Saturday, June 18, 2011

Jeanette MacDonald, Maggie McNamara, Ethel Barrymore

Who was born on this date:

Actress, Jeanette MacDonald was born on June 18, 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is best remembered for her musical films of the 1930’s with Maurice Chevalier in Love Me Tonight, and The Merry Widow; Nelson Eddy in Naughty Marietta, Rose-Marie, and Maytime. During the 1930’s and 1940’s she starred in 29 feature films, four nominated for Best Picture Oscars, The Love Parade, One Hour with You, Naughty Marietta and San Francisco, and recorded extensively, earning three gold records. She later appeared in grand opera, concerts, radio, and television. MacDonald was one of the most influential sopranos of the 20th century, introducing grand opera to movie-going audiences and inspiring a generation of singers.

In 1929, famed film director Ernst Lubitsch was looking through old screen tests of Broadway performers and spotted MacDonald. He cast her as the leading lady in his first sound film, The Love Parade, which starred the Continental sensation Maurice Chevalier. In the first rush of sound films, 1929–30, MacDonald starred in six films, the first four for Paramount Studios. In hopes of producing her own films, MacDonald went to United Artists to make The Lottery Bride (1930) but the film was not successful. MacDonald next signed a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox and was more successful. She took a break from Hollywood in 1931 to embark on a European concert tour. She returned to Paramount the following year for two films with Maurice Chevalier. In 1933 MacDonald left again for Europe and while there, signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her first MGM film was The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), her co-star was Ramon Novarro. The plot about unmarried lovers shacking up just barely slipped through the new Production Code guidelines that took effect July 1, 1934.

Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy

Naughty Marietta (1935), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, was MacDonald's first film in which she teamed with newcomer baritone Nelson Eddy. Victor Herbert's 1910 score, with songs like "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life", "I'm Falling in Love with Someone", "’Neath the Southern Moon", "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", and "Italian Street Song", enjoyed renewed popularity. The film won an Oscar for sound recording and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

MacDonald followed Eddy to Universal, where they were scheduled to make one film together after he finished Phantom of the Opera (1943). MacDonald marked time by appearing as herself in Follow the Boys (1944), an all-star extravaganza about Hollywood stars entertaining the troops. After MacDonald and Eddy left MGM in 1942, they appeared frequently on radio together while planning several unrealized films that would have reunited them onscreen. MacDonald returned solo to MGM after 5 years off the screen for two films. Three Daring Daughters (1948), and The Sun Comes Up (1949), teamed MacDonald with Lassie, this proved to be her final. Offers continued to come in but things never moved beyond the discussion stages partly because of MacDonald's failing health.

MacDonald suffered in her later years with heart trouble. She worsened in 1963 and underwent an arterial transplant at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. Nelson Eddy, in Australia on a nightclub tour, pleaded illness and returned to the States at word of MacDonald's surgery. After the operation she developed pleurisy and was hospitalized for two-and-a-half months. Her friends kept the news from the press until just before her release. MacDonald was again stricken in 1964. On Christmas Eve she was operated on for abdominal adhesions. She was able to go home for New Year's, but in mid-January flew her back to Houston. It was hoped that pioneer heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey, who had recently operated successfully on the Duke of Windsor, could perform the same miracle for her. She checked in on January 12, and a program of intravenous feedings was begun to build her up for possible surgery. MacDonald died two days later on January 14, 1964. MacDonald is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Actress, Maggie McNamara was born on June 18, 1928 in New York City. She became one of the most successful models of John Robert Powers' modeling agency. In 1951, she began her acting career when she took over Barbara Bel Geddes' role as Patty O'Neill in the stage production of The Moon Is Blue. Later that year, she made her Broadway debut in The King of Friday's Men. In 1953, she went to Hollywood to reprise her role in Otto Preminger's film version of The Moon Is Blue. Her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Her second film role was in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). Although her career started off well, she made only two more films after Three Coins. In the early 1960’s, she appeared in several television shows including an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "Ring-a-Ding Girl." McNamara's last onscreen role was in a 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled "The Body in the Barn."

McNamara was married to actor/director David Swift. The marriage ended in divorce and McNamara never remarried. After her last onscreen role in 1964, McNamara fell out of public view and spent her later years working as a typist in New York City. On February 18, 1978, she was found dead after a deliberate overdose of sleeping pills. According to police reports, she had a history of mental illness and left a suicide note. McNamara is interred in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

Who died on this date:

On June 18, 1950, actress Ethel Barrymore died. She was born Ethel Mae Blythe August 15, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was member of the famous Barrymore family of actors. She was the sister of actors John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore, the aunt of actor John Drew Barrymore, and the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore. She was a highly regarded stage actress in New York City and a major Broadway performer. Her first appearance in Broadway was in 1895, in a play called The Imprudent Young Couple which starred her uncle John Drew, Jr. and Maude Adams.

She appeared in her first motion picture, The Nightingale, in 1914. Members of her family were already in pictures; Uncle Sidney and Lionel had entered films in 1911 and John made his first feature in 1913. She made 15 silent pictures between 1914 and 1919 most of them for the old Metro studio. In the 1940’s, she moved to Hollywood, California. The only two films that featured all three siblings—Ethel, John and Lionel were National Red Cross Pageant (1917) and Rasputin and the Empress (1932). She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1944 film None but the Lonely Heart opposite Cary Grant, but made plain that she was not overly impressed by it. She appeared in The Spiral Staircase (1946) directed by Robert Siodmak, The Paradine Case (1947) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and Portrait of Jennie (1948), among others. Her last film appearance was in Johnny Trouble (1957). She also made a number of television appearances in the 1950’s, including one memorable encounter with comedian Jimmy Durante on NBC's All Star Revue . In 1949, Barrymore appeared in the Academy Award winning film Pinky for which she was awarded an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Barrymore married Russell Griswold Colt (1882–1959), grandnephew of American arms maker Samuel Colt on March 14, 1909. Barrymore's marriage to Colt was a precarious one from the start, with Barrymore filing divorce papers as early in the marriage as 1911, much to Colt's surprise. At least one source claims that Colt abused her and also that he fathered a child with another woman while married to Barrymore. They divorced in 1923 and, quite surprisingly, she did not seek alimony from Colt, which was her right. Ethel Barrymore never remarried. On June 18, 1959, Barrymore died of cardiovascular disease at her home in Hollywood, California and is interred at Calvary Cemetery., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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