How Nelson Eddy Got in Hot Water with Two Coffee Companies

Publicity photo of Nelson Eddy from the 1937 movie Maytime
Nelson Eddy in Maytime (1937)

They were all in a dither and it was Nelson Eddy's fault.

By "they" I mean Chase and Sanborn and Maxwell House (they make coffee, or haven't you heard), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the National Broadcasting Company, a couple of advertising firms and a round dozen lawyers. It was Nelson's fault because he really should have arranged to be two young men, each with a Voice. Then he could have sung on two rival radio programs with everything lovely. As it was, conferences raged furiously on the West Coast, the East Coast, in Chicago and elsewhere, and long-distance phone calls, telegrams and what-have-you burned up the wires.

You see, Nelson was one of the bright lights on the Chase and Sanborn coffee (it's dated) hour every Sunday evening and is also under contract to make pictures for MGM, whose weekly hour is sponsored by Maxwell House (good to the last drop). You probably can imagine, therefore, into what cement-like solidity the plot thickened when MGM, having made a picture called Rosalie starring Nelson and Eleanor Powell, proposed to present Nelson in scenes from Rosalie on the Maxwell House radio hour. Chase and Sanborn, torn by the thought of his beguiling voice Pied-Pipering coffee drinkers away from their Chase and Sanborn habits and into the waiting arms of Maxwell House, promptly had a fit.

Of course, it was finally straightened out as things usually are. Nelson ultimately and legally was scheduled to endorse the merits of Maxwell House coffee by participating in the Rosalie broadcast. But, withal, everybody wasn't happy. As the morning for the first Rosalie rehearsal rolled around, tension still prevailed. Victorious though they were, the Maxwell House producers found their nerves pretty well shot and their tempers short. All the legal parleying had been too much of an ordeal and had taken up too much time. They were upset.

And then, into that jaundiced situation, bright and smiling and rarin' to go, walked Nelson wearing an immaculate gray suit, blue accessories, shoes shined to dazzling brilliance -- and a sandwich board which read:


Whereupon everybody laughed, the jaundiced gloom of the occasion was routed and the rehearsal was a great success.

"That guy'll be the death of me," a friend of mine at NBC told me, reminiscing about this and other gags staged by the reputedly staid and proper Mr. Eddy.

Marian Rhea in Radio Mirror, April 1938

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