For The Bostonians: Schmoozing with Sophie (Thank You Lisa M.)
BEHIND THE SCENES
by DONNA NOVAK
Vaudeville’s exuberant star shines again
January 27, 2005
Schmoozing with Sophie
One-woman show on Sophie Tucker
Performed by Linda Myer
Sunday, 2 p.m.
American Textile History Museum
491 Dutton St., Lowell
$10/members, $20/nonmembers; includes dessert and beverage
In the era of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, entertainer Sophie Tucker rose above her humble beginnings as the daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants in Boston’s North End to become an international showbiz star.
Actress, playwright, teacher, and independent historian Linda Myer uses stories, songs, and jokes to bring Sophie Tucker, the self-proclaimed “last of the red-hot mamas,” to life in her cabaret-style show “Schmoozing with Sophie.”
“Sophie Tucker was known as being ‘the last of the red-hot mamas’ because she created a very body-exuberant, lusty stage persona for herself,” said Myer. Tucker’s funny, outspoken style has been compared to those of modern-day stars such as Roseanne Barr, Bette Midler, and Joan Rivers.
The show is tied in to the American Textile History Museum because Sophie Tucker invested a lot of money in her stage wardrobe. According to Myer, Tucker determined early in her career that women who attended the theater wanted to see performers in nice clothes. Besides the show itself, people who attend the event will see a display of 1920s costumes from the museum’s collection.
Tucker was born Sophie Abuza in 1884 and by 1914, was a star, touring nonstop in the United States and Europe. “She started out making $25 per week and eventually her salary grew to $2,000 a week, which, back then, was huge,” said Myer.
Starting out at the Vaudeville House, where the Opera House stands in Boston today, Tucker soon was touring on the vaudeville circuit nationwide. “It was theaters organized in chains,” said Myer. “You could make your entire livelihood for decades going from theater to theater.”
Tucker catered to immigrants like herself in her vaudeville performances. “You didn’t have to know much English to understand it,” said Myer. “Even if you spoke very little English, you could get a lot of entertainment out of vaudeville.”
Tucker died in 1966. She was performing almost to the end of her life, long after most of her contemporaries had retired. “I’m taking her in the middle of her career, at the height of her fame and success as she’s trying to get into talking pictures,” said Myer.
Myer, who has lived in Boston since 1979, has worked as a freelance writer and editor for major textbook publishers, founded the former History-Making Productions, and leads walking tours of Boston as Sophie Tucker and Abigail Adams. She portrayed Abigail Adams at the 1999 New Hampshire Chautauqua and the 2001 Maryland Chautauqua, a type of performance that pulls together performers and scholars doing one-person portrayals of historical characters.
As a Jewish woman who has developed her own acting career, Myer feels a strong connection to Sophie Tucker.
“We have the same ethnic roots, and I often see in her portrayal of her family and her mother many of the qualities that I remember in my grandparents,” said Myer. The neighborhood in Boston’s North End where Tucker spent part of her childhood was the heart of a vibrant Russian Jewish immigrant community at the time. Most of Tucker’s neighbors spoke Yiddish and knew very little English.
“My mother, growing up in Chicago, grew up in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood,” said Myer.
Throughout her career, Tucker ran her own shows and hired her own staff. She set a goal for herself and achieved it. “Sophie Tucker is a fascinating character,” said Myer. “She’s an incredible role model.”