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King of One Medium


Unless you're a Record Head (Shellac Division), or of a certain age (AKA "deceased"), you may know Rudy Vallee only from Preston Stuges' pictures or a TCM showing of "How to Succeed in Business..." But those significant roles were predicated on Vallee's initial fame on the radio. And Rudy was huge! Vallee was the archetypical crooner. He was handsome. And he played the saxophone. His career as a band leader began not long after leaving Yale in 1927. The following year he was working at the "Heigh-Ho Club" in NYC. Radio exposure led to national fame on NBC in 1929. Vallee's weekly variety show was a showcase, not only for himself, but for up and coming talent, although it's hard to imagine Kate Smith, Burns & Allen and Bob Hope as "newcomers."

Vallee did movies and Broadway, and plenty of records, but they didn't equal his broadcast success. And live radio is fleeting, so it may seem curious to see him in "The Palm Beach Story" as a parody of something that no longer existed. Still, Rudy Vallee had an exceptional career. When his radio show ended, he played nightclubs, then television (he was on Johnny's first "Tonight"), followed by a big role on Broadway and the screen in "How to Succeed." I remember seeing him later in life as guest on the "Mike Douglas" show, and Joe Franklin. But then, I'm of a certain age.