It has taken me a little while to compile this piece, as it has proven to be the most difficult to find the right tone for, to date. What it concerns is a very touchy issue, for both sides. People are, rightfully, very emotionally drawn to this one, and I felt that snark, anger, or a simple fact sheet were not enough. My enduring thanks to Paul Brogan for his contribution of his own interviews, for this.
In 1979, UPI writer Vernon Scott interviewed Paul Brogan, then in charge of public relations for JMIFC, for a piece on the club and Jeanette’s legacy. (Post Mortem Fan Club, 7/3/1979) This interview opened doors for Paul’s access to interviewing such dignitaries of Hollywood’s behind the scenes issues as James Bacon, Will Tusher, and Bob Thomas. In addition to those interviews, Paul spoke at length with Allan Jones, Jeanette’s Firefly co-star, among many, many others. One topic that was discussed was that of why Jeanette never had children. The consensus was clear and reiterated with each interview- she could not.
James Bacon, quite famous for having the “dirt” on practically everyone in Hollywood, said that it was quite well known that Jeanette was “barren” as a result of a childhood illness. Helen Ferguson made it clear to reporters that no one was to question Jeanette about any future plans for “the patter of little feet.” In fact, he continued on, saying that Mrs. Kipling, Gene’s mother, held her intense grudge against Jeanette, not for her being older than her son, but that Jeanette had been very open with Gene about her inability to conceive. Mrs. Kipling resented the fact that her son would never have an heir.
Allan Jones, who, along with his wife, Irene Hervey, the Raymonds were very close to, offered the same explanation. Jeanette had been to countless doctors to see if anything could be done, but the matter was impossible. She could never become pregnant. Initially, she and Gene sought the advice of Irene Dunne and her husband, Dr. Francis Griffin, in possibly adopting, as they had done with their daughter. Jeanette would also confide in Sydney Guilaroff, the famed MGM hair stylist who had become the first single man, in the US, to adopt a child, in 1938. The time never seemed right, and by the end of World War II, when time may have been on their side, it was deemed too late.
This, friends, is where we come to a series of events, in 1938, where it has long been proposed that Jeanette MacDonald, during the filming of Sweethearts, was not hospitalized for an abscessed ear, as reported. It is theorized that rather, she had miscarried Nelson Eddy’s child. If the above interviews are not a full indication of why this was not even a remote possibility, let me further add a timeline, with a few documents from the time.
On Sunday July 17, 1938, Jeanette and Gene hosted a brunch at Twin Gables for Regina Crewe of The New York American. The guests included Helen Ferguson and Dick Hargreaves, Louis and Emma Swarts (the attorney whose doorstep was the second meeting for the MacRaymonds), Connie and Johnny Mack Brown, Ida Koverman, Nelson Eddy, and columnists Hedda Hopper, Elizabeth (Liza) Wilson, and Ella Wickersham. It was chronicled in Hopper’s column on July 22, 1938 (San Francisco Chronicle), Wickersham’s on July 23, 1938 (Los Angeles Examiner), and Wilson’s in November 1938 (Silver Screen), with Hopper going into the greatest detail including what Jeanette wore.
According to Daily Variety, July 29, 1938, Jeanette was hospitalized on July 25th for the lancing of an abscessed ear, released on the 27th, and returned to work on the 28th. In her column on July 27, 1938, Louella Parsons reported that Gene Raymond took a room at Good Samaritan Hospital, to be with her.
The following is from The Shooting Star, the magazine for the Nelson Eddy Music Club. In it, club president Loretto Schultz details her trip to California, where she visited with Nelson, both on the set of Sweethearts and at a dinner at his home. Loretto notes that, on July 26th, Jeanette was “indisposed,” but Nelson was on set, recording On Parade. The group also visited with Woody Van Dyke, who was filming the telephone operator scene. Nelson escorted them to various Sweethearts sets, as time permitted. On Friday, Nelson and his mother, referred to as Mrs. Eddy in the article, entertained the ladies at their home. Nelson kept them amused during dinner, before Mrs. Eddy and Miss Nordstrom, Nelson’s secretary, went with them to the theatre.
According to Jeanette’s records, recording was being done on August 1st, 2nd, and 15th. These dates were noted because she deducted a partial expense for her personal wardrobe. In recording, she would have to wear her own clothes. In other words, because Jeanette had to open her closet door, pick out an outfit, and actually do work in that outfit, she took the deduction. God bless her penny pinching little heart.
On August 9th, Jeanette composed a letter to her friend, Marion, describing the issue of her ear.
On August 12th, the broadcast scene was filmed and photographed for publicity stills. Gene Raymond also visited the set.
While it is not completely clear when Jeanette returned to filming, she was, at the very least, recording by August 1st. People play up her hospitalization, as if it could not have been more than outpatient, if it was “just her ear.” If left untreated, however, an abscessed ear can lead to deafness, which would have been an incredible risk to take, for a professional singer. Untreated or treated improperly, such a thing could also spread to the surrounding tissue, such as THE BRAIN. Needless to say, this wasn’t a simple inner ear infection. This was a definite medically necessary operation that had to happen, mid filming, to eliminate the risk of Jeanette MacDonald ACTUALLY DYING. I repeat, JEANETTE ANNA MACDONALD COULD HAVE DIED IN 1938 BECAUSE OF AN EAR ABSCESS. Here is the 2015 treatment and expectation guide for an inpatient abscess drainage surgery. If you need a caretaker with you, today, that explains why Gene stayed with her, in 1938. The fact is that this WAS a pretty major event, for Jeanette.
Without getting into my opinion on why insisting this was a miscarriage makes little sense, I hope that the above has at least conveyed that the miscarriage, simply put, was not a thing.