June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
One night in February, 1928, a technician from WABC , a pioneer radio station in New York City, finished adjusting his amplifying equipment in a nightclub at 35 East Fifty-third Street and signalled his readiness to the bandleader. The young man nodded and stepped to the microphone. Eight months out of Tale University, he was a self-taught saxophonist; his singing voice was thin and edged with nasal inflections that suggested his New England upbringing; he had himself never even listened to a radio. Nevertheless, he confidently cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and launched one of the most formidable legends m show business: “Heigh-ho, everybody—this is Rudy Vallée announcing and directing the Yale Collegians. …”
The broadcast was unsponsored and prompted a mere handful of Jan mail. The owner of the Heigh Ho Club, from which Vallée derived his lifelong show-business greeting, was in fact irritated by the intrusion of radio into his establishment. Upset by the type of clientele the broadcasts attracted to his posh nightclub, he soon fired the group, carefully instructing his maître d’ to make sure the musicians did not steal anything on their way out. But Hubert Prior Vallée, born in Island Pond, Vermont, on July 28, 1901, and raised in Westbrook, Maine, the son of a druggist, was not discouraged. He correctly gauged the potential impact of the new medium, and he and his six-man ensemble—renamed the Connecticut Yankees because of complaints from his fellow alumni —continued to explore the airwaves. The response was without precedent. One radio station that offered his photograph to its unseen listeners was swamped with fifty thousand requests the first week. And within ten months the name Rudy Vallée was known in every American family that owned even a crystal set.
The tremendous response to Vallée’s radio shows led to standing-room-only theatre performances and cross-country tours, and these public appearances, which often resembled the mob scene in Ben Hur , brought him to Hollywood in 1929 for the first of some fifty movies. During the 1930’s his NBC network variety program, “The Fleuchmann Hour,” was rated second in popularity to “Amos V Andy.” As America’s first sensationally popular crooner, Vallée became front-page news. His marriages and legal problems as well as his professional achievements were eagerly recorded by the press.
Vallée, who was abruptly discharged during World War i when the Navy discovered that he was only fifteen, spent the latter half of World War n in the Coast Guard, leading a popular band that performed in hospitals and at military bases, as well as at war-bond rallies. The postwar decline m radio and big bands propelled him into the nightclub circuit, with occasional summerstock assignments, to improve his stage presence (“There was something about my movie acting that failed to inspire confidence”). In 1961 he returned to the national limelight as the costar of the hit Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying .
Today Vallée, his hair trimmed with gray but still youthful m appearance and vitality at the age of seventy, continues as an active performer. When his one-man act is not on the road, he lives with his fourth wife, the former Eleanor Noms, whom he married in /949, in their Hollywood estate, Silver Tip, a magnificent neo-Spamsh colonial home built on a hilltop in 1930 by movie actress Ann Hording. Down a flight of stone steps, next to his bantam-sized, heated swimming pool, is Vallée’s three-story museum-playhouse-wme cellar, in which he fondly displays the memorabilia of his career—everything from a photograph of the old Star Theatre in his Maine hometown, where he was once employed to hand crank silent movies, to the famous megaphones he designed to project his singing, and 258 red-leather-bound volumes of newspaper clippings. There he was interviewed for AMERICAN HERITAGE not long ago.
I guess I haven’t thrown much away, and I enjoy all these mementos and will go on enjoying them. But after I’m gone, I don’t care whether all this stuff is preserved or burned. The fact is I hate all this goddamn talk about nostalgia. I know a lot of people like to sit around and reminisce about how great the so-called golden days were, but to me, that’s a lot of crap. The past is past, that’s all. Some things are different, certainly. For instance, comedy has to be much sharper today, because the public is more hep to what’s going on. And the living habits of people have changed. Nobody wants to drag themselves away from the television set and go out to a nightclub anymore. But the basic need to be entertained by good performers is no different. No audience, then and now, will tolerate bad performers, whether it’s on network television or in a sleazy basement nightclub in Saskatchewan. I know. I’ve played both extremes.
You ’ve been quoted to the effect that you have no one great talent, that your success was largely based on timing and luck. Is this just modesty talking?
There’s no great mystery to the success saga of Rudy Vallée, although for some reason I still have a hell of a lot of trouble getting it across to the powers in show business who should know better. The lucky timing was the advent of radio, which few people wanted to take seriously at that time. But there were lots of bands performing on radio before I started, and they didn’t go anywhere to speak of. What the Yale Collegians offered from the very beginning was something different , a new sound that wasn’t only my singing solo, although most bands had a trio in those days. Actually, we would have had a trio if we had had a bass and a tenor.
Can you describe the difference?
It’s a little technical and maybe confusing to nonmusicians, but basically it consisted of playing only choruses, not arrangements as all the bands did, and of never playing two tunes in a row in the same key. I trained my band to follow signals that I gave with my right hand when it wasn’t creating notes on the saxophone. As we went into the next song, we would raise the key, and the subtle effect of these increasing and dynamic upward changes proved electric. I doubt if most of our listeners really understood the tingling effect this had on their spines and nervous systems.
Our radio shows were different in other ways, too. When we began, WABC couldn’t afford an announcer, and I leaped at the chance to run the whole show. I inherited a simple gift of speaking easily and fluently, and while the band played softly in the background, I’d introduce the next medley with little anecdotes about the songs and their composers. The result was very relaxing, it was entertaining, and, as it turned out, quite popular.
Were you at all surprised by your sudden rise to fame?
No, damn it. That’s one of the most pernicious myths about show business. As the letters poured in, only an idiot wouldn’t have realized that something terrific was going to happen. Certainly it was radio that made us famous almost overnight, and I’ve always credited our great success to the tremendous impact it had on its vast audience of millions who lived for it and loved it. What nobody wants to consider—and, I think, I get the impression it’s worse today—is the tremendous amount of hard work after one arrives! Ten years ago when I was in How to Succeed on Broadway, people kept talking about Rudy Vallée’s great comeback. Comeback, my ass! Prior to How to Succeed I had turned down an offer in 1951 to helm the Kraft TV show which Perry Como later accepted. I had recently appeared in six major films and had played in hotels and nightclubs thirty weeks a year and made numerous television appearances on major shows.
If you knew as a young man that you wanted to be an entertainer, why did you go to Yale?
A college degree was an awesome thing in those days. I enjoyed my freshman year at the University of Maine, but for a variety of reasons, including an unsuccessful love affair, I had decided to leave. But I couldn’t make up my mind whether to go on to Yale, as my folks hoped I would, or to transfer to a band school at Ithaca, New York. So I asked the advice of my idol, Rudy Wiedoeft, the great saxophonist, whose style I had adopted and whose first name—because I was constantly playing his records—had become my nickname. Wiedoeft said flatly that I could go to band school anytime, but a college education only came once.
There is a familiar photograph of you in a raccoon coat, as leader of the Tale Band in the fall of 1926, your senior year.
I worked my way through Yale, studying very hard. I was a Spanish major—in between my music jobs. For two years I got my meals free by playing with a student orchestra in the Yale dining hall. The dance five with whom I played at Yale had about three to five jobs a month. I still have vivid memories of the times I would get back to campus from these one-nighters in time to change my clothes and go to class. And then there were the weekend tea dances in hotels and country clubs from New York to Boston. Exhausting as it was, it was great experience. But how I managed to exist on so little sleep, I’ll never know.
I was older than the average undergraduate, and because ofthat and the fact that I had to work for my education, I think I got more out of it. I worked for a couple of years [1918-20] after high school as the head usher at the DeLuxe Strand Theatre in Portland, Maine, and it was there that I learned to play the saxophone. Anyone who could play the saxophone with a beautiful tone was regarded with awe, and so when I entered the University of Maine, I was a campus god, more popular than the football captain. My last two years at Yale were made possible by the money I made during the year I dropped out of college to play in an English orchestra at the Savoy Hotel in London, an offer made to me before I entered Yale. To give you a better idea of how much my formal education meant to me, in order to go back to Yale in the fall of 1925 I actually turned down a royal appointment to stay in England and teach the saxophone to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales [now the Duke of Windsor).
Yale taught me some other valuable lessons, too. At a dance my senior year in the home of one of the professors —a dear friend—I said something rather stupid to him. It was overheard and interpreted as insulting by his son. A few years later the boy went to Harvard. One night, a little drunk, he hurled a large Florida grapefruit at me from the balcony of a Boston theatre. That might not sound like a lethal weapon, but if it had hit my saxophone. … The incident got reams of publicity all over the United States, and on the rest of that tour I’d break up the audience by singing “Oh Give Me Something to Remember You By” with a wastebasket over my head.
Do you want to talk about how hard you ve worked?
I’m still working hard, or at least as hard as the people who make the billings nowadays will let me. For more than twenty years I’ve been building my one-man act, in nightclubs, hotels, and supperclubs. Yet I can’t seem to get the message across that Rudy Vallée can and does hold audiences of all ages in his palm for ninety minutes of song and patter. That’s why all this nostalgia talk annoys me. I’m not a comic. I’m not a humorist. But I have the inherited gift from my dad of telling a story better than most, and I do a really diversified program that combines old and new songs and mucho humor. I still do the old favorites, like the “Maine Stein Song” and “My Time Is Your Time,” which has been my theme song down through the years. But I also do contemporary stuff, including a parody of myself singing “Winchester Cathedral” while holding my nose.
There’s another misconception about me, and that is that I used to sell a lot of records. Sheet music, yes, but not records. My recordings didn’t sell very well in the early days—Victor dropped me from its list in 1931—and my records still don’t sell. In 1963 I recorded a bunch of drinking songs on a long-playing Decca disc and only three copies were sold—two to the Guy Lombardo Fan Club and the other to the Smithsonian Institution. In nightclubs when Tom Jones sings, the girls throw their bras and room keys on the stage. When I perform they throw their support hose and hearing aids!
Do you want to talk about how hard you’ve worked?
Those early years, whether we were based in New York or dashing around the country on one-night stands, were a frenzied blur of activity. Actually it wasn’t hard physical work, but overlong hours from 10:30 in the morning to four the next morning. It was a time of nightmare cat naps anytime and anywhere the opportunity arose, in cabs, on a chair, in the stage wings—a time in which it was easy to be frightened about doing the wrong thing at the right time and vice versa. Often I couldn’t even risk a half-hour nap because of the threat of a type of laryngitis. My throat would tighten up if I tried to sleep. I remember one particularly horrendous period over a year and a half when we were playing the famous Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, five and sometimes six shows a day, seven days a week, from eleven in the morning to eleven at night, at which point we would rush in to New York to the Villa Vallée nightclub [now the Copacabana] and play until 4 A.M. And we still somehow managed the big Thursday “Fleischmann Hour,” our three regular radio broadcasts of dance music from the club, and recording dates, plus Sunday benefits.
Do you think radio was ever as powerful as television is today?
Of course not ! You were getting only one medium … sound. But up to 1925 there had never been anything like radio. It changed everyone’s world a little, and it came along at a crucial time [the Depression], when people desperately needed entertainment of any kind and communication. And, of course, it had no real competition, only the silent-movie theatre. Once the medium caught on, everything seemed to happen all at once. It started with a handful of people with crystal sets and the earphones in a mixing bowl so the whole family could listen. Then, suddenly, there was a loud-speaker in every living room, and there were national networks of stations, with large bare studios and remote hookups. Almost overnight! Incredible! The impact was simply beyond most people’s comprehension.
I’ll give you the grand climax! About six months after we started broadcasting, I managed to get a four-day booking for the Connecticut Yankees at Keith’s Eightyfirst Street Vaudeville Two-a-Day Theatre, in Manhattan. The Keith Theatre booking agent, Bill McCaffrey, offered us a measly four hundred dollars, but I didn’t argue because I knew what was going to happen. I plugged the Keith Eighty-first Street Theatre opening on all our broadcasts from the club, and, sure enough, on opening day there were lines around the block. They pushed the manager out of the lobby, and on certain songs they cheered and threw things in the air! I don’t think Broadway had ever seen such a theatrical explosion. Before the first night was over I was asked to play the whole Keith chain. I stupidly settled for fifteen hundred dollars a week for fourteen weeks. They would have paid us ten or twelve thousand dollars!
Fame brought you wealth.
And lots of headaches. Personal and professional. I inherited the great gift of sensing the undiscovered spark of greatness in almost anything, but particularly in songs and people. The songs I’ve introduced, the shows I’ve picked or put together, the people I’ve introduced—my record speaks for itself. During my decade with the Fleischmann radio hour, we introduced so many of the performers who went on to stardom that I honestly can’t remember all their names—people like Kate Smith, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Alice Faye, Edgar Bergen, Frances Langford, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, the Mills Brothers, Dorothy Lamour, Orson Welles. I didn’t get them all, of course. The J. Walter Thompson advertising agency had some very perceptive men. But I recognized their great talents and encouraged them, and on the air I was able to help them relax on their first try.
I later managed Alice Faye, Frances Langford, and performers like Victor Borge, who, at the time I met him, had been turned down by every agency and network in Hollywood and was working in a Beverly Hills gas station to support himself. His wife told a Twentieth Century Fox executive, the night I took them to dinner at the exec’s house, that they hadn’t eaten in a day and a half!
But in financial decisions my judgment hasn’t been as consistent. I never had the guidance that Crosby and Hope always had. For instance, I worked for two years for nothing at the Villa Vallée, a supper club that enriched everyone except me. Yes, my boys were well paid. I saw to that. But at the height of my fame I worked for nothing! I didn’t think I needed to read the small print in the contract or have a lawyer do so. Another time, I learned to my sorrow that the NBC executive who handled my finances had disregarded my explicit instructions and invested me heavily in the stock market just before the big crash in 1929. I seldom was paid what I should have been getting in those early years.
Did you have the usual problems with sponsors? For instance, did they dictate the Jormat or content of your radio programs?
No! But I did encounter “creative interference” from the New York Police Department once. My first sponsor in 1928 was the Herbert Jewelry Store in Harlem—one hundred dollars for the eight of us on WMCA Sundays at 2 P.M. for an hour. To attract attention to the store I made up what may have been the first too-believable commercial in radio history. It began with a clock striking midnight, then some gun shots and a policeman’s whistle. The commercial message was contained in some sparkling dialogue between an Irish patrolman (me) and his sergeant (our first violinist) praising Mr. Herbert’s jewelry as so dazzling they couldn’t blame the thieves for wanting to steal it. You see, I was just ahead of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” Once was enough for the New York police, who complained to our sponsor.
There was—and still is—a lot of sponsor pressure on entertainers, but I have always been extremely grateful to Standard Brands, the makers of Fleischmann’s Yeast, for the artistic freedom I was given during our long association. Nobody, not even the J. Walter Thompson Agency, ever tried to tell us what songs or what tempo to play, and no sponsors’ wives ever contributed any “helpful” suggestions, and there weren’t any creep executives looking over our shoulders. Considering that our first broadcast for Standard Brands was made two nights after Black Tuesday, when the stock market crashed in 1929, the absence of any interference from our sponsor had to have been unusual, and we stayed on the air—every Thursday night on NBC, from eight to nine, Eastern Standard Time—for 520 consecutive weeks—ten solid years!
At first they paid us $2,500 a show, and we were the top sensational show of the air, which left me $1,200 after paying the band and commission. For the first two years we concentrated on our music, my vocals, and one guest artist, like Jeanette MacDonald, who performed in three “spots” during the hour. Later we broadened the format into a variety show that included comedians, excerpts from Broadway shows and plays, and interviews which I conducted with different types of persons. One week I would talk with Sherman Billingsley about running the Stork Club; another time I had a sandhog tell how his faith in God gave him the courage to work under the Hudson River on the Holland Tunnel. And we did unusual things, too, such as presenting Fred and Adele Astaire tap-dancing on radio.
When you were on Broadway in How to Succeed, there was a malicious rumor that you were renting folding chairs to the overflow audience. How did you get a reputation as such a tightwad?
I did purchase four folding chairs, but I gave them freely to be used by friends who could only get standing room. It is true that I am a thrifty person. I didn’t grow up in wealth, and I came from New England, where life is spartan and hard, and people know the value of a dollar. I am now comfortably fixed, as the saying goes, although my legendary millions are just that—legendary. After the ’29 fiasco, I’ve been careful to invest in conservative annuities. I live well, I like nice things, I go first-class, but I do have a decided aversion to exaggerated, showoff tips, especially the ones that celebrities are expected to throw around. That doesn’t mean I don’t tip. I have always tipped and tipped happily, when it was merited and even when it wasn’t. For instance, at Lawry’s, which is our favorite restaurant, I always tip the man who carves the meat, and they have told me that I am almost alone in this act, as it never occurs to the average customer that this man deserves a tip for his skill in cutting the fine beef they serve there.
However, I am convinced that the actual source of this reputation for cheapness dates back to the igso’s. In those days I used to do a lot of weekend charity performances—as many as 125 a year—and when I discovered that it was the promoters who chiefly benefited from these shows, I started a crusade against them. The promoters got their revenge by claiming that I was too money grubbing to help out a worthy cause. Yet for many years I maintained a three-hundred-acre estate and five lodge buildings in Maine where I entertained my band, wives and sweethearts, and the acts in my current stage shows once a year, for a week of the best in food, drink, boats, canoes, and what have you. I entertained hundreds of celebrities and executives for a five-day stay over a period of ten years. But lavishly , with the utmost in comfort and appointments in the Maine woods!
Why do you suppose you had all the business difficulties you mentioned?
Most of the trouble was the professional advice I did or didn’t get. No man is any better than his advisors, and I’ve had some real incompetents, mostly of my own choosing, of course. Also, a celebrity is a target for nuisance suits of all kinds. Fortunately I’ve had very few. One was a legitimate $100,000 breach-of-promise suit by a Ziegfeld chorus girl, settled for one thousand dollars. There were three litigations over the authorship of songs I’ve introduced. That’s a story in itself, really. The legal problems that can crop up over the creative ownership of a melody and lyrics are simply incredible, especially after a tune has been passed around for a while and modified extensively. I was once described—unfairly, I thought—as a song pirate. It was all part of the business, and you just had to accept it, although I still am annoyed at the way Yale treated me after I introduced the general public in 1936 to “The Whiffenpoof Song,” via radio and my recording of it. The university’s alumni secretary told me that he regarded the publication of the song as “reprehensible,” even though I merely made a new arrangement of it and introduced it, after it had lain undiscovered and unsung for many years. The lyrics of the chorus had been adapted from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and the other three composers and authors, one of whom wasn’t even a Yale man, received substantial royalties, too. I sent my first two royalty checks to the alumni fund, but after they did not acknowledge the checks, I decided to donate the rest of my royalties to my favorite charity—Rudy Vallée!
Tou mentioned that fame brought you some personal headaches.
I was thinking primarily of my second marriage. I’ve been married four times, actually three. The first was annulled, which may or may not fit my early image as a born romantic. Well, I am, in many ways, and one is women. At Yale I fell in love with the painting of a dark, sultry beauty on the cover of College Humor magazine. I wrote to the editor, saying I would like to meet her. He never answered, of course. I found her “alive” in Fay Webb in 1929. She was an extraordinarily sexy-looking girl with dark hair, heavy lashed eyes, and luscious lips that could contrive the most enchanting—and for me irresistible—come-hither smile I’ve ever seen. I was hooked the first time I saw her. Her father was the police chief in Santa Monica, and I think that MGM had her under a movie contract because of that. It didn’t matter. On our second date she consented to marry me. Two years later she came to New York, and we drove over to a New Jersey justice of the peace late one night in July, 1931, to do the deed, quietly I thought. I even tipped the J.P. several hundred dollars not to say anything, only to learn that my manager had done the same thing. But unknown to me, my manager and my new wife had already informed the newspapers.
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?
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!