The Star Machine and the Queen of the Musical Short

Released on January 6, 2009 by Vintage Books, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger features a short passage on why Ruth Etting didn’t become as big a star in Hollywood as she was on radio and records, and on Broadway.

Here’s the book description from Amazon…
The Star Machine, by Jeanine Basinger

From one of our most distinguished film scholars, comes a rich, penetrating, amusing book about the golden age of movies and how the studios worked to manufacture stars. With revelatory insights and delightful asides, Jeanine Basinger shows us how the studio “star machine” worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn’t, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an classic of the film canon.

And here’s the passage that mentions Ruth Etting…

Queen of the Musical Short, Ruth Etting, Kate Smith, Florenz Ziegfeld, Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Fannie Brice, Paramount-Astoria, Vitaphone Varieties, Broadway Brevities, Samuel Goldwyn

Ruth Etting was 36-years-old when she made her first full-length film – and while obviously still “pretty” she was no longer the dewy fresh young thing she was at 17, when she appeared in her first stage show in Chicago. Or at 21, when she started headlining those stage shows. Or even at 30, when she first starred on Broadway. By the time Ruth hit Hollywood, she was nearing 40, and the silver screen is an unforgiving medium. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that she’s remembered now as “not a beauty” – but it’s still a little sad. Getting older is not a sin! Unless you’re in Hollywood and it’s 1933, and your face is going to be projected on a 40 foot high movie screen… then it’s the kiss of death to a film career.

Ruth Etting may be just one more case study in this book – an example of when the studio system failed to make someone a Hollywood Star – but no one can take away the fact that she was a legitimate star on the radio and on Broadway. And honestly? Two out of three isn’t too bad!

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New Castle News / Wednesday, March 20, 1929

New Castle News / Wednesday, March 20, 1929

Penn Screen Metropolitan Presentations
In That Party In Person
And It’s Some Party

In Blue Songs

New Castle News / Wednesday, March 20, 1929

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Lawrence Journal-World | Ruth Etting And Myrl Alderman Are Wed As Trial Of Her Ex-husband for Shooting Goes On


Ruth Etting And Myrl Alderman Are Wed As Trial Of Her Ex-husband for Shooting Goes On

Los Angeles, Dec. 14. (AP) – The trial of Martin (Col. Gimp) Snyder proceeded today while the two principal witnesses against him took time out to be married.

Ruth Etting, who was Mrs. Snyder for 17 years, and Myrl Alder man, her one-time accompanist, shot and wounded, were flying back from Las Vegas, Nev., to which they eloped by plane this morning.

Lawrence Journal-World
December 14, 1938

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New York Times Crossword Puzzle

New York Times Crossword PuzzleYet another fun little mention… This time in the New York Times crossword puzzle, from March 13, 2013.

15. Doris Day film with the song “Ten Cents a Dance” : LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME

Ruth Etting wasn’t mentioned by name – Doris Day was referenced instead – but two of her songs did make the cut. And honestly, anyone who was able to figure out the answer, definitely knew the question was about Ruth Etting.

Thanks to for blogging about the puzzle!

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Clara Bow and Ruth Etting, on the same marquee?

1928 Chicago Theater by Atwell

Clara Bow and Ruth Etting, on the same marquee? It appears that Hollywood’s “It Girl” and “America’s Sweetheart of Song” made for an interesting evening at the landmark Chicago Theatre, back in March of 1928.

Ruth, fresh off a run on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1927, was live and in person, singing. And Miss Bow? She was on the big screen in Paramount’s silent film, “Red Hair.” Silent films were often paired with other entertainment, especially music – so perhaps it’s not such an unusual pairing? Miss Bow was at the peak of her popularity – she was the #1 box office star for 1928. And Ruth Etting had multiple Billboard Top Ten Hits in 1927 and 1928. It must have been a fun show!

Unfortunately for Clara Bow fans, the film “Red Hair” is now considered partially lost, since only three minutes of footage are known to still exist.

The photo was shot by H.A. Atwell, a Chicago photographer who made most of the early images of Ruth Etting.

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Love a mystery…

If you read the previous posts, it will become clear that I love a good mystery… When it comes to old photos that is!

And it’s a good thing, because with vintage photos, all too often no one at the time thought it was important to write down when it was taken, who is in it, where it was taken, etc. And it’s not limited to photos of famous people – we all do it with our family photos as well. We assume we’ll remember, or we assume we can just ask Grandma where a certain photo was taken. But what happens when the great-great-grandchildren are trying to figure it out, years later?

So it’s a good thing I love a mystery! And I have a new one!

I found a Russian site with all these old photos from the Ziegfeld Follies, mostly nearly-naked girls, but some other stuff as well – and almost all shot by Alfred Cheney Johnston. There were a ton of really cool images, and from all different years, and Ruth Etting was not mentioned in any of the text, so I was scrolling along, enjoying it, but not expecting to find anything. And then I saw the dress!

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Yes, I actually recognized a dress. It’s a dress Ruth Etting wore in some other photos by Alfred Cheney Johnston, used to publicize Whoopee in 1928. And it’s a very distinctive dress – bias cut silk, with netting, and pearls and paillettes, and tassels. Beautiful roaring twenties style! But in this photo? It’s so tiny? I’m not sure how I caught it, but my brain must have recognized the silhouette, as I scrolled quickly through, and I had to actually stop and scroll back up. And I was right. It is indeed Ruth Etting!

So where is the mystery? Well is it really a cast photo from Whoopee? Could it be from another show? Just because I have it in my notes, that the other photos of Ruth Etting in that dress, were taken by Alfred Cheney Johnston to promote Whoopee, doesn’t necessarily mean that she wore the dress in that show. What if this cast photo is actually from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927, and the other photos of her were taken at this same time, and then used to promote Whoopee a year later? Anything is possible!

But what about the set design? Or the other cast members? Are there clues there?

The guy in the middle does look like Eddie Cantor – the posture and the eyebrows in particular. So it very well could be from Whoopee – or it could be from the Follies of 1927 – since he and Ruth starred in both shows. Whoopee had two female ingenues – which could be the two women on either side of the guy in the middle. Ruth was barely involved in the plot at all – she played an actress named Leslie Daw – but her main purpose was to sing a couple of pretty songs – so her position in what I assume is the line up for the curtain call, would make sense.

I think we can safely rule out the Follies of 1931, since the guy in the middle doesn’t look like either of the guys who starred that year – Jack Pearl and Harry Richmand – and none of the women in the front look like the other female star – Helen Morgan. And if it was the Follies of 1931, Ruth would be front and center, not off to the side.

So if I had to guess, I would guess that it’s a photo of the cast of Whoopee. But you just never know…

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Ruth Etting as a Brinkley Girl!

Isn’t this drawing fun?! It’s by a very famous illustrator, Nell Brinkley, and shows the cast of the 1931 Ziegfeld Follies, including Ruth Etting. Ruth is dressed as a cigarette girl – one of her songs in that show was Cigarettes, Cigars! and there’s a photo of her in that same costume.

I had to look up the artist – and I’m glad I did! Nell Brinkley was born in 1886 in Colorado and illustrated a published children’s books while still a child herself. As a young woman she moved to New York, with her mother, and became a well known illustrator and comic artist, most of her work appearing in New York newspapers and magazines.

She’s also the creator of the iconic Brinkley Girl…

In any walk of life, one sign of making it is to become part of the language itself. Such was the popularity of the stately, coiffured beauties illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) that his ‘Gibson girls’ went into the American dictionary. Sadly, his successor, Nell Brinkley (1886-1944), has not enjoyed such lasting fame, although in her time she had an enormous influence on the appearance and aspirations of women across America and beyond. A high-school dropout and self-taught illustrator from the tiny frontier town of Edgewater, Colorado, population 311, Nell was just 21, when she broke into the New York newspaper world in 1908 with her vivacious, curly-locked beauties. Within only a few years, her new ideal of fun-loving feminity swept away the stuffy ‘Gibson girls’.

All that Gibson’s passive high-society mannequins would do on the beach is pose elegantly with a wistful, rather corseted gaze. In contrast, ‘Brinkley girls’ bounded onto surfboards, kinky hair flying, dress straps loose off their shoulders, smiling with glee. They became a national craze, serenaded in pop songs and in the Ziegfeld Follies, syndicated in Hearst’s newspapers and to The Sketch in Britain, merchandised as cosmetics and curlers, and modelled by young women coast-to-coast. And yet, the ‘Gibson girl’ is still well-known today, whereas the ‘Brinkley girl’ is all but forgotten, probably because she was too independent and disturbing a sex symbol for the stay-at-home Fifties.

Paul Gravett

I urge you to click on the link above, and read more about Nell Brinkly, and see some of her other work. She really was amazing! And the Brinkley Girls are so much fun!

I just love seeing Ruth Etting as a Brinkley Girl! In the crop above she’s shown with two of the other stars in the Follies of 1931 – Helen Morgan and Harry Richmond.

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VIDEO | ‘Deed I Do, 1926

This video/slideshow has been on YouTube since 2009, but it’s new to me – and it has a LOT of really great images of Ruth Etting. There’s even a shot of Ruth I’ve never seen before, in a hat with a row of birds, marching around the crown.

And it’s a great song as well! Ruth recorded ‘Deed I Do in 1926 – and it was her her second hit to crack the top 100, on Billboard – and in fact reached #2 on Billborad in 1927.

The lyrics are here

I’ve been meaning to post this image of Ruth Etting by Paul Stone, of Chicago, and it just happens to be featured in the slideshow above. It was probably shot in 1926 or 1927 – so it’s an appropriate image to go along with a song from those same years! Love the cloche hat, and the gloves!

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Ruth Etting’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” a 2011 inductee to National Recording Registry

Ruth Etting rarely makes the news these days. In fact, it’s safe to say she hasn’t made the news on a regular basis since about 1955, when the movie of her life, Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day came out. That’s a long time!

So I’ve never – before tonight – randomly read an article, and came upon her name. I’ve always had to search out references to her – and there have been a few in recent years. In 2000 Variety reported veteran New York producer Martin Bregman had a new movie in the works, provisionally titled The Ruth Etting Project. Then in 2001 it was reported that Jennifer Lopez and Robert De Niro would star in a remake of Love Me or Leave Me. Later that same year Angelina Jolie mentioned in an interview that she was interested in the role. Then in 2002 it was reported in the Washington Post that Kate Winslet was shooting The Ruth Etting Story in Toronto. In 2003 Jennifer Lopez was back talking about the movie and Army Archerd wrote that Al Pacino was interested in playing the male lead. In 2004 Variety reported that Al Pacino was working with director Harold Becker and producer Martin Bregman – but no female lead was named – and that version was tentatively titled Torch.

But the most interesting mentions were when two of her songs were inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. In 1999 her song “Ten Cents A Dance”, recorded in 1930 was feted – and in 2005, “Love Me Or Leave Me”, recorded in 1928 was inducted.

So over the last decade or so, Ruth Etting has made the news, in some very nice ways. And I was happy to document each and every one of those occurrences on this site – as I found them! But tonight, I found something unexpected – without even looking. I was reading the latest news and an article titled “List of 25 sounds saved by Library of Congress” had been published by The Associated Press just twelve minute before, and guess what? Ruth Etting made the list! The sounds are listed chronologically, so she’s in the third slot.

It’s an eclectic list! The oldest is the first known commercial sound recording, the Edison Talking Doll cylinder, recorded in 1888 – and the newest is “Purple Rain” by Prince and the Revolution, recorded in 1984. Other artists who made the list are Lillian Russell in 1912, Bo Diddley in 1955, Dolly Parton in 1971, and the Grateful Dead and Donna Summer, both in 1977. Also included is Leonard Bernstein’s debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, in 1943.

According to the LA Times, “The latest batch of inductees expands the registry’s total to 350 recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and which span the history of recorded sound.”

The Library of Congress hasn’t updated their own site with the news yet – which is a little odd, considering the list is for the 2011 inductees, and we’re almost half-way through 2012 already? But even if the Library of Congress doesn’t have it on their site yet, it’s on the LA Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, and Salon – and I suspect by morning, it will be on countless other news sites as well.

Such fun to see Ruth Etting in the news again – and for such a great reason! One of her recordings has been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress!

An interesting bit of trivia? The song she was inducted with, “Ten Cents a Dance,” almost never happened. It was originally written for another singer, but at the very last minute, Ruth was called in to replace her – and here’s part of the story…

To quote Ruth Etting, “the girl they’d originally hired had a full three-octave range. On my best day I never had much more than an octave and a half. There was no way I could sing that song. So Richard Rodgers, Larry Hart and I stayed up all night cutting down the range to fit my voice. Maybe that’s how the story started that the song was written for me. It wasn’t written for me. It was rewritten for me.”

So the song was essentially written the night before it debuted on Broadway in Simple Simon, and sung by a singer who stepped in less than 24-hours before the opening? Very cool!

For more on the history of the song, click here!

Edited to add, more from the press…

“Ten Cents a Dance,” Ruth Etting (1930)
Etting was one of the first great singers of the electrical era of recording, the period after the mid-1920s when the microphone replaced the acoustic recording horn. As with the best of the male crooners of the period, Etting’s vocal delivery was artfully understated and personal. In the words of popular music writers Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Etting, “by turns peppy, fragile, and gallant … evinced the contradictory spirits of America in the Depression: sometimes beaten down, sometimes bearing up, whenever possible blithe.” All these characteristics are evident in her recording of Rodgers and Hart’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” recorded only two weeks after Etting introduced the song on stage in the musical Simple Simon. — Hollywood Reporter, 12:00 AM PDT 5/23/2012

Ruth Etting: “Ten Cents a Dance” (1930)
Ruth Etting introduced the Rodgers and Hart standard “Ten Cents a Dance” in the 1930 stage revue “Simple Simon,” and her later recording of it captures the singer’s presentation of a soul by turns struggling and beaten down – but never broken – by the Depression. — CBS News, May 23, 2012

“Ten Cents a Dance” from Simple Simon, recorded by Ruth Etting who originated the role of Sal in the musical; — TheaterMania, May 23, 2012

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Punk Rock Cover of a Ruth Etting Song by NOFX

In 1996 NOFX released a punk rock cover of a Ruth Etting song on their album, 45 or 46 Songs That Weren’t Good Enough to Go on Our Other Records and it’s kind of fun. It’s not a bit like the original – but those are the kinds of cover songs I like best – where the artist puts their own imprint on the song.

All of Me was written by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks, and Ruth Etting recorded it in 1931. NOFX skips the introduction and goes straight to the verse and chorus, but if you want to hear the original by Ruth Etting, it’s also available on YouTube! Click here for the lyrics!

Ruth Etting - Glorifier of American Song

Ruth Etting - Glorifier of American SongAvailable On:
Glorifier of American Song - Ruth Etting
Take Two Records
Released: May 7, 1998

America's Greatest Songstress

America's Greatest Songtstress - Ruth EttingAvailable On:
America's Greatest Songstress - Ruth Etting
Claremont (SAF)
Released: November 25, 1997

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