Hello again, dear Readers.
You know, there are many times when I stick up for ol’ Gene Raymond. I mean, obviously, Jeanette was married to the guy for nearly 28 years; there is absolutely no way that every day with him was hell. Jeanette was pretty royally screwed by her situation, but she’s also not going to occupy half of a marriage with a person who treats her like shit every day.
He did treat her like shit. He just didn’t do it every day. And he was really awesome at weaseling his way back into her good graces, too.
There are enough pictures of her genuinely having fun with Gene, or being genuinely affectionate with Gene, that you can surmise that things were fine. I try to be real—I know people who literally won’t look at a picture of them together without saying something nasty. Sort of exactly how someone who sent me a .jpg of one of the 1938 Nelson/Jeanette birthday kisses (like I’d never seen it or something) with the file name “jeanetteswewwwww” (translation: Jeanette / sweethearts / ewwww)—and no, shockingly, that person is NOT seven years old! My, but we’re a terribly mature bunch.
Anyway, I recently saw the episode of Toast of the Town where Gene acted as MC and Jeanette was a featured guest and they were absolutely wonderful together. Adorable. Not sexy, but very, very cute. I watched it at least 4 times and enjoyed it tremendously. Things between them, in August of 1951, look pretty chummy.
…Which makes perfect sense, since she was broken up with Nelson at that time, trying desperately to kick some life into her problematic relationship with Gene, and keep her career going at the same time. She wouldn’t reconcile with Nelson until November, 1952.
But anyway…suffice to say I am no great lover of Gene Raymond, but I tolerate him a lot better than some people do. Except now. This is not one of those times. Gene Raymond was never a truly A-list star. He was much more of a featured player who could land a lead role next to a REALLY BIG female star, who was carrying the picture (Crawford, Stanwyck, etc). I first became familiar with him in Flying Down to Rio, because I love Fred and Ginger. Even as a kid, I found him sort of obnoxious. My grandmother didn’t like him, I remember that from the early days of watching Fred and Ginger movies. I didn’t understand WHY she didn’t like him until much later, when I discovered Jeanette and talked to Nanny about her. Nanny was a big Nelson and Jeanette fan. She remembered Jeanette marrying Gene (“that fairy”), and was most displeased about it. Kind of like the rest of the movie-going world. Gene was never anywhere close to Jeanette in terms of stardom, he never made the money that she did—and he was happy to let her be the star and balls of the “family” and never posed a threat to her career. Which, incidentally, was a major selling feature back in 1936/7 when the man Jeanette really DID want to marry was trying to throw his weight around about her career. Stupid idiot dick move, Nels. That was no time to be a chauvinist. She worked her ass off for what she had; respect that.
And like, homeboy Gene was totally –at the very least– batting for both teams. Now I firmly support marriage equality and this is not a statement about that at all. I want gay people to be able to marry, I just really wish they wouldn’t marry Jeanette, is what I’m saying. It isn’t a question that Gene went for the guys. We know men, plural, who were intimate with him. And I don’t even care about that. I DO NOT CARE. I care that he treated my girl like shit. I care that one of the men with whom he was intimate–who was actually closer to Jeanette than Gene–distracted him with a “good time” because he was beating up on Jeanette. I care that that same man reported that Jeanette, ill and weak, was calling for help while Gene “entertained” men in another part of the home. I care that Gene, when he could no longer use Jeanette as a ticket to all the good parties because age/idleness (she was quickly becoming irrelevant in the 60s, which was another problem with getting her autobiography published as she was not willing to spill anything to make it super newsworthy–and with good reason. Oh, that’s an idea for another post.) and poor health were catching up with her, appeared to not give a flying fuck about her health, safety or happiness.
That’s not conjecture. Consider the following data from Jeanette’s final days:
Jeanette had a whole slew of health problems, many of them long-standing. Most notably, her heart was failing. She also had a benign but inoperable brain tumor that caused severe headaches, a list of allergies “as long as both arms,” as she put it, along with the fact that she had a hard time gaining weight, caught cold easily and as time went on became increasingly more fragile. Her heart was for sure the biggest concern, though, and heart problems are noted on her death certificate. She was done, professionally, by 1959—at age 56. She kept a hope alive right up to the end that something else would come along for her, but it didn’t and it’s doubtful whether she could have withstood the work, even if it did. Her last professional dream was to play the Mother Abbess in the film version of The Sound of Music…..can you imagine??? What a fabulous swan song that would have been. Sigh. But there was just no way.
December 21, 1964: Jeanette needs to go to the hospital–she has abdominal adhesions. Nelson was home temporarily (he spent most of his time in these years touring with his nightclub act) and he had previously had an agreement with UCLA that he could sign whatever surgical release was needed for Jeanette (this usually must be done by a family member). He’d done it before. However, this was Christmas week and many “regular” staff members were off, and nobody seemed to know anything about this. Gene was needed. Gene was absent. Nelson then spent hours searching gay and straight bars on Santa Monica Blvd. for Gene—and finally located him in one. How do we know this? Among other sources, actor Robert Mitchum was in one of the bars and recalled Nelson Eddy coming in, frantically searching for Gene Raymond.
I should point out here that Jeanette was no longer living at Twin Gables. She and Gene were renting two apartments (8C and 8D) at The Comstock (East) (still standing today and 8D is available right now!) — something Jeanette really hated. She loved Twin Gables. These apartments are HUGE and very, very upscale—-why did they need two? Especially if they were so happily married and she was in poor health…doesn’t add up. But here’s a copy of their lease:
The great thing, though? After Jeanette moved to The Comstock……………..GUESS WHO ELSE LEASED AN APARTMENT THERE?????
Nelson Eddy. I do not kid.
Comstock West, Seventh Floor.
The best part? His damn wife didn’t even KNOW about the apartment until after his estate was settled. Then the crazy hag moved into it.
But seriously. GF moves to a swank apartment complex and he JUST SO HAPPENS to get an apartment in the same complex like 10 minutes later????
(Not us, girls.)
Also of note, around this time Jeanette consulted well-known pyschic Phyllis Woodbury (google her). Jeanette had, for several years, been a member of the Church of Religious Science and was interested in spirituality/psychic stuff, just like Nelson was, while remaining basically Protestant in her beliefs. The interview is referenced in Sweethearts and printed in Issue #40 of Mac/Eddy Today. It’s both an interesting look at Jeanette’s psyche at the time and also yet another confirmation of her relationship with Nelson.
Anyway, so Nelson has this apartment at The Comstock, which is awesome when he’s there, but he wasn’t there much because he was on the road. However, when he was on the road, he called Jeanette daily. His nightclub partner Gale Sherwood was entertaining some people in Australia, and Nelson rushed by them to get to the phone and locked the door for privacy. “It’s time for his phone call with Jeanette,” she explained. “They talk every day.” (New edition of Sweethearts, page 511.)
Okay, that all makes sense. When you’re weak and sickly and in bed a lot, it seems obvious that the phone would be your best friend and a great means of passing your idle time. Nelson also verified in an interview with ABC News on Jan 15, 1965, that he spoke with Jeanette frequently by telephone.
However, it seems that the phone—her lifeline, her one contact with the outside world—was removed from her room because it was “bothering” her. Calls were diverted to Gene’s apartment and answered either by him or by the cook, Mary, whereupon the caller would be told Jeanette was sleeping or too sick to talk to them. And how do we know this?
Susan Nelson was the private duty nurse who was hired to take care of Jeanette at UCLA during her stay at the end of 1964. Her interview has been transcribed into Issues #54 and #55 of Mac/Eddy Today, and is referenced in Sweethearts as well as being audio recorded. She mentions the fact that Jeanette spent Christmas in the hospital. She also mentions how sweet Jeanette was when she found out Susan was pregnant. She was “pretty much an invalid” but at Christmastime there didn’t seem to be any indication that she’d be dead in a few weeks. Susan did say that she needed “nursing care” not just a companion, and that back then it wasn’t like our modern day ICU system–people hired private nurses to take full time care of someone who would be in a modern ICU situation. Susan regretted not asking Jeanette about Nelson, especially as the other employees mentioned that Nelson had come to see her in the hospital one day when Susan was off-duty. Other than that, Jeanette had very, very, very few visitors.
When Jeanette was discharged on December 31, 1964, Susan remained employed as her nurse and made daily visits to The Comstock to see her, until January 4, 1965. She was not asked to return past that day, nor was any other nurse hired. This meant that Jeanette had no medical assistance of any kind from January 5th until January 12th. Susan verified that Jeanette did NOT have a phone in her room. Gene handled the calls. Mary was apparently bathing and feeding Jeanette. This was a woman who needed help getting to the bathroom, in her condition. Susan described her as, “very, very weak.” Jeanette’s sister Blossom was busy working on The Addams Family so she could only get by to visit Jeanette early or late and was often told that Jeanette was sleeping. On one occasion Blossom found Jeanette alone and trying desperately to drag herself to the phone in the living room to call Nelson. Blossom helped her make the call, during which she “came to life” and chatted with Nelson, and after which Blossom went to the kitchen to make her sister something to eat. She found only a can of Campbell’s Tomato Rice Soup in the cabinet. That’s it. This didn’t alert Blossom at the time, who seems to have thought outside food was being brought in. (For more details about these details, visit Chapter 29 of Sweethearts.)
Sunny Griffin, who, BY THE BY, spoke at the 1977 Clan Clave (JMIFC pow-wow) and was greeted warmly by Gene as a good friend of Jeanette’s, mentioned that Gene was spiking Jeanette’s juice with sleeping pills. MAYBE THAT’S WHY SHE WAS ALWAYS SLEEPING WHEN PEOPLE TRIED TO CHECK ON HER. Jeanette was a lifelong insomniac which has been well documented and reported by the kid herself, so if the report is that she’s asleep everytime somebody calls or drops by to check on her, either somebody is lying and trying to cut her off from people who make her happy, or she’s drugged.
There were vague plans for Jeanette to be taken to Houston for Dr. Michael DeBakey to perform a new kind of heart surgery on her. Susan Nelson was under the impression they would be leaving immediately following her last day with Jeanette, January 4th. The fact is, Jeanette wasn’t moved until January 12th, and when she was moved, she was moved on a goddamn commercial plane, which is TRULY, in my opinion the most God-awful thing Gene could have done to her, beyond the neglect she suffered in her own home and the indignity of an open casket at her funeral. Susan Nelson asserts that Jeanette was far “too sick to be on a commercial plane” and……….I just, like….seriously, with ALL the people they knew in high places—politics and Hollywood and everything, not to mention all of Gene’s Air Force connections—he literally couldn’t come up with ONE flipping person with a private plane?? Yes, by all means, let’s take this very famous woman who looks like shit, can’t even get to the toilet by herself and is dying AND PUT HER ON A COMMERCIAL FLIGHT WITH MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC GAWKING AT HER.
Fuck YOU, sir.
I mean, for God’s sake, an AMBULANCE met them on the tarmac! Even Edward Baron Turk, preferred biographer o’ the Saints, admits that it was a “noonday Continental flight” and that it “upset Jeanette’s stomach” (she always hated air travel and it always made her queasy) and that she “shivered beyond control” on the ride from the plane to the hospital, murmuring that she only wanted to fall asleep.
Dr. DeBakey said she was, “in very bad heart failure and too emaciated for surgery.”
Too emaciated for surgery.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
Additionally, when they left for Houston, Gene phoned down to the doorman to ask him to drive them to the airport. Jeanette had to be carried downstairs—the doorman did it, NOT Gene—and he was tall and broad and he reported that an incoherent Jeanette thought he was Nelson.
She hadn’t had qualified medical help for eight days. The last nurse to see her at home left a very very weak, ill woman. She gets to the hospital on a commercial flight and is too emaciated for surgery. They put her on IV feedings in hopes that she would stabilize enough to withstand the operation on her heart, but at 4:32PM, January 14th, 1965, Jeanette passed away. The PR version of events claims a beautiful dramatic I-love-you climax, but more telling is the fact that Jeanette—who was not lucid at the time of her death—asked to have her feet rubbed. According to Sybil Thomas, Nelson was the only person who rubbed her feet. (Makes sense, she hated her feet and was weird about them.)
And that’s not even all. I just have to end this post somewhere.