Jeanette funeral

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.

The Funeral of Nelson Eddy

If there was one thing to know about Nelson Eddy, it was that the man had tremendous energy. He was known for his stamina in many areas. He was an Energizer type of guy who – up till literally the moment that he dropped while singing onstage – seemed indestructible.

This was a guy who sang 14 encores at a concert – no biggie.

In his last years, he would sing 2 shows a night and sometimes perform during the daytime at a charity or promotional event – no biggie.

There were times in Jeanette MacDonald’s last years, when she was upset or ill or he was worried about her, and he’d hop a plane in the morning and fly to her for a few hours, then fly back to wherever he was supposed to perform and go on that evening as though nothing unusual had happened that day.

He painted and sculpted and wrote songs and re-wrote lyrics…and penned who-knows-how-many pages of writings…so well-written and stylish that he could have had a fifth career after opera – films – concerts – radio – nightclubs – as an erotic romance writer. The man was a prolific artist. Plus he wrote his nightclub act, several movie treatments and scripts…there was no stifling the guy.

There are women who can attest to the stamina he had in other ways…well into his later years.

Despite his usually gentle nature and boyish enthusiasm which remained with him till his final day, he suddenly and rapidly began to age. This was after the death of Jeanette MacDonald. In two years, he went from hanging onto “middle age” into looking like an old, beaten man. He had always been so robust, the one person everyone could count on; he would have to practically be on his deathbed to cancel a performance, he was that much a consummate professional.

Which makes it all the more poignant to see this photo – a casket with his body in it being carried away from his funeral.


It seems so out of context and so wrong to imagine that Nelson Eddy could have finally fallen.

Jeanette MacDonald’s death was a long time coming; she had a bad heart and had a slow decline. Her sister Blossom said that the last 20 years of her life was borrowed time. But Nelson Eddy? His own father outlived him, his mother lived a long life too…for him to age almost overnight and to literally drop dead 2 years after Jeanette, he had to drive himself into a early grave. Which he did.

“He drank himself to death,” was Blossom’s take on it but it was more than that. Nelson drank… but his unhappiness, suffering and tragedy and a loveless, toxic marriage beat down his soul.

“He won’t outlive me by long, ” predicted Jeanette…and she was correct.

In this video footage you  will see Gene Raymond speaking about Nelson’s great energy and the shock to realize that this life force is  gone. Pallbearer Lloyd Nolan tried to put some truth there (and expressed genuine grief)  by mentioning Jeanette and the magic that she and Nelson had together in their films. (Gene Raymond is pictured below.)

It is interesting to see a somewhat emotionless Ann Eddy and more emotional Gale Sherwood walking together to the car after the service, considering that Ann resented her husband’s  “mistress. ”

By the way, some folks have asked me whether Jeanette’s sister Blossom was at the funeral. I checked with someone who was there and she said no. Obviously Blossom was still recovering from her stroke and probably would not have been able to attend.

In this final chapter of Nelson’s story, we once again owe a huge thank you to Katie and Angela who arranged to get this archive video footage and make it available for your viewing pleasure. Unless you have worked hard on finding and procuring research of this type, it may difficult to understand how much time, money, effort, sweat and tears go into a project like this. Angela took on the task of preparing the videos and also adding one of their songs to each of them to top off sad footage on a high note, you might say. And once again Katie has done a great job voicing the outrage that any decent human being would feel when presented with facts such as we have in the Jeanette/Nelson story. Katie’s blog link is here and the video is below.


Nelson Eddy: “The most miserable day of my life” (Jeanette MacDonald’s funeral)

Above is a screenshot of some video footage showing Nelson Eddy arriving to the funeral of Jeanette MacDonald, January 18, 1965.

Looking wan and grief-stricken, he walks ahead and catches up to his current singing co-star Gale Sherwood and his spouse Ann Franklin. One other quick shot shows him biting his quivering lip. Among the various film clips of this funeral or from other sad moments captured of him on film, one notices that he bites his lip when trying to keep his emotions in control.

An amazing, lengthy clip of raw TV footage from Jeanette’s funeral was discovered and made available for viewing by our friends Katie and Angela. Once again, we are grateful to them for presenting this footage as it has not been seen since 1965. Katie has written a perceptive analysis of the funeral and its footage on her blog. More details and the before and after preparations can be found in the book Sweethearts. However, after watching the video clip several times, there are many things to watch for.

The pallbearers shown above carry Jeanette MacDonald’s casket from the chapel to the car. To the side behind them are recognizable honorary pallbearers Lauritz Melchior and Jack Oakie.

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At the very end of the group is Nelson, who comes out last after Lloyd Nolan, Lauritz Melchior and Jack Oakie.  You can see him way in the back. The fact that Nelson lingered and was the last one to come out of the chapel and the reasons why  is discussed in great detail in Sweethearts.

The chapel doors are closed by the man behind Nelson and Jack Oakie, who comes from near Melchior to walk around to Nelson’s other side.

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Lauritz Melchior is the first to go directly to Nelson and offer condolences. Nelson even smiles a bit…. and then the others close ranks around Nelson and do the same. One man not only shakes Nelson’s hand but puts his other hand over Nelson’s…a compassionate gesture. Another one who we don’t see clearly must say something kind to Nelson because he nods his head in response. This gesture of caring to Nelson’s feelings is just amazing…if one didn’t know the circumstances, one would look at this video and be certain that Nelson Eddy was the widower!

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Here are thousands of fans watching and listening to the funeral service piped through loudpeakers with Jeanette’s records singing…Nelson called it “a circus.”

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Jeanette’s beloved sister Blossom is the first to exit from the side with Nanette, the granddaughter of the oldest MacDonald sister Elsie. Note Blossom is walking with, talking to and comforting the young grief-stricken girl rather than Elsie – the girl’s grandmother! Elsie and her husband Bernard walk behind Blossom and Nanette. Behind Elsie and Bernard is Emily West and what appears to be her sister.

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While Elsie in personality was more the cold, heartless type (like their mother Anna MacDonald), Blossom was always is the comforting sister, the strong one emotionally who was always there for her baby sister Jeanette. Blossom and Jeanette were similar in their nurturing, compassionate yet wickedly fun natures. No wonder the two sisters were so close.

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Now Gene Raymond is seen leaving…he’s got dark glasses on toward the bottom left of  the photo.  It’s interesting to note that none of the honorary pallbearers, several of them who were “in the know”, approach Gene or offer comfort.

Such strange goings on at Jeanette’s funeral but this footage is very telling in unexpected ways. Thanks to Katie and Angela for making it available. You can watch the video below…and find more commentary about it on Katie’s blog.

The title of this post, by the way, was Nelson’s quote from the Boston Sunday Herald dated Jan 17, 1965: “I shall be at the funeral on Monday. It will be the most miserable day of my life.”

That statement alone tells you volumes. When you think of the many other tragic losses this man had in his life and too many “miserable” days…that he considered the funeral of Jeanette MacDonald the most miserable day he would ever know in all his lifetime…well, there is simply nothing more to say.

Jeanette MacDonald’s death…Nelson Eddy’s reaction

The death of Jeanette MacDonald on January 14, 1965 at age 61 shocked and stunned fans worldwide who had not realized how very ill she was during her last years. But none was more stunned than Nelson Eddy, who had spoken to her just days earlier and assumed her silence the last few days was just because she was recuperating and getting her strength back. Nothing could be further from the truth…as he was to soon learn. (And that is a horror story on its own…but not the topic of this article.)

Nelson’s initial shock and disbelief was very clear (see photo above) as the first TV reporter interviewed him.  Nelson had checked into his hotel in Anaheim, preparing for his opening the following evening of his nightclub act. Here is the audio tape of that very first interview…Nelson gasping as he spoke in spurts…the interviewer kept pushing him beyond what he could tell and deal with for (as he so bitterly termed) “public consumption.” The “interview” ended prematurely due to his breaking down and crying.

For many years, this was the only available interview footage but just last week, our fellow sleuths Katie and Angela were able to obtain a TV interview done with Nelson Eddy the next day. Note that he had not slept all night and was talking to reporters until 5 am. I find it telling that this poor man found more comfort in Anaheim with members of the press to talk to all night than say, for example, rushing back to Brentwood and finding solace with “the woman I’m married to” – ie, Ann Eddy.  She was nowhere in sight to comfort her spouse who was grieving the loss of his great love.

In the telling and re-telling of many of the same stories during that long hellish night, Nelson got a little more careful about what he revealed. Below is the video clip from January 15, the day after Jeanette’s death, not seen since it first aired. This interview is less than 24 hours after the first one where he can barely speak. There are many things to notice in this video. For me, the most striking was the change in his expression and entire countenance when he tells the story of how Jeanette was in “the dog house” after angering director Woody Van Dyke for showing up late on set. He totally relates to her and her viewpoint, he justifies why what she did was adorable and correct, and he sounds like a happy little kid telling it…his breathing changes, his face flushes slightly, there is momentary joy and pride in his voice behind the evident shell-shocked grief. “She’s a smart – she was always a smart girl,” he says…and those who have read the book Sweethearts know that he liked to call her “my girl.”  “I mean, who wouldn’t want to look at the rushes?” he defends her.

I have heard several people say that Nelson gave himself away when he would discuss Jeanette – in person they noticed the very same thing, the change in his voice and breathing and beaming joy and flushed face…this was a man whose emotions were fairly transparent. Well, take a close look at the video and see whether you don’t notice the same thing when he tells that story. (Look at his smile and the private moment he seems to have as he chuckles over her and defends her for being late to set  in the first place.)

Which, by the way, he mistakenly attributes to the film “Sweethearts” when it was actually their first movie “Naughty Marietta.” This should indicate how traumatized he was – he was a very meticulous, precise man who would never make such a blunder in the retelling of an anecdote if he wasn’t sleep-deprived and emotionally drained.

He also tells an incorrect story of when he first met Jeanette although he is honest in saying it was on personal terms rather than for the start of “Naughty Marietta.” He very well may have gone to a party at Jeanette’s home for a public function but there is ample documentation to show that by November 1933 they had already had their first disastrous date, she was attending his local concerts and he had already- to her amazement –  asked her to marry him.

From Nelson’s first interviews, where he admits having talked to Jeanette “about a week before” her death about “getting together for dinner,” he has now whipped that story into shape and for this interview, it’s all about Nelson and Ann, Jeanette and Gene  talking about having dinner together as a happy foursome. Anyone who has read my book Sweethearts knows what an absolute crock of nonsense that was, particularly at this point of the story!

Another telling part of this interview is when he is asked if their relationship changed when he became as big a movie star as she was due to “Naughty Marietta.” As my friend Bern pointed out, there is a momentary glimmer of panic and wariness and he tells the interviewer he doesn’t understand the question. His breathing gets tense and a bit labored…watch for that. (See photo below.)

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Nelson’s video interview is below.

Thanks to Katie and Angela for uncovering this unhappy but important gem and making it available for viewing. Please note the viewing rights of this video at the link to Katie’s original posting of it here (with more research and insights pertaining to the events of that awful week) and she also found a tragic statement given by Nelson to the  Boston Sunday Herald dated Jan 17, 1965.

“I shall be at the funeral on Monday. It will be the most miserable day of my life.” – Nelson Eddy


Jeanette MacDonald funeral footage showing Nelson Eddy

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Watch a short clip from ITN news covering the funeral of Jeanette MacDonald.  When you click on the link , which opens in a new window, scroll to the bottom of the page and then click on the orange button: “Play Clip.”

Nelson Eddy is featured making his entrance. Gale Sherwood and Ann Franklin have already arrived and walk separately from him (with Gale trailing Ann).  Nelson walks past Gale and licks his lower lip as he approaches Ann. He looks like he’s trying to compose himself. Then photographers step in front of his face and raise their cameras to get a good shot. Nelson doesn’t walk beside Ann but seems to cut left behind her. This short clip ends with Jeanette’s casket arriving in the hearse. Heartbreaking.


After watching it a few times, you can learn more about what went on behind the scenes by watching the “Master Class” video here.


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