The discovery of Nelson Eddy’s love letter to Jeanette MacDonald from Christmas 1935 begs a question: What was the gift that he was thanking her for?
Last night I held the original letter for the first time, handed to me by Maria Escano, in whose possession it will remain until it is donated to a museum. I studied the letter and read and re-read it carefully. For over two hours we sat discussing every gift we knew Jeanette had ever given Nelson but “beautiful” is not an adjective a man uses to describe cufflinks, ties, shirts, saddles, etc. What could it be?
And then it hit me, folks. Out of the blue – I knew. A painting of her! Yes indeed, and there was such a painting, a large oil painting of her as Naughty Marietta. In fact, I knew it was mentioned in my book Sweethearts.
So I grabbed my iphone, opened the Sweethearts book on Kindle and searched for “painting of Jeanette”. And there it was, with chilling accuracy, an oil painting GIVEN TO NELSON BY JEANETTE AS A CHRISTMAS GIFT!
That the oil painting was discussed in a 1945 letter (from which this information was quoted and sourced) is what threw me off.
So, here is the background data: As we know, after Nelson’s marriage he moved his mother to the beach house and then to a couple different places briefly…and then in December 1944, he moved her into a new house in the Beverly Hills flats located at 526 N. Palm Dr. He always kept a room at his mother’s house.
And here I quote from the book which – again – I wrote the following over 20 years ago and had absolutely no knowledge that such a letter from Nelson Eddy was written or still existed!
[Nelson] told Ann that he needed to spend more time with his mother and he frequently stayed with Isabel. He had his own bedroom in her house and as well as a study and added a second bathroom upstairs so each would have privacy.
Ann was not allowed over to Isabel’s. Privately they were not on speaking terms but were socially polite when in public together at Nelson’s concert or radio appearances. Had Ann visited Isabel’s home she would be enraged for her husband’s study was a virtual shrine to her hated rival. A large oil painting of Jeanette as Naughty Marietta hung on the wall (a Christmas gift from Jeanette), the bookshelves displayed their records, stills, and picture albums, all the letters and cards she’d ever sent him he kept. Nelson had a movie projector in the room. His film collection included San Francisco which he loved for Jeanette’s opera scenes and Smilin’ Through.
Do you understand what this means, dear reader? Not only did Nelson Eddy love and appreciate the “beautiful” gift from Jeanette from Christmas 1935 but he moved that oil painting around from residence to residence where it was hung proudly in his “shrine” to Jeanette. Where nine years later, in December 1944, it was still displayed in his “study” at his mother’s home.
What happened to the oil painting ultimately? Who knows?
But at least one question is answered – what Jeanette’s gift to Nelson was. And much as he said he would always love and be devoted to her, the truth and verification of this was right under our noses all along!
The above quotes are from the book Sweethearts (© 1994, 2001, 2014 by Sharon Rich) with ordering details at the link above.