MacDONALD: OUR GALLANT GIRL
By Jane Smoot
For as many years as we have known her, the name of Jeanette MacDonald has
meant beautiful melody, charm of personality, and loveliness in body and in
character; and we have known the staunch courage that steered her through
the vicissitudes of professional life and the anxieties of personal concern
during the war years when Gene was away. But now we have another strong
reason to admire her deeply, for Jeanette MacDonald has come gallantly
through illness that was indeed a severe test of endurance. Because of
mystifying black out spells, her own physician and the world famous
specialist from Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, made special tests
tests that revealed a closed carotid artery on the right side a condition
causing immediate danger. The specialist urged surgery at once in Houston.
After the operation in November, Jeanette healed and recovered beautifully,
until pleurisy caused the agony that it can; so what was meant to be a stay
of only several weeks became a two months' jail term. Although the
physicians and the administrators of the hospital did everything normally
possible to protect Jeanette from publicity at a trying time, there were
many limitations placed upon her that we, for example, would not have had to
contend with. If Jeanette MacDonald walks down the hall to take exercise,
people will recognize the lovely famous guest instantly; so the room itself
becomes too much like a cell, in spite of Gene's best efforts to decorate
with a Christmas tree on a table and greeting cards fastened to the doors'
backsides. If her name appears on the register, excitement will mount and
ride high; so she must be listed under and referred to by an assumed name,
so as to guarantee the best chance for the all important rest and
But hours don't speed up to hurry the blessed day of release. So what does
one do? There's television sometimes better off than on; there reading until
eyes and arm and mind are tired. And there's thinking and there must be
stern patience. You see why I call her "our gallant girl."
And gorgeous too! In spite of these two months of the caged life, she looks
as gorgeous as only Jeanette MacDonald can! But how did I happen to know
these things? Because I had the very special privilege of visiting her on
Sunday, January 12 , at her invitation by long distance phone call the day
before. Don't say that "seven come eleven" is not my lucky combination! The
week before, workmen, putting in a spray system for our garden (insurance
against the fierce heat of Texas summers), had callously dug up our longest,
thickest, best row of narcissus bulbs. Because I was too busy with school
work to manage them at the time, I had slated the replanting job for
Saturday the eleventh. There were so many of those bulbs (I fairly hated the
sight of them after seven hours) that I started quite early, stopped only
for coffee at ten and worked on until finished, well past noon. It had been
seven hours. As I went into the house, I was dirty and tired and thinking in
terms of peanut butter sandwiches and milk for late lunch. The phone rang. I
must have sounded sort of dull as I answered, but I was electrified to hear,
"Jane, this is Jeanette. How are you?" I was instantly tingling with the
excitement generated only by wildest dreams come true. Jeanette was asking
if I could come down to see her in Houston the next day, Sunday the 12th. If
I could come down?! Nothing short of direst emergency could have kept me
away. You see why I bless the good fortune of the seven (hours of hard work)
come eleven (lucky date?) combination.
When I am not tired I can easily drive from Austin to Houston in four hours,
but after the bulbs I knew better than to push my luck too far; so I called
the airlines and soon found that the only reasonable schedule would mean to
leave Austin that evening, returning the following evening by Trans-Texas
Airlines. I was already flying, I was so high with excitement that I
scarcely had need of the plane or wits to pack for my father and self, cut
off the water (sudden change in weather forecast; hard free .a expected,
phone my cousin and swear her to secrecy, grab a taxi and run for the
airport. The plane was being called for the last time as we panted from
ticket counter to insurance counter and out into the icy northerly no time
for supper at the terminal and no meal served on this plane (plane too
little and trip too short), so we ate late at the Sheraton Lincoln after
But you want to know about Jeanette. Because she was a dear to clear the
path for us through various administrative blocks, we were expected and I
did not even have to use the password of her assumed name, which she had
told me to do; her nurse came to meet Daddy and me, waited chatting with us
a few minutes while Dr. Michael DeBakey was with Jeanette, and then the door
opened ... and there she was her own dear self, vivid in a soft blue satin
I can't give you a word-by-word quote of "she said" and "we said," for the
atmosphere was much like coming some to treasured companionship, where
feelings flow more impressively than mere words. And soon came Blossom,
Janet's next older sister (Marie Blake in professional life, Mrs. Warren G.
Rock in private life). Of course, at first Jeanette was telling us all about
her ordeal of the past two months which I explained to you at the very
beginning. Gene had been with her until he was forced to leave on New Year's
Day to begin work on a new picture, originally entitled "I'd Rather be
Right," a title which was discovered unavailable, though, because it had
previously been used; so at present the picture is being called "I'd Rather
be Rich." Jeanette giggled, "Wouldn't we all?! … especially with these
terrific bills" Then she was telling us about the TV and the reading that
had filled her long hours. What pure luck! In my haste there had been no
time to shop for her, so I had gift wrapped for her a Sterling silver book
mark decorated with two love birds, bills entwined. This small piece had
caught my eye several weeks ago at Scarborough's, and I bought it because it
appealed to me and for what a special purpose it turned out (I wished as I
wrapped it that I could have had the love birds engraved JAMR and GR. (All
right. I admit to my romantic soul.) Jeanette was so delighted with it that
I was thrilled to have pleased her with so small and simple a gift. She used
it to replace the paper clip in her book, and even after I left her I could
be glad that every time she opened her book to read, a little part of my
visit would still be there.
I had also taken along a pack of recent colored snapshots to show her ...
more of the Scots of Austin affairs (and she honored the organization ...
and surely met by giving me permission to enroll her as a member, both for
her MacDonald Clan and also for her Johnston lines! The Clan here is so
thrilled that they can't get over the wonderful news.) Also she was
especially touched by the pictures of my Mother's grave and told me about
her Mother's resting place in Mount Peace in Philadelphia. And there were
some shots of our Debutante Ball and of Smokey (my cat), curled in a
washbowl on an old fashioned walnut and marble dresser. This last brought a
delighted chuckle from Jeanette, and she and Blossom both exclaimed that the
dresser was an exact duplicate of one their grandfather had had. We were
soon talking about their home on Arch Street in Philadelphia, her mother's
way of making coleslaw, food in general and food for the soul. Jeanette and
I think so much alike about religious matters that I was deeply moved to be
talking with her on the subject. And soon, we three were singing together.
Imagine SINGING WITH JEANETTE MACDONALD!! Oh, I’m sure you can well imagine
that my third of the trio was next to silent and Daddy did not try to make
it a quartet. And then we talked on and on about so many things.
At times, of course, Jeanette needed to rest, have her fruit juice
(apricots) and milk, etc.., so Blossom and what a dear she is! - took us on
a tour of the hospital. The chapel was the most interesting part .. richly,
but quietly decorated, a handsome setting for the devotionals that draw
visitors and patients alike.
As we sat in the Commissary, Blossom filled us in on other details of the
past few weeks. When Gene had to leave on New Year's Day, Blossom had come
from her Christmas visit in Philadelphia to be with Jeanette until Blossom
herself would have to leave the week following my visit so as to make a TV
show for Phil Silvers (due on the screen in February). She gaily told us
about her first night at the hospital. She had left Philly in snow and ice
and so found the air conditioning in Houston just about choking. She simply
could not sleep, there in the room that Gene had occupied while he was with
Jeanette. Finally in the wee small hours she got up, and quietly slipped out
to take a stroll in the fresh air. While still close to the Hospital, she
was tapped on the shoulder by the "tallest, broadest, biggest policeman" she
had ever seen. "Lady, are you a patient in the Hospital?" Oh, no” Blossom
assured him. "Well, then, where are you staying?" he solicitously inquired.
"Oh, I'm STAYING in the Hospital," she had to admit, "but I'm not a
In short order he rather "hurriedly and forcibly escorted her to the
registration desk, asking her room number ... fully expecting it to be on
the psychiatric floor. The number she gave was assigned to a gentleman' s
name ... the assumed name under which Gene was registered there, to match
Jeanette's assumed name, of course! The hilarious mystery was pretty thick
with laughs before Blossom cleared herself!
Leaving Jeanette is always difficult for me, as every minute with her means
so much to me. She helped make the good byes happier for me by letting me
take several pictures. But I don't need them as vivid and as lovely as they
are to remind me of my indelible memories of our gallant, gorgeous girl.
* * * * * * * *
PS: On Saturday the 18th, I phoned Jeanette to tell her good bye, and I was
delighted to hear the joy in her voice over the thrill of going home the
next day on the five o’clock plane. Her maid Barbara, whom she had brought
with her, and her morning nurse were accompanying her, and they were then in
the midst of packing.
* * * * * * * *
Since she reached home, I have had a lovely letter from her and also one
from Blossom, and the reports are wonderful: Jeanette is fine, just a bit
overwhelmed by the mountain of mail and bills and cards and bills and bills.
But she is home and well. And we are deeply thankful.
Editor’s Note: It is indeed a wonderful thing to have such a complete and
factual coverage of a very personal time for Jeanette MacDonald. It was good
to know that she had at least partial privacy in her stay in Houston, but
really a shame when the news finally leaked out. No doubt, Miss MacDonald
has enjoyed her career and the fact that she has given much to all of the
world, but she has certainly had a big price to pay to live in the goldfish
bowl to which she has been confined all these many years. How much better it
might have been had she been able to go to Houston, have the necessary
treatment and slip out of town and go back home quietly. On the other hand,
Miss MacDonald, we are all concerned about your welfare and as your editor
has told you personally, you are so important to a great many people. They
all mean well, believe we! And certainly mean no harm in their inquiries.
(Fay: This appeared in the Golden Comet, 1964. The doctor mentioned early in
the story was actually Dr. Michael DeBakey who a few years later performed
the same successful surgery on the Duke of Windsor)
Sent in by Fay. G.
September 8, 2005
**Editor’s Note (Clara Rhoades):
Shortly after Lee joined the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club, she
wrote me that she felt real sad because she felt she would have to content
herself with records, movies, etc., for she did not feel she would ever have
the opportunity to meet Miss MacDonald in person. I wrote back, trying to
assure her that she must have patience and faith the she would sometime
realize her dream. Well, as you will see from the following article, but she
also met her husband, Gene Raymond, several times and was able to get
A Long Awaited Meeting
By Leona Sweet
As soon as I learned about Gene Raymond appearing at the Theater in the Park
here in Philadelphia, my home, I rushed down, purchased tickets for the
first performance and waited eagerly for the opening night. It was most
pleasant, however, when I learned that Mr. Raymond was to appear in person
in downtown Philadelphia to advertise his play, “Madly In Love”. This was my
first meeting with Mr. Raymond. In our city they have an outdoor show on
Saturdays with entertainment of all sorts. It is called “Saturdays are Fun
Days”. The purpose of this is to draw people to downtown to shop.
He treated me very nice. Of
course, we talked about Miss MacDonald. I asked him if she were coming to
Philadelphia for the opening of his play. He said he wasn’t quite sure, but
if she did I was to come backstage and see them. We also talked about the
club and he signed my Golden Comet.
I was so excited at seeing Mr.
Raymond, I was shaking quite a lot. He asked me why I was shaking. Then we
had our pictures taken and he put his arm around me. We then went up on a
stage. The host was a local television personality. He greeted us, he and
Mr. Raymond discussed the play for the audience and they shook hands and we
went off the stage. Then I waited while Mr. Raymond signed a million
Then it was time for him to
leave. He said he would see me at the play, he waved as the car drove away.
The setting was the Playhouse
in the Park, there is much confusion and talk going on waiting for the play
to begin. Then, silence fell heavy over the audience, for coming down the
aisle is a ray of beauty, a bundle of charm and a woman of kindness and
understanding. This is the moment I have always dreamed of, this one person
in a million I have always admired from a distance and wanted to meet so
badly was there before my eyes.
The play began and it was too
late to introduce myself, so I must wait….at least for intermission.
Naturally I am nervous and filled with anticipation. I sit wondering, “What
shall I say to her? How should I act?”
The curtain fell on the first
act and this was my opportunity to meet the one and only Mrs. Raymond,
better known as Jeanette MacDonald. She put me at ease right away,
she was so cool and calm and very easy to talk to. When we first met she
asked me if I were in the fan club because I had my Golden Comet in my hand.
She then asked me my name and when I told her, she stood up to shake hands
with me. She was just great – so kind, friendly and so on. We talked about
the club and I asked her to sign my Golden Comet, and she was kind enough to
do so. She signed it as follows: “To Leona with all good wishes. Am glad you
are with us tonight. Jeanette MacDonald”
She also signed my playbill and
then consented to have her picture taken. As you will see I think they came
out quite well and Miss MacDonald asked me to send them to you, Clara, for
Miss MacDonald turned, as the
curtain opened once more, to watch her handsome and charming husband, Gene
Raymond, as he played his role in “Madly in Love” with Celeste Holm which
was quite a terrific play.
As I sat there I thought, “She
is much more beautiful in person and much nicer than I thought possible.”
The play was a complete sellout. And I can honestly say the audience loved
it. Afterwards, everyone was saying how much they liked it and how Mr.
Raymond contributed to the production excellently. After the play I went
backstage to wait for the Raymonds. I asked if I might take pictures and
they consented. Since they were in a hurry, we said our goodbyes and parted.
And suddenly the evening was over in reality, but certainly not in my
memory. In my heart, this night will go on forever. This night of nights
will be cherished always and will live for me forever.