Nelson Eddy was born on June 29, 1901 to parents Isabel and Bill Eddy in Providence, Rhode Island. A family of great musical background, Nelson grew up with music all around him and when times got rough, he was always able to seek music or art to help detach himself from his worries.
Born in New England, during the time puritan ethics were intact, Nelson was always concerned with being truthful and ethical and to the surprise of Nelson himself, this would cause problems later in his life (girls we flock to him in hoards, to see the handsome blonde baritone who was everyone's ideal). In fact, Jeanette MacDonald (long time partner in Hollywood), would always make fun of how the women crowded around him. Nelson would be considered a child prodigy in modern terms, he had a natural affinity for art, music, language, and really loved to read, in doing so he was always educating himself. Always a perfectionist, giving his heart and his best into everything he did.
Surprisingly, Nelson did not go to high school, because he had a genuine obligation to support his Mother. Nelson was incredibly close to his mother as his parents were drifting apart and eventually separated when Nelson was fourteen. So, always following his heart, he gave up the prospect of going to school and started work for Isabel's brother as a telephone operator. He would later be fired from the job for singing to his customers, but he found his next job more satisfying...working for a newspaper.
While working, however, Nelson continued studying through correspondence and Author Gail Lulay said in her book America's Favorite Baritone that Nelson "believed that the object of education was to train the whole moral and intelligent being --- not just the intellect." Throughout his life, Nelson never stopped reading or learning, he always continued to improve upon perfection (we do not have many role models for young adults like that in The United States today!). When it came to music, Nelson was still working towards paying for music lessons and supporting his mother, yet with all this and much more to handle, at this time and began to train himself listening to the recordings of the greatest baritones of his time. He was told later on that he did not breath right and so on, yet before he began formal training it was not the technique that brought people to tears or to great emotional heights when he sang, it was his own love of singing aloud and his sincerity, qualities that are just not learned.
Nelson soon landed himself in concerts and opera and learned many languages fluently, of course after some time that is. It was not easy for him by a long shot of course and generally he felt as if the world was against him and his family were the only ones who really believed he would be
successful. Nelson really loved performing for a live audience and though his dream was to be in opera, he felt he might not be good enough to make the grade on a long term basis. Hollywood beckoned him, after he took the place of Lotte Lehmann and was a "brilliant success" after eighteen encores and numerous curtain calls. Actually, it was Ida Koverman who convinced MGM head L. B. Mayer to sign Nelson up with a player's contract. After a great deal of thought, Nelson was hooked because of the fresh new sound technology that was only five years old and he was interested in the whole process. However, the contract did not allow him to do concerts and he really felt he had made a big mistake when he signed, in fact he made sure he had at least three months of concertizing a year after he signed his next contract.
It was not until Nelson was teamed up with Jeanette MacDonald that he had a real part and real success in film. The team made their first picture "Naughty Marietta," and in 1935 the public fell madly in love with the duo. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy fan clubs began popping up and Nelson was an over night sensation. Overnight? Well, he was known around the country for radio shows, concerts, and opera, but this time millions of people watched him and Nelson was quite fond of the idea of reaching out to as vast an audience as he could. His audience was equally grateful, especially the feminine population, he was stormed by young girls dreaming of landing the blonde baritone and Nelson was not sure exactly how to approach the masses, he could handle small groups for sure graciously and quietly, but he was forever mobbed and his shy, humble persona, did not adjust or conform to Hollywood standards.
Nelson Eddy's first big break in film was in his first leading role with Jeanette MacDonald, Naughty Marietta. As a team, they would make seven more films together and arguably become the most popular team in film history. Certainly, together the two were magical. Nelson was in a total of nineteen movies and during that time, he also was busy with concerts and radio. Eddy married Ann Franklin on January 19, 1939, away from the cameras by eloping in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ann had a son named Sidney Franklin Jr., of which Nelson took under his wing with the marriage.
Nelson liked to keep busy, so when he no longer was in films, he found himself in a rut. The accumulated time picked up it's pace especially when concertizing became a thing of the past. Suddenly, Nelson had to take a turn in his career to either Television or Night clubs, as Opera had taken a back seat in his mind by this time. I often wonder if it would have been better for both Ann and Nelson, if Television had chosen Nelson, because really, his decision was made for him when a Television deal fell through. So nightclubs it was, Nelson spent the rest of his life performing all over the country and made several trips to Australia once he picked up a new partner, the young and talented Gale Sherwood. Nelson and Gale were one of the most famous nightclub acts during the 50's, Nelson still had that spark of magic burning bright within him and Gale was a good match to his talent, unfortunately she was always overshadowed by Jeanette MacDonald.
As fate would have it, Nelson had a cerebral hemorrhage on stage at the Sans Souci Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, during one of his night shows with Gale Sherwood and during the early morning, on March 6th, 1967, the world lost the physical embodiment of half of America's Singing Sweethearts.
Nelson simply loved to sing, he was a "truth seeker," he wanted perfection for himself and would go to any odds to attain what he wanted in a gentle
and compassionate manner. To me, Nelson is someone who has wrongly been forgotton by American popular culture and a man who should be remembered for the incredible talent, persona, and the beauty of his baritone voice. Nelson really was an ideal to all his female fans and still is today, he and Jeanette were real royalty of the silver screen. I cannot see how anyone could say he was anything but what he was, an incredibly talented and
dashing young man with morals and mannerisms to match. Nelson sings with a sincerity and compassion that not many have ever truly owned, the only other person I can think of is Judy Garland. A man who was at one time the highest paid singer for fourteen straight years. One who stole heats on a National and International level. A man that I hope will never be forgotten.