• 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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50 years ago today…

A lengthy article published last year detailed Jeanette MacDonald’s funeral, written after new newsreel footage was unearthed. It was titled Nelson Eddy: “The most miserable day of my life” (Jeanette MacDonald’s funeral).

Today marks the 50th anniversary of that day and it is appropriate to re-visit the event that marked the end of an era…and the beginning of a fast decline for Nelson Eddy, who followed Jeanette in death a scant two years later.

Jeanette MacDonald – 50 years gone today…Remembering her and her sister Blossom Rock

Hard to believe that half a century has passed since the death of beloved 1930s icon Jeanette MacDonald.  Today is the 50th anniversary and it also is the date that Jeanette’s beloved older sister Blossom died as well, thirteen years later in 1978.

Jeanette MacDonald was more than just an MGM superstar in that studio’s Golden Years. By singing opera in films, she (and her co-star on screen and in life, Nelson Eddy) helped introduce opera to the masses. So she inspired people in two mediums – movies and music. I cannot tell you how many people I have spoken to over these decades who tell me that they became an opera singer, a Broadway singer,a Hollywood singer, an actor, something in show biz, because Jeanette made it look beautiful and desirable to sing that music. Some of the greatest names in opera of the latter part of the 20th century found their initial inspiration in her movies – mostly the ones she made with Nelson but also San Francisco. And many, many actors in all genres, from drama to comedy, have found her their inspiration as well.

The photo above was given to me by Blossom when she first asked me to write a book about her sister. Blossom had quite a few younger shots of Jeanette, original portraits. I liked this one very much because it caught the essence of Jeanette – a childlike fragile innocence mixed with a hint of impishness, determination and repressed sensuality. I decided to use it on the cover of that book and Blossom loved it.

The candid above shows Blossom visiting Jeanette on the set of Jeanette’s 1942 MGM film Cairo. Blossom was a character actress; under the name Marie Blake she appeared in over 100 films, most notably the MGM Dr. Kildare series starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore. Blossom was a talented actress and comedienne but perhaps her greatest role in life was being Jeanette’s confidante. Whether it was Jeanette calling Blossom to come to Lake Tahoe to provide moral support after some personal heartache, or needing someone to stay with her to stave off loneliness and despair during months of hospitalization in the last year of Jeanette’s life – Blossom without complaint dropped everything to be there for Jeanette. Based on the letters we have seen from the 1940s, Blossom was (sadly) the only family member that Jeanette trusted, and remained her ally through thick and thin.

Below, a photo of Blossom when she finally found stardom for herself as a senior citizen, starring as “grandmama” in the TV series “The Addams Family.”

And finally, no tribute to Jeanette MacDonald could be written without the impact she had as half the team of “Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.” Great as her early films were and even her first two at MGM (The Cat and the Fiddle and The Merry Widow), she finally found her stride as a superstar when she and Nelson worked together. There was an added dimension to her – an electrifying chemistry of beauty, sensitivity, sensuality and tenderness. No one has ever been able to recreate that MacDonald-Eddy magic, that indefinable quality…but you know it when you see it, and it was noticeably absent when they worked with others.

Today we honor both sisters and yes…we will remember.

Below, Jeanette MacDonald sings.

Dream Lover (from her first film, The Love Parade)
Will You Remember (duet with Nelson Eddy and yes, we will remember!)
Italian Street Song (just fabulous!)
San Francisco (the one and only!)
Farewell to Dreams (duet with Nelson Eddy, his favorite recording with her)
Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes

Mac/Eddy anniversary of our Yahoo group!

Today is the 11th anniversary of the original Yahoo group honoring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. In a pre-Facebook era, this was the place to chat, post photos and share stories and memories of Jeanette and Nelson. For all these years, the group has been moderated by Bernadette Schwartz.

With Facebook’s more user-friendly format in today’s times, the Yahoo group has now pretty much migrated over to Facebook at this link. It is still moderated by Bern and the co-moderators include (in alphabetical order): Anne Billingsley, Maria Escano, Angela Messina and Cecilia Rodriguez.

We also have a more general Jeanette and Nelson group on Facebook at this link. Bern is also the moderator for this group and Cecilia Rodriguez is co-moderator.

I want to thank all the gals above and in particular Bern. Moderating any group can be a time-consuming and often thankless task. But these social groups can also be a wonderful place to meet fellow Jeanette and Nelson fans, share photos and knowledge. Such a wealth of information and we’re always learning and sharing more.

Long may they wave, our wonderful social media groups. Happy Anniversary!

 

Nelson Eddy & Jeanette MacDonald Christmas songs- Happy Holidays from Mac/Eddy!

Jeanette MacDonald Nelson Eddy

It’s that time of year again…what better holiday songs to listen to than Nelson Eddy’s…

Download or listen… and enjoy!

Nelson: Joy to the World

Nelson:  Oh, Come All Ye Faithful

Nelson: Silent Night

Nelson: Deck the Halls

Nelson: O Holy Night

Nelson: White Christmas

Sadly, Jeanette MacDonald never recorded a Christmas album but we have one song she sang on a Christmas radio show.

Jeanette: Christmas Song

And below, a reader comment sent to us:

Thank you for sending the links to the MacDonald/Eddy Holiday music.  I NEVER get tired of listening to them.

They were my very first album I bought with earned money from doing ironing back in 1978.  I would play their album on my stereo and do housework for my mother.

I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.

And again, I loved reading your book.  I never had a clue they were lovers until then, but I kind of suspected it.

Sincerely, Karen Ritter

“Obey Your Heart” – what to watch for

The Girl of the Golden West does not usually make the number one spot on people’s lists of “my favorite Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies.” One possible reason for this is that there is no love duet sung halfway through the film, preferably under a tree…where they and the song’s lyrics profess undying love…and then their characters are torn apart in some fashion until the film’s glorious finale where love reigns triumphant. And the theme song is sung again for good measure, seals the deal, and becomes a mega-hit song that Nelson and Jeanette sing for decades to come as one of their standards….uh, no. That’s not what happened here.

There was such a scene planned and there was a song to be sung under the tree, “Obey Your Heart.” They pre-recorded the duet (we have the recording) and part of the scene was filmed. Nelson sang the song – as a solo – to Jeanette on camera but strangely, she doesn’t answer the love call. Instead she looks very sad (see photo above) and the scene ends abruptly with the untimely interference of the brilliantly comical Buddy Ebsen.

So why wasn’t the duet filmed and why does Jeanette only sing it solo later in the film?

Background information: This movie was shot after the wedding of Jeanette MacDonald to Gene Raymond in June 1937. During the summer, Nelson Eddy was kept busy filming Rosalie – a film in which he sang well but phoned in his performance. Once that film was completed, he was not eager to work with Jeanette again but faced suspension if he didn’t. Irate movie-going audiences were demanding the Mac/Eddy screen team be reunited. Nelson went right from filming one film into the next.

Anyone thinking Nelson wasn’t still in love with Jeanette only has to view this film and see the difference in his demeanor in Girl compared to Rosalie. Nelson drank to get through Girl and it’s evident in his sometime bleary eyes and loose, limp mannerisms. They have few scenes together in a very long movie and in one of the key scenes where there’s lots of togetherness (as Jeanette tends to badly wounded Nelson) his physical arousal is plainly seen. (That situation is covered in this article.)

Yet in one scene Nelson was totally sober and focused. That was his singing “Obey Your Heart” under the tree to Jeanette. He took her hand in his, looked right into her eyes and sang from his anguished heart.

The sensual way in which he caresses her fingers throughout the song was never repeated with such intensity before or after in any of his movies with Jeanette. We see the finger-caressing in their other films and also off-screen in life…but not like this. The film is worth watching just for this scene alone. The intimacy with her fingers, fondling and sliding his own finger between hers…well, it’s a definite statement from a man whose love was rejected and who is not over that rejection.

Jeanette’s reaction is equally telling. She watches what he’s doing and throughout the song, she has a haunted, strained and resigned expression in her eyes. And his barely disguised erotic emotion is so overwhelming that she can’t continue the scene. In fact, Jeanette broke down crying repeatedly and finally the director gave up trying to film it. That was the end of the duet.

If you think about it, Jeanette’s expression and reactions to Nelson is not in keeping with her screen character. She plays a happy, cheerfully naive, virginal young woman who has never really had a romance and has never been hurt emotionally by a man. So why, as Nelson sings and urges her to obey her heart, would she look sad and beaten down? It makes no sense.

Here is a blow-by-blow description of what can be observed during Nelson’s singing of this song and Jeanette’s reaction. And by the way – yes, Nelson’s makeup is terrible. Overdone and really more appropriate for color film. But that isn’t the point here.

Below, Jeanette’s expression is immediately one of tragic sadness rather than the expected “Oh goodie, this handsome Loo-tenant Johnson is wooing me and is gonna sing me a nice love song.”

girl2

Look at her rueful smile as he sings: “Love may live a day or all life through.”

girl 3 - rueful

Her eyes close and her head goes back as he starts caressing her fingers:

She tensely watches him stroking her fingers:

And then her head goes down, she can’t look at him as he continues.

She finally looks up at him again, her eyes glistening.

Now he really steps up the very graphic finger action, stroking on and between her fingers.

Jeanette looks close to crying and/or a little sick to her stomach.

Now he starts caressing her thumb…look at her expression…

And stroking it…she responds a little bit with her thumb.

Now he takes her other hand and again she watches his hands…

There is a quick cut to a different shot, a closeup of her pensive face.

And then back to the other shot, where she’s clearly losing her composure, her eyes filling as he grabs her arm with one hand and continues the thumb caressing with the other.

Her head goes down again and she looks a bit ill as he sings: “…knowing love would say obey your heart.”

Her body language is rigid and at this point, with the song ending, she should melt into him with a passionate clinch…and next she would sing back to him and they would launch into a duet…but no, instead a convenient interruption. And note that until the last possible moment, he refuses to let go of her hand and the sensual finger action continues.

This is a woman who in real life has been married just a few months to a  man she is supposedly madly in love with …and yet she has such an extreme reaction to Nelson’s intimate behavior that she breaks down in tears and cannot film the movie’s main duet. You do the math.

All in all, a very telling piece of film and visual evidence of real emotion being played out against the backdrop of a movie set.

More details about this film and what went on during the making of it can be found in the book Sweethearts.

And you can watch some of Nelson’s finger action in this close-up film clip:

And finally, here is the pre-recording duet version of Obey Your Heart to listen to. The duet begins after Nelson sings the song once through solo (as seen in the film) and now she’s to sing it back to him…then he joins in. Listen to how sad and a little shaky Jeanette’s voice sounds through the entire rendition. And just in general it seems more a sad song than a declaration of love song. One wonders whether even if the duet made it into the final film, would it have been a hit? What do you think?

 

 

 

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