Ruth Etting (November 23, 1896 – September 24, 1978) was an American singing star and actress of the 1920s and 1930s, who had over 60 hit recordings and worked in stage, radio, and film. She is known as "America's sweetheart of song". Her signature tunes were "Shine On, Harvest Moon", "Ten Cents a Dance" and "Love Me or Leave Me". Her other popular recordings included "Button Up Your Overcoat", "Mean to Me", "Exactly Like You" and "Shaking the Blues Away".
- 2 Recording history
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Later life and death
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Hit records
- 7 Broadway
- 8 Filmography
- 9 Featured songs in other media
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Ruth Etting in a photo for her NBC Radio show.
Etting was born in David City, Nebraska in 1896 to Alfred, a banker, and Winifred (née Kleinhan) Etting. Her mother died when she was five years old and she then went to live with her paternal grandparents, George and Hannah Etting. Alfred Etting remarried; he moved away from David City and was not a part of his daughter's life. Etting was interested in drawing at an early age and hoped to be able to draw illustrations for a newspaper. She left David City at the age of sixteen to attend art school in Chicago. Etting got a job designing costumes at the Marigold Gardens nightclub, which led to employment singing and dancing in the chorus there. While she enjoyed singing at school and in church, Etting never took voice lessons. She said that she had patterned her song styling afterMarion Harris, but created her own unique style by alternating tempos and by varying some notes and phrases.
Etting became a featured vocalist at the nightclub, and married gangster Martin "Moe the Gimp" Snyder on July 17, 1922 in Crown Point, Indiana. He managed her career, booking radio appearances and eventually had her signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records. She made her Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927. While the original plan for the show was for Etting to do a tap dance after singing "Shaking the Blues Away", she later remembered she was not a very good dancer. At the show's final rehearsal, Flo Ziegfeld told her, "Ruth, when you get through singing, just walk off the stage". Etting also appeared in Ziegfeld's last "Follies" in 1931. She later recalled, "I was no actress, and I knew it. But I could sell a song". She went on to appear in a number of other hit shows in rapid succession, including Simple Simon and Whoopee!. In Hollywood, Etting made a long series of movie shorts between 1929 and 1936, and three feature movies in 1933 and 1934. In 1936, she appeared in London in Ray Henderson's Transatlantic Rhythm.Etting also had her own twice weekly 15 minute radio show on CBS in the 1930s. By 1934, she was on NBC with sports announcer Ted Husing doing the announcing and Oldsmobile sponsoring her program.
After an unissued test made by Victor on April 4, 1924, Etting was signed to Columbia Records in February 1926. She remained at Columbia through June 1931, when she split her recording between ARC (Banner, Perfect, Romeo, Oriole, etc.) and Columbia through March 1933. Etting then signed with Brunswick and remained there until May 1934, when she re-signed with Columbia through July 1935. After a solitary Brunswick session in March 1936, she signed with the British label Rex and recorded two sessions in August and September, 1936. Etting returned to the US and signed with Decca in December 1936 and recorded until April 1937, when she basically retired from recording.
Etting, who made many of her own clothes, did her own housekeeping and lived frugally, initially announced her retirement in 1935. It is not clear why she did not go through with her announced plans, but she issued a second statement regarding retirement after filing for divorce from Snyder in November 1937. Etting saved some of her paycheck each week, regardless of the amount she was making at the time. Her friends said she invested in California real estate rather than the stock market.
Etting divorced Moe Snyder on the grounds of cruelty and abandonment on November 30, 1937. Snyder did not contest the divorce and received a settlement from his former wife. Etting gave her ex-husband half of her earnings at the time, $50,000, some securities and a half interest in a home in Beverly Hills, California. She deducted the gambling debts of Snyder she had paid and costs she had paid for a home for Snyder's mother.
Etting fell in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who was separated from his wife. In January 1938, she began receiving threatening telephone calls from Snyder, who initially claimed Etting withheld assets from him when the divorce settlement was made. Though the couple was divorced, Snyder was also upset because of reports that she was seeing another man. Snyder told Etting that he would come out to California and kill her. Snyder's first threat was delivered to his daughter, Edith. When Snyder telephoned and found his ex-wife unavailable, Snyder told his daughter that he "would fix her ticket, too". He called again that evening; this time Etting took the call with her cousin, Arthur Etting, listening on an extension. Etting requested police protection after the telephone call and arranged for private protection. She believed the danger was over when Snyder did not appear soon after his telephone call and released her bodyguards.
On October 15, 1938, Moe Snyder detained Myrl Alderman at a local radio station and forced the pianist to take him to the home of his former wife. In the house at the time were Etting, and Edith Snyder. Edith, Snyder's daughter by a previous marriage, worked for Etting and remained living with her after the divorce. Snyder held Etting and Alderman at gunpoint; when told his daughter was in another part of the house, he made Etting call her into the room. Snyder said he intended to kill all three, and told them to be quiet. When Myrl Alderman attempted to speak, Snyder shot him. Snyder then told his ex-wife, "I've had my revenge, so you can call the police."
Snyder claimed Myrl Alderman pulled a gun and shot at him first and that his ex-wife would not file charges against him because she still loved him. He also claimed he was drunk when he made the telephone threats to Etting in January 1938, saying that at the time his intentions were to kill both his ex-wife and himself. Ruth Etting said that the only gun in the home belonged to her, and after the shooting of Alderman, she was able to go into her bedroom and get it. Upon seeing Etting's gun, Moe Snyder wrested it away from her; it landed on the floor. Snyder's daughter, Edith, picked it up and held it on her father, shooting at him but hitting the floor instead.During a police reenactment of the shooting three days later, Edith Snyder said that she fired at her father to save Ruth Etting, weeping as she continued, "I don't yet know whether I am sorry I missed my Dad or whether I am glad." Snyder was accused of attempting to murder his ex-wife, his daughter, and Etting's accompanist, Myrl Alderman, the kidnapping of Alderman, as well as California state gun law violations.
Three days after the shooting of Myrl Alderman, the pianist's second wife, Alma, sued Ruth Etting for alienation of her husband's affections. Though Etting and Alderman claimed to have been married in Tijuana, Mexico in July 1938, Alma Alderman said any marriage was invalid, because her divorce from Myrl Alderman would not be final until December 1938. Police investigators could find no record of the couple's Mexican marriage. Ruth Etting testified that she was not married to Alderman and that she believed the reason for Alderman's neither denying nor confirming marriage rumors was that he thought they would be safe from Moe Snyder if it was believed they were now married. The second Mrs. Alderman also called Moe Snyder to the stand as a witness regarding an attraction between her husband and Etting. Alderman's first wife, Helen, also appeared in court, claiming that Alma Alderman had spirited Myrl away from her. Alma Alderman's lawsuit ended in December 1939, with the court finding that she was not entitled to damages from Ruth Etting.
The testimony in both trials brought much personal information into the public eye. Snyder, who claimed to still be in love with his ex-wife, gave Etting a diamond and platinum bracelet which she accepted after Snyder's telephone threat in January 1938. Etting testified that she thought Snyder was either drunk or out of his mind when he threatened her by phone. During the trial, Snyder's attorney portrayed Ruth Etting as a calculating woman who had married Moe Snyder strictly for the benefit of her career, and that she divorced him in favor of being with another, younger man (Myrl Alderman). Snyder's attorney echoed his client's claim of self-defense and said his client never intended to kill Etting, his daughter, and Myrl Alderman. The attorney further claimed that if Snyder intended to kill the pianist, he had ample time to do so while he held a gun on Alderman during the drive from the radio station to the home where the shooting took place. Etting married Alderman, who was almost a decade her junior, on December 14, 1938 in Las Vegas, during Moe Snyder's trial for attempted murder. Snyder was convicted of attempted murder, but released on appeal after one year in jail. Snyder won a new trial but returned to jail in January 1940 in lieu of bail. Edith Snyder, Moe's daughter, remained with Ruth Etting. Edith died August 3, 1939 of heart disease at age 22.
The scandal of the sensational trial in Los Angeles effectively ended Etting's career, though she briefly had a radio show on WHN in 1947. She also accepted an engagement at New York's Copacabana in March 1947. Etting traveled alone to New York and during a newspaper interview, was asked if she had ever seen Moe Snyder again. She replied, "No, I hope I never do." and said that her husband never went to bed without a gun.
The couple relocated to an eight acre farm outside of Colorado Springs in 1938. Alderman, who was raised in Colorado Springs, operated a restaurant there for a time. Etting remained married to Myrl Alderman until his death on November 28, 1966; he was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. Ruth Etting died in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1978, aged 81. She was survived by a stepson, John Alderman, and four grandchildren.
Her life was the basis for the fictionalized 1955 film, Love Me or Leave Me, which starred Doris Day (as Etting), James Cagney (as Snyder) and Cameron Mitchell (as Alderman). Etting, Myrl Alderman and Moe Snyder all sold their rights to the story to MGM; Snyder was living in Chicago in 1955.[note 1] Shortly before her death, Etting said she thought the screen portrayal of her was too tough and that Jane Powell would have been a better choice for the lead.
Note: All of the above were Columbia releases. The following four were non-Columbia releases:
- (1932) "It Was So Beautiful" (U.S. chart position 13) Melotone Records
- (1933) "Try a Little Tenderness" (U.S. chart position 16) Melotone Records
- (1934) "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (U.S. chart position 15) Brunswick Records
- (1937) "In the Chapel in the Moonlight" (U.S. chart position 20) Decca Records
Ruth Etting's Broadway appearances are recorded at the Internet Broadway Database.
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 – in which she introduced Irving Berlin's "Shaking The Blues Away"
- Whoopee! (1928) – in which she introduced "Love Me or Leave Me"
- Nine-Fifteen Revue (1929) – in which she introduced "Get Happy"
- Simple Simon (1930) – in which she introduced "Ten Cents a Dance"
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1931
||Lobby card from No Contest!, 1934*Crashing the Gate − 1933
- Roman Scandals − 1933, her breakthrough film, which starred Eddie Cantor and Gloria Stuart
- Mr. Broadway − 1933, as herself
- Gift of Gab − 1934
- Hips, Hips, Hooray! − 1934
BioShock 2 - 2010
Bioshock Infinite - 2013
-  Though there would not be a film for almost twenty years after the shooting, Hy Gardner, a New York Columnist suggested a film of Etting's life with the title Love Me Or Leave Me.