Here it is at last – the long lost letter is now ours!
After all these decades and all the hundreds of original handwritten letters that were no doubt torn up or reportedly burned, one little ‘ol letter slipped through…and was just sold at auction.
And what a letter!
In it he calls Jeanette an “extravagant wretchess.” Just to clear up the definition, the word is “wretchess.” A wretch is someone who is a poor unfortunate thing or a scoundrel. He’s calling her a girl version of that, or maybe mixing it up calling her a wretch and a princess? Like a special nickname he calls her when he lovingly scolds her or she annoys him. Whatever reason he calls her that, it is a loving nickname.
It was found among Jeanette MacDonald’s boxed-up belongings and surprise, surprise – these items were in the possession of of Clara and Tessa, in the Topeka home they shared, the two women who ran Jeanette’s largest fan club back starting in the last years of Jeanette’s life. They were the keepers of the flame for the Jeanette and Gene blissful marriage and eventually made sure every one of their magazine covers featured a photo of the “happy” couple. They were (in case you didn’t know) on lifetime salary from Gene Raymond and they did their jobs well.
What you should know is this: they DENIED any relationship ever between Jeanette and Nelson. And they made sure that anyone who came to them asking about it were told NO SUCH DOCUMENTATION EXISTED. In addition, they paraded out the happy Jeanette-Gene photos to show how amazing that marriage was.
In one regard, perhaps you can’t totally blame the phony pretense because certainly Jeanette, Nelson, Gene, Blossom and others towed the party line for the public, press and those club publications. Irritating as it may seem now, all of them politely played out their politically correct roles. For decades.
Some background to this letter: just a few months earlier Nelson proposed marriage to Jeanette at Lake Tahoe, she accepted and then there was an ugly breakup. For details of what happened read Sweethearts but in essence Nelson was so very, very VERY hurt and certain he was well rid of Jeanette – who seemed to care more about her career than her feelings for him.
Yet Nelson couldn’t help himself. He loved her and termed her “like a sickness” he couldn’t get over.
And she loved him. That was never the issue with them; the love and desire was there… so the ex sex was inevitable. And by December 1935 Nelson missed their personal relationship dreadfully and wanted to Jeanette to travel with him on his upcoming 1936 tour so he wouldn’t be alone. That would have meant her cancelling or postponing the film San Francisco. They quarreled about this and his desire to have his woman at his side while Jeanette claimed she could successfully balance both marriage to him and her career.
From this excerpt from Sweethearts (which I wrote twenty-one years ago) we learn what happened in December 1935:
…In desperation Jeanette finally arranged to see Nelson alone and tried to resolve things with him. They hashed out things over and over between periods of lovemaking, trying to find a way a union between them could work. This marathon lasted for over twenty-seven hours with endless hours of discussions and arguments and lots of tears – mostly Jeanette’s. Finally they had to agree that it would never work. They loved each other and they needed each other but they were too similar. Neither one was willing to give an inch or sacrifice their career goals. “I used to think that Love was the most powerful emotion,” Nelson said bitterly years later. “But I found out it wasn’t. Pride is the greater emotion.” In the end, they decided to part friends, knowing they would love each other always but determined to break both the spiritual and sexual bond….The romance, as far as either believed, was over forever.
And yet on Christmas Day, what was Nelson doing? Partying? Or taking time to sit down and think about Jeanette and write her a touching letter blurting out like a lovesick schoolboy that despite his attempt to be casual and “just friends,” he was still hopelessly in love with her.
This man was 34 years old, folks! And he already knew that he would “always be devoted to you.” All his life. As indeed he was.
For those who can’t read his scrawl, this is an excerpt of what he states in the letter, dated Christmas 1935:
It’s beautiful, and I appreciate it more than I can tell you.
You are an extravagant wretchess, but I love you and will always be devoted to you.
Best Christmas and New Year’s thoughts to you.
Gratefully and fondly,
By the way, Christmas was an emotional and reflective time for Nelson Eddy, don’t forget that he later broke up with Jeanette at Christmastime once again, in the 1940s, feeling he didn’t deserve to be with her anymore since he couldn’t get a divorce.
I had never heard of this letter but to see how perfectly it fit in with Nelson’s torn emotions at that time – spending passionate hours with her and then determining that “it would never work”….well, this is the Nelson you see here.
So it’s a couple weeks perhaps after their brief reconciliation, he’s already going through “withdrawals” from her and showing what what a mixed up young man he was emotionally about her. Unfortunate that he was so stubborn and didn’t listen to his mother Isabel who wisely observed in her memoirs:
I had never seen Nelson so happy….As I looked at her [Jeanette], I thought how safe a man would be with her. Despite any career, with this girl a marriage vow would always come first. Alas, my son did not believe this and so the Gods forever ruled his peace away.
Folks, here it is in Nelson Eddy’s own handwriting – the answer is YES, he was hopelessly in love with Jeanette MacDonald.
So – I welcome you to shout it to the rooftops! And to the next person or publication you come across who tries to deny the Jeanette-Nelson romance – feel free to share this letter!
From the grave both Nelson and Jeanette are speaking now to us and in an ironic twist – their truths are revealed from those who lied and sought to hide the facts. But no more.
We are vindicated and validated and my thanks to all who have helped uncover the truth over these decades.
The above quotes and book passages are from Sweethearts (© 1994, 2001 ,2014 by Sharon Rich) with ordering details at the link.