Greg Poppleton

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06 April 2021

(Until 06 April)

Ruth Etting, Radio Sweetheart and Domestic Violence – Phantom Dancer 6 Apr 2021

Ruth Etting was a US singer/actress of the 1920s and 1930s. She never had voice lessons and had over 60 hit recordings. She worked on stage, radio and film. She was known as ‘America’s Radio Sweetheart’ and was also involved in a famous case of domestic violence with her mobster first husband. You’ll also get to hear her speaking voice.

The Phantom Dancer – your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV hosted by me, Greg Poppleton.

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Etting drew from an early age and left home at 16 for The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. While at art school, one of her professors offered her an interesting assignment. The owner of the Marigold Gardens, a Chicago nightclub, needed someone to draw the costume designs his wife had suggested for the chorus girls, the eponymous Marigolds. She was sent to the club and invited to catch the show. Etting was immediately stagestruck—so much so that she asked for a job there and then. At first, she used her chorus girl’s $25-a-week salary to pay her school expenses, but show business soon eclipsed the fashion world. She quit school and was soon immersed in Chicago’s vaudeville life, working with such stars as Sophie Tucker and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. 


Ruth Etting never took voice lessons. She modeled her singing style on Marion Harris,  creating her own style by alternating tempos and by varying notes and phrases and lowering her voice. Opportunity knocked for Ruth when a featured vocalist at the Marigold Gardens was unable to perform. With no other replacement available, Etting was asked to fill in. She quickly changed into the costume, scanned the music arrangements and as the performer was male, Etting lowered her voice. Her first ever solo number was, ‘Hats Off to the Polo Girl’, which she sang dressed as the male actor she had replaced. She became a featured vocalist at the nightclub.


Ruth Etting moved to New York in 1927, where Etting made her Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927. She went on to appear in a number of other hit shows in rapid succession, including Ziegfeld’s Simple Simon and Whoopee!. In Hollywood, Etting made three feature films: Roman Scandals (1933); The Gift of Gab (1935); Hips, Hips, Hooray (1939); plus around 30 musical shorts. She said, “I was no actress and I knew it. But I could sell a song”. Etting was first heard on radio station WLS when she was living in Chicago. Her appearance drew so much fan mail the station signed her to a year’s contract for twice weekly performances. 

She had her own twice weekly 15 minute radio show on CBS in the 1930s. In 1934, she was on NBC for Oldsmobile with Johnny Green’s Orchestra, as you’ll hear on this week’s Phantom Dancer. She made a test acoustic record for Victor on April 4, 1924, that went unissued. She was signed to Columbia electrical Records in February 1926 and sang for many labels until April 1937, when she quit recording.



Etting met a gangster in 1922 while performing at the Marigold Gardens. The gangster, who divorced his first wife to marry Etting in 1922, used his political connections to get bookings for her. She later said she married him “nine-tenths out of fear and one-tenth out of pity.” Etting told her friends, “If I leave him, he’ll kill me.” He managed her career, booking radio appearances and eventually had her signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records.

His aggressive and controlling management style caused problems for Etting while she was on Broadway. He was a constant presence and never without a gun which he liked to poke people with, saying “Put your hands up!” while laughing at their fright. By 1934 Etting was having difficulty getting engagements. Her mobster husband’s arguing and fighting at venues where Etting was employed caused her to be passed by for jobs.

She took work in England when work for her in the US dried up. Hubby created problems there, too. A street fight caused hugely adverse publicity for Etting. She divorced the gangster on the grounds of cruelty and abandonment in 1937. She had started divorce proceddings while in London after he had beat her legs with a cane. He didn’t contest the divorce and received from Etting a settlement of half her earnings, securities and a half interest in a home in Beverly Hills, California. She deducted the gambling debts of she had paid for him and the cost of the home she had bought for his mother.

Once the divorce became public, Etting destroyed all her sheet music, her press clippings, her wardrobe, gave up the reported $200,000 a year she had been earning, and retired from show business once and for all, moving permanently into her Beverly Hills home with her gangster ex-husband’s daughter Edith, from his first marriage. Edith, too, had grown tired of her father’s bullying and gladly accepted Etting’s offer to take her on as a secretary.

She fell in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, and started getting threatening telephone calls from the mobster. He claimed Etting withheld assets from him and was also upset she was seeing another man. He told her he was coming to California and kill her and his daughter. Ruth called the police and hired bodyguards afor a few days. However, months later, the criminal ex-husband detained Myrl Alderman at a local radio station and forced the pianist at gunpoint to take him to Ruth. At Ruth’s home, the gangster said he intended to kill her, Edith and Myrl. He shot Myrl Alderman, then told Ruth, “I’ve had my revenge, so you can call the police.” It also appeared that Etting had attempted to shoot her ex-husband with her own gun during the stnd-off and was prevented from doing so by Edith’s intervention. Another story has Edith then firing several at her father which all missed and hit the floor. “I would gladly have killed (my ex) if I could have held the gun steady enough,” Etting told reporters outside the Los Angeles courtroom where her ex was on trial. “And I could kill him now if I had a gun.”

During the kidnapping and attempted murder trial, the gangster’s lawyers painted Ruth Etting as a calculating woman who’d married her mobster husband only to benefit her career, and that she divorced him to be with a younger man (Alderman). Myrl’s first wife sued Ruth for $150,000, claiming Etting had broken up her marriage, but lost the case. Once the decision was handed down, Ruth sold her Beverly Hills house and moved to Colorado Springs to be with Myrl and his family. Edith died of complications from rheumatic fever in 1939. During the next seven years, Etting made only one appearance, at a World War II rally for war bonds in New York.


Then, shortly after the war’s end, listeners to Rudy Vallee’s weekly radio show were surprised to hear a familiar voice. Etting had decided to return to the business because doctors had suggested that Myrl go back to writing and playing music as part of his recovery from wartime injuries.

In 1947, she opened at the Copacabana in New York. Time featured her in an article which reminded readers that Ruth Etting had once been “the nation’s leading torch singer, rivalled only by Helen Morgan.” The reviews of her Copa act were respectful, with Variety reporting that “her figure is still svelte and her song-selling effective if, betimes, she wisely skirts the top notes.” In the same year, Etting briefly had a radio show on WHN New York City, a song from which you’ll hear on this week’s Phantom Dancer.  She then decided to quit show business once and for all.


Etting’s life was the basis for the 1955 biopic, Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day (as Etting), James Cagney (as the gangster husband) and Cameron Mitchell (as Alderman). Etting, Myrl Alderman and the gangster all sold their rights to the story to MGM. Etting said of the film, ” It was half fairy tale. It’s a shame that the most beautiful part of my life, my 28-year marriage to [Myrl], was left out completely because that was the real highlight of my life story.” She also said she thought the screen portrayal of her was too tough and that Jane Powell was her preference to play her.


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney LISTEN ONLINE Community Radio Network Show CRN #484

107.3 2SER Tuesday 6 April 2021 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT) and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm National Program 5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am 3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am 4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am 2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am 2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4pm 2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4pm 3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm 7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm 1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am 2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm 5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm 4RPH Brisbane Sunday 3 – 4am 7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am 3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am 6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Sunday 5 – 6am 3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm

Set 1
Trumpet Swing Band Leaders 
Memories of You (theme) + The Wish I Wish Tonight
Sonny Dunham Orchestra (voc) Tommy Randall
‘One Night Stand’ Terrace Room Hotel New Yorker NYC AFRS Re-broadcast 15 Jul 1945
Slavic Dance
 Lee Castle Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Meadowbrook Ballroom Ice Terrace Room New Jersey AFRS Re-broadcast 30 Aug 1944
Eight Bar Riff + Rose Room
Harry James Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Casino Gardens Ocean Park Ca AFRS Re-broadcast 22 Sep 1945
Set 2
Jimmy Grier 
I’ve Found You
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) Donald Novis
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
The Soldier on the Shelf
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) The Three Cheers
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
Was That The Human Thing To Do? + Music in the Moonlight (theme)
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) Margaret Lawrence
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
Set 3
1950s Jazz Radio 
Open + Sonnet For Sister Kate
Duke Ellington Orchestra
‘Such Sweet Thunder’ Ravinia Festival WBBM CBS Chicago 1 Jul 1957
Andre Previn
London House WBBM CBS Chicago 1959
Carnegie Horizons + Close
George Shearing
‘Stars in Jazz’ Birdland WNBC NBC NY 2 Jul 1952
Set 4
Ruth Etting 
Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
Ruth Etting (voc) Ben Selvin Orchestra
‘Tele-Focal Radio Receivers Transcription’ New York City 1930
Shine on Harvest Moon (theme) + I Wanna Be Loved + Body and Soul
Ruth Etting (voc) Johnny Green Orchestra
‘Oldsmobile Program’ WABC CBS NYC 27 Feb 1934
Do You Ever Think of Me?
Ruth Etting (voc) Studio Orchestra
‘The Ruth Etting Show’ WHN NYC 13 Jun 1947
Out of Nowhere + I Wanna Be Loved (theme)
Ruth Etting (voc) Johnny Green Orchestra
‘Oldsmobile Program’ WABC CBS NYC 21 Feb 1934
Set 5
Swing Band Radio Transcriptions 
Blueberry Hill
Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (voc) Bob Eberly
Radio Transcription 1941
I Married an Angel
Dick Jurgens Orchestra (voc) Eddie Howard
Radio Transcription 1938
Swamp Fire
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Radio Transcription 1939
Boo Hoo
Russ Morgan Orchestra (voc) Mullins Sisters
Radio Transcription 1938
Set 6
Music from Poems 
Meditation from Thais
Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’ Jefferson Barracks Missouri Mutual Network 23 Nov 1945
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Ciro’s KECA ABC LA Jul 1947
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Ciro’s KECA ABC LA Jul 1947
Eli, Eli
Lionel Hampton Orchestra
Casa Manana Culver City Ca KFI NBC LA 20 Jul 1947
Set 7
Artie Shaw 1939-40 
Artie Shaw Orchestra
Aircheck 13 Jan 1939
Artie Shaw Orchestra (voc) Helen Forrest
Summer Terrace Ritz Carlton WNAC NBC Red Boston 19 Aug 1939
Looking For Yesterdays
Artie Shaw Orchestra (voc) Anita Boyer
Aircheck 26 Oct 1940
St Louis Blues + Nightmare (theme)
Artie Shaw Orchestra
Cafe Rouge Hotel Pennsylvania WEAF NBC Red NY 19 Oct 1939
Set 8
Count Basie and Lester Young 
Ain’t It The Truth
Count Basie Orchestra (without Lester Young)
‘Swing Time’ AFRS Hollywood 1946
Three Little Words
Lester Young
‘Bandstand USA’ Cafe Bohemia WOR Mutual NY 1956
Be Bop Boogie
Lester Young
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal roost WMCA NY 4 Dec 1948
Jumpin’ at the Woodside + One O’clock Jump (theme)
Count Basie Orchestra with Lester Young
‘Stars in Jazz’ Birdland WNBC NBC NY 31 Aug 1952
All Gigs
12:04 pm - 2:00 pm
2SER 107.3 Sydney

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