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A Vermont Crooner Calls Out From The Past
photo by courtesy of rudyvallee.comBorn in Island Pond, this Vermonter helped put radio and “crooning” on the map.
Tuesday August 20, 2013
By Cookie Steponaitis
For all of the readers who associate Vermont Crooners with frogs or cicadas, have we got news from you. He was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901, and was one of the most successful entertainers and voices of early American entertainment. His name was Hubert Prior Vallee which he changed to Rudy Vallee and during the 1920’s and 1930’s his deep and crooning vocals and trademark megaphone were the talk of Hollywood and catapulted him to hosting his own variety hour, “The Rudy Vallee Show” from 1929 to 1943.
Young Vallee idolized professional saxophone player Rudy Wiedoft and actually changed his first name in honor of his idol. He began his friendship with the saxophone player after graduating college and the pair remained staunch friends until Wiedoft’s death. Vallee owned one of Wiedoft’s saxophones and ironically it ended up being sold to an Arkansas attorney, who then gifted it to then current Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Vallee’s first professional break came with the band The Yale Collegians at the Heigh Ho Club in New York City. His voice was rough but quickly became labeled as crooning by club guests and Hollywood reviewers alike. Well ahead of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, Vallee started using a megaphone during his performances and would switch back and forth projecting his voice to great distances in the clubs or achieving softness and lower ranges previously not heard in a crowded setting.
Vallee not only recorded successful albums during his incredibly long career but hosted the first radio talk show to 200 million listeners. He invited people of all walks of life and ethnicity. Louis Armstrong came as well as other newcomers to the clubs in Harlem. While he starred in thirty-three films during his career it is surprisingly his last career move that most people remember him for. He starred in the early 1960s Broadway hit, “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying” which ran for four years before also starring in the movie version of it.
Vallee summed up why he felt his fame was just as important as legends like Sinatra and Crobsy, but that his style came from his upbringing and his lack of awe for the Hollywood crowd during a February 22, 1958 interview with Mike Wallace “ 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.”
With the wonders of the Internet and video archives accessible to the masses, Vermonter Rudy Vallee’s songs, radio show and crooning style of voice are all available to be listened to and watched. One afternoon when your fingers are flashing over the secrets of the Internet and you are peeking into that window on a global world, Google the sounds and stories of a Vermont crooner who was known for his style, frugality and staunch independent thought at a time when blending into the Hollywood magical machine was the norm. The Valley Voice salutes Rudy Vallee for keeping his Vermont roots and staying true to his own plans for a career and walking to his own drummer. As Vallee expressed to Mike Wallace in that famed interview, “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...”
Use your fingers and search out a Vermonter who is virtually unknown to most but a legend in his own time and place in American history. See how crooning started with a young man from Island Pond early in the 20th century and perhaps even listen to his 1931 version of “As Time Goes By” nearly a decade before the famed Casablanca recording.
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