Jeanette MacDonald

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Jeanette MacDonald
Jeannette MacDonald - 1934.jpg
MacDonald in 1934
Born Jeanette Anna MacDonald
(1903-06-18)June 18, 1903
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died January 14, 1965(1965-01-14) (aged 61)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Occupation Actress/singer
Years active 1909–59
Spouse(s) Gene Raymond (1937–65; her death)

Jeanette Anna MacDonald (June 18, 1903 – January 14, 1965) was an American singer and actress best remembered for her musical films of the 1930s with Maurice Chevalier (The Love Parade, Love Me Tonight, The Merry Widow and One Hour With You) and Nelson Eddy (Naughty Marietta, Rose-Marie, and Maytime). During the 1930s and 1940s she starred in 29 feature films, four nominated for Best Picture Oscars (The Love Parade, One Hour with You, Naughty Marietta and San Francisco), and recorded extensively, earning three gold records. She later appeared in opera, concerts, radio, and television. MacDonald was one of the most influential sopranos of the 20th century, introducing opera to film-going audiences and inspiring a generation of singers.

Early years[edit]

MacDonald was born on June 18, 1903,[1] at her family's Philadelphia home at 5123 Arch Street. She was the youngest of the three daughters of Anna Mae (née Wright) and Daniel MacDonald.[2][3] She had Scottish, English, and Dutch ancestry.[4] Starting at an early age, she took dancing lessons with Al White, imitated her mother's opera records, and took singing lessons with Wassili Leps. She performed at church and school functions and began touring in kiddie shows, heading Al White's "Six Little Song Birds" in Philadelphia at the age of nine. She was the younger sister of character actress Blossom Rock, who was most famous as Grandmama on the 1960s TV series The Addams Family.

Broadway[edit]

In November 1919, MacDonald joined her older sister, the actress Blossom Rock, in New York. She landed a job in the chorus of Ned Wayburn's The Demi-Tasse Revue, a musical entertainment presented between films at the Capital Theatre on Broadway. In 1920, she appeared in two musicals, Jerome Kern's Night Boat as a chorus replacement, and Irene on the road as the second female lead; future film star Irene Dunne played the title role during part of the tour, and Helen Shipman, actor, singer and dancer, played the title role during the other part of the tour. In 1921, MacDonald played in Tangerine, as one of the "Six Wives." In 1922, she was a featured singer in a Greenwich Village revue, Fantastic Fricassee, for which good press notices brought her a role in The Magic Ring (1923). MacDonald played the second female lead in this long-running musical which starred Mitzi Hajos. In 1925, MacDonald again had the second female lead opposite Queenie Smith in Tip Toes, a George Gershwin hit show.

The following year, 1926, found MacDonald still in a second female lead in Bubblin' Over, a musical version of Brewster's Millions. MacDonald finally landed a starring role in Yes, Yes, Yvette in 1927. Planned as a sequel to producer H.H. Frazee's No, No, Nanette, the show toured extensively, but failed to please the critics when it arrived on Broadway. MacDonald also played the lead in her next two plays: Sunny Days in 1928 for her first show for the producers Lee and J.J. Shubert, for which she received rave reviews, and Angela 1928, which the critics panned. Her last play was Boom Boom in 1929, with her name above the title; the cast included young Archie Leach, who would later become Cary Grant.

While MacDonald was appearing in Angela, film star Richard Dix spotted her and had her screen-tested for his film Nothing but the Truth. The Shuberts would not let her out of her contract to appear in the film, which starred Dix and Helen Kane (the "Boop-boop-a-doop girl"). In 1929, famed film director Ernst Lubitsch was looking through old screen tests of Broadway performers and spotted MacDonald. He cast her as the leading lady in The Love Parade, his first sound film, which starred Maurice Chevalier.

Motion pictures[edit]

The Paramount years[edit]

In the first rush of sound films, during 1929 and 1930, MacDonald starred in six films, the first four for Paramount Studios. Her first, The Love Parade (1929), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Maurice Chevalier, was a landmark of early sound films and received a Best Picture nomination.[5] MacDonald's first recordings were two hits from the score: "Dream Lover" and "March of the Grenadiers". The Vagabond King (1930) was a lavish two-strip Technicolor film version of Rudolf Friml's hit 1925 operetta. Broadway star Dennis King reprised his role as 15th-century French poet François Villon and MacDonald was Princess Katherine. She sang "Some Day" and "Only a Rose". The UCLA Film and Television Archive owns the only known color print of this production.

1930 was an extremely busy year for Paramount and MacDonald. Paramount on Parade was a Paramount all-star revue, similar to other mammoth sound revues produced by major studios to introduce their formerly silent stars to the public. MacDonald's footage singing a duet of "Come Back to Sorrento" with Nino Martini wwas cut from the release print. Let's Go Native was a desert island comedy directed by Leo McCarey, co-starring Jack Oakie and Kay Francis. Monte Carlo was another highly regarded Lubitsch classic, with British musical star Jack Buchanan as a count who disguises himself as a hairdresser in order to woo a scatterbrained countess (Macdonald). MacDonald introduced "Beyond the Blue Horizon", which she recorded three times during her career.

In hopes of producing her own films, MacDonald went to United Artists to make The Lottery Bride in 1930. Despite music by Rudolf Friml, the film was not successful. MacDonald next signed a three-picture deal with the Fox Film Corporation. Oh, for a Man! (1930) was more successful; MacDonald portrayed a temperamental opera singer who sings Wagner's "Liebestod" and falls for an Irish burglar played by Reginald Denny.

In 1931, Don't Bet on Women was a nonmusical drawing-room comedy in which playboy Edmund Lowe bets his happily married friend, Roland Young, that he can seduce Young's wife (MacDonald). Annabelle's Affairs (1931) was a farce with MacDonald as a sophisticated New York playgirl who does not recognize her own miner husband, played by Victor McLaglen, when he turns up five years later. Highly praised by reviewers at the time,[6] only one reel of this film survives.

MacDonald took a break from Hollywood in 1931 to embark on a European concert tour. She returned to Paramount the following year for two films with Chevalier. One Hour with You in 1932 was directed by both George Cukor and Ernst Lubitsch, and simultaneously filmed in French with the same stars, but a French supporting cast. Currently, no surviving print of Une Heure près de toi (One Hour Near You) is known. Rouben Mamoulian directed Love Me Tonight (1932), considered by many film critics and writers to be the perfect film musical.[7] Starring Chevalier as a humble tailor in love with a princess played by MacDonald, much of the story is told in sung dialogue. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote the original score, which included the standards "Mimi", "Lover", and "Isn't It Romantic?".

The MGM/Nelson Eddy years[edit]

From the trailer for The Merry Widow (1934)

In 1933, MacDonald left again for Europe and while there, signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her first MGM film was The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), based on the Jerome Kern Broadway hit. Her co-star was Ramón Novarro. The plot about unmarried lovers shacking up just barely slipped through the new Production Code guidelines that took effect July 1, 1934. Despite a Technicolor finale—the first use of the new three-color Technicolor process other than Disney cartoons—the film was not a huge success.

In The Merry Widow (1934), director Ernst Lubitsch reunited Maurice Chevalier and MacDonald in a lavish version of the classic 1905 Franz Lehár operetta. The film was highly regarded by critics and operetta lovers in major U.S. cities and Europe, but failed to generate much income outside urban areas. It had a huge budget, partially because it was filmed simultaneously in French as La Veuve Joyeuse, with a French supporting cast and some minor plot changes.

Naughty Marietta (1935), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, was MacDonald's first film in which she teamed with newcomer baritone Nelson Eddy. Victor Herbert's 1910 score, with songs like "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life", "I'm Falling in Love with Someone", "'Neath the Southern Moon", "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", and "Italian Street Song", enjoyed renewed popularity. The film won an Oscar for sound recording and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It was voted one of the Ten Best Pictures of 1935 by the New York film critics, was awarded the Photoplay Gold Medal Award as Best Picture of 1935 (beating out Mutiny on the Bounty, which won the Oscar), and in 2004, was selected to the National Film Registry. MacDonald earned gold records for "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" and "Italian Street Song".

The following year, MacDonald starred in two of the highest-grossing films of that year. In Rose-Marie (1936), MacDonald played a haughty opera diva who learns her kid brother (James Stewart) has killed a Mountie and is hiding in the northern woods; Eddy is the Mountie sent to capture him. Nelson Eddy and she sang Rudolf Friml's "Indian Love Call" to each other in the Canadian wilderness (actually filmed at Lake Tahoe). Eddy's definitive portrayal of the steadfast Mountie became a popular icon. When the Canadian Mounties temporarily retired their distinctive hat in 1970, photos of Eddy in his Rose Marie uniform appeared in thousands of U.S. newspapers. San Francisco (1936) was also directed by W.S. Van Dyke. In this tale of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, MacDonald played a hopeful opera singer opposite Clark Gable as the he-man proprietor of a Barbary Coast gambling joint, and Spencer Tracy as his boyhood chum who has become a priest and gives the moral messages.

In the summer of 1936, filming began on Maytime, co-starring Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, and Paul Lukas, produced by Irving Thalberg. After Thalberg's untimely death in September, the production was shut down and the half-finished film was scrapped. A new script was filmed with a different storyline and supporting actors (including John Barrymore). The 'second' Maytime (1937), was the top-grossing film worldwide of the year and is regarded as one of the best film musicals of the 1930s.[8] "Will You Remember" by Sigmund Romberg brought MacDonald another gold record.

The Firefly (1937) was MacDonald's first solo-starring film at MGM with her name alone above the title. Rudolf Friml's 1912 stage score was borrowed and a new song, "The Donkey Serenade", added. With real-life Americans rushing to fight in the ongoing revolution in Spain, this historical vehicle was constructed around a previous revolution in Napoleonic times. MacDonald's co-star was Allan Jones. The MacDonald-Eddy team had split after MacDonald's engagement and marriage to Gene Raymond, but neither of their solo films grossed as much as the team films, and by the fall of 1937, MGM was barraged with outraged fan mail.[9] The Girl of the Golden West (1938) was the result, but the two stars had little screen time together and the main song, "Obey Your Heart", was never sung as a duet. The film had an original score by Sigmund Romberg and reused the popular David Belasco stage plot (also employed by opera composer Giacomo Puccini for La fanciulla del West).

Eddy and MacDonald from the trailer for Sweethearts (1938)

Mayer had promised MacDonald the studio's first Technicolor feature and he delivered with Sweethearts (1938), co-starring Eddy. In contrast to the previous film, the co-stars were relaxed onscreen and singing frequently together. This box office smash hit integrated Victor Herbert's 1913 stage score into a modern backstage story scripted by Dorothy Parker. MacDonald and Eddy played a husband and wife Broadway musical comedy team who are offered a Hollywood contract. Sweethearts won the Photoplay Gold Medal Award as Best Picture of the Year.

After MacDonald suffered a miscarriage during the filming of Sweethearts,[10] Mayer dropped plans for the team to co-star in Let Freedom Ring, a vehicle first announced for them in 1935. Eddy made that film solo while MacDonald and Lew Ayres (Young Dr. Kildare) co-starred in Broadway Serenade (1939). They played a contemporary musical couple who clash when her career flourishes while his flounders. MacDonald's performance was subdued (Eddy married Ann Franklin during the filming) and choreographer Busby Berkeley, just hired away from Warner Bros., was called upon to add an over-the-top finale in an effort to improve the film.[citation needed]

Following Broadway Serenade, MacDonald left Hollywood on a concert tour and refused to renew her MGM contract. Eddy starred in Balalaika while MacDonald's manager was summoned from London to help her renegotiate. After initially insisting she film Smilin' Through with James Stewart and Robert Taylor, MacDonald finally relented and agreed to film New Moon (1940) with Eddy. New Moon proved to be one of MacDonald's more popular films.[11] Composer Sigmund Romberg's 1927 Broadway hit provided the plot and the songs: "Lover, Come Back to Me", "One Kiss", and "Wanting You", plus Eddy's version of "Stout Hearted Men". This was followed by Bitter Sweet (1940), a Technicolor film version of Noël Coward's 1929 stage operetta.

Smilin' Through (1941) was MacDonald's next Technicolor project. This 1919 stage play had been filmed a number of times. Its theme of reunion with deceased loved ones was enormously popular after the devastation of World War I, and MGM reasoned that it should resonate with filmgoers during World War II. MacDonald played a dual role—Moonyean, a Victorian girl accidentally murdered by a jealous lover, and Kathleen, her niece, who falls in love with the son of the murderer. The original co-stars, James Stewart and Robert Taylor, dropped out to help in the military effort and were replaced by Brian Aherne and Gene Raymond.

I Married an Angel (1942), was adapted from the Rodgers & Hart stage musical about an angel who loses her wings on her wedding night. The script by Anita Loos suffered serious censorship cuts during filming that made the result less successful. MacDonald sang "Spring Is Here" and the title song. It was the final film made by the team of MacDonald and Eddy. After a falling-out with Mayer, Eddy bought his MGM contract (with one film left to make) and went to Universal, where he signed a million-dollar, two-picture deal. MacDonald remained for one last film, Cairo (1942), a cheaply budgeted spy comedy co-starring Robert Young (Father Knows Best) and Ethel Waters, who played MacDonald's singing maid. Within one year, beginning in 1942, L.B. Mayer released his four highest-paid actresses from their MGM contracts; Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Jeanette MacDonald. Of those four stars, MacDonald was the only one whom Mr. Mayer would rehire, done in 1948.

Later career[edit]

MacDonald followed Eddy to Universal, where they were scheduled to make one film together after he finished Phantom of the Opera (1943). MacDonald marked time by appearing as herself in Follow the Boys (1944), an all-star extravaganza about Hollywood stars entertaining the troops. The more than 40 guest stars included Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Sophie Tucker, and Orson Welles. MacDonald is shown during a concert singing "Beyond the Blue Horizon", and in a studio-filmed sequence singing "I'll See You in My Dreams" to a blinded soldier.

After MacDonald and Eddy left MGM in 1943, they appeared frequently on radio together while planning several unrealized films that would have reunited them onscreen. Eddy was upset at how his first film turned out at Universal, so their joint project at that studio fell through. They next sought independent financing for team projects like East Wind and Crescent Carnival, a book optioned by MacDonald. Other thwarted projects were The Rosary, a 1910 best seller (which Nelson Eddy pitched for a team comeback at MGM), The Desert Song, and a remake of The Vagabond King, plus two movie treatments written by Eddy, Timothy Waits for Love and All Stars Don't Spangle. In 1954, Eddy pulled out of yet another proposed team film to be made in England when he learned MacDonald was investing her own funds. He had invested in 1944's Knickerbocker Holiday, and had lost money.

From the trailer for The Sun Comes Up (1949)

MacDonald returned solo to MGM after five years off the screen for two films. Three Daring Daughters (1948) co-starred José Iturbi as her love interest. MacDonald plays a divorcée whose lively daughters (Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd, and Elinor Donahue) keep trying to get her back with her ex, but she has secretly remarried. "The Dickey Bird" song made the Hit Parade. The Sun Comes Up (1949), teamed MacDonald with Lassie, in an adaptation of a short story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. MacDonald played a widow who has lost her son, but warms to orphan Claude Jarman Jr. It was her final film.

Offers continued to come in, and in 1962, producer Ross Hunter proposed teaming MacDonald and Eddy for featured roles in his 1963 comedy The Thrill of It All. They declined, and the roles were played by Arlene Francis and Edward Andrews. 20th Century Fox also toyed with the idea of MacDonald (Irene Dunne briefly was considered) for the part of Mother Abbess in the film version of The Sound of Music. It never moved beyond the discussion stages partly because of MacDonald's failing health.

An annual poll of film exhibitors listed MacDonald as one of the top-10 box-office draws of 1936,[12] and many of her films were among the top-20 moneymakers of the years they were released.[citation needed] In addition, MacDonald was one of the top-10 box-office attractions in Great Britain from 1937 to 1942.[citation needed] During her 39-year career, MacDonald earned two stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for films and recordings) and planted her feet in the wet concrete in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.

Concerts[edit]

Starting in 1931 and continuing through the 1950s, MacDonald did regular concert tours between films. Her first European tour was in 1931, where she sang in both France and England. Her first American concert tour was in 1939, immediately after the completion of Broadway Serenade and Nelson Eddy's marriage. MacDonald performed at the Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester Minnesota, on April 19, 1939, to open that venue before an audience that included both of the Mayo Brothers. They both died just months later. After that, like Eddy, she did frequent U.S. tours between films. She sang several times at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall.

When America joined World War II in 1941, MacDonald was one of the founders of the Army Emergency Relief and raised funds on concert tours. She auctioned off encores for donations and raised over $100,000 for the troops. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who considered MacDonald and Eddy two of his favorite film stars, awarded her a medal. She also did command performances at the White House for both presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In early 1960, the Hollywood Bowl announced that MacDonald and Howard Keel would be the guest soloists at the annual Easter Sunrise Service. However, health problems forced her to cancel her appearance. By the summer of 1960, MacDonald was seriously ill and her autobiography collaborator, Fredda Dudley Balling, wrote that whether she would live long enough to finish the book was uncertain.[13] Besides her heart problems, MacDonald suffered from a benign, inoperable brain tumor.[14]

Recordings[edit]

MacDonald recorded more than 90 songs during her career, working exclusively for RCA Victor in the United States. She also did some early recordings for HMV in England and France while she was there on a concert tour in 1931. She earned three gold records, one for the LP album, Favorites in Stereo that she did with Nelson Eddy in 1959.[15]

Opera[edit]

Unlike Nelson Eddy, who came from opera to film, MacDonald in the 1940s yearned to reinvent herself in opera. She began training for this goal with Lotte Lehmann, one of the leading opera stars of the early 20th century.

"When Jeanette MacDonald approached me for coaching lessons", wrote Lehmann, "I was really curious how a glamorous movie star, certainly spoiled by the adoration of a limitless world, would be able to devote herself to another, a higher level of art. I had the surprise of my life. There couldn't have been a more diligent, a more serious, a more pliable person than Jeanette. The lessons which I had started with a kind of suspicious curiosity, turned out to be sheer delight for me. She studied Marguerite with me—and lieder. These were the ones which astounded me most. I am quite sure that Jeanette would have developed into a serious and successful lieder singer if time would have allowed it."[16]

MacDonald made her opera debut singing Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in Montreal at His Majesty's Theatre (May 8 and 10, 1943). She quickly repeated the role in Quebec City (May 12), Ottawa, and Toronto. Her U.S. debut with the Chicago Opera Company (November 4, 11 and 15, 1944) was in the same role. She also sang Marguerite in Gounod's Faust with the Chicago Opera. In November 1945, she did two more performances of Roméo et Juliette and one of Faust in Chicago, and two Fausts for the Cincinnati Opera. On December 12, 1951, she did one performance of Faust with the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company at the Academy of Music.

Claudia Cassidy, the music critic of the Chicago Tribune wrote: "Her Juliet is breathtakingly beautiful to the eye and dulcet to the ear."[17] The same critic reviewed Faust: "From where I sit at the opera, Jeanette MacDonald has turned out to be one of the welcome surprises of the season...her Marguerite was better than her Juliet...beautifully sung with purity of line and tone, a good trill, and a Gallic inflection that understood Gounod's phrasing...You felt if Faust must sell his soul to the devil, at least this time he got his money's worth."[18]

Radio and television[edit]

MacDonald's extensive radio career may have begun on a 1929 radio broadcast of the Publix Hour. She was on the Academy Awards ceremony broadcast in 1931. She hosted her own radio show, Vicks Open House, from September 1937 to March 1938, for which she received $5,000 a week. However, the time demands of doing a weekly live radio show while filming, touring in concerts, and making records proved enormously difficult, and after fainting on-air during one show, she decided not to renew her radio contract with Vicks at the end of the 26-week season. Thereafter, she stuck to guest appearances.

MacDonald appeared in condensed radio versions of many of her films on programs such as Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theater, usually with Nelson Eddy, and the Railroad Hour which starred Gordon MacRae. These included The Merry Widow, Naughty Marietta, Rose Marie, Maytime, Sweethearts, Bitter Sweet, Smilin' Through, and The Sun Comes Up, plus other operettas and musicals such as Victor Herbert's Mlle Modiste, Irene, The Student Prince, Tonight or Never with Melvyn Douglas, A Song for Clotilda, The Gift of the Magi, and Apple Blossoms. Other radio shows included The Prudential Family Hour, Screen Guild Playhouse, and The Voice of Firestone which featured the top opera and concert singers of the time. In 1953, MacDonald sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, broadcast on both radio and TV.

MacDonald sang frequently with Nelson Eddy during the mid-1940s on several Lux Radio Theater and The Screen Guild Theater productions of their films together. She also appeared as his guest several times on his various radio shows such as The Electric Hour and The Kraft Music Hall. He was also a surprise guest when she hosted a war bonds program called Guest Star, and they sang on other World War II victory shows together. The majority of her radio work in the mid to late 1940s was with Eddy. Her 1948 Hollywood Bowl concert was also broadcast over the air, in which she used Eddy's longtime accompanist, Theodore Paxson.

MacDonald appeared on early TV, most frequently as a singing guest star. She sang on The Voice of Firestone on November 13, 1950. On November 12, 1952, she was the subject of Ralph Edwards' This Is Your Life. Nelson Eddy appeared as a voice from her past, singing the song he sang at her wedding to Gene Raymond. His surprise appearance brought her to tears.

Shortly thereafter, she appeared as the mystery guest on the December 21, 1952, episode of What's My Line?. After the panelists guessed her identity, she told John Daly she was in New York for the holidays. She also said that on January 16, 1953, she was going to have a recital at Carnegie Hall.

On February 2, 1956, MacDonald starred in Prima Donna, a television pilot for her own series, written for her by her husband, Gene Raymond. The initial show featured guest stars Leo Durocher and Larraine Day, but it failed to find a slot.

In December 1956 MacDonald and Eddy made their first TV appearance as a team on the Lux Video Theatre Holiday Special. In 1957, Eddy and she appeared on Patti Page's program The Big Record, singing several songs.

On Playhouse 90 (March 28, 1957), MacDonald played Charley's real aunt to Art Carney's impersonation in "Charley's Aunt".

War work[edit]

After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, MacDonald continued to sing in concerts and on radio, and much of her time was devoted to war work. She was one of the founders of the Women's Voluntary Services and was active with the Army Emergency Relief. She raised over $100,000 for them with benefit concerts throughout the country in the fall of 1943, for which President Roosevelt awarded her a medal. She did extensive free concerts for the military through the U.S.O, and after each of her regular "civilian" concert, she would auction off encores and donated the money to wartime charities. She was surprised to find that the song she was most often asked to sing was "Ave Maria". When she was home in Hollywood, she held open house at her home, Twin Gables, on Sunday afternoons for GIs. On one occasion, at the request of Lt. Ronald Reagan, she was singing for a large group of men in San Francisco who were due to ship out to the fierce fighting in the South Pacific. She closed with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", and 20,000 voices spontaneously joined in.

Musical theatre[edit]

In the mid-1950s, MacDonald toured in summer stock productions of Bitter Sweet and The King and I. She opened in Bitter Sweet at the Iroquois Amphitheater, Louisville, Kentucky, on July 19, 1954. Her production of The King and I opened August 20, 1956, at the Starlight Theatre. While performing there, she collapsed. Officially, it was announced as heat prostration, but in fact it was a heart seizure. She began limiting her appearances and a reprisal of Bitter Sweet in 1959 was her last professional appearance.

MacDonald and her husband Gene Raymond toured in Ferenc Molnár's The Guardsman. The production opened at the Erlanger Theater, Buffalo, New York, on January 25, 1951, and played in 23 Northeastern and Midwestern cities until June 2, 1951. Despite less than enthusiastic comments from critics, the show played to full houses for virtually every performance. The leading role of "The Actress" was changed to "The Singer" to allow MacDonald to add some songs. While this pleased her fans, the show closed before reaching Broadway.

In the 1950s, talks with respect to a Broadway return occurred. In the 1960s, MacDonald was approached about starring on Broadway in a musical version of Sunset Boulevard. Harold Prince recounts in his autobiography, visiting MacDonald at her home in Bel Air to discuss the proposed project. Composer Hugh Martin also wrote a song for the musical entitled, "Wasn't It Romantic?".

MacDonald also made a few nightclub appearances. She sang and danced at The Sands and The Sahara in Las Vegas in 1953, The Coconut Grove in Los Angeles in 1954, and again at The Sahara in 1957, but she never felt entirely comfortable in the smoky atmosphere.

Personal life[edit]

MacDonald had five documented serious romances. The first was wealthy NYU student Jack Ohmeis, whom she dated from 1922 until 1927. They became engaged in 1926, but his family objected to his marrying an actress. Ironically, the Ohmeis family fortunes were lost in the 1929 stock-market crash and MacDonald later lent money to Jack Ohmeis.[19]

MacDonald next dated Irving Stone from around 1926-8; they apparently met when she was touring in Chicago in Yes, Yes, Yvette.[19] Stone, who lived in Milwaukee, was the nephew of the founder of the Boston Store and worked in the family business. Few details were known of Stone's romance with MacDonald until the discovery of hundreds of pages of handwritten love letters she wrote to him that were found in his apartment after his death.

In 1928, Robert George Ritchie became MacDonald's manager and fiancé. They were together until 1935, and presumed by many to be married. MacDonald dared anyone to prove it. However, MacDonald wrote Ritchie a letter in July 1929 calling him "my own darling husband" and on the envelope she gave her return address initials as "JAR" (Jeanette Anna Ritchie).[20] On March 29, 1931, MacDonald wrote to Irving Stone that she was engaged to Ritchie,[21] and on July 8, 1931, she wrote to him again from Europe, "I didn't get married on June 9."[22] Ritchie's nephew and the remaining family claimed that a Ritchie-MacDonald marriage was annulled, possibly in Hawaii, in 1935. If so, details have never come to light. However, MacDonald was photographed in Hawaii just prior to the release of Naughty Marietta (1935).

The Bob Ritchie romance began to sour when MacDonald became friendly with Nelson Eddy in late 1933. In January 1934, the trades announced they would be co-starring in Naughty Marietta.[23] They dated on and off throughout 1934, but after MacDonald's 1935 Hawaii trip, Eddy became more persistent in his marriage proposals.[citation needed] The problem was that Eddy wanted her to retire and raise their children; MacDonald preferred to put her career first.[citation needed] They fought constantly over this and broke up in early June 1935.[citation needed]

Later that month, MacDonald met the actor Gene Raymond at a party and began dating him. Blond Raymond resembled Eddy, and the two men were sometimes mistaken for each other when seen publicly with MacDonald.[24] During summer 1935, MacDonald rekindled the relationship with Eddy when they began filming Rose Marie. MacDonald later called it "the happiest summer of my life".[25][26]

On June 16, 1937, MacDonald married Gene Raymond in a traditional ceremony at Wilshire Methodist Church in Los Angeles. They remained married until MacDonald's death. Raymond was also a songwriter, and MacDonald introduced two of his songs in her concerts. In addition to the TV pilot Prima Donna that Raymond wrote for her, they also did a few radio shows together and toured in The Guardsman on stage. With their infrequent attempts to work together, including the film Smilin' Through, the public was indifferent to them as a team as evidenced by only fair box-office receipts. According to published books, including Sweethearts by Sharon Rich and The Golden Girls of MGM by Jane Ellen Wayne, Gene Raymond engaged in numerous affairs with men and their marriage was problematic. MacDonald addressed this issue in her unpublished autobiography (now published in a facsimile edition; see Controversy section) and mentioned several separations and marital problems. After her death, Raymond and his friends (including the MacDonald fan club, which remained associated with Raymond until his death) disputed these claims.

Nelson Eddy attempted a reconciliation with MacDonald in 1938, but again had interference from Louis B. Mayer, who felt that divorce might harm MacDonald's saintly image with her fans. Eddy eloped to Las Vegas with Ann Franklin in January 1939. His marriage also lasted until his death.

MacDonald was a practicing Christian Scientist[27] and a Republican.[28][29]

Death[edit]

MacDonald suffered in her later years with heart trouble. She worsened in 1963 and underwent an arterial transplant at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. She had been signed to play the role of the Mother Abbess in the film version of The Sound of Music, but died before she could fulfill this commitment (the role went to Peggy Wood).

Nelson Eddy, in Australia on a nightclub tour, pleaded illness and returned to the States at word of MacDonald's surgery. After the operation, she developed pleurisy and was hospitalized for two-and-a-half months. Her friends kept the news from the press until just before her release. Her house was sold and she moved into a Los Angeles apartment that would not require so much of her energies. Her husband moved into an adjoining apartment. Eddy took his own apartment in the opposite building.[30]

MacDonald was again stricken in 1964. Nelson Eddy was with her when she was admitted to UCLA Medical Center, where on Christmas Eve, she was operated on for abdominal adhesions. She was able to go home for New Year's, but in mid-January, husband Raymond flew her back to Houston. It was hoped that pioneer heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey, who had recently operated successfully on the Duke of Windsor, could perform the same procedure for her.

She checked in on January 12, and a program of intravenous feedings was begun to build her up for possible surgery. MacDonald died two days later, aged 61, on January 14 at 4:32 pm, with her husband at her bedside. According to press reports, MacDonald's last words to Raymond while he massaged her feet were "I love you". He replied "I love you, too"; she smiled and succumbed.

MacDonald was interred on January 18, 1965, in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, which reads "Jeanette MacDonald Raymond". Nelson Eddy, who told Jack Paar on The Tonight Show, "I love her [MacDonald]", broke down when interviewed by the press the evening of her death. He survived MacDonald by two years.

Almost a decade after MacDonald's death, in 1974, Gene Raymond remarried. His second wife, a Canadian heiress, was the former Mrs. Bentley Hees. Raymond died on May 3, 1998.[citation needed]

Controversy[edit]

Nelson Eddy and MacDonald from the trailer for the film Sweethearts (1938)

John Kenneth Hilliard, a sound engineer backstage at MGM from 1933 to 1942, reported in 1981 that although Eddy and MacDonald were a screen couple, they "hated each other with a vengeance".[31]

Hilliard worked on Naughty Marietta and it is common knowledge that MacDonald's initial iciness toward Eddy almost caused Eddy to walk off that film. They battled off-screen on three film sets: the second half of Rose Marie, after MacDonald's purported refusal to elope to Reno with Eddy; The Girl of the Golden West, filmed immediately after MacDonald's marriage; and New Moon, filmed after Eddy's marriage.

Nevertheless, an off-screen affair was verified by Jim Bayless, another MGM sound engineer from 1929 to 1942, who built Eddy's home recording equipment and recorded Eddy's weekly radio shows for him on disc; Bayless later left MGM to be vice president for newly formed Capitol Records. Other MGM staff who verified the relationship included their makeup artists William Tuttle and Fred Phillips and fellow singers Miliza Korjus[32] and Rise Stevens.[33]

Contemporary magazine writer Sandy Reiss[34] reported that a private trailer was set up for the two on Maytime, and that the crew called them "the lovebirds". Other MGM co-workers claimed that Eddy and MacDonald were closest during the filming of Sweethearts and I Married an Angel. After the MGM years, their private lives fell off the Hollywood radar. Baritone Theodor Uppman, who won the Atwater Kent opera auditions and later sang at the Metropolitan Opera, saw Eddy and MacDonald at a 1947 party together, where the talk of the evening was the fact that MacDonald was pregnant with Eddy's child, but he could not get a divorce.

In the biography Sweethearts by Sharon Rich, the author presents MacDonald and Eddy as continuing an adulterous affair after their marriages. Rich, who was a close friend of MacDonald's older sister Blossom Rock, claims the relationship lasted with a few breaks until MacDonald's death. Newsreel footage from MacDonald's funeral shows Eddy as the last person exiting the chapel, circled by other celebrities, such as Lauritz Melchior, who offer him condolences.[35] Rich also interviewed about 200 others including celebrities who because of Rock's approval, spoke candidly. Rich additionally had access to hundreds of pages of personal letters, many of them handwritten by MacDonald, others written by Eddy or part of a correspondence between Eddy's mother and a close friend. Another biography, Hollywood Diva by Edward Baron Turk, denies there was any such affair. An erroneous rumor has been floated that Hollywood Diva is an "authorized" biography. Turk states that this was not the case, that he was the only MacDonald biographer to have interviewed Gene Raymond at length, but that neither Raymond nor anyone else vetted the book.

In MacDonald's autobiography (the 1960 typewritten manuscript published as a facsimile edition in 2004), MacDonald writes: "I remember seeing Nelson for the first time and thinking he fulfilled most of my requirements in a man."[36] She later mentions an "attraction Nelson and I might have had for each other" before marrying Raymond[37] and devotes several pages to marital problems immediately after her honeymoon (pages 337–99, 344) and again in the postwar years.[38]

Posthumous honours and commemorations[edit]

The USC Thornton School of Music built a Jeanette MacDonald Recital Hall in her honor.[39]

Filmography[edit]

New Moon (1940)
Year Title Role
1929 The Love Parade Queen Louise
1930 The Vagabond King Katherine
Let's Go Native Joan Wood
Monte Carlo Countess Helena Mara
The Lottery Bride Jenny
Oh, for a Man Carlota Manson
1931 Don't Bet on Women Jeanne Drake
Annabelle's Affairs Annabelle Leigh
1932 Hollywood on Parade Herself
One Hour with You Colette Bertier
Love Me Tonight Princess Jeanette
1934 The Cat and the Fiddle Shirley
The Merry Widow Sonia
1935 Naughty Marietta Marietta
1936 Rose Marie Marie de Flor
San Francisco Mary Blake
1937 Maytime Marcia Mornay
The Firefly Nina Maria Azara
The Girl of the Golden West
1938 Hollywood Goes to Town Herself
Sweethearts Gwen Marlowe
1939 Broadway Serenade Mary Robbins
1940 The Miracle of Sound Herself
New Moon Marianne de Beaumanoir
Bitter Sweet Sarah Millick
1941 Smilin' Through Kathleen/Moonyean Clare
1942 I Married an Angel Anna/Brigitta
Cairo Marcia Warren
1944 Follow the Boys Herself
1948 Three Daring Daughters Louise Rayton Morgan
1949 The Sun Comes Up Helen Lorfield Winter

Television[edit]

  • Jeanette MacDonald in Performance: The Voice of Firestone Season 2 Episode 11 Nov 13,1950
  • Jeanette MacDonald – "The Ed Sullivan Show" Episodes 5.17 and 4.47 (1951)
  • Jeanette MacDonald in "Toast of the Town" Season 3 Episode 47. August 5, 1951
  • Jeanette MacDonald on "Toast of the Town" Season 4 Episode 17. Top Stars of 1951. December 30, 1951
  • Jeanette MacDonald on "Texaco Star Theater" Season 4 Episode 37. May 27, 1952
  • Jeanette MacDonald – "This Is Your Life" Ralph Edwards Productions Nov.12, 1952
  • Jeanette MacDonald- "What's My Line" Season 4 Episode 16. December 21, 1952
  • Jeanette MacDonald- "The Name's the Same" December 30, 1952
  • Jeanette MacDonald- "I've Got a Secret" September 2, 1953
  • Jeanette MacDonald- "The Jackie Gleason Show" Guest Vocalist. 1953
  • Jeanette MacDonald as Martha. Prima Donna – "Screen Director's Playhouse" Season 1 Episode 17 February 1, 1956
  • Jeanette MacDonald- "The Lux Video Theatre Hollywood Musical Holiday Revue" Season 7 Episode 13 December 20, 1956
  • Jeanette MacDonald- Playhouse 90 Charley's Aunt Season 1 Episode 26. March 28, 1957
  • Jeanette MacDonald on "The Big Record". Season 1 Episode 2. September 25, 1957
  • Jeanette MacDonald on "Person to Person" Season 6 Episode 6. October 31, 1958
  • Jeanette MacDonald on "The Jack Parr Show". Season 3 Episode 51. December 1, 1959

Stage Work[edit]

  • Charity (1909)
  • Al White's Children's Carnival (1913)
  • The Demi-Tasse Revue (1919)
  • The Night Boat (1920)
  • Irene (1920)
  • Tangerine (1921)
  • A Fantastic Fricassee (1921)
  • The Magic Ring (1923)
  • Tip-Toes (1925)
  • Bubbling Over (1926)
  • Yes, Yes, Yvette (1927)
  • The Studio Girl (1927)
  • Sunny Days (1928)
  • Angela (1928)
  • Boom-Boom (1929)
  • Roméo et Juliette (1943–1945)
  • Faust (1944–1945)
  • The Guardsman (1951)
  • Bitter Sweet (1954)
  • The King and I (1956)
  • Bitter Sweet (1959)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Baptismal record with MacDonald's 1903 birthdate" (JPG). Maceddy.com. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  2. ^ Parish, James Robert (2002). Hollywood divas: the good, the bad, and the fabulous. Contemporary Books. ISBN 9780071408196. 
  3. ^ Rich, Sharon (1994). Sweethearts: the timeless love affair--on-screen and off--between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Donald I. Fine. ISBN 9781556114076. 
  4. ^ Montiel, Pierre (June 18, 1903). "The Iron Butterfly :: Early Years". Legendary Jeanette MacDonald. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  5. ^ "The-Love-Parade – Cast, Crew, Director and Awards". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  6. ^ Turk (1998), p. 105
  7. ^ Turk (1998), p. 119
  8. ^ Mosher, John (March 27, 1937). "Maytime". The New Yorker. New York, NY. p. 70. Altogether, it's possible that this is one of the best and most competently handled operettas that Hollywood has turned out 
  9. ^ Turk (1998), p.221
  10. ^ Rich (2001), p. 237
  11. ^ "New Moon (1940) – Articles". TCM.com. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  12. ^ Turk (1998), p. 175
  13. ^ Rich (2004), p. 17
  14. ^ Rich (2004), p. 11
  15. ^ "Searchable database". RIAA. 2015. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved February 9, 2015. 
  16. ^ Rich (2001), p. 329
  17. ^ Rich (2001), p. 330
  18. ^ Rich (2001), p. 177
  19. ^ a b Jeanette MacDonald: The Irving Stone Letters, page 12
  20. ^ Sweethearts, page 509, photograph of the letter and envelope.
  21. ^ Jeanette MacDonald: The Irving Stone Letters, page 157
  22. ^ Jeanette MacDonald: The Irving Stone Letters, page 162
  23. ^ Hollywood Reporter(Los Angeles, CA), January 4, 1934
  24. ^ Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person (October 3, 1958)
  25. ^ Sweethearts, page 148
  26. ^ Published interviews with Fred Phillips (Eddy's makeup man on Rose Marie), June Swift Thompson (a dancer in the film), and MacDonald's own letter to Bob Ritchie are reprinted and quoted at length in the book Sweethearts, among other contemporaries on the set of the film such as Ruth Van Dyke, wife of the film's director Woody Van Dyke.
  27. ^ "Jeanette MacDonald - Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. 
  28. ^ Ross, Steven J. (September 6, 2011). "Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics". Oxford University Press – via Google Books. 
  29. ^ Castanza, Philip (May 2, 1981). "The Complete Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy". Citadel Press – via Google Books. 
  30. ^ Wilshire Comstock lease papers; after Eddy's death his widow moved into his apartment.
  31. ^ "An Afternoon With: John K. Hilliard" (PDF). AES Journal. 37 (7/8). 1989. 
  32. ^ "Miliza Korjus Interview". Maceddy.com. April 28, 2012. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  33. ^ "Rise Stevens Interview". Maceddy.com. April 28, 2012. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  34. ^ "Sandy Reiss Interview". Maceddy.com. April 28, 2012. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  35. ^ "Nelson Eddy: "The most miserable day of my life" (Jeanette MacDonald's funeral)". Maceddy.com. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  36. ^ Rich (2004), p. 260
  37. ^ Rich (2004), p. 267
  38. ^ Rich (2004), pp. 400, 412–22, 428, 431–33
  39. ^ "USC Maps". Web-app.usc.edu. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 

References[edit]

  • Barclay, Florence L., The Rosary by Florence L. Barclay, new introduction by Sharon Rich, comments by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Bell Harbour Press, 2005. This 1910 #1 best seller featured two singers in a "Jane Eyre" plot, and the heroine's nickname was Jeanette. Eddy chose it as a possible film vehicle for himself and MacDonald in 1948. This edition features a new introduction with excerpts from their written correspondence of 1948, in which the film project was discussed.
  • Castanza, Philip, The Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Citadel Press, 1978.
  • Eddy, Nelson, "All Stars Don't Spangle" movie treatment for himself and MacDonald, reprinted in its entirety in Mac/Eddy Today magazine, issue #50.
  • Hamann, G.D. (Ed.), Collections of contemporary newspaper and magazine references in the following: Jeanette MacDonald in the 30's. (141 pp.), Jeanette MacDonald in the 40's (100 pp.), Nelson Eddy in the 30's and 40's (128 pp.), and Filming Today Press, 2005, Hollywood, California (www.GDHamann.com).
  • Knowles (Dugan), Eleanor, The Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Booksurge Llc, 2006.
  • Rich, Sharon (2002). Jeanette MacDonald: The Irving Stone Letters. Bell Harbour Press. ISBN 0-9711998-4-1.  Letters by MacDonald are reproduced and annotated. MacDonald dated Stone in 1927-28 and remained friends afterwards, so most of these are love letters. In one letter from August 1929 she tells Stone she is recovering from a heart attack.
  • Rich, Sharon (2004). Jeanette MacDonald Autobiography: The Lost Manuscript. Bell Harbour Press. ISBN 0-9711998-8-4. 
  • Rich, Sharon (2001). Nelson Eddy: The Opera Years. Bell Harbour Press. ISBN 0-9711998-0-9. 
  • Rich, Sharon (2001). Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair Onscreen and Off Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Bell Harbour Press. ISBN 0-9711998-1-7.  This is an updated edition of Rich, Sharon, Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair - On-screen and Off - Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Donald I. Fine, 1994. Footnotes are from 2001 edition.
  • Turk, Edward Baron, Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald, University of California Press, 1998.

External links[edit]