August 23, 1908 – Gene Raymond:
“We had 28 glorious years. Jeanette and I respected and loved each other, very deeply.”
His wife of 28 years, Jeanette MacDonald (1903 – 1965) was much more famous, but Gene Raymond had his own solid career as a leading man of stage, film and television. MacDonald was crowned as the Queen of the Movies in 1939 with Tyrone Power as her King in ceremony presented by Ed Sullivan. In case you don’t know, MacDonald was a singer and actor famous for musical films of the 1930s. During the 1930s and 1940s she starred in 29 films, four were nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards: The Love Parade (1929), One Hour With You (1932), Naughty Marietta (1935) and San Francisco (1936), which all seem like titles for pornos, but were wholesome musicals. She also made records, appeared in operas, concerts, radio shows, and television. MacDonald was one of the most influential sopranos of the 20th century, introducing opera to film fans.
MacDonald married Raymond in 1937. She met him at a Hollywood party two years earlier and MacDonald agreed to a date, but only if it was at her family’s dinner table. Raymond’s mother did not like MacDonald and did not attend the wedding. The Raymonds lived in a 21-room Mock Tudor mansion named Twin Gables with their pet dogs and their horse White Lady, which Raymond gave to MacDonald as a birthday present. After MacDonald’s death, Twin Gables was briefly owned by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips from The Mamas and Papas.
MacDonald worried about her husband’s self-esteem; his acting career was constantly shaky, and RKO Pictures eventually sold out his contract when he had two movies left to make with them in the 1950s. Although she appreciated his support, MacDonald wished that their success was equal. Raymond was sometimes mistaken for her frequent co-star Nelson Eddy by MacDonald’s fans. MacDonald:
“Of course, we always laughed it off; sometimes Gene even obliged by signing Nelson’s name, but no one will ever know the agonies I suffered on such occasions. More than anything else in the world those days, I wanted to see him receive as much acclaim as I, to spare him these humiliations.”
Raymond had a strapping, worked out body, with blond hair and blue eyes. He also worked as a singer and composer, writer, director and producer, and a decorated military pilot. Director George Sidney called Raymond “The most gorgeous thing the world had ever seen“.
His worked in theatre, films, radio and television. He played second leads in many hit movies and starred in less interesting ones, appearing in more than 40 films. His best movies are Red Dust with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, Ex-Lady (1933) with Bette Davis, Sadie McKee (1934) with Joan Crawford, Brief Moment (1933) with Carole Lombard. And Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), the only screwball comedy film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Lombard and Robert Montgomery. He played the romantic lead opposite Dolores Del Rio in Flying Down To Rio, the film to feature Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Raymond wrote, directed and starred the noir Million Dollar Weekend (1948).
He began his career in New York City, playing children’s roles in stock companies. He attended New York’s Professional Children’s School and made his Broadway debut in 1920 under his real name, Raymond Guion. He ran for two years on Broadway in The Cradle Snatchers (1922) with Humphrey Bogart.
Raymond was one of the many Broadway actors who came to Hollywood with the advent of talkies. His first film was Personal Maid with Nancy Carroll in 1931, under his new name.
He worked at several studios until he signed with RKO in 1935. His films there included: Hooray For Love (1935) with Ann Sothern, The Bride Walks Out (1936) opposite Barbara Stanwyck, and Life Of The Party (1937) with Harriet Hilliard, later of Ozzie and Harriet fame.
During World War II, he was with the Army Air Corps, but when Raymond returned to Hollywood, he found his career on the wane.
His last major film was Gore Vidal‘s vivid The Best Man (1964) with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. He worked in summer stock and appeared in television series through the 1970s.
Raymond and MacDonald appeared in just one film together, Smilin’ Through (1941). Following her death, Raymond made regular appearances at conventions of the Jeanette MacDonald Fan Club.
As a colonel in the Air Force Reserve in 1967 he flew into South Vietnam on high priority missions and won the Legion of Merit.
Raymond was a board member of the Screen Actors Guild, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Motion Picture and Television Fund. He was notorious in Hollywood for being outspoken against the studio system. The only actors that he had faith in were Astaire and Rogers, the only two people that he claimed: “…who knew what they were doing“. Sounds like he was real fun to work with. He was one of the first actors of the time to go freelance, although he admitted that it was mostly to spite the studios.
Here is where it gets juicy: Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, had arranged their marriage to prevent MacDonald from marrying her onscreen partner Nelson Eddy, which would have ruined her career. Mayer was concerned that a MacDonald-Eddy marriage would end in divorce, because of their temperaments, and then he would lose his most lucrative box office team. MacDonald had an affair with Eddy anyway, and Raymond had affairs with other men. In fact, after the wedding ceremony, MacDonald caught Raymond making out with with actor Buddy Rogers.
It gets even messier. Raymond was arrested three times for having sex with men, the last time was in England during WW II. In 1938, Raymond began sharing a house with a 19-year-old actor and was arrested on a morals charge following a raid on an underground club. MacDonald had to bribe police to obtain his release and keep it out of the press. An enraged Mayer ordered the couple to resume the appearance of a happily married couple. Although he had arranged the marriage, Mayer had Raymond blacklisted following his 1938 arrest; he made only seven films from 1940-1948, when he had averaged four movies a year prior to the arrest.
Eddy fought with Raymond when MacDonald was visibly pregnant with Eddy’s child while filming Sweethearts (1938). His injuries were disguised in the press as Raymond recovering from falling down the stairs. Raymond was unable to father children and MacDonald alluded to this, writing that she returned from her Hawaii honeymoon with Raymond, saying that “The MacRaymonds would have no children”. Still, MacDonald had additional later pregnancies while married to Raymond, all which ended in miscarriage. At that time Mayer adamantly refused to allow MacDonald to annul her marriage and elope, the situation ended with MacDonald losing her baby after the second trimester.
Over the decades, MacDonald and Eddy privately had several homes together. They also alternately stayed at homes owned by their friends including Lily Pons and Irene Dunne. In 1963, MacDonald and Raymond moved into two adjoining eighth floor apartments in Westwood. Eddy had his own apartment on the seventh floor which MacDonald decorated and they used it as their rendezvous spot. After Eddy’s death, his widow learned of the apartment and moved into it.
Forbidden to marry by Mayer, MacDonald and Eddy performed their own secret wedding ceremony at Lake Tahoe while filming Rose Marie (1936). They considered that “by God’s laws” they were married although they were never able to do so legally. Each autumn they returned to Tahoe to renew their vows. As late as 1948, MacDonald’s diary has a “Lake Tahoe” entry. Eddy called her “my wife” in private to the end of his life.
Besides Rogers, Raymond had affairs with Rock Hudson, Cesar Romero and Robert Stack.
MacDonald took her final bow in 1965, with Raymond by her hospital bed, she was 61 years old, taken by heart failure. Eddy lasted two more years, singing his last note while performing at the Sans Souci Hotel in Palm Beach, stricken on stage with a cerebral hemorrhage, gone at 65. Raymond outlasted them both. He was taken by pneumonia in 1998, at 89 years old. He is buried next to MacDonald at Forest Lawn, the one in Glendale.