Today is the birthday of Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965). The Philadelphia native took singing and dancing lessons as a child, sang in church and performed with a juvenile vaudeville act produced by her teacher Al White, called “The Six Little Song Birds” (or sometimes “The Six Sunny Song Birds.”) She also performed with her older sisters Elise Wallace MacDonald (1894-1970) and Edith Marie Blossom MacDonald (1895-1978), better known as Blossom Rock of The Addams Family.
In 1919 MacDonald got a job in the chorus of Ned Wayburn’s Demi-Tasse Revue . This led to another ten Broadway shows between 1921 and 1929 (the last was Boom Boom). Starting in 1929 her semi-operatic voice was put to good use in a number of popular musicals, many of them hearkening back to the early Broadway’s operetta days. Her first was the pathbreaking The Love Parade (1929) with Maurice Chevalier, Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth. Chevalier was to be a frequent co-star in her earliest films; later she was usually paired with Nelson Eddy. (When I was a kid they used to sell records of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald on television, and we, being children, would be bewildered as to who would ever buy them. Why, old people of course. This was the 1970s, when there will still people around old enough to have enjoyed Eddy and MacDonald in their heyday).
Other MacDonald movies included The Vagabond King (1930), One Hour with You (1932), Love Me Tonight (1932), The Merry Widow (1934), Naughty Marietta (1935), San Francisco (1936), The Girl of the Golden West (1938), and Broadway Serenade (1939).
By the 40s her career was seriously slowing down; by the end of the 50s it had ground to a halt completely. Well, not completely — don’t forget, in the 1970s they were selling those records!
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc