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from the trailer for Bitter Sweet (1940)
|Born||Jeanette Anna MacDonald
June 18, 1903
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||January 14, 1965
Houston, Texas, U.S.
|Spouse||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 (Love Me Tonight, The Merry Widow) 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 movie-going audiences and inspiring a generation of singers.
MacDonald was born June 18, 1903, 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. She had Scottish, English, and Dutch ancestry. Starting at an early age, she took dancing lessons with Al White, imitated her mother's opera records and took singing lessons with Wassil 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 raised as a Christian Scientist.
In November 1919 MacDonald joined her older sister, Blossom, in New York and 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). In 1921 MacDonald played in Tangerine, as one of the "Six Wives." In 1922 MacDonald was a featured singer in a Greenwich Village revue, Fantastic Fricassee. 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 found her still in a second female lead in Bubblin' Over (1926), a musical version of Brewster's Millions. MacDonald finally landed the starring role in Yes, Yes, Yvette (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 (1928), her first show for 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 (1929), with her name above the title (the cast included young Archie Leach, who later changed his name to 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 wouldn’t 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 his first sound film, The Love Parade, which starred the Continental sensation Maurice Chevalier.
In the first rush of sound films, 1929–30, MacDonald starred in six films, the first four for Paramount Studios. Her first, The Love Parade (1929), directed by Lubitsch and co-starring Chevalier, was a landmark of early sound films and received a Best Picture nomination. 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.
Paramount on Parade (1930) 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 was cut from the release print. Let's Go Native (1930), was a desert island comedy directed by Leo McCarey, co-starring Jack Oakie and Kay Francis. Monte Carlo (1930) was another highly regarded Lubitsch classic, with British musical star Jack Buchanan as a count who disguises himself as a hairdresser 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 (1930). Despite music by Rudolf Friml, the film was not successful. MacDonald next signed a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox. 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. Don't Bet on Women (1931) was a non-musical 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 doesn’t recognize her own miner husband, played by Victor MacLaglen, when he turns up 5 years later. Highly praised by reviewers at the time, 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 Maurice Chevalier. One Hour with You (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, there is no known surviving print of Une Heure près de toi (One Hour Near You). Rouben Mamoulian directed Love Me Tonight (1932), considered by many film critics and writers to be the ultimate film musical. 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?".
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. She and Nelson Eddy 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 priest chum who 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.  "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. 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).
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, 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.
Following Broadway Serenade, MacDonald left Hollywood on a concert tour and refused to re-sign her MGM contract. Eddy starred in a second solo film, 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 one of MacDonald's most popular films. 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 out 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.
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 an actual 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 1942, 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.
MacDonald returned solo to MGM after 5 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, while 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 also 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 smash, The Thrill of It All. They declined and the roles were eventually played by Arlene Francis and Edward Andrews. 20th Century Fox also toyed with the idea of MacDonald (Irene Dunne was also briefly 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 ten box-office draws of 1936, and many of her films were among the top 20 moneymakers of the years they were released. In addition, MacDonald was one of the top ten box-office attractions in Great Britain from 1937 to 1942 inclusive. 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 cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
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. After that she, like Eddy, 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 guests 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 it was uncertain whether she would live long enough to finish the book. Besides her heart problems, MacDonald suffered from a benign, non-operable brain tumor.
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 an LP album that she did with Nelson Eddy in 1957.
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."
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." 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."
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 like 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 like 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, which was 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 town 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, she and Eddy appeared on Patti Page's program, The Big Record, singing several songs.
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 FDR 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 G.I.s. 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.
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 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 still closed before reaching Broadway.
In the 1950s there were talks with respect to a Broadway return. 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.
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 loaned money to Jack Ohmeis.
MacDonald next dated Irving Stone from around 1926-8; they apparently met when she was touring in Chicago in Yes, Yes, Yvette. 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 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). On March 29, 1931 MacDonald wrote Irving Stone that she was engaged to Ritchie and on July 8, 1931 she wrote him again from Europe that "I didn't get married on June 9." Ritchie's nephew and the remaining family claimed that there was a Ritchie-MacDonald marriage and that it 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. They dated on and off throughout 1934 but after MacDonald's 1935 Hawaii trip, Eddy became more persistent in his marriage proposals. The problem was that Eddy wanted her to retire and raise their children; MacDonald preferred to put her career first. They fought constantly over this and broke up in early June 1935.
Later that month, MacDonald met the actor Gene Raymond at a party and began dating him. Blond Raymond resembled Nelson Eddy and the two men were sometimes mistaken for each other when seen publicly with MacDonald. 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". While on location at Lake Tahoe, they became secretly engaged. Then MacDonald became pregnant and was ordered by MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer to have an abortion. Eddy did not believe her when she claimed to have miscarried, and he broke off the engagement.
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. But even 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 death.
MacDonald suffered in her later years with heart trouble. She worsened in 1963 and underwent an arterial transplant at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. 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 large home was sold and she moved into a Los Angeles apartment that would not require so much of her energies. Her husband, Gene Raymond, moved into an adjoining apartment. Nelson Eddy took his own apartment in the opposite building. 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 miracle 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 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 in Glendale, California 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.
A decade after MacDonald's death in 1965 Gene Raymond remarried. His second wife, a Canadian heiress, was the former Mrs. Bentley Hees. Her first name was, coincidentally, Nelson. "Nels", as she was called, died in 1995. Raymond died on May 3, 1998 and was laid to rest next to Jeanette MacDonald at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California.
A controversy exists concerning the private lives of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. John Kenneth Hilliard, a sound engineer backstage at MGM from 1933 to 1942, reported in 1981 that though Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald were a screen couple, they "hated each other with a vengeance". 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. There were three film sets on which they battled off-screen: the second half of Rose Marie, after MacDonald's 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 from another MGM sound engineer who built Eddy's home recording equipment, and other MGM staff such as makeup artists William Tuttle and Fred Phillips.
Contemporary magazine writer Sandy Reiss 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 claims the relationship lasted, with a few breaks, until MacDonald's death. Rich also interviewed about 200 others including celebrities who also spoke candidly. Apparently, Rich additionally had access to hundreds of pages of personal letters, some of them handwritten by MacDonald, others 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." She later mentions an "attraction Nelson and I might have had for each other" prior to marrying Raymond and also devotes several pages to marital problems immediately after her honeymoon (pages 337-99, 344) and again in the post-war years.
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