Film noir royalty Jane Greer was born 94 years ago today. If asked which actress we’d choose to have pull a gun on us, Ms. Greer would top our short list.
Very few performers have ever managed to carve out a nine-decade career in show business, but that’s just what Rose Marie (Baby Rose Marie, to Cladrite Radio listeners) has done—and she’s still going strong. Since launching her career at the ripe old age of four (she had a weekly radio program that was broadcast nationally before Shirley Temple was even born), Rose Marie has enjoyed success in vaudeville, radio, records, motion pictures, Broadway, and television.
A delightful new documentary, Wait for Your Laugh, documents Rose Marie’s amazing life and career, and we’re delighted to share a very lightly edited transcript of a telephone conversation we recently had the pleasure of enjoying with her. Buckle your seat belts; it’s a delightfully wild ride. As you’ll soon see, Rose Marie is as sharp and as funny as ever.
Cladrite Radio: I have a lot of things I’d like to talk to you about.
Rose Marie: First of all, let me ask you a question.
Cladrite Radio: Sure.
Rose Marie: Did you see the movie [Wait for Your Laugh]?
Cladrite Radio: I did!
Rose Marie: What’d you think of it?
Cladrite Radio: I loved it. I thought it was great.
Rose Marie: What’d you like about it?
Cladrite Radio: I’m very interested in the popular culture of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, in addition to …
Rose Marie: That’s my era.
Cladrite Radio: It sure is. I have an online radio station that features music of that era. I play some of your records on the station.
Rose Marie: Oh, nice.
Cladrite Radio: When I got the chance to interview you, I was so excited. I’m a fan of your music, and I grew up with you on TV as well.
Rose Marie: I know, everybody says that. It makes me feel so old.
Cladrite Radio: Oh, well, I’m not so young myself.
Rose Marie: I’m 94, wanna bet?
Cladrite Radio: You’re doing great. You’re probably doing better at 94 than I am at 59.
Rose Marie: Okay.
Cladrite Radio: I wanted to ask you about the documentary. Whose idea…
Rose Marie: I’m very happy to tell you. I’m very proud of it. I love it. I’m so proud of [director] Jason Wise, I can’t stand it. I think he’s a genius. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest men in the business in a couple years. I think this will introduce him to everybody. I think he’ll even be bigger than Steven Spielberg.
Cladrite Radio: I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind that a bit.
Rose Marie: Oh, he’s wonderful. You have no idea. You don’t know how particular he is. When we decided to do this thing, I kept everything from the time I was three years old. Postcards, pictures, film, anything I had, I kept. When he talked about doing the documentary, he says, “Let’s talk.” I said, “I have everything in scrapbooks. Why don’t you just go through everything?” I emptied out my house, and I mean he cleaned me out of everything. He put it in that documentary. Just a genius.
Cladrite Radio: All the materials that we see in the documentary, the film clips we see and some of the programs and promotional materials and various things that are included in it…
Rose Marie: All mine. All mine that he dug up out of my house.
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Jane Greer was born Bettejane Greer 92 years ago today in Washington, D.C. If she had played no other role in a motion picture than Kathie Moffat, the femme fatale who bedeviled Robert Mitchum in the noir classic Out of the Past, she’d be remembered with great fondness in the Cladrite household.
Here are 10 JG Did-You-Knows:
- As a child Greer suffered from a facial palsy that partially paralyzed her face. She credited the facial exercises she performed to overcome the condition helped her expressiveness as an actress.
- After winning beauty contests and working as a model as a teen, Greer began her career as a performer singing (in phonetic Spanish) with the dance orchestra of Enrique Madriguera.
- Howard Hughes spotted Greer in a 1942 modeling spread in Life magazine and brought her to Hollywood to work in pictures.
- Greer married Rudy Vallée in 1943, in order, it was said in some circles, to escape the overly possessive and controlling Hughes. She was 19; he was 42. We’re big Rudy fans, but he was an oddball on his best day and this has to be as one of the unlikeliest pairings in Hollywood history. The couple separated after just three months of marriage and divorced five months later.
- Greer had her name legally changed from Bettejane to Jane in December 1945. About her birth name, she said, “Mine is a sissy name. It’s too bo-peepish, ingenueish, for the type of role I’ve been playing. It’s like Mary Lou or Mary Ann.”
- Greer was a descendant of the poet John Donne.
- Greer had three sons with second husband Edward Lasker, an attorney and business, to whom she was married for 16 years. TWo of her sons, Alex and Lawrence, worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and ’90s as writers and producers.
- Her longest romantic relationship was a 36-year domestic partnership with actor and dialogue coach Frank London that lasted until his death in 2001. She passed away six months later.
- In addition to the 28 motion pictures she appeared in, Greer worked extensively on television, beginning in 1953 with an appearance on The Revlon Mirror Theater and ending in 1990 with a recurring role in the second season of Twin Peaks.
- Greer had a twin brother named Don.
Happy birthday, Jane Greer, wherever you may be!
Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée 115 years ago today in Island Pond, Vermont. He was a huge star as a young man, a true teen idol singing in a brand new style—the Elvis Presley (or perhaps the Justin Bieber) of his day, if you will. Here are 10 RV Did-You-Knows:
- In addition to his vocal talents, Vallée played drums, clarinet and saxophone.
- Vallée’s popular radio program of the 1920s and early ’30s was sponsored by Fleishmann’s Yeast (funny, but you just don’t see or hear that many yeast advertisements anymore).
- Vallée, for all his popularity with the public, was said to be difficult to work with early in his career. He was short-tempered and ever spoiling for a fight, it is said.
- As an orchestra leader, Vallée gave many popular singers their start, among them Alice Faye and Frances Langford.
- Vallée wrote his first memoir in 1930, when he was all of 29.
- His catch-phrase was, “Heigh-ho, everybody!”
- The crooners of the 1920s and ’30s, of whom Vallée was among the most popular, were singing in a new, more intimate, even sexy style that simply wasn’t possible prior to the rise of the microphone. Rudy’s vocalizing may not strike the average listener today as especially sexy, but at the time, it was. If you don’t believe us, just ask him: He insisted on more than one occasion that “People called me the guy with the cock in his voice.” (No, we don’t really understand that, either.)
- He played the romantic lead in several movies at the height of his popularity, but he later switched to more comedic roles, playing stuffy, pompous and sometimes oddball characters. (He’s very funny in Preston Sturges‘ The Palm Beach Story (1942), for example, but one almost wonders if he’s in on the joke.)
- Vallée had a hit in the 1920s with The Maine Stein Song, the fight song for his alma mater, the University of Maine.
- Vallée died in 1986 while watching the Statue of Liberty Centennial ceremonies on television.
Happy birthday, Rudy Vallée, wherever you may be!
If you turned on your radio in the 1920s and early 1930s (or, for that matter, if you tuned into Cladrite Radio right now), you wouldn’t have to wait long before you heard the crooning of one of a handful of popular male vocalists: Chick Bullock, Scrappy Lambert, Dick Robertson and a few others.
These weren’t the biggest stars of the day—they didn’t rank up with, say, Bing Crosby or Rudy Vallée—but they were among the busiest singers for hire, performing and recording with a lengthy roster of the most popular orchestras of the day, and, depending upon which contractual restrictions they were violating at the time, often being credited under various pseudonyms.
And probably as busy as any of them was Smith Ballew, who was born 114 years ago today in Palestine, Texas. Ballew was a popular radio singer and sang on literally hundreds of records. He was so busy that he once reported for for-hire session at a recording studio in NYC with no earthly idea who he was to be singing with that day—it turned out to be Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
After this busy phase of his career, Smith Ballew became a singing cowboy in the movies, starring in 17 pictures between 1936 and 1951. He retired from Hollywood after that, moving back to the Lone Star state, where he took a position as manager in the missiles division of an aircraft company. He passed away in 1984.
Happy birthday, Mr. Ballew, and thanks for the musical memories!