it, go here.) but the fact of the matter is that nobody in 1937 is going to DIRECT this sort of hand play in a very Code-happy studio environment. Just look:
I mean, please imagine that he was doing that to ANY OTHER part of her body. Pick one. That is some seriously sexy business right there, and her thumb is playing right back. My point is, moments of sexy show up in every single movie, whether the studio wanted them to or not, Hayes Code be damned. But why did Metro want her to be seen as such an innocent type? Could it be that Mayer, who long-nursed a personal soft spot for Jeanette, didn’t want her charms on display? Could it be that the more intense the passion looked with Nelson, the less the public would be enamored of the humongous studio sponsored marriage to Gene Raymond? I mean, selling Gene to the public as Jeanette’s husband was a hard enough job anyway. But marrying her off to the absolutely-NEVER-threatening-to-the-ivory-tower Raymond ensured that she was seen as prim, boring, prudish and dispassionate. And then her damn fan club took it from there and here we are.
Amazing too, how they are shunted off into separate pictures when things are a little too risky. Rosalie and The Firefly happened between Maytime and Girl of the Golden West. What else happened in that era? Jeanette’s wedding. Letting them be together at work was too risky. They might decide to rage against the Machine and run off together. Something might slip. They were blissfully happy, even though Jeanette was married, during the making of Sweethearts, until Jeanette lost Nelson’s child at around six months of gestation. The Mayer Machine just BARELY gets away with keeping that under wraps, and promptly ushers Jeanette into Broadway Serenade and Nelson into Let Freedom Ring and Balalaika. And what else happens? Oh, yeah, drunk and majorly fucked up Nelson elopes with Ann Franklin. And Jeanette tries to kill herself at the end of production on Broadway Serenade, to which she always referred as being her least favorite movie she ever did. (As always, these episodes and subsequent documentation can be explored in more detail by reading Sweetheartsby Sharon Rich.)
It just annoys me that too many of Jeanette’s Metro pictures have her being a one trick pony—even if it’s one HELL of a trick. She was a good actress, a splendid comedienne, but also capable of beautiful depth of feeling, especially as she aged. Her performance in The Sun Comes Up is absolutely gorgeous. Helen Winter has a little bit more of a meaty script than Louise Morgan does in terms of internal character development, but is just as short on the leading man front. Lloyd Nolan was a great guy and a personal friend of Jeanette’s and Nelson’s, but he doesn’t exactly spark with her on the screen. Which probably suited everyone just fine, because again, Jeanette is not allowed to be sexy, and CERTAINLY not when she’s playing a mom. I mean, it makes you long for her to have played a mom like Maureen O’Hara’s character Maggie in The Parent Trap…THAT is a transformation. She’s a great mom, but the reunion scene between Maggie and Mitch is swoon-worthy. Very romantic and very, very sexy. I didn’t say it needed to be dirty. It doesn’t. That isn’t. But it’s real.
Jeanette was on her way out after I Married an Angel. She did Cairo to finish out her contract (I effing love that movie) and wouldn’t be seen again at Metro until Three Daring Daughters. There was great “Welcome Home” fanfare about her return to her old stomping grounds after years of absence, but it seems that once she was there, they weren’t really sure what to do next. She was still exquisite, still had the best soprano voice in the movies, and wasn’t really old enough (well, okay, she was 43, so according to what she liked to tell people, that would make her 39…and she looked late thirties) to be shoved around the bend into Mom-dom. Nelson strongly objected to her playing Mom roles, perhaps because he knew that once she did that, she wouldn’t be able to go back to playing a real romantic lead—which he knew damn well, publicly and privately, she should have still been doing. She rallied for Nelson to be cast in TDD and wrote Hedda Hopper that it would have been a “hot” box office reunion….and how right she was. That movie with Nelson would have been ENTIRELY different. And Metro would have had to admit that she was sexy. That he was sexy. That they were sexy together. This was no mannered, powdered wig period piece…this was a modern movie. If Louise Morgan had met Nelson Eddy on that ship instead of Jose Iturbi….I mean, can you imagine? Sexy, sexy. Perhaps that’s exactly why it didn’t happen. The studio wasn’t ready to make a grown up movie about grown up people. The idea that you can raise your kids and still feel the tingles for the right man who reminds you that you’re female……yeah, apparently that wasn’t a thing at Metro. Pity. It would have been great. Look at this candid of TDD-era Jeanette (with Iturbi) WITHOUT the wigs that made her matronly in the movie:
She doesn’t look old enough to be the mother of a high school graduate. She just doesn’t. Don’t effing tell me all that was left to her were Mom roles. Nelson, pal, you were EXACTLY right.
A screen capture from TDD. Look how gorgeous. Staaaaaaahp it.
Perhaps the best way to end this much-longer-than-anticipated post is with this anecdote:
Sometime in the 1940s, Nelson Eddy had occasion to see Monte Carlo, one of Jeanette’s Lingerie Queen Pre-Code films. (You know, the one where she runs around in her underwear and sings Beyond the Blue Horizon on a train. That song became one of her signature numbers.) Upon seeing it, his comment was:
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.