We’ve been thinking there may have been a few top stars of the Golden Era who we haven’t paid enough attention to in the nine years we’ve been blogging.
Have we overlooked any of your favorites? Such as Jeanette MacDonald?
Here she is above with her closest big screen comrade, Nelson Eddy. The two became part of MGM’s all-star entourage in 1933, and over the next decade became what one analyst called “the most popular musical duo in the history of the movies.”
Their pictures — including 1935’s Naughty Marietta, 1936’s Rose-Marie, 1938’s The Girl of The Golden West and 1939’s Broadway Serenade — made millions for the studio. As British critic David Thomson put it: These films often involved MacDonald singing through the tears to recollect a lost Eddy: scenes undercut by the difficulty of knowing whether Eddy was dead or playing dead.
The point is that while Eddy was a slug onscreen, MacDonald was not. She was a pretty, saucy figure with a sublime soprano voice who had all the ingredients of a first class movie comedienne.
The MGM publicity machine went into overdrive to present the two as a romantic couple if not actually lovers. The consensus today, still debated, is that while the two may have been close (after all they worked together), they were not smitten with each other much less “a couple.”
Nonetheless, their eight hit movies together were promoted on the premise that Eddy and MacDonald were “Singing Sweethearts.”
In any case, MacDonald was no prude. She spruced up publicity photos by wearing revealing outfits that earned her the title of “the Lingerie Queen.” She reportedly slept with her director, Ernest Lubitsch while at Paramount. She was a suspiciously conspicuous favorite of MGM boss Louis B.Mayer. Let’s say MacDonald had plenty of talent matched by plenty of ambition. (Jeanette’s one and only marriage, to Gene Raymond, lasted 28 years until her death at age 61 in 1965.)
Born into a working class family in Philadelphia in 1903, Jeanette realized she had wanted to be a star at an early age. She quit school to follow her actress sister Blossom to the lures of the Broadway stage.
MacDonald was willing to sacrifice almost anything to be a star, and in New York friends knew that she worked as a call girl. She would do the same thing for a time after her arrival in L.A. in 1929, writes MGM historian E.J. Fleming in 1954’s The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine.
How best to enjoy MacDonald’s work? Our recommendation is to take another look at the films she made with Maurice Chevalier (above). They stand up impressively today.
MacDonald summed up (for some) the Frenchman’s career when she said to him that I’ll admit you’re very funny but not terrific …not colossal.
Jeanette was a familiar Chevalier costar most notably in 1929’s The Love Parade, 1932’s One Hour With You and the same year’s Love Me Tonight, a delightful musical showcase of Chevalier’s impressive physical grace. The “not colossal” comment was delivered by MacDonald to Chevalier’s character in 1934’s The Merry Widow.
She qualified. Terrific if not downright colossal.