When one looks at photos of Nelson Eddy around Jeanette MacDonald, there is no doubt that he liked to gaze intently at her. “He followed her around like a love-sick puppy dog,” was a statement made by several people. And as quoted below from Sweethearts, one of his long-time family friends recalled Nelson’s answer to how the filming was going on Naughty Marietta:
His explanation of the days’ events consisted solely of graphic descriptions of what gowns Jeanette was wearing and how she looked in them…details of her lovely shoulders, her beautiful skin, her low-cut bodice, etc. When Sybil cynically asked whether Nelson did anything else on the set except stare at Jeanette, her point went totally over his head.
Here’s another example:
And even a very grainy newspaper shot from the late 1950s. Yes, it’s poor quality but one thing is certain, Nelson is still just gazing at her.
Per Nelson’s own words, he was initially speechless at her beauty – “she would take your breath away”, he said. And even though he initially came on too strong, too intense, and even proposed marriage to her a week after their first date, he subsequently discovered his manners. After an initial bout of strong interest between them in late 1933 and into 1934, during which time Jeanette pushed for Nelson to co-star with her in Naughty Marietta (and the trades announced his casting), there was then a cooling-off period where Jeanette basically told him – no. This despite photos of them taken together at the studio in June and the fact that Jeanette had even earlier given him a dog, Sheba. So it took Nelson by surprise that he ultimately was given the role late in the year, he thought he had “blown it” with her.
Nelson Eddy was a shy man, initially very reserved and tongue-tied with Jeanette. His mother no doubt lectured him severely about how to properly court Jeanette (once she finally approved of her). Yes, it is incredulous to think that he was such a naive misfit in the wildness of early 1930s Hollywood, a man who courted an established movie star with flowers and letters and held back from being “an animal” as he later termed it. (At least until he was pushed beyond his limit with her.) He was a mixture of a Victorian gentleman yet so obviously overwhelmed by her that he comes off as – well, a love-sick puppy dog.
Below is a letter written by Nelson to Jeanette after she wired him to tell him yes, the film was now going forward and he had the role. Can there be any doubt reading this that the man already adored her? Yes, he restrained himself but still, he could have just written, “Thank you for going to bat for me.”
For those who can’t decipher his scrawl: “Dear Miss MacDonald, – Thank you for the wire. it was terribly sweet of you and I appreciate it more than I can tell you. Some day I hope to get up courage enough to tell you I think you’re the grandest person in the world. Very gratefully yours, Nelson Eddy.”
I want to thank Elizabeth Nocero for sharing the original of this letter with us. Elizabeth has a classic Hollywood blog at this link.