Perry F. Pickering, 86, authority on Nelson Eddy

August 21, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Perry F. Pickering, a retired postal worker and well-known authority on the music and film careers of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, died of cancer Monday at his Catonsville home. He was 86.

It was while sitting in a darkened Baltimore movie theater in 1935 while watching a screen version of Victor Herbert's 1910 operetta Naughty Marietta starring Mr. Eddy and Ms. MacDonald that Mr. Pickering first fell under the spell of the singing Hollywood cinematic duo.

"From then on, that was it," said his wife of 44 years, the former Lucy F. Giustina.

For Mr. Pickering, who worked as a mail carrier for 35 years until retiring in 1973, it became a lifelong interest. He and his wife collected recordings, films and other memorabilia devoted to their two favorite stars.

Until last year when he retired for health reasons, Mr. Pickering was the U.S. representative for the Nelson Eddy Appreciation Society that is based in England. He also edited the organization's magazine, The Gold Star.

Mr. Pickering's knowledge of Mr. Eddy, a baritone, was so voluminous that he could name the songs from each of the movies he appeared in as well as other biographical data from the star's life.

Mr. Eddy, who was born and raised in Providence, R.I., made 19 films, and in the 1950s starred in a popular touring nightclub act. He died in 1967 after suffering a stroke.

Ms. MacDonald was born in Philadelphia and made her Broadway debut in 1929. She starred in 28 films. She died in 1965.

"Of course his name was linked romantically with all his leading ladies," Mr. Pickering told The Evening Sun in a 1974 article, "like Miss MacDonald, Virginia Bruce, Jessica Dragonette and the others. But he never married any of them."

Mr. Pickering who enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for the two stars with others, appeared frequently during the 1970s on WBJC-FM's The World of Operetta, a weekly radio show, that was hosted by Evening Sun music critic Alfred G. Haynes.

He also was host for discussions of Nelson Eddy films that were shown at the Westview Cinema for many years. He and his wife organized a program and 45 minutes of Mr. Eddy's music that they took to senior citizen centers and libraries.

In 1987, the couple began a Nelson Eddy program for the Elderhostel at Edinboro College in Pennsylvania.

They were contacted in 1990 by public television station WTTW in Chicago to participate in a program featuring Mr. Eddy and Ms. MacDonald.

"They agreed to send a crew to film our proceedings at Edinboro College and, together with the Jeanette MacDonald Club of California, was born America's Singing Sweethearts that was hosted by Jane Powell," Mrs. Pickering said.

"The one-hour show premiered on public television in 1993 and is now being shown regularly on Turner Classic Movies. If one looks quickly, Perry can be seen in one shot and is listed in the credits."

For years, Mr. And Mrs. Pickering, dressed formally, would travel to the Blue Room at Washington's Shoreham Hotel to enjoy Mr. Eddy's nightclub act.

"He was absolutely superb and had a fantastic voice. We met him after the performances and he was very kind and pleased to talk with us," Mrs. Pickering said.

Her husband's favorite songs were "Rosemarie" and "And When I'm Calling You," his wife said.

Mr. Pickering was born in Baltimore and raised in Fells Point. He was a graduate of Patterson Park High School and attended what is now Towson University. He served in the Army as a keypunch operator during World War II.

He was a member of American Legion Post 109. He also enjoyed big-band music and dancing, especially the tango. He also liked traveling by ship and had completed 25 cruises.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday for Mr. Pickering at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Edward Pickering of Burlington, N.C.; a daughter, Christina Yarbrough of Sitka, Alaska; a sister, Elaine Barnette of Catonsville; two granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Nancy Ricketts, ended in divorce.

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