Miliza Korjus Interview

Excerpted from Mac/Eddy Today Issue #13. Article and photos copyright ©1978, 2005, all rights reserved. Miliza Korjus, star of the MGM classic musical The Great Waltz (1938), was one of the first honorary club members and attended several club events in 1977 and 1978.

Photos: Above left, Miliza with Jeanette at the studio, either late 1938 or January 1939. Jeanette’s in costume for Broadway Serenade; she and Miliza had next-door studio dressing rooms. Above right: Miliza at a club event, holding the book Jeanette MacDonald: A Pictorial Tribute by Sharon Rich. This photo was taken at the third club get together at the home of Sharon Rich.

Miliza attended our second Los Angeles meeting, held at the home of Grace Romero. That night we showed New Moon and some film clips from Jeanette’s first film, The Love Parade. Miliza adored the clips and asked where she could get a copy of them, she wanted them for her own film library. “She’s so adorable,” she murmured. “I can see why Nelson loved her so.” My ears perked up at this. “You know about that?” I asked. “Of course,” she said cautiously. I called Brent and others over to get in on the conversation. Several of us were circled around Miliza as she commented that in our club publication there was very little mention of Gene Raymond. “This is not a Gene Raymond fan club,” we told her. “Don’t you like him?” she asked. “Don’t you?” I threw back. Her next comment nearly knocked us over. “He is a BASTARD!” she spat. “He made life miserable for her and drove her to an early grave.” Well, of course we had to hear more…

Miliza told us about a party she had attended in the early 1950s (we later learned it was in honor of Kirsten Flagstad). Both Jeanette and Nelson were there with their spouses, and the meal went smoothly until just after dinner, when Ann Eddy began talking loudly about unfaithful husbands who ran around with any tramp making themselves available to him. She mentioned no names, of course, but Nelson, who had unconsciously been paying too much attention to Jeanette, turned red, while Jeanette went white. Everyone sat in uncomfortable silence, with most people unaware of what she was referring to. Nelson finally jumped up, told his wife where to go, grabbed Jeanette’s hand and pulled her from the room.

Miliza also told of another party attended only by Gene and Jeanette, where Gene belligerently began talking of how he’d made Jeanette a star, how well he guided her career, etc. Jeanette just sat there, looking at her lap while he cut her down, until someone told Gene to shut up.

Like most people “in” on the relationship, she had some missing pieces. She commented that the last time she had seen Jeanette was only months before her death. Miliza came to visit, and though Jeanette was seeing virtually no one, she did spend some time with her old friend. Miliza found Jeanette very thin, very frail, but also very determined to take a walk and get some fresh air. The two singers walked up and down the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard near Jeanette’s apartment, and Jeanette talked a bit about her plans for the future. She mentioned Nelson and her face lit up hopefully; she wanted to lick her illness so that things would finally go right for them. Miliza did not want to press her, but she never did know what “the plans” were. We told her about Nelson buying a house for them in Scottsdale, Arizona, and again her eyes filled with tears. “Poor Nelson,” she said, “He suffered so after her death, you just don’t know. He was a broken man. I knew it hurt him but I didn’t know how much.”

We talked a bit about Jeanette’s career drive and her indecisiveness over Nelson. “It’s true her career came first, and she drove herself too hard,” Miliza said. “But if you think she was merely selfish you didn’t really know her. She had a bad influence, her mother–that woman hounded her and made her feel very little and insignificant. What a tragic love story. I could never love like that. If only you’d seen them together. Their love was so strong, it was not of this world, beyond a physical love. A love like that rarely occurs, but it is very taxing. Look at Jeanette, it ruined her health, and she’s gone now. I’m still here and healthy. So who’s to say whether it was a blessing or not?”

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