by Howard Sharpe
NELSON EDDY and I sat in the living room of his house in Beverly Hills chatting lazily of vague matters. There was a fire and there was rain outside the windows and the air was pale with cigarette smoke.
Nelson’s secretary had a terrifying stack of neatly opened mail on his desk. At my quizzical look, because I know the very heavy schedule under which he works, he smiled and she looked unperturbed and pleasantly cool in the face of this volume of work.
“It’s really not that much of a burden on me,” he laughed, and I noted that each letter was lined and checked; some sort of code was obviously in work.
“Any new requests this time?”
“Basically, no,” she replied. “But on these,” indicating a lesser pile of letters, “you will want to give extra time.”
“This evening, after dinner?”
“And the fate of that awesome balance?” I intruded.
“We do it this way because I like to keep my mail directly in hand. But,” he smiled, “broadly speaking, the public has exactly forty-six questions that they ask over and over. To date, not a single one has been asked less than a hundred times and some of them have turned up thousands of times—I answer the ones that require individual thought or counsel, that’s all.”
I said, “If thousands of people write you, all asking the same questions, then apparently they want to know the answers and there’s nothing egocentric about giving them at all. Now then supposing you scribble out the whole lot and dictate your honest replies to each and we’ll not only give the public what it wants but we’ll have a good portrait of your personal character as well.”
And it was so.
Question: Why didn’t you marry Jeanette MacDonald?
Answer: The main reason is that I’ve never been in love with her and she’s never been in love with me. She’s a very beautiful woman, but ever since I’ve known her she’s been engaged. I’m old-fashioned enough to respect a betrothal.
Question: Why haven’t you married somebody, anyway?
Answer: Again because I’ve never been in love with anyone enough to get married. I figure that any man who marries should be choosing a life companion, someone with whom he intends to spend the rest of his days. The idea of slipping a ring on a girl’s finger and then getting a divorce in a year or two is out of the question with me. If I marry it will be for good, and that means I must find a woman who can fit in with my career and match my ideals. Simply, I’ve never found a suitable life companion and so I’ve never married.
Question: What is your real name? “Nelson Eddy” sounds as if it’s made up.
Answer: It’s real and you can find it in my family genealogy and in historical books and in previous social registers. Centuries ago the last name was spelled “Eddye” but the “e” was subsequently dropped.
Question: What is your favorite color?
Answer: Blue. It’s restful and cool and it is the basic pigment of things I love: water and sky and mountains.
Question: What color are your eyes?
Answer: Blue, and that has nothing to do with the previous answer.
Question: What is your favorite song?
Answer: That’s hard to be specific about; I change my attitudes a good deal in relation to the music I’m singing. Just now it’s Du bist so jung —”Thou Art So Young” —by the late German composer, Erich Wolff. Because it has exquisite sentiment, a rise and fall of emotions, very unique harmony and a fresh, modern touch.
Question: In how many languages can you sing?
Answer: I have a reading and speaking knowledge ot English, French, German and Italian. I read Spanish, Russian, Yiddish and Latin haltingly, but I can sing in them.
Question: Which language do you like most?
Answer: English because you can put over a song better in that tongue than in any other. I’m busy in my spare time just now trying to evolve good translations into English of several scores.
Question: How old are you?
Question: Where were you born?
Answer: Providence, Rhode Island.
Question: Do you have a dog and what’s its name?
Answer: Yes; an English sheep dog, nine years old, named “Sheba.” a gift from Jeanette MacDonald.
Question: Why do you bleach your hair?
Answer: I’ve never dyed or bleached my hair in my life; it used to be red but what with over-work and one thing or another it’s become streaked with white, and unevenly at that. So now it’s a combination of white and red, not blonde, although it looks blonde in pictures.
Question: Is the wave in your hair a permanent?
Answer: Darn it, the wave is my own and I’ll personally pay $1,000 to anyone who can bring forth evidence that it’s ever been permanent-waved, marceled or curled except once in my life, when I played the role of the curly-headed eccentric, Papageno, in The Magic Flute.
Question: Who chooses the songs you sing in concerts?
Answer: I do. I select them as I do because my aim is to get variety and not to have a monotonous program.
Question: Who chooses the songs you sing on the radio?
Answer: The sponsors of the program, but tempered by my suggestions. The choice is based on the fan mail and the public’s requests, and fifty percent of the time I give in, anyway, whether I want to sing a particular number or not.
Question: Have you ever sung in opera? (Nelson’s mail says, over and over, “You have an awfully good voice. Why not try opera? I’m sure they’d give you a chance.”)
Answer: I sang in opera for six years; first with the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company and later with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company. I have also sung with the Los Angeles and San Francisco Opera Companies.
Question: How many operas do you know?
Answer: Thirty-five complete roles, and I’ve actually sung thirty-one of them.
Question : What is your favorite opera?
Answer: Again my preferences change with time. Generally, I like Die Goetterdaemmerung —”Twilight of the Gods” —first; secondly, the Russian Boris Godounoff by Moussorgsky, and then La Boheme by Puccini.
Question: Who is your favorite singer?
Answer: Chaliapin, not because he has the best voice any more, but because he is still the master raconteur, teller of stories, in song. For women. Kirsten Flagstad. She has one of the greatest living voice and has nobility of line.
Question: Who is your favorite composer?
Answer: Wagner. Question: Do you like being a movie actor?
Answer: Yes. It’s hard work but I’m reaching millions of people with my music and it’s a good career.
Question: What do you eat before singing?
Answer: That may sound like a silly question but it’s very important to singers. I’ve tried all the theories, but I can’t stand on a stage or before a mike and sing for two or three hours when I’m hungry. I eat a normal meal, only I finish at least two hours before I’m due to sing.
Question: Which do you like best—concerts, radio, opera or pictures?
Answer: I’m not quibbling, but honestly I haven’t a choice; I enjoy whatever I’m doing at the time.
Question: Who is your favorite actor?
Answer: This may get me into trouble, but I like simple character actors like Spencer Tracy or Jean Hersholt—and Frank Morgan for comedy.
Question: Do you prefer blonde, brunette or red-haired girls?
Answer: They can have any color or shade of hair if their personal qualities are the sort I like. If a girl is sincere, gay and amusing, with a swell sense of humor and culture and intelligence—oh yes, and if she’s good-looking—then she can have green hair for all I care.
Question: What is your best-beloved state?
Answer: California. Naturally I’ve sentimental memories about Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, but California’s got everything.
Question: Have you ever been to Europe?
Answer: Yes, three times, and I’ve toured in almost every country on the Continent, and the British Isles.
Question: Do you like Hollywood?
Answer: Yes, indeed.
Question: What is a “Hollywood Party?”
Answer: rankly, I don’t know. America has the idea, apparently, that a party out here lasts for days and everyone is carried out in stretchers. I’ve only had time to give two and those were simply for musical friends. I’ll run you off a transcription I took secretly of the last one, if you like. (He did, and there was a jumble of conversation and much laughter and a good deal of piano thumping and burlesqued singing.) The ones I’ve been to have been in dressed-up houses for dinner, with a discreet hot orchestra and a free bar afterward. Ended about two A. M. and weren’t any different from the usual sort of do.
Question: What books do you like?
Answer: Biography, travel, psychology and history. I seldom read a novel because I haven’t time. Since I left school at such an early age I’m still trying to educate myself, so I don’t read much for pleasure.
Question: What are your hobbies?
Answer: Making recordings on my own machine, tennis, riding, swimming— relaxing, really. Anything that isn’t working at music or studio routines.
Question: What is your favorite food?
Answer: Now don’t laugh. It’s crackers and milk. That’s a throw-back to the days I spent in the old home in New England. On Sunday, dinner was in the middle of the day and then at night instead of a heavy meal we got milk and crackers. I was always starved and it tasted so good. Now when I’m tired a bowl of milk and crackers is very good contrast to the usual food I eat.
Question: Do you smoke, and does it hurt your voice?
Answer: Yes, and I suppose it does. Other singers say so, at any rate. But I’ll take that chance.
Question: How did you decide to become a singer?
Answer: Well. I sang to the neighbors because I enjoyed it and they told me I was pretty good, so I went to a teacher and he said the same thing.
Question: Would you still make the same choice of profession?
Answer: I would if my voice were just as good. I don’t see that I’ve got any kick coming.
Question: How can I become a singing star? (One of the queries that are put by the thousands.)
Answer: First you must have the aptitude; you must have the desire and the voice. Then find a good teacher, work as hard as you can, read and study languages, get to be a good singer and inevitably you will be discovered.
Question: How long does it take to get into opera?
Answer: If you’ve a definite flair for singing and are already accomplished, it will take three or four years to break into some kind of opera. Ten years usually to make the Metropolitan.
Question: Can one get a break in music in America?
Answer: Yes, absolutely. Many think you have to go to Europe to start but America is actually the best place to learn, to prove yourself, and to begin a career. Tibbett never saw Europe, for example, until he was well along in his career, yet he got all the breaks there are.
Question: Are you in favor of whole operas in pictures?
Answer: I am not, in their present form. The studios should perfect and finish the job they’re doing with things like “Maytime” before they start on the more difficult task of adapting Wagner and Puccini.
Question: What subjects shall I study in school to prepare for a singing career? (Another which has been asked thousands of times.)
Answer: The first thing is to get health and keep it; without strength you’ll never be able to last through the grind of work and preparation. Then enroll in all the music, languages, literature, poetry and appreciation of poetry (since all great music is rhyme in rhythm) courses, and of course in whatever music courses you can get. Find a good teacher and let him instruct you.
Question: What’s the proper age at which a boy, or a girl, should start singing lessons?
Answer: For a boy, sixteen, after his voice has safely changed. A girl can start at fourteen or fifteen if she’s precocious and talented.
Question: How can I learn to sing when I can’t afford lessons?
Answer: If you think you’ve got a voice simply sing whenever and whereever possible. Of course there are some teachers who will take you in return for work, but your best chance is to join a good choir; most choirmasters in great churches will be willing to help you instead of paying the regular salary. The bulk of important singers started that way, and it was the way I got my first lessons. You can buy phonograph records of noted stars, too, and study them and sing with them. In a year or two, if you’re really good, someone will single you out and you won’t have to worry about money or anything else. But this is important: don’t be Bohemian and live on crusts in.a garret. Get a job and learn to do something besides sing. Earn money and study in your spare time. Live well, or you’ll lose not only your health but whatever voice you’ve got.
Question: What exercise do you suggest for me to study at home?
Answer: Learn to sing a perfect scale on all vowels. When you’ve done that ninety percent of the battle is won and the rest is memorizing scores.
Question: Aside from Miss MacDonald, with whom would you like to appear in pictures?
Answer: Any really fine actress.
Question: What part does luck play in a career like yours?
Answer: Almost no part at all. Oh, of course there are such things as breaks. But reckon without luck and then if you get it you’ll go farther than you expected.
Question: What is your philosophy of life?
Answer: Live a good life gracefully, help others do the same, find your own soul, fulfill your own destiny by using the capabilities you find in yourself.
So the compendium of all the questionnaires that you, his fans, have sent to Nelson Eddy is answered at last. Read it carefully and you will find not only a group of sincere replies but the most complete reference chart on his character ever published.