Rudy Vallee Biography

Hubert Prior Vallee, 28 July 1901, Island Pond, Vermont, USA, d. 3 July 1986, North Hollywood, California, USA. An immensely popular singer during the 20s and 30s, Vallee sang through a megaphone and is generally regarded as the first ‘crooner’ - a precursor of Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby. He was also one of the first entertainers to generate mass hysteria among his audiences. Vallee was brought up in Westbrook, Maine, and learnt to play the saxophone in his teens, taking the name ‘Rudy’ because of his admiration for saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft. During 1924/5 he took a year off from university to play the saxophone in London with the Savoy Havana Band led by Reginald Batten. At this time his singing voice, which was rather slight and nasal, was not taken seriously.

In 1928 he led his first band, at the exclusive Heigh-Ho Club on New York’s 53rd Street. Billed as Rudy And His Connecticut Yankees, Vallee made an excellent frontman, complete with his famous greeting: ‘Heigh-ho everybody’, and his smooth vocal delivery of his theme song at that time, Walter Donaldson’s ‘Heigh-ho Everybody, Heigh-ho’. When radio stations started to carry his shows in the club, he became an instant success and admitted that he was ‘a product of radio’.

His next venue was the Versaille Club on 50th Street. After a few weeks, business was so good they renamed it the Villa Vallee. His success continued when he transferred his show to vaudeville. In 1929 he starred in his first feature film, the poorly received The Vagabond Lover, and in the same year began a weekly NBC network radio variety show sponsored by the Fleischmann’s Yeast company (The Fleischmann Hour), which became a top attraction and ran for 10 years. His theme song for this production was ‘My Time Is Your Time’. Artists he promoted on the show included radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, Frances Langford, and Alice Faye. In 1931 and 1936 Vallee appeared on Broadway in George White’s Scandals, and in 1934 starred in a film version of the show. From early in his career he had co-written several popular songs, such as ‘I’m Still Caring’, ‘If You Haven’t Got A Girl’, ‘Don’t Play With Fire’, ‘Two Little Blue Little Eyes’ and ‘Oh, Ma-Ma’. He had big hits with some of his own numbers including ‘I’m Just A Vagabond Lover’, ‘Deep Night’, ‘Vieni Vieni’ and ‘Betty Co-ed’ (a song mentioning most of the US colleges).

Other record successes included ‘Marie’, ‘Honey’ (a number 1 hit), ‘Weary River’, ‘Lonely Troubadour’, ‘A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)’, ‘Stein Song (University Of Maine)’, ‘If I Had A Girl Like You’, ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, ‘Would You Like To Take A Walk?’, ‘When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba’, ‘ Let’s Put Out The Lights’, ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime?’, ‘Just An Echo In The Valley’, ‘Everything I Have Is Yours’, ‘Orchids In The Moonlight’, ‘You Oughta Be In Pictures’, ‘Nasty Man’, ‘As Time Goes By’, and ‘The Whiffenpoof Song’. During the 30s, Vallee appeared in several popular musical films including International House, Sweet Music, Gold Diggers In Paris, and Second Fiddle. However, after Time Out For Rhythm and Too Many Blondes, he launched a new movie career as a comedy actor. Discarding his romantic image, he began portraying a series of eccentric, strait-laced, pompous characters in films such as The Palm Beach Story, Man Alive, and It’s In The Bag!. During World War II, Vallee led the California Coastguard orchestra which he augmented to 45 musicians.

After the war he was back on the radio, in nightclubs, and making more movies, including The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer, I Remember Mama, Unfaithfully Yours, So This Is New York, and The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend. During the 50s he appeared regularly on television, especially in talk shows, and featured in the movies Gentlemen Marry Brunettes and The Helen Morgan Story. In 1961 he enjoyed a triumph in the role of J.B. Biggley, a caricature of a collegiate executive figure, in Frank Loesser’s smash hit musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Vallee re-created the part in the 1967 movie, and in a San Francisco stage revival in 1975. In 1968 he contributed the narration to William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s. He continued to make movies into the 70s (his last feature was 1976’s Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood), and performed his one-man show up until his death from a heart attack.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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