Into the Vallee

Being in Milan automatically makes me think of Rudy Vallee, due no doubt to some terrible malfunction in the wiring of my brain.


Thrilled to get my hands on the excellent series The RKO Story, which is much better than these things usually are, and was made when enough eyewitnesses were still around who could talk about what went on at that perrennially-struggling, often-brilliant “dream factory”. Fred Astaire, Robert Mitchum, Ginger Rogers, Jane Greer, John Houseman, Pandro S. Berman, Edward Dmytryk, Richard Fleischer. All gone now. Only Jane Russell remains, surmounting the mound of corpses like a barbarian in a Frazetta painting.

And then there’s Rudy Vallee. I don’t want to say I’m disappointed by Rudy. I had kind of thought of him as sweeter, based no doubt on his lovely turn in Sturges’ THE PALM BEACH STORY. Seemingly Sturges cast him after finding him hilarious in his straight roles in 30s RKO musicals. He’s so adorable in it that I have some resistance to accepting him as a jerk in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and as an insignificant schnook in THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, his other Sturges pictures. But it would be foolish to expect Rudy Vallee to be like Rudy Hackensack III in TPBS. So I’m not disappointed, just appalled and flabbergasted. Here he is:

“I was born with a great amount of sexual emotion. That is evidently why, over a period of my eighty-four years of life, I have known over one hundred and forty five women and girls.”

I sort of expected him to continue, “some as young as eight,” but he didn’t, thank Christ. I love that “over one hundred and forty five,” as well — “That’s as precise as I can be, goddamnit! It could have been one hundred and forty eight, I don’t know! Thereabouts.”


10 Responses to “Into the Vallee”

  1. Randall William Cook Says:

    If you can stand it, read LET THE CHIPS FALL, Vallee’s autobiography. Pages and pages of this sort of stuff; Vallee’s as unintentionally hilarious as an autobiographer as Sturges found him to be as a leading man. Gore Vidal once wrote that he and Orson Welles would spend long lunches quoting each other passages from the book and laughing themselves silly. If you read it, you’ll see why.

  2. Oh, that sounds GREAT. There are weird moments when RV does seem self-aware: “It was dreadful story, a terrible film, we do not speak of it in my family,” said with a kind of half-smile, but the rest of the time he’s quietly demented in a horny kind of way. Gotta get that book!

  3. Beautiful scene…but I won’t get to HEAR it until I get back!

  4. The book has just been purchased! Couldn’t resist it. Left you an e-mail about it too.

  5. Ooh boy. Shadowplayers, expect copious quotes soon! This could be the Kinski Uncut of the 30s crooning set.

  6. yes the RKO Stroy is (to me) the greatest (because untainted by the celebratory tone of things like “When the Lion Roars”) of the studio docs… my favourite doc on the Studio Age period… Hepburn’s discussion of “Sylvia Scarlett” (“Kate, why don’t they laugh?”) and Asner’s delivery of the preview-screening comments have remained with me since I first saw it nearly 20 years ago

    and the Vallee stuff is indeed edifying–forces me to reconsider my skepticism about those claims that Margaret Dumont was never in on the Marxian jokes… I always thought that sounded like nonsense–but, clearly, Vallee doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would have been at all in sync with the Sturgean ethos

  7. Vallee does come across as sincere, myopic, and without self-awareness, rather like Rudy Hackensacker. His priapic side is kept under wraps in the Sturges films though!

    It does seem like Margaret Dumont was a lifelong comedienne and must have known what she was doing, though. (“Julius, why are they laughing?”)

    Recently got the whole series, uncut version, and there’s even more Rudy to enjoy.

  8. yes, I too have trouble believing that Dumont wasn’t aware of how great her contributions are! What I’d love to see (or read), is the equivalent of Rudy “liveblogging” a screening of one of his Sturges films–does he understand why his characters are funny? (and, often, endearing?) Guess we’re too late for that though…

    even that interview, actually, is kind of endearing… sure, I guess he slept with “over 145 girls,” but did any of them come back for seconds? It doesn’t seem possible! That’s how I’ve always interpreted it in my head, anyway… which, again, makes him kind of a sad sack figure… I can’t really think of him as an evil, heart-breaking seducer

    I would dearly love to see full version of the RKO Story… I’ve only ever seen the edited PBS version


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