- Historic Sites
June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
Not really. Broadway is too much of an asphalt jungle. Not that I can’t handle myself in the infighting. It’s now fairly well-known how they tried to dump me from the cast of How to Succeed . The songs I had been given were corny and almost amateurish, which was the way composer Frank Loesser had intended them to be for my role as the tycoon, J. B. Biggley. Nobody understood that I didn’t need any rehearsal of these simple songs. I had introduced songs on my radio shows, to twenty million listeners, that sometimes I had only run over once, and I refused to sit in a small, hot rehearsal room and sing the goddamned songs for three or four hours steadily, which was what Loesser had all the cast do with his songs. Loesser started the ouster, and about two weeks before the out-of-town tryouts in Philadelphia, I got the word that they wanted me out of the show. My contract was for fifty-seven weeks, which figured out to around ninety thousand dollars. They offered me forty thousand to get out. I knew that if I insisted on full payment of the contract, I couldn’t legally work at anything else for a year. But I was terribly hurt and humiliated. They had chased me for months to do it. “Nuts!” I told my agent. “I want the full fifty-seven weeks. I’ll take it and sit on my ass. The hell with them.” I don’t know whether it was the thought of paying me all that money or what, but they decided to let me stay. When the show opened and people started asking what casting genius had picked Rudy Vallée for the role of old J. B. Biggley, they all bowed their heads graciously.
With all the contacts you have in show business, the people you’ve done favors for, and the versatility of your stage successes over the past forty years, why are you now having trouble getting bookings?
I don’t really know, but I suspect that agents and jealous performers are spreading stories that my supper-club humor is too risqué or that I am anti-Semitic! The irony is that I have never been more popular, even with the young folks today. Just the other day, I called the Armed Forces Radio office and the girl kept saying, “Are you really the Rudy Vallée?” She reacted as dozens of people have on the phone, and when I walk the streets of New York, it is almost unbelievable the attention I get and the requests for my autograph everywhere. Yet I am ignored by most of the booking agents, and no one has ever offered me a television special.
Can you explain why?
The stupid sponsors, agents, and those who produce and direct are just totally unaware of the place I have in the public’s heart, and I’ve become expendable.
Broadway and show business itself never really quite accepted Rudy Vallée. My Anglo-Saxon, patrician, and aristocratic way was so foreign and totally different from the usual Broadway type, such as Milton Berle, Ben Bernie, Vincent Lopez, etc., that I was counted out long before my first year of popularity had ended, and when I continued on into more broadcasts, more stage shows, more pictures and personal appearances, my detractors simply told themselves that it was a mirage and just couldn’t be happening!
When I opened in How to Succeed , those who had always envied me for the intelligent use of my inherited talents and my way with grammar and English, were ready to commit hara-kiri! They aren’t many, but they’re sometimes able to becloud to a limited extent the image of a small-town boy who worked his way through college and kept his nose clean while carving out a niche in the jungle of show business. But it’s never enough to really hurt him with the public that has come to respect and know him as a person of modest talent, but who has put this talent to the best of its potential and who has tried to bring much pleasure into the hearts and minds of millions of Americans of all ages and all walks of life.
It kills them, after writing me off so many times in the last forty years, that I’m still here, alive and kicking!