Categorically Speaking

June 1940
Photoplay

Jeanette as seen by Nelson Eddy

The Jeanette MacDonald you know on the screen and through the usual stories written about her has a good many more facets to her personality than you’ve been led to believe. Since I like to do anything and everything as thoroughly as possible, you may find some categories of mine are not in agreement with those you’d choose yourself. I’ll try to explain them as I go along—but if I forget, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Jeanette, if she were food, would be a cold pheasant wing with dry Chablis, rice pudding and toast melba. The last item represents a definite sense of self-discipline; the rice pudding is that simple, hearty, sometimes unglamorous quality she has; and the other portions of the menu speak for themselves.

As a tree—well, just imagine a sunny California hill with golden poppies growing down the slope, and then, right on top, perch a Christmas tree all garnished with baubles and quite incongruously touched with real snow. Snow that the sun cannot melt, no matter how warm the rays.

It’s easier to describe Jeantte in terms of a house. That’s a natural. She’s an early American place with a Scottish influence in the decorations: The MacDonald is very conscious of her ancestry. Pure early American is not very comfortable, but this house would be. There’d be divans upholstered in plaid, facing a great open fireplace, and the inevitable spinning wheel would be pushed back to make way for a tea wagon. That symbolism is particularly apt. The house would be spotless, the wooden floors scrubbed until they shone, with everything dusted relentlessly. A family bible and a family album would have a conspicuous place on a conspicuous table. The mantle and small what-nots would be covered with little sentimental gadgets and keepsakes.

The whole mood of the place would be one with casual formality, with rules to be observed—but not to the exclusion of comfort.

What sort of game? Certainly not a very energetic one; I would say a parlor game in which you guess things. Post office, maybe, should be added here; and a delicate feminine type of horseshoes, where the players sit and toss light cardboard shoes at stakes not very far away. Jeanette likes to win at games. So it should be something that’s quickly won and over with.

Jeanette is a Viennese Waltz with just an occasional fox-trot step worked in, slyly; she’s a tall glass of very cold lemonade under a shade tree—and the lemonade would have three or four maraschino cherries in it, instead of one, and a double portion of sugar.

She is a nosegay set in a lace paper ruffle, with Bouvardia—you know that strong little white flower—and with a rare gold and flame orchid in the center. So far as books are concerned Jeanette MacDonald cannot be described in the title of just one book. She’s an entire case of them. Let’s say the Jeanette Bookshelf (only one edition, vary rare) would start with a Prayer Book in a white satin cover and contain an album of music, “Etiquette” by Emily Post, “The Five Little Peppers and how they Grew,” “Joe Miller’s Joke Book,””The Wizard of Oz,” a collection of Peter Arno cartoons, “Madame Bovary” and “Alice in Wonderland.” And perhaps a copy of Voltaire. We must not ignore that somewhat surprising sophistication, always bound by good taste, which is an angle of Jeanette’s nature; nor her deep religious sense, nor her insistence on convention, nor her love of a good ancedote. But no heavy reading, ever, may find room on that shelf.

If Jeanette were a mechanical device she would be a metronome in rare teak, tuned to tempo by a special committee composed of Caruso, Toscanni and Elizabeth Arden.

Jeanette as a jewel, is a cameo; as a metal, gold, yellow, 24-carat, in the shape of an old-fashioned wedding ring. As a perfume, cologne, and heather. I say cologne rather than perfume because the personality here is a more fragile thing than any essence of musk and myrrh.

Don’t strain your eyebrows over this, but in terms of clothes Jeanette is a a handmade princess slip, without embroidery. And an ostrich-feather bed jacket, in case the doorbell rings. She is a music box playing “here comes the bride” in swing tempo; and if she were a sport it would be jumping rope—very brisk action for a moment, then a period of rest.

Suppose she were a car. It would be one she could drive herself occasionally, but by dint of mild effort a window would roll up between the driver’s seat and the tonneau, whereupon the machine would become a limousine with a chauffeur and possible a footman.

Metamorphose the girl into an animal and I think you’d find a deer—suspicious, distrustful, gentle, lovely; but capable of being tamed. Make her a song and she’d be any coloratura aria, “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Coming Through the Rye” a potential lullaby, and any popular song.

Jeanette is a formal miniature in a a jeweled frame, suspended by a velvet ribbon. She is a combination of a Cathedral thrush and a young eagle—you know what I mean by Cathedral thrush, and the young eagle signifies strength, an unsuspected fortitude. Eagles put branches and rock in their nests, instead of down, so when the youngsters once start to fly they won’t have any impulse to come back. Jeanette doesn’t try for a soft life; she gets a kick out of forcing her way past obstacles. There is also a Redheaded hummingbird. How about that?

You see? I warned you. My portrait of the beautiful Mrs. Gene Raymond, in all probability, does not approach the one you had in mind. But I must say this about Jeanette: She is an amazing woman, possessed of unbelievable personal strength—a feeling for living life smoothly, like a sliver spoon cutting into frozen custard—a determination which surpasseth all understanding—a canny Scotch money sense, in the tradition of those gentle American Capitalists who pride themselves on their ability to live on the income from an income—an intense sophistication which breeds a subtle but distinct from of delicate cynicism—a driving ambition which is not matched for her physical capacity for hardship. so that she drives herself further than she should to get what she wants—a fine, genuine sense of music, and a talent (shall we say genius?) for translating it in terms of her own magnificent voice—a hoydenish strain of happy chappy humor, never too old-lavender-and-lace to snub a laugh even if it’s bred in lower minds than hers—a kind of beauty —a heigh-ho-little-girl-does-your-mother-know-you’re-out?-thing that’s hard to describe.

And a capacity for making friends which, thank heaven, has seen fit to include me among them.

Nelson Eddy As Seen By Jeanette MacDonald

What kind of Car Would He Be?

If Nelson Eddy were an automobile, I’m pretty sure he would be a sedan, probably light tan in color, with white sidewall tires which would be quite spotless, always. The car would be of good make, a trustworthy make. It would have a governor on the accelerator to keep it from going faster than the lawful speed limit. But this car would have a touch of fancy about it; the exhaust pipe would be attached to an expensive set of musical horns and they would work by vacuum, exuberantly booming forth “The Road to Mandalay,” to the confusion of the traffic and the delight of people on sidewalks. Crowds of girls would follow the machine down the street.

What Kind of Clothes?

A conservative, dark blue business suit, with matching tie, shirt, socks and handkerchief in various shades. The suit would be neatly pressed, unobtrusively expensive. There would be a boutonniere on the lapel, and when you smelled it a stream of water would squirt in your eye. Yes, you would find—if you looked closely—a mended place where a sleeve had been ripped by overly enthusiastic autograph seekers.

Food?

Steak, mashed potatoes, plenty of gravy, and iced pineapple.

What Kind of Mechanical Device?

Oh, I would think a platinum-plated steam shovel, deliberately and earnestly and thoroughly doing the work demanded of it, and being extremely entertaining to the groups of people gathered around the railing of the excavation to watch.

What Song?

A marching song. “Home Sweet Home,”Performed by Nelson Eddy himself; “That Dear Old Mother of Mine,” rendered with moving sincerity by a large chorus; a few bars of a raucous barracks ditty heard from the bathroom to accompaniment of splashings.

What Animal?

Nelson would certainly been an animal with a constructive purpose in life, like a fine watchdog with an especially appealing bark.

Drink?

Hot rum punch on a cold, bleak day. Beer drunk from a china mug.

Book, or Books?

Of course there would have to be a tome on music. And a collection of essays on how to live intelligently, with control. Anything by Horatio Alger, the writing polished by Somerset Maugham, because his life is like an Alger story except that he has lived it with great distinction and good taste. And a history book, because of Nelson’s fabulous memory for details.

Street?

Berkeley Square in Los Angeles, where the Quality live. There are gates at either end (it’s only two blocks long), and even the gutters are exclusive. He would be the street the Met is on in New York, the main drag of any small American town—the Sinclair Lewis Main Street, but with good taste and aplomb—and he would be the entrance drive to a studio city.

Game?

Magic—perhaps because it’s one of the things he does well, at every party; but also because he’s so darned surprising. He’s a guessing game of course. And Musical Chairs.

Tree?

An oak. Sometimes he’s a very young oak, however, easily swayed by a strong breeze. Mostly he knows what he wants and stands very firm against the breeze. And he’s intensely staunch in his loyalties.

House?

White Conlonial. Passionately American, formal with a play cottage removed from the main building, for parties. There would be a pipe organ in the drawing room.

Sport?

Baseball, particularly at the interval when the bands play. There would have to be bands.

Jewel?

A little boy’s pet marble—the kind they call an “aggie.”

Window Display?

Military boots, shiny and new, with spurs on them; sheet music in the background; a wing fireside chair with an open book left on the cusion.

Painting or Picture?

A Currier and Ives print.

Bird?

An albatross with a nightingale’s voice. Contrary to the opinion of most people who have never lived in the South, the nightingale is a baritone. And the albatross is large and blond and deliberate on the wing.

I dislike summaries of any sort—it’s like pointing a moral—but Nelson Eddy is difficult to describe in any fashion because his personality is so integrated and his abilities so defined that any flights of fancy ill become his portrait. Nelson has arrived. He has what he wants from life, and his future is settled for him. I count him one of my favorite people almost without reservation—one of the reasons being that fact that I don’t have to worry about him, as I do about so many of my friends.