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/

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