WCW: Jeanette MacDonald

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Jeanette MacDonald was an actress and singer known for starring in a number of musicals with Maurice Chevalier in the 1930s and Nelson Eddy in the 1940s. Whenever I come across photos of her from The Merry Widow (on my shortlist), Firefly, or New Moon I gasp at just how beautiful she was. And, of course, she starred with Clark Gable in San Francisco! Let’s take a turn about MacDonald’s career, it’s so refreshing!*

*Bonus points if you know what I’m quoting. Yes it’s totally off-topic.

 

The Vagabond King (1930)

In medieval France, King Louis XI appoints a peasant as king for a day.

1930 The Vagabond King

Yes, I said medieval. Don’t look at me, I just work here.

 

The Merry Widow (1934)

A playboy is ordered to court a rich widow in a fictional late-nineteenth-century kingdom. Costumes by the famed Adrian.

The Merry Widow (1934)

SSSSPPPAAARRRKKKLLLEEESSS

The Merry Widow (1934)

Just lounging at my toilette, as one does

1934 The Merry Widow

Pleated ruffles!!

 

Naughty Marietta (1935)

An 18th century French princess runs off to New Orleans where she falls in love with a local. Fabulous hair ensues. More Adrian!

See what I mean? Check those fingerwaves!

1935 Naughty Marietta

She’s not just Marietta, she’s Naughty Marietta!

 

San Francisco (1936)

Clark Gable is a saloonkeeper who falls in love with MacDonald’s singer, then the 1906 earthquake happens… Yet MORE Adrian!

San Francisco (1936)

I think this is a stage costume?

1936 San Francisco

“Hold me!”

 

Maytime (1937)

An aging opera singer looks back at her life.

1937 Maytime

That’s crooner Nelson Eddy.

 

The Firefly (1937)

During the Napoleonic Wars, MacDonald plays a Spanish spy under cover as a singer.

1937 The Firefly

Napoleonic hat is napoleonic!

1937 The Firefly

ZOMG THAT MANTILLA

1937 The Firefly

I wanted to post 3,000 pics from this film because SPARKLES but I restrained myself.

 

The Girl of the Golden West (1938)

A musical western where MacDonald falls in love with an outlaw (Nelson Eddy again).

1938 The Girl of the Golden West

Is this what the Old West looked like?

 

Bitter Sweet (1940)

A romance ensues between a music teacher and his student.

1940 Bitter Sweet

Such pretty satin!

1940 Bitter Sweet

Love the bias layout on the plaid!

 

New Moon (1940)

Another 18th-century New Orleans setting, this time a French nobleman in disguise leads a revolt on a ship.

1940 New Moon

I don’t care about plot, I’m just in love with how Norma-Shearer-Marie-Antoinette MacDonald is.

1940 New Moon

SO GORGE

1940 New Moon

See, they’re on a ship!

 

What’s your favorite Jeanette MacDonald performance?

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

17 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Toothpaste Ad?
    Looking at your list, I noticed several film titles were opera titles, just translated into American and a few Victor Herbert operettas. Well, she was a soprano. My favourite is Merry Widow. Saw Sills in the opera.

    Reply
  2. toranut97

    I do love San Francisco. Never get tired of it!The opera scenes can be a bit much, But the earthquake sequence is incredible for its day, and the acting is great fun.

    Reply
  3. thedementedfairy

    My mum LOVED Jeanette McD/Nelson E films, particularly the saccharine ‘Maytime’. I got biffed every time I mocked that horrible ending, which I swear was nicked by ‘Ghost’. I suppose me making a popping noise with my finger in my mouth as the soppy ghosts appear/vanish is mildly irritating…I still reserve my right so to do though.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      So did mine. I was teasing her once, quoting a newspaper piece about a MacDonald-Eddy retrospective in which she’s referred to as the “cow-eyed redhead.” Ma glared at me and snapped, “She had lovely blue eyes!” Quite true.

      Reply
  4. Shannon Russell

    From the A & E
    Pride and Prejudice Caroline Bingley says this to Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield when Jane is taken ill.

    Reply
  5. Frannie Germeshausen

    I believe the fluffy gown in the first “San Francisco” photo is an opera costume for La Traviata. It’s coming up on TCM I think tonight – the DVR is set. My grandmother, who was a quake survivor, informed me that, no, they did not march up the hill singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic when the fire went out.

    Reply
  6. Terry Towels

    Oh– Naughty Marietta, for sure. That’s Nelson Eddy in the NM pic. When I was a child, these were staples on weekday late afternoon TV. My love of fashion through the ages came from these movies. (There are only a few musicals I like and NM is one of them– I’m a sucker for men in buckskin)

    Reply
  7. Kaite Fink

    I had to image search it, but Clark Gable has that mustache in every role he plays. Was it in his contract that he didn’t have to get rid of it, no matter what?

    Reply
    • Mel

      He was in a few things without it. Mutiny on the Bounty for one. He looks…odd without the mustache, though. It’s too iconic.

      Reply
  8. Andrew.

    I rather quite like her pre-Nelson Eddy films when she was known as ‘The Lingerie Queen’. A quotation from her at that time: “Good gracious, is Jeanette MacDonald going to take off her clothes – again?” Especially when directed by Lubitsch. (Although my favorite of her films, ‘Love Me Tonight’ is directed by Mamoulian). Most might be ‘sort-of’ Frock-Flicks material in that they appear set in a sort-of post-Zenda Ruritanian world by way of 1930 France. A classic example of this is in ‘Monte Carlo’ when she flees an unwanted wedding to a rich, horse-faced, aristocratic fool for Monte Carlo on a streamliner train on which she sings ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’.

    Oh, and Kendra, while most people think of Jeanette as blonde, she was actually very much red-haired.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Lord yes! The trouble with the Lubitsch musicals is that you have to put up with Maurice Chevalier doing his oh-la-la French stuff, but everything else is fine. I remember J-Mac in “The Love Parade” being examined by her doctor for lonely-royal-widow syndrome (and, yes, she was wearing a very alluring slip), and his sung, I think, diagnosis, in which it was strongly implied that Her Majesty needed to get laid.

      Reply
      • India Edghill

        Isn’t that scene in LOVE ME TONIGHT (which is one of the most perfect musicals ever written)? And yes, the doctor is saying she needs to get laid — she’s 22, and her late husband was something like 74 (and she’s still a virgin). As the doctor says after talking to her, “You’re not wasting away, you’re just wasted!”

        And Myrna Loy’s in it at Valentina, seems to be, well, VERY interested in the opposite sex. At one point a physician is needed, and someone says, “Valentina, could you go for a doctor?” Val: “Certainly! Send him right in!”

        Reply
        • Andrew.

          The first two musical numbers in Love Me Tonight are really in advance of their time. The first has Chevalier, a tailor, walking to his workshop early in the morning as all of his Parisian neighbors begin their labours. What you get is the gradual assembly of syncopated percussion performed by these tasks. (e.g. cobbler, street repair, carpet beating, etc.)

          The second number depicts a musical meme. The song, Isn’t It Romantic, starts with Chevalier final-fitting a morning suit to a client for his wedding. The client then proceeds to hum the tune as he leaves the shop and passes it on to a taxi driver. The taxi driver then passes it on to another fare heading to the train station. On board the train, this fellow, a musician, begins to score it and is overheard by a group of French soldiers. The next scene has the company of infantry singing the song as they march through the countryside. A gypsy lad hears them and later that night plays the tune on his violin in his family’s camp outside the chateau where the princess played by Jeanette hears it. Thus the two principals are linked by a song long before they ever meet.

          Reply
        • M.E. Lawrence

          Oh, jeez, you’re right. Those plots do tend to run together in one’s head, kind of like Baroque operas.

          Reply
  9. India Edghill

    I love the scene in SAN FRANCISCO where Gable and Macdonald are dancing and the song is “Would You” (also heard later in Singing in the Rain). She explains to him that the song’s “Would You” and Gable says “Would I what?”

    Reply
  10. ljones1966

    I’ve only seen “SAN FRANCISCO” and “MAYTIME”. I liked them both, but I had noticed that the plot to “MAYTIME” is similar, but not exactly similar, to the 1997 movie, “TITANIC”.

    Reply
  11. Andrew.

    Another trivia bit about Jeanette MacDonald is that her older sister, Blossom, also acted and performed under the stage name of Marie Blake. (Jeanette’s role in San Francisco was Mary Blake.) Blossom is probably best known for playing Grand Mama on the Addams Family television series.

    Reply

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