Etting in 1937
November 23, 1897|
David City, Nebraska
|Died||September 24, 1978
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Ruth Etting (November 23, 1897 – September 24, 1978) was an American singing star and actress of the 1920s and 1930s, who had over 60 hit recordings and worked in stage, radio, and film. She is known as "America's sweetheart of song". Her signature tunes were "Shine On, Harvest Moon", "Ten Cents a Dance" and "Love Me or Leave Me". Her other popular recordings included "Button Up Your Overcoat", "Mean to Me", "Exactly Like You" and "Shaking the Blues Away".
As a young girl, Etting had wanted to be an artist; she drew and sketched everywhere she was able. At sixteen, her grandparents decided to send her to art school in Chicago. While Etting attended class, she found a job at the Marigold Gardens nightclub; after a short time there, Etting gave up art classes in favor of a career in show business. Etting, who enjoyed singing in school and church, never took voice lessons. She quickly became a featured vocalist at the club. Etting was then managed by Moe Snyder, whom she married in 1922. Snyder made arrangements for Etting's recording and film contracts as well as her personal and radio appearances. She became nationally known when she appeared in Ziegfeld's "Follies of 1927".
Etting intended to retire from performing in 1935, but this did not happen until after her divorce from Snyder in 1937. Harry Myrl Alderman, Etting's pianist, was separated from his wife when he and Etting began a relationship. Snyder did not like seeing his former wife in the company of other men and began making telephone threats to Etting in January 1938. By October, Snyder traveled to Los Angeles and detained Alderman after he left a local radio station; he forced the pianist to take him to the home of his ex-wife at gunpoint. Saying he intended to kill Etting, Alderman, and his own daughter, Edith, who worked for Etting, Snyder shot Alderman. Three days after Alderman was shot, his wife filed suit against Etting for alienation of affections.
While Alderman and Etting claimed to have been married in Mexico in July 1938, Alderman's divorce would not be final until December of that year. The couple was married during Moe Snyder's trial for attempted murder in December 1938. Etting and Alderman relocated to a farm outside of Colorado Springs, where they were primarily out of the spotlight for most of their lives. Her fictionalized story was told in the 1955 film Love Me Or Leave Me with Doris Day as Ruth Etting.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Recording history
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Later life and death
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Hit records
- 7 Broadway
- 8 Filmography
- 9 Featured songs in other media
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Etting was born in David City, Nebraska in 1897 to Alfred, a banker, and Winifred (née Kleinhan) Etting. Her mother died when she was five years old and she then went to live with her paternal grandparents, George and Hannah Etting. Her father remarried and moved away from David City and was no longer a part of his daughter's life.
Etting was interested in drawing at an early age and hoped to be able to draw illustrations for a newspaper. She drew and sketched anywhere she was able. Her grandparents were asked to buy the textbooks she had used at the end of a school term because Etting had filled them with her drawings. She left David City at the age of sixteen to attend art school in Chicago. Etting got a job designing costumes at the Marigold Gardens nightclub, which led to employment singing and dancing in the chorus there. She gave up art school soon after going to work at Marigold Gardens. Before turning exclusively to performing, Etting worked as a designer for the owner of a costume shop in Chicago's Loop; she was successful enough to earn a partnership in the shop through her work. While she enjoyed singing at school and in church, Etting never took voice lessons. She said that she had patterned her song styling after Marion Harris, but created her own unique style by alternating tempos and by varying some notes and phrases. Describing herself as a "high, squeaky soprano" during her days in David City, Etting developed a lower range singing voice after her arrival in Chicago which led to her success. Her big moment came when a featured vocalist suddenly became ill and was unable to perform. With no other replacement available, Etting was asked to fill in. She quickly changed into the costume and scanned the music arrangements; the performer was male, so Etting tried to adjust by singing in a lower register.
Etting described herself as a young, naive girl when she arrived in Chicago. Due to her inexperience in the ways of the big city, she became reliant on Snyder after their meeting. Etting and Snyder met in 1922, when she was performing at the Marigold Gardens. Snyder, who divorced his first wife to marry Etting, was well-acquainted with Chicago's nightclubs and the entertainers who worked in them; he once served as a bodyguard to Al Jolson. She later said she married him "nine-tenths out of fear and one-tenth out of pity." He managed her career, booking radio appearances and eventually had her signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records.
She made her Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927; Irving Berlin had recommended her to showman Florenz Ziegfeld. Etting nervously prepared to sing for Ziegfeld at the audition. However, he did not ask her to sing at all; only to walk up and down the room. She was hired on that basis because Ziegfeld did not hire women with big ankles. While the original plan for the show was for Etting to do a tap dance after singing "Shaking the Blues Away", she later remembered she was not a very good dancer. At the show's final rehearsal, Flo Ziegfeld told her, "Ruth, when you get through singing, just walk off the stage". Etting also appeared in Ziegfeld's last "Follies" in 1931.
She went on to appear in a number of other hit shows in rapid succession, including Simple Simon and Whoopee!. In Hollywood, Etting made a long series of movie shorts between 1929 and 1936, and three feature movies in 1933 and 1934. She described the short films as either having a simple plot to allow for her to sing two songs or with no plot at all. The idea was to have Etting sing at least two songs in the film. While she received a marquee billing for Roman Scandals, Etting had only two lines in the film and sang just one song. Etting believed she might have had more success in full-length films if she had been given some acting lessons. Her perception was that the studios viewed her only as a vocalist. She later recalled, "I was no actress, and I knew it. But I could sell a song". In 1936, she appeared in London in Ray Henderson's Transatlantic Rhythm. Etting had her own twice weekly 15 minute radio show on CBS in the 1930s. By 1934, she was on NBC with sports announcer Ted Husing doing the announcing and Oldsmobile sponsoring her program.
After an unissued test made by Victor on April 4, 1924, Etting was signed to Columbia Records in February 1926. She remained at Columbia through June 1931, when she split her recording between ARC (Banner, Perfect, Romeo, Oriole, etc.) and Columbia through March 1933. She signed with Brunswick and remained there until May 1934, when she re-signed with Columbia through July 1935. After a solitary Brunswick session in March 1936, she signed with the British label Rex and recorded two sessions in August and September, 1936. Etting returned to the US and signed with Decca in December 1936 and recorded until April 1937, when she basically retired from recording.
Etting saved some of her paycheck each week, regardless of the amount she was making at the time. Her friends said she invested in California real estate rather than the stock market. Etting, who made many of her own clothes, did her own housekeeping and lived frugally, initially announced her retirement in 1935. It is not clear why she did not go through with her announced plans, but she issued a second statement regarding retirement after filing for divorce from Snyder in November 1937. She divorced Moe Snyder on the grounds of cruelty and abandonment on November 30, 1937.[a] Snyder did not contest the divorce and received a settlement from his former wife. Etting gave her ex-husband half of her earnings at the time, $50,000, some securities and a half interest in a home in Beverly Hills, California. She deducted the gambling debts of Snyder she had paid and costs she had paid for a home for Snyder's mother. Snyder's aggressive and controlling management style began to cause problems for Etting by 1934; she was having difficulty getting engagements. In 1936, she thought taking work in England might be the answer, but Snyder created problems [clarification needed] while she was working there.
Threats and the shooting
Etting fell in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who was separated from his wife. In January 1938, she began receiving threatening telephone calls from Snyder, who initially claimed Etting withheld assets from him when the divorce settlement was made.[b] Though the couple was divorced, Snyder was also upset because of reports that she was seeing another man. Snyder told Etting that he would come to California and kill her. When Snyder telephoned and found Etting unavailable, he told his daughter Edith that he "would fix her ticket, too". He called again that evening; this time Etting took the call with her cousin, Arthur Etting, listening on an extension. Etting requested police protection after the telephone call and arranged for private protection. She believed the danger was over when Snyder did not appear soon after his telephone call and released her bodyguards.
On October 15, 1938, Snyder detained Myrl Alderman at a local radio station and forced the pianist at gunpoint to take him to the home of his former wife. In the house at the time were Etting, and Edith Snyder. Edith, Snyder's daughter by a previous marriage, worked for Etting and remained living with her after the divorce. Snyder held Etting and Alderman at gunpoint; when told his daughter was in another part of the house, he made Etting call her into the room. Snyder said he intended to kill all three, and told them to be quiet. When Myrl Alderman attempted to speak, Snyder shot him. Snyder then told his ex-wife, "I've had my revenge, so you can call the police."
Snyder claimed Myrl Alderman pulled a gun and shot at him first and that his ex-wife would not file charges against him because she still loved him. He also claimed he was drunk when he made the telephone threats to Etting in January 1938, saying that at the time his intentions were to kill both his ex-wife and himself. Ruth Etting said that the only gun in the home belonged to her, and after the shooting of Alderman, she was able to go into her bedroom and get it. Upon seeing Etting's gun, Moe Snyder wrested it away from her; it landed on the floor.[c] Snyder's daughter, Edith, picked it up and held it on her father, shooting at him but hitting the floor instead. During a police reenactment of the shooting three days later, Edith Snyder said that she fired at her father to save Ruth Etting, weeping as she continued, "I don't yet know whether I am sorry I missed my Dad or whether I am glad." Snyder was accused of attempting to murder his ex-wife, his daughter, and Etting's accompanist, Myrl Alderman, the kidnapping of Alderman, as well as California state gun law violations.
Alienation of affections suit
Three days after the shooting of Myrl Alderman, the pianist's second wife, Alma, sued Etting for alienation of her husband's affections. Though Etting and Alderman claimed to have been married in Tijuana, Mexico in July 1938, Alma Alderman said any marriage was invalid, because her divorce from Myrl Alderman would not be final until December 1938. Police investigators could find no record of the couple's Mexican marriage.[d]
Etting publicly invited Alma Alderman to visit her husband in the hospital, in an effort to see if the couple could reconcile.
Ruth Etting testified that she was not married to Alderman and that she believed the reason for Alderman's neither denying nor confirming marriage rumors was that he thought they would be safe from Moe Snyder if it was believed they were married. During the course of the trial, there was also a question of the validity of Alderman's marriage to Alma. Alderman's first wife, Helen, obtained an interlocutory decree on January 7, 1935; the divorce became final one year later. On January 9, 1935, Alderman married Alma in Mexico. The second Mrs. Alderman called Moe Snyder to the stand as a witness regarding an attraction between her husband and Etting. Helen Alderman Warne also appeared in court, claiming that Alma Alderman had spirited Myrl away from her. Warne added that she had married and divorced the pianist twice. Alma Alderman's lawsuit ended in December 1939, with the court finding that she was not entitled to damages from Ruth Etting.
Trial and aftermath
The testimony in both trials brought much personal information into the public eye. Snyder, who claimed to still be in love with his ex-wife, gave Etting a diamond and platinum bracelet which she accepted after Snyder's telephone threat in January 1938. Etting testified that she agreed with her ex-husband's statement to police that Snyder was either drunk or out of his mind when he threatened her by phone. During the trial, Snyder's attorney portrayed Ruth Etting as a calculating woman who had married Moe Snyder strictly for the benefit of her career, and that she divorced him in favor of being with another, younger man (Myrl Alderman). Snyder's attorney echoed his client's claim of self-defense and said his client never intended to kill Etting, his daughter, and Myrl Alderman. The attorney further claimed that if Snyder intended to kill the pianist, he had ample time to do so while he held a gun on Alderman during the drive from the radio station to the home where the shooting took place.
Etting married Alderman, who was almost a decade her junior, on December 14, 1938 in Las Vegas, during Moe Snyder's trial for attempted murder.[e] Snyder was convicted of attempted murder, but released on appeal after one year in jail. Snyder won a new trial but returned to jail in January 1940 in lieu of bail. In August 1940, Myrl Alderman asked the district attorney to drop further prosecution attempts against Snyder for the 1938 shooting.
Etting, who had retired from performing prior to the shooting and subsequent trials, briefly had a radio show on WHN in 1947. She also accepted an engagement at New York's Copacabana in March 1947. Etting traveled alone to New York and during a newspaper interview, was asked if she had ever seen Moe Snyder again. She replied, "No, I hope I never do." and said that her husband never went to bed without a gun.
Later life and death
The couple relocated to an eight-acre farm outside of Colorado Springs in 1938. Alderman, who was raised in Colorado Springs, operated a restaurant there for a time. Etting and Alderman remained married until his death in Denver on November 28, 1966; he was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs. In 1977 Myrl Alderman was disinterred and moved to the Shrine of Remembrance Mausoleum in Colorado Springs, Colorado where Ruth would later join him. Etting died in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1978, aged 80. She was survived by a stepson, John Alderman, and four grandchildren.
Her life was the basis for the fictionalized 1955 film, Love Me or Leave Me, which starred Doris Day (as Etting), James Cagney (as Snyder) and Cameron Mitchell (as Alderman). Etting, Myrl Alderman and Moe Snyder all sold their rights to the story to MGM; Snyder was living in Chicago in 1955.[f]
Note: All of the above were Columbia releases. The following four were non-Columbia releases:
- (1932) "It Was So Beautiful" (U.S. chart position 13) Melotone Records
- (1933) "Try a Little Tenderness" (U.S. chart position 16) Melotone Records
- (1934) "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (U.S. chart position 15) Brunswick Records
- (1937) "In the Chapel in the Moonlight" (U.S. chart position 20) Decca Records
Ruth Etting's Broadway appearances are recorded at the Internet Broadway Database.
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 – in which she introduced Irving Berlin's "Shaking The Blues Away"
- Whoopee! (1928) – in which she introduced "Love Me or Leave Me"
- Nine-Fifteen Revue (1929) – in which she introduced "Get Happy"
- Simple Simon (1930) – in which she introduced "Ten Cents a Dance"
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1931
- Roman Scandals − 1933, her breakthrough film, which starred Eddie Cantor and Gloria Stuart
- Mr. Broadway − 1933, as herself
- Gift of Gab − 1934
- Hips, Hips, Hooray! − 1934
Featured songs in other media
BioShock 2 - 2010
Bioshock Infinite - 2013
- Etting and Snyder left Chicago for New York when Etting worked on Broadway and in film shorts. The couple relocated to California after Etting began working in full-length films. Etting remained in California for her radio work while Snyder returned to Chicago. Snyder's way of "managing" Etting's career via physical force, threats and possessiveness had become problematic. Looking back, Etting said that she had been married to Snyder for 18 years and that "I must have been crazy!"
- Snyder continued to claim this even after shooting Myrl Alderman.
- A few days after the shooting, Walter Winchell printed in his column that Snyder was very fortunate to have gotten the gun away from Etting, because she was a crack shot.
- News stories show that Etting and Alderman were referred to as married in Mexico in July 1938.
- Edith Snyder, Moe's daughter, remained with Ruth Etting. Edith died August 3, 1939 of heart disease at age 22. She had heart problems due to rheumatic fever at age 16.
- Though there would not be a film for almost twenty years after the shooting, Hy Gardner, a New York columnist, suggested a film of Etting's life with the title Love Me Or Leave Me.
- Joel Whitburn's methodology for creating pre-1940s chart placings has been criticised, and they should not be taken as definitive.
- "Minute Biographies-Ruth Etting". The Milwaukee journal. December 22, 1933. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- McLain, Susan R., ed. (2009). Butler County: The Boston Studio Collection. Arcadia Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7385-6051-9. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Finding Aid — Ruth Etting Music Collection (Music MS 001), Music Library, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries; retrieved April 25, 2016.
- Ruth Etting, Nebraska's Sweetheart 1897–1978 University of Nebraska–Lincoln; retrieved August 3, 2013.
- Damuth, Laura; Breckhill, Anita (Winter 2000). "Ruth Etting: Chicago's Sweetheart and L.A.'s Little Lady". Nebraska Library Association Quarterly. pp. 18–23. Archived from the original on December 16, 2005. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- Morris, Ruth (January 8, 1928). "How the World Gave One Ruth Snyder All She Dreamed Of". The Times Recorder. p. 19. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Leonard, William (June 12, 1955). "Ruth Etting: They Called Her Chicago's Sweetheart". Chicago Tribune. pp. 27–29, 36. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- Hemming, Roy; Hajdu, David, eds. (1992). Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop: A New Listener's Guide to the Sounds and Lives of the Top Performers. Newmarket Press. pp. 36–39. ISBN 978-1-55704-148-7. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Etting, Ruth (April 19, 1947). "Back in Business". The Pottstown Register. Retrieved April 2, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Divorced, Ruth Etting Plans World Jaunt". Reading Eagle. December 1, 1937. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Slide, Anthony, ed. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-61703-250-9. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- "Quits London Play". Reading Eagle. October 2, 1936. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Lewis, John, ed. (2010). Radio Master: The Life and Times of Sports Broadcasting Great Ted Husing. Hillcrest Publishing Group. p. 208. ISBN 978-1-936183-24-1. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
- Laird, Ross, ed. (1996). Moanin' Low: A Discography of Female Popular Vocal Recordings, 1920–1933. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 171–79. ISBN 978-0-313-29241-5. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting, Who Saved Her Cash, Retires from Radio, Stage and Screen Activities". The Pittsburgh Press. April 7, 1935. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Stage-Air Star Retires From Shows, Matrimony". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 15, 1937. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Asks Divorce And Quits Air". Sarasota herald-Tribune. November 1, 1937. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Gardner, Hy (October 19, 1938). "Broadway Newsreel". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. p. 10. Retrieved August 25, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Screen Star Testifies in Snyder Trial". The Evening Independent. December 13, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Tells Shooting By Ex-Husband Of Ruth Etting". Chicago Tribune. December 14, 1938. p. 10. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- "Another Wife of Myrl Sues Ruth Etting". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. October 18, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting's Husband Shot By Her Former Mate, Moe Snyder". The Lincoln Star. October 17, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Ruth Etting Talks Nervously of Former Husband's Threats". The Milwaukee Journal. October 19, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Two Bodyguards For Pretty Ruth Etting". News-Herald. January 6, 1938. p. 9. Retrieved August 24, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Shot At Home of Ruth Etting". The Milwaukee Journal. October 17, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Death Threat Described By Ruth Etting". The Pittsburgh Press. December 13, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Snyder Scored By Ruth Etting". The Pittsburgh Press. December 13, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Sees Husband Shot; 'Ex' Is Held". The Milwaukee Journal. October 17, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Slangy Phrases, Scandal Hints Enthrall Court As Ex-Spouse Of Ruth Etting Relates Shooting". The Palm Beach Post. December 16, 1938. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
- Winchell, Walter (October 20, 1938). "Walter Winchell on Broadway". The Daily Times-News. p. 2. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Star's First Hubby Shoots At Successor". The Evening Independent. October 17, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Shooting Scene Re-enacted By Singer, Aide". The Milwaukee Sentinel. October 20, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting's Ex On Trial In Strange Case". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 9, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "First Wife Given a Chance to See Her Former Husband". Dunkirk Evening Observer. October 20, 1938. p. 8. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Ruth Etting". Reading Eagle. October 30, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Denies She Wed Gun Victim". The Milwaukee Sentinel. October 30, 1939. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Sued for $100,000 Balm". The Lincoln Star. October 18, 1938. p. 6. Retrieved April 1, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Duty Saddens Gimp At Trial". The Pittsburgh Press. June 21, 1939. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Mrs. Alderman Loses Balm Suit Against Ruth Etting". Reading Eagle. December 22, 1939. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Pianist's First Wife Helps Ruth Etting". The Pittsburgh Press. June 25, 1939. p. 6. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
- "Ruth Etting Took Gifts of Ex-Mate After Threat". The Milwaukee Journal. December 13, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Snyder Is Pictured As Ruth Etting's Dupe". The Montreal Gazette. December 21, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Snyder Trial Nearing End". Reading Eagle. December 20, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting Weds Pianist, Spouse Shot". The Telegraph. December 14, 1938. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Daughter of Snyder Dead". The Milwaukee Sentinel. August 4, 1939. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Moe Snyder Weeps Bitterly at Death of 'Poor Little Baby'; Miss Etting Grieves at Loss". The Lincoln Star. August 5, 1939. p. 1. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Verdict Reversed In Ruth Etting, Snyder Conflict". Herald-Journal. December 13, 1939. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Moe The Gimp Back Behind Prison Bars". The Miami News. January 13, 1940. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Alderman is Ready to Drop Prosecution Against Moe Snyder". The Lincoln Star. August 23, 1940. p. 6. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Ruth Etting. Billboard. May 31, 1947. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Wilson, Earl (March 26, 1947). "Ruth Etting Talks Of Good Old Days". The Miami News. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "H. M. Alderman, Noted Conductor, Died In Denver". Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. September 29, 1966. p. 6. Retrieved August 25, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "H. M. Alderman, Noted Conductor, Died In Denver". Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. September 29, 1966. p. 1. Retrieved August 25, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Harry Alderman Services Wednesday". Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. September 29, 1966. p. 6. Retrieved August 25, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Follies Star Ruth Etting Dies". Ocala Star-Banner. September 25, 1978. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- The Gimp Is Back, Still Rough On Ruth. Life. June 20, 1955. pp. 67, 70. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting, Early Radio Star, Dies at Age 80". Eugene Register-Guard. September 25, 1978. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Ruth Etting-Hollywood Walk of Fame". LA Times. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890–1954. Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
- "Joel Whitburn criticism: chart fabrication, misrepresentation of sources, cherry picking". Songbook. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
- "Ruth Etting". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
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