Radio stars (June 1933)

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RADIO STARS Sob Story drudgery from which only a few are fated ever to escape. Ruth, we know, did escape. But there were dark days when she lay on her bed. her feet afire from too much danc- ing, sobbing, sobbing. . . . For by now, life had her in its grip; and she was tasting its dregs. With her chin up, you may be sure; her back as straight as a soldier's whenever eyes could see her, but alone—alone, she be- came a tired kid who wanted desper- ately to go home to the folks at David City. The same thing had happened before, and will happen again. But happening to her—enduring it, it was hell. She could have gone home, yes. She might have written for money and got- ter it by the next mail. But that would have been failure, and her letters to her parens h never even hinted of that. Leaving, home, she had promised that she would succeed. Deserting the study of painting against her parents' wishes for the gaudier atmosphere of the theatre, she had sworn that she would succeed. Now, singing in cafe back- rooms and basements—with the thought ever in her mind that she need not en- dure this if she would only give it up —she discovered new depths to her soul and unsuspected levels of agony. Listen, you sceptics! Listen, you who think that Ruth Etting's kind of sing- ing can be imitated by any frog-throated miss in a college glee club. Ruth was experiencing things that ninety-nine out of a hundred women never even im- agine. Call it life, if you will; call it pain, or purgatory, or heartbreak. It put the sob into her voice. This, for instance. . . . She sang in Colisimo's, Bishops, and other torrid night spots. She and nine (Continued from page 20) other girls, and a piano player. They were entertainers. And dancers. Some places call them hostesses. Men and women visited those cabarets, sat at cir- cular tables, and drank and ate away the night's darkest hours. It was Ruth's job to go to those tables and sing. Not the floor show sort of singing we hear today. Here, you were close to your audience—close to men who stunk with liquor and women who glistened with rouge and mascara. Here, you sat yourself in a handy chair, no waiting for an invitation, and began your song with just enough volume to carry to the folk about the table. More often than not, you weren't wanted. Women, hard as nails, resented Ruth's simplicity and sweetness. Some of them flung wine in her face and ordered her away. Others turned their backs and sneered as her syrupy songs clutched at the memories of the men. No matter, it was her job to sing. That sob in her voice that you've noticed began back there, while her eyes were bright with tears she was afraid to shed and her ears burned with insults. She had to sing, and dance, too. With men so foul with alcohol that they could scarcely keep their feet; with men who pawed at her freshness with predatory hands. Many a time, she fled from a table to hide tremblingly in the ladies' room. But even there she was not safe, for the establishment's bouncer, regard- less of the proprieties, sought her out and dragged her back to the customers. When it was all over, the singing or the dancing, you took your tip, whether it was a bill or a coin, and slid it through the slit in the black tin box that sat during each evening on top of the never- quiet piano. And then, at seven or eight in the morning, having drudged since six o'clock of the previous night, you and the other girls and the piano player opened that tin box, and divided the evening's spoils. ^yOULD you who envy Ruth's suc- cess today have suffered all that for the chance of becoming a star? Would you undergo the same ordeal ? Would you suffer the same indignities? Ruth won her battle. In the oddest sort of way you ever heard. Those women who had at first resented her freshness and slimness came to realize that she was not after their men; real- ized, too, that here was the sort of sweetness they themselves had once pos- sessed and abandoned for rhinestone- and-tinsel careers. They became Ruth's boosters and friends. Step by step, she became more important, more popular, and more skillful in her art. In the end, she shook herself free. Perhaps that was too bitter on appren- ticeship. Many folks would say the game was not worth such suffering. No matter, it turned the simple Neb- raska country girl into a deep-souled woman. And into an artist. When the late Flo Ziegfeld heard her voice, he demanded it. When he brought it to Broadway, all New York acclaimed it. Radio gave it to the nation. All this, you must know. This last though, is news. Most of Ruth's fans and friends are still women. That haunting overtone which some call a sob seems to be an echo of their own secret experiences. Ruth has let me read some of the letters they have sent her. There can be no doubt of it, they have taken her completely into their hearts. Which makes a perfect ending, I think, for any sob story. Money, Money, Money! call it the "stand-by" orchestra. At the beginning and at the end, it is on the air. The rest of the time, it sits around, waiting for something to hap- pen. What could happen is this: one of the telephone lines connecting a dance orchestra of the evening to the studios could break. Such an emergency could kill the Lucky Strike program if the break were not immediately repaired. So Mr. Lucky Strike keeps this "stand- by" crew in an NBC studio ready to pinch-bit in case of need. Thus far, notliing has ever happened. That is the Lucky story. But what happens to the individual who, through luck or skill or by virtue of his talent, snares the public's fancy? It's an un- believable tale. Standard Oil recently re-signed (Continued from page 17) Groucho and Chico Marx for another thirteen weeks. At a salary of $6,500 a week. Ed Wynn's latest contract, rumor says, is drawn for $7,500 a week. When he played the Capitol theatre in New York recently with his "Laugh Parade" troup, he got $20,000 for the seven days. Before he went on the air, he'd have taken from $3,000 to $5,000 and con- sidered himself lucky. Radio does that to performers. It gives them an audience that will pay to see them in the flesh. And it kites up their salaries to dizzy heights. LI ERE are a few. Amos 'n' Andy, making their infrequent theatrical appearances, draw $7,500 a week. Jack Benny who replaced Al Jolson for Chevrolet and made himself a national figure with his nickel-back-on-the-bottle type of advertising is worth $4,000. The Boswell Sisters demand and get $3,000. Cab Calloway is a $5,000-a- week man. Eddie Cantor will sign that contract for $8,800. Ruth Etting gets $+,500. The Revellers take $3,500. Kate Smith works for $6,000. And Rudy Vallee, $4,500. These are stage salaries, remember. And so much velvet, usually, for they are paid in addition to whatever the entertainer takes from his aerial spon- sor. Yes, this broadcasting-is a freak busi- ness. Russ Columbo — remember ?— came from the West with empty pock- ets. A few months later, network mo- guls were handing him $1,000 each week. Still months later, he was back to zero again as far as broadcasting was 46