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This is Your Life – what to watch for

There are many folks reading the book Sweethearts and learning about the behind-the-scenes lives of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy for the very first time.

It is fascinating that for all their secrecy and attempt for privacy, many of the major events in their lives played out while filming (and are visible to see on-screen) or otherwise in the public eye. A case in point is the November 1952 reality TV show, “This is Your Life.” Jeanette and Nelson had been separated for two years when this live episode brought them back together, professionally and personally.  It is discussed at great length in the book (and the aftermath) but suffice to say that every aspect of Jeanette’s personal life – from her differing relationship to her two sisters, to a comparison of her feelings for both her husband and Nelson Eddy, so visible both in body language, reaction and spoken words. This episode captures it all.

Perhaps you have already watched if. Or some of you may have not. Either way, it is worth watching again carefully to notice the following:

1. The difference in Jeanette’s reaction when her sister Blossom enters the stage and when the oldest MacDonald sister Elsie makes her appearance. Jeanette wrinkles her nose and says, “Is she here too?” With Blossom, Jeanette smiles and nods…of course Blossom is there…but notice also that she starts to think a bit about what this all means. She’s smiling…but you can also see her thinking. Probably something along the lines of: Blossom is here…Nelson’s car is parked in the lot (this was inadvertently revealed to Jeanette as they were parking)…can it truly be? I think Jeanette figured out that Nelson would not have agreed to show up without an intervention by Blossom.

2. Jeanette’s nervousness as Ralph Edwards begins mentioning her film career and her great co-star Nelson Eddy.  If you look closely you can see her take a quick breath and her head goes down. And throughout the show when Nelson is mentioned, her head goes down immediately (though the camera usually cuts). And at other times you can see her worrying about it, looking off, lost in thought, a wry smile as she looks back at Ralph Edwards, trying to listen to what he’s saying to her. And yet another time she looks around nonchalantly. She is definitely struggling with her emotions and the anticipation.

3. Jeanette’s indifference to Ralph Edwards’ comments about the death of her mother, Anna MacDonald, who had been “her guide and inspiration.”  Yeah, right.

4. Jeanette looks down, embarrassed when the man who married her and Gene goes on about their wonderful marriage and how they’ve exemplified “the bonds of holy matrimony.”

5. The priceless bantering between Gene and Jeanette when they talk “on the phone” before she realizes he is there. She asks if Gene (supposedly in New York) will be home (after the show if she calls him). Yes, he replies, he’ll wait for her call and make the date afterwards. Ralph Edwards is horrified.

6. The body language between Jeanette and Gene when he comes on stage. A nice familiar hug, nothing sensual, they sit down on the couch, each one at arm’s length as they find their places – a distance between them. Gene doesn’t put his arm around her, there is no tenderness shown. Jeanette glances over at him once with a smile but they could be brother and sister for all the intimacy that is shown.

7. The difference in body language when Nelson shows up. Jeanette melts into his arms, they hug too long, she pulls back and looks at him with stars in her eyes. They hold hands…and continue to hold hands to the point of it being noticeable…so he kisses her hand and finally lets go.

8. Jeanette’s reaction to Nelson’s appearance. The show is nearly finished and once again Ralph Edwards starts up again about an old friend… Jeanette bites her lip, her breathing sharpens, she sits up straighter. At just the sound of his voice her head goes back – no other word for it – a look of ecstasy on her face – and then the tears come.

9. Gene’s reaction all throughout, some annoyance and anger but what can he do? He hands her a handkerchief and tries to be relevant when Nelson shows up.

10. The hand-holding which goes on far longer than it needed to. The intimacy between Nelson and Jeanette, the familiarity, the warmth between them, the way she looks at him…all so telling.

Below, the scene just with Nelson’s appearance…and the full show minus the commercials. I recommend you watch the full show if you can to get the sense of Jeanette’s nervous buildup to the finale.

A classic moment in live television indeed…even if the audience didn’t truly realize what they were seeing.

Above: the three sisters, Elsie, Blossom and Jeanette. Below, she is noticeably distracted and nervous, wondering if Nelson will show. Her attempts to look nonchalant fail.

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And her breathing changes sharply when she thinks he will make his entrance. Notice the distance between her and Gene on the couch. And when Nelson enters, one would think that they would hug or snuggle together, after all, Nelson is singing the song he sang at their wedding! Shouldn’t they feel nostalgic and happy about their happy wedding day? But no, that is not the reaction at all.

Her last attempt to keep her composure… her eyes already filling at the anticipation…and  at just the sound of his voice, her head goes back and then the tears come.

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And the aftermath…as Nelson sings and speaks to her… the stilted forced dialogue about the happiest day of his life was singing at her wedding, etc. And the hand-holding that went on for an embarrassing amount of time.

Alica Mayer (LB’s grandniece) debuts Hollywood radio show, 9/13

I’ve recently become friends with the grandniece of MGM studio head Louie B. Mayer. She is a very nice person, kind and friendly. She is also not unaware of the tremendous problems that Mayer created in the lives of Nelson and Jeanette. And obviously I wanted to be upfront and clear the air about that right at the beginning. And I can say that she is a most gracious person.

Tomorrow at 6 pm PACIFIC time you can hear the debut of her online radio show from anywhere in the world. The theme of her show is of course classic Hollywood and the MGM films and history. The link is here:

http://www.latalkradio.com/Mayer.php

Please check it out now as there are several ways to access the show including iTunes.

Alicia’s website for the show is here:

http://www.aliciamayershow.com/

We wish her luck with the new venture and will keep you posted.

Jeanette MacDonald, filming “Sweethearts” and the fall on the stairs

In the photo above, a candid taken of Nelson Eddy about to kiss Jeanette MacDonald on her 35th birthday, June 18, 1938, shows a noticeable baby bump that was normally hidden among the folds of her costumes used in their current film project, Sweethearts.

In the book Sweethearts I describe an unfortunate incident that took place. The date of this incident is unknown. But because Jeanette wears the same gown as worn on Nelson’s birthday, June 29, shown below,  it is likely that it was shot about 10 days or so after the photo above on Jeanette’s birthday. Note that in this photo, Jeanette is busting out of her dress in the bosom area; the bra size for this dress is now too small.

By comparison, here is Jeanette when not pregnant, quite flat-chested.

Here is the “Pretty as a Picture” dance sequence, also in the same dress, in which Jeanette’s pregnancy is noticeable.

In the scene when the accident occurred, Jeanette – wearing a long flowing pink dress – is exasperated and runs up a flight of stairs to tell her husband, played by Nelson Eddy, that they should leave New York and go to Hollywood. In this scene, the rush up the stairs was filmed in one shot. Then there is a cut…and the next shot is Jeanette rushing into the upstairs room and telling this to Nelson – and her hairstyle is slightly different so it’s obviously shot at a different time.

What occurs on film is that Jeanette runs most of the way upstairs, trips, falls hard on her stomach and slides down several stairs. If you watch carefully she turns slightly to the side both to catch herself and also to protect her abdomen.

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Then what happens is: the actors playing her family call out for her to be careful, she picks herself up, turns to the camera with a face redder than the Technicolor makeup, says angrily, “Why? Am I going to fall again?” And rushes up the rest of the stairs.

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In case one thinks this was in the script – no indeed, it was not. This was one of those bloopers that director Woody Van Dyke left in the film because…well, he wasn’t going to re-shoot this. Below is the original MGM studio script showing that none of the above was intentional. You will note that the script suggests that Jeanette’s dog Brunhilda was supposed to run up the stairs with her but that was scrapped obviously. It would obviously have been too dangerous and there was the chance that she would trip, either over the dog or her dress.

This fall, though serious for someone in her condition, did not result in the immediate loss of her baby.

Here’s another shot apparently taken on July 16 and she is still pregnant, even though heavily girdled. If you click on this photo you will see the larger view.

Some new information has come to light since the publication of Sweethearts to indicate that Jeanette’s hospitalization occurred a few days earlier than we had previously thought. Because the public announcement came on Monday, July 25th that Jeanette was in the hospital – it only hit the newspapers on Tuesday the 26th. The assumption was that she was hospitalized on the 25th for her “ear infection.”  But now we have learned now that she was in the hospital prior to the weekend so her collapse on the set would have occurred somewhere between the 19th and 21st. Which day it was is unknown, but since this data became known, we have done a careful look through literally many hundreds of photos for the pertinent dates. Studying the set shots,  news clippings and script revisions, we find the latest date that Jeanette was involved in photo shoots, candids or any dated material on the set was Saturday, July 16.

Another curious fact is that on the 22nd, Hedda Hopper published that on the previous Sunday (the 17th), Jeanette and Gene hosted a party in their home where the guest list included Nelson, Ida Koverman, Helen Ferguson (Jeanette’s PR person) and Hedda herself. This looks to be a very convenient guest list and an attempt to make everything look normal and newsy on the Jeanette-Gene front. (Another blurb stated that Jeanette and Gene hosted this party for “friends from the east.”) Since Hedda was very much aware of Jeanette’s pregnancy and the aftermath – and since she landed the photographic scoop of photographing Jeanette in bed and discussing in a roundabout way the fact that she had been pregnant -  it is a likely assumption that damage control was in place as early as the 22nd. And that Hedda helped out with it (in exchange for her scoop) by showing how lovey-dovey Jeanette and Gene were. In fact, another blurb also published on the 22nd indicated that Nelson had sung at a police show earlier in the week.  These attempts at normal news would affirm that we are looking at somewhere between the 19th and 21st, due to the scramble for “normal news” published on the 22nd.

A blurb on the 27th noted that Gene Raymond had taken a room in the hospital to be near Jeanette while she was hospitalized for supposedly minor issues. Variety reported that she was released from the hospital on Wednesday, the 27th.

On July 30, The Hollywood Reporter published the blurb quoted in the book, “What two people who everyone thinks are very far apart are still very close?”

I will be posting a complete timeline of all the newspaper coverage and everything we know about the events during this time period.

Another new piece of information is that along with the finale and montage sequence, the radio segment (in which Jeanette wears the charm bracelet given by Nelson for her birthday), was also filmed in  August when Jeanette returned to the camera.  “Summer Serenade” was her first scene – and so this is also a correction in that the muff she held in front of her stomach, originally we thought it was to hide the pregnancy but since it was so soon after, perhaps it was now to hide the fact that she wasn’t back in shape.

The scenes filmed in August-September included the radio show sequence, Nelson re-doing “On Parade” (it was filmed once with him in uniform and once in a suit), the montage and the finale.

We know that Jeanette was hospitalized again in mid September and that on the 20th it was noted she was in the hospital for her “inner ear infection.” But once again, we’re not sure the exact date she entered the hospital. What we have now clarified is the date of her “road trip” with Nelson to “the Redwoods,” since it was stated as “a week” the dates would have been from Monday, September 26 through Saturday, October 1st. They stayed at the Benbow Inn in Garberville (200 miles north of San Francisco). Since Nelson was singing on Chase & Sanborn on Sundays, their vacation would have had to begin on Monday and end on Saturday.

Seeing Jeanette’s charm bracelet up close on film and documentation of other events during the filming of Sweethearts will be covered in future articles.

Thanks to Bernadette Schwartz, Maria Escano, Katie Gardner and a couple others who asked not to be named for helping both with the research on this and the photos and screenshots.

 

 

 

Jeanette MacDonald 1946 Albert Hall recital – eyewitness account

Jeanette MacDonald, pictured above, singing at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1946. An eyewitness account from Dorothy Mcbain:

When I was 8 years old in 1938 I was taken to the cinema by by my parents to see a film called ‘Rose Marie’. There were two wonderful stars in it and I fell madly in love with both of them…that day was a turning point in my life…I saw every film they made sitting through their films time and time again and they were to be very much a huge aspect of my whole life.

In 1946 [just months after World War 2 ended] much to my delight I read in a National Newspaper than an impresario named Harold Fielding was bringing Jeanette to Britain to do a series of concerts. I was thrilled that she was coming to this country but I knew that no way would I be able to see her…money was tight and as she was not doing a recital near my home it was an impossible thought. I however wrote letter to Mr Fielding saying how thrilled I was that she was coming to this country and more or less did not give the letter another thought. However imagine my surprise when about a week later I received a letter from Mr Fielding thanking me for thanking him and enclosing a ticket for Jeanette’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London and arranging that his secretary Susan Howe meet me at a pre-arranged venue, escort me to my seat and take me back stage later to actually meet Jeanette. My parents obviously collected the money for my train fare and I set off a very excited 16 year old. The recital was fabulous….Jeanette came on stage in a beautiful pale pink gown her red hair shining and the most wonderful complexion imaginable. The audience went berserk when that tiny slim figure walked on to the stage and I can honestly say everyone but her faded into oblivion… The recital was wonderful and any one who said Jeanette was not a good opera singer should have been there that night…she sang every type of song imaginable …the encores went on forever, the audience just didn’t want to let her go and she was so gracious…one wonderful trouper our Jeanette….she had not been well but nobody would have known. When she finally went off the stage Susan came and took me backstage to meet her. There were about seven of us waiting to see her…I found out the other 6 were members of the British Fan Site and incidentally went to every concert. I was so awe struck…she greeted us with that wonderful smile and all I could think to say was ‘I think you are wonderful’ and got that wonderful smile as she replied ‘Thank you very much’ . What a whimp I was…wish I had asked where Nelson was! No not really, I have a bit more tact I hope!! I have so enjoyed doing this and being transformed to that wonderful night …love you all we all have very good taste. I would just like to say a big thank you to Jeanette and Nelson for making our lives full of good friends.

Jeanette told the audience at the Royal Albert Hall that night how distressed she was driving through the streets of London and seeing the bombed houses and buildings. She was very genuinely upset and also the fact that food was very rationed…examples everyone was allowed 2oz butter,2 oz sugar 2oz margarine per week..powered eggs. no sweets or chocolate [do me good now]. Children were allowed bananas when available which was rare. I think Jeanette was unselfish enough not to have Savoy Hotel food for VIPS I am not 100% certain and that statement but at the back of my mind it rings a bell. Jeanette was a very caring, very special person as we all know. It was actually very brave of her to come over with the way things were post-war..it was a gloomy miserable time that’s why Harold Fielding did a wonderful thing in bringing her over…..she made the whole gloom lift. Where Jeanette was everything was golden.  wonderful thank you dorothy

When Jeanette said she was upset driving through bomb-damaged London…she was near to tears…a lovely, sincere caring lady who would be so proud and grateful to you and the wonderful job you have done just as we all are.

[Note: the photo was originally posted by James Harman on Facebook.]

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