Showing posts with label Rudy Vallee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rudy Vallee. Show all posts

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 24: Happy Birthday, Phil Harris


The persona Phil Harris created on the radio was one who was easy to like. He was a happy-go-lucky hep cat who never met a bottle or a pretty girl that he didn't like. By reputation, he made acquaintances with plenty of both. Most of all, the radio Phil Harris was easy to like because he was a fundamentally happy fellow, as willing to laugh at himself as he was to laugh at those around him.

When your boss is Jack Benny, of course, there is plenty around you to laugh at. Phil is best remembered as one of Benny's many “second bananas”, although he had a relatively successful career beyond the Jack Benny Program. He was never quite a superstar, but that seems to have been just alright with him.
On June 24, 1904, Wonga Philip Harris was born to circus performers Harry and Dollie Harris in Linton, Indiana. Harry, a circus band leader, taught the lad to play several instruments and gave his son his first gig, playing drums under the big top. The boy played in movie houses in his hometown, but got into music in a big way when the family settled in Nashville. He dropped the Wonga and played around the South with his band, the Dixie Syncopators. Eventually, Phil found his way to the West coast, leading the house band at San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel, and later headlining at L.A.'s Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in 1932.

In 1936, Harris was hired as the musical director for The Jello Program Starring Jack Benny. It became apparent off the air that Phil could handle a snappy comeback, so Jack encouraged his writers to give him more lines. The character developed for Phil was above remembering names and had nicknames for most of the principals on the show. He always greeted the boss with “Hiya Jackson” and Mary Livingstone became “Livvy”. On Phil's first appearance, Jack describes him as a good looking fellow, the kind of guy you can trust with your best girl, if you can trust your best girl!

The real success in Phil Harris's life was his marriage to actress Alice Faye. Alice was one of Darryl F. Zanuck's protégées, one of 20th Century Fox's most dependable money makers. Faye and Harris first met on the Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann Hour in in 1932. Although they were both married to other people at the time, Harris got in a fist fight at the Trocadero nightclub in 1938, defending Faye's honor. After they both divorced the couple was married in 1941. Phil and the whole band joined the Merchant Marine during the War while Alice continued her movie career.

The movie career soured during Faye's last picture with Fox. Zanuck was grooming another protege, and ordered many of Faye's scenes cut to cast a better light on the new girl. Alice was so upset that after the screening, she got into her car, drove off the lot and left the key to her dressing room with the guard at the gate. Her movie fans begged her to come back, but Alice found plenty to do, learning to run a household and raising the Harris kids (Phil Jr, adopted during Phil's first marriage, and daughters Alice and Phyllis) and running a household. She was still able to work with Phil in radio on The Fitch Bandwagon. The program was a showcase for big bands, including Harris's, but with the addition of Alice it became a delightful family situation comedy.

The Fitch Bandwagon morphed into the Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show when a new sponsor, Rexall Drugs, came on board. The Harris' essentially played themselves, and the shows featured a song from each of them each week. The show was often in the top 10, and may have actually increased Alice's popularity after she left the movie business.

Phil remained part of the Jack Benny Program. There was a scheduling conflict when Jack left NBC for CBS. Phil would only appear during the first half of Jack's show, then left the studio to walk over to NBC for his own show. In 1952, Bob Crosby took over as Jack's music director. There was some talk of bringing the Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show to TV, but the Harris' were not particularly interested.

Phil had a small part in the 1954 John Wayne film, The High and The Mighty. He also took his talents to the Disney Studios, appearing as Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book and Abraham de Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley the alley cat in The Aristocats.

Phil Harris died of a heart attack at his home in Rancho Mirage, in 1995. Alice had Phil's remains cremated, and kept them near her for the rest of her life. After her passing, she was also cremated, and they now share a space in the mausoleum at Forest Lawn. Two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honor Phil Harris, at 6508 Hollywood Blvd for his work in recording and at 6651 Hollywood Blvd for his contributions to radio.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 20: Happy Birthday, Judy Canova



The Beach Boys rarely surfed; Creedence Clearwater Revival, for all their Bayou songs, weren't from that region; and Judy Canova, sometimes called The Ozark Nightingale, did not hail from the Ozarks.  She wasn't even from Georgia, which means that the act Three Georgia Crackers, which she had with her brother Zeke and sister Annie was another marketing ploy.

Judy played the role of the country innocent to the hilt, and found success at a young age.  Before long, the hoky act--with Judy yodeling, singing, and picking a gee-tar--had ironically made Broadway.

She then became a big radio star.  She started on Rudy Vallee's The Fleischmann Hour and then landed her own show, appropriately called The Judy Canova Show. This included music and skits and stories about pigs.  Some advertisements featured a pencil sketch of Judy in a straw hat and pigtails, looking not unlike the mascot for the Little Debbies snacks that would fatten a nation a little later.

Today marks the birth of an interesting comedienne and performer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28: Happy Birthday, Rudy Vallee


The consummate entertainer is one that carries a “valise” full of varied talent. Rudy Vallee was one example of such a skilled performer. Born on July 28, 1901, Vallee carried the mantle of bandleader, singer and actor...if only he could have danced. Music was dear to the heart of Mr vallee and it showed with is being part of his high school band. He could play drums, clarinet and saxophone. In the mid-20’s he went to London and played with the Savoyband. Upon returning to the U.S., vallee enrolled in college and and put together his own band, “Rudy Vallee and The Connecticut Yankees.” He developed as a crooner using a megaphone and his style made him an instant hit with the young ladies of his day. This early century version of a “pop star” began to grow in his musical repertoire as he began to record label after label for the music fans. Hits like “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “As Time Goes By” began to appear on the airwaves from stations all over the country. Rudy Vallee also hosted various radio programs over the years. In 1929, he was the host of The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour and The Royal Gelatin Hour during the 30’s. During the 1940’s Rudy Vallee took a break from radio to serve with the U.S. Coast Guard. These variety programs brought many of the big name stars into millions of homes every week. Over the years Vallee appeared many films. he starred with the likes of Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant. As the years passed his voice took on a baritone langor and gave him varied opportunities that had been limited earlier in his career. In 1986 Rudy Vallee passed away from cancer. His music can still be heard in collections that have been preserved.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July 12: Happy Birthday, Milton Berle



“Uncle Miltie” was born July 12, 1908. Milton Berle was to become known as America’s first major television star; although his start-up was in radio. In his early years, Milton Berlinger took the name Berle and once he became famous, his mother changed her last name as well to Berle. His beginnings was as a child actor in a number of silent films. By age 12 he would move into stage productions and eventually vaudeville. His radio stint came in 1934 when he guest starred on the Rudy Vallee Program, and on the The Gillette Original Community Sing, Berle became a regular.

He did a piece on Three Time Ring, a comedy-variety show. in 1944-45 Berle performed on Let Yourself Go which had active audience participation. In 1948 he began his hosting of Texas Star Theatre which eventually came to be known as the Milton Berle Show in 1953.

This program would lend appearances to big names like Jack Albertson and Ed Begley, and Arnold Stang would later become Berle’s sidekick. Milton Berle was so fanatical about the success of his program that he gave up other gigs to keep his program going. The program continued until 1956 with Milton Berle onboard. Milton Berle left this world in 2002 after a bout with cancer.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2: Happy Birthday Hedda Hopper!



If Hedda Hopper looks like someone who should host a gossip show on the radio, chalk that up to one instance of order in the universe.  From 1939-'47 she did that very thing on a couple of networks with a few different sponsors.  The former actress and gossip columnist was nimble-tongued and clever, a good fit for the airwaves.

Later, she would turn her show into Hedda Hopper's Hollywood, a variety show with guests such as Bob Hope, Audey Murphy, and Humphrey Bogart.

Hopper's radio gossip began as a series of segments on Rudy Vallee's show.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4: Happy Birthday, Frances Langford


With episode titles like "Family Picnic," "College Days," "Cleaning the House," and "Performing MacBeth," The Frances Langford Show sounds like Ozzie and Harriet with just a splash of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air tossed in just to keep things interesting.

The gorgeous singer hosted the show only through the crazy Summer of 1947--it was a Summer replacement for The Burns and Allen Show. The half-hour show featured Langford crooning such numbers as "I'm Always Blowing Bubbles," "Almost Like Being In Love," and "When You're Cryin'."

Langford grew up in Lakeland, FL, which probably makes it a bit unlikely that she was trained as an opera singer. She changed her style to Big Band after a tonsillectomy, and her radio and stage careers began to develop in parallel.

She was a regular on The Rudy Vallee Show. She was born on this day in 1913, and lived until 2005.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16: Happy Birthday, Edgar Bergen

February 16: Happy Birthday, Edgar Bergen


Where would Charlie McCarthy have been without Edgar Bergen? Edgar Bergen was one of the biggest legends of radio along with his ventriloquist's dummy, Charlie McCarthy. They weren't the first performers who got their radio start as guests on Rudy Vallee's show. For them it was Dec. 17, 1936. It quickly landed them their own show.

Wait a minute. A ventriloquist on the radio? You can't see the dummy! The utter improbability of the act makes their accomplishment even more stunning. For the duo became just about the biggest stars on the air and they had big stars on guests as their show.

Incidentally, on the night of the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast of Orson Welles, which caused a panic over a supposed Martian invasion, Bergen and McCarthy were also on the air. If they'd had less listeners, the panic may have been much bigger. Happy birthday, Edgar!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3: Happy Birthday, Victor Borge

January 3: Happy Birthday, Victor Borge

Victor Borge was a Danish and American comedian affectionately known as “The Great Dane” and “The Clown Prince of Denmark.”

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Borge was a talented pianist. He spent much of his younger years learning and playing concerts. When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden and was able to escape to Finland. He traveled to America on the USS American Legion, the last ship to make it out of Petsamo, Finland.

Borge didn’t speak any English when he arrived in America, but he quickly learned by “studying” in movie theaters. Rudy Vallee offered him an opportunity on his radio show, and Borge soon became part of Kraft Music Hall. He also made many guest appearances on Command Performance, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jubilee, and Mail Call.

Victor never stopped working. He continued to perform and tour throughout his life. Even at the age of 90, Borge was still making 60 appearances a year.

Many of Borge’s performances had physical elements that were more suited for television and the stage than radio. He made many appearances on both throughout his storied career of almost 75 years.

Victor Borge, the melancholy Dane, passed away on December 23rd, 2000 at the age of 91.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10: Happy Birthday, Dorothy Lamour

December 10: Happy Birthday, Dorothy Lamour


Dorothy Lamour was born in Louisiana in 1914, as Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton. Known as “Dottie” to many of her friends, Miss Lamour maintained an illustrious career as a leading lady and was constantly being sought after by the major studios. Her classical beauty came as a benefit to her in 1931, when she was crowned Miss New Orleans. Many of her famous performances carried through as the beauteous jungle girl or third part of the “On the Road” movie triangle with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Her voice was an asset as well, having sang alongside notables Rudy Vallee and her husband Herbie Kaye. On the radio, she hosted NBC’s “Sealtest Variety Theatre” during the late 40’s. One thing that could be said about Miss Lamour was her ability to spellbind a crowd and that paid in huge dividends for the war effort during the 1940’s raising over 300 million in bonds. Into her later years, Dorothy Lamour still carried herself with dignity and grace as a performer and humanitarian. The world lost her talents in 1996 when she suffered a heart attack. Dottie is one of those enigma’s in the entertainment world that continues to make us laugh, cry or simply swoon.