Gene Raymond (August 13, 1908 – May 3, 1998) was an American film, television, and stage actor of the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to acting, Raymond was also a composer, writer, director, producer, and decorated military pilot.
Raymond was born Raymond Guion on August 13, 1908 in New York City. He attended the Professional Children's School while appearing in productions like Rip Van Winkle and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. His Broadway debut, at age 17, was in The Cradle Snatchers which ran two years. (The cast included Mary Boland, Edna May Oliver, and a young Humphrey Bogart.)
His screen debut was in Personal Maid (1931). Another early appearance was in the multi-director If I Had a Million with W. C. Fields and Charles Laughton. With his blond good looks, classic profile, and youthful exuberance — plus a name change to the more pronounceable "Gene Raymond" — he scored in films like the classic Zoo in Budapest with Loretta Young, and a series of light RKO musicals, mostly with Ann Sothern. He wrote a number of songs, including the popular "Will You?" which he sang to Sothern in Smartest Girl In Town (1936). His wife, Jeanette MacDonald, sang several of his more classical pieces in her concerts and recorded one entitled "Let Me Always Sing."
His most notable films, mostly as a second lead actor, include Red Dust (1932) with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, Zoo in Budapest (1933) with Loretta Young, Ex-Lady (1933) with Bette Davis, Flying Down to Rio (1933) with Dolores del Río, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I Am Suzanne (1934) with Lilian Harvey, Sadie McKee (1934) with Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) with Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery, and The Locket (1946) with Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, and Robert Mitchum. MacDonald and Raymond made one film together, Smilin' Through, which came out as the U.S. was on the verge of entering World War II.
After service in the United States Army Air Forces Raymond returned to Hollywood. He wrote, directed and starred in the 1949 film Million Dollar Weekend. In later years he appeared in only a few films. His last major film was “The Best Man” in 1964 with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.
In the 1950s he mostly worked in television, appearing in Playhouse of Stars, "Fireside Theatre," "Hollywood Summer Theatre" and "TV's Reader's Digest." In the 1970s he appeared on ABC Television Network's Paris 7000 and had guest roles in The Outer Limits, Robert Montgomery Presents, Playhouse 90, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ironside, The Defenders, Mannix, The Name of the Game, Lux Video Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre and U.S. Steel Hour.
Following the beginning of war in Europe in 1939, Raymond felt certain the U.S. would eventually enter the war. He trained as a pilot for that eventuality, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces. He served as an observer aboard B-17 anti-submarine flights along the Atlantic coast before attending intelligence school and shipping out to England in July 1942. He served with the 97th Bomb Group before taking over as assistant operations officer in the VIII Bomber Command. He was transferred back to the U.S. in 1943 and piloted a variety of aircraft, both bombers and fighters, in stateside duties. He remained in the United States Air Force Reserve following the war, retiring in 1968 as a colonel.
On May 3, 1998, at age 89, Raymond died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. He is interred at Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery.
For his contribution to the motion picture and television industry, Gene Raymond has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7003 Hollywood Boulevard and 1704 Vine Street.
Raymond married Jeanette MacDonald in 1937. They remained together until her death in 1965. In 1974, he married Nel Bentley Hees, who died in 1995.
A 2001 biography of Nelson Eddy and MacDonald, Sweethearts by Sharon Rich, states that Raymond had affairs with men during his marriage to MacDonald. The book has documentation showing that Raymond was arrested three times for having sex with other men. This includes a photo of Raymond's arrest sheet in January 1938; a US Army nurse is named and quoted concerning his second arrest; and a retired Scotland Yard detective named Joe Sampson confirms the third arrest, which occurred in England during World War II.
The book also claims that Louis B. Mayer engineered the 1937 marriage of MacDonald to Raymond—even though Mayer knew Raymond was bisexual—to prevent MacDonald from marrying Nelson Eddy. Mayer was concerned that a MacDonald-Eddy marriage would end in divorce because of their temperaments. He was worried a break-up would destroy his lucrative box office team. Mayer was also unhappy with Eddy's desire for MacDonald to at least semi-retire so they could have children.
Shortly after their marriage, there were reports of physical abuse. When MacDonald appeared with facial bruises at a Hollywood party, Eddy went to Raymond's house and beat him senseless in his driveway, nearly killing him, an incident which was reported in the newspapers as Raymond suffering an accidental fall down a flight of stairs. In 1938, Raymond began sharing a house with a 19-year-old actor and was arrested on a morals charge after a vice raid on a homosexual nightclub, requiring MacDonald to bribe the authorities in order to obtain his release. Enraged, studio chief Mayer ordered MacDonald and Raymond to resume the appearance of a happily married couple, and, to demonstrate his power over their careers, he had Raymond blacklisted following his 1938 arrest. This is reflected in Raymond's cinematic roles. He made no film appearances between Stolen Heaven in 1938 and Cross-Country Romance in 1940. It would be a year later for his next role in Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Prior to his arrest, he had averaged four films a year.
1. Gene Raymond dies at 89, Variety, May 6, 1998.
2. "Television Features War Story". Tucson Daily Citizen. May 29, 1953. p. 16.
3. *Myrna Oliver, Gene Raymond Obituaries: Gene Raymond, 89; Actor Wed Jeanette MacDonald, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1998.
4. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force website, http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1658
5. Gene Raymond Biography (1908-1998) at FilmReference.com
6. Rich, Sharon (1994). Sweethearts. Donald Fine. p. 448. ISBN 1-55611-407-9.
7. Rich 1994, p. 303
8. Fleming, E.J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 180. ISBN 0786420278.
9. "Jeanette MacDonald | Nelson Eddy Biography – Part 3". Mac/Eddy Club.
Daly, Maury (1995). Gene Raymond: Renaissance Man. Classic Images.
Eyman, Scott (2008). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781439107911.
Baron Turk, Edward (1998). Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520924574.