HOLLYWOOD DIVA by Edward Baron Turk

HOLLYWOOD DIVA

A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald
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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 force 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. (60 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-21202-9
Page count: 431pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1998