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Ruth Wallis

Ruth Wallis was the unrivaled Queen of the Party Records, reeling off a series of bawdy, double-entendre-laced satires that earned a substantial cult following overseas but ran afoul of censors in the singer's native U.S. Born in Brooklyn sometime during the early '20s -- she adamantly refused to disclose her actual age -- Wallis first attracted attention with bandleader Isham Jones, followed by a brief stint with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. During World War II she was a fixture of the New York City cocktail lounge circuit, over time expanding her touring radius across the Northeast. During an extended residency at Boston's Latin Quarter, Wallis began romancing club manager Hy Pastman, and eventually the couple married. Pastman encouraged his new wife to incorporate more original material into her performances, and while her heartfelt torch ballads had their share of admirers, the applause reached new levels when Wallis trotted out risqué novelty tunes like "Johnny Had a Yo-Yo." Audiences clamored for her to cut a record, and after signing with Newark-based indie label DeLuxe, she cut "The Dinghy Song," which recounted the tale of Davy, a sailor with "the cutest little dinghy in the Navy." The single proved a smash hit, selling in excess of 250,000 despite little or no radio airplay and boycotts from several prominent retail chains. Its success also spawned a cottage industry of follow-ups, including "Davy's Dinghy," "The Admiral's Daughter," and "The New Dinghy Song."

With each successive record, Wallis continued tackling subjects that were otherwise verboten in postwar America. In addition to dick jokes, recurring themes included breasts, homosexuality, and infidelity, and while she enjoyed a thriving fan base in England, Canada, and New Zealand, her records were outlawed in Australia. (During a tour stop Down Under, she was even stopped by customs officers immediately after touching down on Aussie soil.) Fearing the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission, Boston radio stations banned Wallis from the air, but her records still sold, even if retailers kept them hidden safely behind the cash register. In 1952, Wallis and Pastman teamed with DeLuxe head Joe Liebowitz to form their own label, Wallis Original Records. Albums like Sings for a Café Party, Saucy Calypso, French Postcards Set to Music, and Love Is for the Birds paired the singer with arranger Jimmy Carroll and the crème de la crème of the New York City session community, including the Ray Charles Singers and the Mac Ceppos Orchestra. With 1953's "Dear Mr. Godfrey," Wallis even scored a minor mainstream hit, lampooning broadcaster Arthur Godfrey following his decision to fire popular singer Julius LaRosa on the grounds LaRosa had "lost his humility." Years later, she also satirized the oft-married Gabor sisters via "(Mama Always Told Us) Bring the Boys to the House."

Wallis reached her career apex during the mid-'60s, when she traveled to London at the request of Philips Records producer and A&R exec Johnny Franz. In addition to studio sessions that yielded the LP How to Stay Sexy Tho' Married, she also played a series of sold-out theater dates, commanding the attention and respect long denied her at home. But as times changed and a new, more brazen generation of singers like Rusty Warren and Belle Barth stole the limelight, Wallis fell out of commercial favor, and while she continued playing club tours, her record sales dried up. After a final tour of Australia, she retired from recording and performing in 1970, but in the decades to follow she continued writing, developing a series of movie scripts and musical scores that remain unproduced. Wallis' vintage recordings nevertheless retained their admirers, chief among them syndicated radio host Dr. Demento, and in 2000 -- now a widow living in upstate Connecticut -- she contacted the influential talent agency ICM, pitching a stage musical based on her classic novelty songs. ICM agent Mitch Douglas was a longtime fan and quickly set about gathering a creative staff including producer/choreographer Lawrence Leritz, director Donna Drake, and costumer Robert Pease. BOOBS! The Musical: The World According to Ruth Wallis premiered at New York City's Triad Theater on May 19, 2003, with subsequent runs in New Orleans and Wichita. After a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, Wallis died December 21, 2007. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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