Chapter 19

Prohibition, You Have Lost Your Sting

After I made all the papers as the singer who took pity on a monkey, I was promoted to headliner at the Northside American theater. Consul the Great was a little miffed to lose his prime spot on the bill, but I was used to dealing with chimps after being married to one.

My shows sold out every night. I was such a big success, in fact, that when the headliner from one of the other American Theaters fell ill unexpectedly, the Boss offered to double my salary if I played both houses for the rest of that week. I owed so much to Morris, if he asked I would have done it for free—but I wasn’t about to turn down the extra loot, either.

The problem was that the theaters were on opposite ends of the Northside, so the Boss came up with a plan to ping-pong me from one theater to the other. I'd start each afternoon at one theater and close before intermission, then hop in a waiting taxi and zoom over to the other theater and close the second half of the matinee. Then I'd grab a bite to eat and reverse the route for my evening performances. The Boss was so appreciative he even covered all my cab fares.

Pretending I had a chauffeured limousine was fun for a day or two, but I was so stingy I couldn’t resist pocketing that extra ten dollars in taxi money. I met a cute kid named Sammy Morton who worked backstage at one of the theaters giving each act their five minute warning. He had a signature rat-a-tat he’d bang on your door and a little tune for belting out “You’re next!” It was his only line, but he got to perform it eighteen times a show. Sammy seemed like a kindred spirit so I didn’t think twice about asking to borrow the bike he used to get to the theater every day. Sammy said it would be no problem, since he could “borrow” another one for himself in no time.

The two American Theaters were about six miles apart. It took me about forty-five minutes to ride from one theater to the other, which was just enough time to make my curtains. By the end of that week, I could’ve anchored the Swiss cycling team. The press caught wind of my new bicycle routine—with a little help from yours truly—and ran a few photos in the papers of me pedaling from one end of Chicago to the other. Those newspaper stories were particularly helpful one afternoon when I rolled up to an intersection halfway through my route that was completely blocked off by the fire brigade. I detoured over to the next street, but that one was being repaved with new cobblestones. The next street was too full of traffic for even a bike to sneak through. I finally found an open route but I was so late I was in a panic that I might miss my curtain.

Instead of running in through the stage door when I got to the theater, I pedaled right into the main lobby, through the back door, and straight down the main aisle to wild applause. Thanks to all the press my bicycle route had gotten, the audience thought they were in on the joke. The publicity was great, but from then on, I took a cab.

I didn't know it at the time, but I had invented “doubling.” At one point, I was the only act in Vaudeville working sixty weeks a year. I even managed to triple once in London, with matinees and evening performances in two theaters, and then a third shift at a nightclub with eleven o’clock and two o’clock late night shows. Oh, to be young again!

Sophie on a bicycle in Chicago, a few years later.

I went to return Sammy’s bicycle at his mother’s luncheonette around noon on my day off. The bustling little establishment reminded me so much of Mama and Papa’s restaurant, I almost strapped on an apron and started serving tables out of habit. Instead, I took a seat and ordered a plate of chicken, which was delivered to me by Sammy, who was sporting a big purple shiner and a bandage on his head.

“Does your mama swing a mean ladle, too?” I asked.

“Just some neighborhood stuff my friends and I had to take care of,” he said, brushing it off.

 I’d heard about a young Jewish girl who was attacked in a park and put the pieces together in my head. Sammy and his friends must’ve knocked out some teeth to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. I patted him on his hand and gave him a nod.

After my lunch, I asked Mama Morton if I had permission to take her extra waiter out for a walk in the park and an ice cream cone to thank him for letting me use his bicycle. There must have been a charm school in the old country where girls went to perfect their disapproval, because Sammy’s mother pulled off an eye roll that would’ve made Jennie Abuza green with envy. She only agreed to cut him loose after I helped clear the lunch dishes, marched back to the kitchen to scrub off the schmaltz with some famous Abuza elbow grease, and set the tables for the dinner crowd.

We passed a quiet afternoon in Lincoln Park eating ice cream and gossiping about the theater folks in Chicago until suddenly Sammy’s eyes lit up. He grabbed my hand and commanded me to come with him. We ran down a few small paths until he came to a halt at a dusty old stable.

“Horses? Is there a race track nearby?” I asked, already reaching for my purse.

“No, even better. These are for riding! My friend Arnie runs the stable on Sundays but usually I’m stuck at Mama’s restaurant. C’mon Soph, once you take a ride you’ll never want to stop,” he said.

“You sound like one of my bad dates,” I laughed as I followed him into the stable.

Before I knew it, I was up on top of a nice old horse named Bluebell. Arnie was demonstrating how to use the reins when Sammy went tearing past on a crazed young stallion named Thunderbolt. He did a few laps around the stable and came to a rearing halt in front of me and Bluebell, who was calmly chewing on a piece of hay.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Are you going for a ride or trying to get to the moon?” I asked, gesturing toward his wild horse.

He promised to go slow and by the end of the day I’d moved up to trotting. He was right, I truly loved riding. Over the years, whenever I was in Chicago, Sammy and I would make time to reunite with Bluebell and Thunderbolt and go for a ride through the park.

Sophie as an equestrian in “Follow a Star,” in London, 1930.

In those early days, us Vaudevillians were a tight bunch. After the curtains dropped on our evening shows across the city, we’d all congregate downtown at the 350 Club and take over their piano. Since none of us were exactly shrinking violets, our nights were filled with some of the bawdiest, loudest, funniest numbers we’d never get away with singing in front of a paying crowd.

There was one young girl who really stood out from the bunch. I’m no Greta Garbo, but believe me, this babe’s face was as goofy as a rubber mask. But lordy, what a talent! She had a voice that could shatter glass. She even put that punim of hers to use, accenting every funny line with a wacky look. She was a gem. When I went to introduce myself, she jumped out of her chair.

“Miss Tucker!” she said, sticking out her hand.

“You know me?” I asked.

“Sure, I saw you singing on top of an elephant at the Follies a few years ago. I just got my hearing back last Tuesday,” she joked.

That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with my partner in crime, Fanny Brice. I was based in New York at the time and Fanny was still living where she grew up on the Lower East Side, so we palled around the Big Apple whenever we were both in town. However, we were both playing so many shows in Chicago by the end of 1912 that we decided to set up a permanent residence at the Sherman Hotel. In no time, we were on a first name basis with the whole staff and the manager, Frank Behring.

Frank was no dummy. He ran a nice lounge off the hotel lobby and knew how to capitalize on the rumor that two of the hottest headliners in Vaudeville might turn up any night of the week to sing a song or two after their late show. He gave Fanny and me dirt cheap rates for some of the best suites in the hotel in exchange for doing a couple of songs each night to drive up his nightclub business.

Fanny and I would meet up in the lounge and perform a number or two, sure, but the real act was what followed. After we sang we’d sit at our table, nurse a drink, and play a slow game of gin rummy. The local boys couldn’t resist trying to pick us up. If they were dressed to the nines and flashed a wad of cash, the game was on.

“Do you boys like cards?” I’d ask.

“Sure,” they’d respond. Without fail, they’d suggest a game of poker.

“I’ve never heard of that. Is it hard to learn?” Fanny would ask, batting her enormous eyes.

It was a nice side business. The boys kept us in drinks and we cleaned them out. Once in a blue moon we’d lose, which kept us humble, but most of the time we won and won big. We’d chat with the fellas as we played, learning where they worked, if they had families, or where they lived in town. Before they knew it, they were writing us IOUs that were as good as gold, since we knew enough about them to pay a visit to their jobs (or worse, their homes) to collect.

Fanny Brice helps Sophie blowout the candles at a birthday party.

We should’ve known better the night we started playing cards in my suite with a couple of fellas who said they did “this and that” for work and lived “here and there.” By the end of the evening we’d won about five hundred dollars in cash and IOUs for another five hundred. It was getting late. Fanny headed to the bar for one last drink and I yawned and told the boys it was time to call it a night.

“I think you’re right, Soph,” said one of them. He pulled a gun from his coat and pointed it at my forehead. “Fork over all your cash. And those jewels, too.”

I laughed. “Congratulations! You’re the new owner of a Woolworth colored glass necklace. I hope it looks good on you,” I said, tossing it at his chest.

By then, Fanny had snuck up behind him. She hauled off and brained him with a whiskey bottle. He tumbled to the floor, dazed, while she bent down and picked up his gun. Fanny grinned with glee—that’s how excited she was to debut her best gangster impression.

“Keep your hands where I can see ‘em, wiseguy,” croaked Brice, aiming the gun squarely at the second crook.

“You’ve got one problem, Fanny. The gun isn’t loaded,” chuckled the thug.

“Lucky we brought this one with us too,” I said, pulling a pistol from Fanny’s purse. She never traveled without it. I aimed it right at the whiskey-covered thug now scrambling to his feet.

"Listen, punks,” said Fanny. “If we ever see either of you again, were gonna pay a visit to our close personal friend, Police Chief O'Hara. I guarantee he will lock you up and throw away the key. Do you understand?" They nodded. "Now empty your pockets."

Fanny collected our money for the second time and found an extra six hundred dollars between the two of them. She handed them two dollars for cab fare and told them to scram. After the thugs left, she collapsed into giggles and I just plain collapsed. Another quiet night at Brice and Tucker Headquarters.

Sophie, with stage pistols.

I got up close and personal with Chicago’s real underbelly a few years later during Prohibition, this time without Fanny by my side. I was taking off my makeup in my dressing room after a show at the Oriental Theater one night when I got a knock at the door. I figured it was the stage manager wishing me goodnight so I hollered a big “Come in!” and was greeted by a couple of toughs I’d never seen before.

“Our boss wants to see you,” said one.

“I’m doing two shows every day this week,” I said. “If you give me his name, I’ll leave four tickets for him at the box office.”

“He wants to see you now,” said the other.

“And what if I’ve got plans?” I asked.

They both drew back their jackets to reveal identical revolvers. I took one look at their stony faces and knew these punks were the real McCoy, so I quickly changed into my street clothes and followed them out to their car. We all piled into the back seat and I became the turkey in a gangster club sandwich.

“Where are we going?” I asked the driver, who responded by tossing me a blindfold and ordering me to put it on.

“I’ll wear whatever you want, so long as you don’t plan on wasting any bullets tonight,” I said.

"Not as long as you keep quiet," said one of my new boyfriends.

"Say no more. I'm the Sphinx."

"Good move, Cleopatra," said the other.

We drove in silence for a little while until I felt the car come to a stop in a quiet area of town. They pulled me out of the car, still blindfolded, and walked me down a flight of stairs. When I was finally allowed to take off my blindfold, I looked around and quickly gathered that I was in one of the new speakeasies that were popping up all over Chicago. This one was still under construction, but they’d already finished building a small stage and had brought in an upright piano.

A typical Chicago Prohibition speakeasy in the Roaring 20's

In filed ten beefy men in cheap double-breasted suits. They stood along the stage like bowling pins, until the last two parted into a seven-ten split so a heavy, round ball of a man could roll through. This last thug was obviously the boss.

“Nails Morton tells me you’re a regular Joe,” he said after giving me the once over. He must have been able to read the confusion on my face. “Nails Morton! You two ride horses together in Lincoln Park?” he elaborated.

I did the math, but came up with the wrong answer.

“Sammy is Nails? Look, if he’s in trouble, I’ve got money,” I said, reaching for my purse.

Everyone laughed, except for the boss.

“Nails is fine. He runs the Northside for me. He couldn’t be here tonight, but he sends his regards,” said the boss, flatly. “Look, I’ve been feeling a little low, so I asked you here tonight to sing for me. I’m a big fan. I know all your songs. I’d love to hear that new one you do, 'Some of Those Days'.”

“Can one of these palookas tickle the ivories?” I asked. Sure enough, one of the men took a seat at the piano before I could decide whether or not I should sing my song with the boss’s incorrect lyric. As you may or may not know, my signature song is "Some of These (not Those) Days." I made an editorial decision to change the line and I launched into it, singing (perhaps literally) for my life. The boss man stopped me mid-song.

“Sophie, don’t you know when someone’s putting you on? I know the real words,” he said, his face still a block of marble.

A telegram from Sophie’s buddy, Nails Morton.

“Usually, but this is my first time performing in front of a firing squad, pal!”

From then on, though, it was smooth sailing. I sang that song from the top and the boss requested a few more. The other men hooted and howled and clapped after each tune, but the boss barely moved a muscle until he motioned me over to his table after my third number.

“Thanks, Soph, you’ve really cheered me up,” he said, his face as unreadable and icy as before.

“This is you cheered up?” I asked. “You’d never know it. Maybe next time you could hold up a sign or something.”

“You’re a funny girl,” he said in his monotone. “This is for you.”

With a tiny twitch of his eyebrow, one of his flunkies produced a wad of cash and flung it onto the table in front of me. I tried to insist that he didn’t have to pay me.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“Okay, have it your way,” I relented.

“I always do.”

His name was Al Capone, and he was right about almost always getting his way. A couple of years later, we ran into each other again at Nails Morton’s funeral. I had heard it was “an accident” that did him in, and I assumed that was underworld lingo for a bullet to the brain. However, when I got to the memorial service, I found out from dear old Mrs. Morton it was actually Thunderbolt who’d whacked my good buddy. That crazy horse threw him off his back during a particularly wild ride through the park and Sammy never woke up.

Samuel “Nails” Morton.

Capone was sitting alone in a corner and, shockingly, I could see on his face how upset he was feeling.

“I’m as broken up as you about Nails,” I said, sitting down next to him. “If it were up to me, I would’ve put Thunderbolt out to pasture years ago.”

“Who’s Thunderbolt?” boomed Al.

“The son of a bitch horse that broke Sammy’s neck,” I explained.

Capone's face turned bright red with fury. The next day, a strange murder in Lincoln Park made the front page of the Tribune. The photo showed a confused cop staring at Thunderbolt's severed head, which was perched atop a fence post near the stables.

Capone ended up living in the penthouse of the Sherman Hotel, so Al became my regular gin buddy on the nights when Fanny Brice wasn’t in town. He even insisted I play fair and never throw a game, so I creamed him most of the time. Whenever I opened in Chicago, Al would always sit ringside and cheer me on, and he sent flowers in his place the few times he was away “on business” and couldn’t make it. I’ll never forget the telegram I got in 1931 on my opening night in Paris:


 People have said a lot of vicious things about Al Capone over the years and a whole lot of them are true, but Al always treated me like a pal. Even so, I must have been meshuggah to put our friendship to the test in 1926, when he was at the height of his power. Al was the king of the underworld during Prohibition, when the illegal liquor trade was landing more and more of my friends in the big house. I’d get letters about how rotten life was on the inside, so on my days off I’d try to arrange a show at San Quentin, Leavenworth, or some other prison. Let me tell you, there’s no better audience than a bunch of inmates. They’re so starved for entertainment they’ll applaud a spider making a web in the corner of their cell.

Sophie doing a show at San Quentin Prison tuberculosis ward in 1925.

A couple of fans from one of my Joliet shows came to visit me one night after a double bill with Harry Houdini. I toured with him quite a bit back then. Our acts were so different it gave us both the opportunity to play for new crowds who might not otherwise come to see us. Harry was a wonderful performer, but a lousy friend—every night on stage I’d ask him if he could make my extra thirty pounds disappear. That lovable bastard was the best magician out there, but he said that some tricks were just impossible.

Anyway, I’d just started dating Al Lackey back then. One night, as I was receiving the usual crowd of well-wishers in my dressing room after a show, Al pointed out a couple of thugs he didn't recognize. He offered to go escort them out, but he was due to go pick up a case of hooch from one of Capone’s guys for our after party that night at the Sherman Hotel. Al sheepishly turned out his pockets and found only a losing racing form, which meant the liquor was on me that night, as usual. The odds were long that he’d return with the booze but I gave my hapless Lackey a wad of bills anyway and he took off, leaving me to take care of the gruesome twosome myself.

“Hi boys,” I said as I approached the two men in the corner of the room. “Hope you enjoyed the show. Have we met?”

“We loved the show, Soph. Not as much as the one in Joliet last year, but you still got it,” said the one who introduced himself as Vic. His partner in crime (pun completely intended) was named Mick. Now that I looked at them, I actually did recall having a little chat with the pair after a prison show. It’s hard to forget two grown men with rhyming names and identical mustaches. These two were the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of petty larceny.

"How long have you guys been out of the can?” I asked.

“Just a few days,” Mick replied. “We figured we’d take in your show and then get back to work on a new job.” Mick waggled his eyebrows and Vic winked. I was pretty sure they weren’t talking about a new gig as altar boys.

“Well fellas, if I can’t talk you onto the straight and narrow, you might as well come to my party tonight at the Sherman. We’ll celebrate your brief vacation from the Graybar Hotel,” I said.

The party was hopping a few hours later. Fanny and her hapless honey Nicky Arnstein showed up. Fanny and I might have been in command on stage, but when it came to picking men we were about as talented as a one-armed juggler. I have to say, Arnstein put Al Lackey and Louis Tuck to shame when it came to being a world-class deadbeat. Nicky was constantly in hot water.

Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein

Fanny and I barely had time to catch up before the party was busted up by a bunch of coppers. They didn’t arrest anyone—they did much worse. They took our booze. I tried not to cry over spilled gin, though it did bring a tear to my eye to see so much expensive bootlegged liquor marching out the door. But it was Prohibition, and that was just how things worked. Vic and Mick, however, were spitting mad.

“Don’t worry Sophie, we’ll get your liquor back,” Vic swore. “Just leave it to us. We’ve got a connection at the warehouse where the cops keep all the liquor from these raids. We planned on cleaning the place out in a couple of nights anyway.”

“That’s the worst idea I’ve heard since my boyfriend bet a C-note on a horse with three legs!” I shouted. I couldn’t talk them out of it, though, and they left in a flurry of winks and promises to return my booze.

The next night, Fanny invited me to the opening of Nicky Arnstein’s new spot right on Lake Michigan. I had to hand it to him; he and his partner Big Tim Murphy had done a bang-up job making the Lakeside Casino look like it belonged in Monte Carlo. He gave Fanny and me a thousand dollars in chips apiece and let us go to town at the blackjack table. Everything was going swimmingly until the police came swarming into the joint blowing their whistles and waving batons. It figured. It was my second raid in two days, and this time I was up seven hundred dollars for the first time in my unlucky gambling career.

Fanny grabbed my hand and yanked me toward a back exit that led out onto the street, where Nicky Arnstein was hiding. His wheels were being watched by the cops, so we snuck over to Fanny’s car to make our getaway.

“Didn’t you pay off the cops?” I asked Arnstein.

“Fuck them!” he shouted, tearing down Lakeshore Drive.

“Nicky…please tell me you cleared this with Capone,” Fanny pleaded.

“Fuck him too!” he yelled, making a squealing turn.

This was a problem. A big one. I went to Capone’s clubs exclusively when I was in Chicago, and I was due to play cards with him the next night. The raid was clearly a message from Capone that Arnstein hadn’t paid his proper tribute. I just prayed that my larger-than-life presence had escaped notice at the casino bust.

"He’ll never know you were there," said Arnstein dismissively.

"That's very reassuring, you putz!" yelled Fanny. "I'm sure Sophie's gonna sleep like a baby tonight!"

I woke up the next morning to a knock on my door. It was a C.O.D. delivery that came to $66.66. I scrounged up the money from my purse and accepted the package, which was a small box so heavy I needed both hands to haul it to a table. Inside was an even smaller package wrapped in the early edition of the newspaper, which blared the headline, “SOPHIE TUCKER AT LAKESIDE CASINO BUST.” I queasily unwrapped the paper to find a red construction brick and small card from Al Capone with just two words on it: “Not happy.”

I immediately rang Fanny. “Well, that’s good news,” she said with a laugh. “He could have sent you some cement shoes and a one way ticket to the bottom of Lake Michigan.”

As I was on the phone, I got another knock at my hotel door. This time it was Vic and Mick, with identical beads of sweat rolling down their brows. I hung up with Fanny and Mick explained that they’d overheard a couple of mooks at a diner hatching a plan to steal my diamonds in the hotel garage that night on my way to the theater. Mick and Vic ran over to let me know so I could arrange for some bodyguards. I tried to hire them to do the job, but those idiots were going to be busy robbing the cops’ liquor warehouse blind.

I placed a call to Chief O’Hara and explained my stickup threat. He was more than happy to give me a police escort in exchange for twenty-five passes to my show at the Oriental. As promised, when I left the hotel lobby that night to get to the theater, there were four squad cars waiting for me and I saw neither hide nor hair of any two-bit thug.

Although the police were able to keep me safe on my way to and from the theater, there was nothing they could do when it was time for me to face the music of an angry Al Capone at our late night gin game. I was sweating bullets by the time I reached the door to his penthouse suite at the Sherman, which was protected by the usual ten gorillas. I hoped that some pressing criminal business might have popped up that would keep Capone from our game, but one of the apes opened the door and ushered me inside.

“He’s waiting for you,” he said. It sounded like a threat but, to my surprise, me and Al passed a few hours playing gin rummy with nothing more than idle chit-chat. We gabbed about my shows at the Oriental, the hotel manager, even the weather. When we got to the subject of horse racing, Al hinted that perhaps I might want to put some money on Running Bear in the first race at Arlington the next day.

“You know who’s going to win?” I asked.

“Sure. I know lots of things. And besides, maybe you can win your $66.66 back,” he said, hardly looking up from his cards. I thought I was going to lose my lunch all over Al’s coffee table. Something told me he wouldn’t appreciate me redecorating with a regurgitated Reuben, so I took a deep breath and tried to explain myself.

“I’m so sorry about that whole Nicky Arnstein fiasco. I had no idea he hadn’t cleared his operation with you. I don’t even like that rat bast—” I blubbered, but Al cut me off.

“I know you didn’t know. But next time, check with me before you go to another club. Understand?” he asked, and I could almost make out a smile on his face.

“Cross my heart, Al. What’s gonna happen to that asshole Nicky? I could care less, but Fanny would be pretty broken up if she had to wear a diving suit to her wedding,” I asked.

“Nicky will learn his lesson, but he’s not going for a swim just yet,” said Al. “You and Fanny can have a drink to celebrate, as a matter of fact. I’ll be getting your liquor back to you tomorrow. At the end of each month, Chief O’Hara lets my boys pick up all the liquor in his warehouse in exchange for a small donation to his retirement fund.”

Forget about losing my Reuben—now I was worried I was going to lose consciousness entirely right in the middle of Capone’s living room. Right that minute, Mick and Vic were pulling up to the police warehouse across town with five trucks. They paid off the guard with a fat stack of cash and their crew cleared out the whole joint in the blink of an eye. Then they drove back across town to another warehouse to stash their booty and toast each other with what would have been a bottle of Al Capone’s finest champagne.

I’d just gotten back to my room when the phone rang. Thankfully, Mick and Vic were the type who liked to gloat.

“Mick,” I said after he was through crowing about their perfect crime, “get in your trucks and put every last bottle back where you found it. That liquor belongs to Capone!”

“Holy shit, he’s in with the cops?”

“It’s Al Capone! He’s in with the Pope!” I yelled.

“Sophie, we couldn’t get back into the warehouse even if we wanted to! The guard we paid off to open Fort Knox is already on his way to Canada,” said Mick. I could hear the panic in his voice.

“Look, you get your trucks back to the warehouse and I’ll send help, okay? Just trust me.”

I hung up the phone and ran down the hall to another room and pounded on the door until my sleepy friend opened up. Forget about making my flab disappear—I had a much easier trick for master lock-picker Harry Houdini to perform.

Magician and escape artist Harry Houdini.

As luck would have it, I didn’t get to play cards with Capone again for years. I got a call the next day to fill in for a headliner in New York who came down with the flu. By the time I found my way back to Chicago for an extended run, Al had just started his own extended run on an island just off of San Francisco.

Our paths crossed again in 1945 when I was doing a few dates in Florida and Al was living in a mansion on Palm Island. I guess his associates had put aside a little retirement fund for their old boss. My first night there, I got a note after my show inviting me for a much delayed hand or two of gin. Even after eleven years in the slammer, you never said no to Al Capone.

I arrived at Capone’s joint the next day with a little housewarming gift and nearly passed out from shock when Al greeted me with a big smile on his face. Retirement looked good on him.

A rare smile from Al Capone.

We played a few rounds of cards and caught up on all of our old friends, most of whom were either retired or locked up. Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to bring up Mick and Vic’s heist.

“Remember that deal you used to have with Chief O’Hara for all that booze? Did you know that the night after the raid on Nicky Arnstein’s casino, while we were playing cards, a pair of two-bit crooks stole it right out from under your nose and me and Houdini got them to put it back?”

“Of course I knew,” said Al, chuckling. “You think you’re the only one who thought Houdini might be good at picking some profitable locks? The only reason I paid off Chief O’Hara was because Harry refused me—and then the son-of-a-bitch disappeared right before my eyes!”

After all these years, I’d forgotten that Al Capone knew almost everything.

“Well, my friend, I’m pooped. It’s time for me to head back to my hotel. How much do I owe you?” I asked.

“By my count, $54.00,” he said.

I handed him my housewarming gift, which he unwrapped to find the same red construction brick that’d cost me $66.66.

“Keep the change,” I laughed.


No one turned fat into funny better than Sophie Tucker. Even in her biggest hit “Some of These Days,” she sings, “You’re gonna miss your mama, your big fat mama, some of these days.” Perhaps the best example of this is “I Don’t Want to Get Thin,” written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen in 1929. It was written especially for Sophie for her Warner Brothers movie debut  Honky Tonk.

Fanny Brice was born Fania Borach in New York City to a pair of Jewish saloon owners. She dropped out of school to work in a burlesque review when she was seventeen and a mere two years later she was headlining the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910 and 1911. She was a staple of the follies every year from 1921 into the 1930s. She recorded nearly two dozen records and is a posthumous recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame award for her 1921 hit, “My Man.”

Thirteen years after Fanny died, she was portrayed on Broadway by Barbra Streisand in the 1964 musical Funny Girl as well as in its 1968 film adaptation. Both took some liberties with Fanny’s life, particularly when it came to her husband Nicky Arnstein. In reality, Nicky was a mooch. He was eventually named as member of a gang that stole five million dollars in Wall Street securities.