Cover image for Hollywood diva : a biography of Jeanette MacDonald
Hollywood diva : a biography of Jeanette MacDonald
Turk, Edward Baron.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xix, 467 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML420.M135 T87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML420.M135 T87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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Jeanette MacDonald, the movie musical's first superstar, was an American original whose onscreen radiance mirrored a beguiling real-life personality. Based in large part on the author's exclusive access to MacDonald's private papers, including her unpublished memoir, this vivid, often touching biography transports us to a time when lavish musical films were major cultural events and a worldwide public eagerly awaited each new chance to fall under the singer's spell. Edward Baron Turk shows how MacDonald brilliantly earned her Hollywood nickname of "Iron Butterfly," and why she deserves a privileged position in the history of music and motion pictures.

What made MacDonald a woman for our times, readers will discover, was her uncommon courage: Onscreen, the actress portrayed strong charcters in pursuit of deep emotional fulfillment, often in defiance of social orthodoxy, while offscreen she personified energy, discipline, and practical intellect. Drawing on interviews with individuals who knew her and on MacDonald's own words, Turk brings to life the intricate relations between the star and her legendary costars Maurice Chevalier, Clark Gable, and, above all, baritone Nelson Eddy. He reveals the deep crushes she inspired in movie giants Ernst Lubitsch and Louis B. Mayer and the extraordinary love story she shared with her husband of twenty-seven years, actor Gene Raymond.

More than simply another star biography, however, this is a chronicle of American music from 1920s Broadway to 1960s television, in which Turk details MacDonald's fearless efforts to break down distinctions between High Art and mass-consumed entertainment. Hollywood Diva will attract fans of opera and concert music as much as enthusiasts of the great Hollywood musicals. It is first-rate cultural and film history.

Author Notes

Edward Baron Turk is Professor of French and Film Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

This is the most comprehensive biography of MacDonald to emerge since Lee Edward Stern's Jeanette MacDonald (o.p.) and James Robert Parish's The Jeanette MacDonald Story (LJ 9/15/76). In addition to documenting her monumental Hollywood years with MGM, Turk (French/film studies, MIT) captures the operetta queen's forays into radio and television, her associations with Ernst Lubitsch, Maurice Chevalier, and‘most famously‘Nelson Eddy, and her marriage of 28 years to Gene Raymond (who died this year). MacDonald's straddling of "low" and "high" art, her ambivalence toward her "practical" movie career, and her quest to fill the spotlight as a serious operatic singer are poignant. In his afterword, the clearly adoring Turk offers an insightful, engaging cultural analysis of the MacDonald-Eddy phenomenon, broaching the "sexual politics" of the duo's sentimental, sanitized romantic films. An homage that is never salacious, always sincere, and perhaps a little "safe."‘Jayne Plymale, Stamford, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Turk (MIT) devotes 65 pages to MacDonald's childhood, early career on Broadway, and discovery by film director Ernst Lubitsch, who made her the "lingerie queen of the Talkies" in The Love Parade (1929). He goes on to look at her screen pairing with Nelson Eddy and her determination to control her career. Dubbed the "Iron Butterfly," MacDonald made things happen, as Turk shows repeatedly. She wanted to make San Francisco with Clark Gable and, to get her way, bypassed Louis B. Mayer by writing an impassioned letter to MGM's parent company in New York. That did the trick. Turk's carefully researched account includes a detailed listing of MacDonald's stage work, film credits, and "Principal Recording Sessions" and 45 pages of notes and bibliography. Turk had access to MacDonald's private papers, including an unpublished autobiography. Though written by a cinema specialist, the book is surprisingly readable; jargon is not an issue. But sometimes Turk seems unable to contain his enthusiasm for the popular Hollywood diva's "delicate soprano lyricism," her elegant wardrobe and accessories, her "gorgeous looks," and her "total conviction," so in places the book reads like an extended love letter. Nevertheless, MacDonald's career merits attention, particularly in the context of popular culture. All levels. J. M. Welsh; Salisbury State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Part 1. Born to Sing
1. "Now everybody's got to clap!"p. 3
2. Scandalsp. 14
3. Twinkling Stars and Four-Leaf Cloversp. 28
4. A Fair Princess on Broadwayp. 46
Part 2. Lingerie Queen of the Talkies
5. Lubitsch and Chevalierp. 69
6. Only a Nosep. 89
7. Vive la France!p. 107
8. Mr. Mayer and the Widowp. 130
Part 3. Hollywood Diva
9. An All-American Teamp. 153
10. The Iron Butterflyp. 175
11. Hollywood Divap. 194
12. Middlebrow Musep. 218
13. The Soprano Militantp. 240
Part 4. Echoes of Sweet Song
14. Battles Operaticp. 263
15. A Graceful Exitp. 279
16. Distress Signalsp. 292
17. "Carve your name in human hearts"p. 310
18. "Just the echo of a sigh"p. 329
Afterwordp. 337
Stage Creditsp. 345
Film Creditsp. 355
Principal Recording Sessionsp. 375
Abbreviationsp. 381
Notesp. 385
Bibliographyp. 421
Photo Creditsp. 431
Indexp. 433