Rudy Vallee started performing at an early age, and then joined the Navy during WWI. However the Navy was not amused when they found out he had lied about his age; he was only 15 when he joined. Back in show business after only 41 days of service, Rudy eventually hooked up with a band playing clarinet and saxophone at the Savoy Hotel in London.
His band mates "discouraged" his attempts as a vocalist.
At the time a singer needed a powerful voice to not only be heard over the band, but to reach the ears of audience members in the back of the hall. Two things saved Rudy's singing career. The first was the introduction of the electric microphone; with amplification Rudy's wavering, thin tenor voice took on power and intimacy. Even more important to Rudy's singing career was the fact that he was a suave, good looking young man.
Vallee became the first of what would be known as "crooners". The crooner's soft voice was perfect for the new medium of radio, and Vallee's trombone-like phrasing and vocal style would become an inspiration to later artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Perry Como.
As a crooner Rudy Vallee became one of the earliest mass-media pop stars. He was mobbed by screaming girls where ever he performed. In venues that did not have electric microphones and amplification, the crowd couldn't hear him they would swoon just to get a glimpse of his lips through his megaphone.
The head of programming at NBC, Bertha Brainard, was the network's first female executive. In the late 20's she began pushing for a new type of program, the Variety Show, and she insisted on having Rudy Vallee as the host. "Only a woman" she would explain "could understand the appeal" of Vallee's voice.
The show was sponsored by Standard Brands, which J.P. Morgan had formed by merging the Fleischmann Yeast Co, Royal Baking Powder, Chase and Sanborn Coffee, and others. Originally titled The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour, the show was only rivaled in popularity by Amos and Andy.
Beginning in the 1936 season the name of the program was changed to The Royal Gelatin Hour, (Standard Brands apparently decided they were better served pushing desserts than yeast.)
As The Royal Gelatin Hour the program began to feature guests from the Motion Picture World, including writer Noel Coward, Fay Wray, Tyrone Power, Bob Hope, Roland Young, Gertrude Lawrence, Fanny Brice, and Ed Wynn. During the first season of The Royal Gelatin Hour Vallee introduced a young ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen. Although even Vallee expressed doubts at having a ventriloquist on the radio, Bergen's comedic timing and style, with the precociousness of his "sidekick" Charlie McCarthy, made him a hit. Bergen appeared on several more episodes during the 36 season, and in 1937 Standard Brands rebuilt The Chase and Sanborn Hour around Bergen and McCarthy, running until 1949.
The Royal Gelatin Hour also made history during Rudy Vallee's 1937 summer vacation. Vallee insisted that the sponsor hire jazz great Louis Armstrong as summer host, making Armstrong the first African American to host a major network program.