Snapshot in Prose: Jeanette MacDonald

Jeanette MacDonald is best remembered today for the old-fashioned (even then) musicals she made with Nelson Eddy, but you’d be hard-pressed to get us to watch one of those. We greatly prefer the movies she made in the early Thirties—most notably with director Ernst Lubitsch—when she was allowed to show a little spark and sass on screen.

This profile originally saw the light of day in September 1940. Her professional pairing with Eddy was already well established, and she had been married to actor Gene Raymond for three years. She and Raymond remained married until MacDonald’s death in 1965.

The Private Letters of Jeanette MacDonald

The correspondence of a
movie star covers dozens
of different matters. Here
is your chance to spend a
day at Jeanette’s desk and
see how she deals with
this important problem.


Jeanette MacDonald is a living proof of the saying, “The more you have to do, the more you can accomplish.”
Even in the midst of picture production, when there seem to be a dozen different demands on every minute of the day, her desk remains reasonably clear, her correspondence is never neglected, even though her letters frequently number hundreds a week. Jeanette is an inveterate letter writer because she is a firm believer in putting things on paper. Once in a while things “carried in the head” are forgotten and produce hurt feelings or embarrassments, so a flurry of little notes about dozens of different matters leaves her studio dressing-room every day. Her calendar pad is crowded with jotted notes of reminders to herself and her secretary.
When she is busy at the studio, letters are dictated on the set between scenes, in her own quarters at noontime, and at any other moment she may find herself free. When she has the day at home, part of each morning, frequently a good part of the whole day, is spent at the dainty writing table in her sitting room.
The first half hour always is devoted to letters to intimate friends . . . bread-and-butter notes, acceptances of invitations, thank-you notes and her own invitations. These she usually writes on double cards, the size of a calling card. “Mr. and Mrs. Gene Raymond” is engraved on the front, and her note, in long hand, of course, is jotted on the inside.
Notes to her associates at the studio regarding matters incident to work are dictated to her secretary who later types them.
Today there is a matter of wardrobe Adrian had submitted sketches and samples. Jeanette writes:
Dear Adrian: The sketches are divine! And I agree with you on the coloring. The blue bodice should be a trifle deeper than the skirt, blending the two shades of blue at the waistline.
“The sample of the gray tulle is lovely. When will you need me for a fitting? Will Wednesday be convenient for you?” She signs it—Sincerely, Jeanette—the signature which goes on all her letters to coworkers at the studio, from executive to wardrobe girl.
The greatest letter-writing chore Jeanette MacDonald has is answering the numerous fan letters which come to her desk for personal attention and reply. These are letters segregated from the thousands she receives each week, by her secretaries. They include letters from fan correspondents of long standing; letters which definitely ask advice on a personal or career problem; letters which ask for the intangible gift of courage.
If Jeanette is working, she reads these letters between scenes, makes memos in pencil which are the basis of a reply by her secretary, or later on for her dictated answer. Frequently, when there is long leisure between scenes, she dictates on the set.
On this day, as we sit at Jeanette’s desk—a small battalion of human problems faces her.
There is the letter from Arva: “Dear Jeanette,” she writes, “I’m twelve years old. At eleven my voice matured, but now something’s happening. I can’t hit those high notes at all. I’m sort of hoarse or something. Is my voice gone? Were you that way? Is there anything I can do? Anything I can gargle? I’m almost desperate . . . please help me. My voice is my whole life.”
Jeanette makes a note on the back of the letter. She writes: “Answer this kid and tell her I lost my voice around the same age and had to stop singing for a year and a half. Tell her that frequently happens. By continuing to sing she may ruin her voice. She’ll just have to be patient and trusting. Meanwhile she can study French and Italian.”
From Helen: “I’m studying voice seriously, but I’m having teacher trouble. I have recently changed teachers and find myself singing flat and straining a great deal. You sing so easily. What should I do?”

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