I'LL SEE YOU AGAIN: THE BITTERSWEET LOVE STORY AND WARTIME LETTERS OF JEANETTE MACDONALD AND GENE RAYMOND, VOL. 1 (HARDCOVER EDITION) by Maggie McCormick
Best book of the Year - Classic Images
Volume 1: The War—and Before traces the lives of Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond, from their modest beginnings through their meeting, marriage, and their activities during World War II. It shows how they each worked hard to gain worldwide fame, found love, and created an idyllic home together, despite interference from Gene’s mother. Always patriotic, both Raymonds gave their all during World War II, both overseas and on the home front, but to the detriment of their marriage and careers. The picture on the cover was from the Raymonds’ last photo shoot before Gene was sent overseas in 1942. It was taken on the outdoor steps at their home, Twin Gables. The book includes photos from Jeanette and Gene’s collection and utilizes personal letters, private documents, and various drafts of Jeanette’s unpublished autobiography.
April 2020 CLASSIC IMAGES
Book Points by Laura Wagner
It doesn’t happen often that I am in awe of someone’s research and approach. Maggie McCormick’s three-volume I’ll See You Again: The Bittersweet Love Story and Wartime Letters of Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond (BearManor Media) is a major achievement. The work McCormick put into this is mind-blowing. I have read other MacDonald biographies and not one has come close to capturing her personality or chronicling her career. As for Gene Raymond, there’s been nothing substantial about him prior to this. Also, since others have concentrated on the team of MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, the relationship between Jeanette and Gene is fresh material.
Volume 1: The War—and Before traces the lives of Jeanette and Gene up to World War II. The author has the benefit of MacDonald’s unpublished autobiography, which fills in a lot of detail with a personal touch. Unlike previous accounts I’ve read, this one doesn’t present Jeanette as a tramp or suicidal. McCormick strikes a good balance in these pages showing that MacDonald was a warm-hearted, caring person but also human—not perfect, but not the “Iron Butterfly” as presented elsewhere. There is some diva-like behavior but it is not amplified as in other accounts. The way she and Raymond treated their fans and friends was wonderful, and it’s well documented here. Reading about how Raymond, after Jeanette’s death, cared for her sister Blossom was beautiful.
When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Gene Raymond movies. He was a particular favorite of my mother’s and she especially loved his films with Ann Sothern. She often asked about him but I could never satisfactorily answer her questions. Years ago, when the book Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair—On Screen and Off—Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy unleashed some outlandish stories about him being violent and abusive to MacDonald, Mom steadfastly refused to believe them and I agreed with her. The Gene Raymond in these books is a sweet, engaging and funny guy (as evidenced in his letters in Volume 2: The Letters). Is he complicated, insecure and sometimes uncommunicative? Yes. Also, he was plagued by a mother who was hell on wheels. I was not prepared for the personality of his mother, who wrote MacDonald many letters ordering Jeanette to leave her son alone—years into the Raymonds’ marriage! Jeanette tried to be friendly with her mother-in-law, but it never worked and the mother was relentless. (Just a sample of his mother’s craziness: “You knew that to arouse his sex emotion was not enough; you must break down his love for his mother to hold him in that condition.”)
The marriage. Everyone wonders about Jeanette and Gene because of the book Sweethearts. It has been reported that Raymond was gay and his marriage to Jeanette was a sham—that she truly loved Nelson Eddy and allegedly had several miscarriages and stillborn babies from her “relationship” with Eddy.
These stories all emanate from one source, Sweethearts author Sharon Rich, who wrote salacious things about Jeanette, Nelson and Gene. She has even alleged that she has located the unmarked graves of some of the stillborn babies that Jeanette and Nelson supposedly had. (For cryin’ out loud!) Other authors let these dubious tales slide, but McCormick confronts them head-on. Throughout the books, the author’s impeccable research is such that she pretty much knows where, on such-and-such a date, Jeanette, Gene and Nelson are. This comes in handy when she tackles the Sharon Rich claims. Her takedown (in Volume 3: After the War) is detailed and conclusive. No one who reads McCormick’s comprehensive account will come away thinking the Raymonds’ marriage was anything but the real deal. The letters they exchanged back McCormick up, and even mention their love life. Yes, the two occasionally had problems, well-chronicled in the book, but so do all couples.
I get that there’s a fantasy element with Jeanette and Nelson fans because they WANT the two together and they were disappointed that they were not. I like that McCormick doesn’t dwell on Eddy, although he is regularly mentioned because he remained friends with both Jeanette and Gene and through the years, there were several announcements that the screen team would professionally reunite after their last picture, I Married an Angel (1942).
McCormick also rebuts other questionable stories, for instance Jeanette’s interactions with Louis B. Mayer.
As I mentioned earlier, the detail is impressive. We learn about every aspect of Gene and (especially) Jeanette’s personal likes and dislikes. At times it seemed too much but ultimately, I enjoy knowing all the minutiae because it added to the whole effect and I felt like I KNEW Jeanette and Gene—not as actors and singers but as real people.
The rare photos are extraordinary. And for a couple who were supposedly unhappy (according to other reports), they sure looked as if they were having fun. A 1937 pic of the two sharing a laugh at a costume party is very sweet.
An expressive writer with a light, gentle touch, McCormick presents her facts in an even tone. Even when refuting the Sharon Rich stories, she does so without nastiness or sarcasm.
Volume 1: The War—and Before ($29.95 softcover; $39.95 hardcover); Volume 2: The Letters ($39.95 softcover; $49.95 hardcover); Volume 3: After the War ($29.95 softcover; $39.95 hardcover). If you get all three at once (which I recommend), the price is $92 for softcover; $113 hardcover).