Rising to fame in the twenties and early thirties, Ruth Etting starred on Broadway, made movies in Hollywood, married a mobster, had numerous hit-records, and was known as America’s Sweetheart of Song. She was also my grandfather’s cousin.
I received an email yesterday from one of the authors of a new book on Ruth Etting, coming out this fall. Ruth Etting: America’s Forgotten Sweetheart, by Kenneth Irwin and Charles O. Lloyd will be published by Scarecrow Press and is the first full-length biography of her life.
As excited as I am about the book, I’m maybe even more excited about the photo on the cover! It’s an image I’ve never seen before, and it features the pearls-around-her-upper-arm-look that I love – and in fact, the dress has strings of pearls hanging down her back, and off one hip. Ruth Etting wore pearls like no one else! Check out these images for further proof! 1, 2, and 3
More on the book…
“In Ruth Etting: America’s Forgotten Sweetheart, authors Kenneth Irwin and Charles Lloyd provide the first full-length biography of this ground-breaking artist. This book recounts Etting’s early hears as a pioneering radio performer who quickly attained national celebrity, her recording career as “Sweetheart of Columbia Records,” and her innovative work in early short subjects. The authors detail Etting’s unhappy marriage to her husband-manager, Martin (Moe “The Gimp”) Snyder, her second marriage to pianist arranger Myrl Alderman, and her Colorado Springs retirement. They also examine Etting’s place in the history of American entertainment, specifically her trend-setting vocal style and her innovative work in phonograph recordings and radio performance–as well as her enormous popularity throughout the 1930s and beyond.”
For more on the book and more on the authors, check out their website!
And for more on Ruth Etting, check out RuthEtting.com!
I’ve written about my grandfather’s cousin before – Ruth Etting – who was arguably the most popular female singer in the 1930’s, but lost her career due to scandal – her ex-husband shot her new boyfriend. Today a scandal like that would likely give her career a nice boost, and cement her place in history, but back then it was the kiss of death for an entertainer’s career.
She made quite a few films, and so there’s lots of footage out there of Ruth singing – but not all of it has ended up on YouTube yet – although I have no doubt it will eventually! But this is the first time I’ve found a clip of her on a stage, with just a piano. I like the simplicity. And the song. And the fact that at the end of the song she plays with the phrasing. It’s definitely stylized, and definitely torchy, and definitely an acquired taste, but if you like a good torch song, she’s the best!
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.