Back in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s my grandfather’s cousin was the top female singer in the United States. Her name was Ruth Etting and she started in a little club in Chicago, then starred on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies, and ended up in Hollywood. Early on she was known as the Sweetheart of Chicago, and then the Sweetheart of Columbia Records, and finally America’s Sweetheart of Song. She had over 60 hit recordings including multiple number ones. She was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, with “Love Me Or Leave Me”, which she introduced in the 1928, and for “Ten Cents A Dance”, from 1930.
Her star on Hollywood Boulevard is located at the intersection where Whitley Avenue crosses the Boulevard, right in front of a check cashing place. Classy!
So why have you never heard of her? Well she made one big mistake in her life – she married a guy in Chicago with ties to the mob – small time for sure, but still, not the best move on her part. And by 1937 she divorced him and then fell in love with her piano player. But her ex-husband was incensed by the new relationship, and shot the new boyfriend. The boyfriend survived and later became her husband, and the ex-husband went to jail, but Ruth’s career did not survive the scandal. She did a few minor projects after that, but the heyday of her career was effectively over. Hollywood came calling again in 1955, with an offer to make a movie about her life. Love Me or Leave Me starred Doris Day and James Cagney, and was nominated for six Academy Awards and won the Award for Best Story. Most people who have heard of her today, only know what the saw in the movie – they know Doris Day as Ruth, not the real Ruth Etting.
Why am I posting this today? Well two reasons! One, I’ve been combing through my archive for 2008 and trying to post anything that I hadn’t yet – and I shot this image back in May, so it was time! And two, because last night I republished RuthEtting.com, the site I maintain in her memory. I switched servers recently, and so the site was down temporarily, but it’s up now, so it seemed like a good time to plug it here!
Her style of singing today seems sentimental and syrupy and dated – it’s definitely an acquired taste! But she really was one of the premier singers of her generation and a true legend.