Romancing Rudy: An Interview
Our correspondent interviews Eleanor Vallee, wife of the late crooner Rudy Vallee, who wrote a memoir of their life together and deep love for each other.
By A.J. FLICK
Tucson, Arizona (Special to Classic Movies) – Rudy Vallee was an American original.
“What he gave to American music and theater is invaluable,” says his widow, Eleanor Vallee.
“He was the first crooner. Fans tore his clothes off. They would throw panties up on stage — they did all those naughty things. This was long before Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.”
Last summer, on the 10th anniversary of Rudy Vallee’s death, Eleanor Vallee released a book she wrote with Jill Amadio, My Vagabond Lover(Taylor Publishing, $22.95).
Titled after one of Rudy’s biggest hits and his first movie, the biography focuses on the private life of one of Hollywood’s first superstars.
“I was going to write it all along,” said Eleanor, calling recently from her Bel Air, California, home. “I made a promise to him before he died to write about our life together — an intimate biography.
“But then after he died, you know what happens. You get so involved in business matters and other things.”
A year and a half after Rudy Vallee died, Eleanor married attorney Edward Hustedt. That marriage lasted three years.
“And then he died on me. That wasn’t very nice of him, was it?” Eleanor said with dry humor. “He was going to help me.”
Eleanor, who co-starred in some of Rudy’s road productions, continued to dabble in show business. She now co-hosts a celebrity talk show, “The VIP Show,” on a Los Angeles cable station. She’s considering a satellite TV show of her own, set in her own home, perhaps called “Champagne and Tea,” and featuring guests of various interests.
It was talk of a movie and Broadway play based on Rudy’s life and career that spurred Eleanor to detail her glamorous life and passionate relationship with Rudy.
Eleanor pulls no punches writing about Rudy’s three previous wives and his affairs — with Hedy Lamarr, Dorothy Lamour, Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford, among many. A list of lovers taken from Rudy’s secret diary and titled, “Dolls the Vallee,” is reproduced in the book.
Once Eleanor and Rudy were married, he was faithful to his “Buttercup,” Eleanor insists.
As confident as Rudy was about his talent as a singer, saxophone player and overall entertainer, he was just as sensitive to criticism.
Eleanor tells of Rudy’s response to a complaint about his off-color jokes during a show.
“I pity such narrow-minded, blue-nosed, intolerant, bigoted, frightened persons such as you and your two friends,” wrote Rudy, who took pride in his eloquence. “You probably make love in the dark. I delight in shocking intolerant old poops like you.”
Eleanor also includes some of Rudy’s humbling traits, such as his penchant for running errands, especially to his favorite store, Pic N’ Save.
When asked what she would like people to know about Rudy, Eleanor murmurs, “There are so many things.”
“One thing I’d like to stress,” she says, “is what a great individual, what a great humanitarian and American he was. He was so talented.
“He was a very educated person. He kept learning, kept reading, kept abreast of current events. He could talk about all subjects. A lot of people aren’t that way. They have one facet and that’s it.”
If a play were staged, Eleanor envisions Rudy being played by some unknown actor who could become a star in the role. Or else contemporary crooner Harry Connick Jr. In a movie, she said she would cast Tom Cruise as Rudy, with his wife, Nicole Kidman, playing her.
Eleanor carefully chooses the right words to describe herself. “I’m very outgoing. I love life. I’m happy when I get up in the morning. Very sentimental. I try to give, being Aquarian — Aquarians are givers. Rudy was Leo the lion. Leos are good entertainers.
“Anything that I put my heart and soul into, I like to finish and do well. Maybe that’s one of the qualities I learned from Rudy.”
Eleanor’s vibrancy comes through in lavish detail in her book, from the blush of first love — a 47-year-old Rudy wooed her while she was in her early teens — to their devotion and passion up to the day he died.
The short chapter dealing with his last days at his beloved Hollywood Hills estate, Silver Tip, is written in a clipped, staccato fashion, making it all the more poignant.
Rudy Vallee died on July 4, 1986, at age 85, in the arms of his bride of more than 30 years.
Eleanor paints their portrait so lovingly that the revelation that Silver Tip was bought and razed by Arsenio Hall serves as a sad reminder that they don’t make men — or stars — like Rudy Vallee anymore.
“Oh, they’re around,” Eleanor says. “You just have to keep your eyes open.”
Rudy Vallee’s films
- Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)… Autograph Hound
- hynx, The (1970)… Himself
- Live a Little, Love a Little (1968)… Louis Penlow
- Night They Raided Minsky’s, The (1968)… Narrator … aka Night They Invented Striptease, The (1968)
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)… J.B. Biggley
- On Broadway Tonight (1964) TV Series… Host (1964-65)
- Helen Morgan Story, The (1957)… Himself … aka Both Ends of the Candle (1957)
- Admiral Was a Lady, The (1950)… Mr. Pettigrew
- Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, The (1949)… Charles Hingleman
- Father Was a Fullback (1949)… Mr. Jessup
- Mother Is a Freshman (1949)… John Heaslip … aka Mother Knows Best (1949)
- I Remember Mama (1948)… Doctor Johnson
- My Dear Secretary (1948)… Charles Harris
- So This Is New York (1948)… Herbert Daley
- Unfaithfully Yours (1948)… August Henshler
- Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, The (1947)… Tommy Chamberlain … aka Bachelor Knight (1947)
- Sin of Harold Diddlebock, The (1947)… Lynn Sargent, banker … aka Mad Wednesday (1947)
- Fabulous Suzanne, The (1946)
- People Are Funny (1946)… Ormsby Jamison
- It’s in the Bag! (1945)… Singing Waiter … aka Fifth Chair, The (1945)
- Happy Go Lucky (1943)… Alfred Monroe
- Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood No. 6 (1942)… Himself
- Palm Beach Story, The (1942)… John D. Hackensacker III
- Time Out for Rhythm (1941)… Daniel Collins
- Too Many Blondes (1941)… Dick Kerrigan
- Second Fiddle (1939)… Roger Maxwell
- Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)… Terry Moore … aka Gay Imposters, The (1938)
- Sweet Music (1935)
- George White’s Scandals (1934)… Jimmy Martin
- International House (1933)… Rudy Vallee
- Rudy Vallee Melodies (1932)… Himself
- Betty Co-ed (1931)… Himself
- Kitty from Kansas City (1931)… Himself
- Musical Justice (1931)… Judge
- Campus Sweethearts (1929)
- Glorifying the American Girl (1929)… Himself, performing in revue
- Vagabond Lover, The (1929)… Rudy
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