Blossom Rock – more insight and revelations

Above we see two screenshots from the 1938 MGM film, Dramatic School, in which Jeanette’s sister Blossom (billed as Marie Blake) had a good-sized role alongside the film’s star Luise Rainer.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my own sister Arlene was visiting me in New York in February 2016. While I was on the phone basically being interviewed about certain Mac/Eddy facts, incidents and dates regarding Blossom in particular, Arlene overheard some of the conversation (the call was on speakerphone) and piped up that because of my father she also had worked at the Motion Picture Country Home (MPCH) in the accounting department, and that I had introduced her to Blossom.

Well, folks, we squealed and laughed…I didn’t remember that!…and I was amazed because while Blossom knew my other sister Julie, my mom and my first husband Tom, I did not recall introducing Blossom to Arlene at the Home. Funny, isn’t it? I expect every one I interview to know exactly what they were doing on such-and-such a date 40+ years ago with complete accuracy, and yet here I am having forgotten such an interesting tidbit of information. Oh well, such is life!

So Arlene told us the following: also as a teenager she worked after school there in the main building, in accounting. Remember that my father was the accountant for some executive in charge of hiring there.  This man’s name escapes me at this point (and mom doesn’t remember either, nor does Arlene) but this is the fellow who called me into his office to say that Gene Raymond didn’t want me around anymore after I told Gene that Blossom had asked me to write a book about Jeanette.  The man told me that I did excellent work and that that the residents there praised me – but that it was politics in regards to Gene Raymond (then on the Board of the MPCH) and his hands were tied.

Arlene worked part-time for our dad for school credit and pocket money… originally in dad’s office but for a time at the MPCH. We’ve since discussed this more and don’t know whether our dad was doing basic accounting for the Home itself as well as his other client. (Our dad was not in the film industry but his clients included many industry folks and this was how I was able to get interviews with some of his actor clients and others quoted in my book. Dad also helped package some film deals.)

Arlene recalls that I stopped by to see her one day in the main building, dressed in my Candy Striper uniform, and took her over to the Lodge to meet Blossom. Blossom was “a nice old lady” sitting in a chair in her room, was very pleasant and the two of us filled Arlene in on the book and research project, and I showed Arlene some of the photos Blossom was providing me to use.

Arlene was now interviewed on the phone and was asked about Blossom’s speech. Arlene said she had no trouble understanding her. Arlene observed that Blossom and I had a close friendship and were working together on a project that was meaningful to us.

In recalling again the events at the Motion Picture Home and the subject of Blossom’s speech, I mentioned one of the times that her speech was perfect and normal for a few days, and the circumstance that triggered it. I did publish this back in a 1991 article and here is an excerpt:

I’d like to clarify here that there were times when her speech suddenly returned, perfect. There was no predictability on this, it just happened. Once it occurred after we were looking at the Bible and I started to read the 23rd psalm. She recited it with me, and by the end of it, her speech was perfect and remained so for a couple of days before it slipped back. I have no medical explanation for this but it did happen. That evening Blossom, I and some “cute guys” (Blossom’s term) who worked in the Home sat with her in the dining room until the wee hours, drinking wine [they drank, I didn’t], and listening to her talk about Clark Gable, Hollywood’s golden days, etc. This happened infrequently at other times as well.

Blossom, similar to her sister Jeanette, was a religious and spiritual person but not necessarily in the traditional sense.  Like Jeanette, she felt that mind over matter could at times produce great results. I was asked and will answer here as well; yes, at later times we read more out of the Bible, reciting together in hopes that Blossom’s speech would revert back to normal as it had once before – even if temporarily. But it only happened this one time after reading the Bible. Other times her speech came back unexpectedly or after I worked with her on speech therapy.

I have to say that the only time I ever saw Blossom cry was when her speech slipped back after this particular incident.

Each year, Blossom attended the annual Jeanette fan club Clan Clave finale. Her last one was 1977, just 6 months before her death. That was my last one as well, since our own club began in the fall of that year. But in Sweethearts I wrote about surreptitiously screening one of my sources, Sunny Griffin, by taking him over to see Blossom at this event when he first showed up in June 1976. I wanted to see her reaction to him. That she embraced him and they talked excitedly and that Sunny lit two cigarettes like in Now Voyager and put one in Blossom’s mouth, told me what I needed to know. Sunny attended both 1976 and 1977, but in the 1976 one Gene Raymond was not there. According to the Jeanette fan club publication, his new wife Nelson (that was her actual first name, folks!) had badly injured her hand. That was Gene’s reason for not attending. No, I don’t know any circumstances about that, how it was injured, did he hurt her, was it a self-injury… no data, folks. I just know that back then we were told by Clara Rhoades, that club president, that the marriage wasn’t happy. Why did Gene marry her? She was wealthy, pretty, maybe her ironic first name? Who knows. I was told that she was a religious woman and made it her mission to help Gene handle his drinking problem but obviously that was a failure as he got visibly drunk at these Clan Clave meals, to the dismay of some of the rather prim Jeanette fans there. And if his wife “Nels” had any concerns about other aspects of Gene’s life, it’s evident that it was status quo. In the page reproduced below from the 1977 Jeanette fan club journal, we learn that Gene’s friend Buddy Rogers was still very much in the picture after all these decades.

Here is that magazine cover:

And the write-up inside of the first event, which I have marked for interest:

Re: Sunny Griffin who talked about his adventures with Jeanette, Blossom and Gene in New York. I heard Jeanette’s secretary Emily West introduce him to Clara as “an old friend” of Jeanette’s and that’s why I wanted to check him out with Blossom.

Then, Samuel Griffin, attending his first Clan Clave, took his turn. He was so enthusiastic that he held the audience in the palm of his hand.

And as for Blossom:

Blossom received her standing ovation which she acknowledged with a broad smile. She is looking very well and seems to grow younger each year.

The following June of 1977, Gene was in attendance, as was Sunny and Blossom. Gene welcomed Sunny as a good friend of theirs and laughed with the group as Sunny stood at the podium and related more anecdotes. It was written up here:

With comments from the page below:

Jeanette’s sister, Blossom Rock, acknowledged her standing ovation with a broad grin. She’s looking as chipper as ever and just sparkled at being present.

Patricia Dale Beaumont and Samuel Griffin each took a turn speaking about “their” Jeanette….Samuel, his usual jovial self, entertained with a little story about Jeanette and a parrot.

Never mind that Blossom began first talking to me in 1970, even up till six months before her death she was on public display at a public event and interacting with Jeanette’s fans.

And no, I don’t remember the parrot story. We later videotaped many hours of Sunny Griffin but that incident doesn’t seem to be on the later tapes we did in 1982.

I’ve said it before and will again: we are lucky to have had such an ally in Blossom, who was a kind and social person. Her determination to have her sister’s story told is why we’re all here today.

Below, three wonderful photos of Blossom that are new to me but that certainly show what a spunky lady Blossom was. The first one is from the Masquire’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner honoring Donald O’Connor, also with Emily West – March 1964.

The one below is from Blossom’s birthday, August 21, 1965. Not sure but this might have been taken at her house.

blossom birthday 1965

This last one is from a community breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel, 1966, also with Emily West, who worked for the Gene even after Jeanette’s death till her own health finally failed.

blossom 1966

Thanks to Angela Messino for sending us these great photos of Blossom!