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.
The International Optimists’ Club (is that still a thing?) decided that that perpetually happy chappy, Ralph Edwards, needed to be the recipient of a plaque. And who better to give that plaque? Well, the Queen of Optimism herself, obviously, Miss Jeanette Anna Mac-D.
Actually it was all just a huge ploy to get her to the El Capitan Theatre, where Ralph’s new-ish show, This is Your Life, was being done. The show involved ambushing an unsuspecting famous person and subjecting them to a sometimes-awkward-but-usually-fun half hour review of their lives. All sorts of conspiracy happens to pull that off, with spouses, family members, acquaintances, etc, having to be in on it but not letting on to the person involved. Maureen O’Hara’s episode is really cute, it’s on youtube and I highly recommend it. J-Mac was one of those Hollywood types who referred to the “invasion” of television and sort of pooh-poohed it in its early days, and she was busy concertizing, so she hadn’t really gotten familiar with TIYL, but whatever, she’ll pour herself into a strapless gown and go present this Plaque O’ Optimism. She sang a concert in LA the night before anyway, so she was in town (though during this period, she spent a lot of time in New York, so LA wasn’t “base” at the moment, I don’t think. I could be mistaken about that, but it isn’t crucial information. What is interesting, however, is that she was out in LA without her husband.).
What you need to know, without spending this whole post hashing it out, is that Nelson and Jeanette were broken up at this point. The years 1949-1952 were rough for both of them, but particularly bad for Jeanette. There had been a lot of talk about her and Nelson re-teaming on a movie, maybe at Metro, maybe somewhere else, and though several possibilities were discussed and, in fact, worked on, nothing fully came to fruition. Things had been extremely rocky for the two of them personally for a while, but it came to a head, according to confidante Sybil Thomas and verified by Jeanette’s sister Blossom, when Jeanette overheard some people discussing how she had photographed in test footage. Their suggestion was that Nelson should be paired with someone younger. Feeling totally irrational and out of sorts because of other pressures and tension in their relationship, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and she decided he’d lured her into filming to humiliate her. She packed up her stuff, told Nelson she never wanted to see him again and fled home, whereupon she had a total, complete, huge nervous breakdown. The fact that it took her this long to snap, when one familiarizes oneself with the RIDICULOUS amount of stress these people were under, from work pressure to the complete wreckage of their personal lives, shows just how strong she was. (I cannot IMAGINE her photographing that badly!! She’s flippin’ GORGEOUS in her last two movies—okay so her wigs were a wee big matronly but holy hell, she is stunning. She and Nelson would have looked perfect together. Let’s go find those meanies who said she wasn’t photographing well and punch them in the face.)
Friends who knew her before and after comment that she was changed from this point on—and indeed, she seems to be meeker and less balls to the wall in her dogged pursuit of her career after this. Yes, she worked–she actually was quite busy throughout the 50s with concert and stage work and sporadic TV appearances–but as we know, she never returned to films after The Sun Comes Up in 1948.
What she did do, because Nelson seemed to be a lost cause and movies were a no-go, is try to pull herself up by the bootstraps and give her relationship with Gene some CPR. They did the play The Guardsman, with the hope of taking it to Broadway, but it closed before it got there, due in large part to the complete lack of chemistry between the leads. Ever see Smilin’ Through? Gorgeous movie, beautiful costumes, wonderful old songs, terrific story, great cast and performances—except one. Gene isn’t all that offensive in and of himself, but they don’t really give any indication that they are dying to get wild in the dressing room between shots, either. Even when Jeanette added a mini-concert to the show, it was mostly her loyal fan following who bought tickets over and over.
The Guardsman, with Gene:
Nelson, meanwhile, worked in radio and alternated between studying religion (frantically trying to give himself some peace) and screwing a rather long line of blip-on-the-radar type women. Every one of these conquests who have been interviewed knew about his relationship with Jeanette (that is not to say that they liked it) and they all admitted that he would have left them in a hot minute to go back to her.
It was Jeanette’s sister, Blossom, who ultimately saved the day. Basically, Blossom knew about the plans for This is Your Life, she knew Nelson had already said he wasn’t interested in being a part of it, and she knew that it would look 14 kinds of bad for Jeanette if Nelson, of all people, failed to show up as one of the surprise guests. She cornered Nelson into having lunch with her, and found that he was not really aware of all the problems Jeanette had had, and he was sorry about them. Their meeting ended with him agreeing that he would show up, if nothing else, to spare Jeanette the indignity of having people wonder why he didn’t come. How she reacted to him after this period of “off-again” in their relationship would sort of dictate his next move.
There was to be a reception afterwards at the Bit of Sweden restaurant on the Sunset Strip, and the arrangements Blossom and Nelson worked out were thus: If Jeanette was glad to see Nelson and reacted well, Blossom was going to have to leave the party suddenly and Nelson would step up to give Jeanette a ride home. If she reacted badly, she would come home with Blossom as planned.
I want to be very clear right now that this episode has been edited—not much, but enough that it is important to mention. What’s missing are little seconds here and there as well as the original commercials. I have the whole uncut thing floating around somewhere on a VHS tape, so I know it’s still in existence, but for our purposes, this will do.
Look at this little Optimistic creeper, sneaking up on Ralph with her plaque:
Ralph goes to kiss her cheek and asks if Gene is in New York and her response is, “Yes, he’s in New York, you’re safe.”
Ahahahahahaha. Gene is not going to chase you around the El Capitan, Ralph. No worries. Jeanette’s pretty sure she left him on the other coast.
And then we are treated to several full minutes of Jeanette Anna not having a single clue what the hell is going on. It’s really grand. I like the part when she scoots back on the sofa like she’s five years old.
I have absolutely no idea what this means but, sure, Ralph, you can have a pat/hug. It’ll be exactly like the pat/hug my husband gets in a few minutes:
She gets that she’s been punked, but it takes her like, two full guests to figure out exactly what is going on. Here’s her snarky “mmhmm” and raised eyebrow when he mentions that her mom kicked the bucket and had been her “guide and inspiration”:
She needs her glasses. Cue middle-aged-bifocals-position, holding picture way away to see what it is…
“He’s [Gene] on a television show tonight!” ………….and you are a great big dope, babygirl. HAHAHA. Like a lamb to the slaughter, Jeanette. (Also does it not strike anyone else as interesting that she doesn’t appear to know the details about what he’s doing? He’s in NY. He’s on a television show tonight. Do you know any more than that, J-Mac? Do you care? Do you people actually talk at all ever?)
So Gene is on the phone “from New York” and she calls him Pappy and he calls her Bunc and it’s cute. “Bunc” is short for “Bunko” which was his nickname for her. Let’s go to Webster:
a swindle in which a person is cheated at gambling, persuaded to buy a nonexistent or worthless object, or otherwise victimized
a complicated confidence game planned and executed with great care
Anybody else see the absolutely fantastic humor in this? THE OTHER HALF OF MY FAKE MARRIAGE, BUNKO. Hey, if you’re going to be part of this ridiculous mess, you gotta have a sense of humor. I guess that goes for the principals as well as the followers.
And just look at her, waving at the TV. She is so, so cute. And so embarrassing. It sucks that she didn’t have kids, if for no other reason than she would have been awesome at being mortifying in moments such as these. Nobody told her that dress was not the greatest, I guess. Oh well. She fared better than some actresses of her generation in the 50s.
How do you not love this human? How. Just how. ❤ ❤ ❤
Gene: Will you call me afterwards?
Jeanette: Will you be home?
……………….And there you have it, folks. Ha. Gene says he’ll “wait for your call and make the date afterwards.” Great. Gene’s sort of sniggering laugh gets on my nerves and always has. But anyway.
Ralph mentions her amazing contribution to the Army Emergency Relief Fund during the war and she reacts with sweet modesty. Never call this girl’s patriotism into question, kids. She practically bleeds red, white and blue. Another moment I love is when Ralph shows her a picture of her jitterbugging with a random soldier at the Hollywood Canteen (before bringing him onstage) and she remembers his first and last name, plus the fact that he was married and had a baby. A brief encounter in a busy life from ten years before, and look at her. What a sweetie pie.
Then her 7th grade English teacher, Ms. Edna Clear comes out, and Jeanette is again the very picture of adorable charm and grace. Ms. Clear says Jeanette was one of her “most brilliant” pupils, which is a veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long stretch (J-Mac was not a very good student–she got much more learned later in life and “never regretted not going to college”). Even so, it’s super cute. Then they show some pictures from her movies and play a little strain of music from each. She coos during Lover Come Back to Me, by the way. Ralph makes mention of her “great co-star, Nelson Eddy” and look at her face:
Nervous wreck. When she had first gotten there that night, some wise-ass parking employee told Helen Ferguson (who brought her) to park Miss MacDonald’s car “over there beside Nelson Eddy’s”….and this is the point where I think she really starts realizing that maybe that guy wasn’t being stupid. Maybe Nelson is here. Is he really here? Is he coming out? How is he going to act? …How am I going to act? Shit. Keep it together, Jeanette. You’re on national television. Crap crap crap. Is he really here?
She seems to breathe a little when they mention her wedding date, because she realizes Nelson is not the next person coming out. Dr. Martin, the minister who married her and Gene, comes out and, as soon as he’s there, Jeanette sportingly drops the nervous look and becomes all warmth and sweetness again. Dr. Martin pontificates a little about they “show in their life the philosophy of the holy bonds of matrimony” and Jeanette looks down, embarrassed. Yep, that’s a little awkward.
And here comes Gene. She hugs him and tells him he played it “very well and very straight” and he goes, “Did I play it straight?”
Guys, it’s a cheap laugh and it’s wrong, but I WILL NEVER NOT CHUCKLE.
So then Ralph brings Nelson up again and that look is back on Jeanette’s face. Awesome, now she gets to see Nelson for the first time in a very long time and Gene’s going to be here for the fun, too! And check out Gene, looking to see how she is reacting—he’s already seen Nelson backstage at this point:
Grace Newell, Jeanette’s life-long voice teacher and “adopted” mother (according to the sweetest ever letter written by Jeanette to Grace, who outlived her, a few months before Jeanette’s death) comes out next and is precious, and Grace is followed by our heroine, Blossom, who so plainly adores her sister–and the feeling is completely mutual. Then they say something about Elsie the Family Cow—excuse me, I mean Elsie, the other MacDonald sister–and this part is edited out of this youtube video, but, Scout’s Honor, Jeanette wrinkles her nose at Blossom and mouths, “Oh, is she here too?” Elsie is not our favorite sister, you see. Nevertheless, she’s there, all lacquered and blonde and awkward, but definitely related two the other two and sporting the one characteristic that all three sisters got in full measure: an absolutely gorgeous set of teeth. Check out the teeth on these girls!
And finally, but finally, Ralph turns the subject to love, and we know Nelson must be next. (No, I’m totally serious, that happens.) At the word “love”, music begins to play in the background—the song that Nelson sang at Jeanette and Gene’s wedding—and her face is unchanged, but you can see Gene beginning to watch her carefully. And then, from backstage, Nelson starts to sing.
Here is the link to the video of Nelson’s portion of the episode. If you don’t have 25 minutes to kill on the other one, WATCH THIS ONE. It’s two and a half minutes long and it’s sort of the law that you watch it. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and it still kills me.
The INSTANT she hears his voice — I actually put a stopwatch on it. It takes her three-quarters of a second to go from polite listening to full-blown O-face.
The MacDonald Ecstasy:
NOBODY ELSE GOT ANYTHING CLOSE TO THIS REACTION.
And then, in the 10 seconds following that reaction, she begins to cry. While her head is still back, you see her struggling to keep her emotions in check, and failing. Gene, watching all this in a sort of bemused way, sportingly hands her his handkerchief. There are people who say, “Oh, I would get teary too, listening to a song from my wedding,” …but it has nothing to do with the song. She reacted before he’d even formed one word. It is the sound of Nelson’s voice. The affirmation that he is there, that he is singing, that he still cares about her enough to show up. He’s there, and he’s there for her, and she knows it at once.
She and Nelson make eye contact for just a moment, and he reaches out and takes her hand–the same one that has the handkerchief in it. Still emotional, she grabs the handkerchief away and holds it in her other hand, the better to hold his hand with. (This part is taking me forever to write because I get caught up in watching it!)
It’s really hard to capture, because he’s turning towards her and the youtube quality of this recording sucks, but Nelson is definitely smiling, having seen her reaction and felt her hand probably squeezing the crap out of his:
It is necessary to note here that Nelson is reading the lyrics while he sings—VERY unusual for him. One good look at her face, and you see his arm move as he throws the music behind the couch. He’s not holding it in the next shot. She has been effectively turned into a puddle of MacGoo:
He keeps squeezing and wiggling her hand, just like he used to do in all their movies—Girl of the Golden West contains a scene of such blatant hand porn that it might be too much for this blog. And then she just sort of melds right up into his arms.
And it looks for a split second that their faces are going in the same direction, but damn it, no kiss. They remember they’re on TV.
And then Jeanette finds herself exactly where she is supposed to be. ❤
Blissed-out MacDonald, right there. Gene who???
Gene literally could have dropped dead off to the side and nobody would have noticed.
Look at Nelson. Star football player and his cheerleader girlfriend, anyone? Still holding hands, by the way.
Then Gene shakes hands with Nelson, who still has Jeanette’s hand, and look at Gene’s body language here:
That two-handed grip is known as the “politician’s handshake” and body language research defines this as “an attempt to control the situation or person” ………Welp. Yep.
Nelson, being cute, addresses her as “Jeanette–I may call you Jeanette, may I?” and she laughs and Gene, in some sort of fiercely misguided attempt to be relevant, goes, “That’s all right, old man, I give you my permission.”
Hey, Gene! HERE’S A GREAT BIG DOSE OF FUCK OFF.
Nelson, by the way, skipped the rehearsal for TIYL the day before (but he DID attend Jeanette’s concert at the Philharmonic–this was noted by several sources, including a rather rude critic who found Nelson’s presence at the concert more exciting than the concert. He just didn’t go backstage to see her afterwards.) and had the TIYL people scrambling in blind panic for replacement people to try to fill the gap if he really didn’t show on the actual day. When he did arrive, he was given a prepared speech–the only guest to get one—because he hadn’t attended the rehearsal and they didn’t feel he could be “trusted” to make the appropriately PC comments. He doesn’t even get through all of his statement before he sort of trails off and Jeanette is like, “Well Nelson, what can I say, except it (his performance) was certainly one of the highlights of our wedding (snort) and we’ll never forget it!”
He then kisses her hand and that’s more-or-less it. At the end of the show, she’s given a wristwatch and she sort of starts to show it to Gene, but then shows it to someone on her right—whether that is Nelson or Blossom or just a coincidence, I’m not sure.
The fact remains that Jeanette was not an overly weepy-in-public type, and Nelson totally did her in, the moment she heard him. It’s amazing what you can learn about her, just from watching this show. Her chemistry with Gene is palsy and fun, but her chemistry with Nelson is emotional and adoring. This moment in time was the catalyst for their reconciliation, and they would be “on again” from this point until her death in 1965.
So thanks, Ralph Edwards! But more importantly… thanks, Blossom. 🙂
Took a day off to write a chapter of the fiction novel I’m also working on, but alas, I returned, just as annoyed as ever that people are still being thick about the Eddy and the Mac.
So. Jeanette and Gene Raymond. Where does one, like, even start? On a doorstep? Well, if we’re to believe the much-publicized version of events, that’s how they met. On a doorstep, at a party. Apparently she got there before he did. He whistled. She turned around (oh, lord, J-Mac), subsequently they introduced themselves to each other (“I’m Jeanette MacDonald.” ….Cool story, I’m sure he’d never have known that.) and when the hostess opened the door, “Oh, how nice of you to come together!” Great.
So, they sort of started hanging out. They both liked to ride. They both liked to dance and socialize. Jeanette was approximately 47 times cooler than Gene on the Hollywood Social Ladder and so having her as a convenient way to get to all the good parties must have been super awesome. He played that card for a good twenty-some years more, until she got fragile and not so cool anymore and not so good for those party invites and then she got ignored and neglected and didn’t even have a phone in her bedroom and didn’t have a nurse for two weeks between having a nurse and going to Texas on a goddamn commercial plane (WHAT THE FUCK GENE RAYMOND. SERIOUSLY. PUT THE WOMAN ON A PRIVATE FLIGHT SO PEOPLE DON’T, YOU KNOW, AUTOGRAPH SEEK WHILE SHE’S OVER HERE TRYING TO DIE.) to die in a hospital awaiting the surgery she should have had months before. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s actually stick, for now, to the time of life when I don’t want to strangle Gene with my bare hands!
So there they are. Hanging out. Casually dating. Why is Jeanette even on the market for a man at this point? After Naughty Marietta and Rose Marie, she was entangled in the considerable charms and bed sheets of Nelson Eddy, right?
So here’s the deal, in a nutshell. Marietta is a wonderful beginning. Sparks a’flyin’ every which way. By the time they’re done with that movie, they’re “a thing”. Nelson’s mom is a little dubious. Babygirl had quite the reputation for having some pretty busy drawers back in the day and may-or-may-not have been getting private summons to L.B.’s office for you-know-what even as Nelson was moving in. Hilarious that Isabel Eddy is put off by this, considering how much MORE wild her own son was! Luise Rainer was told by Mayer that, “Jeanette MacDonald sits on my lap when she signs a contract with me.” (And no, that’s not a rumor, I’ve seen the footage of those words coming out of her mouth.) So whether that’s true or not (the fact that Rainer reported it is true, I’m saying whether or not the actual action is true), Mr. Mayer had it pretty bad for our Redhead. So when she takes a liking to Nelson, whom Mayer does not particularly like…….well, Mayer decided he likes Nelson even less, basically. Anna MacDonald, Jeanette’s mom, doesn’t like Nelson either. She sees him as a threat. Funny, she never felt that way about Gene. Why? Because her daughter a) wasn’t passionately in love with Gene and b) Gene never tried to alter the course of her career. Nelson had opinions about what she did. You know, because he legit gave a damn. Anna perceived Nelson’s opinions + the fact that Jeanette was really into him as a direct threat to her own security.
So after Marietta wraps, Nelson and Jeanette continue to date and, reportedly, he got pissed because she went out dancing without him–even though he hated to go out–and he saw her picture in the paper at some nightclub and they had a fight about it. Both of them were a lot immature back then. He was probably worse, but she was no picnic. He was jealous and on the possessive side of annoying. So they have a fight about it over at his and his mom’s house (who, by this point, has seen enough of Jeanette that she has decided she loves her and that feeling lasted the rest of Isabel’s life. The two became very close.) she politely excuses herself and beats it. Nelson stomps upstairs in a huff, Jeanette follows him to continue fighting (one of those “last word” types, I imagine she was) and, welp, whaddya know, at long last, the relationship is consummated. It was rough and Jeanette’s shirt got torn. Nelson, horrified at himself for having been something of a brute, is freaking out with remorse. She’s trying to get dressed. Her shirt is torn and she needs an alternate plan for clothing and….oh, hey, round two. She, of course, told her sister Blossom all this later, and intimates that, list of conquests or not, she “lost control” for the first time with Nelson. And the crowd cheers.
But then things hit a snag, because Nelson wants to get married. He wants Jeanette to quit movies and raise a family and follow him around on concert tours. She thinks that is a pile of steaming BS and tells him so. So, at an impasse, they sort of break up. That’s when she met Gene. So she really is just hanging around with Gene, dating him casually, while being unable to resist Nelson when he comes sweeping in with renewed efforts around August of ’35. So they resume and leave to go shoot Rose Marie on location at Lake Tahoe. Here’s a couple of pictures of them dating around this time:
They went to see Maytime on stage (the film version of which was soon to be theirs) and this picture was taken backstage with the leading lady.
See his arm around her? See her perfectly RIDICULOUS grin? See his??
Definitely dating. So all you people who say they were NEVER romantically involved—adios! She even says that in the squeaky clean, severely edited, mostly-only-useful-for-her-handwritten-notes autobiography manuscript. She alludes to “whatever attraction Nelson and I may have had for each other” (does NOT deny it) and mentions dating him.
Okay so off to Lake Tahoe they trot, romance rekindled. Jeanette is, even for her, unusually barfy on the curvy roads, but just attributes it to the curvy roads and change in altitude. They have a blissful time there, love in Indian Summer, if you will, and everything’s grand. Her sometimes boyfriend/financial adviser/old flame Bob Ritchie came up to Tahoe to visit and even brought her a puppy (the way to Jeanette’s heart: cake, ice cream and puppies) and she basically told him, “Thanks for the puppy. Bye!” So that relationship, which began in her New York days, was done. Here’s a candid shot of her on Lake Tahoe with Nelson. Please do not miss the way he is looking at her:
She had, back in LA, spotted an emerald ring that she loved, and Nelson, hoping for a better result the next time he brought up marriage, had reportedly spent $40,000.00 in 1935, making that rock his. In today’s money, that ring cost him $700,211.31. You might say the boy was serious. Up in the pines and sparkling waters of Tahoe, he tries again. She says yes. Here’s the rock:
And then things become, as they UNFAILINGLY DO WITH THESE PEOPLE, mucho complicado.
Jeanette is pregnant. Nelson finds this new development utterly thrilling. They’ll sneak off and elope and that’ll be that.
Oh, guys, if only. If only. (Although, really, it is my belief that if they had married then, the relationship would not have lasted. I think they needed to go through some of these tougher times to realize really how much they loved each other. I think, had they married in 1940-42 or even later, it would have been until death. They needed to grow up and realize how important they were to each other. They hadn’t done that quite yet in 1935, I don’t think.)
Jeanette, being the good little employee that she is and not having it in her to totally a) rebel (she was sassy, for sure, but by and large she was a pretty law-abiding citizen) and b) throw very personal cold water in Mayer’s face, decided she had to call the studio and talk to Mayer. Understand that back then, in long term contracts, you had to have studio approval to marry, divorce or have a child. So she was trying to play this by the rules. Nelson’s idea that it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission was a far better one, in this case.
Mayer says absolutely no on all fronts. Are we shocked? No marriage, and “get rid of the problem” ASAP.
She doesn’t want an abortion, but she doesn’t know what to do. She tells Nelson, he flips because she called Mayer behind his back, they have a huge fight, he stomps off, and poor Jeanette miscarries (she had a heart condition which made miscarriage exponentially more likely–something to be explored in a future post). She got in touch with her sister, Blossom, who went to Tahoe to be with her. Nelson doesn’t believe that she miscarried, he’s being a stubborn jackass at this point and accuses her of having an abortion and lying about it to him. They are done, done, done. For a few minutes, anyway. Blossom dropped everything and came to be with baby sister as she tried to get over her miscarriage and breakup and while she was there, she took this photo of Jeanette, wearing her glasses that she needed in private life and playing checkers with Jimmy Stewart, who had a supporting role in the movie.
Back in Hollywood, Nelson has cooled down and taken a walk and they try to talk it out and apparently spend the weekend together alternately committing mental suicide over their differences and screwing. They shot the finale, which, if you inspect it, has a real air of tenderness and poignancy to it—Jeanette’s face especially, kissing Nelson’s hand, holding it against her face… They’re stupid for each other, but they can’t get it together.
Jeanette needs a pal. She needs somebody to hang around with, to keep her company, to take her places and try to breathe some sense of fun back into her life. Gene is just that guy. He’s cute, he’s not too threatening, he’s not too demanding, he thinks whatever she wants to do with her life and career is fine, he doesn’t form strong opinions…in short, at that time in her life, he was just what the doctor ordered. Mayer, by the by, is thrilled with this. Nelson is out and the pretty damn effeminate Raymond is in. Good. There are rumors all over about Gene’s tendencies, so this will hush those up and keep Nelson “away”, too. Can we please just take a gander at Gene Raymond around this time?
So this goes on for a while and Jeanette suckers herself into believing that Gene has what it takes to make her happy. She says that he’s, “like Nelson, but without the rough edges.” Or any edges. I have never understood how anyone thinks the two men look alike, but there are people who think they do, and, indeed, they used to get mistaken for one another in public, which was very convenient for Nelson, I’m sure.
Gene proposed with a square-cut sapphire–not as thick or as grand as the emerald, but it’s still a very pretty ring. Here’s a picture (this is after they were married, you can see her wedding band as well):
And here’s their official engagement picture. They…..aren’t even making eye contact. She’s looking to the left of his face. Jeanette’s face is very much the lights are on but there’s no one home.
And that is where I leave you, in this first installment of this massive topic. There’s literally no way to cover all this in one blog post.
On the set of Sweethearts, 1938, where the “feud” rumors officially got started. This picture is one in a whole series that they did showing them “fighting” — to prove it was all a load of crap. Didn’t quite work. Even today, there are people who say, “I heard they hated each other.”
This won’t be one of those posts where I pontificate for paragraph after paragraph… I’ll start by letting Nelson explain the whole situation to you. Here he is, talking to Jack Parr in 1960.
“Oh, cut it out!” is his reaction when it is suggested that he and Jeanette didn’t get along. And at the end, you can almost hear the man shrug his shoulders as he says, “Whaddya gonna do? I love her; I think she loves me.” And Parr continues by asking if Nelson ever sees her and Nelson responds, “Yeah, all the time.”
Funnily enough, Jeanette made notes on a page of the unpublished manuscript of her autobiography to tell a very similar story, only she has an extremely interesting take on things:
Jeanette’s notes here concerning Sweethearts are as follows:
Nelson / Woody / Stromberg
Feud? (Yeah. “Feud? What feud?”)
Then some notes about the plot: “Play within play / married couple desperately in love / jealousy over secretary / quarrel”
(I’m resisting the urge to point out that it looks like “desperately in love” was written in as an afterthought, since it doesn’t line up with the rest of that line, and I REALLY want to know what synapses were firing in that red head of hers when she wrote that down. Gah.)
“Nelson’s acting ability” ……….was minimal. You can say it, Jeanette. Side note: It pisses me OFF when people say their chemistry was “just acting” but then pan Nelson as an actor. EITHER HE WAS A GOOD ACTOR OR HE WASN’T. You can’t have it both ways, guys. He was a mediocre at BEST actor who loved his leading lady so he is his most convincing with her because he isn’t acting. His performances without her are….well……. yeah. Either call him a good actor or decide he wasn’t acting, but don’t call him a good actor who can’t act.
And then, here’s the kicker:
“I’m sure rumors started by LB–“
Yep. L.B. Mayer was reeeeeeally sick and tired of the two of them being a thing at this point. He’d gone to all the trouble to finance a very expensive, more-or-less arranged marriage for Jeanette (which will get its own post in due course, I’m sure) and he’d already threatened Nelson AND Jeanette a number of times at this point, and they still were “carrying on” and “not being good boys and girls”…….and Jeanette was pregnant with Nelson’s child during this movie, as has been verified by people who worked in wardrobe and Jeanette’s own sister. That’ll be a separate blog post, chickens, let’s not get sidetracked. Anyway, it would have suited Mayer just fine to have people think they didn’t like each other, because everybody really thought (my grandmother included, she was a huge fan and never quite “forgave” Jeanette for marrying Gene) that they belonged together. I can totally see Mayer’s logic, here. If the public thinks they hate each other, maybe they’ll stop suspecting they are really in love. The studio got literally hundreds of thousands of letters of “protest” when Jeanette married Gene. A good feud will maybe kill some of those rumors and at the same time generate publicity. I bet you’re right, Jeanette. You’re not stupid.
Bottom line? There was no feud.
There were artistic disagreements, probably loads of private fights, and indeed, a couple of breakups through the more than thirty years of their relationship……but there was no feud.
And just for fun, here are a couple of my favorite candid shots of them on the set, showing just how much “feuding” they were doing. ❤
Nelson, it’s very good for you, even if it does stink.
Recording the music for Maytime. With his completely necessary arm around her, and her catnap chair in the background. I dig the socks and sandals, J-Mac. Do that all the time.
I won’t tell you guys how I like to caption this picture….
Okay, I don’t really anticipate being able to keep this blog in any sort of chronological order, I’m just going to make these posts as they present themselves to my brain, but I’ll try to give a little context for each. I have ideas for about four blog posts that are all completely unrelated, so I really think the best approach is just to do them and not worry about when each one would fall on the general timeline of their lives.
It came to my attention that on New Year’s Eve, ~1991 (at first the year was given as 1994, we are still looking for a copy of the actual article, but from what we know, we believe 1991-ish to be more accurate), well-known columnist Cindy Adams ran a story about New Year’s Eve during WWII and the movie stars of that time. She wrote that Jeanette and Nelson were Hollywood’s most married-like couple and that Nelson (who was well-known for his artistic ability) had sculpted a “version” of The Kiss, a very famous sculpture by Rodin, and that it had been a Christmas gift for Jeanette. She said that it was not an exact copy, and that the woman in the sculpture was wearing a little towel that was falling to the ground.
Is that true? I mean, it sounds like something artistic Nelson would do. And if it is true, it’s pretty darn cool! But where is it and how will we ever know for sure? Did Jeanette return it to Nelson for safekeeping at some point? Did Gene end up with it? Worse–did Ann? One feels pretty certain that neither of these parties would have kept it on display for the world. That it still exists today would be pretty unlikely. So how on earth do we find out?
So, picture it, December, 1941. (I almost said Sicily, 1910, but I stopped myself.)
According to Jeanette’s handwritten notes, shooting of her final movie with Nelson, I Married an Angel, began shooting September 30, 1941 and ended December 23, 1941, with retakes dragging on until April of 1942.
So, first of all, they were making a movie together during the Christmas season. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th meant that the US was officially at war. Christmas, check. Wartime, check. Now if we can just find some clue about a sculpture!
It’s been right in front of our faces the whole time, guys. Anyone who has ever seen I Married an Angel has seen the sculpture. Remember when the statue falls on him and he catches it during the beginning of the dream sequence?
Jeanette, admiring what very well could be her own ass.
A “version”: not an exact copy, but stylistically similar: Check
The woman in the sculpture is wearing a “towel” that seems to be falling off: Check, even though I think it looks more like a sheet.
Also, because I think these details are cute–the woman’s hand over the man’s heart with his hand on top (GAH HOW MANY TIMES DO THEY DO THAT IN THEIR MOVIES) and her very protectively enfolded in his arms with her head buried in his chest. Nelson the protector, Nelson the defender, Nelson the security blanket. According to his writings, that is very much how he saw himself with her. So that all checks out, if we’re going to go down this bunny trail.
This movie was directed by Woody Van Dyke, their best friend and secret-keeper. They were all on their way out at MGM at this point, and indeed, some of the candids of Jeanette and Nelson on this set are the most intimate we see of them on any set. They were starting to not give a damn, in a big way. Woody loved to put inside jokes in his movies (first example that comes to mind is the giant picture of Nelson on the movie theatre wall in Cairo)…and plopping their sculpture right between their faces and lighting it well and having it fall and having him catch it and practically begging ANYONE to notice it sounds like the kind of thing they’d be into. The fact that it took until 2014 for someone to see it is hilarious. I bet they’re pleased with themselves.
We know Nelson was really at an artistic peak around this time. It is pretty common knowledge that this is the time period during which he sculpted the bust of Jeanette and his own self portrait (see below). He also sculpted Woody. He sculpted the busts that are seen when Jeanette enters the bank in the first scene–so they clearly were not adverse to using his work in the movie (see below). He also painted the portrait of Jeanette that is in Sweethearts, which was also directed by Woody (see below).
And here’s a picture of him sketching on the set of IMAA:
So clearly the man was very busy with his art around this time. Is the sculpture in the movie the 1941 Christmas present version of The Kiss? Maybe. Probably. I can’t prove that, but from where I sit, it looks pretty good.