Having played drums in his high school band, Vallee played clarinet and saxophone in various bands around New England in his youth. In 1917, he felt that Uncle Sam needed one more brave young man in World War I, but was discharged when the Navy authorities found out that he was only 15.
From 1924 through 1925, he played with the "Savoy Havana Band" in London. He then returned to the States to obtain a degree in Philosophy from Yale and to form his own band, "Rudy Vallee and the Connecticut Yankees." He had a rather thin, wavering tenor voice and seemed more at home singing sweet ballads than attempting vocals on jazz numbers. However, his singing, together with his suave manner and handsome boyish looks, attracted great attention, especially from young women. Vallee was given a recording contract and in 1928, he started performing on the radio.
Vallee also became what was perhaps the first complete example of the 20th century mass media pop star. Flappers (the predecessors of "bobby soxers"), mobbed him wherever he went. His live appearances were usually sold out, and even if his singing could hardly be heard in those venues not yet equipped with the new electronic microphones, his screaming female fans went home happy if they had caught sight of his lips through the opening of the trademark megaphone he sang through.
In 1929, Vallee did his first film, The Vagabond Lover. His first films were made to cash in on his singing popularity, but Hollywood found Vallee could act as well. Also in 1929, Vallee began hosting The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour. Performers first introduced to the American public on that program included Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and Kate Smith.
Vallee continued hosting popular radio variety shows through the 1930s and 1940s. The Royal Gelatin Hour featured various film performers of the era, such as Fay Wray and Richard Cromwell in dramatic skits.
Along with his group, The Connecticut Yankees, Vallee's best known popular recordings included: "The Stein Song" (aka University of Maine fighting song) in the early part of the decade and "Vieni, Vieni" in the latter '30s. Remarkably for an American, Vallee sang fluently in three Mediterranean languages.
His reputation in Hollywood was that of a tightwad, but he wasn't the only one. He also had a reputation for being one of the most difficult people in show business to work for.. On several occasions, Vallee was known to have rushed into his audience in order to punch audience members who booed.
He was married briefly to the much-younger and sexy actress Jane Greer, but that ended in divorce in 1944. His previous marriage to Leonie Cuachois was annulled and the one to Fay Webb ended in divorce. After divorcing Jane Greer, he married Eleanor Norris in 1946, who wrote a memoir, My Vagabond Lover.
In 1955, Vallée was featured in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, co-starring Jane Russell, Alan Young, and Jeanne Crain. The production was filmed on location in Paris. The film was based on the Anita Loos novel that was a sequel to her acclaimed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gentlemen Marry Brunettes was popular throughout Europe at the time and was released in France as A Paris Pour les Quatre ("Paris for the Four"), and in Belgium as Tevieren Te Parijs.
He performed on Broadway as J.B. Biggley in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and reprised the role in the film version of the show. He appeared in the campy 1960s Batman television show as the character "Lord Marmaduke Ffogg". He toured with a one-man theater show into the 1980s. He occasionally opened for The Village People.
In 1971 he made a television appearance as a vindictive surgeon in the Night Gallery episode "Marmalade Wine."
In the twilight of his years, Vallee’s Yankee work ethic kept spurring him on. He kept a wide correspondence with celebrities and fans; he entertained lavishly at Silver Tip, his home in California; and he played benefit concerts for many veterans’ hospitals and charitable causes. Vallee died of cancer July 3, 1986, with his fourth wife Eleanor at his side. As they watched the Independence Day celebrations on television, Vallee’s last words were, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be there? You know how I love a party"...
He is interred in St. Hyacinth's Cemetery in Westbrook, Maine. (info edited mainly from Wikipedia)
Rudy Vallee sings in "The Vagabond Lover" 1929
All the songs from his first talking picture. Songs:
"I'm Just a Vagabond Lover"
"I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You"
"If You Were the Only Girl in the World"
"A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)"
"I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You" (Reprise)
"Then I'll Be Reminded of You"