That Eggerth didn’t successfully transition to Hollywood was in part bad luck. Universal Pictures signed her in the mid-1930s and offered her a screenplay by Preston Sturges that she says was “wonderful” — just before cost overruns on the movie version of “Show Boat” forced the company into foreclosure. She was picked up by MGM, where she asked herself, “Why are they giving me checks to do nothing?” She was especially restless since her dashing husband was on the other side of the country, singing at the Metropolitan Opera. Finally, she was offered a role — but her excitement ebbed when she read it. “What — this little thing?” she says. “I thought I was going to be [Kalman’s] Countess Maritza!” The role was a minor one in the Judy Garland film “Presenting Lily Mars,” and after “For Me and My Gal,” Eggerth got herself released from her studio contract and went off to supervise her husband. The Sturges screenplay? Torn up. “I did not want to risk that anybody would see it and perhaps copy.”
Her real-life romance, however, had many of the earmarks of one of Sturges’s screwball 1930s romantic comedies. Having worshiped Kiepura from afar when she first heard him when she was 14 — he was 10 years older — she found a kind of mutual antipathy when they actually met on the set of “My Heart Calls You” in 1934. Still, she couldn’t help noticing that when he was filming a romantic scene for the movie’s French version, he used mouth spray after kissing the French actress Danielle Darrieux. “He did not do that with me,” Eggerth says smugly. Within a couple of years they were married. And after a career of making films and touring together in operetta and even opera, Eggerth was devastated when Kiepura died suddenly of a heart attack in 1966. She vowed she wouldn’t sing again — until her mother, the steadfast fixture in her life, persuaded her to think about going back.
“My life was very boring,” she now says, disingenuously. “I did not go to parties. I did not drink. I had always to think about my voice.”
And she is still guarding it, carefully, at 100 years old, bemused at having survived so long with all her faculties intact.
“People ask me, How is it to be 100?” she says. “I say, I don’t know. I have no standard of comparison. You must ask me when I am 200 what it was like to be 100, and then I will be able to tell you.”