Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 9

In Chapter Nine of Rudy Vallée’s 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy tells us about the voluminous amounts of fan he received and assures the reader that the rumor that the correspondence he receives comes mostly from flappers is decidedly untrue.

Chapter IX

My Fan Mail

EXAGGERATION is, I suppose, the life and spirit of publicity. But being a very conscientious New England Yankee, born to state facts as they are, I have chafed under the ballyhoo of many a write-up. One point in particular is a sore spot to me: any mention, however finished or crude, of my fan mail irritates me. There is nothing quite so sacred or quite so wonderful as the tribute of an admirer to the one who receives it and to publicly make mention of this seems to me as brazen and as unpolished as to open another person’s mail.
A periodical which carried my life story, “ghost written” by a girl writer, boasted that I received 20,000 letters a day. Nothing could be more absurd and untrue, and this would be very apparent to anyone who would stop to consider the improbability of such a thing.
This paper went on to state, in the little synopsis preceding the story itself each day, that many of these letters were proposals.
As I take stock of myself and try to imagine how others might consider me as being eligible as a husband, I personally fail to see why I should receive many, if any proposals at all. But there is no accounting for taste, and I suppose that I might seriously appeal to some as a husband.
This is not mock modesty for remember I am well aware of the fact that my appeal is a personality expressed in a voice, and in the average marriage the physical side is of much greater importance than either the mental aspect or personality. People rarely propose to something they have not seen.
Had I been able to censor this “ghost written” story, which somehow got beyond my control, I would never have permitted any mention of letters or their contents as I feel very much like a Father Confessor who forgets immediately (as far as other people are concerned) what is told him, and every letter I receive, even those that criticize, condemn or deride me, I hold as most sacred, and worthy of my attention and thought.
I am very glad that I do not receive 20,000 letters or even 500 letters a day, because quite obviously I would never be able to read all of them, as I do now. Although I read fast it sometimes consumes three hours of my day only to read my daily mail, let along the extra time it takes to answer it.
I am told by the motion picture studio people that my first picture, even if a failure, will bring me so much mail that I will not able to read it personally. And I suppose if all the Fleischmann letters were turned over to me, I would not be able to ready all of my radio fan mail. This is even more unfortunate, as the radio letters I receive help me immeasurably in building my radio program.
However, those I may engage to read the letters, should the number of them ever get away from me, will be individuals who know my likes and dislikes and will understand how to give me a consensus of opinion of the daily batch of letters, as I feel it is most essential and important that I keep a very close and sensitive finger upon the pulse of those who are interested in my efforts.
My very first fan letters, which came as a result of our first broadcasts in February, 1928, were a revelation and an inspiration to me. My association with the radio had been very meagre indeed and I did not know and had never considered that people took the pains to express their appreciation of a radio program by letter.
To most people letter-writing is a most disagreeable and unwelcome task; there seems to be something irksome and difficult about securing writing materials, and sitting down and expressing certain thoughts on paper. This is readily understandable when one considers the steps involved in writing a letter.
First, it is necessary to be in the mood to write. It is obviously quite impossible to write a letter when one is exhausted or irritated.

Then again writing material, that is, envelopes and sheets, are never around when one wants them.
How many people possess pens that write freely and easily, in a way that makes one want to write with them?
Then too, it is surprising how many people do not know the correct form of letter-writing. But it is really absurd to be deterred from writing by this, because, after all, the form is only convention and for a person to fail to express his or her thoughts by letter to someone who is eagerly awaiting these thoughts, however crudely expressed on paper, is to fail to give happiness where it is so easily given.
Fifth, the address of the person to whom the letter is to be sent is usually vague and most of us are too lazy or possibly stupid to do a little detective work to locate it.
Sixth, a letter needs a stamp before it can be mailed and stamps are even more difficult to find than paper.
And lastly, there is many a slip between the sealing of the envelope and the mailing of the letter.
For the above reasons, when anyone takes the extreme trouble and time to write to me, I am flattered and honored, because I know that for most of them it was, as they tell me in their letters, a considerable effort.
I find that radio letters fall into several distinct classifications.
First, there are letters that might almost be termed form letters, letters that in brief state how the writers enjoyed our music and that they are constant listeners to our programs. Then there are the letters that specifically state what tunes the writers liked in the past and what tunes they would like to hear in the future. Thirdly, the personal type of letter that asks for a photograph, tells you that the author likes the program, and names the tunes he or she enjoys and will enjoy.
Letter than contain more than this become, as I term them, unusual. And then there may be “more unusual” and “very unusual” letters with other qualifications calling for such terms as thrilling, daring, obnoxious, cruel, pitiful, ludicrous and sensuous.
The letters from which I derive the most happiness and satisfaction are those that tell me that from our music comes comfort, solace and enjoyment. There are those who tell me they come home at night from work, tired and dispirited; they say that when they are able to sit and listen to our little program their blues seem to disappear and they forget all their worries and cares.
How can I help but be happy in making and playing programs that I know are going to bring something of relief to those in such circumstances?
Then there are letters that come once in a while from some poor unfortunate invalid whose face has been turned to the ceiling for days and even weeks and months, and who little or no hope of a change in the future. When these people tell me that the hours pass all too slowly until we come over the air to them, or when a nurse tells me that we do a patient more good than the doctor or his medicines, I feel happier than a philanthropist.
There is a little blind colony just outside of New York City whose members have taken the trouble not only to write but to come to my dressing-room at the place where I was playing, to meet me and tell me with their own lips just what our efforts have meant to them.
With such wonderful letters as these in my possession I do not feel so unhappy when an occasional uncomplimentary letter greets my eyes. I have long since adopted the principle, “You can’t please everybody,” and realizing that there are those who prefer a different type of music than ours, those who have their own ideas of voice announcing and style of orchestral music, I am not alarmed or piqued when uncomplimentary ones come to me. But letters of a very disagreeable type, especially those that condemn wholesale everything we do and play are very rare.
I must correct one impression that publicity has wrongly created, that is, that all of my letters are from girls, especially flappers. I will admit that the majority of our letters are from the opposite sex, but I receive more letters from mothers and young or middle aged women than I do from flappers. Then again I receive a great many from little children and plenty from business men, young men and old grizzled men, men who labor hard with their hands and who tell me that they get a great enjoyment out of our music.
Naturally, the messages come written on all sorts of stationery; but the cheapest kind receives just as much attention as the most expensive.
These are those who seem to regard me as someone to confide in—they tell me their troubles, their hopes and aspirations—and those who ask my advice about matters of great importance to them.
Where a letter merits a reply I send one, and when it is clear to me that a letter will make someone happier or assist in his or her recovery from illness, I write with pleasure.
There are young girls who write that they have made bets with each other that I am “high hat,” that I won’t reply, that I won’t even read the letter, and even though I sometimes feel this is merely a scheme to secure a reply. I take great delight in writing back in long hand, to destroy that incorrect impression that someone else seems to have of me.
One half the people who write to me seem to think that an apology is necessary as they begin a letter; possibly they feel that I will think less of them for writing. Or, feeling very self-conscious about it, they begin by saying, “I am not in the habit of writing this kind of a letter,” or “I have never written a fan letter before.” When these are sincere, I feel very flattered that I should be the first to receive a letter from them.
These are those who write asking for a reply, or condemn me, or dare me to write them and yet very stupidly omit their addresses. Obviously I am helpless, although I should probably enjoy writing to them.
I recall a most pitiful letter that I received from a tot of five years who told me that both father and mother were dead, killed in an accident which had left unable to walk. She loved to hear me sing as her daddy himself had sung to her, in the same way that I sang. She had asked me to broadcast and mention her name on a Monday night, but childlike had omitted to give me her address. So I was unable to write and tell her we were not on the air Monday nights, or to tell her to tune in on a night when I could play what she requested and, breaking a rule I had adhered to very firmly before—mention her name. If she thought about it at all I suppose she wondered why nothing ever happened; but I was unable to do anything, since I did not know where to write her.
While at school I received an average of two letters a day. One of my life ambitions then was to receive so much mail that I would hardly be able to read it.
Heaven knows, my wish has been more than granted! Sometimes it seems as though my eyes and brain are so tired that I cannot go on reading. But since those who have written me have individually given me their attention and consideration, I at least can give mine; and I hope the day never comes when I will be unable to give every letter my personal attention.

Read Chapter 10

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