Rudy Vallée

Rudy Vallée
Background information
Birth name Hubert Prior Vallée
Born (1901-07-28)July 28, 1901
Island Pond, Vermont, United States
Died July 3, 1986(1986-07-03) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation(s) Singer, actor, bandleader, entertainer
Instruments Saxophone, vocals
Years active 1924–1984
Labels Harmony, Victor, Hit of the Week, Columbia, Bluebird, Melotone

Rudy Vallée (July 28, 1901 – July 3, 1986) was an American singer, actor, bandleader, and entertainer.

He was one of the first modern pop stars of the teen idol type. In the words of a magazine writer in 1929, "At the microphone he is truly a romantic figure. Faultlessly attired in evening dress, he pours softly into the radio's delicate ear a stream of mellifluous melody. He appears to be coaxing, pleading and at the same time adoring the invisible one to whom his song is attuned."[1]

Early life

Rudy Vallée aged five

Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée in Island Pond, Vermont, the son of Charles Alphonse Vallée and Catherine née Lynch. Both of his parents were born and raised in Vermont; however his grandparents were immigrants. The Vallées were francophone Canadians from neighboring Quebec, while the Lynches were from Ireland. Vallée grew up in Westbrook, Maine.

In 1917, he decided to enlist for World War I, but was discharged when the Navy authorities found out that he was only 15. He enlisted in Portland, Maine on March 29, 1917, under the false birthdate of July 28, 1899. He was discharged at the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, on May 17, 1917 with 41 days of active service.[2]



Rudy Vallée, c. 1929

After playing drums in his high school band, Vallée played clarinet and saxophone in various bands around New England as a teenager. From 1924 through 1925, he played with the Savoy Havana Band at the Savoy Hotel in London, where his fellow band-members discouraged his attempts to become a vocalist.[3] He then returned to the United States to obtain a degree in philosophy from Yale, where he played in the Yale Collegians with future New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno.[4]

After graduation, he formed his own band, "Rudy Vallée and the Connecticut Yankees", having named himself after influential saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft.[5] With this band, which featured two violins, two saxophones, a piano, a banjo and drums, he started singing (supposedly reluctantly at first). He had a rather thin, wavering tenor voice and seemed more at home singing sweet ballads than jazz numbers. However, his singing, together with his suave manner and boyish good looks, attracted great attention, especially from young women.[6] Vallée was given a recording contract and in 1928, he started performing on the radio.

Vallée became the most prominent, and arguably the first, of a new style of popular singer, the crooner.[6] Previously, popular singers needed strong projecting voices to fill theaters in the days before the electric microphone. Crooners had soft voices that were well suited to the intimacy of the new medium of the radio. Vallée's trombone-like vocal phrasing on "Deep Night" would inspire later crooners such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como to model their voices on jazz instruments.

Rudy Vallée megaphone crafted in between shows at the New York Palace in May 1929

Vallée also became what was perhaps the first complete example of the 20th century mass media pop star.[6] Flappers mobbed him wherever he went.[6] His live appearances were usually sold out, and even if his singing could hardly be heard in those venues not yet equipped with the new electronic microphones, his screaming female fans went home happy if they had caught sight of his lips through the opening of the emblematic megaphone he often sang through. A brief caricature of him in the Fleischer Brothers' color Betty Boop theatrical short cartoon from 1934 Poor Cinderella depicts him singing through a megaphone.[7] Another caricature is found in Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee, a cartoon which parodies the popularity of himself, Bing Crosby, and Russ Columbo.

His success was marveled and scoffed at during its height. Radio Revue, a radio fan magazine, held a contest in which people wrote letters explaining his success. The winning letter, written by a gentleman who did not particularly care for Vallee's music, said: "Rudy Vallee is reaping the harvest of a seed that is seldom sown this day and age: LOVE. The good-looking little son-of-a-gun really and honestly LOVES his audience and his art. He LOVES to please listeners—LOVES it more than he does his name in the big lights, his mug in the papers. He loved all those unseen women as passionately as a voice can love, long before they began to purr and to caress him with two-cent stamps."[8]

Vallée's recording career began in 1928 recording for Columbia Records' cheap labels (Harmony, Velvet Tone, and Diva). He signed to Victor in February 1929 and remained with them through to late 1931, leaving after a heated dispute with company executives over title selections. He then recorded for the short-lived, but extremely popular "Hit of the Week" label (which sold records laminated onto cardboard). In August 1932, he signed with Columbia (where they gave him a special designed label) and stayed with them through 1933; he returned to Victor in June 1933. His records were issued on Victor's new budget label, Bluebird, until November 1933 when he was moved up to the full-priced Victor label. He stayed with Victor until signing with ARC in 1936, who released his records on their Perfect, Melotone, Conqueror and Romeo labels until 1937 when he returned to Victor.

Rudy Vallée & His Connecticut Yankees on Manhattan Beach. Sixty-five thousand people showed up that day.[9]

Along with his group, The Connecticut Yankees, Vallée's best known popular recordings included: "The Stein Song" (aka University of Maine fighting song) in 1929[10] and "Vieni, Vieni" in the latter 1930s. Vallée sang fluently in three Mediterranean languages, and always varied the keys, thus paving the way for later pop crooners such as Dean Martin, Andy Williams and Vic Damone. Another memorable rendition of his is "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", in which he imitates Willie Howard's voice in the final chorus. One of his record hits was "The Drunkard Song", popularly known as "There Is a Tavern in the Town." Vallée couldn't stop laughing for the last couple of verses – supposedly he struggled to keep a straight face at the corny lyrics, and the band members egged him on. He managed a second take reasonably well. The "laughing" version was so infectious, however, that Victor released both takes (take 1 was issued on Victor 24721 with a regular Victor label, and take 2 was issued on Victor 24739 on a special white label that read in bright red: "Dear Rudy, What do you say we let the public have this one? The slip-up makes the record sound funnier" – E. Wallerstein" and "O.K. – R. Vallée".)

Vallée's last hit song was the 1943 reissue of the melancholy ballad "As Time Goes By", popularized in the feature film Casablanca in 1943 (due to the mid-1940s recording ban, Victor reissued the version he had recorded 12 years earlier[11]). During World War II, Vallée enlisted in the United States Coast Guard to help direct the 11th district Coast Guard band as a Chief Petty Officer. Eventually he was promoted to Lieutenant and led the 40 piece band to great success. In 1944 he was placed on the inactive list and he returned to radio.[12]

Vallée, c. 1934

Vallée's song compositions and adaptations included "Oh! Ma-Ma! (The Butcher Boy)" in 1938, recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, "Deep Night", which was recorded by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, "If You Haven't Got a Girl", "Violets", "Where To", "Will You Remember Me?", "We'll Never Get Drunk Any More", "Sweet Summer Breeze", "Actions Speak Louder Than Words", "Ask Not", "Forgive Me", "Charlie Cadet", "Somewhere in Your Heart", "You Took Me Out of This World", "Old Man Harlem" with Hoagy Carmichael, which was recorded by the Dorsey Brothers band, "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover", and "Betty Co-Ed".

By the late 1930s, Vallée's voice had grown considerably deeper and more robust, noticeable when compared to the gentle tenor voice of his early recordings. His voice had shifted to baritone by middle age. In 1967 he recorded a new record album called "Hi-Ho Everybody." It was produced by Snuff Garrett and Ed Silvers for Dot Records on its Viva label; arranged by Al Capps. The engineers were Dave Hassinger and Henry Leroy. Included on the album were songs: "Winchester Cathedral", "Michelle", "My Blue Heaven", "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi", "Who Likes Good Pop Music?", "Bluebird", "Who", "Lady Godiva", "Mame", "The Whiffenpoof Song", "Strangers in The Night", and "One of Those Songs".

Rudy Vallée on The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour in 1933. He always signed on saying, "Heigh-ho, everybody!"

In 1995, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[13]


In 1929, Vallée began hosting The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour, a very popular radio show at the time that featured various film performers of the era, such as Fay Wray and Richard Cromwell in dramatic skits. Vallée continued hosting popular radio variety shows through the 1930s and 1940s, such as the Royal Gelatin Hour, Vallee Varieties, and The Rudy Vallee Show.

When Vallée took his contractual vacations from his national radio show in 1937, he insisted his sponsor hire Louis Armstrong as his substitute[14] (this was the first instance of an African-American fronting a national radio program). Vallée also wrote the introduction for Armstrong's 1936 book Swing That Music.


Vallée as bandleader Skip Houston in Sweet Music

In 1929, Vallée made his first feature film, The Vagabond Lover for RKO Radio. His first films were made to cash in on his singing popularity. While his initial performances were rather wooden, his acting greatly improved in the late 1930s and 1940s, and by the time he began working with Preston Sturges in the 1940s, he had become a successful comedic supporting player. He appeared opposite Claudette Colbert in Sturges's 1942 screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story. Other films in which he appeared include I Remember Mama, Unfaithfully Yours and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

In 1955, Vallée was featured in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, co-starring Jane Russell, Alan Young, and Jeanne Crain. The production was filmed on location in Paris. The film was based on the Anita Loos novel that was a sequel to her acclaimed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gentlemen Marry Brunettes was popular throughout Europe at the time and was released in France as A Paris Pour les Quatre ("Paris for the Four"), and in Belgium as Tevieren Te Parijs.

Vallée performed on Broadway as J.B. Biggley in the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and reprised the role in the 1967 film version. He appeared in the campy 1960s Batman television show as the villain Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and in 1971 made a television appearance as a vindictive surgeon in the Night Gallery episode "Marmalade Wine."[15] He toured with a one-man theater show into the 1980s, occasionally opening for The Village People.

Personal life

Vallée was married four times:

  1. Leonie Cauchois (11 May 1928 - 1928)
  2. Fay Webb (6 July 1931 - 20 May 1936) (divorced)
  3. Jane Greer (2 December 1943 - 27 July 1944) (divorced)
  4. Eleanor Norris (3 September 1949 - 3 July 1986) (his death)[16]

Eleanor wrote a memoir, My Vagabond Lover.

Always loyal to Yale University, he never forgot his Maine roots, and maintained an estate at Kezar Lake in Maine.[17]

Vallée died of cancer at his home on July 3, 1986 while watching the televised centennial ceremonies of the restored Statue of Liberty. His wife said his last words were: "I wish we could be there; you know how I love a party".[18] He is interred in St. Hyacinth's Cemetery in Westbrook, Maine.[19]


Vallée and Fay Webb, 1931

Vallée was known for possessing a quick temper and for using foul language, especially during rehearsals. Longtime NBC announcer George Ansbro wrote in his memoirs that Vallée "had quite a temper and a very foul mouth...Almost always the butt of his nastiness was the orchestra...his outbursts were mean-spirited, and he didn't care who overheard".[20] Alton Cook, however, wrote that "Rudy Vallee may be fuming at his orchestra, but a Vallee hour rehearsal never quite loses its air of being a gathering of old friends...Rudy is grimly serious about rehearsal. He sometimes has his band spend a quarter-hour going over one short passage that doesn't satisfy him. On those occasions his temper wears thin..."[21]

During his divorce from Fay Webb, Webb alleged that "Vallee is possessed of a violent, vicious and ungovernable temper, and given to the use of blasphemy and the use of intemperate, vile and vituperative language, particularly when applied to [her]". She also accused him of committing adultery with three women, including actress Alice Faye. Vallée denied the allegations and the judge found that Vallée "was not guilty of any misconduct or maltreatment of [Webb] which detrimentally affected [her] health, physical or medical condition".[22]

Vallée got into a fistfight with producer George White on the set of George White's Scandals. Dorothy Brooks wrote in 1936, "Other stars on the air have their troubles, their disagreements, and yet you don't read about their ending in black eyes. Only Rudy Vallee seems to figure in endings of this kind." In an interview with Brooks, Vallée claimed he found fighting "savage and stupid" and "the wrong way to try to solve problems, because it never solves them." When asked why he got into fights, he replied, "I just lost my temper. I'll admit I have a too-quick temper."[23]


Selected filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1929 Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees Himself Vitaphone Varieties #771;[24] although the film is lost, the soundtrack survives, containing the songs "Deep Night" and "Outside"[25]
1929 Radio Rhythm Himself
1929 The Vagabond Lover Rudy Bronson First feature film
1929 Glorifying the American Girl Himself
1930 College Sweethearts
1931 Kitty from Kansas City Himself
1931 Musical Justice Judge
1932 The Musical Doctor Dr. Vallee
1932 Rudy Vallee Melodies Himself
1933 International House Himself
1934 George White's Scandals Jimmy Martin
1934 Hollywood on Parade # B-9 Himself
1935 Sweet Music Skip Houston
1938 Gold Diggers in Paris Terry Moore Alternative title: The Gay Impostors
1939 Second Fiddle Roger Maxwell
1941 Time Out for Rhythm Daniel "Danny" Collins
1942 The Palm Beach Story John D. Hackensacker III
1943 Happy Go Lucky Alfred Monroe
1945 Man Alive Gordon Tolliver
1946 People Are Funny Ormsby Jamison
1946 The Fabulous Suzanne Hendrick Courtney, Jr.
1947 The Sin of Harold Diddlebock Lynn Sargent Alternative title: Mad Wednesday
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer Tommy Alternative title: Bachelor Knight
1948 I Remember Mama Dr. Johnson
Unfaithfully Yours August Henshler
1949 Mother Is a Freshman John Heaslip Alternative title: Mother Knows Best
The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend Charles Hingleman
Father Was a Fullback Mr. Roger "Jess" Jessup
My Dear Secretary Charles Harris
1950 The Admiral Was a Lady Peter Pedigrew (Jukebox king)
1954 Ricochet Romance Worthington Higgenmacher
1955 Gentlemen Marry Brunettes Himself
1957 The Helen Morgan Story Himself Alternative titles: Both Ends of the Candle
Why Was I Born?
1967 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying J.B. Biggley
1968 Live a Little, Love a Little Louis Penlow
The Night They Raided Minsky's Narrator
1970 The Phynx Himself
1975 Sunburst Proprietor Alternative title: Slashed Dreams
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Autograph Hound
Year Title Role Notes
1956–1957 December Bride Himself 2 episodes
1957 The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Himself 1 episode
1967 Batman Lord Marmaduke Ffogg 3 episodes
1969 Petticoat Junction Herbert A. Smith 1 episode (But I've Never Been In Erie, Pa)
1970 Here's Lucy Himself 1 episode
1971 Night Gallery Dr. Francis Deeking 1 episode
1971–1972 Alias Smith and Jones Winford Fletcher 2 episodes
1976 Ellery Queen Alvin Winer 1 episode
1979 CHiPs Arthur Forbinger 1 episode ("Pressure Point")
1984 Santa Barbara Elderly Con 1 episode


Magazine covers


See also


  1. "What is the Secret of Rudy Vallee's Success?". Radio Revue. New York: Radio Revue, Inc. December 1929. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  2. Maine Military Men, 1917–1918 [database online available through . This database was abstracted from "Roster of Maine in the Military Service of the U.S. and Allies in the World War, 1917–1919." Vol I–II. Augusta, Maine, U.S.A., n.p., 1929].
  3. Rust, Brian, "The Savoy Havana at the Savoy Hotel, London", sleeve notes to disc 2 of World Record Club LP set SH165/6, issued 1971
  4. "Cartoonist Peter Arno of the New Yorker Dies". The Milwaukee Journal. February 23, 1968. Part 1, p. 20.
  5. How Rudy Wiedoeft's Saxophobia Launched the Saxual Revolution
  6. 1 2 3 4 Whitcomb, Ian. "The Coming of the Crooners". Sam Houston University. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
  7. Vallée's cameo in Poor Cinderella is at 7:10–7:24, viewable at
  8. Hansen, Martin (January 1930). "Mere Man Wins First Prize in Rudy Vallee Contest". Radio Revue. New York: Radio Revue, Inc. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  9. Grace, Mary P. (May 1935). "An Open Letter to Mrs. Rudy Vallee". Radio Stars. New York: Dell Publishing, Co. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  10. "The Maine Stein Song by Rudy Vallée Songfacts".
  11. Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 1, side A.
  12. USCG: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved on 2012-01-30.
  13. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  14. Features Archives. (March 1, 2002). Retrieved on 2012-01-30.
  15. Skelton, Scott; Astin, Jim Benson ; with a foreword by John (1999). Rod Serling's Night gallery : an after-hours tour (1st ed.). Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-8156-0535-8.
  16. "Rudy Vallee - Biography". IMDb., Inc. 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  17. C. Stewart Doty, "Rudy Vallee: Franco-American and Man from Maine", Maine Historical Society Quarterly 1993 33(1): 2–19
  18. LA Times, July 4, 1986
  19. Rudy Vallée at Find a Grave
  20. Ansbro, George (2000). I Have a Lady in the Balcony: Memoirs of a Broadcaster in Radio and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 89. ISBN 9780786443185. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  21. Cook, Alton (April 18, 1937). "Rudy Accts Like Real Tough Guy". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  22. Fay Webb Vallee v. Hubert Prior Vallee. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  23. Brooks, Dorothy (August 1936). "Why I Always Have to Fight". Radio Mirror. Broadway, New York: Macfadden Publications, Inc. Retrieved December 31, 2015.
  24. Picking, Patrick (2007). "Vitaphone Thrills the World During Event-Filled Year". The Vitaphone Project. Patrick J. Picking. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  25. "Rudy Vallee & His Connecticut Yankees Vitaphone". SoundCloud. Vitaphone. 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2016.

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