The Secret Gene Raymond Kept from Jeanette MacDonald

by Barbara Hayes
September 1937


I am still agape over the revelation of the most daring piece of deception ever perpetrated in Hollywood.

The author of it is Gene Raymond, the last person in the world I would have suspected of any such conniving. Yet for ten months—nearly a year, mind you!—Gene actually lived a double life as the mysterious ” Mr. John Morgan.”

In this audacious masquerade he succeeded not only in duping a town where nobody has ever been able to keep things under cover, but in hoodwinking his bride-to-be.

It was at eight o’clock one night that Gene first donned his disguise and so began the amazing series of events which were to launch him on his precarious Jekyll-Hyde career. That he got away with it, through elaborate lies and deepest subterfuge, gives evidence that he is not only a remarkable actor, but a man of daring and infinite resource.

On this evening, a few hours earlier, Gene had driven his fiancee to her home in Hollywood. Now, as he appeared before a deserted house among the winding hills of Bel-Air, no one would have recognized him. A hat was pulled down over his telltale blond hair, a muffler swathed his chin, and he carried a handkerchief ready to press to his face should any strangers pass. Gene Raymond had become Mr. John Morgan.

He walked briskly across the yard to the dark house. It was a large and rather rambling place, weeds grew along the walk, and a cold wind rustled through the gables.

The murky moonlight faintly revealed three people waiting in the shadows for Mr. Morgan. One of them was a lady who was, for a time, to be known only as “Mrs. Shux.” She was to become a guiding genius in the conspiracy that was afoot, through all its astonishing ramifications. The other two were men intimately known to Gene Raymond.

Flashlights were produced, and after fumbling with the lock, they entered. The musty odor of an unused dwelling rushed to meet them.

“I don’t see how you can get away with it,” the lady said to Mr. Morgan, alias Mr. Raymond.

“I’ve started it I’m going to finish it,” he said. “I’m going to buy this house to be our home, decorate and furnish it to the last detail, and it’s got to be a complete surprise to Jeanette.”

There, the cat is out of the bag.

NOW that you know what he proposed to do, the enormity of the undertaking may become apparent. It would be dismayed an ordinary mortal. Gene Raymond was not, however, to be discouraged.

This was his dream, and he has a way of making dreams come true.

“I’ve always wanted, when I married, to be able to carry my bride across the threshold of our own home,” he had told this group one night, adding, suddenly: “And why not? Why not buy a house, fix it up, put in everything we’d like—and keep it all a secret!”

Thus the ambitious stratagem began. If Gene could have foreseen all the pettifogging and chicanery it would lead to, if he had known he would have to keep his fingers crossed and lie to his beloved—yes, even steal!—he would have quailed at the prospect. But right then he went at it blithely.

First he scouted around for a house, something homey, not too big or showy, something that would be solid, comfortable, a home. He found the makings of such a place at last, an English style country home built partly of stone, with a steep roof of rolling, haphazard shingles. There were two acres, with a dilapidated stable, bridle paths, rose and grape arbors clinging to hillside terraces. Hidden among the pines was a little playhouse that was reached across a bridge of stones.

The entire place had to be remodeled, as Gene outlined the changes: take the driveway out and put in a lawn, tear down the stable and build a new one, enlarge a room here, add another there, put in new plumbing. It would all be a tremendous amount of work. He would have to find an architect willing to take a solemn oath of secrecy Gene called in Kenneth Albright, whose clever work is well known in the film colony. For a decorator, well, Gene would turn

“Mrs. Shux” into one. After all, on the correct decorating depended the success or failure of the scheme.

As the ringleader of his band of confederates, we may now reveal the identity of “Mrs. Shux”—Helen Ferguson Hargreaves, confidante and most trusted friend of Jeanette MacDonald’s. The responsibilities—and the risks—made “Mrs. Shux” blanch, but since it was Gene who asked she decided she’d do it.

No one else, not even Jeanette’s mother, was to be let in on the scheme.

Yet time and again, the super-colossal secret tottered on the brink of discovery Early in the game, Jeanette nearly caught Gene red-handed.

Gene had bought the property in the name of Mrs. Hargreaves, and then, assuming his disguise as Mr. Morgan, he was spending every spare minute at the new home, supervising the work. Neighbors decided Mr. Morgan must suffer, poor fellow, from a bad cold, for their rare glimpses of him showed only a man with sun glasses on, holding a handkerchief to his nose and peering blankly about.

Well, on this particular day, Gene had told his fiancee that he was going to the polo games, and would come from there to pick her up at the studio when she was through work.

Then and there he learned what every young husband should know —never, never tell a fib.

Jeanette finished shooting early that day, so she decided to surprise Gene at the polo games.

She arrived between chukkers and started looking for him. She wandered back and forth before the grandstand, searching the crowd. No Gene, but armies of autograph hunters, answered her beseeching glances. She signed and signed till her arms nearly dropped off, and still no Gene. Finally, worked up to a high state of apprehension, she telephoned his home.

Gene had meanwhile hurried back from the honeymoon house and was coming up the walk when he heard his telephone ringing. Even as for you or me, it became a matter of vast urgency to reach it before the party hung up. All out of breath, he jerked off the receiver.

“Gene! What are you doing there? You said you’d be at the polo game!”

“But I was going to pick you up at the studio,” he stalled.

“What have you been doing?” demanded his bride-to-be.

Gene took a deep breath, crossed his fingers (a gesture what was to grow on him) and managed to stammer out something an unexpected conference. Anyone else but this young man with the open, honest face would have been discovered, but Gene emerged safely that time.

Other narrow escapes were to follow.

HE had his heart set on obtaining some of the ‘MacDonald plaid to use in decorating a divan in the little playhouse, now painted white and converted into a music studio. Jeanette gets a bolt of the MacDonald clan’s plaid from Scotland now and then. There was only one thing to do—steal that bolt.

While Jeanette was out of the house he crept upstairs in the approved manner of burglary, hoisted the plaid out of a closet, and hastened for the front door. It was at this exact moment that Jeanette arrived home.

Hastily, Gene shoved the bolt under a davenport, contriving thus to hide it along with his nervous confusion. Next day he came again, and this time his bold thievery was detected by Sylvia Grogg, Jeanette’s secretary. Gene had to let her in on the secret. Afterwards, she became an invaluable aid as a secret operator in the MacDonald home.

The plaid fitted in beautifully. Gene used it to upholster a divan, made it into frames for the pictures to be hung on the studio walls, and even trimmed the Venetian blinds with strips of it. Then he moved in twin baby grand pianos, in white, with white chairs and rugs. It was the coziest spot on the whole estate.

As the chief counselor in these goings-on, Helen (Mrs. Shux) had her hands full. Through many ingenious hints, she finally found out all of Jeanette’s preferences, her most minute likes and dislikes. Even so, every purchase was made “on approval.” Jeanette’s bedroom was Helen’s particular triumph, decorated in dusty pink with an effect so breathlessly lovely that the new mistress hasn’t made a single change.

The problem of getting the furniture was indeed difficult. For instance, when Gene prepared to move his piano from the home he gave to his mother, to the new residence, he faced a grave problem.

Possibly you never thought of this, but all the secrets of Hollywood are known to the moving companies. They are first to learn when a wife takes her trunks out to ship them to Reno, and first to learn when a secret bride moves in. They know who is buying a house and who selling, who is rich, who poor. In short, these movers seem to know everything.

Yet somehow, Gene had to get his piano moved secretly. Finally, he hit on a way. First he had the piano moved to the Hargreaves’ home in Beverly Hills. Then another moving company was called to tote the piano to the honeymoon manse. . A classic example of going all around Robin Hood’s barn! After the piano was moved, Gene was in for another close call.

He had constructed dog kennels for his and Jeanette’s pets, building them along the path to the new stable he had erected. He wanted the dogs and the horses there, too. Gene had bought White Lady, riding horse at Kellogg’s ranch, to be presented to Jeanette as his gift for her birthday, which was the day following the wedding. In the stall next to White Lady was Black Knight, the horse given him last August on his birthday, by Jeanette.

But Jeanette was boarding her dogs at Happyland, a de luxe resort for lucky canines. Shortly before the wedding, therefore, Gene sent out for Stormy Weather, the gray Skye terrier; Nick, her Newfoundland pup; and Sunny, the lamblike Bedlington. With merry barks the dogs inspected their new homes and made friends with Gene’s three dogs, Mike, Trey, and Askim.

Then Jeanette decided to run out and visit her dogs at Happyland, and of all days, she chose her wedding day!

WHEN Gene learned this, his heart turned heart handsprings, but he rose valiantly to the emergency.

“Hold her for an hour,” he said. “I’ll fix it.”

In that hour the dogs were whisked back to Happyland, where in due course Jeanette arrived for a ten-minute romp with them. As soon as she left, back to town came the dogs. It must have been very confusing, even to the dogs.

The catastrophe averted, Gene went for a final survey of his and his confederates’ handiwork, and found it good. The last stick of furniture was in place. In Jeanette’s dressing room were her perfumes, her dresses, hats, shoes, everything. Not one minute detail had been overlooked

The job was done.

But would Jeanette like it? Had they correctly divined all her tastes? Gene was on the verge of the jitters, for fair. This test was far more important than the most critical review of a movie, this was the crux of all his plans. If she didn’t like their home, he was sunk.

Gene carried his bride over the threshold, just as he had dreamed. Then he set her down, carefully. His voice, of a sudden, failed him. So did his pretty speech, so hopefully prepared

“This—this is our new home,” he faltered.

Jeanette didn’t understand, at first. The suspense must have been terrific for the nervous new husband.

Then, suddenly, the full realization burst upon Jeanette.

The excited tour of exploration that followed must have been a memorable experience. From room to room they wandered.

When at last they had seen it all, Jeanette looked at her husband.

“All my life I’ve dreamed of a home, and looked forward to one of my own,” she said. “I came into it tonight.”

Gene’s secret was a success.

Jeanette MacDonald Back: Singer Tells of Concert Tour of British Isles

by Eveleen Locke
Hollywood Citizen News
September 11, 1946

“After seeing how gallantly the British accept their very critical shortages, I’m not going to grouse about our American inconveniences any more–except maybe under my breath sometimes.”

It was golden-voiced Jeanette MacDonald speaking as she relaxed yesterday in her luxuriously furnished Bel Air Rd. home and discussed the six-weeks’ concert tour of the British Isles from which she had just returned.

She flew to England late in June expecting a cold reception, for British critics had been vigorously panning American artists. The Hollywood actress did meet cold weather that did put her in her hotel room for two weeks with flu, but British audiences warmed to her from her first appearance.

Fans blocked the approaches to the theaters in Hollywood premiere fashion, and stamped and whistled their applause.

“I think they were hungry for the sight of American clothes as much as anything,” Miss MacDonald commented as she sipped a large glass of fresh milk with evident enjoyment. (In England, she had to have a doctor’s order to get a glass of powdered milk daily).

Audiences stood eight deep in the galleries to hear her sing the Victor Herbert melodies that have made her famous. “They didn’t want new songs–just familiar numbers like ‘Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” she reported. In Scotland she added a Scottish number to her program; she sang haunting welsh lyrics in Wales and Irish as in Dublin, but otherwise her repertoire was strictly American. “The liked Collins Smith, my accompanist, very much,” she added.

“But it was the little kindnesses that really warmed my heart,” the actress declared.”In a war-ravaged country where a sign in every bathroom reminds one that ‘hot water takes precious fuel,’ waiters saw that I had tomato juice, a little fruit occasionally, and even an egg.” (Britishers get one egg a month).

In Scotland she looked wistfully at woolens, thinking how nice a suit length would be as a birthday gift to Husband Gene Raymond. (Cloth costs ration points, and these are not issued to visitors). A group of hotel employees heard of her wishful thinking and pooled enough of the precious points to give her the yardage. Deeply touched, Miss MacDonald made an impromptu personal appearance, and saw that the group received all of her “sweets” ration coupons so they could divide a few chocolate bars among them.

Raymond flew to New York to meet his wife when the tour was over, their planes landing almost simultaneously at La Guardia Field. She remained in new your to make recordings, while he joined the “straw hat circuit” in New England to play opposite Gertrude Lawrence in “The Man in Possession.”

“It was the first time in 17 years I’ve played in stock, and the experience was certainly stimulating,” Raymond said. He is scheduled to direct a picture for Eagle-Lion here, but may postpone that for a part in a Broadway production this winter. Mrs. Raymond said she wasn’t sure what her next assignment will be.

Pop Tunes Meaningless to Jeanette MacDonald

by Mary Ann Callan
Los Angeles Times
August 31, 1955

Millions of records spin to millions of pairs of ears in the United States each day but, asks one great, popular woman singer of not-so-long ago: Is it music? Does it have either rhyme or reason to be loved and whistled and hummed? And, more important, is it giving the younger generation a heritage rich in romance from the heartbeat of America?

Jeanette MacDonald, the beautiful redhead who made movie history in a successful series of musicals on the screen and one of the few women to fill the Hollywood Bowl as a feature concert artist says no.

Sitting with unstudied majesty in the patio of her charming Bel-Air home, Miss MacDonald’s eyes floated thoughtfully over the distant vista below her mountain blew, and only her hands drumming emphatically on the table expressed the vehemence with which she gave her opinion.

Finds Nothing Sustaining

“I find nothing sustaining or beautiful in much of the so-called popular music of today,” she said. “You can’t tell the melody, you can’t tell the singer. Everything has a gimmick–everybody is trying to be different. It takes more courage now NOT to be different.”

Its the young people she’s worried about, she said. “There’s the in-between generation, brought up during the war, that has had absolutely no exposure, except in rare cases, to the great music of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml, Romberg and Strauss.

“With them, this kind of semi classical music is a dead language. All they get is a nervous beat–the rock and roll–and the words and meaning of the melody are left out. There’s just nothing sustaining in the current popular music,” she repeated.

Calls it ‘Dishonest’

She termed it “dishonest” the way present bands change the tune and rhythm of old popular classics. You have to search, she said, to find a strain that’s familiar, and it’s heresy.

The cause, she feels, of lack of taste in popular music is because the public is fed, not what they went, but what the salesmen think they want.

“Constant repetition,” she said, “seems to be the way to make a hit–not it’s qualification as a melody with lyrics that have real meaning for the listener.

“And for the singer, crooner or what have you, it’s the catch in their voice or their off-key delivery or their rantings, not their voice that qualifies them.”

No Opportunity

She looked at what is happening to serious music students who want to sing great music. “They have no opportunity,” she shrugged. “They too, have to have a gimmick, not a voice. Where is the trend going to take us?”

Then she smiled, hopefully and said, “Someday, and I think soon, there is going to be an American composer with courage, and a record company with courage, and a singer with courage who will come up with some good, solid music that will express what modern America is feeling.” She hesitated. “And I think the public will take it and understand that this is what they have wanted for a long, long time.”

There are many young girls, she went on, who has hopes of presenting what she was once–who want to sing for the enjoyment of Americans, who can sing lyrics that the listener can identify with, who are bewildered as who they can follow any serious aspirations.

Said she: “They end up modeling or doing TV commercials, which is a prostitution of talent, but at least they eat.”

She said, also, that part of any young person’s growing up is to hero worship, but she feels that the current trend is robbing youth of celebrities that are solid, who can be guiding lights for the artists of the future. When youth discovers they are phonies with clay feet, they will lose hope and American will be robbed of a continuing talent in music.

A Starvation Diet

In the Interview, she called for a public conscience that will help produce more “arenas for music,” such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Music Center, now in the planning stage.

“Without these,” she said, “our musical diet is the juke box and it leads only to starvation for the future.”

Miss MacDonald, wife of Actor and TV Host Gene Raymond, is still appearing in concerts, her current one being at the Sacramento State Fair next week singing Hammerstein and Kern favorites.