Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy: TCM’s Stars of the Month Hid a Secret Off-Screen Romance and Pregnancy

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Turner Classic Movies airs the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy 1938 blockbuster, “Sweethearts,” filmed at the height of their off-screen love affair. This was MGM’s first Technicolor feature, in which sharp viewers can see Jeanette’s pregnancy bump, and expectant father Nelson can’t keep his hands off her.

Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy are TCM’s “Stars of the Month” for March. They were Hollywood’s greatest singing team, putting MGM musicals on the map. “Sweethearts,” which airs tonight on TCM, was filmed during the summer of 1938 when MacDonald was pregnant with Eddy’s child. As noted in the best-selling biography, “Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair On-Screen and Off Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy” by Sharon Rich, Nelson Eddy was at his most relaxed onscreen in this film. He blew on her neck, his hands wandered and he caressed her fingers in an intimate way, alerting fans even back then that there was something going on.

Her baby bump is visible in long shots when she and Eddy are dancing during the “Pretty as a Picture” number. Additionally, the normally flat-chested actress is unusually busty; in later scenes she wears draping dresses or holds a fur muff in front of her stomach.

MacDonald eventually miscarried at five months, collapsing on the set. Eddy rushed her to the hospital where she nearly died. Eddy was so distraught, refusing to leave her side, that the press got wind of the fact that it was his baby. Her hospitalization hit the newspapers in which supposedly the ailment was “an ear infection.” MacDonald had previously fallen on the “Sweethearts” set while filming. She rushed up a staircase to tell Eddy something, fell hard on her stomach and slid down a few steps. The other actors cautioned her and she yelled, red-faced, “Why, am I going to fall again?” Director Woody Van Dyke left this ad-libbed shot in the final print.

MacDonald’s pregnancy was kept secret from the public and even initially from studio boss Louis B. Mayer. She had been married for a year to actor Gene Raymond, a Nelson Eddy lookalike. That marriage had become one of convenience when, on their honeymoon, she caught her husband in a clinch with actor Buddy Rogers. In January 1938, MacDonald rekindled an affair with Nelson Eddy after Raymond was arrested in a West Hollywood gay bar raid. She quietly filed for divorce.

Every year Nelson Eddy left Hollywood for a few months, embarking on a spring concert tour. His concerts sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale. The tall, blond baritone was mobbed by bobby-soxers in a pre-Frank Sinatra era, and was the highest paid singer in the world. According to Eddy’s bodyguard, John “Red” Boyles, MacDonald traveled with Eddy on his 1938 tour. Occasionally she sat in the audience during his concerts and even consented to come onstage and sing with him—which brought down the house. When they returned to Hollywood in May 1938 to film “Sweethearts”, she was pregnant. MacDonald and Eddy were so radiant on film that after one day of shooting “Sweethearts” in black-and-white, the film was switched to Technicolor.

After the miscarriage, a furious Louis B. Mayer forced MacDonald to call off her divorce. This led to a disastrous sequence of events, as related in the book “Sweethearts.” It is available at a special price this month, read the specifics at the TCM website:

http://turnerclassicmovies.com/movienews/index/?cid=121724

For details behind the filming of “Sweethearts” including candid photos, visit:

http://www.maceddy.com/index.php?main_page=infopages&pages_id=5

Chapter One of “Sweethearts” is also available online to read here: http://www.maceddy.com/index.php?main_page=sweethearts_excerpts

For review copies or to interview Sharon Rich, please call 212-475-2703.

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Sharon Rich
Mac/Eddy
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