The last time I died was probably sixty years ago in some no-name theater in Sheboygan. Back then, when I was new to show business, my act still took a nosedive every once in a while. Now? I bet I could read the phonebook and still pack a theater, but I'm dying for real.
My son of a bitch doctor won't tell me how long I've got left, but I'm pretty sure the wear and tear from smoking three packs a day and decades doing fourteen shows a week won't exactly help extend my run here on Earth.
For an old ham like me, even sixty years of performing isn’t enough. I am not looking forward to the moment when the last red velvet curtain drops and the spotlight fades into the bright white house lights for good. Before I go, though, I think I deserve my final encore! My audiences always want one more song, a crowd-pleaser belted right to the back rows of the balcony. A real bawdy number that’ll leave your ears ringing and all your other bits tingling, too. After all, that’s my specialty—and that’s what I’ve done with this book.
I’m sure you’re wondering what more Sophie Tucker can possibly have to write about herself. Hasn’t it all been covered ad nauseum? Well, let me tell you, that so-called autobiography they put out back in 1945 was total horseshit.
The cover of Sophie's autobiography, published by Doubleday in 1945.
It was like a Reuben with no corned beef: bland and cheesy. I gave them thousands of pages of show business dirt, intrigue, romance and murder, every word the absolute truth—or even better! Somehow, they managed to edit it into a snore.
So, I’ve decided I can’t kick the bucket until I set the story straight for posterity. As a matter of fact, those publishers can kiss my posterity. It’s because of that watered-down volume of drek the studios rejected the movie Betty Hutton would have made about my life. They insisted there weren’t enough compelling moments to make a whole film. Please. You could make more movies about what I did last Thursday than MGM released in the last ten years!
From left to right: Betty Hutton, Sophie Tucker, and Tallulah Bankhead
celebrate Sophie's fiftieth year in show business.
So, here’s what I did. I took all the good stuff they left out and added a few more stories about love affairs, gangsters, presidents, kings, and scandals so hot they would’ve burned a hole through Doubleday’s pages. Then, I wrote the whole thing down, sent the manuscript to my lawyer, and asked him to keep it all sealed up until everyone in this book was safely doing our fifth or sixth encores at the big Palace Theater in the sky.
I do wonder who’ll want to crack this book open in fifty years. Will anyone even know who the hell I was? To you, the person who saw a picture of some ridiculous lady with a bunch of feathers in her hair and wondered why she and her four chins were on the cover of this book, please allow me to introduce myself with a story.
In 1928, I was a globetrotting member of Vaudeville royalty. I’d been singing to sold-out crowds in England for six months when Jack Warner, head of the Warner Brothers Studios, called me back to the States. Warner was finally making good on an old promise to turn me into a movie star. I was sure I’d be the next big bombshell of the silver screen (emphasis on the big) but when my songwriter Jack Yellen met me at the pier in New York, he was a nervous wreck. Turns out, tastes had changed while I was abroad. Even though my old jazz tunes were killing ‘em up and down that wet little isle, in America my act was yesterday’s brisket—a little too tough to sell. The powers that be wanted me to come up with a whole new image to reignite the crowds at home. Jack was in a tizzy, but me? I was a cool as a cucumber.
“You have nothing to worry about, Jack,” I said, throwing an arm around Yellen’s shoulders. “I’ll always be a red hot mama and there’s no keeping me down. You know why? Because fat floats! And I, my dear, will always float to the top.”
That night, Jack and his partner Milton Ager were inspired by our conversation and wrote me a killer new tune that I’ve been performing ever since, called "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas". That’s who I am, kiddo, and that’s what this is. Welcome to the last red hot stories from the all-time, number one red hot mama of the stage: yours truly, the outrageous Sophie Tucker.
“The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager in 1928, would be associated with Sophie for the rest of her career.
Betty Hutton was an actress, comedienne, and singer most famous for starring in the film Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Critics described her as a brassy, energetic performer with a voice that could sound like a fire alarm, much in the Sophie Tucker mold. Her career as a Hollywood star ended due to a contract dispute with Paramount because of her insistence that her husband at the time, Charles O'Curran, direct Sophie Tucker’s musical biography. Paramount refused her, and the Sophie Tucker project died.
Sophie, then 73, appeared on the popular television show What's My Line in 1957. She was still working fifty weeks a year in both England and the United States. From the first second Tucker signs in on the chalk board she is instantly recognizable to the studio audience. At this point in her career, Sophie was a household name as famous as Elvis.