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Rudy Vallée

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Rudy Vallée
Vallée c. late 1920s
Vallée c. late 1920s
Background information
Birth nameHubert Prior Vallée
Born(1901-07-28)July 28, 1901
Island Pond, Vermont, U.S.
DiedJuly 3, 1986(1986-07-03) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresTraditional pop
  • Singer
  • musician
  • actor
  • radio host
  • Vocals
  • saxophone
  • clarinet
Years active1924–1984
LabelsHarmony, RCA Victor, Bluebird, Columbia, Hit of the Week, Melotone

Hubert Prior Vallée (July 28, 1901[1] – July 3, 1986),[2] known professionally as Rudy Vallée, was an American singer, saxophonist, bandleader, actor, and entertainer. He was the first male singer to rise from local radio broadcasts in New York City to national popularity as a "crooner".

Early life[edit]

Vallėe was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901,[1] the son of Catherine Lynch and Charles Alphonse Vallée. His maternal grandparents were English and Irish, while his paternal grandparents were French Canadians from Quebec. He grew up in Westbrook, Maine. On March 29, 1917, he enlisted in the US Navy in Portland, Maine to fight in World War I, but authorities discovered he was only 15 and had given the false birth date of July 28, 1899. He was discharged at the Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island on May 17, 1917, after 41 days of active service.[citation needed]



Rudy Vallée, c. 1929

After playing drums in his high school band, Vallée played clarinet and saxophone in bands around New England as a teenager. The popularity of the saxophone and an unexpected reply from his idol Wiedoeft prompted Vallée to perfect his technique. He paid Columbia Records to make four "personal records", which he used for audition purposes with a number of bands. From 1924 to 1925, he played with the Savoy Havana Band at the Savoy Hotel in London, where band members discouraged his attempts to become a vocalist.[3] He returned to the United States, briefly attending the University of Maine. While at the University of Maine, he initiated into Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity on December 5, 1921. He transferred to Yale University in 1924, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1927. As a Yale student he led the football band and was the lead saxophonist in the Yale Collegians with Peter Arno, who became a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine.[4]

After graduation, he formed Rudy Vallée and the Connecticut Yankees, having named himself after saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft.[5] With this band (formed in 1928),[6] which included two violins, two saxophones, a piano, a banjo, and drums, he began singing as a member of a trio and as a soloist. He had a thin, wavering tenor voice and seemed more at home singing sweet ballads than jazz songs. But his singing, saxophone playing, and the innovative arrangements he wrote for his band attracted attention from a rapidly increasing number of listeners, especially from young women.[7] In 1928 he started performing on the radio, first at New York station WABC, leading his Yale Collegians Orchestra,[8] and then on WEAF and the NBC Red Network beginning in February 1929.[9]

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

He became one of the first crooners.[7] Singers needed strong voices to fill theaters in the days before microphones. Crooners had soft voices that were suited to the intimacy of radio; the microphones, in this case, promoted direct access to "a vulnerable and sensuous interior," or in other words, "a conjured intimacy".[10] Vallée was one of the first celebrity radio vocalists.[7] Flappers pursued him wherever he went.[7] His live appearances were usually sold out. Contrary to popular belief, he did not have screaming girls at his appearances. However, his voice still failed to project in venues without microphones and amplification, so he often sang through a megaphone, a device he had used when leading the Yale football band. A caricature of him singing this way was depicted in the Betty Boop cartoon Poor Cinderella (1934).[11] Another caricature is in Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee, which parodies him, Bing Crosby, and Russ Columbo.

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.[12]

Vallée had his share of detractors as well as fans when his popularity was at 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 man who disliked Vallée'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."[13]

Vallée made his first commercial recordings in 1928 for Columbia's low-priced labels Harmony, Velvet Tone, and Diva. He signed with RCA Victor in February 1929 and remained with the company through 1931, leaving after a heated dispute with executives over song selections. He then recorded for the short-lived Hit of the Week label which sold rather poor quality records laminated onto a cardboard base. In August 1932, he signed with Columbia and remained with the label through 1933. Vallée returned to RCA Victor in June 1933; his records were initially issued on Victor's low-priced Bluebird label until November 1933, when he was back on the standard Victor label. He remained with RCA Victor until signing with ARC in 1936. ARC issued his records on the Perfect, Melotone, Conqueror and Romeo labels until 1937, when he again returned to RCA Victor.

With his group the Connecticut Yankees, Vallée's best-known recordings include "The Stein Song" (a.k.a. University of Maine school song) in 1929[14] and "Vieni, Vieni" in the latter 1930s.

His last hit record was a reissue of "As Time Goes By", popularized in the 1942 film Casablanca. Due to the 1942-44 AFM recording ban, RCA Victor reissued the version he had recorded in 1931.[15] During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard to help direct the 11th district Coast Guard band as a Chief Petty Officer. He was promoted to Lieutenant and led the 40 piece band to great success. In 1944, he was placed on the inactive list and returned to radio.[16]

According to George P. Oslin, Vallée on July 28, 1933, was the recipient of the first singing telegram. A fan telegraphed birthday greetings, and Oslin had the operator sing "Happy Birthday to You".[17][18][19]

Radio and film[edit]

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

In 1929, Vallée began hosting The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour,[20] a popular radio show with guests such as Fay Wray and Richard Cromwell in dramatic skits. Vallée continued hosting radio shows such as the Royal Gelatin Hour, Vallee Varieties, and The Rudy Vallee Show through the 1930s and 1940s.

Vallée as bandleader Skip Houston in Sweet Music

When Vallée took his contractual vacations from his national radio show in 1937, he insisted his sponsor hire Louis Armstrong as his substitute.[21] This was the first instance of an African-American hosting a national radio program. Vallée wrote the introduction for Armstrong's 1936 book Swing That 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 classic 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.[22] He appeared in the 1960s Batman television series as the villain Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and in 1971 as a vindictive surgeon in the Night Gallery episode "Marmalade Wine".[23]


From 1948 to 1952, Vallée owned Vallee-Video, a television production company formed in the early days of national TV broadcasts. The company was incorporated on April 3, 1948.[24] Vallée made 16mm film shorts for television, including These Foolish Things and Under a Campus Moon, in which he appeared himself. Ed Wynn, Pinky Lee, Buddy Lester and Cyril Smith also appeared in Vallee-Video productions.[25] Comedy sequences in the productions featured dubbed-in laughter.[26]

In 1949, Vallee-Video produced one of the first cartoon shows on television, Tele-Comics.[27]

Vallee-Video's breakthrough in 1952 would have been a 15-minute television show based on the Dick Tracy comic strip starring Vallée's friend Ralph Byrd, who played the character in four successful Dick Tracy theatrical serials from 1937 to 1941. Vallée sold the show as a pilot to NBC. Vallée and Byrd also worked on a proposed radio show based on the comic strip Hawkshaw the Detective.[28] However, Byrd died in August 1952, bringing the Dick Tracy production to a halt, and spelling the end for Vallee-Video.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Vallée was married four times. He married Jane Greer on December 2, 1943 in Hollywood, but they separated after three months and divorced on July 27, 1944. His fourth and final wife Eleanor wrote a memoir titled My Vagabond Lover.[citation needed]

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".[29] However, Alton Cook wrote, "Vallée may be fuming at his orchestra, but a Vallée 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..."[30]

During his divorce from his first wife Fay Webb, she alleged that "Vallée 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 accused him of committing adultery with three women, including actress Alice Faye. Vallée denied the allegations and charged infidelity on her part. The judge found him "not guilty of any misconduct or maltreatment of Webb which detrimentally affected her health, physical or medical condition."[31]

In a heated dispute with producer George White on the set of the 1934 film George White's Scandals, White struck Vallée in the jaw. 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 fought, he replied, "I just lost my temper. I'll admit I have a too-quick temper."[32]

Vallée was a Republican who strongly supported Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, saying: "Every chance I get I sound off for Nixon. I'm advocating that Reader's Digest reprint 'Cuba, Castro and JFK,' a very brilliant article. I also send in checks from time to time." Nixon had written the Reader's Digest article in November 1964.[33][34]

Vallée maintained an estate at Kezar Lake.[35]

Vallée died of cancer at his Los Angeles estate known as Silvertip on July 3, 1986 while watching the televised centennial ceremonies of the restored Statue of Liberty. His wife Eleanor said that his last words were: "I wish we could be there; you know how I love a party."[36]


In 1995, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[37]

For his work in radio, Vallée was inducted into the Vermont Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2011.



Year Title Role Notes
1929 Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees Himself Vitaphone Varieties #771;[38]
Lost film (soundtrack survives, containing the songs "Deep Night" and "Outside")[39]
1929 Radio Rhythm Himself Short
1929 The Vagabond Lover Rudy Bronson
1929 Glorifying the American Girl Himself
1930 College Sweethearts Short
1931 Kitty from Kansas City Himself Short
1931 Musical Justice Judge Short
1932 The Musical Doctor Dr. Vallee Short
1932 Rudy Vallee Melodies Himself Short
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 Too Many Blondes Dick Kerrigan
1941 Time Out for Rhythm Daniel "Danny" Collins
1942 The Palm Beach Story John D. Hackensacker III
1943 Happy Go Lucky Alfred Monroe
1945 It's in the Bag Himself
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
1947 The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer District Attorney Tommy Chamberlain Alternative title: Released in the U.K. as Bachelor Knight
1948 I Remember Mama Dr. Johnson
1948 So This Is New York Herbert Daley
1948 Unfaithfully Yours August Henshler
1948 My Dear Secretary Charles Harris
1949 Mother Is a Freshman John Heaslip Alternative title: Mother Knows Best
1949 The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend Charles Hingleman
1949 Father Was a Fullback Mr. Roger "Jess" Jessup
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 Jasper B. Biggley
1968 Live a Little, Love a Little Louis Penlow With Elvis Presley
1968 The Night They Raided Minsky's Narrator Voice
1970 The Phynx Himself
1975 Slashed Dreams Proprietor Alternative title: Sunburst
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Autograph Hound
Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Ford 50th Anniversary Show Himself Song medley and banter with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra
1956 The Johnny Carson Show Himself 1 episode
1956–1957 December Bride Himself 2 episodes
1957 The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Himself 1 episode
1961 What's My Line? Himself 1 episode
1967 Batman Lord Marmaduke Ffogg 3 episodes
1969 Petticoat Junction Herbert A. Smith 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 Episode: "The Adventure of the Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley"
1979 CHiPs Arthur Forbinger Episode: "Pressure Point"
1984 Santa Barbara Elderly Con 1 episode (final appearance)



Magazine covers[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2571. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ "Died On This Date (July 3, 1986) Rudy Vallee / Jazz Singer & Bandleader". Themusicsover.com. July 3, 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2021.
  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" (PDF). Garfield.library.upenn.edu. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  6. ^ Walker p. 167
  7. ^ a b c d Whitcomb, Ian. "The Coming of the Crooners". Sam Houston University. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
  8. ^ "Tonight's Features from Nearby Stations," Bridgewater NJ Courier-News, March 3, 1928, p. 4,
  9. ^ "Tomorrow's Radio Programs," St. Cloud MN Times, February 26, 1929, p. 5.
  10. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 400. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  11. ^ "Betty Boop: Poor Cinderella". Archive.org. September 29, 1934.
  12. ^ "What is the Secret of Rudy Vallee's Success?". Radio Revue. New York. December 1929. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Hansen, Martin (January 1930). "Mere Man Wins First Prize in Rudy Vallee Contest". Radio Revue. New York. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  14. ^ "The Maine Stein Song by Rudy Vallée - Songfacts". Songfacts.com.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ USCG: Frequently Asked Questions. Uscg.mil. Retrieved on 2012-01-30.
  17. ^ "The Singing Telegram At 50". The New York Times. 1983. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  18. ^ Liz Sadler. "Special delivery: The singing telegram endures". Columbia News Service. Columbia School of Journalism. Archived from the original on November 8, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  19. ^ "The First Singing Telegram". Sound Beat. Syracuse University Libraries. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  20. ^ Walker p.169
  21. ^ Features Archives. onhifi.com (March 1, 2002). Retrieved on 2012-01-30.
  22. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1208. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  23. ^ "Vallee-Video". OpenCorporates. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Pitts, Michael; Hoffman, Frank (2001). The Rise of the Crooners: Gene Austin, Russ Columbo, Bing Crosby, Nick Lucas, Johnny Marvin, and Rudy Vallee. Scarecrow Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0810840812. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  25. ^ "Vallee Sees Separate Coast TV Depts., Sub-Divided Studios as Aids to Biz". Variety. February 2, 1949. p. 26. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  26. ^ Woolery, George W. (1983). Children's Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946-1981. The Scarecrow Press. pp. 285–286. ISBN 0-8108-1557-5. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  27. ^ "Vallee-NBC in Deal on 'Tracy' Telefilms". The Billboard. Vol. 61, no. 22. May 28, 1949. p. 12. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  28. ^ Ansbro, George (February 1, 2000). I Have a Lady in the Balcony: Memoirs of a Broadcaster in Radio and Television. McFarland. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-0-7864-4318-5. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  29. ^ Cook, Alton (April 18, 1937). "Rudy Acts Like Real Tough Guy". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  30. ^ Fay Webb Vallee v. Hubert Prior Vallee. p. 56. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  31. ^ Brooks, Dorothy (August 1936). "Why I Always Have to Fight". Radio Mirror. Broadway, New York. Retrieved December 31, 2015.
  32. ^ Calta, Louis (April 6, 1968). "Entertainers Join Cast of Political Hopefuls". The New York Times. p. 42.
  33. ^ "Index to the Reader's Digest: January-December, 1964". The Reader's Digest. 84–85. January 19, 1964.
  34. ^ C. Stewart Doty, "Rudy Vallee: Franco-American and Man from Maine", Maine Historical Society Quarterly 1993 33(1): 2–19
  35. ^ Obituary, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1986.
  36. ^ "The Brightest Stars" (PDF). Palmspringswalkofstars.com. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012.
  37. ^ Picking, Patrick (2007). "Vitaphone Thrills the World During Event-Filled Year". The Vitaphone Project. Patrick J. Picking. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  38. ^ "Rudy Vallee & His Connecticut Yankees Vitaphone". SoundCloud. Vitaphone. 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2016.


  • Walker, Leo. (1976) "The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands"

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