Sharon's Blog

Remembering Jeanette MacDonald and her sister Blossom Rock

Jeanette MacDonald and her older sister Blossom Rock both passed away on January 14, albeit thirteen years apart. Jeanette died in 1965 at age 61, Blossom in 1978 at age 82. Without Blossom’s friendship, we would not be here today. In the early 1970s when Hollywood secrets could still not be told, her viewpoint was: “My generation, we can’t talk about it. Your generation doesn’t care.” I brought other friends to visit her and we’d all ask her questions about the Jeanette-Nelson affair. Because of her speech problem, you had to ask something specific and she would answer. I wasn’t the only person she spoke to but I was the one that did something about it. Many people met her and didn’t ask, and she didn’t offer. I’ve always found that, when interviewing folks about Jeanette or Nelson, it was easier to let them know that I knew about their relationship. That way they just had to confirm and/or elaborate or correct my information. No one wants to be the first one to reveal something that, usually out of respect, was kept quiet for decades.

This reminds me of a group of Nelson fans who interviewed Bob Hunter, the man who replaced Nelson’s accompanist Ted Paxson on Nelson’s last Australian tour, in the final weeks of Nelson’s life. Bob offered up the information about how Nelson, at every performance of his nightclub act, sang a solo number to Jeanette. The audience didn’t know that, of course, but others confirmed what Bob related, Nelson considered this his ‘private moment” with Jeanette. Lights were dimmed so he couldn’t see the audience; there was just a spotlight on him and throughout this tour, he sang the same song every night to her, “Last Night When We Were Young.” You’d think the Nelson fans might have appreciated Bob offering up this data but no, they chattered on and so that subject was dropped.

If you’re unfamiliar with the climate of those times, consider that the very next year after I met Blossom, Katharine Hepburn lashed out at her now ex-close friend Garson Kanin, furious that he wrote Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir. How dare he make public one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood? How could he, after all these years, break her trust?  I later met and interviewed Kanin. He refused to badmouth or say anything negative about Hepburn’s anger but we did discuss the fallout I was predicting for writing an honest book about the MacDonald-Eddy affair. Both he and his wife Ruth Gordon were sympathetic to my concerns, and Kanin nodded when I brought up the Jeanette-Nelson details and my friendship with Blossom. Yes, they knew about Jeanette and Nelson. Another worst kept Hollywood secret!

It’s interesting that in time, Hepburn mellowed on the subject and even went on video for a Spencer Tracy documentary, finally confirming their relationship all those years. I hope you’ve seen it, it was a wonderful, heartbreaking and joyous moment see to her speak about him. I’ve sometimes wondered whether, if Nelson had lived many more years, he finally would have done something similar. He’d surely hinted at times, like in the Jack Paar interview, saying “I love her, I think she loves me.” But to finally have the courage to blurt it out might have been a huge relief and cathartic moment, as it seemed to be with Katharine Hepburn.

In my interview with Richard Halverson, Jeanette’s chauffeur and sometimes butler in the mid 1930s, he couldn’t say enough kind words about Jeanette and what a fine, caring person she was. As for Blossom:  “I liked [Blossom and her husband Rocky] too. They were real people. I remember laughing at lot with Blossom at things she would say and do. She was a character and so much fun.”

My only regret is that I didn’t know more of the right questions to ask Blossom, but I’m grateful for all that I did learn from her.

Remembering both sisters today with love.