IMAGE | With A Ukulele

Ruth Etting, with a Ukulele

Vintage prints sometimes solve mysteries, and sometimes lead to new questions…

I went on a bit of buying spree a while back, and over the course of a year or two bought a bunch of images of Ruth Etting on eBay. I remember being excited about this print when I got it, but today as I was scanned it, it was even better than I remembered. It’s actually a vintage print by Alfred Cheney Johnston!

My particular print was for use by the press, and it’s stamped on the back with Alfred Cheney Johnston’s credit line, as well as a second stamp that indicates it was originally submitted to promote the Broadway show, Simple Simon in 1930. The back of the print is covered in glue, and there are indications that it was used at least twice in print – so my copy of this image was definitely well used!

I first became aware of this image on the cover of the sheet music for If I Could Be With You (One Hour To-Night). Ruth originally recorded the song in 1926, and then again for the film, One Good Turn, on September 18, 1930. I have always assumed then that the image was from 1926 – it definitely has the look of the roaring twenties! And Ruth looks younger than she does in the images from the 1930′s, and her hair is longer. But… this print proves it was shot by Alfred Cheney Johnston, who worked with Ziegfeld in New York, and in 1926 Ruth Etting was still in Chicago, and a year away from her Ziegfeld Follies Broadway debut. And if it had been shot in 1926, why would Ziegfeld choose to use an image that was four years old, to promote a show in 1930? So is it from 1926, or 1930? I won’t really know until I find out what was on the cover of the 1926 version of the sheet music – so I guess my next step is to find that sheet music!

It’s a great image, no matter what year it was made – and my print, while a little beat up on the back, is still gorgeous. And hey! I own another Alfred Cheney Johnston print – which is great to know!

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3 Responses to IMAGE | With A Ukulele

  1. I think the mystery may be solved! A friend of this site sent me a similar image, taken at the same time as the one above, and that print was signed by Ruth Etting, and dated 1930. She also included “Ziegfeld’s Simple Simon” under her signature, so I think it’s pretty clear that this particular photo session was to create promo photos for that show! Mystery solved!

  2. Rick Turner says:

    Not a ukulele. Most likely it was a “lute” tenor guitar…four strings tuned like a tenor banjo.

    Also, it looks as though the bridge may actually be missing…it should be dark on that place on the top where there is a light patch, so this would be a photo shoot prop.

    But what a gorgeous woman, clearly in a prime of artistic life.

  3. Thanks for the comments Rick! And I think you’re right when you say that it was most likely a prop in Alfred Cheney Johnston’s studio – if you look at his work, there are shots of other Ziegfeld girls holding instruments – possibly even this same instrument!

    This image was used on sheet music for If I Could Be With You (One Hour To-Night), which is described on the cover as a song with Ukulele Arrangement – so I guess I’m not the only one who mistook a “lute” tenor guitar for a Ukulele!

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