Most folks today who have any notion at all of Kate Smith think of her as a big gal with a big voice belting patriotic tunes in bombastic fashion. It’s hard to imagine her taking a pratfall, performing a soft shoe routine, or even offering a gentle rendition of a love song.
But as is confirmed by this week’s edition of Snapshot in Prose, in her prime, Smith was a much more versatile performer than is recalled by most today. She was hugely popular, recording many hit renditions of the popular tunes of the day. And earlier in her career, she appeared in stage musicals, where she was respected as a comedienne and even a dancer (and no, she was not petite in those days).
This profile of Smith, from 1935, captures her at a point in her career when she has experenced great success and popularity but before she had become the sort of singing national monument she is now so widely thought to be.
KATE SMITH believes that if you want a thing hard enough and long enough, you’re bound to get it. She ought to know, for she wanted to be an actress from as far back as she can remember, but she had a hard time getting started on her chosen career because her family wanted her to be a nurse.
Her family thought her acting ambitions were just kid stuff and Kate couldn’t seem to convince them otherwise, so she romped through school in Washington, D. C., and when she graduated from high school she obediently packed her things and went off to Georgetown to begin her nurse’s training in a hospital there.
Although her heart wasn’t in her work, for the call of the footlights had grown stronger with each year, Kate stuck it out for 12 months and then announced emphatically that she was through—that she and nursing did not belong together. At last her family gave in and she set off for a life on the stage.
She started in vaudeville and worked her way into musical comedies, appearing in “Honeymoon Lane,” “Flying High” and “Hit the Deck,” where her vocal talents were considered secondary to her antics as a comedienne.
Behind the footlights, executing stomp and tap routines which brought down the house, Kate learned to take wisecracks about her avoirdupois. This never bothered her, however, for she is as nimble and light-footed as only a professional dancer can be.
After several years in show business she had attained the rating of a good performer—but nothing more—when she was rescued from her comparative obscurity and her voice brought to the fore by Ted Collins, her present manager, who discovered her for radio.
This was in May, 1931, and the past four years have been eventful ones for Kate. She broke an all-time record at New York’s vaudeville mecca, the Palace theatre, and with equal ease “wowed” the sophisticated crowds in the Central Park Casino with her simple ballads. To further prove her versatility, she sang the area My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice to the accompaniment of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Leopold Stokowski.
She made her movie debut in “Hello Everybody,” which was produced by Paramount, and attended her first and only big theatrical party when the film colony staged a special reception for her. She never goes to parties. She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, and she doesn’t like to talk about life. She believes that everything that occurs upon the earth is God’s doing and that’s that.