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.
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.
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!
San Francisco (1936)
Clark Gable is a saloonkeeper who falls in love with MacDonald’s singer, then the 1906 earthquake happens… Yet MORE Adrian!
An aging opera singer looks back at her life.
The Firefly (1937)
During the Napoleonic Wars, MacDonald plays a Spanish spy under cover as a singer.
The Girl of the Golden West (1938)
A musical western where MacDonald falls in love with an outlaw (Nelson Eddy again).
Bitter Sweet (1940)
A romance ensues between a music teacher and his student.
New Moon (1940)
Another 18th-century New Orleans setting, this time a French nobleman in disguise leads a revolt on a ship.
What’s your favorite Jeanette MacDonald performance?
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the A & E
Pride and Prejudice Caroline Bingley says this to Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield when Jane is taken ill.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Oh, jeez, you’re right. Those plots do tend to run together in one’s head, kind of like Baroque operas.
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?”
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”.
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.
Aha! Checked my public library’s DVD collection and brought home “One Hour With You” and “Monte Carlo.” The latter was close to wonderful. I had never seen Jack Buchanan as a young(ish) performer before, and am now a fan; imagine a debonair, less hulking Jeff Goldblum, and add singing talent (J-Mac wasn’t bad, either. I like how she manages to be coy and sexy at the same time.)
You quoted Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice right? When she says to Lizzie “let’s take a walk around the room it’s so refreshing”
I must say you missed Smilin’ Through (1941) that’s a quite pretty Movie (yeah a remake of Norma Shearer’s in Technicolor) it’s set first in 1897 then 1910’s and 1865 (flashbacks)
Now let me tell you Most of her movies are very enjoyable and pretty but Bitter Sweet (1940) is pretty bad somewhat empty pretty indeed (there’s a red dress she wears that’s quite stunning i saw it in catalogue) but while they reworked Maytime pretty nicely they destroyed the original Bitter Sweet no wonder Noël Coward hated that
also if one day you decide to do it again i think it would be nice to put one or two of her stage performances example: The King and I!