Eyewitness Accounts

Over the years, our readers have written in with invaluable information. We’ve selected some of their comments and have indicated in which issue of Mac/Eddy Today magazine their selection or interview was originally published. We will continue to add new entries, so check back on this page. If you have a story to relate or know of a source who should be interviewed, please contact us. Anonymity is guaranteed if required.

Hello Sharon, I have never had the opportunity to meet you, soon I hope.

My name is Lee Quindlen. I wrote some articles for the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club when I was probably 15 years old. Jeanette wrote me back and sent me her last MGM photo. Inscribed “To Leona Sweet [maiden name] what a pretty name Best Wishes, Sincerely, Jeanette MacDonald.”

We started corresponding after that. I received a letter in 1961 telling me she was coming to Philly with Gene and Blossom. I think Blossom may have been staying here then.

I spent quite a bit of time with the three of them. I knew it then and I know it now; Jeanette and Gene were married in name only. I saw Jeanette and Gene together and even at a young age [as I was 17 yrs. old] it was obvious they were not in love but, they loved each other. It was the way they interacted with each other. Gene seemed preoccupied with some place he had to be. He mentioned it to Jeanette and I got the impression he was going alone. Body language. I was so enthralled, I paid attention the entire time I spent with them. I knew it would be my only chance to see Jeanette and I wanted to remember my thoughts for a lifetime.

They did spend years married to each other not out of choice. They each went their separate ways. I believe they were good friends. I know some gay men and they make good companions. No reason for divorce; Nelson was handcuffed, no way out.

When I met Gene he was very unfriendly and distant didn’t talk much and was indifferent towards Jeanette and her sister. BORING. Jeanette had everything and nothing. No one told me that but, I got the impression from her that her life could have been different. Jeanette indicated that by saying to me youth is wasted on the young. I took that as meaning Jeanette would have lived her life differently and with a different ending. Jeanette also told me that her one great sorrow in her life was not having children but, it could not have been. I interpreted that as either her or her husband had some kind of problem. I would never ask why. Remember I was only 17 years old. I thought about that day all my life. Now that I’m older and have read your books, it’s scary how much of Jeanette’s conversation that day could have related to the things you have learned. I can’t say that anything was told to me directly; it’s just my impression and my sister’s. I made my sister go with me because I was afraid to go alone. All Carol remembers is an old lady with a diamond ring as big as her hand!!

Of course Nelson was mentioned. I asked her what he was like and when Jeanette spoke of him I could see her soul through her eyes. I didn’t understand then but, I do know Jeanette loved him. At that time Gene had a frown on his face. I didn’t know Blossom; I thought she was kind and funny and made me and my sister feel welcome. If I didn’t know Jeanette was a big star I would have liked her anyway. Jeanette was a Lady and very kind and wise. Blossom also was kind. I loved the way Jeanette and Blossom laughed; they were in tune with each other.

I’m sure if she were alive today Jeanette wouldn’t have any qualms about telling her story. It was Nelson’s wishes to keep it quiet; he did not want Jeanette to get hurt…shame…it really wouldn’t have mattered then or now. Jeanette’s fans were as loyal as fans could be; they would never have abandoned her, never. Look at all of us now. –Lee Quindlen, 2006

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I was delighted that you wanted to hear about Jeanette’s Aunt Kitty. A most charming and lovely woman. She was Jeanette’s mother’s sister. Her name is Kitty Rice. She became a friend of my mother’s when we moved here from Pennsylvania in 1941. I’ll call her Aunt Kitty to you, even though I called her Mrs. Rice. Due to the fact that I was a Navy wife, I wasn’t in Aunt Kitty’s company too much. To this day I regret not going into detail with her about Jeanette and I’ll try and explain why.

Of course I had Mother telling me all about this lovely woman she met in church who was the aunt of Jeanette MacDonald. When Mother introduced me to her, I said I wanted her to marry Nelson Eddy. With that she countered by saying Nelson Eddy wanted very much to marry Jeanette, but she listened to her mother and married Gene Raymond. I’ll swear on a stack of bibles that she said this. I know that I was thrilled to death when she said it. I told her—“I knew it, I knew it!” then she said again, “Yes, indeed, he wanted her very much.”

Aunt Kitty’s daughter was with her—she has two lovely red-headed girls—and when I said to her “You’re so lucky being able to visit Jeanette and Gene during the summer,” Aunt Kitty said Gene treated them royally. Well, a look of disbelief came over Aunt Kitty’s daughter’s face, and I thought oh, oh, something’s wrong, and I changed the conversation. This is the first time I told this to anyone, but it sure makes sense now.

While rehearsing for The Song of Norway – I was an understudy for the Countess—a very nice fella who had a lead in the show knew Nelson Eddy. While we were waiting for our entrance on stage during rehearsal, I mentioned that friends and my husband and I were going to see Nelson appearing at Palumbo’s a famous restaurant in Philadelphia (this was a year before Nelson died) and did he know that Nelson wanted to marry Jeanette. He said, “I know Nelson Eddy and he sure did want to marry her.” It seems Nelson and his mother were neighbors to his family. Nelson’s mother told his mother that Nelson was devastated when Jeanette married Gene Raymond. –Jean Johnson, Issue #11

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My twin sister and I started (as dancers) in 1935. I appeared in about 75 movies, at different studios. I worked with a lot of them, Deanna Durbin, Jeanette MacDonald, others. [Jeanette] was a kind person, sweet, it showed on her face. She was a lovely lady. She and Nelson Eddy were sweethearts and he got her pregnant [during Rose Marie, in which June Thompson was a dancer]. It so happened that they hushed this thing up and the studio had her marry Gene Raymond, who was a homosexual.

Her affair with Nelson Eddy had to be broken up. She was told she had to have an abortion. Because the studio wouldn’t hear of her having a baby. –June Thompson Swift, Issue #38

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I grew up around MGM. My father was a studio electrician from 1932-1940 and I remember Nelson Eddy and Jeanette, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. These are my four favorite people, and I enjoyed knowing each one. In 1940 my father got a job in the East, which brought us to New York. I remember talking with Harlow and Gable when they were making China Seas in 1935. I was seven at the time and Harlow brought me an ice cream cone, and I sat on her knee. She was a wonderful girl. The first time I met Jeanette and Nelson was when they were making Rose Marie which started late in 1935. They were two of the most wonderful people I ever met….PS: My father never liked Gene Raymond, he used to come on the set and always started something to embarrass Nelson.—Bill Sutherland, Issue #11

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I was too young when their pictures first came out, but my mother took me to see Nelson’s concert. This was in Seattle. Jeanette made an unexpected appearance and Nelson warmly introduced her. They ended up singing a concert together, and it was so incredible that I instantly picked up “Mac/Eddy” fever.

I saw a few of their concerts in later years, but the biggest thrill was to catch them riding one day in Central Park! I recognized Jeanette’s hair right away, and then Nelson, whose hair was white. They really didn’t look that much older, and they did look happy. Oh, if only I’d had the nerve to say hello, to tell them how much I’d enjoyed them and their music. –Rita Morrow, Issue #15

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I don’t understand how anyone would say Nelson Eddy was unfriendly because at one concert I saw him at, he signed autographs for almost everyone who attended, and when asked how he could do it he replied, “They call me Iron-hand Nelson.” I stood at the end of the table, thrilled and speechless and wish now I had thanked him for so many wonderful hours in my life. When he was through he jumped over the table and waved to everyone. –Mildred May, Issue #10

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In the early 1950s, when I was just starting out in show business, I was very close to a man who represented many celebrities. He knew Nelson very well; they met during the war and traveled together overseas. When he found out how much I loved Nelson, he delighted me with stories about him and about other celebrities. I soon learned he was well aware of what he called the “affair” between Nelson and Jeanette….as well as were many other people, some who were their friends and some who were not. He said he met them here a few times and in California and it was my impression he only knew Jeanette through Nelson.

There was one time I recall; he said he saw them at a restaurant next to the hotel they stayed at. He stopped at the table but did not stay because they seemed to be really upset about something. Some nights later, he met Nelson at a bar and over a few drinks, Nelson confided his unhappiness. He said he was thinking of moving to New York and trying television. Eventually, that is what he did. My friend worked with him on The Desert Song. –Carolyn Power, Issue #38

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I always felt they cared for each other, and I was convinced of it after seeing one of Nelson’s free concerts in Philadelphia. He used to do this every year. People were seated on a first-come, first-serve basis, but there were always hundreds who didn’t get in, so they had loudspeakers outside the building. One of the last years he did this, I was lucky enough to get a seat near the front. As was his custom, he sang requests from his films. Finally somebody yelled for “Wanting You.” He called back, “I can’t sing that without Miss MacDonald. Ask me something else.” Just then Jeanette stood up in the audience. At first I thought it was prearranged, but Nelson looked as surprised to see her as the audience. She nodded to the accompanist, who began playing “Wanting You,” and she sang it as she walked up onto the stage beside him. Nelson seemed quite overcome. When she finished, he hugged her and kissed her hand. Then he turned to the audience and asked if they wanted some duets. You can imagine the response to that suggestion! They sang several of their best songs, and Nelson never let go of her hand all the time they were singing. They looked so beautiful, so childlike and happy together. It was amazing to watch them and I’ll never forget it. –Ethel Wilson, Issue #4

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I was in complete charge of the scripts [on Nelson’s radio show, “The Electric Hour”]. I typed them, ran them off on mimeo and checked them for errors. Then I hand-delivered each one personally to Nelson. Sometimes Nelson made changes in the script; he was very good at writing comedy, and could rewrite the dialogue to make it sound more natural. I held this enviable job all during the years Nelson hosted “The Electric Hour.”

Even though it wasn’t part of my job, each week I sat in on rehearsals, and consequently got to meet all of Nelson’s guest stars. It was a special treat to meet Jeanette MacDonald. She was gorgeous! When she walked into a room, heads turned. Nelson was very proud of her, proud to be associated with her. He positively beamed. His solicitousness with her was a pleasure to behold. He’d hold her script, hold her hand, and see to her every comfort. This treatment was never enjoyed by any of his other guest stars that I noticed. –Norma Nelson, Issue #4

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My husband and I [were] in the market for a larger house. In the paper I saw one advertised that interested us, it was five bedrooms and four baths, in the La Crescenta/Flintridge area. [This is a beautiful, secluded area in the mountains just north of Los Angeles.] I called for information and was told it was abandoned. We went to see it and my husband fell in love with it. When we learned the history of the house, we were even more excited.

The house was built in the 1930s by MGM studios, as a hunting lodge for Clark Gable’s image. Instead of really “roughing it,” he could camp out here. It’s a 4500 square foot lodge, with a 22×25 dining room, an 18×8 dressing room, master bath, with a walk-in ice box capable of holding sides of beef. It has a huge living room with fireplace.

I stumbled onto someone who had pictures taken there of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard by the fireplace, during their courtship. These were interesting, but what was even more fascinating was some pictures of Jeanette and Nelson in that house. Jeanette is wearing wide bottom, loose pants that were fashionable in the 30s and 40s. Her shirt is blown open at the neck, and she wears a straw hat. In one shot her hands are akimbo and she is definitely very pregnant. According to my source, this photo was shot while making Sweethearts. Jeanette and Nelson worked till noon on Saturdays, then came up to this hunting lodge to spend the rest of the weekend. One shot is of Jeanette and Nelson together.—Sylvia Collender, Issue #35

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Many years ago, in the late 40s and early 50s, my parents owned a hotel and lounge in which Nelson Eddy performed on 3-4 occasions. He became friends with my parents. Since they had admired him and MacDonald and had been avid fans, seeing all their pictures, he did open up a little. He also knew my father, who had at one time worked nightclubs in New York City.

In essence, this is what he related over a period of time. He and Jeanette were indeed in love and wanted to marry. At that time, with the studios having a strangle hold on performers, one did what they said. They really thought that the public would stop going to their pictures if they married each other. [Nelson said] that they were very, very much in love and had they been allowed to, they would have married. I got the impression that he would always love her. –Bette Wilmot, Issue #49

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