Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy fans: Join me for a week of live-tweeting of what it’s like to be me – a film historian researching and interacting with anything and everyone that can provide more information about – you guessed it – Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy!
I meant to start this on Saturday while in Altoona, PA, for the performance of “A Scandalous Affair.” The Mishler Theater there has the original chandelier used in the 1937 Jeanette-Nelson movie Maytime. The story of how the theater got this amazing piece of movie history was what led to the show about their lives being produced there. Anyway, I attempted to take a photo of the chandelier with my new phone camera but was all thumbs attempting to upload the picture as a tweet. There was so much going on that I never had a free moment from them on to try to tweet anything. But…considering that some very awesome stuff has happened since then, I’m going to return to the original plan and fill everyone in.
Someone forwarded a new link to me about classic Hollywood and after taking a look at it, I was impressed with the layout and design. It’s run by Ktrek and overall an admirable job. A Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy group was set up by Di. Very nicely set up, kudos to you, Di! Then of course, almost instantly there were comments about me and ‘the story’ and whether it was all hogwash or true.
I thought I would make one post on that site, try to set the record straight on a few issues, and then wish them the best with it. People can always email me directly if they have questions. Or just read Sweethearts. It’s a no-brainer, actually. I do occasionally visit and make a post or two on other sites, but have no intention of “trying to turn that site into a support forum for myself.” We already have a wonderful Yahoo group, and goodness knows I’m already pretty remiss in posting there – I’ve been that busy. Right here, though, I thought I might address Ktrek’s concerns.
First, in regards to your question re: why Jeanette did not want to work with Nelson, there are exhaustively detailed explanations in Sweethearts. But briefly: The problem with Maytime? Jeanette became engaged to Gene Raymond. The problem with The Girl of the Golden West? It was right after Jeanette’s marriage. The problem with Balalaika? Right after Nelson’s marriage and Miliza Korjus told me that she was offered Jeanette’s role, she turned it down (thought they were joking) and so it went to Ilona Massey. Don’t you find it interesting that within days after Nelson’s marriage in January 1939, Jeanette wrapped Broadway Serenade and then left MGM for many months…and balked at re-signing her contract? Why would this career-hungry woman known as the “Iron Butterfly” suddenly walk away and not make a film again for nearly a year? She had just had a huge hit with the movie Sweethearts and was crowned the Queen of Hollywood, she was used to making two films a year at MGM…but instead of capitalizing on that, she just leaves?….If you look at the chronology of events, there is most certainly a cause-effect pattern.
Just because Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy had a relationship, doesn’t mean it was smooth or even made much sense. They seemed to swing to such extremes, love or hate, no middling ground. One can study the Tracy-Hepburn relationship and also wonder why/how certain events in their lives didn’t make much sense. Or – if they really loved each other, why Tracy didn’t get a divorce so they could live happily ever after. No, there are many layers to such a story and complications that we may never understand. Just like Jeanette and Nelson.
Two more points. Ktrek, I’m familiar with generalized comments like ‘everything I write is bogus because everyone is dead now so it’s all made up or a figment of my imagination’. In truth, I published this information and earlier books/magazines while most everyone I quoted was in fact, still alive. And Sweethearts was published when Gene Raymond was alive as well. Some of my sources, Rise Stevens, etc., are still alive at this writing. And also, that’s why most of these interviews were audio or video-taped. And many of them will be featured in the documentary that I’m working on.
It’s also one reason that we’re having this upcoming Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy cruise in February. It’s a chance for folks to speak directly to people who were involved in the story, in some manner. What better chance to ask questions? Especially since no one is getting any younger, and with the passage of years there are fewer contemporaries left to talk directly to you and answer your questions. Let’s put it this way, many of my sources have spoken at our club events and therefore, others have access to them if they’re interested.
I noticed in your profile that you are a Star Trek fan. Then I’m sure you know who Judy Burns is. She’s best known for “The Tholian Web” but she was involved with several of the “Star Trek” projects and worked with producer Harve Bennett in the ‘80s when I first met her. She has written and/or produced several TV shows; her IMDB entry is missing a lot but you can still get an idea at her IMDB link. She wanted to interview all my sources and because she was at Paramount, her position wielded some clout and several people went on record that previously had not. She not only verified my research but found other sources that I had previously not known about. Gene Raymond had a lengthy lunch with her, and they spoke a few other times on the phone. (So Turk was not the only one with access to Raymond, by the way.)
Maybe you would consider her a credible source. Let me point out her comments on Amazon, posted under her married name, Judy Jacobson, which I quote from here:
Keeping one’s promises, August 21, 2000
By J. Jacobson (Hollywood, California) – See all my reviews
Sharon Rich is an extraordinary woman. I know. I’ve known her since first reading “Farewell to Dreams” and asking her to actually document the Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald story better before attempting to sell it to Hollywood. It was at this time that I began to insist that all of the interviews with some of Sharon’s sources be videotaped… or audiotaped… so that the research could be preserved even after the interviewees died. Many of them have, sadly, passed on. But the tapes survive! In those days, a co-writer and I insisted that Sharon meticulously database the whereabouts of all the principals from the moment they met until their deaths, and she did just that. She poured through documents — every kind of printed source (including the LA Times, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department logs, English newspapers, fanzines, Variety, etc) until she could darn near tell you on an hourly basis where Nelson, Jeanette, Gene, Ann Eddy, L.B. Mayer, and others were. While compiling the database, Sharon also came into possession of letters, unpublished autobiographies, and people who are still alive who can swear to the veracity of the information in Sweethearts. I can personally swear to meeting many of the people who knew Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. I can tell you, I have met Gene Raymond… interviewed him over lunch and also watched him meet one of his former lovers and Jeanette’s gay friends. I have talked to people who sat at Blossom Rock’s feet and heard the story first hand. I am convinced, from these interviews, that Blossom was not only in her right mind… but capable of telling the story (one way or another). Just because you cannot always speak doesn’t mean you cannot write or communicate in other ways. This book is true, and the sources are available for researchers to access. It’s a shame people like Turk do NOT make use of the invitation to do so. This is not only a terrific read, but it is the life work of a woman who made a promise to Blossom Rock to tell the truth about Jeanette. She has kept her promise.”
And here are her comments on the other biography by Turk:
Academic Indifference – History reframed, August 21, 2000
If this WERE a work of fiction, Turk’s book would not be so offensive, but I have spent well over twenty years interviewing people who knew Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. I am NOT Sharon Rich. I have spoken with Nelson Eddy. I have even interviewed Gene Raymond. I can honestly say the evidence is overwhelming that Jeanette MacDonald lead a different life than the one presented by Mr. Turk. It is not enough to just read a woman’s unpublished autobiography and talk to her husband. There are reasons why both might lie. Jeanette MacDonald did not want to shock her fans or bring down the public personnas of herself and Nelson Eddy when she wrote her autobiography. If Mr. Turk had taken the time to look at the evidence which refutes the “Gene Raymond” version of Jeanette’s life, then the book would have fulfilled its potential as a fairly accurate portrait of a complex woman living in a difficult period that straddles World War II. Once Jeanette met Nelson Eddy, he was a driving influence in her life. Nelson Eddy was not a monogamous man. He had many female lovers, and some of them are still alive to talk about him and his relationship with Jeanette, Gene, and Ann Eddy (a woman I have also had the “pleasure” of meeting). Had Turk taken the time to actually follow up the research on the Eddy/MacDonald relationship, he might have presented history in a much more accurate light. It’s a shame when an ordinary researcher blurs history by looking at it through “tinted” glasses. It is a sin when an academic does it, either accidentally or on purpose. Mr. Turk varnished the truth, rewrote it by omission, and basically did a disservice to both Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. I am curious why Mr. Turk did not accept Lina Basquette’s account of Nelson Eddy’s prowess with women. I am even more curious why he would insinuate that Eddy was gay when even Shelley Winters has recounted Nelson’s attempt to seduce her. The University of California should be ashamed for accepting the publication without looking at the research on the other side of the coin.
I would like to close by saying that…um, no, I’m not some “obsessed fan.” I am a film historian. However, it seems to be in peoples’ nature to argue two sides of every issue. As a biographer, I have had to severely revise or re-evaluate certain facts and events with the passage of years. As women kept coming forward, telling of their long-term relationships with Nelson Eddy, I realized that Nelson’s activities were not exactly as he had portrayed to his friends that originally spoke with me. And Jeanette had her own issues. So it isn’t always predictable as I originally thought. But it’s no less true because of that. Once again, study the events and the dates. Cause and effect. The timeline gives you a greater insight than anyone’s “opinion” ever will.
And if you’d like to speak to someone who actually “knew” Nelson Eddy in a very personal way, I suggest again that you take the opportunity to meet author K.T. Ernshaw on the upcoming cruise. Some of you in the UK, like Di, might recognize her from 1950s British TV or theater. At any rate, I never knew of her existence until long after Sweethearts was published in hardback. You can read more about her here.
Update: Wow! While writing this post I just received another email…and learned that the moderator was going to pull down her group so Di did it herself. That was fast! Such a shame. Well, maybe now you can understand some of the hysterical mud-slinging and wild accusations that some folks indulge in. This is surely a passionate subject. I mean, we’re talking about people who died decades ago, and why would people consider it such an outrage that these co-stars in 8 films had SOME involvement? Get over it, folks!