American actress/singer Jeanette MacDonald made her first public appearance at age three, singing at a benefit show. She trained her own voice by listening to recordings, and honed her dancing and acting skills in school productions. MacDonald entertained notions of starring in grand opera, but her soprano voice, though pleasant and vibrant, was not quite up to operatic standards; she settled instead for supporting roles in Broadway musicals of the 1920s. Director Ernst Lubitsch was impressed by MacDonald's movie screen test and cast her in his 1929 film The Love Parade opposite Maurice Chevalier. In this first phase of her film career, MacDonald was not yet the "iron butterfly" that her detractors described but a bewitching, sexy young lady who was seen in her lingerie as often as the censors allowed. One of her best early films was Monte Carlo (1930), which reached a wondrous peak of Hollywood artifice as MacDonald sang "Beyond the Blue Horizon" from the observation car of a moving train, with the peasants and farmers standing by the tracks picking up the lyrics as if by ESP. Offstage she clashed with frequent co-star Maurice Chevalier to the extent that neither performer would agree to work with the other after The Merry Widow (1934). Under contract to MGM in the mid-1930s, MacDonald (with studio press-agent assistance) altered her image from a kittenish provacateur to a mature, above-reproach prima donna; she also managed to drop six years off her age in official studio biographies. In 1935, MGM teamed MacDonald with baritone Nelson Eddy in Naughty Marietta, the first of eight highly popular MacDonald-Eddy film musicals. Though mercilessly lampooned by comedians and by cartoonmaker Jay Ward's "Dudley DoRight" cartoons, the pair's films were consummately produced and strove to entertain every member of the film audience, not merely opera lovers; if there were laughable moments in these films, they were usually intentional. After I Married an Angel (1942), the singing team split. Eddy wanted to establish himself in comedy roles (which he didn't), and MacDonald trained diligently to become a bonafide opera star, finally making her operatic debut in a 1943 Montreal production of Romeo and Juliet; soon afterward, she headlined a Chicago staging of Faust as Marguerite. But MacDonald failed to impress critics, who wrote her off as a mere film personality, unsufficiently gifted to carry off a live opera. She continued making films, though -- even spoofing her own image in 1942's Cairo.Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, MacDonald toured in concert and stage productions, playing to large and enthusiastic crowds, though seldom attempting to re-establish herself as an opera diva. In 1965, MacDonald died from heart complications, with her longtime husband, actor Gene Raymond, at her side.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was a soprano singer.
- Made her Broadway debut as a chorus girl in a 1921 production of The Night Boat.
- Performed a series of concerts in Europe in 1931 to dispel a rumor that she had been killed by the jealous wife of a prince, with whom she was supposedly having an affair.
- Made her opera debut in Montreal in a 1943 production of Romeo and Juliet.
- Made eight popular musical films with actor Nelson Eddy.