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Notes on Douglas Steade’s life and career

One can Google Douglas Steade on the Internet and only one reference comes up: Chorus man in Hollywood movie, Happy Days 1930.  But Douglas Steade, tenor, was much, much more than that. If he were singing today, his name would come up on the Internet hundreds of times.  He was soloist of great note in the 1930s, his heyday.

In his late teens, his extraordinary singing talent was already recognized and led to a full scholarship at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

From there he went to New York City to appear in musicals and met the love of his life, high-stepping Broadway ballet dancer, Ruth Emma Spangelberger, soon to become Ruth Steade. After they married, the couple moved West in the late 1920s to Southern California (where Douglas Steade had been born in 1900), to seek their fortunes in the young film industry, just as film “Talkies” were beginning in Hollywood and therefore film music too. This would impact Douglas Steade’s life greatly.

Despite fluctuating singing income, the couple was able to have a house built in West Los Angeles, near the 20th Century Fox Studio and raised two children there, Anita and Dick.

The period of the 1930s and ‘40s has been appropriately dubbed“Radio’s Golden Age.” During those years, the listeners nationwide were entertained by a host of live coast-to-coast network broadcasts. Millions tuned in.

Douglas Steade was very much part of that world and had remarkable successes early on, singing with such superstars of the day as Bea Lillie. Lillie and Kenny Baker. Lillie and he sang together on national radio broadcasts. In its day, that was as otable as appearing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” would be a generation later. The two singers also appeared often together as “Sweethearts of the Gilmore Circus.”

Often singing on the famous “Firestone Hour,” with full orchestra, Douglas Steade’s repertoire ranged from musicals, to sacred songs, to operetta, to opera, with “The Dream” from Massenet’s Manon being a signature song of his.His daughter, Anita, says about his singing days, “My dad used to say that nothing was so exciting as singing with a full orchestra!”

Dick, Douglas Steade’s son, said his dad introduced Malotte’s masterpiece, “The Lord’s Prayer” on a national radio broadcast in 1937, with Malotte himself at the piano!

Douglas Steade was part of the Uptowner’s Quartet, which included, at various times, Kenny Baker (who became famous onhis own), Stewart Behr, Thurl Ravenscroft (the voice of ‘Tony the Tiger,’ who died in May 2005) and Paul Taylor. They were heard on such radio shows as the Joe Penner Program, Francis Langford’s Hollywood Hotel and the Gilmore Circus.

One time, early in their career, when the then Uptowner’s wanted to present themselves as fully professional, Douglas Steade, recruited his younger first cousin, and namesake,Douglas Steade Rowley, to act as if he were their agent, at an important rehearsal. That handsome young man, Doug Rowley, who by his own account, knew “absolutely nothing about artists’ management whatsoever,” wore a nice suit, looked the part and the whole charade was a success.

The vocal quartet members worked extensively with Walt Disney (with the man himself – back then Disney wasn’t a corporation; itwas Walt, sitting at a desk, drawing his own animated cartoons).

We've all heard the quartet singing in the classic early Disney films. We just didn't know the tenor was Douglas Steade. The quartet sang in many early Disney short films (all of which, though uncredited, are remembered in our collective American ear), as background singers.

Douglas Steade sang often with then nationally known FirestoneOrchestra on the Sunday radio broadcasts, the most popular nation-wide broadcast of the week then.

Whenever superstar John Charles Thomas was appearing elsewhere and could not be in that week’s “Firestone Hour” broadcast, conductors would call for Douglas Steade – and that happened frequently. He developed quite a following and undoubtedly his radio fans found him the vocal equal of John Charles Thomas.

No fan loved him and his singing more than his older sister, Earla Steade Rowley, who listened to his records all the time on her old Victrola in Longmeadow, Mass. Her granddaughter, Gail Susan Carson, 5 or 6 years old at the time, listened too and sang along with the records. She later decided to be a professional singer herself. Must run in the family!

Douglas Steade’s two children recalling his heyday, say, “The 1930s were an exciting time for Dad. When he got singing work, he enjoyed this career very much. And he was able to provide for us, a new home in 1937 and a new car in 1940 -- not easy tasks in the Depression years. He loved his family very much and was a great Dad to us.

                        Notes by G.S.Carson

 
 

[Douglas Steade, 1930's Tenor]




Victoria Grice, Soprano


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