Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair--On and Off Screen--Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy by Sharon Rich

I first read this book when it was originally published in 1994, so I was delighted to add the new updated 20th Anniversary edition to my collection of Hollywood biographies and read all the new discoveries Ms. Rich has unearthed since.

For those unfamiliar with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, they were known as the silver screen’s singing sweethearts during the 1930s and early 40s when they starred together in eight musicals at MGM Studios, including the smash hits “Naughty Marietta,” “Rose Marie,” and “Maytime.” For many years,  Nelson Eddy was the highest paid singer in America, singing to sold out crowds during his numerous concert tours, and Jeanette MacDonald was MGM’s prized prima-donna with the red-gold hair and sea green eyes, prim and proper to some, a demanding professional known as “the iron butterfly,” but sensual with a spark of mischief in others’ eyes.

What the general public didn’t know, or only guessed at or daydreamed about, was that Nelson and Jeanette were not-so-secret secret lovers in real life, their on again off again affair was one of Hollywood’s best kept “secrets” well known but well guarded. But the true story was nothing like the sometimes bittersweet but more often happily ever after stories they enacted onscreen. Both were ambitious, being a star meant so much to Jeanette it sometimes caused her to make decisions that would have drastic repercussions on her own personal happiness. Nelson had a temper and was a well known ladies’ man, he was wildly jealous and sometimes took this out on Jeanette in the form of sexual assaults, arguments, and infidelities. He wanted Jeanette to abandon her career and become a housewife and was unwilling to compromise. Studio mogul Louis B. Mayer was convinced if the couple married in real life it would spoil their box office, especially if their volatile natures eventually led them to the divorce court. Jeanette was urged into marriage with the non-threatening Gene Raymond, a charming and competent enough actor who never quite made the Hollywood A-list, and bore an uncanny resemblance to the blonde baritone who had already stolen Jeanette’s heart.

This lengthy exhaustively and impeccably researched but highly readable book chronicles the couple’s almost lifelong love affair, spanning 1934 to Jeanette’s death in 1965 (Nelson followed her to the grave two years later). It’s a tragic tale of ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, interference of relatives, vengeful, unloved spouses, and studio bosses, blackmail, unattainable divorces, suicide attempts, miscarriages by a woman too physically frail to carry the child she longed for, devastating breakups, joyous reunions, and tension-riddled attempts to forsake the carnal in favor of a platonic friendship or “spiritual marriage.” After Jeanette’s marriage of convenience, their lives went terribly awry, Nelson married a woman whose life revolved around being “Mrs. Nelson Eddy” and once she got her claws in him would never let go, threatening to destroy Jeanette if Nelson dared even try to divorce her, and no matter how hard they tried they could never make things right and have the life they longed for.

Ms. Rich’s meticulous, tireless and tenacious research on a book that is clearly a labor of love. She has written a vivid, richly detailed biography that brings her subjects vibrantly to life to let readers feel their passion, frustration, and heartbreak.

Sweethearts is available for order at as a trade paperback or Kindle edition and also through the author’s website

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