Thursday, August 30, 2012
SINGER SPOTLIGHT: RUDY VALLEE
Rudy Vallee was one of the most popular vocalists of the pre-swing era. With his megaphone and nasal voice he will forever be remembered as the archetypal image of the early crooners. He was also instrumental in the careers of several other talented stars. Alice Faye, Frances Langford and Paul Weston all received their big break from him.
Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée on July 28, 1901 in Island Pond, Vermont, the son of Charles Alphonse and Catherine Lynch Vallée. Both of his parents were born and raised in Vermont, but his grandparents were immigrants. The Vallées were French Canadians from neighboring Quebec, while the Lynches were from Ireland.
Vallee grew up in Westbrook, Maine, where he played drums in his high school band. He dropped out of school and joined the Navy in 1917, at the start of America's involvement in WWI, but was soon discharged when the Navy discovered that he was only fifteen years old. Returning home, he found work as a movie projectionist and began to study the clarinet but switched to the saxophone when he first heard recordings of sax player Rudy Wiedoeft. He also re-entered high school and graduated, enrolling at the University of Maine in 1921. Hubert's fraternity brothers, knowing of his great admiration for Wiedoeft, nicknamed him 'Rudy' Vallee, a name which stuck.
In the fall of 1922 Vallee transferred to Yale University, where he worked for his tuition by playing at country clubs, social functions, and school dances, often as a member of the Yale Collegians. He also began to sing, using a megaphone to enhance his voice. It quickly became one of his trademarks and, in those days before electric amplification, was later copied by other vocalists.
In 1924 Vallee dropped out of Yale and went to London, where he worked at the Savoy Hotel, playing sax with the eight-piece Savoy Havana Band. He remained there for a year, making his first recordings. He then returned to Yale, playing in the school marching band and earning a degree in philosophy. After graduation, he briefly moved to Boston and then to the New York area, where he played alongside Tony Pastor in John Cavallaro's orchestra. Later he met bandleader Bert Lown. The two decided to form a group, fronted by Vallee, with Lown as a silent partner. It debuted in January 1928 at the Heigh-Ho Club. The band was an unusual one, consisting of two violins, two saxophones, and a piano. They played only choruses. No chorus was repeated, and no two tunes were played in the same key. Vallee sang in English, Spanish, French and Italian, using his megaphone.
The group quickly became very popular with those looking for something new and interesting. Radio broadcasts began the following month and Vallee's fame began to grow. Soon he was playing the Palace and Paramount theaters. In 1929 he appeared in his first film, Vagabond Lover, and began his long-running radio program, which was sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast.
From the beginning the main purpose of the band, the Connecticut Yankees, had been to back Vallee's singing, but Vallee himself had a large ego, which often led to resentment from many of the musicians. Despite their often hard feelings, Vallee was clearly the main attraction, and he quickly became a major star, continuing to perform on stage, appear in films, and broadcast his radio program up until the war years. In the late 1930s, he also starred in the Sealtest radio show with John Barrymore.
During WWII Vallee joined the Coast Guard, where he led a forty-piece orchestra until he was placed on the inactive list in 1944. He then briefly returned to radio. Vallee's last major hurrah as a singer was in 1943, with a reissue of the song ''As Time Goes By,'' which had recently been featured in the film Casablanca. The tune had previously been a big hit for Vallee twelve years earlier.
Vallee continued to work in film up until the 1970s. He made appearances on Broadway, where he scored a big hit in Frank Loesser's How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Vallee also appeared on television, guest starring on such programs as Petticoat Junction, Batman (as the villain Lord Phogg), Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, and CHIPs.
In the twilight of his years, Vallee’s Yankee work ethic kept spurring him on. He kept a wide correspondence with celebrities and fans; he entertained lavishly at Silver Tip, his home in California; and he played benefit concerts for many veterans’ hospitals and charitable causes. Vallee passed away July 3, 1986, with his fourth wife Eleanor at his side. As they watched the Independence Day celebrations on television, Vallee’s last words were, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be there? You know how I love a party"...