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Vallée, Rudy (Hubert Prior)

Vallée, Rudy (Hubert Prior)

Vallée, Rudy (Hubert Prior), American singer, songwriter, bandleader, and actor; b. Island Pond, Vt, July 28, 1901; d. Los Angeles, Calif., July 3, 1986. Vallée was one of the most successful singers of the 1930s. One of the earliest crooners, he used the properties of the microphone to achieve an intimate singing style. His biggest hits were “Honey” (1929), “Stein Song (Univ. of Maine)” (1930), and “As Time Goes By” (recorded in 1931, popular in 1943). He hosted variety shows on radio for the better part of two decades and appeared in dozens of movies, gradually turning into an accomplished comic actor and good-naturedly sending up the breezy, collegiate image he had cultivated at his popular peak.

Vallée was the son of Charles Alphonse and Katherine Agnes Lynch Vallée. His father was a pharmacist. When he was a child the family moved to Westbrook, Maine, where he grew up. His first instrument was the drums, followed by the clarinet. He made his first professional appearance as a singer in 1914. In 1919 he began playing the saxophone, and his interest in saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft led to the adoption of his nickname. He made his first professional appearance as a saxophonist in a movie theater in Portland.

Vallée attended the Univ. of Maine during the 1921-22 school year, then transferred to Yale, paying for his studies by working as a musician. He cut down a megaphone and used it to amplify his voice when he sang; it later became an important stage prop. He took a year off from college to play saxophone in the Havana Band at the Hotel Savoy in London from September 1924 to June 1925.

Vallée returned to Yale in the fall of 1925 and graduated in June 1927. He toured with his college group during the summer and had brief stints as a saxophonist with the bands of Vincent Lopez and Ben Bernie. Then he accepted an offer to organize a group to play in the newly opened Heigh-Ho Club in N.Y, and the Yale Collegians (later renamed the Connecticut Yankees) opened there on Jan. 8, 1928. Vallée had not intended to sing, but the club owner required him to do so. On Feb. 8 a local radio station began broadcasts from the club that soon were picked up by a string of stations, and Vallée’s lighthearted style made him a sensation. (That spring he wed heiress Leonie Cauchois, but the marriage was quickly annulled.) Later, the band moved to the Versailles club, which was renamed the Villa Vallée.

Vallée and the Connecticut Yankees made their first stage appearance in February 1929 at Keith’s 81st Street Theater, a N.Y. vaudeville house, where they were greeted with the kind of frenzy later seen at early appearances by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles. By April the band was appearing at the Palace, vaudeville’s top venue.

A few of Vallée’s recordings for a small label had become popular by this time, and he signed to Victor Records, quickly achieving a flurry of major hits that included “Marie” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin), “Weary River” (music by Louis Silvers, lyrics by Grant Clarke), and “Deep Night” (music by Charlie Henderson, lyrics by Vallée), though his most popular recording of the period was “Honey” (music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Seymour Simons and Haven Gillespie), which was a best-seller from April to June 1929. Other notable recordings were “My Time Is Your Time” (music by R. S. Hooper, lyrics by H. M. Tennant), a hit in June that later became Vallée’s radio theme song, and “Fm Just a Vagabond Lover” (music and lyrics by Vallée and Leon Zimmerman), a hit in July that became a signature song for him and that he sang in two movies released toward the end of the year, The Vagabond Loverand Glorifying the American Girl.

On Oct. 24, 1929, Vallée became the host of a weekly national radio show named for its sponsor, Fleis-chmann’s Yeast. He scored a major hit in November with “Lonely Troubadour” (music and lyrics by John Klenner), and had the biggest hit of his career with “Stein Song (Univ. of Maine)” (music by Emil Fenstad and lyrics by Lincoln Colcord, based on one of Brahms’s “Hungarian Dances”), a college drinking song that became a best-seller in March 1930 and was the most popular record of the year. Vallée’s collegiate image was also burnished by “Betty Co-Ed” (music and lyrics by J. Paul Fogarty and Vallée), with which both he and Bob Haring and His Orch. enjoyed hits in August 1930.

Vallée was married for the second time to actress Fay Webb on July 6, 1931; they were divorced on May 20, 1936. He performed in the Broadway revue George White’s Scandals (N.Y., 1931), which ran 204 performances, and he scored hits with three songs from the show, “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” and “My Song” (all three: music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Lew Brown). But his biggest hit of 1931 was “When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba” (music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld), from the revue The Third Little Show.

Vallée made changes in his career in 1932. The format of his radio show was altered to present a mixture of comic and dramatic sketches along with the music and to bring in more guest stars and introduce new talent. He altered his style with more substantial material, notably in his biggest hit of the year, the Depression anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (music by Jay Gorney, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg) from the revue Americana,which became a best-seller in December. His other big hits of the year included such romantic fare as “I Guess ITI Have to Change My Plan (The Blue Pajama Song)” (music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Howard Dietz) and “Let’s Put Out the Lights and Go to Sleep” (music and lyrics by Hupfeld) from George White’s Music Hall Follies.

Vallée devoted the bulk of his time to his radio program in the mid-1930s, though he made the occasional film appearance and returned to the stage in George White’s Scandals of 1936 (N.Y., 1935), which ran 110 performances. His record sales diminished, although he had hits with “There’s Always a Happy Ending” in May 1936, “Vieni, Vieni” (music by Vincent Scotto, Italian and French lyrics by George Koger and Henri Varna, English lyrics by Vallée) in November 1937, and “Oh, Ma-Ma” (based on “Luna Merro Mare,” music and lyrics by Paolo Citorello, English lyrics by Lew Brown and Vallée) in the summer of 1938.

Vallée began to take more film roles in the late 1930s, but it was not until his appearance as the wealthy J. D. Hackensacker III in Preston Sturges’s screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story,released in December 1942, that he found his feet as a comic character actor. He played another millionaire in the musical comedy Happy Go Lucky,released in March 1943. In April, as a result of the popularity of the film Casablancaand the ongoing recording ban, he scored a surprise Top Ten hit with a reissue of his 1931 recording of “As Time Goes By” (music and lyrics by Hupfeld).

When the U.S. entered World War II, Vallée enlisted in the Coast Guard and led a service band; he continued to host his radio program until July 1, 1943, when he gave it up to devote all his time to the war effort. On Dec. 2, 1943, he married actress Jane Greer; they were divorced July 27, 1944. After World War II, Vallée picked up his career on radio, hosting shows through 1948, and made frequent film appearances as a comic actor, notably in the Preston Sturges films The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947; reedited and released as Mad Wednesdayin 1950), Unfaithfully Yours (1948), and The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949).

Vallée developed a nightclub act in the late 1940s with which he toured through the 1950s. He married Eleanor Kathleen Norris on Sept. 4, 1949, and they remained married until his death. He returned to radio as a disc jockey in 1951 and hosted the Kraft Music Hallradio series from February to August 1955. He appeared as a guest star on television and was in a musical version of Hansel and Gretelbroadcast on NBC on April 27, 1958.

Vallée made his debut in a book musical on Broadway with How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (N.Y., 1961). The show ran 1,417 performances, and Vallée was in it for three years; he also appeared in the 1967 film version and in several regional productions. He was the host of On Broadway Tonight,a variety series on television that ran during the summer of 1964 and from January to March 1965. He continued to make occasional appearances in films and on television into the 1970s. He toured in an autobiographical one-man show called Something Differentuntil shortly before his death at age 84 due to complications from an operation for throat cancer.

Discography

The Young R. V.(1961); Stein Songs (1962); The Funny Side of R. V.(1964); Ho Ho, Everybody (1966).

Writings

Vagabond Dreams Come True (N.Y., 1930); with Gil McKean, My Time Is Your Time: The R. V. Story (N.Y., 1962); Let the Chips Fall..(Harrisburg, Pa., 1975).

Bibliography

L. Kiner, The R. V Discography (Westport, Conn., 1985); E. Vallée (his widow) with J. Amadio, My Vagabond Lover: An Intimate Biography of R. V.(Dallas, Tex., 1996).

—William Ruhlmann

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