Rudy Starita Articles

“Mad about the Boy” (1932)

“Mad about the Boy.” Words and music by Noël Coward for the 1932 revue Words and Music. Recorded in London on November 5, 1932 by Rudy Starita and His Ambassadors with vocalist Elsie Carlisle. 4 in 1 – 17 mx. X-218-2.

Personnel: probably Nat Star-cl-as dir. / Nat Gonella-t / t / tb / cl-as / cl-ts / vn / p / bj-g / bb-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x

Rudy Starita and His Ambassadors (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “Mad About the Boy” (1932)

“Mad about the Boy” must be one of Sir Noël Coward’s most successful compositions, especially if we measure success by the fact that the song continues to be recorded and even used in advertising many decades after its debut on the London stage. It originated in the 1932 revue Words and Music, whose words, music, script, and direction were all done by Coward himself; the show included other memorable songs such as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and “Let’s Say Goodbye.” “Mad about the Boy” was sung on stage by a cast of female characters — a society lady, a prostitute, a schoolgirl, and a Cockney servant — who describe their passion for a movie star as they wait in line to see one of his films. The lyrics are predictably witty, using a surprising variety of rhymes for the monosyllables “mad” and “boy”.1

It is not clear whether the song was meant to reference a specific film actor. A great deal of effort has been put into identifying an unrequited real-life crush that Coward is said to have had on some American actor (the name Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. comes up frequently). Coward may have contributed to the idea that the song had a homosexual theme by writing verses for a businessman character to sing in the New York version:

…I’m mad about the boy
And even Doctor Freud cannot explain
Those vexing dreams
I’ve had about the boy.
When I told my wife
She said
“I never heard such nonsense in my life!”
Her lack of sympathy
Embarassed me
And made me frankly glad about the boy.

(The character was cut from the production — the idea may have been too risqué for its time.)2 I find it ultimately unnecessary, however, to assume that the “boy” of “Mad about the Boy” must have a specific, real-world analogue — in any case, infatuation with an inaccessible celebrity is a very common occurrence.

Elsie Carlisle’s versions of “Mad about the Boy” were made with Ray Starita’s band, but in the bandleader’s absence — Ray had gone on vacation to America in the summer of 1932 and never returned to England. There are quite a few records whose labels read “Ray Starita and His Ambassadors” that were likely made without him; one of the records with “Mad about the Boy” on them (4 in 1 – 17) is the first to specifically mention Ray’s brother Rudy Starita instead. Yet Rust and Forbes hesitate to say that Rudy was actually the musical director for that session, writing that it was probably Nat Star who played that role.3 It should be noted that the band and Elsie recorded takes for two records of “Mad about the Boy” that day, a Sterno and a 4 in 1 (both products of the British Homophone Company).

The other dance bands’ arrangements of “Mad about the Boy” exclusively used the society lady’s lines from the Words and Music review. For some reason, the Starita band had Elsie sing the prostitute’s verse, which is rather more edgy:

I’m hardly sentimental;
Love isn’t so sublime.
I have to pay my rental,
And I can’t afford to waste much time.

Elsie’s alternately weepy and enraptured vocal complements the band’s funereally melancholy yet infectiously catchy treatment of the tune. Her evocation of a street-walker’s brooding obsession with a Hollywood persona is really quite convincing.

Other British bands who recorded “Mad About the Boy” in 1932 were Ray Noble and His New Mayfair Orchestra, who did an instrumental version and included it in Words and Music medley, the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons / v. Cecile Petrie), the Debroy Somers Band (in a Words and Music medley), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Phyllis Robins), The Blue Lyres (dir. Bert Ambrose / v. Anona Winn), and The Blue Mountaineers (v. Sam Browne). In 1932 Coward’s close friend and professional associate Gertrude Lawrence would record a version that includes the society lady’s intro. Coward himself recorded “Mad about the Boy” in 1932, but his version was not issued during his lifetime.

Notes:

  1. Stephen Citron. Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates. United Kingdom: Hal Leonard, 2005, 318.
  2. Sheridan Morely. Noël Coward. London: Haus, 2005, 57.
  3. Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes. British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement. Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989, 1021-1022.

“I Can’t Get Over a Boy Like You” (1927)

“I Can’t Get Over a Boy Like You.” Words by Harry Ruskin, music by Martin Broones.  Composed for LeMaire’s Affairs (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with the Gilt-Edged Four on February 7, 1927. Columbia 4275.

Personnel: Al Starita-as / Ray Starita-t s/ Sid Bright-p-cel / Rudy Starita-d

I Can’t Get Over a Boy Like You – Elsie Carlisle

Video by David Weavings (YouTube)

This recording of Elsie Carlisle singing “I Can’t Get Over a Boy Like You” to the accompaniment of the Gilt-Edged Four is remarkable for two purely physical or material reasons. First, it is one of only four recordings that Elsie made that are meant to be played at 80 revolutions per minute, and of those only it and “Meadow Lark” were issued to the public. Columbia records were a holdout against the general tendency to standardize gramophone speeds at 78 rpm, and the company stuck to its proprietary speed of 80 rpm until late 1927. Second, these records were made using the special Columbia “New Process” of laminating cores of low-quality shellac with higher-quality compounds that reduce surface noise, and the resulting sound is impressively clear.

The Gilt-Edged Four was a Columbia studio band led by saxophonist Al Starita. This particular song features his playing and that of his brothers Ray and Rudy, with whose bands Elsie would go on to make noteworthy recordings in 1932-1933. The piano and celeste are played by Sid Bright, twin brother of bandleader Gerald Bright, better known as “Geraldo.”

The song “I Can’t Get Over a Girl Like You (Loving a Boy Like Me)” — for that is how the lyrics usually go, insofar as they are usually sung by men — originated in a revue named “LeMaire’s Affairs” (after producer Rufus LeMaire), which was quite popular when it was based in Chicago and starred Ted Lewis and Sophie Tucker. It apparently bombed after moving to Broadway when Sophie Tucker was replaced with Charlotte Greenwood. The song compares the ease with which one can “get over” all manner of ailments (e.g.”[m]easles, mumps, and whooping cough, / The flu, and housemaid’s knee…”) to the difficulty of “getting over” being the object of someone’s affections. Elsie injects upbeat, girlish fun into this catchy foxtrot and delivers its simple argument rather fetchingly.

“I Can’t Get Over a Girl Like You” was recorded in America in 1926 by Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders (with vocals by Billy Murray), Abe Lyman and His Hotel Ambassador Orchestra, Ted Lewis and His Band, Aileen Stanley and Billy Murray, Adrian Schubert and His Salon Orchestra (with vocalist Arthur Hall), and the Arkansas Travelers (with Lem Cleg).

The song was recorded in Britain in late 1926 and early 1927 by Bert and John Firman’s Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band, Billy Mayerl and His “Vocalion” Orchestra (with vocals by Billy Mayerl), the Savoy Havana Band (with vocalists Rudy Bayfield Evans, Abe Bronson, and Reg Batten), the Edison Bell Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Tom Barratt), and Jack Payne and His Hotel Cecil Orchestra.

 

Happy 110th Birthday, Ray Starita!

Ray (Renato) Starita, an Italian-American, along with his brothers Al and Rudy (and the less well-known Julio) were influential in British dance band music in the 1920s and early 1930s.  Ray, a saxophonist and clarinetist, led the Piccadilly Revels Band and the Ambassadors’ Band.

John Wright has compiled some interesting historical data regarding the Starita family, drawing on the accounts of their children, and he provides a unique photo gallery of Ray Starita‘s career in England and later life in the United States.

Elsie Carlisle made a number of noteworthy recordings with Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band in 1932, including “Let That Be a Lesson to You,” “I Heard,” and Noël Coward’s “Mad About the Boy.”

Ray Starita and His Ambassadors' Band c. 1930
Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band c. 1930

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.