Saturday 23 February 2013

Jeanette Macdonald: MGM Love Triangle - Part 2

To read part 1, click here. If not keep reading for part 2 in the tragic love story between Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy and the lengths MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer would go to cover up the adulterous affair.   

In the 1930’s, the powerful and egotistical Louis B. Mayer ruled MGM and in some ways Hollywood as a whole. He was involved, either directly or indirectly, in dozens of cover-ups, lavender marriages and abortions all in the name of maintaining the profitability of his empire. Even leading gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons had to follow a strict policy of not printing some information that would ruin careers of famous or upcoming stars. When the news hit Mayer about Jeanette Macdonald’s pregnancy and planned elopement with Nelson Eddy, there was only one solution. Abortion. He could not have his highly lucrative leading lady give birth, unwed, and if the couple decided marry, a divorce – which Mayer considered very likely to follow – would ruin the onscreen pair’s reputation in the eyes of the movie audiences.

The intense hatred between Mayer and Eddy was both felt by the two men and with equal intensity. Like many of the stars before him, such as, Lillian Gish and William Haines, Eddy’s apparently ignoring Mayer’s wishes and continuing to court Macdonald made him a liability and, if his films were not as profitable, Mayer would have had him blacklisted. Instead he made his life at MGM a living hell; he gave him inexperienced staff, shoddy props and constantly tried to humiliate him on film.

But, something occurred in late 1935 that neither men expected, Macdonald miscarried. Sadly, the tragedy of the situation was extended when on hearing the news that she was no longer pregnant, Mayer automatically assumed she had followed his advice of aborting the child and Eddy, thinking the same, broke off his relationship with Macdonald. Instead of receiving comfort from the two most important men in her life, one abandoned her and the other, having received what he wanted, fervently pushed his star into more pictures.
Jeanette Macdonald and Louis B. Mayer
Macdonald starred in one film, ‘San Francisco’ (1936) with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable before appearing in another film with Eddy. She was depressed, underweight and distracted when Irving Thalberg offered her a role in ‘Maytime’ (1937) another romantic musical where both leading characters navigate the world of the Paris opera’s while being romantically kept apart by Macdonald’s older music teacher played by John Barrymore. Although the filming began in August 1936, there was a massive struggle to get the film off the ground. Understandably both Macdonald and Eddy were hesitant to do the picture with the animosity between the pair clearly unresolved and palpable.  Cautiously both agreed and filming began.   

Only a week into the shooting another blow was to hit Eddy, when Macdonald announced her engagement to Gene Raymond. To the public who for months had been reading about the blossoming relationship between the two stars were not surprised by the news, but Eddy – who still considered a rekindling of the relationship likely – was dumbfounded and distraught. Like many of the MGM staff and what films historians consider most likely, Eddy blamed Mayer. It would be a clear win-win for the mogul. Most of the film community knew of Raymond’s bisexuality and the marriage would both prevent Eddy from interfering with Macdonald’s career and keep Raymond’s private life from affecting his public life.

As filming continued, slowed briefly by the death of Thalberg and the subsequent almost complete rewrite of the script, Macdonald and Eddy were gradually brought closer together. By the close of the shoots they were in love similar to in ‘Rose Marie’ with staff calling them “the lovebirds” and even constructing a special trailer so the pair could meet in private. Although, again this wouldn’t last with arguments over Macdonald’s career and children causing yet another split.

By mid 1937, Mayer would get his wish. Macdonald and Raymond were married on June 16, 1937 at Wilshire Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Eddy was hired to sing and made himself, Macdonald and some of the knowing audience miserable.

A quote from a letter written by Macdonald to Eddy’s mother Isabel is a sad indicator of her feelings about her wedding. (found in maceddy)
I must go to Gene not with my heart’s love, for that is impossible, but with purity of spirit — and a calm mind — a prayer in my heart. These two men are so strangely alike — I must try to find enough of Nelson in Gene to make me contented.”

Jeanette and Gene on their wedding day
Gene and Jeanette returning from their honeymoon

After the wedding, both actors attempted to become stable and satisfied – Macdonald tried to settle down with Raymond and Eddy tried to find Macdonald’s likeness in another of the countless pretty starlets paraded around Hollywood. But MGM wouldn’t keep them apart for long pairing them in ‘Girl of the Golden West’ (1938) and ‘Sweethearts’ (1938) soon after Macdonald’s marriage.

It was during the making of ‘Girl of the Golden West’ (1938) that the short held secret of the Macdonald/Raymond sham marriage was almost let out of the bag. In January 1938, Raymond was arrested for one of three times for having sex with men. Although it was quickly hushed-up – with evidence that Macdonald paid $1,000 for the arrest to be removed from her husband’s file – it was a mistake that would mean the end of Raymond’s career. According to historians, soon after the arrest Mayer began “blacklisting” Raymond by cutting off his film roles and Macdonald, humiliated, filed for divorce.
This news brought high-spirits to the filming of ‘Sweethearts’ (1938). Macdonald became pregnant again – this time it is clear that Eddy was the father – and, with divorce proceedings imminent, the couple planned to marry and have the child and happiness they had wanted. 
Macdonald and Eddy caught kissing, while Macdonald was married to Raymond, on her birthday, 1938.
But Mayer was not a force to be reckoned with and, despite the desires of both Macdonald and Eddy, history would again repeat itself.

Part 3 is coming soon….
Note: all the information comes from the wonderful website www.maceddy.com with photos coming from there and www.legendaryjeanettemacdonald.com/

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Jeanette MacDonald: MGM Love Triangle – Part 1

When onscreen love affairs spill over into real-life romances it is always the stuff of legends. The well documented relationships of famous acting duos Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have fascinated and warmed the hearts of classic film lovers for decades. But, perhaps the most tragic and romantic film and real-life love story was the subject of a large scale cover-up until author and researcher Sharon Rich stumbled upon it years ago. The couple is the charming musical pair Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and between them the determination of Louis B. Mayer and MGM studios and MacDonald’s husband until her early death, Precode regular, Gene Raymond. It features adultery, physical abuse, supposed abortion and illicit love – more than the usual Hollywood scandal.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald (from maceddy)

Jeanette MacDonald, born June 18, 1903, was already an established film star when she made her move from Paramount to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933. She was an excellent singer and with her extensive Broadway experience was a perfect onscreen leading lady opposite French performer Maurice Chevalier. They appeared in several successful films together including, ‘The Love Parade’ (1929), ‘One Hour With You’ (1932) and ‘Love Me Tonight’ (1932). It was then she moved to MGM making further Broadway style musicals, such as, ‘The Cat and the Fiddle’ (1934) and another Chevalier collaboration in ‘The Merry Widow’ (1934).    

Meanwhile her future on and off screen companion, Nelson Eddy, was having equal success in Hollywood as he was in countless operettas and stage musicals.  Extremely handsome, tall, boyish and blonde, his looks began in career in films while his superb baritone voice cemented him as a musical staple. He first films with MGM – beginning in 1933 – were mostly singing vocals in nightclub or stage production scenes, such as in, ‘Dancing Lady’ (1933), ‘Broadway to Hollywood’ (1933) and ‘Student Tour’ (1934). It was a stroke of genius that on a whim MGM, the following year, cast the favourable, but still fairly unknown, Nelson as leading man opposite the beautiful and popular Jeanette MacDonald in ‘Naughty Marietta’ (1935) a screen version of the 1910 operetta.   

According to Rich’s book ‘Sweetheart’s, MacDonald and Eddy first met before their initial screen pairing at a party held by wife of film director Frank Lloyd in early 1934. Eddy also claims had seen her before this on the set of her previous film ‘The Merry Widow’ (1934) but had not been introduced. Although, during this period McDonald was engaged and rumoured to have married her manager, Bob Richie, the pair began seeing more of each other and becoming, at the least, close friends before the commencement of filming for ‘Naughty Marietta’ (1935). The often unclear relationship between Richie and MacDonald was finished or, if the reports are true, the marriage was annulled before the release of the 1935 film.
Eddy and MacDonald before the making of 'Naughty Marietta' (1935) (from maceddy)
Similar to the great fictional and real-life love stories, the beginnings of the romance was intense dislike between MacDonald and Eddy during the early stages of filming. The animosity got to such an extent that both tried to withdraw from the film before too much work was completed. But director W.S. Van Dyke was patient, and the movie was completed to favourable reviews and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The duo was soon cast in another musical, ‘Rose Marie’ (1936), which came in a year that changed both their lives forever.

In mid 1935, between films and during a split period with Eddy, MacDonald met actor Gene Raymond at party when he, reportedly, whistled at her as a means of an introduction. Although, they didn’t hit it off that night, they soon became acquaintances and began dating. Raymond was a handsome, charming, accomplished actor whose credits – beginning with his screen debut in 1931 – included ‘Ex-Lady’ (1933), ‘Zoo in Budapest’ (1933), ‘Flying Down to Rio’ (1933) and ‘Sadie McKee’ (1934).  Both were then single but with growing film careers weren’t looking for a long-term commitment.

At the close of 1935 during the end of filming, then at location in Lake Tahoe, both MacDonald and Eddy seriously considered the future of their relationship. Eddy had on many occasions proposed to his leading lady but with equally successful and competing careers both had considered it disastrous to marry. In this instance, surrounded by a beautiful landscape and more in love than ever, MacDonald accepted his proposal.
Eddy and MacDonald at Lake Tapoe (from maceddy)
Another picture of the pair on location (from maceddy)
But, after what MacDonald called “the happiest summer of my life”, the love-birds’ life took another sudden and, what would be, a tragic turn. MacDonald became pregnant. She was a successful, lucrative actress and was about to have a baby, unmarried. A baby if, Louis B. Mayer could help it, she would never have. 
Part 2 is coming soon.....     
Most of the information here is attributed to Sharon Rich’s excellent website found here. It has numerous resources, firsthand accounts, pictures and other documents relating to the relationship between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Thursday 7 February 2013

La La La: Precode Music Sheets

I started collecting music sheets around five years ago, mainly because they were cheap and many of them had beautiful pictures of classic movie stars and backgrounds that I could use to cover my walls and desk. Over the years I have amassed a bit of a collection with several Precodes – although not as many as I would like. I have scanned copies of some of them produced between 1929 and 1936. My favourite is, perhaps obviously, the sheet with featuring Cary Grant, Franchot Tone and Jean Harlow because these artists were not included in many musical films and are immense classic film icons. Enjoy:

'Coney Island' in Cain and Mabel (1936)
Featuring Marion Davies and Clark Gable

'If I Had a Talking Picture of You' in Sunny Side Up (1929)

Featuring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell
'The World is Mine Tonight' in The Gay Desperado (1936) 
Featuring Ida Lupino and Nino Martini


'You Were Meant for Me' in Broadway Melody (1929)
Featuring Anita Page and Bessie Love

'I Wanna Go Places and Do Things' in Close Harmony (1929)

Featuring Nancy Carrol and Buddy Rogers

'Shuffle Off to Buffalo' in Forty-Second Street (1933)

Featuring Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Warner Baxter, George Brent and Bebe Daniels

'You' in The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Featuring Myrna Loy, William Powell and Luise Rainer

'Top Hat, White Tie and Tails' in Top Hat (1935)

Featuring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

'Did I Remember' in Suzy (1936)

Featuring Jean Harlow, Franchot Tone and Cary Grant

Monday 4 February 2013

The Tumultuous Life of Jack La Rue

He would be known by contemporary film audiences as a hard-hitting film gangster and often the second fiddle to greater stars Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and Gary Cooper. In reality Jack La Rue’s life was more colourful and controversial then a simple, one-dimensional supporting role. Over his 81-years, he appeared in over 100 films, several Broadway productions, had intense political ambitions, endured three hostile marriages and several public run-ins with the police.

Jack La Rue was born Gaspere Biondolillo in New York City, New York on May 3, 1902. His acting career began in the early 1920’s when – after graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School – he was offered a role as an extra while working as a piano tuner. He began trying to land more film roles but soon discovered stage work was easier to find and debuted at the Empire Theatre in 1921 in a production of “Blood and Sand”. La Rue followed this with roles in stage plays “The Crooked Square” (1923), “Crime” (1927) and “Los Angeles” (early-1928).  

However, it was during the maiden run of Mae West’s famous production “Diamond Lil” in April 1928 playing one of her lovers ‘Juarez’ that he was discovered by director Howard Hawkes and brought to Hollywood to audition for the role of Rinaldo in a film called “Scarface” (1932). The film, unfortunately, proved to be the movie debut for George Raft who nabbed the role La Rue was vying for, mainly, because Hawke concluded La Rue was too tall for the part. However, La Rue’s palpable screen persona of the dark, cruel yet sexy gangster was becoming a popular film staple and he began working steadily in supporting, often uncredited, roles as henchmen and assistants to the gang leaders. These include films, such as, “Night World” (1932) and “While Paris Sleeps” (1932).

His first break-through role was in the Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes adaption of the Ernest Hemingway play, “A Farewell to Arms” (1932). Although, it was only a small role La Rue diverted from playing his signature ‘bad-man’ type to perform the role of the priest. He was featured in a staggering 12 films during 1932, including notable movies, “Three on a Match”, “Virtue”, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” and “Mouth Piece”.  

His next big break and first starring role would come the following year in Paramount’s controversial film, “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933). An adaption of William Faulkner’s novel ‘Sanctuary’, George Raft was originally scheduled to play the part of ‘Trigger’ but he refused and was put on suspension. La Rue then promptly took over the role of the sadistic bootlegger who rapes complicated socialite Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) while she is resting in a barn connected to a mansion come speakeasy. He then abducts her and forces her into prostitution until, frustrated and broken, she kills him. The part was extremely demanding and shocking but allowed La Rue to extend his acting skills and successfully carry a film.

Although, La Rue never received a role equalling the notoriety and interest of his part in “Temple Drake”, his was not without work completing countless other movies and television series until his last appearance in the film, “Paesano: A Voice in the Night” (1977).

Jack La Rue’s personal life was more complex, public and turbulent then his professional one. He was married three times. The first was his longest union to socialite Connie Simpson which lasted from 1938 to 1946. The couple’s very public ups and downs culminated in even more flagrant divorce proceedings when La Rue followed Simpson to Reno where he resisted arrest by police who then claim he yelled, “I’m the gangster you see in movies. I’m a tough guy.”  It was shortly after the divorce that he was caught in another scuffle with police. It was reported in 1946 that La Rue was concussed during a fight at a Hollywood party allegedly involving Lawrence Tierney, Diane Barrymore and a mannequin named Mona who was previously owned by Errol Flynn.

It was a year later that La Rue would make a more interesting decision running for a seat in the Los Angeles City Council. He was quoted as commenting that a win would mean his retirement from pictures; however, he was unsuccessful in his bid. In 1949, he married again, to Austrian Baroness Violet Edith von Roseberg which lasted a brief one month and 19 days. It was later annulled when La Rue testified that von Roseberg only married him in order to become an American citizen. He was married a third and last time to Anne Giordano from August 1962 to February 1967.  
His acting career was not exceptional nor was he a traditional star, but his persona, appearance and acting-style were typically ‘Precode’ and La Rue, therefore, had a substantial impact in creating that great era of film history. Jack La Rue died January 11, 1984 from a heart attack and is the father of actor Jack La Rue Jr.       
Jack La Rue on the set of "A Farwell to Arms"