Rudy Vallee

Me and my Megaphone
Rudy Vallee and his megaphone
Musician, singer, screen actor, radio star and comedian Rudy Vallee was a bit hit in the 1920s, 30s and 40s - with his softly intimate voice, tousled hair and non-threatening, boyish features, he cultivated a distinctive crooner image and personality that made him stand out from the regular popular singer crowd.

'College boy' Vallee had been a bandleader and saxophonist in the 1920s, who made a name for himself by singing through his trademark megaphone, often in a university sweater and singing Ivy League ditties such as the Yale drinking song, Whiffenproof.

A major break came via radio in the late 20s,  while performing with his eight-piece band at the upmarket Heigh-Ho Club in New York - an act that was taken up and broadcast by a local radio station. Before the 1920s were out, Vallee and his band had been scooped up by radio and given their own show, sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast. The show proved to be extremely popular and eventually morphed into radio's first real variety hour, with Valleee acting as singer, bandleader and MC.

The Songs 
Vallee is often cited as representing the first early 20th century equivalent of a 'mass pop star', such was the level of his seemingly universal appeal and he usherd in a whole era of crooners.  Possessed of a warm, if nasal voice, Rudy Vallee's singing style played to a wide audience and he enjoyed some major hits throughout the pre-war Depression era and beyond, including, among many,  The Stein Song, The Drunkard Song, I'm Just a Vagabond Lover, Oh Mama, Deep Night and his own renditions of As Time Goes By, Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries and the affecting 30s ballad, Brother can you Spare a Dime..a song that seems as relevant today as it ever was.


Naturally Hollywood wasn't going to let Vallee's popular appeal go by unexploited and he began making films as early as 1929 with The Vagabond Lover alongside Sally Blane and veteran actress, Marie Dressler.
A young and very cute Rudy Vallee

Himself college educated at Maine and Yale, in films Vallee was sometimes cast as the archetypal, well educated upper-class ponce - a role he handled with humour and aplomb. As his film roles increased, so too did his confidence as an actor and while later, he often played supporting actor  rather than leading man, he exuded a kind of sophisticated charm that was yet approachable and personable.

Some of his more notable films include the Preston Sturges comedy The Palm Beach Story (1942), with Claudette Colbert, The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer (1947) with Cary Grant Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, I Remember Mama (1948) with Irene Dunne, and Unfaithfully Yours (1948) with Lina Darnell and Rex Harrison.

Rudy Vallee continued to act intermittently into the 1950s and  through the 60s, 70s and 80s, in film, TV and stage - at one point, late in the day,  travelling in a none man show and opening for the Village People. Vallee died in 1986 at the age of 85, still active and performing at the time of his death and leaving behind his wife of 40 years, Eleanor Norris (he was briefly married to actress Jane Greer in the 1940s).

Notwithstanding the great hardships of the depression which marred so many lives, Vallee was a product of his times and in his early years, represented the kind of pre-war, easy-going positivism, innovation and kookiness that singled out the entertainment industry in 20s and 30s. Like the era...he was unique.

Al Bowlly and Ray Noble
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald