Q. Why did you write Jeanette MacDonald On the Air?
A. When I was researching my previous book, I’ll See You Again: The Bittersweet Romance and Wartime Letters of Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond, I found material about Jeanette’s radio and TV appearances that I didn’t have room to include. Many sources inaccurately reported that Jeanette retired in 1949 after her last movie, The Sun Comes Up, was released. I wanted to prove that wasn’t true. She did many recitals, concerts with symphony orchestras, stage musicals, and radio and TV broadcasts through the early 1960s. Over thirty years ago, a Nelson Eddy discography was published that had information about many of his broadcasts. I thought Jeanette deserved equal time.
Q. What is unique about Jeanette MacDonald On the Air?
A. The book isn’t just a list of credits. I had access to many publications from Jeanette and Nelson’s fan clubs so I was able to share reports from fans who heard or saw Jeanette’s radio and TV appearances. In some cases, fans attended the broadcasts and described funny things that happened before, during, and after Jeanette went on the air. Nelson loved to pull comic antics to entertain the studio audiences. Jeanette’s husband, Gene Raymond, often attended and he and Jeanette visited with fans after the shows. Reading these stories helps give a sense of what it was like to be at the broadcasts. I also included information on programs that Jeanette was rumored to have been on, but she had to cancel or the announcements about her appearing were premature. I wanted the book to be as complete and accurate as possible.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing research?
A. Three things stand out. First, I was surprised that Jeanette made her radio debut in 1927, two years before most sources mention her being on the air. I also found it interesting how many songs she sang on the radio long before she sang them on screen. Finally, there were rumors that Jeanette and Nelson’s fan clubs didn’t get along. While the co-presidents of one of his clubs preferred Risë Stevens and seldom mentioned Jeanette, his other clubs often wrote about her, whether she was performing with Nelson or not. I found reviews and reports on some of her solo radio and TV appearances in Nelson’s fan club journals, including a few that weren’t mentioned in Jeanette’s fan clubs, which was a shock. I hope my book dispels these rumors.
Q. What was the most difficult thing about working on Jeanette MacDonald On the Air?
A. Many of Jeanette’s broadcasts weren’t mentioned in standard sources like newspapers and trade papers. When they were, often they just listed that she was a guest, with no further information. I wanted to include as many details as possible, like other guests, what she sang, etc. I was able to fill in the blanks on numerous programs, thanks to fan club reports and listening to or watching as many shows as possible.
Q. Did Jeanette like being on radio and TV?
A. Being the perfectionist that she was, she didn’t like live broadcasts because there were no retakes. She often talked about how the radio made her nervous and how live television was so hectic that performers were worn out before they went on the air. Despite that, she loved performing before live audiences in recitals and concerts. I assume the difference was that her audiences were hundreds or thousands while broadcasts went to millions of homes. She also was more in control in recitals and concerts, since she was able to pick her own material, talk directly to the audience, and, if something went wrong, she could laugh it off and start over.
Q. Did many of Jeanette’s broadcasts survive?
A. Numerous radio appearances were preserved by fans, archives, and Jeanette and Gene Raymond themselves. Television is more difficult to find since many of the programs were live, but there are some kinescopes in archives and private collections. A selection of radio and television broadcasts can be found on YouTube, Internet Archive, and from dealers.
Q. What is included in the book’s appendices?
A. Volume 2 has two appendices. One includes information on film shorts and newsreel footage featuring Jeanette, some of which aired on television. The other is about televised spoofs and tributes. Carol Burnett and Edie Adams appeared in the most skits. However, everyone from Cher to Barbra Streisand to Bonanza’s Dan Blocker to the Muppets portrayed Jeanette, proving how she remained relevant to popular culture long after her death.