Remembering Nelson Eddy, 1901-1967

Nelson Eddy

Nelson Eddy had an amazing baritone voice; from one of his very first opera reviews: “A young singer, scarcely 20 years of age…Mr. Eddy was a star from the moment he appeared on the stage.”

Movie stardom also came “overnight” once he was showcased in a lead role in 1935. Nelson himself scoffed at his acting ability, as did many critics. But none could scoff at his voice, charisma, or the genuine sincerity of this man who in “real life” had a tremendous capacity for love and compassion. This serious young man who dropped out of school at 14 to help support his divorced mother, was highly educated and throughout his life was always reading, learning and searching for philosophical truths. He had a longing and need to understand life and comprehend why it dealt him such difficult hands. That personal tragedies nearly brought him down several times is undeniable, that he was able to pull himself back up by his boot straps and carry on, and re-invent himself and find loyal and loving friends in his life is again, nothing short of miraculous.

The lines spoken by a friend during his eulogy are so very true: “Nelson was a straightforward, simple man yet one of the most delicate, sensitive and complex natures I have known. And he had integrity and a shining honesty in his work and in the way he lived, the like of which I have never seen.”

In recent months we have come to learn about and see the viscous comments, letters and documented actions of some people in Nelson’s sphere, particularly in the Jeanette MacDonald camp. In the years Jeanette was failing, those people did everything they could to negate Nelson, try to write him out of her life and make him feel unwanted. (Here’s an actual example that clearly makes the point…just mind boggling!) It is painful for me (and many of us) to learn these things this last year, how very stressful was it for Nelson to experience living in that hostile atmosphere and to have his help turned away by those who preferred to see Jeanette go down. One can easily understand why at times he had to simply walk away and create life and work and art and close friendships elsewhere.

By nature, he was a man capable of youthful, lighthearted fun and joy, to see the positive side of life and live for the present and future. And yet, the sorrows of the past could drag him down into almost unspeakable pain. Whatever his emotions, they were easily read on his face and in his manner, that naked, boyish honesty that shone through when he was singing or acting onscreen.

In 1948 Jeanette wrote of Nelson to his mother in a letter:

These have been days of pain for me – yes, but the close companionship, the lovely inarticulate hours when his sweet silence alone is a long of love – sweet than all else. No girl was ever so tenderly loved. I thought I knew every phase of his life – but never has he been like this. Now I know the gentle healing power of that love…

Did you ever read Longfellow’s poem “Footsteps of the Angels”? He recited every verse to me and it was indeed the footsteps of the angels to my soul.

And here, fittingly, are the words of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem written in 1839. Can you imagine Nelson Eddy reading this poem aloud and explaining and discussing its meaning as a comfort to the woman who had just lost his child?

Footsteps of Angels

When the hours of Day are numbered,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight;

Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlor wall;

Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more;

He, the young and strong, who cherished
Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perished,
Weary with the march of life!

They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore,
Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spake with us on earth no more!

And with them the Being Beauteous,
Who unto my youth was given,
More than all things else to love me,
And is now a saint in heaven.

With a slow and noiseless footstep
Comes that messenger divine,
Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.

And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.

Uttered not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit’s voiceless prayer,
Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air.

Oh, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only
Such as these have lived and died!

Nelson Eddy was a rare and unique man and we honor his memory today. Thanks to Maria Escano for the photo…and thanks to all who have helped us learn and understand more in this last year.

I would sincerely encourage those of you interesting in learning more to attend either our Sturbridge, MA event or the Los Angeles one – or both. Our “Master Classes” continue because amazingly, the research and revelations continue as well.