Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were lovers onscreen and off but their real-life romance ended in heartbreak.
Jeanette Anna MacDonald was born on June 18, 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of three daughters. At the age of sixteen she moved to New York City to study music. The talented soprano began her career on Broadway and appeared in several long-running shows. In 1929 she made her film debut in the musical The Love Parade. It was a huge hit and made her an overnight star. Her success continued with starring roles in The Lottery Bride and Love Me Tonight. She was offered a lucrative contract with MGM in 1933. The following year she was teamed with baritone Nelson Eddy in the musical Naughty Marietta. The movie got rave reviews and audiences instantly fell in love with the singing duo.
Nelson and Jeanette holding hands
They made seven more hit movies together including Sweethearts, The Girl Of The Golden West, and Maytime, which was Jeanette's favorite film. The pair were nicknamed "America's Singing Sweethearts". Jeanette gave him a dog named Sheba and Nelson gave her an engagement ring. In a letter he wrote "I love you and will always be devoted to you." Unfortunately they had to keep their real life romance a secret at the insistence of MGM president Louis B. Mayer. The couple planned to get married but Nelson wanted Jeanette to give up her career and become a housewife. She was not willing to do that and they broke up. In June of 1937 she married actor Gene Raymond. They appeared happy in public but they had a troubled marriage.
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
Jeanette was still in love with Nelson and she discovered that Gene was gay. She once found him in bed with Buddy Rogers, Mary Pickford's husband. Meanwhile Nelson was so devastated by Jeanette's marriage that he impulsively eloped with Ann Franklin, a friend of his mother. When Jeanette found out he had gotten married she attempted suicide. Unfortunately Ann suffered from mental problems and their marriage was very rocky. Eventually Jeanette and Nelson resumed their secret love affair. She became pregnant several times but tragically she always miscarried. Although they still loved each other neither of them was ever willing to get a divorce. They were both worried that the scandal would destroy their careers. By 1939 Jeanette's $300,000 a year salary made her one of the world's highest paid actresses and she was voted "Queen Of Hollywood" in a nationwide poll.
Unhappy with the roles she was getting she decided to leave MGM in 1942. She performed live concerts and appeared in several stage productions. As she got older health problems forced her to stop working as much. She had a heart attack and suffered a nervous breakdown. After years of break-ups and reconciliations Jeanette finally ended her romance with Nelson in 1950. They re-teamed professionally in 1958 to record an album of duets. Although they were no longer lovers they remained close friends. Jeanette died on January 14, 1965 from a heart attack at age sixty-one. Nelson was heartbroken and weeped at her funeral. He passed away just two years later. Friends who knew the couple said they never stopped loving each other.
You can learn more about their romance at Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy