Friday, January 11, 2008
So there I am, standing in my parents house with a letter addressed to me from Rudy Vallee. I recall my mother coming in the room and saying--as if nothing before in her life had ever been quite so strange--"Raymond...did you get a letter from Rudy Vallee?" I opened it, preparing for another cold blast of rejection in my face, perhaps this time adding a threat to unleash his lawyers on me if I ever bothered him again.
Instead the handwritten note read in its entirety: "Dear Mr. De Felitta, Give me a call. Rudy." Then he printed his, as previously mentioned, already listed telephone number. I called and a woman answered this time, quite cheerily proclaiming: "Rudy Vallee's house!" (I believe this was his wife, Eleanor). I asked to speak to him and in short order there he was. I explained that I was the fellow who wrote to him about his house. Brusquely, but a bit more cordially this time, he said: "If you want to see the house come by Sunday, late morning." Then he hung up, sans formal goodbye.
When I pulled into the estate's driveway that Sunday morning, I found that the Vallee's had something of an open-house going on. People were playing tennis, lounging around the pool etc. and I was immediately directed toward a man named Tommy (can't remember what his last name was). Casting wise, Tommy was sort of a Bill Demarest part; he was a part-time Vallee friend/employee/guy who handles stuff...oh, let's call a spade and spade. Tommy was Rudy Vallee's stooge, some guy who he'd met in his travels and who he kept around precisely to deal with peons like myself. There was something so nice and old-fashioned about Rudy Vallee still having a stooge hanging around that I wasn't in the least bit offended that the master didn't seem to have any plans to meet me personally.
Tommy gave me a thorough tour of the house (it was really quite a place and deserves a good long description but I won't be the one to give it. Interested readers should consult the penultimate chapter of Vallee's "Let The Chips Fall", previously published as "My Time Is Your Time", subsequently published as "Rudy Vallee Kisses and Tells"...Christ, why did he keep changing the title anyway?) (Also: interested readers should know that the house, which once sprawled over a mountaintop off Mulholland Drive near Outpost Canyon and could be seen from quite far away, was purchased by Arsenio Hall after Vallee's death who promptly tore it down and didn't bother to replace it with anything).
The tour took me into the notorious Vallee Archive located in a massive building built into a hillside, on the roof of which was a championship sized tennis court. Rudy Vallee, it seems, was a saver and housed in this building was just about everything he ever did--recordings, photos, tapes, films, programs, letters--even a strange collection of Christmas cards from various show biz figures dating back to the 1930's. It was only after I'd finished there, and we were exiting that we almost accidently bumped into Rudy Vallee while leaving the building. Tommy introduced me. We shook hands and he seemed disinterested in the fact that I was probably a good bit younger then he may have guessed. I immediately launched into a spiel on how great he was in "Unfaithfully Yours", half expecting him to throw up his hands in disgust at my mention of something "nostalgic". Instead he was quite flattered and we spent a pleasant few minutes talking about Preston Sturges, with Vallee insisting that "The Palm Beach Story" (which he was also in) was a much better movie. (This was certainly the prevailing wisdom of the day--since TPBS was a hit and UY was not. Now I suspect the latter to be the more beloved. Though choosing any one Preston Sturges movie over another is really a bit pointless).
On my way out I thanked Tommy and told him that, while I was grateful for the tour, I had really come to meet the legend of the house. Tommy completely understood and gave me a somewhat awestruck speech about how much Vallee had done in his life, who he was historically and how amazing it was that he was still walking the earth. I remember him calling Vallee a "monument". Then he said, "Send him something. A gift or something saying thanks. He likes that. I'll make sure to get you back in." Which I took to mean that Tommy understood I wanted a little more face time. So I did as Tommy suggested. And I'll tell that tale in the next and final Rudy post.
Below is a beautifully staged production number from "Sweet Music", featuring Rudy and Ann Dvorak. This was shot in 1935 and, although Vallee was a major radio star at the time, this did nothing to enhance his screen career which arrived DOA courtesy of his disastrous 1929 debut in "The Vagabond Lover". It should have, though--Rudy is in fine form below and the film, which I've never seen, looks mighty stylish.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:02 PM