The Case Of The Diva’s Devotees (Part… 5 part 2?)

Oh wow, is it tomorrow morning already?!

Sorry I’m late. Mornings are bad, and also it’s not like I could miss the farm report, right? (High five to imaginary Myrna Loy; imaginary Myrna Loy glares at me.)


IMG_8132 IMG_8133 IMG_8134Gene had great handwriting. When I launch my new bachelor’s degree program in Norma Shearer’s Handwriting, I might just make a minor in Gene Raymond’s Handwriting. In case you can’t read it, though…

August 14, 1942

Dearest Bunko,

What a remarkable woman you are!  The sweater is unbelievably good!  I’ve looked over the stitching, and while I don’t know anything about knitting, I could certainly tell if and where it was botched up – there are no bad spots at all that I can see!  I tell you, that MacDonald’s got everything!  And, as a present it is perfect.  Thick and warm, and I am wearing it now.  It will be about the closest companion I’ll have this winter!  And if I can’t have you close to keep me warm then I’m glad to have the next best thing – something you’ve made with your own hands!  Your other present is practical and appropriate – the Unicap vitamin pills.  I haven’t been taking them because we’ve been feeding fairly well, and I thought I’d save them for later if the going gets tougher.  But I have been getting a little run down and I think I need them.  Now that I have a pretty fair stock, I’ve started again.  Took two yesterday and two today.

Yesterday I set the alarm for six that I might get up earlier to start the day off right by opening my birthday presents.  I had slept poorly all night until about 5 A.M. it seemed so when six arrived I was glued to bed.  Finally dragged myself over the side at 7:30!  I just had time to shave and open your present – and wear it to mess at eight!  It certainly feels good these chill mornings, and I’ll bless you every time I put it on.  Well, I worked hard all day, and knocked off about 5 P.M. and came back to quarters to open the rest of my packages.  They were all what I need and I’m wearing the sox “Maw” sent me – my feet are warm for a change!  I’ll write her tomorrow and thank her and Mrs. Van Dyke.  The helmet will come in handy this winter.

I had two cables from you – one from St. Louis, which appeared to be sent on the 31st and one from W.L.A. which seemed dated the 10th.  I’ve decided it takes about 3 to 5 days for your cables to reach me – when I receive them.  Also had a cable from Kathy and Jack and one from Lottie.  I thought it was swell of them to think of me and I appreciate it immensely – as you can imagine.  Thank them for me, will you please, until I can find the time to write them myself?

After I opened my packages I went to quarters of a captain and about four of us had a few drinks and went to dinner.  After mess went back to H.Q. and worked until about 11:30, came back to quarters, fell into troubled slumbers.  Whirling Willie is back again!  The sheets in this man’s army are very narrow so that they do not fasten so securely under the mattress.  You can imagine how my bed looks in the A.M.!  It’s gotten so I have to get up during the night and make my bed over again!

Oh yes, I stopped and drank a toast to you at 11 P.M. and 10 P.M. – can’t figure whether there’s a 3 or 4 hrs. difference between New York and California and I don’t know if you have returned to Calif. (your wire was sent from there, but you may have written Emily to send from there on account of better service.)  When I get back to quarters and drank another one to you at midnight – just in case I missed you the other times.  Don’t get worried about all these toasts – I drank them with water.  So I kept my date with you three times.  I wished each time we were having a Singapore Sling together again!

I miss hell out of you, Sweetheart – even more on days like yesterday!  You’re the only one for me, and I’m thankful at least on the knowledge that each minute that passes brings me that much closer to the time when we’ll be together again – happy day!

Keep writing, Bunk.  I need your letters and thank you for the sweater!  It was sheer devotion, truly, since you’re “not the knitting type.”  But it just proves again that there isn’t anything you can’t do!  I love you!


I HAVE TO GO AND FUNCTION IN SOCIETY, KNOWING THAT I WILL PROBS NEVER GET A LETTER LIKE THIS?! That is just too much to ask of me. I can’t. Can’t. asuhhsuidhvfiahd..kuvabd.yvs killing me again, MacRaymonds.

6 thoughts on “The Case Of The Diva’s Devotees (Part… 5 part 2?)

  1. Thanks, again, for an interesting and very entertaining post! Thinking of Jeanette doing something as domestic as knitting a sweater for her husband makes me smile. Gene said she was “not the knitting type” and that makes me smile even more. I love the nicknames they use for each other which (judging from the telegrams posted in an earlier piece and the letter from Jeanette to Gene in part 1 of this blog entry) were ever changing and funny.

    Everyone who knows even the tiniest bit about this famous couple called ‘The MacRaymonds’ (or ANY normal couple, for that matter) understands that no relationship is perfect. Relationships are not perfect because the human beings involved are not perfect. But in these blog posts, we can see the loving and funny relationship that Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond shared for 28 years.

    This past week I purchased ‘Jeanette MacDonald: A Pictorial Treasury’ from a used bookseller on Amazon. I knew that this was the first book about Jeanette written by Sharon Rich and i’d heard that it had lovely photos, which was the reason I bought it. The book was published in 1973 and was ‘lovingly dedicated to Blossom Rock’, Jeanette’s older sister. According to the write up on the cover jacket the author met Blossom in 1971 and they became friends. Later Blossom asked Sharon Rich to “Do a book about Jeanette.” My opinion is that ‘Jeanette MacDonald: A Pictorial Treasury’ was the book Blossom would have approved. But, then, it’s only my opinion and we’re all entitled to them. The photos are, indeed, lovely and, as I browsed them, I found something interesting (in light of later publications) on pages 166 and 167…five photos of Jeanette and Gene out on the town together or at their home, Twin Gables. What caught my attention was the quote on page 167: ‘Jeanette and Gene—or the MacRaymonds, as they called themselves–lived in a mansion named “Twin Gables” in Bel Air, California, the house being a wedding present from Gene to his bride. The MacRaymonds were often considered to be one of Hollywood’s happiest couples, and no scandal ever surrounded their names.’ Blossom Rock died on January 14, 1978.

    ‘no scandal ever surrounded their names’ according to Sharon Rich in 1973. The author published another book about Jeanette in 1994, sixteen years after the death of Jeanette’s sister. This book, ‘Sweethearts’, was at the other end of the spectrum from the one published while Blossom lived.

    So, now, I pose a question for consideration and further discussion on this blog. What happened between 1973 when Sharon Rich said ‘no scandal ever surrounded their names’ and 1994 when she published ‘Sweethearts’ which is, supposedly, the story of a decades long affair between Jeanette MacDonald and her co-star in eight movies, baritone Nelson Eddy? After all, Jeanette died in 1965 and Nelson in 1967. So 8 years after Jeanette died and 6 years after Nelson Eddy died, there was ‘no scandal surrounding’ Jeanette and her husband. But 21 years after THAT there was a scandalous affair between the two people who had been dead for close to 30 years. Just something to think about–logically.

    Thanks, again, for this post.

  2. If the letter from Jeanette is exhibit A, this is exhibit B. Or are we counting the mountain of evidence proving that Jeanette really was sick in 1941?

    I find it curious that people talk about letters by Isabel, Nelson, Jeanette, Jan Clayton, and others, and even quote from them, yet they mysteriously can’t produce the originals or even Xeroxes. I think Perry Mason would call that hearsay. Until I see these letters, I’ll stick to believing exhibit A and exhibit B.

    No one can get inside Jeanette’s head and know what she meant when she wrote anything, nor should we speculate about things she wrote that were meant for her eyes only. Did Jeanette and Gene love each other? Yes. Did they argue like most couples? Certainly! Were they happy 100% of the time? No, but is anyone? They were human. I wonder how many people analyzing every minutiae of Jeanette’s, Nelson’s, and Gene’s lives would like their own lives scrutinized that way.

  3. Interesting question you have posed and since reading it, I’ve given it a great deal of thought and cannot really come up with a definitive answer. However, I will share my own story in case it provides any insight. I too have a copy of Sharon’s 1973 book, which she autographed to me at the Bryson Hotel in Los Angeles in June of 1973. I was attending my first Clan Clave and was a bit overwhelmed by everything I saw happening. It was a far cry from New Hampshire.

    I enjoyed the pictures in Sharon’s book and thought it well put together. I posed for a picture with Sharon after she signed my book and my initial impression of her was how pretty and sparkling she seemed and was very impressed that she’d been able to put together such a book at her young age. I later became very good friends with Tom Hartzog and his wife Joye. They’d been instrumental in getting Sharon’s book published. I worked extensively with Tom in conjunction with the National Film Institute’s 1984 event in Los Angeles. I’d secured Sydney Guilaroff as an honoree and Tom and I spent quite a lot of time together discussing the planned event. He also told me horror stories surrounding the 1973 book and seemed still to be angry and bitter about what had transpired.

    In 1973, however, the biggest upset around the book was Sharon’s noting of Jeanette’s year of birth as being 1903. To me is seemed a tempest in a teacup. Common sense told me that Jeanette couldn’t have made her professional debut in NYC in 1920 at 13 AND attended high school in Philadelphia. I also had a news story from a Philadelphia paper from the 1950’s with a picture of Jeanette and fellow high school classmates attending a reunion. Most of the ladies attending noted their ages and it was inconsistent with what was widely perceived as Jeanette’s age. It didn’t bother me in the least.

    Regarding the age thing……..Jeanette always used her 1903 until she signed with Paramount in early 1929. When she signed with them she was 25 and would turn 26 a few months later. Paramount made the decision that their “new star” should be 21 going on 22 when her first film would come out. Had she been 26 when the film was released that would seem “old” to be just starting out by the standards of 1929.

    Jeanette continued to use that only because in “those days” you didn’t contradict the studio P.R. folks. Coming out and saying, “I’m really 4 years older but they want me to say 1907” wouldn’t endear you to the studio folks.

    Many actresses had this happen also, due to studio-related decisions. Claudette Colbert used 1905 although she was born in 1903, Irene Dunne used 1904 although she was born in 1898. Norma Shearer also used 1904 instead of the real date which was 1902. June Allyson used 1923 instead of the real year which was 1917 and Doris Day used 1924 instead of the actual year of 1922. Gracie Allen used 1906 although at Forest Lawn it says 1904, I believe and the actually year was 1896. I could go on but it was not an uncommon thing to do. Gene knew from the time they became engaged but since he and Jeanette were supporters of the film industry in so many ways, they chose not to contradict that which had been put out from Jeanette’s arrival in town.

    Katharine Hepburn used November 1909 and it was not until she wrote her book “Me” in 1990 that she candidly admitted it was actually May of 1907. By that point, she didn’t care. I don’t think Gene respecting the 1907 date at Forest Lawn is a bad thing and in 1965, to have done otherwise, would be saying, “Jeanette lied!!!”. That wasn’t the kind of man he was. Furthermore in “those days” prior to the Internet or information be more readily available, what studio’s publicized were more easily accepted.

    For Clara it was a big deal mainly because she took the responsibility bestowed upon her when Jeanette put her in charge of the Club, very, very seriously. Perhaps too seriously, some would say, but that quality also made her one of the most respected, admired and successful teachers in Kansas for many, many years. However, Sharon’s publication of the book created a great divide and a lot of anger with some demanding Sharon not be permitted to have any association with the Club.

    It was also at this Clan Clave that I met Diane Goodrich who co-authored a book with Sharon.

    Sitting at the Old Town Music Hall and attending a screening of “San Francisco” in June of 1973, we (Dale Kuntz, Betty (Boo) Greeley and Bea) Hartman sat behind Diane and we engaged in a conversation about the rumbles surrounding Jeanette and Nelson. I asked Diane about the stories and she laughed them off noting that it was what the fans had hoped and prayed was the truth so what was the harm in giving them what they wanted. “But it’s not the truth!” I said and she laughed again saying “So what, it’s not hurting anyone…..”

    I know one of the three people I was with did subscribe to those notions saying that “It’s such a lovely fantasy, just like one of my stories…..” (The soaps she regularly watched she called her stories).

    There was always a faction in the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club that wanted it to be a joint Club and would often not attend the evening movies shown if it didn’t include a Nelson Eddy film. In addition, if one of the features shown at MGM was not a co-starring film with Eddy, they’d not attend. There were even incidents of bad behavior at MGM when, if the Eddy film were shown first, attendees would leave the Screening Room after that film was shown rather than sit through “Smilin’ Through” which was a regular feature.

    At that same Clan Clave I also met Mildred Hudson who had been Nelson’s Secretary for many years. She approached me jokingly noting, “What are you doing here with all these older folks. Shouldn’t you be heading to a Boy Scout meeting?” I was the youngest male in attendance. Maria Dimino who was about 12 and from New York City was the youngest female in attendance with Sharon a close second.

    Mildred wanted to know why I was there and how I had discovered Jeanette. She was very motherly and funny and we exchanged a few letters over the years. In the 1980’s a woman named Angie Nareau, who lived in Springfield, Mass contacted me and invited me to her home to see her collection of Nelson Eddy items that Mildred had sent to her in the 1970’s prior to her passing. I told Angie that some of the priceless items belonged in a museum. Not sure whatever happened to them.

    Mildred, however, was emphatic when I asked her, about Nelson’s wishes to not have a joint Fan Club. He felt each artist deserved the dignity and respect of having their own organization without any of the tugging and pulling that might mar a collaborative organization. She also noted that Jeanette had once shared a Fan Club with Maurice Chevalier and that animosity existed as to which star had the most value.

    While I do not condone the way in which some people reacted to Sharon’s book solely based on the use of Jeanette’s correct date of birth, in my personal opinion, it was those reactions and a splintering of loyalties that contributed to what happened afterwards. Unfortunately the JMIFC’s refusal to acknowledge the 1903 birthdate enabled others to say variations of “Well if they’re lying about her date of birth and covering it up, what else are they covering up?” and be able to cast doubts on many areas. And if you have individuals who want to believe something ready to line up, that’s all it takes.

    In retrospect I think a lot of things could have been handled better however, after forty years and with boxes of research, audio and video taped interviews (most conducted AFTER I left the Fan Club in 1983 so as to have no conflict of interest), I have not found a single credible source to indicate any MacDonald-Eddy affair or anything to support the stories and fiction that have been spun. IF and I emphasize the word IF, this was all derived from anger over the response to the 1973 book, then I feel badly that anger can manifest itself in this way. Had I uncovered even a suggestion that there was any truth to these stories, I would say so but there was NOTHING!!!

    Some of the stories, in fact, reek of a sort of desperation. As an example, Nelson crying during an interview after Jeanette’s passing. What does that prove beyond his mourning a friend. Go on You Tube and watch Doris Day introduce the segment of her 1985 cable show, “Best Friends” on which Rock Hudson made his final professional appearance. Her voice breaks, her eyes fill with tears and it is obvious she is barely holding it together. Were they more than co-stars and friends? No!! The decades spent combing through each and every miniscule detail proved that Jeanette and Gene were in love, were a real couple, were devoted to one another, exclusively, and had a normal, healthy, rewarding personal life. They had tempers, they worked through difficulties predicated by her enormous success and their being apart during the war. They compromised, laughed, loved and surrounded themselves with friends and family. Their real story is far more interesting than anything concocted by those who wish to rewrite history.

  4. Thanks for your insights. An interesting read. I agree 100% about the birthdate argument. Who cares? Jeanette wasn’t the first actress to lie about her age and I’m sure she won’t be the last. I saw Ann Miller several times in summer stock. We laughed because in each program bio she started at a younger age!

    In my original post I forgot to add that two thank you notes from 1935, when both Jeanette and Nelson were unmarried, are not evidence of a 30-year affair. It’s very possible they loved each other, but who signs a love letter “gratefully and fondly?”

  5. Many thanks to pebrogan and JAMfan for adding to the discussion. I completely agree with Jamfan that no one can get inside Jeanette’s head and analyze what she was feeling or thinking at any point in her life. But there certainly is a ton of that happening on the ‘other side of the pond’ as it pertains to Jeanette, Nelson and Gene. In my opinion some of the analyzing and embellishment of drawings done by Nelson years ago ‘reek of a sort of desperation’. (Thanks to pebrogan in his comment above for that very appropriate term.) Their interpretations also border on the pornographic but if that’s the road they wish to travel that’s certainly their choice.

    To support pebrogan’s account of the conversation with Diane Goodrich (1973) when she said the alleged affair between Jeanette and Nelson was what the fans had hoped and prayed for, I offer this article from an interview with Sharon Rich: ‘She sympathizes with the one bad publicity break Miss MacDonald got when she married Gene Raymond rather than her singing partner Nelson Eddy. “Fans expected Jeanette to marry Nelson, you know. They wanted to believe they were a romantic team offscreen. But her marriage to Mr. Raymond endured until her death in 1965. He took such good care of her when she was ill. He never left her side.” ‘(The Valley News, March 21, 1974)

    “They wanted to believe they were a romantic team offscreen.” It appears that twenty years after that interview, Sharon Rich gave some of the fans what they wanted.

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