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Memories Linger at Hilltop 'Paradise' of Crooner Rudy Vallee

August 02, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Rudy Vallee's widow, the vivacious Eleanor, patted her dogs and welcomed a visitor to the Spanish-style castle she shared with the famous crooner from the time they were married in 1949 until he died at 85 a year ago July 3.

"Rudy used to call this the princess' bedroom," she said, ushering her guest into the master suite, near the spiral staircase that descends to the offices of the nation's first pop singing star, who started as a saxophonist and band leader in the '20s and became one of the country's most successful vaudeville, radio, television and motion picture personalities.

Eleanor Vallee, who likes to be called Ellie, is surrounded by memories, ones she cherishes but is ready to put aside. After all, she was only 16 when she became the 48-year-old star's fourth wife.

She's still energetic. She starred in the play "Tribute" in the 150-seat theater on her property in April and regularly plays tennis on the court on top of the building housing the theater, two long galleries and a playroom.

A former model, she still has a radiant smile, red hair and sleek physique.

Although she was, as she phrases it, "very much in love" with Rudy Vallee, she considers herself "a very lucky girl again."

Why? "Because a new man has come into my life," she announced publicly for the first time. "It's Edward Hustedt, a very famous trial lawyer. We'll be married after the first of the year."

Didn't Really Want to Sell

This explains the huge price drop--from the $10 million she first asked for her Hollywood Hills house last October, to the $5.5-million listing she gave Dolly Brown at Fred Sands Estates in July.

Vallee thought back to last fall. "I didn't really want to sell it then, but I was asked (by another realty firm), so I said, 'Sure, put it at that ($10 million).' "

It's a different story now. She smiled. "I'm ready to go on with a new life."

Judging by her house and recollections, the old one wasn't shabby.

She and her husband liked totravel, but they also liked to party at their hilltop home, which has a view, on one side, of Catalina, and, on the other, of the Burbank Studios and Universal City.

Rudy Vallee made movies in the late '30s and '40s for Warner Bros. on the Burbank lot, and he appeared in the early '70s as Winford Fletcher, a real estate broker, in the weekly TV program "Alias Smith & Jones." which was filmed at Universal Studios.

Bringing Back Memories

"So, when I look out there, it brings back memories," she said. The same could be said of any room in the house.

Consider the music room, just off the formal entrance where there are chimes that play Rudy Vallee's theme song, "My Time is Your Time."

Ellie Vallee recalled how she and her husband filled that room time after time with tables for dinner parties, and how they also used the room, which is rather long and narrow, to show movies.

They were always having parties, as photo montages mounted on a door off the music room show.

Secret Stairway

And they had fun even when they were by themselves. A steep, secret stairway leads to a roof terrace where, Vallee said, "we used to put our beds and sleep under the stars."

Nearby, in the rotunda, is a pile of scrapbooks, one of their two-year honeymoon.

On the rotunda wall, there are many pictures. One, a watercolor, was painted by their artist/friend Joana Sturdza. It depicts the house with Rudy on one side and Ellie on the other and says: "Paradise is 7430 Rue de Vallee." It's a street name he sought, unsuccessfully, in the '70s.

The name also appears on a street sign next to the tennis court. In the building underneath, some false noses and eyeglasses are bunched up on a shelf, left over from a party or parties of the past.

'Just a Big Kid'

"He was just a big kid, and I was his babe," she said. "We were two kids playing."

Their playmates often included the rich and famous. Among them: Edgar Bergen, Jimmy Durante, Ken Murray, Jane Withers, Connie Haines, Jack LaLanneDanny Thomas, Shirley Jones, Buddy Rogers, Cesar Romero, Jane Russell and Kelly Lange.

"And we entertained a lot of politicians. (Richard M.) Nixon was here and (Barry) Goldwater," she recalled.

No Democrats? "I guess that's true." She laughed. "We were Republicans."

Before they were married, Rudy Vallee and his friends went to a Don the Beachcomber restaurant after Vallee's radio show and then up to Vallee's playroom for drinks, she said.

"Also, before my time, Errol Flynn used to ride horseback to see Rudy, from his home over there." She pointed to a house in the distance.

Home Built for Actress

Several years before she met Rudy Vallee, he bought the home, which he dubbed "Silver Tip" for a small pine tree that was growing just below a patio. The home was built by actress Ann Harding in 1930, but she sold it in 1940 to a man who gave it to his daughter as a wedding present.

Rudy Vallee once wrote: "The newlyweds didn't know how to enjoy it, and in 1941, the father sold it to me."

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