Daniel

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.

Until now.

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:

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There is nothing happening in the boob department. Compare that to this:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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This story should have a happier ending.

Oh, For a [Real] Man!

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.

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Or in real life:

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(She looks SO sarcastic in that picture.)

And with Ralph Edwards:

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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:

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But let’s look more closely at her arm and hand:

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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:

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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?

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

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He brings her flowers on the set.

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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.

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He holds her hand without cutting off her circulation.

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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?

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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And that never changed. Ever.

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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! 🙂

The Sterilization of Jeanette MacDonald

I’m ba-aack. 😀

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?'”

undiesbackJeanetteUndies  youngandsultry  undies

I mean, hell, Maurice Chevalier measured her boobs in Love Me Tonight:

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And she totally mouth-kissed a girl in One Hour With You:

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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.

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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 Sweethearts by 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:

withIturbi

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.

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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:

“That’s the Jeanette I know.”

The defense rests.

 

I’ll See You Again, Part 5 (EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE)

IT’S THE LAST DEATHBLOG HOORAY.

Maybe not last ever ever, but last for right now. I’ve been taking great pains to say everything I can think of to say right now, because I want to leave this bizness alone for a while. What was originally conceived as a 3-part blog (because of the 3 new chunks of footage we had to reveal) became a 5-part blog, but I would like to think I’ve been as complete as possible with the data we have right now. Anyone who sticks with this story in a serious way for a long time knows that, even all these years later, pieces of information are STILL being brought to light. It’s pretty amazing.

The story of Nelson’s death is well known. He was performing in Miami, March 5th, 1967, just after having returned from touring in Australia, when he became unable to speak and the side of his face went numb. He asked the audience to bear with him a moment, he was having trouble getting the words out. He then asked Ted (Paxson, accompanist and longtime friend) to play Dardanella, and maybe he’d get the words back. Ted, seeing that something was way wrong, jumped to his feet and got Nelson off the stage. Offstage, Ted and Gale (who had been offstage changing her costume–Nelson was getting ready to do the solo “special” song he sang for Jeanette every performance) helped him into a chair and called an ambulance. Nelson was unable to speak by the time the ambulance arrived, and would never speak again. He lost consciousness and died at 7:30 the next morning: March 6, 1967.

Ann Eddy didn’t go to Florida, she just waited for Nelson’s body to be shipped home.

The funeral held for Nelson goes directly against his long-held wishes, which he even went so far as to state in his will in 1959. Despite him telling the press that he was going to go change his will after witnessing the “circus” of Jeanette’s funeral, he didn’t actually do this. The 1959 will (and codicil dated June 19, 1964) is the one that stood. Nelson’s will and codicil are printed in full in Issue #53 of Mac/Eddy Today.

The final clause in Nelson’s will is as follows:

I believe the body is useless after death; therefore, I request the simplest and most inexpensive funeral possible, in any Protestant form, cremation and disposal of the ashes according to law. Let there be no sorrow over the remains, for at that time the soul will have found its destined way to the infinite. 

NelsonFuneralRequest

The man is a poet even in his flippin’ will. Its destined way to the infinite…. Oh, Nelson.

A sad comment on Nelson’s tiny circle: Jeanette’s will is full of many thoughtful personal bequests, and it is easy to take away even from that that she had many friends. The only personal bequests in his will are to Ann, her son Sidney Franklin, Jr., Ted, Gale, his dad, his half-sister and his manager. And he didn’t even LIKE two of those people. The World O’ Eddy was very, very small.

Just like Gene’s display of bad taste before her, Ann Eddy, eager to snatch her 15 minutes of fame, merrily chucked Nelson’s PRINTED WISHES right out the window and did exactly what the heck she pleased.

Was he cremated? Nope. It was an open casket service, just as Jeanette’s was.

Was it the simplest and most inexpensive funeral possible? No way.

Here is the third installment of the footage that Angela and I paid to have digitized—color footage from Nelson’s funeral. Like the others, it has never been seen since 1967. Don’t share it around the internet without our permission—it can only come from one possible place at this point, so we’ll know. 😀

Yes, Gene was a pallbearer. Yes, he looks pretty sad about it all. Yes, I still want to punch him in the mouth when he calls Nelson “Nels.”

Fun fact: He remarried and HIS WIFE’S NAME WAS NELSON. Bahaha.  Nelson Ada Hees, known as Nels. You can’t even make this stuff up. So at the end of the day, Gene got what may have been his fondest wish. (She was a wealthy heiress from Canada, and though their marriage was reported to not be a happy one, it also lasted until she died. Absolutely no liking-to-freeload-on-wealthy-women pattern here at all.)

Lloyd Nolan, on the other hand, looks absolutely devastated. He was, along with Z. Wayne Griffin, also a pallbearer for Jeanette. His remarks are very interesting in their wording, and his grief is palpable.

The funeral proceedings were broadcast over loudspeaker to those outside. Doesn’t sound very small and private, really. Granted, there are WAY fewer members of the general public there, but even so, hoopla was not what Nelson wanted.

AND THEN THIS HAPPENED:

geneannnelsonsfuneral

Why, oh why, didn’t you two darlings get married? You’d have been so stunningly perfect for each other.

During the exchange pictured above, Ann was overheard making a remark to Gene which has been reported with two different wordings, nevertheless, both “sides” acknowledge that it happened.

“Now they can sing together forever,” is how Ann is quoted in Sweethearts.

Similarly, in Edward Baron Turk’s Hollywood Diva, Ann is quoted saying,  after walking over to Gene and kissing him, “Now they will sing beautiful music together again.”

Well, I mean, EITHER WAY, right…???

It’s a fitting end to all this.

I’ll See You Again, Part 4

Jeanette’s will has been printed in full, including Codicil, in Issue #52 of Mac/Eddy Today. It in itself is really very standard, although an interesting read for people with this particular sort of interest. She takes care of her family, her secretary, etc, and makes many thoughtful bequests to friends, famous and not. An animal lover like me will appreciate the fact that she left specific instructions regarding any pets she may own at the time of her death (any pet was supposed to go to her secretary)–she didn’t have any pets when she died, but still, I love that she put that in there. She was a good animal mom.

Of note is that Emily West (secretary) received the magnificent star sapphire brooch/necklace that Jeanette wore every other day for all time (or so it seems, anyway). Emily got the pin itself and the matching platinum and diamond chain that made it a necklace. Historian and friend and daughter of good friend, Madeline Bayless, was able to answer a question of long-standing when she reported that her father, Jim Bayless, mentioned Nelson talking about what he’d gotten “his girl” for Christmas—this. Nelson. Not Gene, as has been said so many times. This was just confirmed again, in person, in front of a large group, with Madeline, on June 29th at the MacEddy Club meeting. And look how publicly and how often Jeanette wore it. HAH.

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Another document around this time estimates the value of the estate at “$1,000,000.00 +” and I would imagine that that is certainly true, and probably a conservative estimate. Jeanette had a joint checking account with Gene and a couple of rather insignificant savings accounts with him, but the bulk of her money was separate (smart girl) and she had upwards of ten bank accounts in total.

This, of course, leads me to my main point in this post.

Gene Asshole-of-the-Decade Raymond didn’t bother to make sure Jeanette’s final bills were taken care of. For months. Like, he ended up having to go to court about it. He and the executor of Jeanette’s estate were also sued for non-payment on the rent for the two Comstock Apartments. Additionally, during Jeanette’s probate, it was revealed that she had made a huge loan to Gene (who the heck, in a happy and normal marriage, makes loans to their spouse???????) and (of course) Gene attempted to have this debt waived, and the executors said no.

Here is the first item for your consideration—-an unpaid hospital bill from Jeanette’s final stay at UCLA, the last ten days of 1964.

Unpaidhospitalbill

Ohhhhkay. This is only a fricking $370.00 bill. Her insurance covered $847.20 of the $1217.20 total. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY DOLLARS, PEOPLE. Not like we’re talking huge sums here. Note that it says “Date of first pub. notice to creditors: Feb 24, 1965.” — the woman’s bills should NEVER have had to go to a collections agency. I do hold the executor 7% responsible, as well, but the fact is a bill of this nature would have been mailed to the home. Probably right around the time she was dying, yes, so yeah, there may have been chaos happening, but it never should have been so tardy that the Superior Court of California is getting involved. Strike forty-two, Gene.

Next, this lovely little document informs us that Useless also let her funeral go un-paid-for for months and months. Four of them, as far as I know with the documentation we have. Who knows when it was actually settled.

CreditorsClaim1

CreditorsClaim2

 

Now see, this should piss you off. I don’t care if you’re on Team Happy MacRaymonds or not, This. Should. Make. You. Angry. For Jeanette’s dignity. Like, we get that you hung around for the money, Gene, but maybe TRY to have a drop of class and, you know, pay her final expenses before you skip merrily away? So sick. This crap is public record and a woman as smart and careful and QUIET with her money as Jeanette was, who had a healthy amount of pride and more than her share of class considering what she was up against half the time—-she’d have been so embarrassed.

Unfortunately, this is not out of character for Mr. Raymond. On May 25th, 1955, an arrest warrant was put out for our girl because an apartment house which was titled in her name was not being kept in good repair and she was accused of being a “slumlord” — in actual fact there were property managers involved who may or may not have been doing their jobs, but Gene was the only one of them who had anything to do with the property. (He just probably lacked the funds to make the investment, hence why it was in her name).

And though he was arrested a number of times over the years on various charges with a homosexual theme, only one of them that we know of actually made it to the books. Here it is, reprinted from the source notes of Sweethearts, and it’s totally obvious that the case number has been tampered with (you can see this even better in a higher quality scan, sorry). Jeanette had to shuck out $1,000.00 bucks to hush it up–far from the only time she did that. This was January, 1938–seven months into this delightful marriage.

GRarrest

I mean, for God’s sake, Nelson was a very, very, VERY flawed and complex and complicated man, and he did a lot of shit I’m not thrilled about or proud of, as someone who is “on his side” — but at least he wasn’t a total schmuck. At least he LOVED Jeanette. What kind of man lets his wife bail his ass out of jail? Oh, yeah, the same kind of man who doesn’t pay for her funeral. Right. As I said, I don’t give a damn who Gene slept with or what his sexual preferences were—I merely care that he treated Jeanette badly and with no respect. And he carried that tradition on after her death, it seems, with this documentation. And it REALLY ticks me off that he’d then go–year after year–to her fan club functions and talk about what a wonderful magnificent delightful fabulous amazing woman she was.

Like he even had a fraction of a clue.

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

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It was a rough few days. Interesting that, though he could only have been described as being in good health when Jeanette died, Nelson declined rapidly and would be dead just under 26 months later. He drank, he didn’t watch his health, he pushed himself beyond all reason, driving himself harder and harder, working ridiculous hours and keeping ambitious schedules to escape having to be alone and think. He aged ten years overnight and the man known for his boyish energy and vitality would never look boyish again.

Nelson’s anguish is palpable even in his letter to the JMIFC…..the pro-Gene, Happy MacRaymonds Originial Saint Brigade. I quote:

Your grief is mine – as you must know. And I appreciate the many letters expressing sympathy to me personally in the passing of a great lady, a most beautiful songbird, Miss Jeanette MacDonald. I cannot believe such loveliness is stilled. 

He goes on to say: It was indeed a privilege in life to have worked and played with Jeanette, and to have loved her as a close friend. 

After that, he very respectfully tries to put the spotlight back on Gene. I love the as you must know—because so many, MANY people in THAT CLUB were so shitty about Nelson, just as members of Nelson’s club were shitty about Jeanette–so shitty, in fact, that he threatened to disband the whole thing if they didn’t knock it off.

(Side note: they’re still super shitty about Nelson. At a “Clan Clave”, when screening any MacEddy picture, you may applaud duets or Jeanette solos, but NOT Nelson solos. If you do, you will be told that you are being “tolerated” but to not make any noise. I am completely serious right now.)

One of the most telling statements from Nelson during this time was this: I shall be at the funeral on Monday. It will be the most miserable day of my life. (Boston Sunday Herald, Jan 17, 1965.)

Of his life? Not his mom dying or an experience he had during WWII when he was doing top secret work for the Counter-Intelligence Corps…nope. Saying goodbye to Jeanette. Worst day of his life.

William Tuttle, MGM makeup man, did Jeanette’s makeup for her funeral. Edward Baron Turk reports that he “lovingly restored luster to her complexion.”  In actual fact, he confirmed that she was “very blue” and he had to do her makeup twice over to cover that fact. In a tape-recorded interview, Tuttle let on that he thought the open casket at Jeanette’s funeral was a) really, really distasteful given her emaciated appearance and b) Gene’s idea. According to the source notes in Sweethearts, Tuttle actually talked more about how Jeanette looked in death and other details about her funeral but due to his friendship with Gene Raymond, he asked for the tape recorder to be turned off. (For many years, he was a featured part of the JMIFC gatherings.) That’s fine with me. The whole thing sucks so much already, it’s so distasteful and unworthy of her that I really just don’t need to know. Gene really, as her husband of record despite his douchebag tendencies in this era, could have spared her being put on display when she didn’t look her best. Hell, *I* know Jeanette well enough to know that she wouldn’t have wanted people to see her like that, and she died 21 years before I was even born. Once, when she was asked if she minded people wanting to take her picture, she replied that she didn’t but she preferred it when they asked her or at least said something first so she would be prepared and “not snapped in some awkward position.” She took pride in her appearance and, you know, as one of the world’s great beauties, this should not be shocking. Nevertheless, in typical tacky Raymond fashion, she’s laid out like for all to see, complete with “orange Harpo Marx wig.” For the love of God. Nelson termed the whole affair “a circus” and indeed, it was.  Experiencing Jeanette’s funeral was enough to make Nelson say he was going to go right home and change his will. (He did not, in fact, do this, but he wanted to be cremated. However, you’ll see soon enough that his wishes weren’t carried out.)

Here is some footage that is available online–slightly different than the 36 second clip that’s on youtube. You can see a distraught and lost looking Nelson walking in, licking his lips as he did a number of times in emotionally charged interviews from this week of his life. He catches up with Ann and Gale (did he not arrive in the same car with them? Did he arrive in the same car but have to take a moment to gather himself before he could face walking through the circus to get into the church?) and continues walking.

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

Lloyd Nolan gave her eulogy, and I am sorry, I love the man to death (he looks like a grasshopper though, f’real) but that is the trippiest, most vomitous piece of drivel I’ve ever read. The only thing worse than that eulogy is the famously barfy pink and yellow Jeanette website run by the trolliest troll who isn’t who he says he is. Why do I feel like Dorothy Kilgallen right now. Anyway. And they piped her own voice all over the place—inside the church and outside to the surrounding areas (thousands and thousands of fans turned out to stand around the church–that’s pretty cool)–and I personally find the use of her voice to be pretty tacky. Her music, maybe, but—I don’t know, for the people who were keenly feeling her loss, that might have not been the most appropriate choice.

Her one request, as far as music went, was I’ll See You Again.  Digest that. And freaking cry.

According to historian and personal friend Madeline Bayless (daughter of Jim Bayless, a sound recording guy who worked extensively with Nelson, built the home recording equipment Nelson had, saw him and Jeanette together many times and went on to be one of the founders of Capitol Records. Look him up, kids.), Nelson was allowed to add a couple of personal touches, as far as Jeanette was concerned. One that we’ve been able to figure out is the fact that the JMIFC write-up of her funeral notes her “lovely hands clasping a pink rose and the same white prayer book she carried at her wedding.” Uh, the book she carried at her wedding was PINK, and embossed with a J and a G on the front. Nelson gave her a WHITE book of Psalms. Whoops. The other thing is that Nelson was the last person to walk past the casket–the last person out of the Family Room–and he stood there for a long moment. The report is that it was then that he slipped her emerald ring back onto her finger, or at the very least placed it in her casket. I hope to God that’s true. When you see Nelson walk out of the church in the footage, later, he is at the back of the pack–so that, at least, is consistency that we can see. The casket was then closed for good, so that would have been the ideal moment to place the ring inside—that way nobody would get it.

Nelson gave Jeanette’s obituaries a total of 14 pages in his scrapbooks, underlining and making notes of things on certain clippings, most notably that she “shared headlines with Johnson Inaugural.” There he is again, being proud of his girl. At her funeral, he was an honorary pallbearer, among many other famous names from Hollywood and political circles. You can google that on your own. The list is super impressive. However, during the service, he didn’t sit with the other pallbearers; he went into the Family Room and sat next to Blossom. After Jeanette’s funeral, he never socialized with Gene, her family, or her other associates again. He was done. Strange, don’t you think, since both couples were such great and wonderful friends….? He only saw Blossom once more after the funeral and he totally broke down, saying, “I didn’t know she was so sick.”

That, of course, was of Jeanette’s own design. This is the hardest thing for me, emotionally, to think about in this whole story. Jeanette knew several things: 1) Nelson always saw her as young and beautiful and he had a really hard time dealing with the reality of her failing health. This is so common among couples who have been together a long time—one has a really hard time accepting that the other is failing. 2) She knew she was dying. She knew it would kill Nelson, too. She called it—she said he wouldn’t live long. He didn’t. 3) She knew he would be wracked with guilt over not being there, but at the same time she knew he HAD TO WORK. He had to. He could not function, not working. He had been horrendously poor as a kid and in his later life, Ann got her hands on his money at every damn turn, no matter how hard he tried to keep it where she couldn’t get it. He had put away money to take Jeanette away with him, thinking that they were older now and nobody would care—and then he found that the money he thought he’d saved was gone. So he worked. He couldn’t live with the idea of being poor. 4) He would have dropped this all in a flash, however, to come to her, but she couldn’t have him under those circumstances, pitying her. She was a proud woman and she was one hell of a lot stronger than she’s usually given credit for being. How would you like your boyfriend, your lover, your soulmate–the person for whom you want to be beautiful and sexy and satisfying–hanging around when you can’t stand in the shower long enough to shave your legs or you need help getting to the bathroom? He would have been there in a heartbeat, but she kept him away.

My take on this all is that she wanted to leave him with his memories–she wanted him to remember their better times together, not the fact that he witnessed her death. She put him away from her to spare him. She was neglected and treated like crap and not given attention and assistance that she needed, but Jeanette MacDonald was NOT a victim. She forbade Blossom to call Nelson when Blossom wanted to, to tell him how things really were. As heartbreaking as her final days were, I have to believe that she did it on her terms. She loved Nelson so selflessly, so powerfully, that she could rise above her need for him in order to spare him.

That, folks, is what love is. And THAT is what makes this story so tragic. That she had to make those kinds of decisions. However, in retrospect, you see the thread of how she handled this and if your respect and admiration for who she was doesn’t grow tenfold you have no soul.

What I have to offer you here is another discovery Angela and I made during our researching weekend together. Like the Nelson interview in the last post, it has not been seen by anyone since it was originally taped for use in the news coverage of her death and funeral, and similarly, we paid for this to be digitized from the original reel of footage. Do not post this elsewhere online without permission from one of us.

Here is extensive ABC news coverage of Jeanette’s funeral at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Glendale. What strikes me about this footage is, first of all, after her casket passes in front of the honorary pall bearers en route to the hearse, the men (obviously a sad, sad group–she was so loved, and it’s clear) break into a more informal group and Nelson is the recipient of so many condolence handshakes, started off by Lauritz Melchior. Even as he is trying to get away, people are approaching him to shake his hand. Where did Ann and Gale get to? Several of the “featured players” in this footage were on hand for both Jeanette’s and Nelson’s funerals–they shared pall bearers. Nobody talks to Gene when he leaves behind Blossom, Nanette, Elsie, Barney and Emily +1. Gene is, yet again, the forgotten man when Nelson is around. We may as well be back on This is Your Life.

Secondly, you can see Nelson emerging from the church with the honorary pall bearers. He is at the back of the group. This is consistent with the earlier report about him being the last person to stand at the casket before it was closed.

Thirdly, you see Blossom being absolutely darling as she comforts the very, very beautiful Nanette, who, by the way, is Elsie’s granddaughter. Very easy in this few seconds to observe the difference in the two sisters and why Jeanette was so close to Blossom and not at all to Elsie. We’ve seen/read about this many other times. Emily looks pretty broken up and I swear to God she’s wearing one of Jeanette’s hats. And there’s Gene, for whom the expression always a bridesmaid, never a bride seems to have been coined. Neither of his sisters-in-law are with him, nor is Emily. He’s just sort of in line–nobody comforting him or really even paying him much attention.

Here it is.

I’ll See You Again, Part 2 (EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE)

Gee, I’ll be glad when I can stop talking about everybody dying for a while. This is about as depressing as finding yourself on a honeymoon with Gene Raymond.

So, yeah, Jeanette died (I was just so very diplomatic with my word choice right there. I would like a prize.) at 4:32pm, January 14, 1965. Her death certificate:

deathcert

Note all the varied heart conditions listed. Also note the incorrect birthdate of 1907. She was born in 1903, but shaved 4 years off somewhere and that misinformation is on her crypt, too. She was flown back to California on January 15th. Her funeral was January 18th.

The press, of course, lost no time in finding Nelson. “The networks were there and I was crying,” was how he explained it later. The fact is, he stayed up talking to the press until 5:00 in the morning. The reporters actually stayed with him, the consensus of opinion being that he needed to talk and had nobody else to talk to.

Here is one very well-known example of Nelson talking to an interviewer within hours of hearing of Jeanette’s death.

She was stunning and startlingly beautiful. I mean, she would take your breath away. I remember the first time I actually met her, I was tongue tied and I didn’t quite know how to act.

…Okay, WHO TALKS LIKE THAT ABOUT SOMEONE IN WHOM THEY HAVE NO ROMANTIC INTEREST.

Nobody.

I mean really, even at her death–or maybe especially at her death–Nelson’s word choices are revealing. And gorgeous. Is it any wonder she was crazy about him? Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?

Even more importantly, the interview was ended because Nelson had broken down in tears.

The next day, January 15th, Nelson granted an interview to ABC News. Angela and I were able to locate this clip within the ABC archives, paid to have it digitized and we are excited to present it to you, here. This interview has not been seen by ANYONE since it originally aired. It is for educational purposes only and may not be reproduced anywhere except where expressly authorized by Angela or myself. Listen to the difference here, hours of telling the same stories later. He has pulled himself together somewhat, and started being more careful.

I just…… yeah.

This man is hurting.

The lines in his face are 3 feet deep, you can tell he hasn’t slept and his grief is palpable. He is speaking very slowly and chosing his words carefully, especially at the beginning, before he really gets his footing in the conversation. His voice getting all soft when he says “…big movies and a really big star,” just breaks my heart.

He points out that he met her at a party, rather than at the studio, and it was “under personal circumstances” rather than on a film. Booyah. Even though in reality, he’s actually not accurate about the time frame of the party where they met–they met before she made Merry Widow.

And he points out that, “She did most of the acting, believe me.” See? He knows he wasn’t a great actor so you can all just shut your mouths about it. What’s more, HE WASN’T ACTING when he was with Jeanette. Aside from the singing, he really stinks 98% of the time in his movies without her. I’ve said this for years. Either the man was a great actor or he wasn’t. The Saints love to slam him for his lack of acting chops on one hand and then say that his intense chemistry with Jeanette is “just acting” on the other. They like it when they can have things both ways, see. No. Please go watch the hand porn and finger pulling in Girl of the Golden West and the neck-blowing in Sweethearts and on and on and please, please tell me more about how he’s just acting, losers.

I love his face when he recalls them “always having our digs at each other.”

“We’d fight like cats and dogs sometimes, just to make people wonder.” …… Mr. Eddy, darling, we don’t wonder.

“And we had to cut it out because people started to believe it.” Well, yes, there’s a problem. Some people still do believe it.

“We never changed in our attitudes at all.” ❤ ❤ ❤

feud

“We found ourselves…….elsewhere.” (post MGM) Yeah, he’s a little bitter about Metro still. You detect that in several places in this interview.

“I think it was wonderful of her to want to hold her head high.” — in regards to not slipping down into junky movies, but really also for her attitude about not lampooning their work in nightclubs, as he was more or less reduced to doing. He mentions taking out the skit he and Gale were doing where they “kidded” Rose Marie. It’s not funny, it’s cheap, he wasn’t a huge fan of doing that crap anyway but it sold tickets and let him keep working. Jeanette, in that sense, had more professional integrity (and worse health, but let’s pretend her health wasn’t a problem–she still wouldn’t have torn down everything she worked so hard to build up. She was proud of her movies.) and you get the feeling watching Nelson talk about how the “kidding” wasn’t funny right now that he regrets having done it in the first place. He is so damn supportive of her, all the way through this. Lots and lots of we this and we that. I like getting the sense that he is on her side, in her corner, that he knows why she did things that she did and he is sticking up for her. Even later, as he recalls the “doghouse” incident–which he mistakenly attributes to Sweethearts; in fact, it happened during Naughty Marietta, as a photo of the event can attest—and that’s a very, very well known story so you can see how shaken up, messed up and tired the man is. Nelson is usually very on point with the details. That mistake is interesting, in and of itself. Anyway, even as he recalls that incident, his telling of the anecdote comes from the perspective of someone who is on her side, even ending with the comment, “I mean, who doesn’t want to look at the rushes?” His delight with her antics and cleverness, even in this sad sort of retrospect, is also apparent. He’s proud of his girl.

And my favorite thing—him pointing out that she was smart. He starts out referring to her in present tense and corrects himself, which is sad, but I love that comment. J-Mac, he didn’t just want you for your hot bod. He likes your brain. 😉

doghouse

He starts to talk about how they often talked on the phone, but is careful to go back and amend his words with my wife and I and she and Gene. Yep. ‘Kay. I’m sure Ann and Jeanette had SO MANY TOPICS on which to chatter away their idle time. Again, he’s more careful in this interview than in the first one. By the way, he mentions that he and Gale are going to rehearse the substitute material that afternoon. In reality, he got to rehearsal, sat in a chair and cried, unable to rehearse either of the replacement choices, and said as much to his audience that night.

(Paraphrased from Sweethearts, new edition, pages 516-517) Linda Knight (club member) was in the audience for the entirety of Nelson’s Anaheim run, which opened that day, January 15th. Nelson had, for a long time during his nightclub years, been in the habit of singing a special song for Jeanette at some point in the evening when Gale was offstage changing her costume–not always something the audience knew, but something that meant something to him and to her. The lights would be really low and Nelson would be illuminated with a pin spot on his face as he sang. Linda notes that this night, he was sweating profusely, was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. He sang I Married an Angel and Rose Marie seemingly okay, but choked up during the poignant little song from Bitter Sweet called If You Could Only Come With Me. Then, this night in Anaheim (as well as the closing performance, the only two nights he sang this song), the lights dimmed and Nelson’s special song was one which had been deeply significant to both him and Jeanette, and sung by both of them, for many years:

There’s a little brown road windin’ over the hill
To a little white cot by the sea
There’s a little green gate at whose trellis I wait
While two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me

There’s a gray lock or two in the brown of the hair
There’s some silver in mine too, I see
But in all the long years when the clouds brought their tears
Those two eyes o’ blue kept smilin’ through at me

And if ever I’m left in this world all alone
I shall wait for my call patiently
For if Heaven be kind, I shall wait there to find
Those two eyes o’ blue come smilin’ through at me