Blossom Rock – 2 days before she died…

The ironies of life…

Above is a picture of Jeanette MacDonald’s sister, actress Blossom Rock, in the only film she made with her brother-in-law, Gene Raymond. This shot is from the 1964 film The Best Man and they are pictured here with Cliff Robertson.

More ironies…

A letter has recently surfaced regarding Blossom’s death, 13 years to the day after her sister Jeanette, on January 14, 1978. In particular, a friend’s lunch date with Blossom is described in detail just two days before her death.

But first let me provide the background and setting…so you can fully appreciate the letter reproduced below.

Those of you who have read Sweethearts know that despite Blossom suffering a stroke in 1966, her mind was just fine, thank you, regardless of her impaired speech. She was a spunky, upbeat personality who refused to bow to self-pity, and spent much of her time reaching out to and caring for others. When I met her as a teenager, I was able to, in short time, converse with her with no problem. She is the one who confirmed her neighbor’s statement that Jeanette was very much in love with Nelson Eddy. And Blossom went on to give me the basics of that story…if not by talking, demonstrating or showing me photos and other items to make sure I understood. And possibly even more important, she confirmed or corrected information I learned from interviewing others.  There were also brief times that her speech returned to normal (documented here), whether medically understandable or not.

The only reason I did not learn more information from her than I did is simply because I didn’t know all the questions to ask. In hindsight, there is much more I could have asked her and she would have answered freely. But it was easier for her to answer me than to originate a lengthy, detailed communication.

I have written extensively how, over the years, I not only hung out with her at the Motion Picture Home (where she permanently resided after her executor Gene Raymond sold her Beverly Hills house without her knowledge), but we usually went out for the day, shopping, to lunch and to get ice cream. Blossom’s favorite restaurant was the Sandcastle in Paradise Cove (Malibu) and it was easy to get to, I drove over Topanga Canyon from the San Fernando Valley to the beach. Or we went to other restaurants in the Valley or Hollywood or elsewhere, if we were taking a long drive to see various haunts in the lives of Jeanette and Nelson. Long before GPS, Blossom would give me or whoever the driver was (as we sometimes went out with others) driving directions. She always sat in the front seat passenger seat and would point as appropriate to turn right or left at some street, or to get the freeway at this exit or that. And when she would comment about the often insane LA traffic or some car that got in our way, we’d all laugh. It was fun driving with her.

There were many restaurants on Ventura Blvd and we ate at some of those. Or we shopped and ate at nearby Topanga Plaza, the first California indoor mall that opened in February 1964. My favorite store inside was Pickwick Books (they had another store on Hollywood Blvd.) but Blossom’s was the May Company. And we used to sit and look at the “Rain Fountain” which was actually droplets of glycerin but was amazingly high tech for that day and age.

The above shot of the mall is from 1964, the year it opened. Below is the amazing Rain Fountain.

After shopping, we might also eat lunch in the mall, either at the Terrace Restaurant in May Company or the Jolly Roger and also sit and watch the Rain Fountain.  And then our day always ended with ice cream and there were two choices, either Thrifty Drugstore on Topanga and Ventura or later the first “gourmet” ice cream place I remember, Swensen’s, with high prices for the day.

It depended on whether we wanted two scoops or one. You see, Thrifty’s was famous for their 5 cent cones. I think by the time I knew Blossom, the price was raised to 10 cents a scoop and two scoops for 15 cents. Blossom was very “scotch” and the price of Thrifty’s ice cream made sense to her. So we could “splurge” on two scoops instead of one!

Swensen’s was also on Topanga Canyon Blvd. and it boasted changing and interesting flavors such as pickle ice cream…which was frankly disgusting although the staff swore it was a popular flavor whenever they infrequently offered it. But their other flavors were delicious and tasted more like homemade ice cream.

One last place we visited a few times was the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor in Woodland Hills. My father was the accountant for that place and on one’s birthday they gave you a free sundae. I remember taking Blossom there a couple times, sometimes for a birthday visit, or otherwise we shared a banana split.

The problem with Farrell’s was the noise level, it was so high we couldn’t really talk. They had an amazingly huge ice cream offering called “the trough” and if you could eat it all they rang firemen’s bells and clapped and cheered and gave the customer a pin to wear announcing that he made a pig of himself at Farrell’s.

The reason for my trotting out these memories is to show the reader that my spending full days with Blossom doing normal and fun things was our routine over the years. We didn’t just sit and talk about her sister. I last saw Blossom about a couple weeks before her death. I was now married and my hubby and I went to visit and give her some Christmas gifts, including some chocolates as I recall.  She seemed a bit down and said she was tired and ready to die. But she perked up being around my then-husband who was tall and blond, she always had an eye for a good-looking guy and enjoyed visiting with him. She was back to her more cheerful self when we left.

And now to the point of this post. There are those who have tried over the years to negate Blossom, citing her speech issues and even questioning her mental capabilities.

The attempts to deny Blossom as a credible source are now once and for all proven to be bogus per the letter below written Dorothy Cassidy. Dorothy and her husband Thomas Cassidy, for many years host of the the Los Angeles classical music radio station KFAC, were longtime friends of Jeanette and Gene. Jeanette’s entire record collection was given to the Cassidys following her death. That is, except for Nelson Eddy’s solo albums – God forbid anyone would think that Jeanette actually WANTED Nelson’s recordings for herself – that might suggest that she liked him or admired his voice. So Blossom ended up with Jeanette’s Nelson solo record collection.

Dorothy Cassidy and her daughters were in quite thick with the Jeanette fan club and promoting (and I think honestly believing) the happy Jeanette-Gene marriage.  In this letter written to Clara Rhoades, the Jeanette fan club president, dated January 19, 1978, Dorothy details the time she spent with Blossom just two days before she died. And was Blossom a blithering, incompetent idiot?  Of course not! Dorothy writes:

I’m wondering if you heard the news of Blossom. She passed away on the 14th. I was out to see her on Thursday, the 12th and we went to lunch at the Westlake Inn, took a drive like she always likes to do, and stopped for an ice cream cone at Swenson’s (sic)…another “must” when we are out. She was fine and really enjoyed her day.

Dorothy continues:

She took ill on Friday and died early Saturday morning (around 2:30 or so, I believe). The funeral was yesterday, the 18th…just thirteen years after Jeanette. So it’s been quite a week…Blossom’s services were lovely.

Emily is still in St. Croix, but I had her phone number there so Nannette (sic, their grandneice), did get in touch with her.

Guess what, folks, this letter is absolute verification of the Blossom that I knew. And have written about for years.

As an interesting footnote, Thomas Cassidy died in 2012. Some time before that, one of our club members, Patrice Messina, told me that a good friend of hers knew the Cassidys and he was soon heading over for a visit to their house. Patrice plied him with information and while there, this man gently brought up the subject of Jeanette and Nelson and what the real story might be. Not surprisingly, they supported the Jeanette-Gene scenario…until Thomas said to his wife, “Come to think of it, after Jeanette died Gene did bring a different young man with him whenever he visited us.” At which time the subject was abruptly changed.

Our thanks to Maria Escano for sharing the Dorothy Cassidy letter. And as an additional footnote after seeing this letter, Angela Messino shared a letter she owns, written by Emily West (Wentz) also covering the news of Blossom’s death:

Thank you, Angela, for sharing this as well as your notes about Emily’s letter:

A couple of things struck me, Emily is writing this almost 3 months after the fact. In time for the next Comet [fan club magazine]?? Also, she gets the date of Jeanette’s death incorrect and whoever filed it just blindly copied it on the envelope, at some point it was corrected in a different pen. The letter is all about Emily and her woes and she includes a clipping about her and her family and trip, etc. which mentions Blossom’s passing and her relationship. This was all about her, all PR for how great Emily is. Wow. But she’ll certainly miss Blossom. What a cold one she was.

There were two women in Jeanette’s life that Nelson Eddy couldn’t tolerate: her mother Anna MacDonald and her secretary Emily West. As I wrote in Sweethearts, Nelson had nothing but anger when discussing what he felt was their treachery toward Jeanette.

Folks, we have a person from the “other camp” inadvertently verifying what I have said tirelessly all these years. Sad that it was suppressed all these decades but, well, we have it now. Again, the ironies of life…