- Historic Sites
June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
It was not a happy marriage, to say the least. I had just signed to appear in George White’s Scandals that year of 1931. I went alone to Atlantic City, and during the first week of our Atlantic City tryout, our butler called me to tell me that her school-days sweetheart was coming to our apartment nightly, so I knew I was dead! The fact was that Fay Webb never really loved me. She was only interested in her “catch,” a wealthy celebrity, and a short time after our marriage, she returned to California to show her parents the white mink I’d given her and just stayed there! It was all downhill after that, and we eventually ended up in a bitter courtroom confrontation. It all happened at a time when I was supposed to be the toast of New York. I was a star of a hit Broadway show, I was the leader of one of the country’s most popular dance bands, surrounded by lovely women who made it obvious that they didn’t care about my marital status, and I was one of radio’s most successful personalities. Yet I doubt—and it should be a lesson to anyone inclined to envy the lives of celebrities—if there was then a more lonesome , unhappier person in all of Manhattan.
But didn’t women swoon over you at personal appearances?
Actually, I’m writing a book on my experiences with women right now, and believe me, I’ve got some unusual stories to tell. There was quite a bit of enthusiasm among women about me in those days. I think part of it was that they had only heard my voice on the radio and conjured up a romantic composite of me. My nickname also might have even suggested some of the fantastic appeal that Rudy Valentine had generated in 1928-1929. There had been a few complaints from escorts that I was somehow trying to take their dates away. And of course a crowd creates an emotion of its own. But all my life, and not just in situations of women meeting me for the first time, I’ve noticed that strangers often have trouble accepting me as Rudy Vallée. I don’t look like the great man anymore than Stalin or Hitler did. Maybe they expect to meet someone better looking, or maybe they thought they were meeting a more forceful man. A fellow once looked me over and then said, “Now that I’ve seen you in person I know there’s nothing wrong with my television set!”
The swooning, I guess, was mostly the result of the publicity that went along with the first movie I made, The Vagabond Lover [”Men hate him! Women love him!”] in 1929. It was one of Hollywood’s first major attempts at a “talking” musical. At the New York premiere, I sat backstage, sick at heart, as I heard half the audience walking out of the theatre. I thought I was ruined! They’re still fumigating the theatres where it played. In fact, I think it was only shown in penitentiaries and comfort stations. But it made a little money, and somehow we survived.
Would you like to do more television work?
I don’t have a great deal of confidence in my television appeal. After Steve Allen left “The Tonight Show,” I was one of the persons they tried out for the host role before it went to Jack Paar. When my turn came, I asked the producers to line me up a satirical, hurtful show, one that would make the viewers sit up and ask themselves if they were really seeing this on television. This is the sort of thing that Paar later did so successfully, but they wouldn’t do it for me. Instead, they stuck me with a magician, and the son of a bitch disappeared in a giant metal water tank for ten minutes—ten minutes of network television! Can you believe it? And the comedy sketches were amateurishly awful! I never had a chance.
In 1948 I appeared on three of Ed Sullivan’s early “Toast of the Town” programs, and the day after the first appearance, Stanley Abrams, the show’s executive producer, offered me Sullivan’s job. I didn’t want to live in New York, and I knew if I took the job, all of Sullivan’s fellow newspaper columnists would have crucified me. So I told Abrams to stick with Sullivan. “He’s inept now,” I insisted, “but the public will identify with him, and eventually, if he picks great talent (which Ed did), the public will embrace him.” Ed hasn’t been very friendly toward me since he heard about this incident and my remarks about his appeal. But I was right, wasn’t I?
Have you considered doing another Broadway show?