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 Based in large part on the author's exclusive access to MacDonald's private papers, including her unpublished memoir, this vivid, often touching biography transports us to a time when lavish musical films were major cultural events and a worldwide public eagerly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 characters 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.
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(229mm x 152mm x 31mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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US Kirkus Review »
In a dazzling blend of entertainment and scholarship, America's top prewar musical film star is convincingly rethroned as "an exemplary part of our American heritage." Film scholar Turk (French and Film Studies/MIT) carries honey-haired MacDonald from her hometown Philadelphia musical training and early operas to her eventual Broadway success and to discovery in 1929 by Paramount's Ernst Lubitsch ("I have found the queen!" he cried on their first meeting). Royalty she did become: Paired with Maurice Chevalier and others in pre-Code films including The Love Parade, she metamorphosed into the "Lingerie Queen of the Talkies," who radiated erotic longing in song. By the late 1930s at MGM, she was film's number-one female moneymaker, with movies including San Francisco (which Clark Gable nearly refused to make with her) and various hits with baritone Nelson Eddy. Throughout her roles, the "Iron Butterfly's" refusal to go horizontal for advancement, her battles with studio heads, and her stable 27-year marriage to actor Gene Raymond, she showed herself to be an unusually poised and morally confident woman. But films were hardly all she wanted. From the late 1930s through the 1950s, she brought her lyric soprano voice and classical works to wildly receptive small-town America, hoping to prove herself "a bona fide concert singer, not a picture player on parade" and to show that "an appreciation of an elite art did not require elite birth." Turk convinces readers of MacDonald's status as a democratizing fume for music and as a commando of sophisticated eroticism. A joyful, enlightening analysis of a now-misunderstood star who answered immigrant American desires for a shared national culture. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Edward Baron Turk
Edward Baron Turk is Professor of French and Film Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the prize-winning Child of Paradise: Marcel Carne and the Golden Age of French Cinema (1989).