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.