When I was a kid I’d sometimes get a little puzzled while watching a movie that was supposed to be about someone famous, because often I’d never heard of them. Of course, I was spectacularly clueless in those days (still am, for that matter) but the reason for the confusion was usually just a generational thing. A good example would be a Doris Day film titled Love Me Or Leave Me, the story of prohibition-era musical star Ruth Etting, who was probably very well-remembered by the adult members of the movie audience — if not for her music, then certainly for her vivid past.
Born in small-town Nebraska and raised by her grandparents, Etting struck out of her own while still in her teens, moving to Chicago to attend art school. Over the next few years she grew up fast. After finding work as a costume designer for a local nightclub, she graduated to singing and dancing in the chorus, which in turn led to a solo spot. It also led to a romance and eventual marriage to gangster Marty Snyder (known to his cohorts as ‘Moe the Gimp’).
Pairing up with a mobster in prohibition-era Chicago sounds like a risky move, but Snyder took over the management of her career and by the late 1920s had turned her into a star, complete with regular radio appearances and lots of best-selling records. He even managed to get her into Broadway shows and a few movie spots in Hollywood.
Her stardom continued to build into the 1930s, but the couple always had a volatile relationship and the marriage finally ended in 1937. Unfortunately the fireworks didn’t end — the following year Snyder shot Etting’s young pianist and lover, and spent some time in prison. Etting ended up marrying her wounded lover but the scandal didn’t help her downhill career slide. She continued to work from time to time but had pretty much faded from view until publicity from the 1955 movie gave her a brief boost. She died in 1978 at age 81.