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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In Your Hat, pt. 5

Here’s Chapter 5 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she dishes on 1930s press agentry and Broadway columnists such as Walter Winchell, Louis Sobol, Mark Hellinger, and others.

     THE press boys are divided into two sections. Those who are in and those trying to get in. Those already in are such lights as Winchell, Hellinger, Sobol, Skolsky, Yawitz, Sullivan and the rest. On the other side of the gate, trying day and night to crash it, are a host of diligent workers, most of them intelligent youngsters who have experienced softening of the brain.
     The press agents, who like to think of themselves as connected with the newspaper business, are in such great numbers that it would be difficult to name them all. But the majority of the best ones are connected with the films.
     It has been said that if you scratch a star you’ll find a press agent, and if you scratch a press agent, he’ll thank you. The press agent is a nervous, erratic type who works in twenty-four hour shifts (while you sleep) and succeeds in bringing the name of his client before the public—or gets thrown into the street in the attempt. If you walk along and see a man dusting himself off, you can lay odds it’s a press agent with another idea gone wrong.
     The reason I say that most press agents are in the preliminary stages of dementia praecox is because they write things that under ordinary circumstances they would admit were insane, and yet they expect editors to print the stuff without question. Their efforts are so frantic that in no time at all they get farfetched and nutty, and the result is shown partly in the collection of press-agent’s squibs that I have collected from time to time. All of the copy is from movie press agents gone wrong.
     For example, one of them, having nothing else to do, will write a story and send it to the editors expecting them to print it. This one is an extract of a story sent from Hollywood:

   “…the physical measurements of 124 of the chorus girls under contract to this studio reveal that they have grown, on an average, one-fourth of an inch in height in the past eight months since most of them were placed under contract. There has also been an average of increase of three pounds in weight despite the strenuous dancing which is part of their daily routine.”

     This startling item may make the nation growth-conscious and it may, on the other hand, make the press agent obnoxious.
     Another great news break for managing editors comes printed in sotto voce type, telling the gaping world that an English actor who appeared as a butler in many films “has received letters offering him jobs as the major-domo in the service of many Park Avenue dowagers.” It goes on to say that the actors has received 279 offers.
     Another story teller sends out a squib saying that love scenes have not suffered with talking films, for a hero and a heroine meeting for the first time on the set no longer find it necessary to simulate warmth in their celluloid caresses. Science has come to Cupid’s assistance in the guise of a portable set-warmer, which sends gales of hot air into chilly stages. SIZZLING LOVE SCENES ARE BECOMING A REALITY AT TALKIE STUDIOS! (The capital letters are the press agent’s.) Operated by gas and electricity, the heating units, etc. An electric fans blows hot air in any desired direction.
     They might have saved expenses and put the writer on the scene.
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