1/15/08

RUDY VALLEE: THE WRAP UP

palmbeachstory

I wish I could say that my story of meeting Rudy Vallee ended with him giving me his megaphone. It didn't. But still it ended in a pleasant enough way to warrant this final Rudy posting.

I did as Tommy, his friend/helper, suggested (see 1/11 post) and sent Rudy a thank you gift for letting me tour his house; a postcard, circa early 1930's, of the house itself, newly completed and advertised as the home of actress Ann Harding (she and her husband built the house and sold it to Vallee in the forties. I believe I found the postcard at Larry Edmunds on Hollywood Blvd.) Almost instantly I got a call from Tommy telling me that the boss liked the card very much. Just in case no further invitation was forthcoming I'd taken the precaution of also buying a few stills of Ann Harding showing off the house just after it had been built. I told Tommy about these as well. "Whyn't you bring 'em on by this Sunday?" he suggested, a bit conspiritorially. So my second invite to the Vallee estate was in the bag.

This time I brought a friend with me (we'd spent much of our adolescence driving around LA peeking up long driveways and trying to sneak into mansions and this seemed too good an opportunity not to invite him along). And this time I wound up having another, slightly longer chat with Rudy--he seemed to be bustling around xeroxing lots of old clippings and doing a lot of filing work while his wife entertained the guests. I remember standing in a crowded storage room with him, talking about "How To Succeed In Business"--he was, again, quite charming and if not exactly super-conversational, he seemed pleased to be distracted. Before we left, he gave me a paperback copy of his often-retitled autobiography and signed it.

Now, if I were the man I am today I would certainly have felt satisfied with these two visits and would have not pushed the so-called envelope any further. BUT I WAS SEVENTEEN. And so I came up with yet another move. My father, Frank De Felitta, had recently published a novel called "Sea Trial". I prevailed upon him to sign a copy of it so I could give it to Rudy Vallee, and keep this bizarre quasi-relationship alive. My father did so, expressing not the slightest bit of interest in meeting Rudy Vallee. Once again I called Tommy and told him I had something for the boss. He told me to come by on a weekday morning the following week.

I did. This time there were no guests. And nobody in the driveway to meet me. Somwhat nervously I rang the bell of the main house. Tommy met me and took me into the kitchen. There I was treated to the sight of Rudy Vallee, in a silk bathrobe, standing in his kitchen frying a large mess of sausages. He was quite cordial despite the informal circumstances and very pleased to have an autographed copy of a new book--he told me to thank my father. We somehow then got into a conversation revolving around books that had been made into movies; Rudy liked "Love Story". This, he told me, was a book and a movie that he could never tire of. Something about standing in Rudy Vallee's kitchen and watching the man--be-robed and half asleep-- cooking himself breakfast while talking about "Love Story", struck me as the perfect final image for the "Me and Rudy" saga. A complete story arc had been acheived--from first phone call (during which he hung up on me) to the final, informal kitchen hang. Rudy wouldn't let me have the last word in the gift exchange wars either--he dug up a recent Christmas card of his and signed it for me. It's a picture of him and his wife lying in bed, wearing pajamas, surrounded by their poodles. They're drinking Champagne and reading copies of Rudy's autobiography. "To Raymond--Sincerely Rudy and Ellie" is how he signed it. (It currently resides in a small plastic frame in my office.) And that, as they say, was that. Though he lived another four years, I never saw him again. When he died I wrote a condolence note to his wife. She didn't answer (I didn't expect her to) and I couldn't help but wonder if, upon reading it, she thought: is this that weird teenager who kept coming over and bothering Rudy?

The below clip is from "The Palm Beach Story", the movie which gave Vallee's career a second wind and proved that his real talent wasn't singing (and certainly not playing the sax) but was, instead, his marvelously dry delivery of comic dialogue, his superb underplaying and his natural comedic timing. Indeed, despite Vallee's worldwide success in the 1920's, it might honestly be the case that for Rudy Vallee, talent-wise, his life began at forty.

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