If you go to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and type "New Moon" into the search engine, one of the first films that will appear is actually not the blockbuster Stephanie Meyer vampire flick The Twilight Saga: New Moon, but a much older film of the same name dating back to 1940 starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Now, unless you're a relative of mine, chances are you have never heard of these people. Allow me to enlighten you dear reader...
You see many years ago, when I just a young cupcake, my grandparents began what I like to think of as "the film education of granddaughter Meggie". I would spend a couple of weeks a year at their apartment in Utah (I was living in California at the time) and let my grandfather subject, or entertain me (depending on how you look at it) to all kinds of movies. I watched many black and white films, classics, Oscar winners, and even the occasional silent film!
My grandfather kept his VHS collection alphabetized in drawers, end tables, and closets (anywhere he could stuff them really) and had a hand-written list detailing where each film was stored. All I needed to do was refer to the sheet, make my selection, and relax on the couch for a few hours of cinematic bliss. Every now and then, my grandfather would offer up a film suggestion, and I would happily comply to his choice. Looking back now, I am amazed at all I learned from these movies, and the impact his "education" would have on me to this day (we still get together and socialize about movies).
Enter: Jeanette MacDonald.
When my grandfather was just a boy, he went to see MacDonald in a film, and immediately fell in love with the beautiful red-head. Since then, most everyone in the family knows her as "the other woman" in my grandpa's life.
MacDonald was an actress and singer in the 1930's and 40's who is credited with introducing opera into film. Grandpa would ply me with movies of the "Singing Sweethearts" Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, enumerating on his favorite songs and scenes, and the special meaning each one held for him. One of the many movies MacDonald and Eddy starred in together was titled New Moon. It's the story of hidden identities, forbidden love, and of course glorious operatic music. I have to admit, New Moon hasn't exactly withstood the test of time (a pretty weak plot and some corny scenes make it a delicious flop), however, the music and the chemistry between the stars are both very solid.
MacDonald's most successful movie would probably be the disaster flick San Francisco, in which she starred opposite screen heartthrob Clark Gable. However, if I were to suggest my favorite Jeanette MacDonald film, it would probably Naughty Marietta (voted most popular by the fans) or Rose Marie. (In fact, I love the song, Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life [from Naughty Marietta] so much, that I had it sung by the world famous tenor Lawrence Vincent at my wedding reception). However, if you were to question my grandfather, he would likely choose the sentimentally bittersweet gem Maytime (grandma likes Girl of the Golden West).
All of these movies take you directly back to the "Golden Age of Cinema" when stars were contract players for the big film studios like MGM and Fox, and Hollywood was still considered glamorous...
So, if you decide to watch New Moon this weekend, might I suggest a film that doesn't involve werewolves and teenagers, and instead begin your own film education with a glorious black and white Jeanette MacDonald classic? I'd be happy to loan you my copy!