Times Square Tintypes: Rudy Vallee

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles crooner and bandleader Rudy Vallee.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEART

RUDY VALLEE was born July 28, 1901, in Island Pond, Vt.
Caricature of Rudy ValleeHis real name is Herbert Prior Vallee. Took the name of Rudy from Rudy Wiedoft, the saxophone player. His idol.
Curses like a stoker. Has a temper and when it is aroused he screams like a woman.
His father was a pharmacist and owned a drug store in Westbrook, Maine, until last summer. The father is a French Canadian. His mother is Irish. Has one sister, Kathleen Marie, and one brother, William, who goes to Fordham College and lives with him.
Doesn’t drink much. When he does he takes a rye highball. The taste of Scotch makes him sick.
When the war broke out he ran away from home to enlist in the navy. While in a training school, they learned that he was only fifteen years old. He was put in the hoosegow until his parents called for him. Stills thinks he was a sailor.
His boyhood ambition was to be a letter carrier.
Sleeps in gay-colored pajamas. He snores and grinds his teeth. Occasionally he has a hot-water bag in bed with him to keep his toes warm. Gets semi-nightmares and wanders in his sleep. Several times his brother pulled him back from walking out a window.
Can play only two instruments. The saxophone and the clarinet. He two-fingers the piano a bit. He is left-handed.
As a kid and a student at Yale he was unpopular with the girls. While at college he majored in Spanish. His desire then was to be a wealthy South American business man.
He pinches the lobe of his ear with his finger nails when he is nervous.
Smokes occasionally. It is an English brand of cigarettes. He has posed for pictures smoking a pipe but detests one. Often requests people not to smoke a pipe in his presence.
The kind of a woman who appeals to him the most is one of the Lenore Ulric type of beauty.
Can often be seen in Childs’ or in Thompson’s one-armed lunch place. His favorite dish is buckwheat cakes with plenty of butter.
While playing at the Rendezvous, he sang so low that Gilda Gray told him “to go get a megaphone.” He did. Now plans to use an all glass megaphone so people will be able to see his face when singing.
His blond eyebrows are not very prominent. Therefore for photographs and stage purposes he pencils in arched eyebrows.
Keeps all strings, bags and papers that he finds. His pockets are filled with bits of paper, cigarette crumbs, throat tablets and burnt matches. Buys every patent medicine that appears. He always carries at least three toothbrushes.
Whenever he takes a girl out to eat he tells her what to order.
Lets his clothes flop wherever he takes them off. Never bothers to hang them up. Is economical. Takes stains out of his suits with a home cleaning fluid.
While playing at the Paramount, two schoolgirls, watching him, decided that they had to meet him personally. Posing as interviewers from a high school paper, they were ushered into his dressing room. As a matter of courtesy, he offered his hand in greeting. One of the girls took it and fainted. The other fell back in a chair—exhausted. The house physician was called, and the girl was revived and escorted to the street. But not until the one who clasped Rudy’s hand let it be known that she was never going to wash the hand that touched her hero’s hand.
His great ambition today is to make one million dollars.
When reading he prefers Western stories. Believes the greatest book ever written to be The Guarded Heights, a story of college life at Princeton, by Wadsworth Camp.
Of all the songs he sings his favorite is “Deep Night.”
On May 11, 1928, he married Leonie Cauchois McCoy. The marriage was annulled the August of that year. He gives every girl the “Grey Dawn” test. Keeps them out until dawn, believing that if a girl looks good then she’ll look good any time.
Has two scars on his body. One is from an appendicitis operation. The other is a bit of gravel in his left knee cap. The result of a motor-cycle accident.
The one thing in life he fears is that some day he will be fat and bald.

Times Square Tintypes: Mae West

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress Mae West.
 

GO EAST, YOUNG MAN, GO EAST

MAE WEST. She was born in Brooklyn, August 17, 1900, according to her life insurance policy and the record on the police blotter at Blackwell’s Island. Several acquaintances claims to have known her before that date.
Caricature of Mae WestShe uses a floral perfume in the morning. In the evening she changes to a heavy Oriental perfume.
Years ago she played the Palace in “Songs, Dances and Witty Sayings.” She is the originator of the shimmy. Discarded it before Gilda Gray and Bee Palmer took up the sway.
All her leading men have been six footers. She prefers the “he-man” type.
Doesn’t smoke. The cigarettes she smokes on the stage are denicotinized.
Her conversation bubbles with slang. Will often invent certain phrases and expressions all her own. Also will render an original pronunciation of a word. When talking she covers a world of territory by continually saying: “Know what I mean.”
Her ears are really beautiful.
She has a brother and a sister. Her father was a prize fighter. Later a bouncer at Fox’s Folly Theater.
Besides English, she speaks German, French and Jewish.
Her first big rôle was with Ed Wynn in Sometime. Later she appeared in Ziegfeld and Shubert revues. In one of these she was Cleopatra and shimmied in a number called “Shakespeare’s Garden of Love.”
She always wears a pendant in the shape of a champagne bottle.
She has the same mannerisms offstage as on. When acting, however, her voice is three times lower than usual.
In writing a play she needs only an idea. After making a few rough notes she calls a rehearsal. A script is not essential. She writes the dialogue and works out the situations during rehearsals to fit the cast she has hired. Will often ask the actors if they like a certain line. If they don’t she will change it. Reading a part, she believes, makes an actor self-conscious. Before she wrote plays for herself she learned her rôles by having them read to her.
As a kid she was dressed in Little Lord Fauntleroy clothing.
Her favorite dish is kippered herring.
She likes everything massive. Her furniture, bed, even her car is larger than the average. The swan bed used in Diamond Lil was taken from her home. Formerly it belonged to Diamond Jim Brady.
She has never tried to reduce.
Seldom reads. When a public event like the Ruth Snyder case interests her she has it read to her. When she does read, it is an ancient history book.
Is of the opinion that Sex will become a classic. That in time it will be revived likes Ghosts or Hamlet.
She sleeps in a black lace nightgown. Lying flat on her back with her right arm over her eyes.
Some day she hopes to own leopard for a pet.
Her ambition is to write a Pulitzer Prize play.
She receives at least four proposals of marriage a week. And from some of the town’s best blue blood.
When dressing she first puts on her shoes and stockings. Then combs her hair and puts on her hat. Then she puts on her dress. All her dresses are made to order with special slits to enable her to do this. They are all cut very low about the neck.
In vaudeville she also worked in an acrobatic act. She can lift a 500-pound weight. She can support three men each weighing 150 pounds.
She kisses on the stage with all the fervor that she does off. During an intense love scene in the play her pulse will jump twenty-eight beats.
Her pet aversion is a man who wears white socks.
She has a colored maid who is a dead ringer for her. She will color her own photograph to show a visitor the likeness.
She believes virtue always triumphs over vice.

Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 20

In Chapter 20 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée recalls his lonely youth when gals didn’t always appreciate what he had to offer them and explores the impact that fame can have in the arena of romance.

Chapter XX

“That’s My Weakness Now”

I WAS born with an extraordinary amount of feeling. By feeling I mean something that has many sides and may be expressed in many ways. A person who has this intensity of emotion within, may find an outlet for it through passion and anger, or through artistic work such as painting, sculpture and writing, whether literary or musical. Some of its greatest mediums of expression are instruments of a musical nature, including that most beautiful of all instruments, the human voice. The majority of human beings rarely experience great passion or feelings. If I explain what I mean by “great passion or feelings,” I think it will be seen that I am quite correct.
In speaking of that passion or feeling known as anger or temper, I have found that nearly everyone seems to take a certain foolish pride in saying that they have quite a temper when once aroused. And yet, I find these people unusually docile, easy to get along with, and very tractable. It is true that, sufficiently aroused, they are provoked to anger. But in my mind, the person who really has a temper is one who, on he slightest provocation, or on no provocation at all, flies into an ungovernable rage. In the same spontaneous way does this same feeling or passion manifest itself through music and the sex impulse.
I know so many musicians who play well, who play mechanically correctly, and with a certain amount of feeling withal. That is, the listener is aware of the fact that there is some emotion expressed in the person’s tone, whether through an instrument or the voice. But the degree of feeling in the majority of musicians is very small, simply due to the fact that the majority of persons are not tremendously emotional by nature. So it is obviously quite impossible for them to express something they do not feel through their voices or instruments. The actor or orator who can sway his audience is merely using his voice and mind as a medium for the expression of this elusive feeling. I do not claim to know from what part of the body this phenomenon comes; I do know that it manifests itself differently in different people. I experience it very often through music. Martial tones give me that very commonplace run of shivers up and down my spine. Sad music, or extremely beautiful music combined with beautiful poetry, brings tears very easily to my eyes, beautiful music with a love story or love picture brings an emptiness, a yearning, and an ache into my heart. All my life I have always felt these emotions when I have been confronted by these expressions of the emotions of others. Thus it is that certain people have within them a well of emotion and passion or a certain quality of personality. We call that personality “IT” or sex appeal. A person of this temperament reacts upon one whose system is likewise constructed, in such a way that each is tremendously aware of the other’s feelings. Ever since I was a child I have been aware of the tremendous attraction that certain types of people who are generally alike in type have for me.
Clearly everyone has a weakness for something. By that I do not mean a weakness that becomes an obsession that ends with the person going to an asylum, or, in the case of a drunkard or a gambler, “to the dogs.” Rather is this weakness a sort of a cross between a hobby and a complex. For some men the week is not complete and they have not had their greatest happiness unless they have attended some kind of a sport event; for another man it is a business convention; for another in the nature of a gathering of old cronies either at cards, pool, or a fishing trip; and for still others it is a drinking bout, or a gambling fest, or a smoker. While I enjoy some of these things, I find none of them absolutely essential to my happiness. We have among our great paintings a simple that is called “End of Day” which depicts a farmer going home with the setting sun. I remember the painting only vaguely but I do know that the idea it conveyed to me was that the reward which awaited the farmer was his cottage, which all its homely comforts, his children, and lastly that complement that must have been created as a necessary half of the total, his wife.
Likewise to me, the reward for all my strivings, schemings, labors and hopes, is the comfort that I will receive from the company of the girl who brings happiness to me. Perhaps it will be just her company, just her presence by my side; maybe it will be the pressure of her hand, or the feel of her in my arms as we dance, or if alone, in embrace; and then that acme of all happiness and delight, the touch of her lips, that gives me this joy. I know that the majority of men are not so dependent on the companionship of women as I am and are perhaps happier for their independence, as I have often been very lonely.

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Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 16

In Chapter 16 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée recounts his earliest experiences in the recording studio.

Chapter XVI

IT’S IN THE WAX

MAKING phonograph records always had a great fascination for me. My first thrill of hearing my voice in song or saxophone in solo came when i was at the University of Maine in 1921.
The authorities of the University of Maine were interested enough in my musical efforts to allow me the use of some of the buildings on the campus for my practice. The agricultural part of the college had a large building known as Agricultural Hall where one learned all the science of the soil and animal life of the farm and barnyard. High up on the fourth floor were large classrooms that were empty at night. In one of these I used to practice certain very disagreeable sounding exercises. For instance, for the development of saxophone tone I started with the lowest note on the sax and held it as long as the deep breath I had just taken would permit. I have held certain notes of the saxophone for two minutes.
Of course nothing could be more monotonous or unpleasant to hear than these long tone exercises since it took me one hour to come up the scale, holding each note as long as possible. Therefore, to avoid driving others to insanity, I sought complete isolation where I had the comfortable feeling that I was disturbing no one and likewise would not be disturbed.
In some of the various offices on this floor were Ediphones, or dictaphones, as they are more commonly known. Since a letter dictated into one of these could be reproduced for the stenographer’s ear, I saw no reason why I could not likewise reproduce music; and so I recorded on these round dictaphone cylinders several simple melodies on the saxophone, announcing them very much in the fashion the old Edison cylinders announced the name of the record.
Although the dictaphone is perfected for the recording of speech in letter form, it is far from perfect when one attempts to record a sustained musical note on it. The rotation of the wax disc upon which a musical sound has been recorded must be absolutely perfect and the tube, or horn, which leads the sound to the needle that scratches upon the wax disc must be of a certain type and size to catch all of the notes being reproduced. The dictaphone being imperfect in this respect proved to be quite unsatisfactory for perfect reproduction of my musical efforts.
However, it still gave me some idea of phrasing, style and tone. I still have several of these old dictaphone cylinders stowed away and prize them very highly, perhaps as highly as some of our Victor records that today are so popular.
Easter vacation, 1922, saw my first chance to really record a saxophone solo The Victor Company had written me, in response to my letter inquiring about the possibility of recording a saxophone solo, that they had their saxophone artists and saw no opening for me.
However, the Edison Company, having no great saxophone artist, promised me an audition and a test recording.
The Columbia Phonograph Company maintains what is known as a Personal Record Department which will record, for the sum of fifty dollars, any vocal or instrumental sounds which can be recorded on a ten inch record, that plays for three minutes. This recording is done in the same room that the greatest of their artists use, on the same machines and with the same experts that devoted to these artists. Then they allow you the choice of one of two proofs, as in the case of proofs of photographs, and the one selected can be purchased singly at one dollar or in lots of 500 at fifty cents each.
It was worth fifty dollars to me (although that seemed a lot of money then), to go to New York and do this. So, I arranged a day during my Easter vacation of 1922 to perform a simple solo. I left Bangor, Maine, with three great objectives: first, to see and hear Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra at the Palais Royal, second, to meet Rudy Wiedoeft personally (as his manager had promised me an appointment) and third, to make my first solo record.
As the train stopped in New Haven for a few minutes and I saw those young college boys, dressed in the height of college fashion, I never dreamed that I would some day be on that same station platform, likewise a Yale man, and wearing the same type of clothes.
In New York, I realized every one of my ambitions. It was my first visit to the metropolis and I was duly impressed, as every small town person probably is.

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Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 15

In Chapter 15 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée pays homage to the man who served as his saxophone mentor and muse, Rudy Wiedoeft.

Chapter XV

THE SAX GOD—WIEDOEFT

Probably most people connect my name with the saxophone, but only a few know that all my life I have had a great desire to play some sort of a musical instrument. I went from drums to clarinet, to trumpet, to saxophone.
The clarinet I studied faithfully for ten weeks and then was forced to neglect it, due to a very hard job in a sawmill during the summer vacation. When I think of how close I came to losing my fingers I thank my lucky stars that I finished that summer’s work without receiving so much as a scratch from a saw. Many times when I worked on the “edger,” the saw teeth striking a knot in the board would throw it back so that the palm of my hand just missed the teeth.
I took up the study of the trumpet while working back stage with a stock company, and then rented a saxophone when I began my senior year in school. The similarity between saxophone and clarinet made it possible for me to play a limited range of notes on the saxophone. The horn that I had was called a C Melody, being pitched in C. I could read song sheets, the violin parts, without any transposition. I used to play at night with several acquaintances who gathered in a bowling alley where near beer was served, and go canoeing with a banjo player or a violinist. Always I played for my own amusement and for those who cared to listen. Finally I was engaged by a small dance orchestra playing two nights a week in a Pythian Temple Building. This led to more engagements in northern Maine with what had been Maine’s most famous dance orchestra, Welch’s Novelty Orchestra.
By that time I had begun to think I was quite a saxophonist; the boys in that band, and in fact every band I played with, made so much of me that I was very pleased with my progress.
I had read somewhere, possibly in a Victor catalogue, about a Victor record that Joseph C. Smith and his orchestra had played called “Caravan.” This was the composition of a young man, a saxophonist by the name of Rudy Wiedoeft, who, the article said, dropped in when Smith was recording the number and played a chorus of variations which were truly marvelous. Just before I had left for the summer engagement in northern Maine I had listened to a record that this young man had made with another saxophonist and two pianos (these four called themselves the Wiedoeft-Wadsworth Quartet). On this record, called “The Crocodile,” the saxophones had employed a peculiar form of tongueing known as “slap tongue” because it gives forth from the bell a sound very much akin to that produced by two boards being slapped together. I noticed that this always intrigued the layman even as it did me. After experimenting a little bit with the mouthpiece and reed, I stumbled onto this effect, and it stood me in great stead in those early days, and brought a lot of attention to my playing, as many saxophonists are to able to do it.
Then in the fall when I returned from the summer engagement, the Victor Company released the first solo played by Rudy Wiedoeft on the same type of instrument that I used, the C Melody. Both numbers were his own compositions and one of them is his pièce de résistance, that one that he is always associated with, namely “Saxophobia.” They are masterpieces even today, and I truthfully believe no one could record them in quite the way Wiedoeft did. Although Wiedoeft’s beautiful tone was apparent in “The Crocodile” it remained for this wonderful record of “Valse Erica” and “Saxophobia” to show me the great possibilities of the saxophone as a concert solo instrument.
I wrote Wiedoeft, asking him a few technical questions. The weeks dragged by but no reply came, so I wrote a second, and a third, and a fourth, and so on until I had written eight letters. I made up my mind that if persistence counted for anything. I would hear from him, but I did not realize that I was writing to perhaps the busiest man in New York City. Between phonograph records, solo appearances, and a thousand and one pressing engagements, Rudy Wiedoeft had no time for answering fan mail. Then again, Rudy Wiedoeft had no time for answering fan mail. Then again, Rudy dislikes letter writing, not being of a particularly literary turn of mind. I did not hear from him until I came down with acute appendicitis in December, 1920. This time, noting that I was sick and in the hospital, he answered my letter, replying to my questions in full.
I had begun the study of the saxophone with a man who had had many years’ experience with the instrument. This man decried the use of “slap tongue” as being “illegitimate,” and perhaps it was pity for my helplessness in the hospital combined with irritation at the criticism of “slap tongue” by this instructor that made Wiedoeft reply. Anyway, he censured my instructor roundly for daring to criticize him, inviting him to come to New York City where, as he said, the phonograph business was open, and any one of the phonograph companies would welcome him with open arms if he were as good a saxophonist as he was a critic. Wiedoeft’s final point impressed me very strongly. He said that anything is legitimate so long as it produces the goods. I never quite forgot that statement, and although it is not actually or completely true, it comes pretty near being.

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