Ruth Etting | Biography

Rising to fame in the twenties and early thirties, Ruth Etting was renowned for her great beauty, her gorgeous voice and her tragic life. She starred on Broadway, made movies in Hollywood, married a mobster, had numerous hit-records, fell in love and was known as America’s Sweetheart of Song.

Born in David City, Nebraska on November 23, 1897, Ruth left home at seventeen for Chicago and art school. She got a job designing costumes at a night club called the Marigold Gardens and when the tenor got sick, she was pulled into the show since she was the only one who could sing low enough. That led to dancing in the chorus line and eventually featured solos. Her career in costume design and art was soon forgotten.

By 1918 she was the featured vocalist at the club and the Gimp entered her life. A Chicago gangster, Moe Snyder married Ruth in 1922 and managed her career for the next two decades. Her numerous radio appearances during these years, led her to become known as Chicago’s Sweetheart. 

In 1926 she was discovered by a record company executive and immediately signed to an exclusive recording deal with Columbia Records, which led to nation-wide exposure. Her early recordings were very straightforward in delivery. She later commented that “I sounded like a little girl on those records!” and insisted that her voice was actually much deeper than these recordings would lead one to believe.

In 1927 Ruth was ready to hit New York and she was an instant success. Irving Berlin suggested her for the Ziegfeld Follies and she was hired after Ziegfeld checked her ankles, not her voice. She appeared in the Follies of 1927. In 1929 she starred with Eddie Cantor in Whoopee! and in 1930 she made 135 appearances in Simple Simon with Ed Wynn. In 1931 she appeared in the very last Follies, shortly before Ziegfeld’s death.

The blond hair and blue eyes and stunning voice all led to her being dubbed the Sweetheart of Columbia Records, America’s Radio Sweetheart, and finally America’s Sweetheart of Song. She began to experiment with tempo and phrasing during this period in her career. Her trademark was to change the tempo – alternating between normal tempo, half-time and double-time to create and maintain interest.

Ruth had over sixty hit recordings. Among her best in the Jazz Age are Button Up Your Overcoat and Mean to Me and in the depression, Ten Cents A Dance. Her versions of Shine on Harvest MoonLet Me Call You SweetheartYou Made Me Love You and Love Me or Leave Me became her signature songs.

Next she headed to Hollywood and made a string of movie shorts and three full-length features. Her big break came in Roman Scandals with Eddie Cantor and Lucille Ball in a bit part. Then came Gift of Gab and Hips Hips Hooray.

It was in Hollywood that her loveless marriage finally fell apart. In 1937 Ruth fell for her accompanist and in a rage, the Gimp shot him. The musician survived, Snyder went to jail and Ruth ended up divorcing him and marrying her true love, Mryl Alderman. But the scandal was too much for her career to survive. She made a few attempts at a comeback, but her days as America’s Sweetheart were over.

Ruth Etting made her first record in 1926 and her last in 1937. Completely lacking in the performer’s ego, she called her early recordings corny and kept none of her original 78′s. In 1955 her story was made into a movie, ultimately nominated for six Academy Awards and winning the Award for Best Story. Love Me or Leave Me starred Doris Day and James Cagney as the Gimp.  Ruth Etting died on September 24 1978, in Colorado Springs.

In 1999, Ruth Etting’s version of Ten Cents A Dance, and in February of 2005, her version of Love Me or Leave Me were inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.

Sources for this biography:
Jim Bedoian, Take Two Records, 1979 and 1981
Fred Hyatt, KPFK – FM, Los Angeles, Take Two Records, 1987
R. Richard Savill, The Jazz Age Page, 1997
The Internet Movie Database Ltd, 1997

Internet Movie Database, Ltd.

21 Responses to Biography

  1. Terri Myers says:

    Just watched “Love me or Leave Me” Doris Day was great, but my husband said he wondered
    why she is never mentioned in different shows about old time singers and where can I get
    a Cd, Ive never heard her sing. Id love to know more about her.

  2. Crystal Mattson says:

    It’s actually a little bit funny because I discovered Ruth through a videogame called Bioshock 2, where “Ten Cents A Dance” was featured. I have recently fallen in love with her music <3
    You can listen to a few of her songs on http://playlist.com

  3. MaryE Graham says:

    How did she happen to live in Colorado Springs?

  4. Terri, here’s a clip of Ruth singing It Was So Beautiful, in the film, A Modern Cinderella. The song charted at #13 in 1932. And if you want a CD, just click on music at the top of this page!

    Crystal, I love that!

    Mary, Ruth was born in Nebraska, and according to IMDB, her husband, Myrl Alderman, was born in Leoti, Kansas, so I’m not sure why they retired in Colorado Springs? But it’s a beautiful area, so maybe that was the draw? I do remember reading that there were relatives in the area as well, but I’m not sure if they were there before, or came after Ruth and Myrl moved there. Interesting question!

  5. Maria says:

    I live in Colorado Springs and I have visited her “home” many times. It is now a restaurant called The Omelet Parlor. I was wondering if there were any pictures of the home before the renovations.

  6. Becky says:

    go to youtube.com and type in her name and you can click on songs you want to hear or you can click on youtube mix and you can hear her sing lots of songs one after the other.

  7. T-Bar says:

    Ahh yes…I love to eat at her home as well…The Omelet Parlor. They have some great memorabilia on display.

  8. Fabiano Canosa says:

    Love Ruth Etting. Have many of her records. Live between New York and rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I have a weekly radio show called KINOSCOPE, on Public Radio, er. soundtracks.
    Getting ready to air a tribute to the torch singers of the 30′s: Etting, Morgan, Roth, Brice and -on a stretch- Gertie.
    Would love to find a cimpilation of her songs for the short movies. Is there such thing?
    Thanks much

  9. Danzmark says:

    As a jazz piano player, I regard Ruth Etting as about the greatest singer of them all. She sings on beat and on pitch and adds wonderful personal inflections. What a welcome contrast to today’s grimacing facial contortionists microphone-chewing vocalists. RIP lovely lady.

  10. What a great comment, Danzmark!

    Fabiano, I don’t know of any CD with *only* movie songs, but you can find versions of some of those same songs on her other CDs. The CDs I’m aware of are listed at http://ruthetting.com/music/

  11. stuart toledano says:

    To Fabiano:
    I hope that you included Fanny Brice’s “Second Hand Rose” with her yiddish accent.
    Also that you included Mildred Bailey and Annette Hanshaw and Helen Kane (Betty Boop)….

  12. Pingback: The Spare Room – Old Hollywood Style | This Girl Walks Into A Bar

  13. Suzanne says:

    I think I watch Love me or leave
    about 4 times a year.
    Doris Day and Cagney and the cast
    were Fantastic.
    Doris Day is one of my Favorite
    Singer’s I sing and do all her song and
    have all her Movies.
    To play such a Great sing.
    She must have made her proud

  14. brianprice says:

    I to think the film LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME was the best films DORIS DAY made all though she made a lot of good films,now i have read about RUTH ETTING i was surprized how close it was to her real life

  15. Teri says:

    Cheryl, if you want to see the clip you provided in its entirety, it’s included on the dvd “Love Me Or Leave Me” in the special features.

  16. David Dixon says:

    Look I don’t want to take anything away from Doris Day, she had some lovely songs, but if you are a true fan of Ruth, Doris was not the right person to play this role. Fashions and hairstyles for one were not portrayed and more like a 50s version of the 20s 30s. Doris is not in any way like Ruth and it was a bad counterfit attempt. If you didn’t know Ruth’s film clips and any of her songs, maybe as a stand alone film it was O.K. A remake would be fantastic, but find the right actors.

  17. adam-cartwright says:

    I can listen to Ruth sing over and over again. I first heard of her from the Doris Day movie, but when I looked her up on Y tube i discovered she was a real treasure. I believe I like Ruths styleand charistma better than Doris Day, although she was a top singer in her day also. Ruth had kind of a mysterious manner about her and that is one thing that makes her so appealing to me Thank you for this website and I hope it is up and running for a long time to come

  18. Sharryn says:

    What a treasure. Just watched Doris Day & James Cagney in the movie LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, thank goodness for these old films. They remind us of the treasures like Ruth who have given us so much joy without evening realising it! After researching Ruth Etting and her life, all I can do is feel her pain, and wish she could have done it ALL again these days, then she would have been accepted for her change in lifestyles, and still carried on in her wonderful career giving the world such beautiful heartfelt songs and music. RIP Ruth

  19. Nancy Hopper says:

    I was watching Doris Day in Love me or leave me. I have seen every movie Ms. Day has ever been in. She has been my idol since I was 8 years old. Now at 74 she is still my idol.

  20. Jan C in LV says:

    I just watched Love Me or Leave Me with Doris Day and I was struck by how similar Etting’s story with Marty is to Day’s first marriage.

  21. MARYFLYNN says:

    What happened to the shooter husband. Did he stay in jail long? The movie showed he owned a night club. Did that get famous?

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