Happy 115th Birthday, Rudy Vallée!

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 SturgesThe 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!

Rudy Vallée

There’s a small hotel

One thing we love about New York City is the through line that connects those who once lived here with the eight million residing here currently.

In our hometown of Oklahoma City, this connection is tenuous at best. It’s not that easy to find recognizable locations, sites, and structures in old pictures of OKC—it’s just not that old a town. If somehow a Oklahoma Cityan of 1910 could time travel to the present day, we’re not sure he or she would find much that was recognizable.

But a New Yorker traveling to the present from 1910, while he’d still be amazed by all the changes that had taken place, could find plenty of recognizable landmarks: The Statue of Liberty, the Flatiron Building, City Hall, Bowling Green, the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Carnegie Hall, the city’s great parks—we could go on and on.

And there are thousands of small residential buildings still in use that were around 100 years ago, too.

We recently spent a little time browsing the photography collection at the Museum of the City of New York’s web site, and we were delighted to find a 1921 photograph of the old Allerton House at 22nd Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, which is right down the street from Cladrite HQ.

Allerton House, Southwest Corner of Eighth Avenue and 22nd Street. Byron Company (New York, NY). From the collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

When we moved to this neighborhood twenty-one years ago, the Allerton was what is often referred to as a welfare hotel. Folks who were down on their luck lived there under the auspices of the city’s social services organizations. We were unfamiliar with the hotel’s history, and we sometimes wondered how that once-proud structure had come to suffer its then-current fate, just as we often mused over how the folks who resided there found themselves down on their luck.

Years passed, and the hotel was sold. It’s since been spruced up (though, thankfully, the exterior has not been noticably changed) and is now a semi-fancy hotel called the Gem.

It’s perhaps a reflection of the current economic times that the two commercial spaces on the ground floor of the Gem have remained empty, except for an occasional pop-up art exhibit, over the two or three years the hotel’s been in operation. At least when it was still called the Allerton and served as something of a timeworn sanctuary for folks trying to get back on their feet, there was a Subway sandwich shop in the ground floor.

But what we really wish was still taking up the ground floor of the Gem was the haberdashery that occupied that space in 1920. If you go to the MCNY web site, you can see an enlarged version of the picture we’ve shared with you above, and, in that hi-res version, you’ll see what we mean. The windows of the clothing are filled with men’s shirts and suits and, best of all, literally dozens of men’s hats—fedoras, bowlers, derbies, you name it.

Oh, how we wish that shop were still in operation, but of course, when we say that, what we really mean is that we wish the still-operational shop would be selling the very wares in which they were trafficking in 1920, and that wouldn’t, of course, be the case, even if the shop had somehow managed to survived all these years.

Still, one can dream, no?

Wonder city of the world!

An acquaintance of ours once wrote of New York City and its denizens:

“Even New Yorkers who have lived here all their lives are happy to sit back and chat away about the place as if they’d just come across it. It’s a regular topic of conversation. And what’s nice is that it’s neither particularly narcissistic nor self-loathing, this chatter, but more curious and delighted.”

We think that as apt and accurate a description of New Yorkers’ attitude toward their town as we’ve ever heard.

We find that New Yorkers not only like to talk about their town, to commiserate over its delights and surprises (and, yes, miseries) with one another, but most every New Yorker we know also likes to see the city on the silver screen (or perhaps the small screen at home). Even though we’re surrounded at all times by the hustle and bustle, the noise and hordes of people and row after row of concrete towers, most of us still get a kick out of seeing them depicted cinematically.

And it’s an even rarer treat to see the streets of the city as they once were, in old movies and promotional films.

The film we’re sharing with you today, “Flight to New York,” is a promo film for Trans-World Airlines, but it touts the Big Apple just as much as that now-defunct air carrier. It was shot in 1950, and most of the attractions featured in it are still around today. But there’s something about seeing them as they once were, captured in glorious black-and-white.