A surprise discovery of Rudy Vallee memorabilia--including 5,000 neckties, a gold watch from actress Mary Pickford and a fedora from W. C. Fields--were found this week in a recently unlocked attic in the late crooner's Hollywood Hills home, Vallee's widow said Sunday.
Among hundreds of pairs of shoes and outfits in the cluttered attic off Vallee's bedroom, his widow found a Rudy Vallee marionette given to the singer by Edgar Bergen, a dozen saxophones and clarinets, about 150 hats, a gold Elgin watch inscribed "To Rudy Vallee From Mary Pickford," a case of 1935 champagne, nearly 2,000 cuff links and medals and a bottle of witch hazel from the late actress Madame Maria Ouspenskaya.
His widow, Eleanor, said she found the key to the attic about two weeks ago in a Chinese puzzle box in his bedroom and began going through the crowded storage room a few days ago. She said she had been looking for the key since Vallee died four months ago.
On Sunday, Eleanor also opened a hallway safe and discovered letters from Richard M. Nixon, Paul Newman, the Andrews Sisters, Irving Berlin and Hedda Hopper, among others.
The discovery came as a surprise to Vallee's widow because the entertainer, who once said "I never throw anything away," had mementos of his 60-year career displayed throughout his house and had a three-story building beneath his tennis court devoted to almost nothing but his memorabilia.
Part of the first level under the court houses a 150-seat theater that is now decorated with old movie theater posters, costumes, megaphones and assorted souvenirs that his widow and publicist have found in other areas of the house.
The second level is a library-like collection of records, music sheets, stationery, Rudy Vallee books--he wrote three autobiographies--and Christmas cards. Vallee's former publicist, Chris Harris, said he recently discovered the old theater posters and photographs stuffed between a board and the wall.
Vallee, who died July 3 at age 84, became the nation's first pop-singing star in the 1920s, and for the next two decades was also one of the most successful vaudeville and radio personalities.
Going through the recent finds "makes me very emotional," his widow said. "It's very difficult. I do a lot of crying."
She said she plans to sell most of the memorabilia, and will donate some of it to museums and universities, including the two Vallee attended--Yale and the University of Maine.
To keep Vallee's collections, "I would have to buy a museum," said his widow, who is planning to move from the pink, Spanish-style house Vallee bought in 1941 from 1930s screen beauty Ann Harding. The house is listed by Celebrity Properties for $10 million.
Eleanor would like whoever buys the house to also buy the memorabilia, which she estimates is worth about $1 million, and then donate it to a museum as a tax write-off. Eleanor, who was Vallee's fourth wife and 16 years old when they married 36 years ago, said she does not have the income to make the donation herself.
She said she will keep "just things that mean something to me."
Months of Work
Harris estimates that it will take another three or four months of weekend work to go through Vallee's collections.
He said they have yet to wade through boxes of what is probably more papers and photos stored in the third level beneath the tennis court and get into another safe that he suspects details Vallee's rights to musical compositions. They do not have the combination, but Harris said they plan to open that safe next week.
It is possible that Vallee left some notes as to where such lost safe combinations and keys may be, Harris said, but "it would probably take you a year to go through all the papers and notes."