It is not every day you receive a letter from someone who died in 1966, and is now trying to resurrect their career. Nonetheless that’s what happened when I downloaded an ARC of I Am Sophie Tucker.
I see you were nice enough to download my new fictional memoir, I Am Sophie Tucker, from Author Buzz back in November. Thanks for doing that!
Since I died in 1966, now, I am here singing and telling dirty jokes in my grave waiting for you to read my book and give me your honest review. As a little incentive to get you going, after I receive your critique, the next time I play the Palace Theater in NYC, there will be 2 tickets waiting for you at the box office.
So give me a hand here. I Am Sophie Tucker is a really fast read and I have included over 190 pictures of my beautiful self. Also, the longer you take to read it, the longer it is going to take me to revitalize my career to headliner status. And that, my friends, is where I am headed once again with your help.
Love and kisses
I knew the name Sophie Tucker, but why I have no idea; I can only surmise that at some time I heard a recording, or perhaps saw a classic movie in which she appeared. The phrase “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” came to mind, but again, I didn’t know why.
Born in 1887, Sophie was briefly married to handsome, but irresponsible, Louis Tuck and they had a son, Albert. Louis developed a back problem when it came to work, but not when it came to dressing up in the latest style or going out all night and gambling every cent Sophie earned. In addition to working in her parent’s restaurant as a waitress, Sophie earned tips by singing for the customers. She didn’t quite see her life with Louis as her future, so with $90 in her pocket, she left her husband and followed her dreams.
Sophie’s professional career began in 1906 when she was hired to sing in a brothel; the money was good and she sent money home to her family who cared for her son. Vaudeville called, but not until she worked in burlesque as a southern woman in black face. The story of how she managed to get out of black face and find her comfort zone, is just one of numerous hilarious stories in this, almost, autobiography.
From these humble beginnings, she rose to be one of the most recognisable names in entertainment. She was friends with the famous and infamous. Household names such as the pianist Chauncey Oswald and ticket seller Luis Meir were her friends from the early times – we actually know them as Irving Berlin and Louis B Mayer.
Sophie Tucker personally hired numerous ghost-writers to tell her story, but couldn’t find anyone prepared to publish her no holds barred autobiography. In 1945, Doubleday published a sanitised version – those were different times.
Ms Tucker was the chronicler of her own life; over 400 scrapbooks were donated by her to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre. Another 100 are archived at Brandeis University, so the authors had a wealth of material at their command – and they read all 500 volumes over a 4 year period.
Despite this wealth of research material, Sophie was known to exaggerate for dramatic effect. She told many versions of the same story and events until not even Sophie knew which was the true and which the dramatised version. The authors themselves state this autobiography is “85% fact, the other 15% …who knows?”
This is a fascinating story for those of us who might know the name but not why. I love the anecdotes Sophie tells about her career and her friends. When you consider her date of birth, here is a lady well ahead of her time. She had the intestinal fortitude to leave a bad marriage, even though it lead to her being ostracised in her own community. Asked to appear at a Shriner Convention, Sophie requested she be inducted as a Shriner as part of her payment; what chutzpah!
If you think Madonna and Lady Gaga push the envelope, bear in mind Sophie Tucker’s career started over a hundred years ago and spanned 60 years. She was larger than life, told bawdy jokes, knew how to use her sexuality and paved the way for these modern imitators.
In I am Sophie Tucker there are enough famous names to satisfy the most avid celebrity watcher, but at the centre is Sonya Kalish, a big hearted, big voiced, womanly-sized Jewish girl who became Sophie Tucker, The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.
About the authors
In 1973, Ithaca College students Susan Denner and Lloyd Ecker went on their first date to see an up-and-coming new singer named Bette Midler. Over the course of the evening, the couple fell in love with the Divine Miss M., her Sophie Tucker jokes, and each other.
Over the last 40 years, the Eckers got married and had three children, and developed Babytobee.com. The sale of that business in 2006 allowed Sue and Lloyd to pursue their passion for bringing Sophie Tucker’s life to the page, stage, and screen.