• Jeanette MacDonald | Nelson Eddy

    Jeanette MacDonald | Nelson Eddy

    They were “America’s Singing Sweethearts” of the 1930s. They starred in classic movies like Naughty Marietta, Rose Marie, Maytime, New Moon, in live opera, on radio and in early television… And yes, Virginia, they did have an off-screen romance but because of MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer, never married each other. If you are already a fan of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy or are just discovering them – Welcome!
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Hidden in plain sight – a Jeanette MacDonald – Nelson Eddy mystery solved!

Fact: we know that for Christmas, 1941, Nelson Eddy gave Jeanette MacDonald a special gift: a sculpture he made of them adapted from Rodin’s “The Kiss.” These are the only details we were aware of, based on this letter:

[Columnist Cindy Adams] wrote of stars of that time & wrote that Jeanette & Nelson were Hollywood’s most married-like couple & that  he had made a sculpture of them based on Rodin’s The Kiss. It was not an exact copy, but she had on a little towel that was falling to the ground. Nelson gave the piece to Jeanette for Christmas. Has anyone heard of that sculpture in any of Nelson’s artwork? Ann did destroy a lot & I doubt she’d have that on her mantle, but I always wondered about that piece.

Trying to get more information, I contacted Cindy Adams’ office and also parked myself at the New York City main library, spending a couple hours going through microfilm. But there seemed no more to learn than those sketchy facts.

The new Sweethearts had already been uploaded for publishing when I received an excited email: Katie Gardner had found the statue, visible for the world to see, right here in the film I Married an Angel. (Thanks to Katie for providing these screen shots which she ultimately posted on her blog.)

Jeanette and Nelson stand right in front of this statue and have some dialogue. (And at close study, it looks more like a towel than a sheet falling off the girl.) If you remember the scene it starts to topple and Nelson grabs it.

This would have totally appealed to Nelson’s sense of humor – show the world and yet have the public not realize the significance of it!

I do wonder, however, whether this is the original piece or whether he made a copy for use in the scene – what if he had dropped it or something went awry with “special effects” when it was toppled over?

The reason I ask this is because Nelson also sculpted his  Palaffi “ancestors” whose busts are on show in the bank scene.  I think it likely that for those, he made a basic self-portrait mold and then added the mustache and different hair styles for his “ancestors.”

Nelson Eddy scupltor

The originals of Nelson’s busts that we do own have a few nicks on them. So if the one we see onscreen is indeed the original of Nelson’s gift to Jeanette,  he had to be VERY careful not to drop it!

Additionally, I was told years ago that Nelson might have done the paintings of his bank “ancestors.” I was never able to confirm or deny this story. But during the same time period Nelson sculpted a bust of Jeanette.  And he also can be seen here sketching something (we don’t know what). So he was very busy being an artist during the filming of Angel.

Nelson Eddy sketching

If you look at the paintings, the one on the far left looks quite a bit like Martin Van Buren, which would have been another insider joke for Nelson since he was told he was directly related to that President.

The next question is: what happened Nelson’s version of “The Kiss” sculpture? I invite anyone with photos inside Jeanette’s home, “Twin Gables,” to search carefully through them and see whether she might ever have put it on display there. Probably not, though, more likely it was at “Mists” or another of their houses, or Isabel’s, or eventually ended up in Nelson’s private studio where he kept some some of his Jeanette artwork. The hope is that this piece survived and was sold or given away but there also is the chance that Ann consigned it to her bonfire after Nelson’s death.

I want to thank Katie for her excellent sleuthing and the others who helped with this research. And yes, I was able to pull the book manuscript back and add a mention and a photo of this incredible birthday gift before Sweethearts went to press.


Happy Easter! Listen to Nelson Eddy & Jeanette MacDonald sing Easter hymns

UPDATE: The links are now working correctly!

Here are six mp3s (mostly from radio) for your listening pleasure:

Nelson Eddy singing “Keys of Heaven” with child soprano Lois Butler, 1945

Jeanette MacDonald singing “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today,” 1945

Nelson Eddy singing: “Open the Gates of the Temple,” 1945

Nelson Eddy singing: “Russian Easter Hymn”, 1946

Jeanette MacDonald singing “Come Thou Almighty King”, 1945

Nelson Eddy singing a beautiful Easter medley with  Lois Butler, 1946

By the way, Nelson’s introduction to the Easter medley is as timely today as it was 63 years ago!

These songs are excerpted from our CD albums JN108, JN127 and JN170.

Mickey Rooney passes at 93

Nelson Eddy & Mickey Rooney

Another Hollywood legend has fallen. Mickey Rooney, pictured above with Nelson Eddy, has died at age 93, having lived a long, hard-lived but happy life (for the most part). He lived as any entertainer would want,  continuing to entertain folks right up until his final days.

Many people may not remember that Nelson Eddy’s very first movie role was a quick walk-on (or sing-on) in the 1933 film Broadway to Hollywood. It starred Frank Morgan and Alice Brady as a vaudevillian couple. Twelve-year old Mickey Rooney played their grandson.

Nelson portrayed a vaudevillian singer named John Sylvester, who walked onstage and started singing “In the Garden of My Heart.” A few seconds later, the scene shifted back to an argument between Frank Morgan and Alice Brady so we hear Nelson finish the song over the din of their quarreling voices.

Not a great movie debut but at least Nelson enjoyed a short off-screen romance with an older woman, the film’s female star, Alice Brady.

Broadway to Hollywood

Those of you who were lucky enough to see Mickey Rooney’s most recent touring show, “Let’s Put on a Show” (as we did), found him to be elderly and somewhat feeble but with enough mental energy and spunk to put over the songs and stories of his life that audiences cherished. He made vivid the memories of 1930s Hollywood and at several points in the show particularly when talking about Judy Garland, he wept. Even when the spotlight moved off him as the next portion of the show was set up, if one studied his face one could see that it took a few moments for him to compose himself.

He was a fairly religious man in later years and if one casually asked him about a Hollywood scandal (that didn’t include himself and/or Judy Garland), he was most likely to brush it off or not want to discuss it. However, you should know that he was receptive to narrating a documentary about the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy romance. In fact, the negotiations only broke down over the very high and rather unrealistic fee that was demanded for his participation. Let me clarify here that these business decisions were not handled by Mickey himself; he had only kind words for Jeanette and Nelson. But it was a puzzlement.

So… it did not come as a surprise when more recently, unhappy reports came from Mickey himself about his finances and elder care problems. Three years ago,  People magazine wrote:

The 90-year-old – whose on-screen problems were always easily resolved when he played all-American boy Andy Hardy – told a Senate hearing of a real-life drama involving elder abuse, and he spoke from his personal case history, he said.

“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” testified Rooney, who also said he and his (ninth) wife Jan were made to go hungry, he had medicine withheld from him and that his Oscar was even sold off. “But above all, when a man feels helpless, it’s terrible,” said the screen legend.

According to a court case in Los Angeles, Rooney has accused his stepson, Chris Aber, of elder abuse, and has obtained a restraining order against him. Aber denies Rooney’s claims, as does Jan Rooney, say news reports.

Mickey ultimately came to a private financial settlement with his stepson (who agreed Mickey was owed 2.8 million dollars but filed bankruptcy so could not repay him), turned all his finances over to his lawyer and separated from his wife Jan. His beloved Westlake Village home was sold and the proceeds split with Jan. They never divorced.

Mickey was working up till the time of his passing. He recently reprised his role as “Gus” in the upcoming Night at the Museum 3, which is still filming at this writing and is set to be released in December 2014. Hopefully Mickey’s footage will make the final cut of the movie.

The Los Angeles Times today notes that Mickey Rooney was “the tireless last surviving star of Hollywood’s 1930s Golden Age, a performer always ready to make an appearance when there was a crowd waiting to applaud.”

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