Rudy Vallee, the American singer, bandleader, and actor, first of the great "crooners," and arguably the first mass media pop star, talks to Wallace about his career, his opinions about his fans, Hollywood, his friends, and his reputation for stinginess.
Guest: Rudy Vallee
WALLACE: Good evening. Tonight another live telecast from Hollywood, we'll talk about fame, and the past, fond memories and regrets with one of the legendary figures of show business. He's Rudy Vallee, the first of the great crooners. In his heyday at least one housewife reportedly shot her husband for making a sarcastic remark about the singing of the "Vagabond Lover", Rudy Vallee who sang like this.
(RUDY VALLEE SINGS)
WALLACE: If you're curious to know what Rudy Vallee thought of his hysterical fans, why he wants no personal friends among people in show business, and how he answers the charge that he is the worst cheap skate in Hollywood, we'll go after those stories in just a moment. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Parliament, another fine product of the Philip Morris Company.
WALLACE: And now to our story... Rudy Vallee was the Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, and Elvis Presley of his day but all in one. That was nearly thirty years ago when some people even made jokes that his affect on women made him a national menace. Rudy, first of all, let me ask you this, looking back on it now, we see that you set a kind of a pattern for the adulation of other singers like Crosby, or Sinatra, Elvis Presley, what is it like to be idolized by millions of women, to be clutched at, and shrieked at, and mooned over, to be a national idol?
VALLEE: Actually, I don't think that the admiration for my work or for me in the days, of Nineteen twenty-nine or thirty was mostly feminine. I think I appealed to young people, males as well as females. Housewives, perhaps, heard me more often because they were home in the evening or in the afternoon when we broadcast our "Tea Dances." I never felt in any sense that I was a target for female adoration.
WALLACE: Well, Rudy, the columnist, Louie Sobel...
VALLEE: Columnist but...
WALLACE: ...Wait just a second...
VALLEE: ...They didn't state it accurately...
WALLACE: ... He -- he -- he wrote this: he said, "The pandemonium that ensued in those other years whenever Vallee made a public appearance or even walked the city streets, the women who vowed they would kill themselves for his favor, the housewives who neglected their homes to invade the theaters where he crooned" ...How can you fly in the face of the man who was there?
VALLEE: Mostly poppycock, Sobel isn't accurate at all because it wasn't. I saw the people in the audience at the Eighty-first Street Theater the first day that we made our debut and I saw them, I saw them stand and cheer and there were as many men as there were women, ...there were young boys and young girls and adults. I would say that it is the thinking of all of them and not the female hysteria that has been the columnistic delight, of course they've got to write something of that nature and they've always exaggerated it.
WALLACE: Well, actually, Louie Sobel was -- has been very complimentary to you. He goes on ...
VALLEE: Oh no, I don't say that he's uncomplimentary, he's just not accurate. He doesn't know because he may have maybe seen one performance where there were preponderance of women and felt that was the average but it wasn't.
WALLACE: In other words, you felt at that time, you feel that you were in a sense the ideal of youth, male and female.
VALLEE: I think my appeal is very much as Sinatra's and Sinatra's appeal is to all types of persons and I ...
WALLACE: You say is ... you still feel that you have that same kind of appeal?
VALLEE: Yes, I feel that -- as a matter of fact in the last few years, I've probably won, perhaps more male adherence than I have female due to the fact that in nightclubs and hotels, my material is mostly humor, sixty five percent humor but it's specifically for the enjoyment of men and I probably irritate a lot of the women that came in expecting to hear more romance which I don't give them.
WALLACE: Well, do you miss the adulation, the excitement, the tremendous press that attended you back a quarter of a century ago, even twenty years ago?
VALLEE: I don't miss it because it's still with me. If I were to breeze you -- ...take a breeze at you with my fist in a nightclub, it'd be in the front pages of the papers tomorrow. I find more people turning around and looking back and pointing out, and more autographs being asked for today than even in twenty-nine for the simple reason that four or five television appearances a year does for me what a few broadcasts did back in Nineteen twenty-nine. I don't think that my popularity's diminished any, in fact, I think it's increased...
VALLEE: ...due to motion pictures and television.
WALLACE: Rudy, I know I'm -- I was looking at you in the monitor while you were just talking and I know that you have no feeling about being asked your age, do you?
VALLEE: Not the slightest.
WALLACE: I wonder...
VALLEE: ...If I looked it, I would you see, but fortunately having...
WALLACE: You're fifty-seven?
VALLEE: ...Having inherited a very youthful face and a good constitution from my ancestors, particularly my father's side. I have no hesitancy about talking about it.
WALLACE: And now, he is sufficiently strong to drive through the night after he finishes this broadcast here up to Las Vegas ...
VALLEE: This is no drive, when we drive back and forth to New York and start off with a cold as I did when I went down to Florida last December, that's something when you do eight hundred miles a day with a bad cold coming on, then you can talk about it.
WALLACE: You're going up to play with four other stars called "The Newcomers of 1928", I believe you call it.
VALLEE: Robert Barnett's review -- Jackie has written some very excellent material for Harry Richmond, Paul Whiteman, Fifi Dorsey, Buster Keaton and me.
WALLACE: At the...
VALLEE: Desert Inn for six weeks.
WALLACE: Rudy, if I may get back to the women...
WALLACE: ...Let's forget about the men. Let's forget about the men and the kids for a while...
VALLEE: I didn't know you were romantically inclined that way.
WALLACE: I'm that way. What -- what'd you think of the millions of women who got goose flesh every time they heard you sing?
VALLEE: I'm not sure they did but if you recall, you ran through -- you probably waded through very quickly in the book that I wrote in Nineteen twenty-nine called "Vagabond Dreams Come True"...
WALLACE: Yes, I did.
VALLEE: ...in which I tried to make a series of analogies for the reader to understand my feelings, how when a student at Yale worked my way through on a Sax when I would play the dances at Smith College, Amherst, Williams and so forth, I'd sit there from ten until five in the morning, seeing these beautiful college girls of those days being dangled before me in the arms of boys my own age, my own type, -- sitting there playing the saxophone and watching Sleepy Hall, the famous Yale banjoist play a banjo solo and have them cheer and yell and to know that I was just a part of the background, a part of the wall paper playing the saxophone, ignored, comparatively ignored and looking at these beautiful women, wishing that I might be with them. I watched that, then I watched Valentino when we played for him in his appearances throughout Connecticut in Bridgeport and Hartford, New London and other places--watched the adulation that Valentino enjoyed…I don't think will ever be equalled by anyone in the world, Vallee, Sinatra combined. It was just fabulous. And having seen that and suddenly be catapulted into the great popularity I enjoyed in twenty-nine. Of course a lot of it was dimished for me when occasionally a woman would come into the Hi-Ho Club and say to me which one is Mr. Vallee, because I never held a promise physically what they heard over the air with their ears...and a woman would come out to me, standing over the saxophone and the megaphone, and say "Which one is Mr. Vallee?" and I'd point to a good-looking dark haired saxophonist, Joe Miller, and say over there, and when I went to the RKO Theater at Flushing and the doorman says to me, "When will Mr. Vallee be here?" -- very very shortly, I'd say. I never held the promise-- the physical promise.
WALLACE: Rudy, what I mean by the furor, the adulation -- and your reaction to it -- America doesn't worship its painters, writers, even its serious
VALLEE: ... you may after they're gone.
WALLACE: ...as much as an Elvis Presley or a Rudy Vallee -- has it ever made you--or did it ever make you feel as though it was really pretty much out of joint. Out of proportion, and that you were a kind of a freak.
VALLEE: No. I felt that the little musical gifts that I had were in a sense--not great, but they were gifts and if I could bring that pleasure to people in those first series of letters that said we'd brought them something different, soothing and pleasing and -- it was an honest reaction -- there was no newspaper publicity -- the newspapers have never forgiven us for the fact that they were created through radio. That one year of radio catapulted us into this great fame, and I felt that we justified it in that our music and my little attempts at singing were pleasing enough to justify it. There was no hokum --it wasn't forced or artificial, and I never stopped to think about it very much.
WALLACE: How do you account for the fact that you haven't found the same kind of secure niche in show business that some of the old timers -- like Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, even--
VALLEE: Very simply ..
WALLACE: Or even Bing Crosby?
VALLEE: Very simply explained. I've never done anything in the orthodox Broadway tradition. I didn't come from the East Side, and I didn't go through years of vaudeville, I don't eat at Lindy's.. I'd a Yale background, a New England background, I probably speak more easily than most performers do in show business, and Variety has never quite accepted me as a figure... the day I die Variety -- that is the day I finish show business and retire, Variety will say "I told you it wouldn't last." Variety has never accepted me as a real performer. It gripes me a little bit sometimes, because I feel that even though I don't look it, that I've inherited gifts... of timing and so-forth, that make me the equal of some of the performers that Variety does recognize, but they've never quite recognized me.
WALLACE: You've also been quoted as saying -- "I can't fawn, lie and grovel" and for that reason -- you said "If I were a different kind of person I would probably be considered for more jobs.. But I can't change and I don't want to."
VALLEE: Yes I imagine I've lost an opportunity or two somewhere along the way. I know that I have missed many of the opportunities to get tips on oil stocks and other things by not being out on the golf course the way Bing and all the other boys are with the men that can help you and I probably could have cultivated the friendship of people that could have helped me, but I've never done that for some reason.
WALLACE: You've said of your relationships with people generally Rudy, "I imagine that many people wouldn't feel at ease with me. I'm critical..
VALLEE: ... not many... some...
WALLACE: ...some ... I'm critical, you say ... I correct bad grammar when I hear it, I raise my voice when I feel like it ..why...why do you do these things?...
VALLEE: I'm French on my father's side ... and I guess it's probably the quality of the French in me that... and then of course the Irish helps too ... when I have a good argument .. that I feel the voice should be raised ... to make a point, I like to raise it. Americans theory is that you must never raise your voice ... it's something that is taboo...
WALLACE: ...American theory?...
VALLEE: Oh, more people say 'you're raising your voice!' ... as though it's a horrible thing to do, and of course, I go, to the Beachcombers with my good friend Henry Fennenbach, and after a couple of Cuba coolers, and Navy Groggs , and so if we get into an argument, Henry loves to argue ... and I just enjoy it, and there's no reason in the world why we shouldn't raise our voices, and of course being critical of other people's speech is something ...I probably shouldn't do it.. it just comes out of me ... I just can't hear grammar mauled, and hear someone say “poinsetta,” when I know it's “pointsettia” .. and I ... it's the schoolmarm in me probably... I probably would have been a good school teacher ..more than anything else. I like to lecture, and like to talk, and like to help people...
WALLACE: Well, then why does a puritanical Yankee like Rudy Vallee, a Maine Yankee...
VALLEE: Many, many side of this -- right along side of the Maine Yankee ...is all the French hedonistic quality of enjoying life...
WALLACE: ...well, that's why you came out with as much possible --
VALLEE: ...liking beautiful women in satin gowns, and high French heels, and long beautiful nails, ...and all the things that go with the French side of me ... yes ... I ... I'm not one person Mike... I'm many.
WALLACE: As you know, we've talked to a good many of your friends here in Hollywood during the past week... one of them told us… he asked that he not be quoted by name...but I think that you'll probably agree that this is accurate ...he said; "Rudy chooses his friends-unknown conventional laymen-because they provide the best audience for him...they feed his ego and he can eulogize himself to them whereas he couldn't do that today with show business people.
VALLEE: No... I'm not on around my friends. I know a lot of persons with whom I occasionally chum, who are... these are comedians of whom I speak ...are... always on stage and performing ...no I have a great many friends, when you said earlier that I don't have any friends among show business people, I have a great many of them.
WALLACE: None that you don't want I said. But you didn't particularly want.
VALLEE: ... I never went with the Beverly Hills pack ... Benny, Burns and Allen, that type of crowd,-for some reason I just never got to know well, and never moved with them...I have a great many friends in show business, and I go out with them quite occasionally ...I don't want to be ..sort of put on a pedestal to be with somebody that is out of show business with the feeling that they're going to give me reverence... pay homage, and so forth. No... it just so happens for no reason at all, I pick laymen and people not associated with show business for my closest associates... and more often.
WALLACE: ...of course you don't even see a good many of the people that you helped to get a start in show business ...Frances Langford, Alice Faye, Dorothy Lamour, Yvonne DeCarlo, Pinky Lee, Victor Borge...
VALLEE: I'm glad you listed the personalities that I have helped ... with whom I've fought, and bled and worked and made a great effort to help them achieve success, because I'm credited with so many others that I don't deserve credit for .. having helped them, and in many cases I've merely introduced them ...I don't meet these people very often because they're busy doing things in other places, and in some cases, they resent the fact that they were helped by me ... I don't think there's any way you can hurt a person's ego more than to bring up the fact that he or she was either out of work, needed money or doing nothing ... you came along and provided the magic spark or the step forward upward to help him or her ... they don't quite forgive you and in a couple of ... two or three of the cases of the names you've mentioned, I think Borge particularly,...does...I don't know why he should because in two interviews that he made himself, one in Chicago, and one in Toronto... he said 'Rudy Vallee came to my rescue, when nobody wanted me in Hollywood, and he even revealed something I didn't know... - he was working in a gas filling station in Beverly Hills...and in his article in Saturday Evening Post he very stupidly said...I didn't loan him any money...I don't know why he should make such an issue of it because in the paragraph before he mentions he didn't have 35 cents to take the NBC tour.
WALLACE: Rudy... when you're not working, you spend most of your time in a huge and beautiful mansion on a rocky ledge at the top of a mountain...
VALLEE: ... It is Berchtesgaden - we call it Silvertip ...
WALLACE : ... and you're not Adolph Hitler ...
VALLEE: ... no ... I've always felt that if he ever took the United States in the first place he'd say, "Vallee, raus mit um." He would have taken it.
WALLACE: ...It looks over Hollywood. What do you think of Hollywood?
VALLEE: I like Hollywood. I like California. I like it because it's a place I enjoy ... climate, the feeling of relaxation ... I enjoy the West. I would rather be a bum in Arizona, New Mexico or California, than a millionaire in the East.
WALLACE : Why?
VALLEE: The climate... feeling... oh... just the climate, because I enjoy the sun. I'm a sun worshiper... somewhere way back in my ancestry I must have been a sun worshipper...because when we drive to Reno, or to Lake Tahoe and go through Lake Bishop and see those gorgeous mountains... the Sierra Nevadas... it's just fabulous... it does something to me...
WALLACE: you stay right here in Hollywood in spite of the fact that you don't do any of your work to speak of...
VALLEE: ...no I go to Palm Springs occasionally...as you did last week...and I enjoy going north to Reno and to Tahoe, I don't like...I wouldn't want to live in San Francisco, charming a city as it is because it's too much like Boston in New England or New York.
WALLACE: It's reported that this home of yours has signs instructing guests not to throw cigarettes on the ground, and to take only one table napkin at dinner
VALLEE: Ohhh... now you know better than that, 'cause you were there. I do have signs outside saying that careless people, drop cigarette butts and matches, and so I do like to see a place clean and tidy, but ... our napkins, we sell them very reasonably Mike, and our apple machines generally give the apples - gives two apples for 5¢ our charge for towels is very very (LAUGHTER) we did a whole show based on that as a gag one time with Barrymore saying "Let me out of here"... "the apple machine."
WALLACE: Do you ... do you consider yourself an eccentric, Rudy?
VALLEE: Yes, very eccentric. I - I have a little book of rules for my guests at my lodge in Maine that was titled "Lodge Lodge Your Eccentric Host ... I said your host is eccentric and admits it. Yes, I admit it, of course, I am.
WALLACE: Are you in a sense...
VALLEE: I don't think I'd have been successful Mike if I were conventional if I were in the pattern of the average person. I'm terribly unconventional ... there's no question about it. I'm an iconoclast and as far from being the trite cliche-ridden person as day is from night.
WALLACE: I noticed for instance when we drove up the hill the other night ..
VALLEE: Seat belts ..
WALLACE: ..You put a seat belt on.
VALLEE: Well even more implicitly I wish I - I wish a law could be passed making it mandatory for every man, woman and child who gets in a car to have --
WALLACE: And you have a horn that can be heard a mile
VALLEE: I have a horn that can be heard a mile away so that when going around bad curves those kids racing down that hill in their speedy cars don't know we're coming - we might get a chance - might have a chance to save ourselves.
WALLACE: Do you think that you are in any sense an unapproachable person, a cold person.
VALLEE: I wish I were Mike. I'm probably one of the most emotional and easily approached, easily influenced persons in the world, although I give the impression of being the very opposite. I'm terribly emotional. Being Irish and French, I have to be and I find myself at the end of a film, that I see with my lovely wife, Eleanore, crying where she cried. We cry, but we both feel the same emotions in films, like the little scene we watched this girl the other night at the Honeymoon Hartford Theater, she does a little scene we watched Mike -- the Hollywood Reporter mentioned where she does goodbye to the girl and she turns and I found myself -- little tears coming down and Ellie did the same thing. I'm very emotional, I wish I weren't. I wish I had a veneer, I wish I were thicker skinned, I wouldn't be so easily upset and hurt sometimes.
WALLACE: Rudy, in just a moment If d like to ask you about the reputation that you know you have -- have acknowledge that you had in show business and across the country with certain people. You were said to be fairly tight-fisted.
VALLEE: (LAUGHTER) ...who said it?
WALLACE: ..very close with a dollar. Now I'd like to a -- Who said it?
WALLACE: Even Rudy Vallee said it, but I'd like to get your answer to that charge. And we'll hear Rudy Vallee's answer in just one minute.
WALLACE: Now then Rudy, it is almost a legend that you're more than just a little frugal. In your unpublished autobiography, you write yourself about you reputation of being a slow man with a tip, you even told me that when you walk into a hotel lobby, you don't like to have the bellhop carry your bag, you'd rather carry it yourself.
VALLEE: No, no, no, I say this, a boy half my size, a pip-squeek bellboy rushing up to take a little briefcase, that a baby could carry, to do the conventional thing and give it to him. I'll give him his quarter, or half a buck to take me up the elevator to my room, he'll get it anyway, but I just resent the inference that I can't carry this little bag. My son Michael is merely one of being fairly logical and again unconventional and not hoeing to the line for fear of embarrassment, and that is if I can park my car at a meter in front of the club, or the hotel, or the place that I'm going -- going to be there for fifteen minutes, and put in a nickel in the meter, I'd rather do that. I see no reason for putting it into a dollar parking lot, simply because that is what one should do, or is supposed to do. I'm very logical, I'm thrifty and -- merely common sense.
WALLACE: Well, we've been told by a close friend of yours, that you frequently check in at second and third rate hotels in New York. That you used to take girl friends -
VALLEE: Oh never in New York -- I always stay at the Essex House or the very best of hotels in New York.
WALLACE: Never stayed at a second --
VALLEE: I did when I came to New York to seek my fortune in 1927, or 23. But after I became successful in 29 the few times that I've ever lived in a hotel, which have been very few, I've never really lived in a hotel in New York and I always stay at the Essex House, or out with our friends now the Blacks at their sumptuous estate in New Rochelle.
WALLACE: I'm told that you -- carry your ..
VALLEE: You're kidding about the whole thing.
WALLACE : No, no, no. ... Now I was told this in -- in --
VALLEE: I do like cafeterias, Mike. I like to wait on myself, I like to get in and in and out fast, the food is hot, I can choose what I want, they have excellent food in most cafeterias, I enjoy waiting on myself.
WALLACE: And it has nothing to do With the lack of desire to tip..
VALLEE: No - I would smoke a cigar, Mike, that cost me about eight or nine cents if it cost me $8.00 I would smoke it, because I happen to like it. If a cafeteria has something I like - I'll search a city for caramel corn - I have a fetish for caramel corn. A cafeteria is something I like if their prices were three times that of the Waldorf Astoria, or "21" I would go there. I like to wait on myself - I like a choice of foods.
WALLACE: I'm told that you frequently carry your own bottle of wine, when you dine out ..
VALLEE: Because usually they don't have the type that I like.
WALLACE: Oh I see.
VALLEE: It's an Ohio State, California wine that I happen to like and if they don't have it I'm happy to pay corking charge. I'll say charge me the corking charge.
WALLACE: Despite this frugal reputation I'm told that you've lost considerable sums of money on various business schemes, for instance a tablet that fizzled ..
VALLEE: I haven't made any investment in that at all I helped this friend to try to put it over, even though it didn't work .. no, I didn't ...
WALLACE: Well let me tell -- let me - it was a tablet that you dropped into a glass of water and made a soft drink and that you threw a party in honor of this tablet and all the guests were sick for four days.
VALLEE: (LAUGHTER) Yes - no they had -- I don't want to say exactly what did happen -- I didn't give the party - I was just hosting it and of course it had some milk of magnes-- not milk of magnesia - it had something of that nature, you can imagine what happened. (LAUGHTER)
WALLACE: Aside from your interest in show business and in your home, Rudy, this is kind of a bald question and not an easy one to answer off the cuff this way, but what deep personal conviction or convictions do you have about yourself or about the world around you. What -- what are you passionate in that --
VALLEE: I don't -- I don't have any great -- deep connections or convictions, I would like to see the world a happier, better place. I wish it could be, I'm terribly disillusioned when people in whom I have faith and trust, whom I respect, let me down or let their business down, or their friends down, or let the world down, I would like to see the world a happy place. I'm sorry that more people can't believe in the "Golden Rule" which I think would be the guiding theme of -- make more people be finer and more decent people if they did believe in it. The only conviction I have is that the world should be a better place and I would like to make it so, and anything I can do to help it became so, I would be happy to do.
WALLACE: You are a romantic a self confessed romantic?
VALLEE: Much less so than I used to be.
WALLACE: You're again -- one friend from whom we got a lot of information said Rudy made sure his women all looked alike, tall, slim...
VALLEE: No, no, no
WALLACE: ...he dressed them all in black, satin ...
VALLEE: No, no, no
WALLACE: tight fitting dresses, black stockings, high heeled shoes, dark nail polish and scarlet lipstick. They all talked and acted alike, many were hardly the intellectual type.
VALLEE: The height didn't matter to me particularly, but I did like them to wear satin because to me, satin, if a woman has curves and is attractive, if nature endowed her with anything to show, I think that satin does it more eloquently. I think that women should wear high heels if they want to attract a man because there's nothing more unflattering to them than flat heels. I never worried whether the women looked alike particularly, or talked alike. Well, I could -- it just so happened that I went for a type that happened -- and they fell into that category of course
VALLEE: As far as the intelligence, I never cared whether a girl had a great intelligence or not and as a rule, my mind was going in such lightning speed that I did most of the thinking and I preferred her to be just a -- lovely companion and let it go at that.
WALLACE: You think that you are a good companion?
VALLEE: I must have been fairly entertaining to most of the ladies that I knew, because I never had any trouble once I knew a girl of securing another date and I've -- it's been my privilege to have known and of had the pleasure of enjoying the company of some of the most attractive women in America and I'm very thrilled that they evidently found something attractive in me.
WALLACE: Well I can certainly understand what they found attractive in you. I wish that we could see more of you, more frequently on television, Rudy. I thank you so much for taking this time and I wish you the best of luck when you open at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas on Tuesday in Jack Barnett's "Newcomers of 1928" with yourself starring along with Paul Whitman, and Harry Richman, Fifi Dorsey and Buster Keaton.
VALLEE: It's going to be a good show. I'm sorry you'll miss it.
WALLACE: Thanks, Rudy.
VALLEE: Maybe you'll be back.
WALLACE: Rudy Vallee lives in an old Hollywood castle, atop a mountain looking down on Hollywood itself. This in a certain sense would seem to symbolize Mr. Vallee's own relationship with the world around him.
WALLACE: He is opinionated, eccentric, perhaps aloof.. Show business certainly has seen few like him. I'll bring you the run down on next week's guest in just thirty seconds ..
WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of one of the world's great playwrights of whom it has been said, he has a terrifying insight into the secrets of the human mind. You see him behind me, he's Mississippi born Tennessee Williams, author of "The Glass Menagerie", Streetcar Named Desire, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" and the controversial film "Baby Doll". If you're curious to know why Tennessee Williams is obsessed with tragedy, hatred and deceit or why he says he writes with a growing anger, and if you want to hear his opinions on psychoanalysis, religion and obscenity we'll go after those stories next week, till then, for Parliament, Mike Wallace, good night.
ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview bas been brought to you by the new hi-filtration Parliament. Parliament now for the first time at popular price.