Story Number Nine
May 30, 2011
Down in the Rudy Vallee
Don’t you love getting together with somebody and “doing lunch”? It can mean so many things. You can just eat, or eat and drink or talk and just have dessert or gossip or plan or compare or do business. The term “doing lunch” really refers less to the lunch part and more to the doing part. What you “DO” at your lunch is the fun part. With that said, I have had a few friends over the years that I “did” lunch with a lot. One of my very favorites is my brilliant friend and fellow writer, Patsi Cox.
Now, unlike me, Patsi has actually had some very impressive success with her writing. She has written autobiographies on Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Ralph Emery and Pat Benatar, to name a few. She is ABSOLUTELY my writing mentor. Her approach, her demeaner, her fearlessness and her lack of concern for censorship are just a few of the things that I love about her. Plus, we were roommates, twice. That’s another story. Suffice it to say, we have “done” a lot of lunch.
One fine day, Patsi and I were “doing” lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We decided that we might like a sake' (warm rice wine, pronounced sah key). It was about 10:30 in the morning, pushing 11:00 and “It’s 5 O’clock somewhere” was not to be written for another 25 years, so we had no politically correct phrase or cute excuse to have sake' at that early hour. To onlookers it was probably a little on the tacky side and could perhaps, mistakenly, make people think we were sots. We needed a reason. Patsi produced her datebook that just happened, on each page, to have a list of celebrity birthdays and other events. This was good, a guideline, a starting point. It was July the 28th. It was Rudy Vallee’s Birthday. Here here. “I’ll have a sake', please”.
We had a sake' and went back to the datebook for another person to toast and learned that Marie Dressler had actually died on July 28th, Rudy's birthday. Turns out that Marie and Rudy had been in a film together called The Vagabond Lover, in 1929. How sad must Rudy have been to have lost his friend and fellow co-star on his birthday. “Hey, how about another sake' over here.“
We had that sake' and by then were actually feeling pretty bad for Rudy, in general. He was getting up in years, had lost his dear Marie on his birthday and as far as we knew, hadn’t had a real fan base in a long time. Poor Rudy. “What’s a girl got to do to get a sake' around here?”
As our sake' flowed, our connection and devotion to and for Rudy Vallee grew and grew. We began to concoct the rebirth of Rudy Vallee. We wanted him to have another shot. In fact, we wanted us to have another shot. Of sake', anyway… Our plan hatched. We wanted to convince Rudy Vallee that his music was alive and kicking and his fan base was as strong as ever. We decided that if we could do this and somehow get him to call us on the phone, personally, then we had really done something. It makes no real sense to mention that there would be no financial payoff. There would be no notches in our career belts. There would be no recognition of fame. All that we would accomplish is getting him to call us. Apparently, after enough sake', you don’t always talk yourself out of ludicrous ideas. “I’m trying to work over here, SAKE'!!”
We drank that sake' and remembered that there was a block party down on Music Row that same afternoon. A block party is an event where everyone closes early and each business has its own party in its own yard and folks walk around from business to business, partaking in what each stop offers. There, in this case, was also a bandstage, where band after band was performing. It was a pretty big deal. I would say there were several hundred people in attendance.
Great, there’s our fanbase. All we needed to do now was turn this from a block party to a Rudy Vallee Festival and we were halfway there. We paid our tab at the Chinese restaurant with our rent money (remember we were roommates twice) and we went to the bakery. At the bakery we purchased several dozen cupcakes with a little “RV” written on each one. We took our cupcakes to the block party and we photographed several dozen people holding their Rudy Vallee cupcakes and we took some crowd shots and some bandstage shots and basically pretended by the photos that this was Rudy Vallee Day on Music Row!
I know, I know, it was sneaky. It was underhanded. It was back door. It was fakery. It was probably wrong. But, after the sake' and the tragic tale of Marie Dressler and the impending end of Rudy’s legacy, we did what we had to do. We wanted Rudy Vallee to call us on the phone. I don’t think either one of us even knew what we would say if he called but it was too late by now, we had already immortalized the event and were determined for it to leave its mark on the heart of Rudy.
Patsi knows a lot of press people, so she got us an address and, yep, we mailed it. Sure did. A package with the photos and the story of Rudy Vallee day. We also included a flowery letter about how his music was still going strong in Music City and "just look at all the folks that turned out."
A few weeks went by and one day the phone rang. Patsi and I were both home when the call came. I said “hello” and then I heard a voice say “Yes, this is Rudy Vallee, is this Alison Clement or Patsi Cox?” After mouthing the words “oh my God, it’s Rudy Vallee” to Patsi, I said, through a laugh and a bit of sober nervousness, “How are you, Mr. Vallee?”.
What happened next, neither Patsi or myself, ever expected. He proceeded to tell us that he had had a similar thought about the rebirth of Rudy Vallee and was so glad to know that we were such representers. He went on to ask us if we would like to be his Nashville representatives. OMG, really?
As it turns out, in our defense, we actually were pretty connected to several labels as Patsi had done publicity and press for some of them. I had a pretty long list of connections merely because of my upbringing. In fact, we were probably as connected as anyone could be in Nashville, that Rudy Vallee would ever contact. Who knew?
We talked a bit and maybe talked a second time, I don’t quite recall, I do know there was talk of him sending us some music and press related materials and talk of a follow up phone call to sort out all of the details. You have to know that Patsi and I were feeling PRETTY DARN PROUD of ourselves about now. We were, even if briefly, the closest thing that Rudy Vallee ever had to a Nashville Representative. Unfortunately, Rudy would pass away shortly after our talks with him. He would not live long enough to send the music or the press materials. I promise you this, though, had he sent them, we would have lived up to our part of the bargain. We would have been stellar Rudy Vallee Girls and made sure that Rudy Vallee Day became an annual event.
When Patsi and I reminisce about this story, we are proud that we brought a little joy to Rudy Vallee and a little hope. We always keep Rudy in our hearts and when "doing" lunch, he's always the first on our list of people to toast.
I told my Dad this story and he said that getting Rudy Vallee to call us was even more impressive than the fact that he made it all the way to the President's Secretary, on the phone one day. I think HIS call to the President's Secretary runs a DISTANT second to OURS. Just sayin'.