Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

     Its seems the Jewish Film Festival in New York has gone on for weeks. Two weeks to be exact. This year every film I have seen has been a good one. So far, anyway. The last film I saw was on Sunday. It was called The Outrageous Sophie Tucker produced by Lloyd and Sue Ecker. I had heard of Sophie Tucker a few years ago when the Jewish film festival showed a film about Jewish women in comedy called Making Trouble.That  film  recounted  her life more than  her career. This film told more about her career than about her life.
       When I stood in line before the film I really did not know what to expect. There was a mix of old and young, but mostly older. An older woman in line in front of me commented how it was too bad that Sophie Tucker was not there to see how many people were there to see the documentary about her. The man behind me in line commented "Oh she knows, she knows" . Certainly a fun way to herald the showing of a documentary about a woman I knew little about except for the fact that she was an icon to many of a previous generation.
        Sophie Tucker was born in Russia in 1886, and moved with her family to Hartford , Connecticut when she was an infant. Her family was orthodox and was not happy when she decided to become a performer. Eventually they did accept her path, but it took awhile.
        Sophie Tucker first performed in black face because club owners thought she was too ugly to perform as she was. Eventually that went by the wayside. Like Al Jolson she performed Jazz music. She was the forerunner and mentor of Mae West. She performed in Barbara Walters' father's club. Barbara Walters was interviewed  in this film. It was wild. Tony Bennett was also interviewed as well as Mickey Rooney , Kaye Ballard and other old time celebrities.
          During the prohibition era the clubs were owned by mobsters so Sophie Tucker was friends with mobsters like Al Capone so she could perform. She was friends with seven presidents including John F. Kennedy .
           I am not so sure that I am into the old style music that Tucker performed, but her celebrity is quite impressive. She befriended her fans wherever she went. She kept scrapbooks of her career. There are more photos of her with celebrities that fictional Forrest Gump had. She portrayed a warmth onstage that her audience could not get enough of. She was written to as much as any glamour girl was by soldiers during World War II. One Jewish soldier from Brooklyn named Al brought a record of her singing Yiddishe Mama with him to the army and would continually play it to the annoyance of his fellow soldiers.His goal had been to play this record in the streets of Berlin when they got there. He died during combat before he was able to realize his dream, but his friends did this for him when they later reached Germany.
             Watching this documentary made me feel a little bit like someone who was late to the party because I only saw snippets of her career instead of full performances. It does however give me a glimpse into her celebrity and  make me want to read more about her . The Eckers, who produced the film have also written a book about her which is available on amazon which deals with her youth , to be followed by two more books. I plan on reading them. They also plan on making a broadway show about her which is cool because Sophie Tucker was all about stage presence.
            I always like a film that is informative as well as one that makes me want to pursue more knowledge about its subject. This film succeeds on both counts.

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