Sophie Tucker, superstar singer, showbiz innovator and marketing genius – (imagine the founder of Facebook as a fat, fabulous diva) – called herself “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas!” Tucker was an international sensation with a sixty year career – she headlined in vaudeville and Broadway, sold out nightclubs; recorded songs tailor-made for her lusty persona, and guest starred on television (including the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show). She hung out with movie stars/singers (like Judy Garland, Mae West, and Frank Sinatra – all of whom she mentored), mobsters (like Al Capone, who booked her in his club, as did Lew Walters, father of Barbara Walters) and seven US Presidents. Due to her limited exposure in Hollywood films (she appeared in only two, which flopped), Tucker is almost forgotten today, but the documentary film “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” (opening July 24 at Cinema Village, New York City) aims to change all that.
Susan & Lloyd Ecker & Dr. Sue
The docu-bio (produced by Susan and Lloyd Ecker and directed by William Gazecki) traces Tucker’s rise from goulash – (a family restaurant in Hartford, CT where a teenage, but already zaftig (plump, curvy) Sophie served kosher food) – to glory! She eloped with a handsome ne’er-do-well named “Tuck” and quickly became pregnant. But she was determined to escape her mother’s fate as a kitchen slave. In a move that was outrageous (especially for an early 20th century Orthodox, Jewish girl), she handed the baby to her sister, changed her name to “Tucker,” and took off for New York City. Considered too “fat and ugly” for show business, she was forced to belt out songs in black face as a vaudeville “coon-shouter.” She hated it, and when her make-up failed to arrive in Chicago, she went onstage as herself, brought the house down, and never looked back.
I asked Eckers to share the secrets of Sophie’s success. “It didn’t hurt that she had a voice that could peel the paint off walls.” But mainly it was that combination of warmth (she personally answered all her mail and wrote cards to her fans telling them when she was going to appear in their town) and business. Sophie said, “Friends and fans = box office.” She was one of the first performers to take a percentage of the gate (during her first number, she counted the seats and made sure she wasn’t cheated). If you wanted her autograph, you bought her book – and she didn’t give change, even for a $50 dollar bill. (She would announce, “It all goes to charity.” In fact, she raised huge sums for her favorite charities, including synagogues.
Rabbi Jill & Dr. Sue
Sophie may have been a rebel, but she became a prominent member of The Actors’ Temple (339 West 47th Street, NYC), which features Tucker’s plaque, stairwell photograph, and stained glass window. I interviewed Rabbi Jill Haus, spiritual leader, cantor/singer, and show business supporter. The Actors’ Temple hosts shows, a Hanukah open mike and performance fests (like Midtown International Theatre Festival). I asked Rabbi Jill to share a story about Sophie. She told me the temple was originally Orthodox, with men downstairs and women in the gallery. A woman who was a big contributor to the temple, sat herself downstairs, and Sophie immediately followed. “The Rabbi was smart, and the synagogue immediately changed from Orthodox to Conservative (with mixed seating).”
Sophie was always ahead of her time – especially when it came to sexy self-assertion – for all genders, sizes, and backgrounds. The soundtrack of “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” includes her top hits: “I Ain’t Takin’ Orders From No One,” “No One Loves a Fat Girl (But a Fat Girl Knows How to Love),” “The Sophie Tucker School for Red Hot Mamas”, “My Yiddishe Momme” (the heart-tugging, unofficial Jewish anthem), and her signature song “Some of These Days.”
So what are you waiting for? Pep up your life with Sophie serum – movie, soundtrack CD, the Eckers’ fictionalized memoir “I Am Sophie Tucker” (friskier and more fun than the official, sanitized 1945 biography). Susan and Lloyd Eckers’ first date was at a Bette Midler concert (Ms. Midler told her version of bawdy “Soph” jokes and belted out songs a la Tucker.) The Eckers married, built and sold a business, and are living their dream of bringing their favorite broad back to Broadway! Stay tuned at www.sophietucker.com . For press reservations, interview requests, or more information, contact Richard Skipper Celebrates at Richard@RichardSkipper.com or 845-365-0720.
In the spirit of Sophie Tucker, here’s a a video of my original, funny song: “A Jewish Girl Named Tex”:
“A Jewish Girl Named Tex” by Sue Horowitz
Creative Living by Dr. Sue: Perk up with Positive Songs!
Long before I ever heard of this film, I used to start my day with Sophie’s songs. Her funny, heartfelt, strong assertion of womanhood, sung in clear, jazzy, melodic voice with perfect articulation, always perked me up!
Support the Arts!: Without the arts, many children have no chance for a better, more fulfilling life! Without the arts, there is no real beauty, joy, or civilization!
A Jewish Girl Named Tex – Photo by Russ Weatherford
A song publisher once advised me to write story songs. He said that some of our favorite songs tell stories. Audiences enjoy them, and they’re hard to get!
I love stories, comedy, and writing challenges! I also believe that if you can do something a bit unusual, you have a real advantage, so I was excited about taking a class in comedy songwriting at my favorite songwriting/performance camps (www.Summersongs.com ), and Posi Music Festival at Empowerma.com in Orlando, Florida).
I wound up writing and performing my song “A Jewish Girl Named Tex” in many venues, including Summersongs concerts and New York City cabarets. Please enjoy the video, and read on for a few thoughts about writing story songs and comedy.
Video: “A Jewish Girl Named Tex”
1. What makes a great story? One of the most important elements is a central character with a strong “want”. Also, when a sympathetic character is unfairly mistreated and/or headed for trouble, we worry and want to know what comes next. In “A Jewish Girl Named Tex” the main character is abandoned by her parents, confused about her identity, and looking for love. Sympathetic? You bet!) The other important character – the impulsive mother – gets used and dumped by a no-goodnik, but she’s still “hopin’ for romance.” What happens? The song takes you on a journey that answers these questions.
2. What makes something funny? Question #1 doesn’t sound funny – but it is, because comedy is rooted in pain – as long as it’s framed as comedy pain and uses comic writing/performing techniques. How do you do that?
To answer that question (plus questions about comic combos like Brooklyn girls and cowboys, song structure, rhyme, punch lines, audience participation, etc) , we need more than a short blog. I invite all writers/performers (amateur and expert) to contact me for workshops in New York City, Online via Email, and at Summersongs.com and Posi Music Festival.
I also invite you to hear me sing romantic songs & parodies in New York City and songwriting camps like Summersongs!
Creative Living:Do What You Love – and Be Part of a Community: I love writing and performing songs. What do you love? Can you find a way to connect (via camps, conferences, meet-up groups, clubs, professional associations, etc.) that supports who you are. Chances are you’ll find more than feedback on your skills – you’ll find friends and community.
(Editor/Photographer: Jay Berman, Videography: Jim Vern)