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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.

6 comments:

  1. I am so happy and grateful to you for publishing this unforgettable romance between the most successful singing team in the history of motion picture. They are appropriately called "America's Singing Sweethearts" and have legions of fans both young and mature globally. All one has to do is watch one of their famous duets (Czaritza, Will You Remember, Wanting you, etc.) and will soon become mesmerized and enchanted by the perfect blending of their musical talents, the obvious love and incredible chemistry that come through in all of their films.In this very unsettling world, their films and their love story have become an oasis of comfort and enjoyment.
    Maria Escano

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  2. oh i so agree.. they were unforgetable.. and up on that screen you could feel the passion as their voices raised in harmony so did thier hearts. thanks you for posting this for the worl to see and remember them..the magic only happened when it was the beauty and the baritone..they were twin flames.. and the love lasted all through their lives.. not just with the times they made movies together.. once you see them you are hooked.. waiting for part 2
    you give credit to two beautiful voices that were as human as and as in love as the rest of us..

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    1. Thank you Emma for highlighting the tragic affair between Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy. If it had happened in this day and age no-one would have batted an eyelid. They were just unfortunate enough to have been born in the wrong time. The love they had for each other is very visible in the 8 films they made together and you have only to watch them sing songs like "Obey Your Heart" in "The Girl of the Golden West" and the "Pretty as a Picture" sequence in 'Sweethearts" to see the love shine through. If you need further proof, look at the way Nelson looks at Jeanette, his eyes follow her and rarely leave her face.

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  3. Thank you from me too Emma....it is lovely to see people keeping the memory of these wonderful stars alive and to hear the truth of the great love they had for each other.....they had the most amazing adoration for one another and how anyone seeing them together could think otherwise I will never know.......it is wonderful to behold.

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  4. Thanks Emma. The more believers in this wonderful heart wrenching tale of true love, the better. In spite of the heartache along the way and in spite of the unhappy marriages to totally unsuitable partners, their love endured. More than forty years after their deaths this mezmerizing duo continue to find new fans of all ages around the world, and such is the desire to see their movies that Warner Brothers have released all eight of them on DVD. Carry on with the good work and let us have part two soon.

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  5. Thank you Emma for featuring my favorite reel and real romantic team. They were two of the best looking and sounding people ever put on film. Together they made magic...their love for each other leaped off the screen. You are very correct in calling it a large scale cover up. Thank goodness for Sharon Rich's courage in uncovering it and for good folks like you for remembering them. They are just too wonderful to be forgotten. And this current cynical age can certainly benefit from their brand of lush romanticism.

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