Yes, he was a crooner, Yes, he was a radio star, a BIG radio star. Yes, he sold millions of records. And, yes, he made movies in the early sound era.
But as a character actor in the 1940s Hubert Prior “Rudy” Vallee really hit his stride in pictures. Comedy such as 1942’s like The Palm Beach Story, costarring Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert (see above; Rudy is in the middle), and drama, such as 1948’s I Remember Mama with Irene Dunne.
He was a heart throb in the 20s, a leading man in the 1930s, a huge star on radio, but really hit his stride in the 1940s when, as mentioned, he played a series of character parts.
Although he looked like your average corporate accountant, Vallee was considered in his time a teen pop idol. He is even compared to the later Frank Sinatra.
His signature personna back in his early screen days was that of “The Vagabond Lover.” As it happens his first movie in 1929 goes by that title, and among his most popular vocal hits — delivered often in Vallee’s twangy crooning style — was “I’m Just A Vagabond Lover.”
It was in the Thirties and Forties that Vallee appeared as a supporting player in an assortment of films — conceivably among the least satisfactory ever produced in Hollywood, according to one critic. Watch for him in such titles as Sweet Music, Gold Diggers of Paris and Second Fiddle. In all, Vallee rolled up more than 50 credits of all kinds as an actor. Below is a 1945 sample (yes, it’s a comedy).
Still, his best big screen effort is undoubtedly in Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story.
Vallee was always a hard worker, and kept up the pace in the Fifties playing club dates and appearing in summer stock, His late-career triumph came in the early Sixties when he was cast as J.B. Bigley, boss of a worldwide wicket company, in the Frank Loesser-Abe Burrows Broadway musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
The show enjoyed a long Broadway run, with audiences coming to see and hear an older Mr. Vallee who had retained many traces of his youthful freshness, intoned The New York Times. Vallee appeared in the same role in the 1967 movie version starring Robert Morse and Michele Lee.
Vallee was a modest liver, who knew how to squeeze a nickel until it sang “My Time Is Your Time.” He was married four times, had no children and died in 1986 at the age of 84.