Jeanette MacDonald – 44 years ago today…

Nelson Eddy the day Jeanette MacDonald died, January 14, 1965

Above, Nelson Eddy photographed the day Jeanette MacDonald died.

On January 18, 1065, Jeanette MacDonald was laid to rest after a funeral in which an approximate 6,000 fans paid respects to her at Forest Lawn, Glendale.

She died four days earlier, on January 14, in Houston. Many fans have written me over the years, telling me of the pain of hearing that news. Many Hollywood stars pass away only to have fans say, “Oh, what a shame, I remember seeing so-and-so in this film or that -. ” They feel a twinge of sadness, or nostalgia, for that usually happy, younger time in their lives.

But the death of Jeanette MacDonald caused huge grief worldwide. Fans that had been loyal for decades were invested emotionally in her life and wellbeing. There was that special “something” about her…and about Nelson Eddy, who followed her two years later, that made their fans care deeply.

I have heard from several fans that were so devastated at the news of Jeanette’s death, they cried for hours. Or couldn’t go to work that day. Or were told by their bosses (who knew of their caring for Jeanette) that they understood, just stay home and grieve.

There are very few movie stars in today’s arena that would elicit such a response among their fans. Perhaps young actors, cut down in the prime of life. Heath Ledger, for example…such a waste of talent.

But not a movie star long past middle age. In today’s world, only Paul Newman has recently been so publicly mourned. Not only because he was a gorgeous man and a fine actor, but because he was a generous, giving man off-screen.

I’m not sure that the general public was fully aware of the charitable work that Jeanette – and Nelson – did quietly, in their day. Some fans were aware of it because they were so ‘in their face’ and saw it up close. But the public did sense that same goodness and generosity in them, and so they felt (as with Paul Newman last year) that we had lost someone who had made the world a better place for having lived.

Anyway that knew Jeanette’s older sister Blossom was aware how close they were. Jeanette had few people she could speak with candidly about the personal issues in her life. Blossom had always been a trusted confidant, non-judgmental as their other sister Elsie was. So – when Blossom died thirteen years to the very day that Jeanette died – January 14, 1978 – it was not surprising to me. Ironic, maybe, and fitting.