Rudy Vallee

Active - 1929 - 2009  |   Born - Jul 28, 1901   |   Died - Jul 3, 1986   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of a New England pharmacist, Rudy Vallee developed a proficiency with several musical instruments as a child. After being booted out of the Navy for lying about his age (he was 16), Vallee attended the University of Maine and Yale; it was at the latter college that he formed a dance band called the Connecticut Yankees. He spent several years performing at New York's Heigh-Ho club, the name of which provided him with his enduring catchphrase "Heigh Ho, Everybody" (during this period he also adopted his trademark prop, a megaphone). After a year in local radio, Vallee was signed by NBC in 1929 as host of the variety series The Fleischman Hour. He cashed in on his popularity by starring in a 1929 RKO talkie, The Vagabond Lover, a monumental disaster that nearly killed his movie career from the get-go. He remained popular on the radio throughout the 1930s, taking credit for discovering such talent as Alice Faye and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; he also "rediscovered" fading matinee idol John Barrymore, hiring the great thespian for a series of tasteless but undeniably funny comedy sketches. Meanwhile, Vallee's film career stagnated in a series of guest appearances and indifferent romantic leads until he was cast as a stuffy, bespectacled, parsimonious "square" in Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story (1942). It was a characterization that he would repeat with few variations for the rest of his movie years in such films as The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (1947) and The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend (1949). A frequent visitor to Broadway, Vallee made a spectacular "comeback" to the Great White Way in the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, though Vallee's imperious behavior during rehearsals nearly brought him to blows with composer Frank Loesser. The actor/singer's career continued into the 1970s with TV and nightclub appearances and occasional movie cameo roles. Married four times, Vallee's third wife was actress Jane Greer. Supremely arrogant to the end, Rudy Vallee made headlines in the 1970s when he tried to have the L.A. Chamber of Commerce rename a street near his home as the "Rue de Vallee."

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