Does anyone remember the huge fuss made in newspapers around the world in the early 1970’s when the scandal broke that a faded star of yesteryear– singer Rudy Vallee–desired to change the name of the street he lived on (Pyramid Place in the Hollywood Hills) to Rue De Vallee? A Congressman or somesuch who was in hot water at the time sought to shift the focus away from his current misdeeds by vigorously claiming that Vallees’ ego-driven desire to commemorate himself via a street being named after him would cost taxpayers millions of dollars. When the storm broke, poor Rudy Vallee got more press than he’d had in years–all of it negatively directed toward him. Alas Vallee’s “karma”, if you will, led him into this nest of snakes–he’d been difficult and testy and quite seriously rude to people for many years prior. Furthermore, Vallee had ambivalent feelings about his youthful fame and aging ignominy–I suspect more than a few people were confused by the crotchety, aging celebrity’s odd habit of complaining bitterly about not being properly remembered and then, IN HIS VERY NEXT BREATH, telling fans not to bother him with their silly questions. Gracious, Rudy Vallee wasn’t. Or at least not in a typical sense; for if one can get used to the hair-trigger temperment shifts of any star (and God knows I’ve worked with a few and had to deal with it)…(and God knows also that, whatever else he was by the 1970’s, Rudy Vallee was still a STAR) one can see that Rudy wasn’t really all that difficult to understand or deal with. He just needed a little love.
I refer to him familiarly since I had an exceedingly odd but very interesting encounter with the by then 81 year old crooner in 1982. Here’s what happened: growing up in Hollywood, I became interested in who, from the “Golden Age”, might still be around and accessible. (George Burns was around but heavily protected by management. Others could only be glimpsed at the Hillcrest Country Club or similar environs). One day, somehow, I found out that Rudy Vallee was listed in the phone book. The phone book! Imagine? If you’d put Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name in its place I couldn’t have been more surprised. The very sight of his name–it even looks like it exists in its period, the late twenties–thrilled me. And of course the fact that he was listed meant, obviously, that he was welcoming people to reach out to him. I wasted no time (I was sixteen) in doing so. I called. He picked up the phone. His voice was gravelly and yet I could tell by the accent that it was him. “Mr. Vallee?”, I squeaked. “Yes!”, he barked. “You don’t know me” (always a lame beginning) “but I’m very interested in nostalgia…” Bad word choice I guess. Suddenly the gravelly old voice on the other end responded: “Oh you are? Well I’m certainly not!” And the bastard hung up on me.
Score: one Rudy, zip Raymond. But I couldn’t let this go. I had just read his hysterically pompous (and highly indiscreet) autobiography “Let The Chips Fall” and I was fascinated that this man from an era so long dead and gone (and the twenties, I’m sure some will agree, feel even further away than other era’s that pre-date it–the twenties somehow feel like they maybe never really happened)–this man who literally invented “crooning” and was the first coast to coast radio star was alive. And well. And accessible by phone. Even if he was a jerk who hung up on fans.
I should also mention that Rudy Vallee lived in an elaborate old Hollywood mansion off of Mulholland Drive, not far from where I grew up. He was literally around the corner. I decided to write him a letter, choosing not to mention his career (or our unfortunate prior phone conversation) at all. Using his obsessions, as they are laid out, in “Let The Chips Fall” as my guide I knew of three to pick from: 1) Women, 2) Drinking and 3) His house. Since I did not yet know what I know now about the first two, I decided to tell him that I admired his house and wished to see it. (This had the happy fortune of also being true) The letter went out in the next post and only a few days later, getting home from school (I was in eleventh grade at the time) I discovered a letter with a familiar return address waiting for me. (If I’m not mistaken it even had some sort of “My Time Is Your Time” logo or stamp on it). Rudy Vallee had written back to me. I opened the letter. And guess what he wrote back?
You’ll have to wait for the next post to find out the enthralling finish to this story. You see, I’ve become quite interested in traffic stats on this site and I’ve decided to see if a cliffhanger like this will raise the number of page loads in any significant way. Movies Til Dawn hearby signs off, leaving you with a not very impressive appearence by Vallee in the 1929 Ziegfield picture “Glorifying The American Girl”. But I’ll be back…