"Hugely enjoyable.Will prompt an outburst of sophiemania."
The Toronto star.
Menemsha films presents an Innovative films production a film by William Gazecki Executive producer Phil Ramone Executive producer Gene Schwam Produced by Susan and Lloyd Ecker
Featuring Barbara Walters Tony Bennett Carol Channing Michael Feinstein Shecky Greene Bruce Vilanch With appearances by Paul Anka Kaye Ballard Chubby Checker Joe Franklin Brenda Lee Tony Martin Mickey Rooney Connie Stevens Mamie Van Doren Rusty Warren Additional narration by David Hyde Pierce
Opening July 24, 2015
Cinema Village – Manhattan*
JCC Upper Westside – Manhattan
Royal Laemmle – Los Angeles
Town Center Laemmle – Encino
Westpark 8 – Irvine, CA
Southern Florida – 7 Week Run – November 7-December 24
Palm Desert – 5 Week Run – February 6–March 12
|St. Louis||06-10-15||Providence RI||11-18-15|
|* SUSAN AND LLOYD ECKER WILL BE APPEARING TO DO A Q&A|
North Shore MA
Suffolk Y JCC
Part fairy tale, part crime novel, part rags to riches Hollywood myth, I Am Sophie Tucker tells the outrageous story of one of showbiz’s biggest personalities.
From 1906 through the beginning of television, Sophie Tucker and her bawdy, brash, and risqué songs paved the way for performers such as West, Monroe, Midler, Cher, Madonna, and Gaga.
After eight years spent reading hundreds of Tucker’s personal scrapbooks, visiting fourteen archives, and interviewing dozens of family, friends, and fellow icons of stage and screen, authors Susan and Lloyd Ecker have completed their first of three fictional memoirs about the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.
“Sophie was like the Forrest Gump of the first half of the 1900s,” says co-author Susan Ecker. “She was close friends with seven presidents, King George VI, young Queen Elizabeth, Chaplin, J. Edgar, Capone, Garland, Jerry Lewis, Sinatra and every other notable of her era.”
Tucker tried to get her story published for nine years, without success. Undaunted, Sophie hired half a dozen ghostwriters, but she still had no takers for her no holds barred autobiography. Eventually, Doubleday published a sanitized version in 1945.
“After immersing ourselves in Sophie’s papers and surviving friends,” says co-author Lloyd Ecker, “this initial volume is what should have been the actual autobiography of Tucker.”
Though she obsessively documented her life, Sophie loved to exaggerate for dramatic effect. Over the years, she told multiple versions of each important event. At the end, not even Sophie knew the difference between truth and tall tale.
“This volume is 85% fact,” Lloyd explains. “The other 15% …who knows?”
I Am Sophie Tucker puts back all of the delicious bits nixed by Doubleday’s lawyers and throws in other Tucker show business dirt, intrigue, arrests, romance, murder, gangsters, and scandals. Now you can read it all for yourself.
Born Sonya Kalish to a Jewish family en route to a new life in America from Tsarist Russia in 1887, Sophie Tucker would become one of the greatest and most beloved entertainers of the 20th century.
The singer, comedian, TV, film and radio personality grew from humble roots in Hartford, Connecticut where her family appropriated the last name Abuza and opened a restaurant. In addition to helping maintain the family business, Sophie began singing for tips at an early age and discovered her powerful voice and innate knack for entertaining.
At 16, Sophie married local heartthrob Louis Tuck (from whom she would derive her famous last name) and soon after gave birth to her son, Bert. The rocky marriage and jump into motherhood exposed Sophie to a bleak future ahead if she chose to stay close to home and abandon her theatrical dreams. With heartbreaking determination, Sophie left her child to be raised by her younger sister, Anna and left Hartford for New York City. With just $90 in her pocket, Sophie was determined to make a name for herself and find success that would allow her to give back to her beloved family.
The harsh reality of roughing it in New York didn’t faze the ingénue and, after pounding the pavement and pinching pennies, Sophie eventually found work performing vaudeville and burlesque tunes in local establishments. However, being pegged “too fat and ugly” to perform as herself, Sophie was restricted to performing in blackface as a “coon shouter.” While she made a name for herself with this act, a happy accident which left her without her makeup kit one day in 1909 forced Sophie to go on stage naturally – that is, as natural as a full-figured girl in a sequined ball gown and golden curls can be. The crowd adored the real Sophie, and though the disguise was gone for good, she would continue to draw on ragtime, blues, and jazz influences, which were primarily African American genres at the time.
After a brief but acclaimed stint in the legendarily extravagant Ziegfeld Follies, Sophie gained traction that would send her on the road until her death from lung cancer in 1966. Amassing an extraordinary fan base, Tucker enjoyed the success of many popular recordings, most notably including My Yiddish Momme and Some of These Days, the latter of which became the title of her 1945 autobiography. Sophie appeared in several films during her lengthy career, including one of the first “talkies,” Honky Tonk, in 1929, and alongside Judy Garland in 1937’s Broadway Melody of 1938.
Deemed “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” Tucker was adored for her candor, bold sense of humor, powerful voice, and unwavering energy as a performer and as a woman. Sophie never fit the typical Hollywood beauty mold, but presented herself and her body in an empowering way that shut down any preconceptions or superficial standards.
Sophie continues to be celebrated as a groundbreaking entertainer and transcendent example of the American dream.
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 forty 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.
With one book, the first in a trilogy about Sophie Tucker’s life, and a documentary already under their belts, the Eckers now intend to take Sophie's story to Broadway with a musical, to Hollywood with a film version of that musical, and to the small screen in a long running television drama based on her unbelievable sixty-year showbiz career. Stay tuned to our website for these—and other!—exciting developments.
Susan and Lloyd Ecker, nominees at the 2010 Grammys (on right)
Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian
Bette Midler 2008
Bette Midler 2011
Bette Midler 2007
Lynn Shapiro Wesch
Bette Midler 2010
Mamie Van Doren
Jan and Mickey Rooney
Gerry and Maggie Leader
Mark Fields and Nancy Spencer
Jim Bedoian, Jim and Lana Stettler
Sara and Armond Fields
What got you two interested in Sophie Tucker?
L: Bette Midler! She did a version of Sophie in her act the first time we saw her perform in 1973 at Ithaca College. I was the one responsible for getting Bette to come to our school, so after the show we had dinner with her.
S: It was a pretty unbelievable first date. You might say because of Bette, we also got married, had three great kids and sold our family business.
What was your family business?
S: In 1983 we started selling Father-to-Bee hats with a bumble bee logo instead of the word “BE”.
L: Everything had our “BEE” logo on it.
S: We sold maternity gifts for the rest of the pregnant family—fathers-to-bee, grandparents- to-bee, aunts and uncles-to-bee. We found our own little niche.
L: After the Internet arrived, we became the #1 collector of pregnant names from a website called Babytobee.com.
So how did that lead you to become experts in Sophie Tucker?
L: We both were really bored after we sold our baby business in 2006. So we came up with this Sophie idea that we’ve been working on ever since.
S: We decided we were going to become the world’s foremost authority on Sophie Tucker and then develop a new entertainment franchise based on the life story of ‘The Last of the Red Hot Mamas’.
Why do you think there has never been a movie about Tucker?
L: I think Bette Midler put it best. Ten years ago she said, “I read her autobiography. All she ever did was shop! There’s no drama.”
S: She was right. The book is funny but there wasn’t enough for a movie.
So if the autobiography was weak for a movie script why did you continue?
S: We figured like most autobiographies of that era, a lot was left out. So we decided to find out for ourselves if there was more.
L: And there was!
How long have you been at this?
S: Eight years. We’ve checked out fourteen archives, travelled to over 20 U.S. states, including Hawaii, in addition to Canada, England, and France…….we’ve seen and read it all.
L: We even tracked down all her apartment belongings at the time of her death. That took us to Cincinnati. The best find though was unearthing Sophie’s personal scrapbooks at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center and Brandeis University.
S: There were over 400 scrapbooks from 1906 to 1966.
L: Not only did Sophie keep all her show biz memorabilia but she also kept every single card, letter and telegram that anyone ever sent to her.
S: The good news is we have wrapped up all the reading and also finished the film interviews with over 60 stars, and family and friends who were close to Sophie.
Have you found anything new and interesting or was Bette right?
L: As expected, it turns out that Sophie left all the good stuff out of her autobiography. We now have Tucker stories involving sex, violence, revenge, affairs, nasty business deals, murders, family feuds, drug and alcohol abuse and more sex.
S: Oh, and by the way, we have now also collected all of the remaining film and recorded Sophie performances, including a bootleg recording of one of her more hysterical blue songs.
How did you come to collaborate with Archeophone Records and their CD about Sophie’s early recordings back in 2009?
S: We had heard that Archeophone had been hard at work making a CD about Tucker and her earliest music. We called in 2007 to introduce ourselves and explore the possibility of using whatever music they had restored in our documentary.
L: But in 2008 things escalated and they asked us to take a crack at the liner notes.
S: We told them that we weren’t really music groupies but if they were looking for our take on Sophie’s real biography, with a bunch of new information, we would love to give it a try.
L: They promised to help educate us about the nitty gritty jazz trivia and now, because of our partnership, we understand why Tucker was not only a great entertainer but one of the true innovative jazz geniuses of the early 20th century.
S: The hardback book with the CD is called Origins of The Red Hot Mama, 1910-1922.
L: The biggest two surprises, though, was having the album featured in a story on the front page of the Sunday Arts Section of the NY Times and then getting nominated for a Grammy for our Album Notes.
Without divulging too much can you give us a little more of what we are going to find out in the documentary?
L: This woman did it all: beer halls, burlesque, vaudeville, silent movies, one of the first talkies, major film musicals and Broadway shows, and finally she played at every swanky and not so swanky nightclub in the world.
S: Tucker knew all the presidents from Taft to Johnson.
L: She even had JFK’s personal White House number and called him any time she liked.
S: She performed for and palled around with two English Kings, the current Queen Elizabeth, two former Princes of Wales and the Mountbattens.
L: She also hung out with all the well-known gangsters in the 20’s including Al Capone.
S: And was personal friends with J. Edgar Hoover.
L: That’s a good one. We have an unbelievable interview with one of Sophie’s friends who was sitting in between her and J. Edgar when Hoover leaned over and asked Tucker if he could have one of her fancy beaded gowns after she was done with it.
S: One thing is for sure. We now have more than enough material to go forward with our plan to develop a new entertainment franchise based on the life story of The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.
So you really do have a franchise plan for Sophie?
L: Absolutely! First we’re going to release our documentary. At the same time, our first of three novels is going to come out and be the next big #1 NY Times bestseller. Then, based on the novel, there will be a future new Broadway Best Musical, an Academy Award winning Best Picture…. with another Academy Award for the sequel…. and finally, the next great six year run, Emmy Award winning Best Drama TV series.
Have you met any resistance?
S: Well, as a matter of fact, when we told the plan to our family and friends, they all had the same two responses. #1 was “Who the hell is Sophie Tucker?”, and #2, “You guys are nuts.”
L: But those kinds of comments never bother us. You’re talking to the two entrepreneurs who paid the rent in the 80’s by selling “Men’s Maternity Clothes”.
S: Compared to that, this project will be a piece of cake.
What’s been the most unexpected result of the project so far?
S: We now have personal and warm friendships with all of the 60 stars we interviewed and who intimately knew Sophie Tucker. These people would all still kill for her. And now …… so would we.
L: After living with The Red Hot Mama for eight years, it has turned into a love affair with Sophie.
S: In the beginning we didn’t know that one of Tucker’s unfulfilled dreams was to get a movie made about her life. Now we feel like she’s looking over our shoulder and pulling for our success to reintroduce her to the world as a headliner one more time.
L: It’s gonna happen and happen big time.
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Susan and Lloyd Ecker are available for speaking engagements. For more information and inquiries, please contact us HERE.
If you have any Sophie Tucker stories you would like to share, we would love to hear from you. Please write us at HERE.
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The rights to all Sophie Tucker images taken by Maurice Seymour are wholly owned by ©2014 SVOC Associates LLC