The legendary entertainer Rudy Vallee was in the final stages of a career that began in the 1920’s when he was approached about singing the theme song to the original Matinee at the Bijou. How did a multifaceted megastar with a six-decade-long career end up crooning a tune for a low budget show on PBS? And for union scale no less? Well, as you might imagine, it’s quite a story, and one which will be told here for the first time. But first, a little background on Rudy.
He was born in 1901 and developed a love of music very early in his childhood. While attending college at Yale, he formed a group called the Yale Collegians, and made his singing debut at the Heigh Ho Club in New York City. He made his first two records in 1921, and a star was born. But Rudy’s career took a number of different paths over the years. In fact, a pretty solid argument could be made that his trajectory came in three distinct phases:
He was enormous as a singer/radio personality/romantic figure in the 20s and early 30s. It’s hard to fathom the level of charisma or sex appeal he had in his early years. Apparently he had the girls screaming and lining up outside the Paramount Theatre, long before the same could be said of Frank Sinatra - or later Elvis and the Beatles.
Rudy began his film career in 1929 with a short subject and a key role in The Vagabond Lover, and would eventually shed his radio idol skin and establish himself as a great comic movie actor, with his role in the 1942 film The Palm Beach Story perhaps representing the pinnacle of this incarnation.
In the 1960s Broadway came calling. Rudy starred in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which at the time was the hottest ticket in Broadway. Then, in a true case of coming full circle, he appeared in the movie version of the play seven years later.
So it’s not hard to imagine that when he was approached by the folks from the original Bijou series back in 1979, he may have well thought he had one more performance manifestation still in him. Here’s how it actually happened:
When Rich Mendoza, the original show’s theme song author, wrote At The Bijou, he felt Rudy Vallee would be the perfect person to sing it. It seemed like a long shot to get Rudy to agree, however, as the show’s budget was long since spent, and there was very little left to offer in terms of financial inducement.
What gave Rich the idea that there might be a chance was the fact that he was (and is) good friends since college days with Bill Vallee, Rudy’s nephew. He approached Bill for Rudy’s phone number, and to see if Bill thought Rudy might be receptive. Bill said the timing and the situation were perfect, as Rudy had just created a one-man show that he was trying to get booked in small venues around the country, Rich was Associate Music Director of Grey Advertising and Rudy apparently was eager to get into commercials (he’d never done one), and most important, Rudy had just been kicked off a TV morning show for insulting the hostess and was suffering from a combination of remorse and fear that he’d never work again. So as it turns out, he was extremely receptive. And that’s the true story of how Rudy Vallee became the singer for the original Matinee at the Bijou.
Now Rich Mendoza is penning the theme song for the new Matinee at the Bijou. Stay tuned for updates on Rich’s progress as well as the show itself.