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A grand song writer, and 
a grander friend 



1. That Abuza Kid i 

2. What Price Personality? y 

3. New Yort^ One Way 15 

4. Smartening Up to Broadway 22 

5. Blackface 33 

6. Bad Girl 42 

7. On the Burlesque Wheel 53 

8. In and Out of the Follies 65 

9. Mollie & Co 78 

10. Vaudeville, Big-Time 86 

11. High, Wide, and Handsome 97 

12. "Hartford's Own" 109 

13. "I've Got a Man" 126 

14. Five Kings to a Queen of ]azz 135 

15. Trouping 143 

16. Reisenweber's 155 

17. "Personal" 165 

1 8. My Battle of Britain 177 

19. The British Are Regulars Too 189 

20. Everybody's Pal 204 

21. My Yiddisha Mama 221 

22. A Good Show Is Hard to Find 234 

23. The Last of the "Red-hot Mamas 242 

24. The Last Time I Saw Paris 252 

25. Command Performance 264 

26. A Good Schnuc\ 276 

27. / Crash Hollywood 287 

28. And That's Show Business 3 ! 


CHAPTER i: That Abuza Kid 

"YOU'LL have to bind it in asbestos." 

The rumble coming over the wires wasn't bombs bursting on Washing- 
ton; it was }. Edgar Hoover having himself a belly laugh. "So the last of 
the Red-hot Mamas is about to tell all! Whose ears are going to be red?" 

"You'll be surprised at a lot of it," I fired back. 

"It takes a lot to surprise me." 

"Just the same, G-man, take this from me, you ain't heard nothing yet." 

Again the rumble. "I'm listening. Go to it, Sophie. And put me down for 
a copy. For years I've been waiting to be told how you learned the facts 
of life." 

"Just for that," I boomed at him, "I mill" f 

So here goes. 

I was born on the road. 

Not on the Orpheum, the Pantages, Keith, or any of the other circuits 
I've traveled since. The road I mean is the long, rutted track that leads away 
from Russia across Poland to the Baltic. Mama was jolting over that road 
in one of the big, canvas-covered wagons that used to carry poor emigrants 
bound for America. Somewhere along the way Mama never could remem- 
ber exactly where she leaned over and tapped the driver on the shoulder. 

"You'll have to let me get down," she said, and groaned. 

He took a look at her, then pulled up the horses. The other emigrants 
helped her and my brother Philip, then not two years old, to get out. They 
handed down Mama's bundle. Then the wagon drove on, leaving the scared 
little boy and the woman in labor alone in the country road. 

Fortunately there was a house near by, and people in it with hearts as 
big and warm as the feather bed they put Mama in, and where I was 
promptly born. I never was late for a show in my life. 

Poor little Mama! She was only seventeen, and up to then she had nevjer 


been more than a few miles from her native village. She knew no language 
except Yiddish and Russian, and nothing of America. 

But Mama had guts; dreistige, as we Jewish people say. She could always 
do what she had to do, or what she thought was her duty. Her duty now 
was to get to Papa as fast as stie could and before the money he had sent 
her was used up. 

Besides other worries, which now included me, there was the problem 
of her name. When she and Papa, who came from South Russia, were mar- 
ried she had become Mrs. Kalish. Then Papa ran away from his military 
service to go to America. Somewhere along the way he fell in with an 
Italian named Charles Abuza, also A.W.O.L. The two palled up. Then 
Abuza fell sick and died. Papa, who had a terror of the Russian authorities 
reaching out and grabbing him and shipping him to Siberia for life, pru- 
dently helped himself to the Italian's papers and moniker. 

Don't ask me what the United States Immigration officers made of an 
Italian who couldn't speak anything but Russian and Yiddish; but it was 
as "Charles Abuza" that Papa got into this country, and found a job in 

Papa never did get over his fear of the Russians and what they would do 
to him if they caught him. Years after he had taken out second papers and 
had voted for Teddy Roosevelt, the sight of a tall, military-looking man 
coming down the street was enough to send him scuttling up the stairs to 
hide under the bed. 

I was three months old when I made my first appearance in Boston. There 
is no record that I stopped the show. Boston went on its usual way for the 
eight years we lived there. Though I learned English in Boston, no one has 
ever admired my Harvard accent. 

One thing, though, I've carried all my life that I got in those early years: 
a long, red welt across my fanny. A reminder of a washday when Mama got 
flustered and sat me down hard on a red-hot poker. 

The year I was eight Papa bought a business in Hartford and we moved 
there. There were now four Abuza kids Philip, me, Anna, and Moses. The 
new restaurant was on Front Street overlooking the Connecticut River and 
the docks. It was an exciting street for a kid: all kinds of people coming and 
going at all hours, big trucks loading and unloading at the piers, boat 
whistles and bells sounding all day. Every spring the river rose and over- 
flowed the lower part of the town. Then business along the water front was 
done in boats. One year Philip and I rented a rowboat and ran a jitney ferry 
for the restaurant customers. 


We did a good business. Mama's cooking got to be famous among the 
drummers and the show people who made Hartford. I still have one of 
the menus: 

DINNER . . . o'.25 

CHOICE OF Pickled Herring or Chopped Liver. 

Friday special, Gejullte 'fish. 

CHOICE OF Soup . . . Bean, Rice, Barley, Pea, Cabbage, Noodle, Borsch, 

CHOICE OF MEAT . . . Pot Roast, Veal, Boiled Beef, Hamburger. 

EXTRA FIFTY-CENT DINNER: Steak, Chicken, or Duck. 

CHOICE OF VEGETABLES Potatoes, boiled, mashed, fried; Green Peas, Carrots, 
Sauerkraut, Lettuce and Tomatoes, Dill Pickles and 

CHOICE OF DESSERT . . Prunes, Apricots, Apple Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie. 

Special delicacies: Noodle and Carrot Puddings, Potato 


BEER, 0.1.5 a Bottle. WHISKY, 0.25 a Drink. 

This was a bargain to the customers, but to us in the kitchen it meant 
hard work and long hours. There never was any money to hire help. Not at 
a quarter a meal. Fortunately, Philip was extremely handy for a boy; many 
a Monday morning he has hung out a fine line of washing before starting 
for school. And I was always big and strong for my age. 

I went to the Brown School up the street. I loved school. Not because I 

was a student, but because school meant being free from the restaurant and 

with other children of my own age. The teachers were always kind to me. 

, I guess they felt sorry for me, as one of the poor Jewish children of the 

neighborhood who had to work hard at home. 

No answer 
"SO-O~O-PHIE. n 

The noise on Front Street went right on regardless of Mama standing on 
the stoop outside Abuza's Home Restaurant, looking first one way then the 


other along Hartford's water front, trying to shout above the rattle of the 
big beer wagons going down to the docks. 


That did it. The Jangle of youngsters around Silversmith's peddler's cart 
unraveled to let out a bulky nine-year-old in a faded gingham dress that was 
too short and too skimpy over her behind. Above the dress was a mop of 
bright yellow^ curls. Each hand clutched a ripe banana. 

"You, Sophie Abuza, come here this minute." 

"Yes, Mama." 

When Mama spoke that way you paid attention. You dropped whatever 
It was you were doing on your own, gave your skirt a hitch to bring it 
farther down over your knees, pushed the hair out of your eyes, and started. 
What's more, you hurried. Mama wouldn't stand being kept waiting. Not 
when she had something she wanted you to do. 

And she usually had. There never was any unemployment problem around 
Abuza's Home Restaurant, what with the customers dropping in at all hours, 
whenever the boats or the trains got in, and eating their way through the five 
courses from borsch to blintze they got for a quarter. There were always 
tables to scrub, trays to carry, vegetables to peel, errands to run, dishes to 
wash. . . . 

Dishes. ... 

If I had a dollar for every greasy dish I've washed I'd be the richest woman 
In show business today. 

Hell, you may say. What kind of a start-off is that for the story of the Last 
of the Red-hot Mamas? Where's the glamor? And the sex appeal? There's 
no oomph to dishwashing. 

Are you telling me? I've done my best to think up some other opening 
lines, but anything else would be fake. And this is a true story. I'm telling 
it just the way it came off. It's what really happened to that Abuza kid, . . . 

There may be things in the story that you don't expect. And maybe some 
you will wish had been left out. But that's life, isn't it? 

If experience is any sort of teacher, then I've had plenty of education. 
When I came into show business vaudeville was in its heyday. There wasn't 
a town of any pretension to size that didn't have at least one house where you 
could see stars such as Lillian Russell, May Irwin, Eva Tanguay, Anna Held, 
Trixie Friganza, Marie Dressier (then singing her famous "Heaven Will 
Protect the Working-girl"), George M. Cohan, Weber and Fields, Louis 
Mann, Montgomery and Stone, Conroy and Le Maire (two great blackface 
comedians who gave me a lot of pointers for my own coon shouting), Bert 


Williams, one of the most talented artists that ever appeared on the Ameri- 
can stage, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, and many more. Fields was doing a 
juggling act when I played on the same bill with him at the Hathaway 
Theatre in Lynn, Massachusetts, back in May 1908. He was rated then as 
the headliner of the week, and he has never let go that position in all these 

All the cities had their own stock companies as well. And pretty good they 
were, too, judging from the actors who went from them to the "legit" 
theaters on Broadway. 

Besides big-time and small-time vaudeville, "legit," and stock companies 
there was burlesque. For ten months out of every year dozens of burlesque 
shows played steadily, two shows a day, seven days a week, in all but the 
few states that banned Sunday shows. These companies made millions for 
their owners. 

Oh, show business was flourishing. In those days, if you wanted to tap your 
foot to a swell new tune, or learn a new song or laugh away your worries, 
you went to a show. You didn't just sit home and twiddle a button and pick 
up a hash of war news, laxative ads, recipes, boogie-woogie, the Lone Ranger, 
and Whodunits. 

You can see that my story has to be the story of show business during the 
past thirty years. Show business has been my life. I wouldn't have had any 
other. It is the life I always wanted. Back in those days when Mama would 
call me in to wash the dishes I used to prop open the door into the restaurant 
so I could listen to the talk of the actors who always made a beeline for our 
place to get the best twenty-five-cent meal east of the Hudson. 

"If I ever get out of this," I'd mutter, wringing out the dishcloth, "I'm 
going in show business myself some of these days." 

It seemed as if our family finances always followed the thermometer. In- 
variably, as the weather got colder, we got poorer. Papa made a few, and 
futile, efforts to break the hoodoo. Once he fell for some slick sales talk and 
bought a place in New York, on Allen Street near Delancey, where the El 
roared overhead. He went down to look the place over and saw it full of 
customers eating their heads off. He paid down his money and moved us 
down to New York, only to discover that the customers had all been planted 
there to sell a yokel a gold brick. Friends had to come to our rescue, and we 
trailed back to Hartford to start over again there. 

Another winter Papa got the idea of adding a delicatessen as a side line 
to the restaurant. He broke through the front parlor, set up a counter and 


me behind It. Most of the customers were workingmen who had no women- 
folks to put up lunches for them. They would turn up very early in the 
morning before they started on their shifts. For me this meant getting up 
at 3 A.M. to wipe the frost ofif the salami and bolognas and slice bread for 

That was the coldest winter I remember* There were many mornings 
when I had to wrap my feet and stuff the front of my dress with newspapers 
to keep out the biting cold. After the delicatessen customers were attended 
to, there were the housework, errands to run, vegetables to peel for the big 
pots of soup, before I grabbed my books and started for school. Along about 
eleven o'clock drowsiness would sweep over me. I would fall asleep behind 
my geography until the big book clattered to the floor and woke me up. 

There was one period in school when I never had any trouble keeping 
awake for: the singing lesson. I had the strongest voice of any girl in the 
school, and I was always a quick study. Just hearing a song a couple of 
times, and I had it. The teacher usually called on me to lead the singing. And 
did that make me feel proud ? 

At that time the great popular song hit was "Just Break the News to 
Mother.'* Everybody sang it, including me. At suppertime, when the res- 
taurant tables were well filled and the place steamy with the plates of hot 
food, I would stand up in the narrow space by the door and sing the tear- 
jerker with all the drama I could put into it. At the end of the last chorus, 
between me and the onions, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. 

Later, when I went round to wait on the tables, a lot of the customers 
would slip me an extra tip, "for the entertainment." 

Sometimes, if the door stood open, passers-by would stop to listen. "Come 
right in," I would invite them, with an eye to business. "You won't find an- 
other restaurant in town that gives you a grand meal and entertainment for 
i quarter." 

Because some of them did come in, and because those tips I made and 
turned over to Mama gave her some extra much-needed dollars, her objec- 
tions to my making a show of myself were tuned off. To- the Abuzas, with 
four pairs of growing feet to keep in shoes and six mouths to feed, every 
dime meant something. 

"Veil, mein Dolly" Papa would rub his hands together approvingly when 
they were alone in their room -"what a girl is that Sophie! You see, someday, 
with that great big voice of hers, she'll make big money for us." 

"If you and your schlemihls don't put us in the poorhouse first." 

"Now, Mama, what's with you? I got a family to support ain't I? Do you 


think money grows on trees here In America any more than in Russia? It's 
like I tell you, you got to make it the way you can.'* 

"You don't have to make it those ways/' meaningly. "That I should marry 
a man who . . ." 

Swiftly, cunningly, Papa would save himself from the row he could see 
coming. "Maybe we should give Sophie a musical education. What do you 
think? Tonight I was talking to a fellow, an actor he is, and he was saying 
a girl like Sophie could maybe get into show business." 

"Show business? Do you want our daughter should travel around with 
those pas\udnic\$ (worthless people) ? Our Sophie should marry a good 
husband. A parnusa gaber (good provider), like her mother didn't know 
enough to get for herself." 

And so on and on, till Papa would pull the blanket over his head and 
pretend to snore. 

However, some of his suggestions took effect on Mama, for when she 
heard about a secondhand baby grand that was going for twenty-five dollars 
she bought it for me. The piano was moved into the big front room upstairs 
over the restaurant and a teacher was engaged to teach me at a quarter a 
lesson. Every afternoon when I came home from school Mama shooed me 
upstairs to practice. 

But I couldn't twist my stubby fingers, that were red and rough from dish- 
washing, around scales and arpeggios. And I couldn't sit on that wobbly 
piano stool (at eleven I overflowed it), when I could hang out the front 
window and holler down at the other kids playing hopscotch and shinny 
under the horses' noses and the wheels of the big drays. 

When Mama didn't hear the piano going she would come up to find out 
the reason why. She tried smacks first, then she warmed that poker mark on 
my seat. When that didn't keep me pn the piano stool she stopped the 
lessons. Finally, when an opportunity came, she sold the piano. 

It was years before she stopped rubbing it in on me that she lost five dollars 
on the deal. 

CHAPTER 2: What Price Personality? 

MR. EMERSON, the music teacher at the Brown School, was talking to one of 
the grade teachers. As I passed by I heard him say; "Sophie Abuza has 

What was "personality" ? 

I knew a lot of words that weren't in the spelling books, but most of thpse 


had only four letters. This was a new one to me. Going home from school 
I asked Dora Diwinski, who lived in our block and was my girl friend. But 
Dora was stumped too. 

It began to look bad. After supper I asked Mama : "What does personality 9 

The word that was to make Dale Carnegie famous was beyond Mama. 
She had neither the English nor the patience to explain it. 

"Personality, is it? What next? You should get to the dishwashing,, and 
not fill your head with craziness." 

It wasn't that Mama was unkind or didn't love you that made her snap 
you up like that. All of us, even Moses who had now started to school, knew 
that. We knew if Mama was cranky it was because she was tired from stand- 
ing in the kitchen all day. Her back ached and her feet were killing her. 
And she had worries. Phil and I, being the older ones, understood more 
about the worries. 

The biggest worry was the card games that went on in the big room on 
the top floor. There was nothing in that room but an old round kitchen 
table that had some green pool-table cloth tacked ovej: the top and a lot of 
battered chairs. Often the room would be filled with men in their shirt 
sleeves, the air thick with smoke and sour with the stench of stale beer and 
rotgut whisky. That was another of Mama's worries. 

Papa wouldn't let any of us into that room, but you couldn't get him out 
of it so long as a game was going on. Upstairs, the pinochle sessions would 
run on for hours. One game, I remember, ran steadily for four days and 
nights. Poker games usually started on Saturdays and would last through 
till Monday or, if some players with real money came along, till Tuesday, 
When there was a big game on, the lines in Mama's forehead got deeper 
and deeper. Phil or I would be sent out to stand guard at the corner and 
keep an eye out for any strange coppers. We knew all the regulars on our 
beat, like Big Dan Ahearn. Big Dan was one of our best friends. We didn't 
have to worry about him. 

It wasn't just the money Papa lost on the card games that made Mama 
sore. Most of all she hated the kind of people who often came to the house: 
hard-faced men, who talked out of the side of their mouths, bums, and pimps. 
Besides the restaurant, we ran a rooming house upstairs. A lot of fine traveling 
men and people in show business used to stay with us when their work 
brought them to Hartford. But Papa's card-playing customers were a 
different sort; they were the sporty set of the neighborhood. 

Without understanding all that was wrong I felt that the card games and 


the gamblers and their girls constituted a danger which Mama was terribly 
afraid of. I knew these goings-on made her angry. I could hear her scolding 
Papa at night in their room which was next to the one where Anna and I 
slept. I knew, too, that Papa's gambling kept us poor. If he had a run o 
good luck he would branch out, as when he took over the Boston Hotel on 
State Street. Then the luck deserted him, and pretty soon we were back in 
the old neighborhood, and I was out on the corner with a wash boiler full 
of sweet corn to sell, a penny an ear. 

Sometimes, during the summers, Papa would rent the soft-drink conces- 
sion at Riverside Park where the crowds went on Saturdays and Sundays. 
That would be my job, opening the bottles of soda pop from the time the 
park opened in the morning till the cops chased the stragglers home. It was 
tough on the dogs, but I loved it. I loved the crowds, out for a good time. 
I loved the bands. I was friends with the peanut man and the old Greek 
who sold popcorn and balloons to the kids. 

It never occurred to me to be sorry for myself. I hated having to work in 
the restaurant when I wanted to be out playing with the other children in 
the block. But I accepted that, along with some of the other things that 
went on, as something that was unavoidable if you were poor. Everyone I 
knew had to work hard to get along, some at one trade, some at another. 
All around us were families going through terrible struggles. Poor as we 
were, Mama always managed to have something to give away to the ones 
who were worse oft than we were. Scraps of food were carefully saved to 
be carried to some woman whose husband was out of work and whose chil- 
dren would have gone to bed hungry but for Mama's charity. Old clothes 
that had passed from Phil to Moe, or from me to Anna, were repatched and 
darned and handed on to other children. Nothing was ever wasted or thrown 
away. Oftentimes a knock would come at the back door, and there would 
stand a woman with a shawl over her head, or an old man, bearded and 
long-haired under his black skullcap. There would be whispers, and then 
Mama would dig down into her petticoat pocket and bring out her worn 
leather purse. She would count out some silver or even a dollar or two to buy 
coal or medicine or to satisfy a landlord. A lot of the money I earned singing 
went that way. I turned the tips over to Mama as a matter of course and, 
true to her own nature, she used as little of them as possible for ourselves 
and as much as possible for those she considered really poor. That was an- 
other reason why she hated those card games upstairs. If Papa hadn't gam- 
bled away the earnings, she would have had more to give to the needy and 


Knowing this, I used to try to think up ways of drawing more customers 
to the restaurant. I took to hanging around the stage doors of the three 
theaters in town, waiting for the actors to leave. I would go up to them 
and hold out one of our menus. "Follow me/' I'd say, "and I'll take you 
where you can get the best meal in town for the least money." 

When any of them did turn up at our place I took it as a personal triumph, 
and I would lay myself out to make them like it and come again. That was 
really how I started singing in the restaurant, hoping to draw more cus- 
tomers. None of our competitors offered entertainment with meals. 

The show people were appreciative. They seemed to like my singing, 
especially when I would sing their own hits and try to mimic them. Some 
of the customers would give me a quarter^ or even fifty cents. Once or twice 
it was as much as a dollar. They gave me their songs, too, writing down the 
words for me on a scrap of paper. I couldn't have read the notes if I had 
had them. And I had no need of them. I was born with a quick and true 
ear. The songs were the smash hits of those days, "Wait Till the Sun Shines, 
Nellie," and "On a Sunday Afternoon," and another of Harry Von Tilzer's, 
"I'd Leave Ma Happy Home for You." 

Some of the dimes I made singing in the restaurant went for seats for Dora 
and me at the Saturday matinees at Poll's Vaudeville Theatre, or at the 
Hartford Opera House. Among the vaudevillians our favorites were the 
Howard brothers, Willie and Eugene, and the Empire City Quartette, fea- 
turing Harry Cooper. All these used to come to our place to eat whenever 
they made Hartford. 

Sometimes one of the companies of Jewish actors would come to Hartford 
for a one-night stand. Then they always came to our place to eat, and when 
we ran the hotel, they would stay all night with us. In the restaurant I waited 
on the great Jacob Adler, Mr. and Mrs, Boris Thomashefsky, Madame 
Lipsky, and that grand Jewish comedian, Margoulis. The thrill I got when 
I took an order from Bertha Kalich! She was my ideal Jewish artist. After 
she went on the English-speaking stage I never saw her except across the 
footlights. When I was in London in 1926, I went down to Whitechapel 
one night for a real Jewish meal and there in the restaurant was Madame 
Kalich. We had a long talk after I told her I was the little girl who used to 
carry the big plates of food in Abuza's Restaurant back in Hartford. 

Jacob Adler and Boris Thomashefsky both tried to get my family to let 
me go with one of the Jewish companies. But I wasn't keen for it. I had seen 
how hard it was to make the Jewish plays a success even for one night. It 
used to be up to Papa to sell the tickets. Many times he was left, holding 


the bag, with hundreds of seats, meals, and sleeping rooms given free be- 
cause of no business. I had noticed that this sort of thing didn't happen with 
the regular American shows. 

Going to shows with Dora taught me a lot of new songs and I began to 
work up business to go with them. Later I would try out some of the ideas 
I got from these shows on the customers in the restaurant and at the amateur 
concerts in Riverside Park where they gave prizes for the most popular acts. 
I was shy about going up on the stage in the park, I was going on thirteen, 
and already I weighed one hundred and forty-five pounds. I was gawky and 
self-conscious. But Anna, who was pretty and dark, had a lovely singing 
voice. I didn't mind going on the stage to accompany her (with one finger). 
I thought, sitting on the piano stool, my size didn't matter. She and I carried 
off a lot of prizes. 

Gradually, at the concerts I began to hear calls for "the fat girl." "Let the 
fat girl do her stuff," and "give us the fat girl." Then I would jump up from 
the piano stool, forgetting all about my size, and work to get all the laughs 
I could get. That was when I began to say to myself that maybe in show 
business size didn't matter if you could sing and could make people laugh. 

That was what really started me thinking seriously about going in show 
business. I said to myself: suppose you could earn a living by singing and 
making people laugh, wouldn't that be better than spending your life 
drudging in a kitchen? I thought about Mama, and the years she had slaved 
at the stove and the sink. I knew I would do anything to get away from that. 
As the idea took hold of me I began to ask the actors who came to our 
restaurant how to get into show business. 

Mama heard me, of course. Ever since I showed my first interest in the 
theater she had been warning me to keep away from all that. 

"Don't have anything to do with traveling men, or with show people. 
There are too many grifters and grafters among them. They have no real 
homes; no sense of responsibility. That kind don't care what they do on the 
road." According to Mama, show people were no better than the gypsies 
who used to wander through Russia, thieving and making trouble as well 
as music in every village. She and Papa, to whom she confided her fears 
about me, took to watching me like hawks. 

That spring everybody sang or whistled "Bedelia." The big girls had peek- 
aboo waists. Mama wouldn't let me have one. "A good girl don't go around 
showing everybody what she has got." The shad started running up the 
Connecticut, and something else came stealing up the river valley with the 


warm April mists something that gets you when you are going on sixteen 
and big for your age. 

I sat hunched up on the back stoop ia the evening, after the kitchen work 
was done, and gave myself over to the luxury of thinking about Sophie 

In two months I was to graduate from school. Then what? I didn't seem 
any nearer my dream of getting into show business than I had been six 
months before, and Mama and Papa were set and determined that I should 
not make that dream come true. Mama was already talking about when I 
should get married. To her mind, marriage, having babies, and helping her 
husband get ahead were career enough for any woman. I couldn't make her 
understand that it wasn't a career that I was after. It was just that I wanted 
a life that didn't mean spending most o it at the cookstove and the kitchen 

"After you are through school/' Mama said, "then you must look around 
for a good; steady young man and get married." 

I propped my elbows on my knees and my cheeks on my two clenched 
fists and considered the proposition, I didn't see how I was going to do any 
looking around when most of my time was spent in the restaurant, and 
Mama always discouraged me from making friends with the men customers. 
I had never been to a dance, or a picnic, or a straw ride. Always, I had to 
hurry home from school to help with the work. There were plenty of boys 
and girls in our neighborhood and they were friendly with me. Just the same, 
when they would be starting out for some fun they never asked me to go 
along with them. It was only when I had some money money I had earned 
singing, or even some I stole out of the restaurant cashboxand offered to 
stand treat to sodas or seats at Poll's or at a circus or one of the pateat- 
medicine shows that pitched their tents in the vacant lots on the edge of 
town, that I was popular. Popularity was so sweet I wasn't above stealing 
money from Mama to buy a taste of it now and then* 

Something inside my chest gave a big, unhappy thump. More than any- 
thing in the world I wanted to be wanted. 

From the house came Mama's voice calling: "Sophie, Sophie. A customer 
is here. What are you sitting out there mooning at?" 

I started to get up when I happened to look up the street and saw Louis 
Tuck coming, Louis lived just across from us. He was a wonderful dancer 
and had the reputation of being a "card." All the girls in the block were 
crazy about Louis. They used to hang around hoping he would ask them 
to go to the park to have a soda or something. 


"Hello, Soph," Louis said, and stopped by the fence. 

"Hello," I said back. I couldn't help smiling, Louis was so easy to look at. 
Maybe it was that that made Louis smile too. 

"Listen," he said, "there's going to be a dance tomorrow night. How would 
you like to go?" 

"With you? 5 ' 

"Sure. Want to?" 

"Sure," I gulped. Still I couldn't believe my own ears. Louis Tuck asking 
me! To go to a dance with him! I was waiting for the catch. 

"Okay," said Louis. "Be ready around nine." 

I nodded. 

Mama's voice sounded again, nearer now. "Sophie! Where are you, 

"So long," Louis said, and was around the corner before Mama opened the 
screen door. 

"I'm coming," I hollered, scrambling up. I still couldn't believe any of it 
had happened. And to me. 

The dance was wonderful; as, I suppose, every girl's first dance is. Part of 
the fun for me was seeing the jealousy of some of the other girls because 
Louis was with me. That spurred me on to laugh and joke and dance 
better than I thought I could. I guess Louis enjoyed himself, too, because 
after that evening he began coming round to the house, stopping by nearly 
every evening when he came home from work. Mama looked anxious. Then 
she heard from the neighbors that Louis's family liked me, and she let up 
on the scoldings. Still she didn't approve of my going out with him, not 
while there was work to be done at home. 

June came, and graduation. I led the singing. Later I marched up the 
aisle in my starched white dress that Mama had made to get my diploma. 
Mr. Ames, the principal, handed it to me saying: "For Sophie Abuza, the 
girl with the personality." 

There was that word again. Why couldn't he have said: "The smartest 
girl in the class"? That, I felt, would have meant something worth while. 
But I didn't bother too much about it because that night Louis said to me: 
"Look, kid, let's you and me go over to Holyoke next Saturday afternoon 
and get married. Then you won't have to work so hard, and we'll have lots 
of fun." 

We made all the plans that night. I would tell Mama that I was meeting 
Dora Diwinski to go to a matinee, as we usually did on Saturdays. Louis 


would knock off work after lunch. We would meet at the railroad station. 
Holyoke was only a little over an hour's run from Hartford. We would go 
there, be married, and get back early, and act as though nothing had hap- 

It all went through as we planned until suddenly we were back in Hart- 
ford, and I was scared stiff. How was I going to face Mama? What was I 
going to say? Louis was no help. 

"Go on and tell them right out," he said, giving me a little push. "If you 
don't, then I will." 

We are walking down Market Street. I can see Papa come out on the 
stoop, looking both ways along the street. Looking for me, of course. Won- 
dering why I don't get home from the matinee. Then Mama . . . 

Louis and I get to the stoop. I can see Mania's face, and Papa's. Are they 
mad? Here it is two whole hours after the time I should be home to help 
in the kitchen. Mama starts in to give me what's on her mind. Then Louis 
butts in. 

"Listen," he says, "Sophie and I have got something to tell you. We were 
married this afternoon." 

That was all. Mama shut her mouth with a snap and just looked at us 
both. Papa's jaw sort of hung open, but he didn't say a word. The silence 
was terrible. I began to cry. Then Mama turned and went into the house, 
still without one word to me. Papa followed her. We didn't know what to 
do, so Louis and I went in too. 

"Aren't you going to say something, Mama?" I sobbed. 

Mama was never one to do a lot of talking, but when she said anything 
you could bet it was to the point. She shot her words right at you. Now she 
stood in front of Louis who, even if he was six feet tall, looked like a little 
boy she was getting ready to spank. Her glasses had slipped down one side 
of her nose the way they always did when she was upset about something. 
One eye glared at Louis over the steel rim. 

"Sophie is a good girl," Mama said. "No scandal has ever touched her. 
Nobody must know anything about this until after you and she are properly 
married. We will have a fine Orthodox wedding, as becoming our eldest 
daughter and us as a fine family in the community. I am sure" she fixed 
Louis with her eye "your family would wish the same." 

None of us thought of not agreeing to this. If Mama said a thing it went, 
especially if she said it that way. Louis gave me a sick kind of grin. 

"So long, Soph," he said, and left. 

Mama turned to me. "What does he work at?" 


I told her: "He drives a beer wagon." 

"How much does he earn?" 

"I don't know." 

She looked at me as though she had no more patience left. 

"Do you think it was right to go to Holyoke with him before you found 
out if he is able to support you?" 

I could only answer with the truth: "I wanted to get out of the kitchen and 
have some fun." 

Mama clicked her tongue against her front teeth. 

"It's done," she said. "You have made your bed, and you must lie on it. 
But not" she gave me the kind of look she used to give me when she was 
going to lick me "not until after we have a proper Orthodox wedding. 
And now, Sophie Abuza, you can start to get supper ready." 

I heard her going upstairs. I was all alone in the kitchen. Holyoke, and 
what had happened there that afternoon, seemed like a dream. Here I was, 
back in the kitchen with a pile of greasy pots and pans staring me in the 
face. Then I remembered Louis and what he had promised: "Marry rne, and 
well have fun." 

I started to cakewalk up and down the kitchen, singing (only low, so 
Mama wouldn't hear), "Id leave my happy home for you-oo-oo-oo" 

CHAPTER 3: New Yorl( One Way 

MAMA WAS SATISFIED with the wedding, I think. She should have been; 
Louis's family and all the mishpocha (all the relatives) on both sides and 
the neighbors were suitably impressed, you could see. Like every girl of our 
people, I had my "hope chest," which Mama had started for her daughters 
as soon as she reached this country. From that day on, true to the traditions 
of our people, whenever she bought a piece of linen for her own house, she 
also bought a piece for the daughters' "hope chests." All through my child- 
hood the chests had been filling up to be ready for the day when Anna and 
I would be getting married. 

When it came to the wedding ceremony and supper, everything was of 
the best. Mama was known in the community as a fine caterer. The cere- 
mony was held in Germania Hall. I wore a real wedding dress of white 
dotted swiss, with a veil and a train. 

"You should be proud this day, Mrs. Abuza," the women all said to 
Marna, "with two such fine daughters. One so big and blonde and handsome, 


and the other so dark and pretty. May Anna get as fine a husband as 

"Yes, please God! Thank you," Mama would say, and lift one aching foot 
at a time off the floor under her long black satin skirt to rest it. 

Even I was so impressed by all the preparations and the trousseau and 
the presents that I forgot about wanting to go into show business. I began to 
think getting married was the most important thing in life. 

I have never been able to figure out how Mama got together the money 
for all this, let alone for the wedding itself, and the banquet for one hundred 
guests that followed the ceremony. I remember Papa used to say to us kids 
and maybe he wasn't joshing, at that "Your mother has a habit of going 
through my pants whenever I take a nap." 

We set up housekeeping in an apartment on Park Street: four rooms and 
bath, rent fifteen dollars a month. I couldn't believe it was me, living in 
such luxury, with all the wedding presents, and my trousseau filling the 
closet in the bedroom. At first I was busy going over the presents, exchanging 
the duplicates for things we needed, but soon I had time hanging on my 
hands. It seemed only right as soon as Louis had gone to work and I had 
done my own housework to run over and give Mama a hand. I would dash 
home to get Louis's dinner for him, then back to Mama's for the afternoon. 
Often, if there were a lot of customers, I helped her in the evenings too. 

Usually when I started home Mama would have a package of food ready 
for me to take with me. Those packages were a help, let me tell you. Louis's 
wages were fifteen dollars a week. With what we paid for rent and the 
installments on the furniture we bought on time, there wasn't much left 
over for two healthy appetites. Mama would ask me if we were putting 
something by. Gosh, how could we, out of sixty bucks a month? 

You can see it coming, can't you? The inevitable moment that brings 
down the curtain on the first act of all the newlywed dramas, when the 
young husband's pay check won't stretch to cover the payments on the 
marriage bed and the near-oriental rugs and the grocery-store bill. The mo- 
ment when little wifie throws herself face down on the old-rose silk bed- 
spread and sobs into the pillow: "And I'm going to have a ha-a-a^by" 

It happened with us, just as it has happened to a million others. And the 
same old solution occurred to us that has seemed such a bright idea to so 
many to save rent and board by going home to live with the folks. 

It was my folks we selected for the honor. At the time the street in front 
of the old restaurant was being torn up, and Papa decided to move. The 
new place was much bigger. I really was needed to helo Mama. Anna was 


In school, and Mama and I were determined she should have a chance at 
a real education. Moe, too, who wanted to study law someday. And Mama 
wasn't so well as she had been. The doctor said she had diabetes. 

"You can help me in the kitchen,'* Mama said. "That will pay for your 
and Louis's board. Out there your size won't matter." 

For I was huge. No wonder Louis would rather go places without me. 
I couldn't blame him when I looked at myself. He was paid to drive a truck, 
not drag one along on his arm after working hours. And I was sick a lot 
of the time, besides. 

The same old pattern, you see. 

Even though we weren't paying anything for our living there still seemed 
to be nothing to put by at the end of the month. Louis had always prided 
himself in being known as a classy dresser. Now he was catching up on 
those months when he had had to pay it all out in rent and housekeeping 
bills. My trousseau hung in the closet as good as new while I went around 
in a calico wrapper. I looked like that native woman in Rain, the wife of 
the hotelkeeper. 

Our son was born on the fifth of February. He was the first grandchild 
and a fine, sturdy boy; naturally the family made much of him. On the 
eighth day we had the Orthodox "briss" with all the relatives invited. 

Now that the furniture was all paid for and I was well again I wanted my 
own home, I said so to Louis. 

But Louis couldn't see any reason for changing. He kept telling me that 
sixty dollars a month wasn't enough to keep us by ourselves. 

"You should get a job that pays more," I came back. 

Still Louis couldn't see it my way. I know now it wasn't that he was mean 
or cruel; only selfish and easy-going. He was always good-tempered; never 
a cross or ugly word. But he lacked responsibility, and I had made the mis- 
take of taking all responsibility off his shoulders just when it would have 
strengthened him to carry it. "Marry me, and you won't have to work so 
hard. We'll have lots of fun," was what he had said to me. Instead of this 
I was right back in the restaurant working to keep him and me and our 

After a bit I shut up. I was never one to nag. Like Mama, I said what I 
had to say. 

I suppose me keeping quiet made Louis think I'd forgotten or given up. 
He was contented. It didn't take much to satisfy his needs. He thought I 
shouM be contented too. 

I began to think about singing, the only way I knew to earn money. I 


went into the restaurant again to entertain the customers and picked up some 
money that way. Louis didn't like it, though. When he objected I came back 
with rny old argument: "Get a job that pays better so you can support me 
and Son. n 

That spring the Howard Brothers came through in vaudeville. They said 
my voice was better than it used to be. Having the baby had matured me. 
"You shouldn't stick around here waiting on table and washing dishes/' 
Willie said. "You could make good money in show business, Sophie." Harry 
Cooper, of the Empire City Quartette, when he heard me, said the same 
thing. "Get out. You can use your voice to better advantage than singing 
in the restaurant." 

I took time to think it over. I didn't say anything to a soul, not even to 
Mama. After all, she had always lectured me that a woman should keep her 
troubles with her husband to herself. "You don't see me hanging out the 
window gossiping with the neighbors, do you?" 

A week or so later, when Louis came home from work, I put it to him. 
"Since before the baby came I have asked you to find another job that pays 
more so we can be independent of my family. I've told you time and time 
again I don't want to wind up running a restaurant, looking after you and 
the family the way Mama has, and be a slave in the kitchen all my life. I 
haven't nagged you, or argued. I've only asked you to do what is right by 
yourself, your son, and by me. 

"Either you get another job so you can support Son and me, or" I looked 
him straight in the eye so he could see I meant every word of it "if I stay 
on here and work as I am doing to keep Son and myself, then you and I 

"Ah, now, Soph ..." 

"I mean it," I said. "You and I must separate before it gets too late. I'm 
still young, and I'm not going to throw my life away." 

He saw I meant it, and though he tried to make up to me I didn't give in. 
I'm like that, once I make up my mind. Finally, Louis packed up his things 
and went to New Haven to live with his sister. 

Mama and Papa were horrified. "When a girl marries, she marries for 
better or for worse," they said. "You can't do a thing like this. It's not right. 
Remember you've got a child now. You can't please yourself." 

Yes, I thought, looking at Mama, that is how you figured it out. And look 
at the life you've had. Not for me. I'm getting out while there's time. I'm 
not afraid of work. Ill support my baby and myself. But I won't spend my 
life in a kitchen and keep a husband doing it, the way you have. Not while 


I have a voice. And what's more, if I make good at all, and I will, you're 
not going to stand over the cookstove much longer, either. 

It sounded very fine to talk about getting out. But how? How did a person 
get started in show business? I'd looked over ail the opportunities in Hart- 
ford. No one there had any confidence in my ability. There wasn't a soul 
who would have backed me to show. It looked as though I would have to 
go to New York to get my start. That took money. The first thing, there- 
fore, was to get together a bank roll. 

After that all the money I made singing in the restaurant or at amateur 
nights in the park went into a box locked away in my bottom bureau drawer. 
Each time I put a dollar in the box I'd think: that's to get you into show 

Oh, I missed Louis. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. 
Lonely. If only he had kept his promise to me: "We'll have fun." It was fun 
I wanted, not kitchen work. 

Mama failed a lot that summer. The hot weather wore her down. It used 
to gripe me seeing her in that steaming hot kitchen, on her feet all day, 
cooking, waiting on customers, washing up. The doctor wanted her to go 
to New York to consult a specialist, the first physician in this country to 
use insulin. 

"Go on," I told her. "I can run the place.'*' 

"All right," she agreed. "Then when I get back you can have two weeks' 
vacation. Anna and I will mind the baby." 

This just fitted my plans. I'd had my eye on the calendar for weeks, 
figuring how to make it. While Mama was away I had the dressmaker go 
over all my clothes so everything was in order. Twenty times I counted the 
bills in the box. I, Sophie Tuck, had one hundred dollars of my own. I was 
set and raring to go. 

Then Mama came home from New York, "Now, Sophie, you take two 
weeks off. Where will you go?" 

"I think 111 go to New Haven," I said. 

I could see Mama was thinking: New Haven. That's where Louis's sister 
lives. That's where he is staying. Maybe they'll get together again. 

"That'll be fine," she encouraged me. "Enjoy yourself. If you stay two 
weeks you'll come home in time to help prepare for the High Holidays." 

"Yes," I said. 

But in my heart I knew I wasn't coming back. Not that year. Not until 
I had made good. I was going to buy my ticket one way no return. 

Anna held Son up to the window to wave "Day-day." 


I took one quick backward look over my shoulder, then I started to run 
for the streetcar. My suitcase bumped into my legs and my big, top-heavy 
hat slid down my pompadour over one eye, 

I had to run. Otherwise the choke in my throat and the smart in my eyes 
would have gotten me. I'd have thrown the suitcase into the gutter and 
gone back for good. I had to shut my heart against the pull o that cute 
little baby face at the window and those fat little hands waving to me. I 
had to remember that behind them was that kitchen which was what I was 
really running away from. I had to say over. and over: it's only by getting 
out, making something of yourself, making real money, that you can do the 
most for Son and for Mama who has done so much for you. 
Sophie, this was the best day's work you ever did. And the hardest. 
The Howard Brothers were playing at Poll's in New Haven that week. Fd 
gotten their itinerary from Willie when they came through Hartford earlier 
in the season. For weeks Fd been counting on making my getaway in time 
to catch them there. 

I checked my suitcase in the railroad station and made a beeline for the 
theater. I bet the most surprised man in the world was Willie Howard when 
he came out of the stage door after his turn and found me. 
"Soph, what's happened ? " 

"Fve left home," I said. *Tm going in show business like you always said 
I should. I came right on here to find you and Gene," 
"Go on home," he said. 
"Not me," I told him. 

"Then go to New York," was Willie's advice. "Take the next train. For 
God's sake, Sophie, get out of this town while we're here." To make sure 
I did, he went with me to the station. 

He told me to go and see the song writers in Tin Pan Alley and get them 
to teach me some songs. He wrote down the name and address of Harry 
Von Tilzer and Ben Bernstein, who were the most popular music publishers 
at that time. "Tell then} I sent you to them, Tell them I said you were good. 
And now, for God's sake, get aboard that train." 

When I was settled in my seat I took my handkerchief and rubbed the 
dust off a comer of the window so I could wave to Willie. But already he 
was beating it away from that station platform. He never once looked back. 
The hour-and-a-hal ride from New Haven to New York wasn't too long 
for all I had to do. First there was a letter to be written to Mama, telling 
her I had suddenly decided to go on and have a look at New York, where 
we had relatives, 


Next, I decided I would not go to my cousins' at all. If I did, I could not 
give all my time and attention to getting into show business. I would not 
even look them up. I would go to a hotel and start out at once making the 
rounds of Tin Pan Alley as the Howard Brothers suggested. 

The hotel was a dingy small one on Forty-second Street across from the 
station. I got a room for a dollar and a half a day with a window looking 
into a court into which a sooty rain was falling. It hurt my sense of economy 
to waste a day's room rent staying indoors, but I thought that was better 
than turning up at the music publishers' looking like a drowned rat. But 
what if it rained for a week? I figured out the expense and shivered. I 
simply had to get started before my hundred dollars was gone. 

Next day the sun shone, and I sang as I dressed to go out. I had the card 
Willie Howard had given me, and I copied the addresses of other firms from 
the phone book. I was going to "do" Tin Pan Alley. 

I started with Von Tilzer, using Willie Howard's card as an introduction. 
Then in 1906 Harry Von Tilzer was the leading song writer in this coun- 
try. One after another, he had produced such smash hits as "Wait Till the 
Sun Shines, Nellie," "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," "What You Coin' "to Do 
When the Rent Comes 'Round?" "Good-bye, Eliza Jane," "On a Sunday 
Afternoon," "Down Where the Wurzburger Flows," and a dozen more. 
Later he was to produce "All Alone," "Under the Yum Yum Tree," "I Love 
My Wife but Oh! You Kid!" and the perennial favorite, "I Want a Girl 
Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad." 

Von Tilzer heard me, said "H'mm" a couple of times, and finally told me 
to drop in again someday. That was that. I took the next address on my 
list, and the next, going down the sheet of paper and getting about the same 
response everywhere. Nobody in Tin Pan Alley seemed impressed by me. 

The next day I started out and did the same thing all over again. I sat 
for a while in each office, hearing the pianos going on all sides, catching 
snatches of tunes and lyrics, just enough to tantalize me. Singers came and 
went. Some got no better treatment than I; for others doors were opened 
right away. On the third day I made the rounds again. I didn't know what 
else to do. Maybe, I thought desperately, they'll get so tired seeing me sitting 
here they'll give me a song just to get rid of me. 

At the end of a week I knew I must make some new plans. First I wrote 
a letter home. I still like its chutsba (nerve). 


I have decided to go into show business. I have decided that I can do big 
things and have definitely made up my mind that you will never stand behind 


a stove and cook any more, and every comfort that I can bring you both I am 
going to do, and I know I can do it, if you will let me alone. Don't come to take 
me back home. Take care of Son and I will make you proud of me some of 
these days. 

Love to all, 


This posted, I counted my money and then set about finding a cheaper 
place to live. The way it looked, it was going to take me some time to make 
good on the promises in that letter. Funny, isn't it, how I used that phrase 
"Some of These Days"? 

I found a room for five dollars a week, which included breakfast, on 
Second Avenue near St. Mark's Place. I lived there for several weeks while 
I tried all the doors in Tin Pan Alley without success. Meanwhile my funds 
were running low. I knew I must save every 'fifty cents. I grudged every cent 
I had to spend on food. One evening it occurred to me perhaps I could sing 
in one of the restaurants in the neighborhood and earn a meal that way. 
Around on Eighth Street was the Cafe Monopol. I went in and said to the 
proprietor: "I'm hungry, and I haven't any money. I'm a singer. If I sing 
for your customers tonight will you give me my dinner?" 

He thought for a moment. "What kind of songs do you sing?" he de- 

"Popular songs," I told him. "Ill sing -what the customers ask for. I used 
to do that in a restaurant in Hartford, my home town." 

"All right," he agreed. Then he asked my name. 

I had my mail sent to Mrs. Louis Tuck, care of General Delivery, as of 
course that was my name. But "Mrs. Tuck" didn't sound right for a singer. 

"Sophie Tucker," I told him. 

Right like that a career was born. 

CHAPTER 4: Smartening Up to Broadway 

THE CAFE MONOPOL'S CUSTOMERS liked me. They applauded and called for 
more songs. I could see the proprietor thought he had made a good bargain. 

"Come round again some evening," he told me. "Ill be glad to give you 
your dinner again and have you entertain the customers." 

I thanked him. That was something an ace in the hole. But I knew I 
couldn't go there too often. I would have to hunt around for some other 
restaurants and make the same offer. And I did. * 

Every morning I turned out of bed and marched myself up to the music 


publishers' and got the pianists to go over new songs with me. I was singing 
for my supper, but I was getting a lot more than just the big plate of hot 
food gosh, but it tasted good too the waiter set in front of me after my 
act. I was getting hep to myself, and I was making friends for Sophie Tucker. 

Success in show business depends on your ability to make and keep 
friends. You'll notice that the entertainers who last are the ones who aren't 
standoffish and high-hat. To hold your audience you've got to give something 
of yourself across the footlights. And that something has got to be genuine, 
sincere. You can fake it for a season or two maybe. Then the public gets 
wise and gives you the razzberry. And you're done. Washed up! 

Of course back in those weeks of the fall of 1906 I had not had the experi- 
ence to teach me this. What I did have was an honest-to-God anxiety about 
getting some work that would pay in dollars as well as roast-beef medium. 
I could never get 'far from the thought of that canvas money bag I wore 
strapped around my waist, which was getting lighter and lighter every week. 
If something didn't open up for me pretty soon, a day was coming when I 
wouldn't be able to meet my landlady on the stairs. 

The people I got to know around Second Avenue were encouraging. 
When I asked them if they knew any places that had paid entertainers they 
told me that many of the rathskellers uptown employed singers. 

"You ought to go up to the German Village," I was told. "That's a big 
joint, three floors and crowded all night. They must use fifteen to twenty 
singers there all the time." 

The German Village was then one of New York's hot spots. It was on 
Fortieth Street, just off Broadway, and it got the theater crowds. It was a 
high-class "beer garden" patterned after those in Europe, with continuous 
musical entertainment up to dawn. 

One evening I set out to have a look at the Village. To save carfare, I 
walked. Every nickel counted. 

It was one of those mild, muggy nights you get in New York in the fall, 
when you smell the harbor and the garbage scows being towed out to the 
dumping ground; when you taste coal smoke and gas with every breath you 
draw. It's nights like those that make you feel lonely. The lights in the 
houses you pass seem to glow sweeter and cozier. At other times you look 
up at the house fronts and know the people living there have their troubles, 
just the same as you. They're worrying about the rent, and Papa being out 
of work, and that fellow Mar j has started going with. They're nagging each 
other and scrapping and cheating, the way folks do all over the world, a lot 
of the time. They aren't really any better off than you. But try giving yourself 


that line on one of those lonesome nights. It just doesn't go down. You're 
positive life picked you to get the seltzer water in the pants. 

That's the frame of mind I was in by the time I made Thirty-fourth Street* 
My feet were too big for my shoes and I was feeling sorry for myself all over, 

Up Broadway from Thirty-fourth Street I began to notice something: girls 
standing on the corners and in doorways, loitering along, all waiting for 
something to happen. Then I saw it happen: a man came along, gave the 
girls the once-over, picked one of them, said something, and then the two 
went oE together down a side street. It wasn't always the men who spoke 
first; a girl would sidle up to a man, tuck her hand inside his arm, whisper 
something. Then maybe that couple would go off together. There, in the 
Tenderloin, the streetwalkers were plying their trade as openly as the push- 
cart sellers did their business down around Hester Street. 

I thought about the girls the men used to bring to our hotel in Hartford. 
Maybe some of them had come from tramping the Broadway beat. I'd never 
given them much thought till now. Now I began to wonder how they started 
hustling in the first place. Were they girls like me who had come to New 
York to make good in show business or some other line, and who hadn't 
been able to make a go of it? Maybe they, too, had written their folks a 
boasting letter saying they wanted to be let alone, and then couldn't go back 
on their boasts. Was it the ultimate grim necessity of getting something to 
eat and a roof over their heads that sent them on the streets to sell themselves 
half a dozen times a night? Or was it the lonesomeness that got them down? 
I was having my own taste of that. 

Was this what I had to look forward to? 

Asking myself that seemed to make the bottom of my stomach fall out, 

A man edged up to me and took hold of my elbow. I shook him off. I was 
going to the German Village to ask for a job. I told myself: you're going to 
makf them take you on. A block, and another man suggested with a leer: 
"How about it, girlie?" I pulled away and walked faster. When a third man 
stopped square in front of me, looking me over, I shoved him with such 
force he fell into the gutter. I brought up at the door of the German Village 
breathless and red in the face. 

It was a big place. The three floors were all lighted up. Out on the sidewalk 
you could hear the laughter and singing. I opened the door and went in. A 
table near the entrance was vacant, so I sat down there. When the waiter 
came up expectantly I told him I wanted to see the manager. 

"Mr. Jumbo? All right, 111 tell him." 

Alone, I took a good look around. The tables on that floor were well filled, 


and from the noise that came up from the rathskeller business there W 
good. The people around me looked like spenders; big parties, out for 
good time. A girl stood up to sing. I watched and listened critically. Jus 
what did it take to make good in a place like this? 

I didn't see the drunk till he leaned across my table, breathing into rn 
face. "Come on upstairs, kid," he hiccoughed. "You're a nice-looking countr 
girl. Ill be nice to you." 

Zingo. I hopped to my feet, hauled off, and let him have a right to the ja^ 
It sent him backward out the door and flat onto the sidewalk. There was 
yell, the sound of running feet, a police whistle. Outside a crowd gatherec 
Inside the people at the tables stood up, craning their necks. The musi 
faltered. The manager and a flock of waiters came rushing from a back roorr 
A policeman shouldered through the crowd and into the room. 

"Hey, what's all this?" 

I burst into tears. Everybody started talking at once, pointing at me. 

"He insulted me," I sputtered, mad and scared at the same time. 

"What are you doing here?" The manager a big chucker-out, "Mi 
Jumbo" just suited him looked threatening. 

"I'm a great singer," I fired at him. "I came here tonight to ask for a jol 
and that man insulted me." 

Mr. Jumbo got the policeman into a corner and began talking very hare 
They kept looking me over. I didn't realize it, but with my hair-do and th 
kind of dress I wore, I looked just what I was, a big, gawky country girl, an< 
not more than seventeen. Then Jumbo came over to me. He was sorry, h 
said, that I'd been insulted. As for my getting a job there, I was much to- 
young. They only took girls over twenty. There was a police law agains 
hiring girls any younger than that. Before I knew it I was out the door. 

Walking uptown I had said to myself if I landed a job I could afford 
nickel to ride home. Now there was nothing for it but to let my feet do th 
work. I started down Broadway. There were the girls. How easy to join then: 
to saunter idly, ready to look meaningly into the next man's face. If I didn' 
find some work that paid pretty soon I might have to come to this. If ever 
place turned me down, what was I to do? 

"Ill wash dishes first," I swore to myself. "Ill go back to the cookstove an< 
the sink if I must. Not on the streets!" And quick as lightning my min< 
added: "And I shan't wash dishes again, either. I came to this town to ge 
into show business, and I'm going to get there. I told the folks I was goin 
to, I've got to make good on that promise. There must be a way." 

Jumbo had said I was too young. I couldn't help my age, but what abou 


my appearance? It made me sore to remember that that drunk had called me 
a "nice-looking country girl" 

I began to look closely at the girls sauntering along Broadway. They all 
looked well dressed. Nothing of the country girl about any of them. I took 
to looking into the shop windows, sizing up the clothes, comparing them 
with my own. There was a hell of a lot of difference. I guessed, if you 
wanted to go places in New York, you had to look like New York. 

I had my nose glued to a plate-glass window trying to read the price tag 
on a plaid taffeta suit when a hand tapped me on the shoulder. I swung 
round. My God! Another cop. 

He looked me over, tear marks on my face and all. "What are you doing 
here?" he demanded. "Where are you from? You don't look like a New 
Yorker. You don't belong in this neighborhood." 

"You're darn right," I said, and told him: "I come from Hartford and I'm 
trying to get a job." I started to tell him about my experience at the German 
Village but he cut in: , 

"Go on home. Don't hang around here. Nice girls don't come this way 
after dinnertime." 

I thanked him, took the way he pointed, east to Sixth Avenue, and beat it 
for St. Mark's Place and bed. Chased off Broadway. Why? As far as I could 
see it, for looking like a country girl, and no older than I really was. 

For the rest of the walk I thought things over, backwards and forwards. It 
was pretty plain that if I was ever going to get a toe hold on that magic 
thoroughfare I'd have to change my style of dress. I would have to put up 
my hair, look older. I didn't have the word for it, but that night I tumbled to 
the idea--"New Yorkish." 

Sophie Tucker was going to have to look and act as if she belonged to 

Something else I tumbled to in the course of that night's walk: you could 
buy clothes on time. 

The next day I hunted me an outfit that looked smart. It cost ten dollars. 
I peeled one dollar off the thin roll in my money belt and paid it down, 
pledging myself to pay a dollar a week until I was clear. Now, I had to get 
work that paid. 

Back in my room I practiced ways of doing my hair to make me look 
at least five years older. When I was satisfied with my appearance I walked 
up Broadway again, to Times Square. I kept an eye out for that policeman, 
betting with myself he wouldn't know me in my new get-up, but he wasn't 
anywhere about. 


On the upper west corner of Forty-second Street and Seventh Avenue, 
fronting the Square, was Hammerstein's, "The Variety House of the World." 
Naturally I'd heard of it. An act was made if it was booked there. A good 
seat at a matinee at Hammerstein's cost seventy-five cents. I hung around out- 
side the theater, reading the names billed and studying the photographs of 
that week's headliners. I didn't recognize a single one who ever played 

Meanwhile I was having a fierce argument with myself. 

"You know you haven't any business spending money/' I said to myself. 
"You're down to your last ten dollars right now. Wait till you get a job before 
you take in any shows." 

And myself answered back: "How are you going to learn anything about 
show business if you don't go and see shows? You haven't any time to waste 
finding out all you can about it." 

Myself won. I marched up to the window, plunked down three quarters, 
and went in. 

I never have minded paying for what I get, but it's my nature to want my 
money's worth. I got it out of that seventy-five cents. I was early for the 
matinee, so I took the opportunity to go all over the theater, up in the 
gallery, peering into the boxes, staring at the crowds gathering at the bar. I 
touched the walls and the gilded pillars and ran my hand over the upholstery. 
I sniffed the unmistakable smell of theater. I would have given another 
seventy-five cents to be able to get backstage. And again I said to myself: 
"Someday I'll sing here. Someday my name SOPHIE TUCKER will be 
billed outside. I've got to make good. I simply have to." 

Now the house was filling: mostly women, all so smart looking. They came 
in couples or four or five together, all laughing and chatting. It seemed as 
though I was the only single ticket in the whole lower floor. If only I knew 
somebody. If I just had a friend to pal around with, the way Dora Diwinski 
and I used to back home. 

The curtain went up. The orchestra played; so many men in the pit. I shut 
my eyes and saw Harry Tighe, the pianist who furnished all the music at 
Poli's Vaudeville in Hartford. Then the lady next to me dropped her pro- 
gram. I quickly picked it up, handed it back, smiling. 

"Thanks," she said. 

"Thank you," I replied. 

She looked surprised. "Why do you thank me?" 

"Because," I told her, "it makes me feel good to have someone speak to me. 

She smiled again and offered me some candy. I would have said some 
more only then the show came on. 


The usual acrobatic troupe opened the show. The women around me, I 
noticed, were not interested. The second act was a musical family; the third 
a monologuist. He was funny, and the women liked him. The fourth act was 
a sketch. Some star had streamlined her play to a twenty-minute act. She was 
very British, but she had a beautiful figure and she dressed smartly. The 
women fell hard for her; they were all talking about her figure and her gown. 
To me every act was great. 

Some more acts, and then the intermission. Everyone went out to the bar 
everyone but me. But I wasn't lonely. I was too busy digesting all I had seen 
and learned that afternoon. I thought: there's no two ways about it, you've 
got to dress smart. Then the women in the audience rave about you. If you 
ever get on the stage, think of your clothes, look smart. It helps put you over. 

When my neighbor came back to her seat she spoke again: "I'm sorry I 
didn't ask you to come and have a drink with us girls. I didn't realize you 
were all alone." 

"Yes," I said, "this is my first show in New York. I'm in show business 
myself. I'm a singer, and I'm just looking things over before I get started in 
New York." 

Chutsba? You said it. But I got away with it. Mrs. Abe Bernstein looked 
impressed. When the show was out she gave me her name and address 
Second Avenue at Tenth Street, my own neighborhood and invited me to 
have dinner with her and her husband the next evening. 

That's how I made my first friend in New York. And what friends the 
Bernsteins were to me. I had no intention of letting them know how I was 
fixed, but I hadn't been in their home an hour or met the whole family before 
I broke down and blubbered like a kid. Homesick. It all came out, the lie I'd 
told, and how I was down to my last few cents and everything. Mr. and Mrs. 
Bernstein made me go back to my room and pack up and move in with 
them. They took me to their hearts, and from then on they helped me until 
I began to earn. 

When I told them my experience at the German Village, and being turned 
down because I was too young: 

"Go on back there," my new friends advised. "Wear your new clothes. 
Make them listen to you sing. You'll get there, Sophie, if you keep on trying." 

When I went back, about half past seven one evening, the manager, "Mr. 
Jumbo," was not in yet. They told me the proprietor, Mr. Buchalter, was 
there. Would he do? 

Was I in luck? Jumbo would have been sure to recognize me even in my 
New York clothes. Yes, I would see the proprietor. 


"Fm a singer," I told him. 

"Sorry," he said. "I have more singers in the place now than I can use." 

"But, Mr. Buchalter, how can you say you don't need me when you haven't 
heard me sing? Maybe I sing better than some of the girls you have now. 
Please hear me, then if I don't satisfy, tell me to go." 

He sized me up quickly. "How old are you?" 

"Twenty-three," I said without a quiver. 

The door behind him opened. Was that Jumbo? If so, Fm sunk. But it 
wasn't Jumbo. It was the proprietor's wife. She looked me over. 

"What does she want?" she asked her husband. 

I told her myself. "Look," I said. "To give you an idea what I can do, the 
songs I sing, I can accompany myself on this piano." The Buchalters sat 
down and, playing the air with one finger, I sang for them "Good-bye, Mr. 
Greenback." As a performance it was pretty poor, but I figured if I sang loud 
and showed off what a powerful voice I had, it would do me the most good. 
When I finished, before they could get a word in, I said: "If I don't get a job 
tonight I'll have to go out on the 'Broadway Beat,' as the last of my green- 
backs is gone. I've been in New York over six weeks trying to get work." 

That night, it was a Tuesday, early in November 1906, 1 went to work at 
the German Village at a salary of fifteen dollars a week. Mr. Buchalter sent 
me up to the second floor, which was where the beginners pushed off. Four 
girls and four boys worked on the stand with me. Our room was filled only 
when the rathskeller and the street floor were capacity. Then the overflow 
was sent upstairs. 

I was ready to start my first song when I looked up and saw Mr. Jumbo in 
the doorway. He didn't recognize me at first, but when the song was over 
he came across the room and said, frowning, "Don't I know you?" 

Tell him the truth, I thought quickly. Be friendly. If he likes your work 
he'll put in a good word for you downstairs. I told him what I had done to 
make myself look older, and that the boss liked my singing and had hired 
me. "Don't tell," I said. 

He winked. "Good luck, kid. Use your head. And look out for that punch 
in your right." 

"I'll save it for my songs," I promised. 

Work at the German Village was hard; every night I sang fifty to one 
hundred songs. Working at a salary of fifteen dollars a week, it was up to a 
singer to make friends, to find out the customers' favorite songs, and be ready 
to sing them on request. For this the customers usually tipped us from fifty 


cents to a dollar. This money, earned by the eight singers and two pianists, 
was pooled and split up after work. 

Every week when we were paid, a money order went off to Mama. "Take 
good care of Son for me. . . . Get yourself something you need. . . . Pretty 
soon I'll be sending more. . . . Love, Sophie. . . ." The balance which I 
kept went for room, board, and clothes. I'd taken a room uptown to be 
near the Village. The Bernsteins, who had seen me through the bad times, 
were delighted that I was getting ahead. 

The rest of the money I made at the Village, from the tips, went for 
clothes. I had to look nice every night. The Village wasn't stylish like the 
Haymarket Cafe, where evening dress was the rule. We singers wore shirt- 
waists and skirts. When I saw the other girls smile and tip each other the 
wink at my plain white linen shirtwaists I went out and bought myself a 
couple of lace peekaboos that would have turned Mama's hair white. Oh yes, 
I was smartening up to Broadway. 

One night a singer on the street floor didn't show up. Jumbo called me 
down to take her place. Here there was a different clientele. The customers 
never gave fifty cents if you sang a song for them; it was always a dollar or 
more. In the rathskeller, I was told, even more money was spent. Miss 
Flossie Crane, known as "The Girl with the Man's Voice," who was the lead- 
ing singer downstairs, made as much as two hundred dollars a week. That 
bit of gossip started me to scheme and plan to get into the rathskeller. 

Meanwhile, the weekly money orders were getting bigger. "Didn't I say 
I'd do it? Get Son a pair of red shoes. . . . Get Anna a new dress. ... Go 
on believing in me. . . . Love, Sophie. . . ." 

Every day I haunted the music publishers'. The boys there were getting to 
know me, "The big girl from the German Village." Sometimes they saved 
songs for me. "Try this, Soph. It's your stuff." They would say : "I dropped 
into the Village last night. You were great!" Or (and honestly, I liked this 
even better), "I heard you last night. That song, c My Mariutch,' you're not 
getting all you can get out of it. Try it like this" going through the music 
for me to sing: 

"My Mariutch she maf^a de hootch-a-ma~l{Qotch down at Coney Isle. 
She ma\e me smile. She go li^-a dis, lik^a dat, U\-a dis. 
She maJ^-a such a dance and never move-a de feet, that's a funny style. . . /' 

"Got something new, boys?" was my invariable greeting. Something new. 
That was what the customers liked. New songs, new business. From those 


days to this my motto has been: "Get something new. Keep fresh. Don't 
get stale, singing the same songs." 

I still had my heart set on getting to work in the rathskeller. It wasn't only 
that that was where the big money was made (though the thought of pulling 
down as much as two hundred a week acted on me like the rattle of dice to 
a gambler). The rathskeller was where a lot of big people in show business 
came. I would hear about them: "Who do you think is downstairs tonight? 
Erlanger, Dillingham, Ziegfeld, Hammerstein." Once, I remember, the word 
went around, Caruso was there. 

It looked as if I'd have to make my chance myself. Accordingly, two or 
three nights after our room cleared and closed I went down to the raths- 
keller and sat around. I sat until the scrub women came with their palls and 
chased me out. Then one night or early one morning there was a party 
in the rathskeller that had heard me sing upstairs, and asked for me. That 
song brought me ten dollars. I put it into the box of the other singers. Before 
that night's work was done I had put in more than seventy-five dollars. 

Maybe there's a fate in such things. Anyway, it was just a few days after 
that that Flossie Crane left to go to headline Hammerstein's. I moved down- 
stairs. Soon I was cutting in on one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars 
a week. The money orders to Hartford grew proportionately: "Hire some 
help in the restaurant. . . . Make Papa go to the dentist. . . . Take five 
dollars out of this and bring the baby to New York for a day so I can see 
him. . ; . Love, Soph." 

Gradually I became friends with the girls who made their living from the 
men who came to the Village. What impressed me most about these girls 
was that every one of them supported a family back home, or a child some- 
where. In addition and this I found surprising each girl had some man 
to whom she gave her money regularly. What the strong tie was between 
her and the man who, as she told you frankly, had a string of other girls 
doing the same thing for him I never could make out. These men came 
around regularly for their pay. I used to see them. After a while the girls 
got in the way of peeling a few bills off their takings and passing them over 
to me so the men wouldn't know they were holding out on them. Usually, 
before the night's work was over, I had one hundred dollars or so crammed 
into my stockings. I kept my mouth shut about it, and no one ever knew the 
little drama that went on in the ladies' room each night. 

The next afternoon the girls would drop round to my room for their 
money from which they sent money orders home. They made no bones 
about their profession; to them, hustling was just a business. Just the same, 


they didn't recommend it. What I've found out is that the closer you get to 
vice the less gilt and glamor you find there is to it. "You're lucky," they 
would tell me, "you've got a voice. Why don't you get into show business 
and not stick around a joint like the Village?" 

That was what I asked myself twenty times a day. But how? 

Meanwhile, any ideas I may have had that I was on to Broadway received 
a jolt. I was living in an old brown-stone front on Broadway at Thirty-sixth 
Street. The house was run by a French couple. I had a hall bedroom for 
which I paid two dollars a week. By my agreeing to wash the dishes, the 
landlady gave me my breakfast. I thought myself in luck. 

One morning about four, right after I had gone to bed, there was a com- 
motion in the street outside, police, and men and girls in all stages of undress 
being dragged out of the house and pushed into the patrol wagon. A heavy 
knock came at my door. A voice ordered: "Get up. Get out of there." It 
didn't do any good my telling the cop I was the singer at the German Vil- 
lage and had just come home and gone to bed, virtuously and alone. I was 
made to get into my street clothes and sent out onto the sidewalk to the 
waiting wagon. 

"Listen/ 5 1 protested, "I don't know any of these people. I don't belong in 
this crowd." 

One blue-coated figure separated itself from the rest and came over to stare 
at me. "Say, sister, I know you. . . ." Believe it or not, it was the cop who 
had chased me off Broadway that night six months earlier. 

"That's right, Sergeant," he told the one in authority. "Ill swear this one 
is O.K. She's a kid from the country. She don't belong with this crowd. She 
sings up at the German Village. I've heard her." 

The cops let me off on that recommendation. I hunted around and found 
a new boardinghouse. Meanwhile, I gave a lot of thought to my work at the 
German Village. I was making money there, but I had a hunch the place 
wouldn't stay open much longer. McClellan had just been re-elected on a 
reform ticket and he was pledged to clean up the Tenderloin. I didn't read 
the political news, but I heard the hustlers talking about the police net that 
was closing in on them. It was common gossip that a lot of the rathskellers 
in that part of town would soon be, padlocked. 

I could probably get a job singing in some more conservative cafe, but 
that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to get into show business. I knew 1 
never would be satisfied until I did. 


CHAPTER 5: Blackface 

THE BOYS at the music publishers' put me on to it. I heard them talking: "Up 
at the i25th Street Theatre, corner of Third Avenue, Chris Brown is running 
big amateur nights." These, by report, weren't anything like the amateur 
nights in the Bowery theaters where they put a hook around the neck of a 
performer who failed to please the audience and pulled her screaming off the 
stage while the crowd roared with laughter. Chris Brown's "amateur nights'* 
were more like tryouts. 

"Big doings. The producers and booking agents are up there every week 
scouting for talent." 

Enough said. When the next amateur night came round Sophie Tucker 
asked off from work at the Village and lined up with fifty or more in front 
of Chris Brown. 

"What do you do?" 


"All right." He took the envelope I handed him that had my songs in it 
and ran them over, selecting half a dozen. "Try these." The pianist beat out 
the tunes and I did my best with them, keeping my eye glued to Chris 
Brown, lolling back in his shirt sleeves, hands on hips, chewing a cigar. He 
looked bored as hell, but when I finished he nodded. "O.K. Use the first 
three we tried. You can go on." 

My chance had come. 

I stumbled out of the door conscious of the envious looks of the others 
who had been turned down or who were lined up waiting a chance to be 
heard. I felt dizzy; hot and then cold. Behind me came Chris Brown's voice, 
calling to an assistant: "This one's so big and ugly the crowd out front will 
razz heir. Better get some cork and black her up. She'll kill y em." 

The assistant took me in hand. He got some ordinary corks from liquor 
bottles, lit a match, burfted the corks, and smeared my face, ears, and neck. 
I was in street clothes a tailored suit. He gave me a pair of black cotton 
gloves, tied a red bandanna over my hair; with lipstick he painted me a 
grotesque grinning mouth. "All right, you're on." 

A shove sent me from the wings onto the stage. The footlights and the 
cork in my eyes made me blink. Beyond the lights was a sea of faces filling 
pit and gallery. I heard a roar of laughter. They'd been booing and cat- 
calling a performer of? the stage a few minutes ago. I'd heard and seen what 
that crowd could do to an act they didn't like. . . . "She's so big and ugly 


they'll razz her," Brown had said. What would they do to me? I felt sick and 
frightened inside. Then the pianist thumped out the opening chords and 
gave me a signal. That jolted me out of my stage fright. 

What the hell? That crowd couldn't scare me now. I knew I could sing. 
Working at the Village, I'd learned some of the tricks to get a crowd warmed 
up, liking me. Those tough guys in the gallery were no tougher than a lot of 
the people at the German Village. Let her go! 

The three songs weren't enough. The audience wouldn't let me go till I 
had sung three more. Oh, they liked me all right. Take that, Mr. Chris 
Brown. I was a hit. 

In the dressing room I struggled to get the burnt cork off. There was no 
one to help me, to tell me how to get the nasty mess out of my ears and eyes. 
Everyone had gone. The doorman found me crying. "Use soap and water," 
he advised. 

The burnt cork stuck in my ears and in the roots of my hair. It had ruined 
my best white shirtwaist. But that wasn't why I cried. I knew I'd been the 
hit of that night's show. And yet none of that weighed against Chris Brown's 
verdict: "too big and ugly/' If he was right, what chance had I, now or ever? 

I left the theater, still grimy (it was days before I felt really clean), and 
mounted the steps of the Third Avenue EL It was nearly i A.M. and the plat- 
form was deserted. No, there at the far end was a man. He looked vaguely 
familiar. I walked down toward him. Yes, it was the one I'd seen in Chris 
Brown's office; someone said he was Joe Woods, one of our best-known 
booking agents. 

I marched up to him. "Listen," I said, "I'm the girl they blacked up to- 
night. You heard me sing. Did you like me? Do you think you could book 
me? }> 

He thought a minute, then he pulled out one of his cards. "Come round 
to my office tomorrow and I'll let you know." 

Joe Woods booked me on the small-time circuit at a salary of fifteen to 
twenty dollars a week in New York; twenty-five dollars a week when out of 
town. I'd been pulling down four and five times that at the Village, but I 
didn't care. This, at last, was show business. 

"You'll have to black up/' he ordered. 

He told the girl in his office to get a dress out of the wardrobe. At that 
time Joe put out acts of his own, costumed them, drew down the salary, and 
paid the performers what he had contracted them for. The dress was of 
white satin. 


"It'll look good with blackface/' said Joe. "You cant pay a dollar a week 
rental until you've paid off the twenty-five bucks it cost me." By the terms 
of my contract I was also to pay him 5 per cent of my salary for booking me. 

"Let me leave off the black/* I pleaded. "Try me out the way I am and 
see if I don't go over." But he wouldn't hear of it. 

That's how I became a blackface singer. "World-renowned Coon Shouter" 
was how Joe put it on his notices. On the Park Circuit I was also billed as 
"Sophie Tucker, the Ginger Girl, Refined Coon Singer" (may the stiff- 
necked frozen faces who now and then have objected to the songs I sing 
take count of that one!). And on my first New York date in December 1907 
as "Sophie Tucker, Manipulator of Coon Melodies." 

When I started out on the Park Circuit I wore the white satin dress Joe 
Woods sold me, and used burnt cork for make-up. But the difficulty of 
keeping the dress clean was too great. I soon changed to a high-yellow 
make-up and rented a black velvet dress which gave a contrast. I kept to the 
gloves, however. It made a good stunt at the end of my act to peel off a glove 
and wave to the crowd to show I was a white girl. 

My first date was in Meriden, Connecticut; not many miles from Hartford 
and the folks, but it might as well have been a thousand. I was working on a 
fast schedule my next date was in Cohoes, New York and no one I knew 
owned a car in those days to take me home between shows. I didn't let them 
know I was playing Meriden for fear they would come to the theater and 
see me. I couldn't bear to have them know I went on in blackface. 

The Park Circuit kept actors working from June until Labor Day. We 
played the smaller cities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, 
with one-week or three-day stands in each place. Ina Claire played the same 
circuit with me that summer. She was billed as a mimic and did impersona- 
tions of headliners and famous personages. I remember her mother traveled 
with her. We usually put up at the same boardinghouse, near the Park, which 
catered regularly to actors. I paid five dollars a week for my room, 
sent five dollars home, and then stretched the balance of that twenty-five- 
dollar salary (minus 5 per cent to Joe Woods) to cover all my other expenses. 
Every night I hung out my washing, darned my black lisle stockings (three 
pairs for a dollar), and dropped into bed dog-tired. 

If I said a prayer it was: "God, please make me a headliner!" 

In each place I played I would ask the manager for a return date before 
I left, "I promise to have new songs," I would tell him. And when I got a 
return engagement I kept my word. Something new, that was what counted 
with audiences. After a few months I found the managers were asking the 


office if I had any open time. Meanwhile, I learned that by playing return 
engagements quickly the audiences remembered me. When my name went 
up on the announceator or on the big placards at the side of the stage, there 
would be a welcoming round of applause. 

In addition to the dates in the theaters, Joe booked me for Sunday shows 
for clubs and conventions. I got five to ten dollars for these performances. 
That little bit extra helped the budget a lot. 

There weren't many single women playing the small-time circuits then. 
Most of the single women in show business were headliners or playing in 
shows on the Park Circuit. The six or seven acts that formed the bill usually 
broke down into something like this: a young dancer, mimic., or singer trav- 
eling with her mother; the dance team (married or living together); the 
acrobatic troupe a family of Mama, Papa, and the kids; the comedian 
(single, or with a wife and family settled somewhere) ; the sketch usually 
three actors, a husband and wife and one single woman; a musical family; 
the two hoofers both single and playing the girls in every town. 

On every bill I was always alone. None of the others knew whether I was 
married or single. I had a way of keeping my business to myself. A big, 
husky girl, carrying her own suitcase, attending to her own railroad tickets, 
boarding places, looking out for herself, as capable and independent as a 
man. ("Look out for that skirt. She can cuss like a man too.") The hoofers, 
comedians, monologuists never asked me to go out to dinner or to take a, 
walk between shows. None of them ever said: "She's a good scout, let's 
take her along." Or even: "She's a good-looking broad; let's make her." 

Maybe Chris Brown was right: "Too big and too ugly." I thought about 
that a lot. 

I realize now that one reason I found it hard to make friends with the 
others was that in my early years I had had so little fun and companionship. 
I wanted them, just as I wanted them when I was a kid and used to steal 
dimes out of the cash box to buy popularity with the other boys and girls in 
our block. But I didn't seem to know how to win them. I knew I didn't 
want to drift into the ways I saw a lot of acts getting into, doubling up to 
save room rent. And many of the men I saw around the theaters seemed too 
much like those I'd run into at the German Village. They wanted a woman 
not for what they could give her but for what they could get out of her. 
Hadn't I put an end to my own married life to escape that? 

If I was lonesome (and I was), if sometimes I cried myself to sleep, hearing 
plenty goings-on in the next room, I could always put my energy into getting 
ahead, making good. I didn't mean to stay on small-time forever. I'd keep 


my nose clean and plug away and get to be a headline!. It wasn't just the 
big money I was after, though that counted, of course. I had to take care o 
Son, give him an education and a start in life. And I had to take Mama out 
of the kitchen. I'd sworn to do both those things, and, by God, I was going 
through with them. But there was something else egging me on: the will 
to succeed, whatever it cost. 

So I stuck to my work, always the first one to get to the theater and the 
last one to leave; dressing for my act early so I could stand in the wings and 
watch the acts ahead of me; noticing what they did, how they worked, the 
tricks they pulled to get laughs. I'm a born noticer, I guess. For one thing I 
had no money to spend in the towns I played. 

Every Monday morning I was at the post office as soon as it opened to send 
off my money orders. One went to Joe Woods, commission on my week's 
salary and a dollar for the white satin dress. The other money order went to 
Mama. It wasn't much now. It had been hard explaining to the folks why 
the money orders which ran to sixty and seventy dollars a week sometimes 
while I was at the Village had dwindled to five or ten. They couldn't see 
any sense to throwing over a job that paid so well for one that barely kept 
me. I might have thought it nuts myself i I hadn't cared more about the 
future than the present; if I hadn't been so hell-bent on getting somewhere 
in show business. 

I played my first New York date at the Music Hall on n6th Street on 
December 9, 1906. The Bernsteins came and brought their friends to give 
me a reception. 

I had other rooters too. Back in the days when I roomed on Second 
Avenue and used to sing at the Monopol and other cafes in that neighbor- 
hood for a meal I got to know a lot of the boys who handled papers for the 
Evening World which was printed near by. Several times I entertained the 
paper boys at their club. They never forgot me. When I sent them word I 
would be at the Music Hall at n6th Street a lot of them turned up and gave 
me a big hand. For years these boys who handled the big bundles of papers 
fresh off the presses were my strong supporters whenever I played in one 
of the New York houses. 

With what curiosity I watched the flicker of the motion picture which 
opened the bill. It was murky and jerky. The spots where the reel had been 
cut and patched showed. Some of the cuts didn't match; legs and arms 
appeared from nowhere. The poorest act on the bill, I thought. 

For once my hunch failed me. I didn't tumble to the fact that I was wit- 
nessing the birth of an era that was to bring about the death of vaudeville. 


Here, had I known it, was the first bomb of the blitz that was to black out 
the small-time and big-time houses everywhere. Even at that time there were 
several picture theaters in the city, little houses that showed one-act slapstick 
comedy scenes and popular songs flashed on the screen and sung by a singer 
on the stage. 

The little ten-cent theater owned by Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, and 
Nicholas Schenck at n6th Street and Lenox Avenue was one of these houses. 
I was often engaged to sing there. All they showed was a one-reel slapstick 
comedy and me in blackface for the ten afternoon shows, and whiteface for 
the ten night shows. Twenty shows a day for a salary of twenty dollars a 
week. I would get to the theater for the first show at noon and sit there until 
the lights went out a little before midnight. Marcus Loew would bring me 
my food in between shows. He was very fond of me, even aside from the 
fact that he knew I brought in the dimes when I was singing there. He 
changed his singers weekly, but I played more return dates than any of the 

He was a stanch friend to me, giving me kindly advice and always pleased 
when I would show him the money orders that went home every week. It 
was a tribute to those days when he called on me to help him open the first 
Loew Picture Theatre, which was in Boston. He used to say I was his good- 
luck charm. I never remember Marcus coming into any city on business that 
he didn't ask, "Is Sophie Tucker pkying in town?" And if I was, then there 
would be a note asking me to meet him for supper after work. His interest 
was always keen. Was I happy? Was I saving my money? Was I still look- 
ing after the family? His theaters were always open to me to play at any 
time, from the days when. I was a small-salaried performer up to the days 
after I had climbed into the big-money brackets. 

Joe Woods and I got to be great friends. Whenever I was in New York 
and I was playing the small-time houses in the city and near-by towns that 
winter I would drop into his, office and have long talks with him. 

"The thing is, you've got guts," he would say, cocking his crossed feet up 
on the desk and leaning back in his chair looking at me as though he was 
trying to find out how I got tfhat way. "And that's what it takes in this busi- 

"You watch me, Joe. Ill make it. Ill be in the big brackets yet." 

"That's it, kid. Stick to it." 

"Got any new dates for me?" anxiously. 

"Jeez! What a glutton for work." 


Ragging me, of course. One reason Joe liked me was that 1 was one of his 
acts that wanted to work all the time, anywhere, and his best commission 

"Well, have you? Hell! What have I got a booking agent for? Listen, Joe, 
I've got to eat." 

"It wouldn't hurt you any to lose twenty-thirty pounds." Then he grinned. 
"I was just going to tell you. I can book you on the New England Circuit. 
Thirty-five per. All good houses. You'll be number two, on a seven-act* bill 
It looks as if you'll be out all summer." 

For a year I had been playing the small-time houses three-day and one- 
week stands. I'd learned a lot since I left the German Village. I had a stage 
wardrobe now: two dresses, one of red velvet, the other black, a pair of high- 
heeled black patent-leather pumps, a black wig, black lisle hose, and two 
pairs of black cotton gloves. Also a tube of brown paste, a can of brown 
powder, black pencil for eyebrows, and a red lipstick. Into the same grip 
were packed my street clothes: two suits, one black and one brown, three 
white shirtwaists, two sets of underwear (cotton and linen mixture, no silk), 
six handkerchiefs (from the Five-and-Ten), two cotton wrappers (a quarter 
apiece one for the dressing room, the other for the boardinghouse), two 
pairs of black cotton bloomers, and six ribbed sweat shirts (ten cents each). 

The only things I splurged on were three fancy frames for Mama's, Papa's, 
and Son's pictures. These went with me everywhere. The minute I opened 
my grip the photographs went on my dressing table. They're there now, 
only in handsome blue cloisonne frames that were given me in London. 

The rest of my luggage consisted of a hatbox with a black and a brown 
hat in it and a music case to carry my orchestrations. 

Even in the most awful theaters and some of them were terrible, dirty, 
vermin-infested old firetraps my dressing room was always clean and neat. 
A clean runner on the shelf; make-up in boxes. No mess on the floor. I al- 
ways got a great kick out of hearing others on the bill and the stage crew 
admire its order. My biggest expense was towels and laundry. (No kleenex 
then.) The brown make-up stained the six towels I carried with me. Nearly 
every other week I had to buy new ones. I did my own washing every night 
before dropping into bed, and my ironing the first thing in the morning. 

The New England Circuit of the Hathaway theaters played Maiden, 
Brockton, Lynn, Lowell, Worcester, New Bedford, Fall River, and Provi- 
dence; also the small-time houses in Boston. I was number two of a seven- 


act bill in all these houses. The billing of all acts was done at the main office 
in New York. 

The team o Conroy and Le Maire, blackface comedians, were the head- 
liners on the bill. It was my first experience in a theater with a headlines 
Now to watch and learn. 

After the Monday matinee George Le Make sent for me to come to the 
greenroom the theater manager's office, hung with photographs of per- 
formers dating back to Jenny Lind, which was the only place in the theater 
for actors to meet. My heart went down into my boots. I was scared to death 
that Le Maire was going to have me taken oft the bill because his act was 
blackface too. Of course we didn't conflict because I sang coon songs while 
he and Conroy were a straight comedy team. Still you never can tell where 
an actor's jealousy begins. 

"Kid," he said, "you've got a bad make-up on." 

"What's the matter with it?" I stammered. 

"It don't mean anything." And he went on to explain. "Up North they 
don't know anything about the high yellow. Here you're either black or 
white. Now you sit down, and I'm going to show you how to put on a perfect 
blackface make-up." 

And he did. 

No one could have been kinder or more encouraging to a beginner than 
he was to me. I would see him standing in the wings watching my act. When 
I, came off he was always quick to compliment and encourage me. It was he, 
too, who advised me how to build up my program. First the bright number 
("to get the audience to like you"); second, the dramatic song ("to rouse 
their interest") ; third, the novelty ("that's to start them laughing") ; fourth, 
the fast ragtime number ("by this time they'll be ready to applaud and keep 
time with you"). 

"Don't overfeed the audience," George Le Maire was always preaching 
to me. "Leave them hungry. Make 'em yell for more." 

My act was allowed ten to twelve minutes. If the house kept applauding 
and wanted an encore, I would come off to the wings and ask the stage man- 
ager what to do. If George Le Maire was standing there, he would yell, "Go 
out. Ask them what they want. If you've got it, if you know it, sing it." 

I started doing this, and soon I was averaging eight to ten songs a show. 
My greatest difficulty was convincing the audience I was a white girl. My 
Southern accent had got to be as thick and smooth as molasses. When I 
would pull off one of my gloves and show that I was white there'd be a sort 
of surprised gasp, then a howl of laughter. That season I started inter- 


polating Jewish words in some of my songs, just to give the audience a kick, 

Ail the songs I used then were straight singing songs. No tricks 3 no fancy 
arrangements, no talking songs such as I do now. I made it my job to learn 
all the new popular numbers as they came out and to have these with me. 
Then it was easy to ask the orchestra leader to turn to whatever song the 
audience asked for. If the music went wrong, I would keep right on. If the 
mistake was so bad I had to stop, I would tell the audience, "Sorry. That's 
my fault. Let me try it again." Or, "I didn't learn that one right." Or, "I tried 
something new and it didn't work out." Taking the blame to myself and 
not laying it onto the leader laughing my way out of the difficulties 3 made 
the audience more friendly. They liked me better because I didn't grouch. 
After a while I caught onto the trick of starting the song myself and letting 
the orchestra come in after two or three measures. 

I got so I could kid with the front spotlight man if the light wasn't the 
right color. I'd holler up to the gallery where he was working the lights: 
"Say, boy, I'm a nice girl and I look just awful in that red or green spot. 
Please put a white one on me." My voice was so powerful everybody knew 
he heard me, and the audience would laugh, and I'd get the white spot. After 
the show the electrician would come and ask me to go over the cues again, 
he wanted to get the lights right. The orchestra leader would come and ask 
me to go over the music again, so there would be no more mistakes. By tak- 
ing the blame to myself, if, anything went wrong, I made them friendly to 

From the first bill I played I noticed something. An act would go on and 
something would go wrong. The light cues would be wrong or something 
would happen to the music. The act would come off ready to tear every- 
body's hair, cursing, fuming. Between the ravings he would run out to smile 
and bow and wave to the audience. Maybe he thought he could smooth it 
over that way. Now what I noticed was that the acts that did this invariably 
lost the audience before they were through. The energy they put into being 
mad backstage took something out of their work. Besides this, they got the 
crew and the musicians down on them. Even a headliner can't afford to 
make enemies of the stage crew and the orchestra. 

Right then I said to myself, no matter what happens, 111 never fuss back- 

That season I played the New England and small-time circuits. I started 
a practice of giving the stage crew a dollar every week to buy smokes. An- 
other dollar went weekly to the orchestra leader, "to buy a cigar." Those two 
dollars bit into my thirty-five per, but they paid in the end. I found when I 


came back to play those houses again that I had good friends who were 
ready to help me put my act across. 

That same season I found out how important the publicity man of the 
theater is. I kept the names of the publicity men in all the houses I played. I 
would write them from time to time, sending them new photographs and 
the names of my new songs. The photographs were another heavy expense, 
but I knew I had to have them. The public got tired of the same old poses. 
Something new. That rule governs every department of show business. 

About this time I started to keep an address book, putting down the names 
of everyone I met who was connected with show business or who showed an 
interest in me. I would drop them cards from time to time to keep that 
interest alive. When I was booked to play their town again I would let them 
know in advance and tell them to be sure to come and see me. 

I have continued to do this through all rny years in show business. That 
book now has over five thousand names in it. 

I was working too hard to be lonely. And I suppose the determination to 
get ahead, to have my name up in electric lights over the theater someday, 
made up for some of the discomforts and inconveniences. Every morning I 
would rush to get all the papers to read the notices. I cut these out and 
pasted them into a ledger I bought at the Five-and-Ten. I have a trunk full 
of those ledgers now. The clippings go back to my first appearances in 
blackface, when Joe Woods booked me on small-time. 

CHAPTER 6: Bad Girl 

ALL THAT SEASON as I played the New England and the Park circuits and the 
small-time houses around Boston I had been looking forward to a date in 
Boston itself. In the back of my mind was the hope that the newspapers 
would make a feature of me "Home-town Girl Comes HOME in 
Triumph," or something of that sort. Maybe I figured I was going to be 
writteri up like Paul Revere. 

Well, Boston didn't bite. The headliners on the bill got all the breaks. I 
was just an "also ran," with not a line about me. 

After the opening matinee I jammed on my hat and started out to let 
Boston know that Sophie Tucker was in town. We had a lot of relatives liv- 
ing there. Even if some of them had not seen me since I was out of diapers, 
and would need some telling to understand that Sophie Tucker, the Coon 
Shouter at the Bijou, was Charles Abuza's Sophie, I made up my mind to 
give it a whirl. I hadn't an idea where all of them lived. The only address I 


had was that of Mama's sister, who had come to my wedding. I decided to 
start with her and get her and her family to do the rest* 

I laid it on thick. None of them knew anything about show business so 
they couldn't know how much was truth and how much chutsba. The aunt 
and cousins listened wide-eyed while I told them that if I brought people 
into the theater I would get to be a star. And if people applauded long and 
loud the management would raise my salary. 

"Please come tonight," I begged, "and get the mishpocha and everyone 
else you can think of to come and give me a hand." 

The rest of Boston may have been uninterested in the career of Sophie 
Tucker, once Sophie Abuza of 22 Salem Street, but my relatives weren't. 
They turned out in droves. They talked me up with the neighbors and got 
them to come along. Before the week was over I was getting an enthusiastic 
reception when the card with my name on it went up on the stage. And talk 
about calls for encores! 

I had the satisfaction of knowing that the relatives liked my act. They 
boasted to their neighbors about their cousin or niece who was on at the 
Bijou that week. I made them proud. Fortunately, I was booked to move out 
of town before they could come round and ask how big a raise they had 
helped me get. 

Being with the Boston relatives started up all my hunger for my own 
people again. All I had seen of them in two years was when Mama or Papa 
or Anna brought Son down to New York for a day when I could spend it 
with them. When I played my last New England date I decided I would go 
home for my first visit. I knew I couldn't take the train for New York and let 
it carry me past Son and Mama. I had to see them. 

I wrote Joe Woods that I was going to Hartford for a few days. If he had 
any bookings for me he could wire me there, collect. 

Mama's hair had turned so white. So had Papa's. Why, they were old! 

It was only two years since I had left home. Then Mama stood erect. Now 
she stooped over. Her feet were bothering her more than ever. 

Son was toddling. Talking too. He came to my arms he was always an 
affectionate baby but he kept turning his little head around to look for 
Sister Anna. Anna was his mama now. I was just a visitor. He ,put his arms 
round my neck and hugged and kissed me, then he squirmed to get down to 
toddle back to Sis. 

My brothers, Philip and Moses, welcomed me. I never was a bad egg at 
home. Philip was married to my old school chum, Leah Zwilliriger, and had 


a job in the post office. Moses was in high school He wanted to study law. 
Anna was in high school, too, and doing the work around the house that I 
used to do, besides taking care of Son. 

Nothing was changed very much. Business wasn't too good. The restaurant 
made just a bare living for the family. Upstairs, the pinochle and poker 
games were still going on. Mama was still scolding about them, I knew my 
weekly money orders were helping her to hold things together, but of course 
lately they hadn't been large. It wasn't the way it was while I worked at the 
German Village. 

Everything was so quiet. Finally it got on my nerves. 

"Where is everybody?" I demanded. "Why don't the neighbors come in? 
Don't they know I'm back?" 

Nobody said anything. I caught a few looks. Mama got up and went out 
in the kitchen. I pushed back my chair and followed her. 

"Listen," I said. "What's the matter anyhow? Is everybody down on me, or 

Mama's face was working as if she was going to cry. Her glasses slid down 
one side of her nose the funny way they always did when she was worked 
up over anything. 

"Tell me," I insisted. "What is the matter?" 

She told me then. The neighbors had never forgiven me for going away, 
leaving my child and my family. They said only a bad woman would do 
such a thing. I must be a bad woman a whore, in the unvarnished language 
of the Scriptures. They had said so to Mama dozens- of 'times. 

I could feel myself starting to choke with anger. 

"They said things like that to you?" 

She nodded. The tears were running down under the crooked glasses. 
Right then and there I learned how much evil the minds of some good 
people can hold. I thought over those two years during which I had worked 
as hard and lived as straight as I did when I was at home. I thought of the 
lonely times, and what it had taken to save the money to send home in my 
weekly letters. I'd been in tough joints, such as the German Village and that 
French couple's boardinghouse, and I had seen and heard a lot of evil. But 
nowhere, it seemed to me, had I come across such cruelty as this that the 
"good" people had used on Mama. 

I brazened it out for a day. I went out to walk along the block, determined 
to make the neighbors speak to me. The women turned their backs. The 
men stared and tittered. The kids ran after me yelling, "Look, she's got paint 
on her face. She's no good." 


I saw Anna, white-faced, shamed, sneaking home from school. I saw the 
children pointing their fingers at Son. "His mother's a bad woman; she ran 
away and left him. She's on the stage." 

I couldn't take it. 

That night, out in the kitchen, 1 threw my arms around Mama, both of 
us crying. "I'm getting out on the first train in the morning," I said. "I'll 
never come back to this town again until I'm a big success, a headliner at 
Poli's. They won't dare say things about me then. And before that happens, 
you're going to be out of this kitchen for good. You're going to have your 
own home, in some other part of town where nobody can say terrible things 
like that to you. Moe's going to Yale if he wants to. And Son's going to have 
the best education this country has got to give. And Anna" Anna, who was 
mothering my child for .me "Anna's to have the grandest wedding in the 

I kept my word to the last letter. I never went back to Hartford until May 
1913, when I headlined the bill at Poll's at five hundred dollars for the week. 

But quite a lot of things happened before that. 

First, Fm back in New York dashing around to see if Joe Woods has any- 
thing for me. He hasn't. He is now putting out acts of his own and isn't 
booking anything else. It's up to me to find another agent right away. 

Before I do that I look in on the boys in Tin Pan Alley. Maybe they can 
give me some pointers. They know everybody in show business. 

"Hello, Soph. Listen to my new rag." 

"Listen to this one, Sophie. It's your stuff." 

ff . . . Ain't it funny f 
When you loo\ for money ; 
All you get is sympathy. . . /' 

"Play it through for me again." 

Hat on back of head, cigarette on lip, working that little battered old up- 
right for all it's got, he teaches it to me. It's a grand song; just my meat. 

"Put my photograph on the cover of that one," I tell him. "Remember, and 
save it for me. I'm going to introduce it." 

"Okay, sister. Got a date?" 

"Not yet," I have to admit. "But I'm going to have one any day now." 

"Good luck, Soph." 

I had to get work. My funds were getting low and I still smarted from the 
lash of that experience in Hartford. 


Hanging around the music publishers' you got to see a lot o other show 
people. Whenever two or three of them got together the first questions 
invariably were: "Where are you playing?" "Have you got a date?" "Who's 
booking you now?" Something else I kept hearing was: "If I could get a 
date at Tony Pastor's/ 1 or, importantly, "I'm playing Tony Pastor's next 

I asked Fred Fisher, the song writer, about it. "Which booking agent is 
the best one to get me on at Tony Pastor's?" 

"Hell, you don't need a booking agent to get you a date there," said Fred. 
"Tony Pastor's a great showman. He books his own acts. If he likes you, he 
makes a place for you on the bill." Those thin, restless hands that created 
so many swell songs strummed a few chords. "Why don't you go down to 
Fourteenth Street and see Tony for yourself?" 

"I will," I said. 

I'd heard of Tony Pastor ever since the days when I used to run errands 
for the show people who came to eat in our restaurant. He was almost a 
legend, the little Italian whose father played in the orchestra at the old Park 
Theatre and who got his own start, at the age of eight, singing in the 
minstrel shows aboard Commodore Vanderbilt's ferryboats. Barnum heard 
him and signed him on as a boy prodigy. 

Later Tony had his own theater, on lower Broadway first, then on the 
Bowery, which was the center of show business in New York. Finally he 
moved to Fourteenth Street, next door to Tammany Hall It was he who 
made that street New York's melody lane. 

Tony had ambitions. He also had the right idea. Back in the hoopskirt 
era few women went to shows. It wasn't considered proper or refined. And 
probably most of the shows weren't. The old man went and got a big kick 
out of it, but he wouldn't have taken the missis along on a dare. Maybe Tony 
Pastor foresaw that this country was going feminist. Maybe he just figured 
shrewdly that if you could sell five tickets to a family you made more money 
than by selling just one. Anyway, he got the bright idea of putting on shows 
that women would want to come to. The motion-picture industry has been 
built up on the same idea. 

To get the women coming he gave away prizes of groceries, coal, dress 
patterns, dishes. (Well, now we have Beano and Screeno and Banknites, if 
you call that progress.) He advertised clean shows that were first-rate enter- 
tainment. He scoured this country and Europe for talent. A great friend to 
the actors, Tony probably "made" more headlines than any other one 
person who has figured in show business in this country. It was tt Tony 


Pastor's that Pat Rooney got his start and started "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" to 
fame. It was there that the British female baritone Helene Mora introduced 
"Say An Revoir, but Not Good-bye," and Vesta Victoria wowed the galleries 
with "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-wow/* and Emma Carus used her 
soon-to-be-famous opening line, "I'm not pretty, but Fm good to my family." 
Flora and May Irwin, Nat Goodwin, Gus Williams, Eddie Foy, and a dozen 
others who were stars when I was starting out were proud to tell that they 
were among Tony's finds. To be playing at Tony Pastor's was what "playing 
the Palace" came to be a few years later in the sunset of vaudeville. 

Tony never missed one of his own shows. He just about lived at the 

He was a little fellow, and the first thing you felt about him was his great 
kindness. He didn't freeze up and dare you to thaw him out. He acted as 
though he was as keen to find a new act that was good as the act was to 
prove itself a hit, I had taken my book of notices with me to show where 
I had worked and how I had gone over. I told him I had just played the 
New England Circuit and the audiences had seemed to like me. 

He looked me over, his forehead wrinkling the way a monkey's does when 
it sees something new. "You're the first kid I ever interviewed that didn't 
tell me she knocked 'em dead." 

"I hope to someday," I said. 

"What do you do now?" 

"Well, I can sing a nice song. And, Mr. Pastor, Fve got some new songs 
that are better than any I've been using. I work in blackface." I added that 
last quickly, thinking he might be of Chris Brown's way of thinking; "Too 
big and too ugly." 

"H'mm," he said. "What do you get?" 

Something inside me whispered: "If you tell him thirty-five, he'll offer you 
only twenty-five. You're pretty near down to your last dollar right now." 

"Fifty," I told him, and never batted an eyelash. 

He looked through his list of acts, me not daring to breathe, my knees 
wobbling, praying. 

Finally, "I can use you next week," he said, "for forty dollars. I have a big 
show on, and I can't pay more than that." 

If Tony Pastor thought I was going to sniff at forty bucks and a chance in 
his theater he got the surprise of his life. I threw my arms around him and 
hugged him and kissed him. I was blubbering, and the tears ran all over him. 

"My God," he gasped, trying to wriggle loose. "What are you? A cyclone?" 

When he had coml up for air and straightened his collar, he grinned at 


me. "Go next door and get your contract. Only don't try that act on the fellow 
in there. I need him." 

I was walking on air. 

I breezed into the music publishers'. "Listen, boys, what do you know? I'm 
booked at Tony Pastor's." Irving Berlin was the first I told the good news. 
He was one of the Tin Pan Alley boys I'd gotten to know through scouting 
for songs to sing in my blackface act. Several times he put me onto some- 
thing good. 

I selected my songs: "All I Get Is Sympathy," "Why Was I Ever Born 
Lazy?" "Rosie, My Dusky Georgia Rosie," and half a dozen more. My act 
was booked to run twelve minutes, in One, but I was determined there 
should be encores, and I wanted to have songs for them. 

Perhaps I should explain. "One" in the language of show business refers 
to the first division of the stage nearest the footlights. The stage is divided 
into One, Two, and Three. Stage directions always specify in which of these 
an act is to be played. Of course there is also "Full Stage." Drops are let down 
to form a background for One, Two, and Three, thus allowing the stage 
crew to set the next scene. In vaudeville, traditionally, behind One is always 
a park drop, a street drop, or drapes. Knowing this, and knowing in advance 
that she is booked to do her act "in One," a performer can plan her costume 
with some sense 1 of security. 

At Tony Pastor's the matinee opened at one-thirty. The first hour was 
always taken up with what we called "fill-in acts" singers, acrobats, freaks. 
At two-thirty the main show with the standard acts and headliners came on. 
I knew I, as a newcomer, would be billed in the first show. But I had no way 
of knowing what number I would be on that bill. 

After a look at my two shabby velvets I decided a new outfit was a must. 
At a secondhand costumer's I found a dress of dull gold mesh lace with 
ruffles and long sleeves. The sleeves bothered me; how was I going to pull 
my final stunt with the glove to show the audience I was a white girl? 

"Why not take your wig off?" suggested Mrs. Simon, who ran the place. 
"You're so blonde it will give the audience a shock to see your own hair," 

Here was a new idea. I would do it. The dress with new accessories (no 
cotton stockings or gloves on Tony Pastor's stage, silk ones), my wig cleaned 
and dressed, and a red flower for my hair set me in debt fifty dollars. The 
magic words "I'm playing Tony Pastor's" made Mrs. Simon trust me. In 
my state of mind I could probably have persuaded J P. Morgan to advance 
me half a million. 

The few days until Monday's opening were the longest I ever lived 


through. I never closed my eyes that Sunday night. At eight the next morning 
I was at the theater for the nine-thirty rehearsal. The doorman gave me the 
key to my dressing room and my rehearsal check number One. 

At nine-thirty Burt Green (later the husband of Irene Franklin) sat down 
at the piano. I went over and handed him my check. 

"The big show is rehearsing first/' he told me. "You'll have to wait." 

All the while I watched the headliners rehearse their acts I marveled at 
the way Burt Green played for them. That boy was some pianist. Every act 
he played for a hit. Gosh, I thought, what I won't do with him at the piano! 

When the last of the big acts had rehearsed I bounced up to Burt Green, 
ready to do my turn. But he was getting up from the piano. 

"Mr. Brody will rehearse you," he said. "I only play for the big show/* 

Mr. Brody was an older man; he had been with Tony Pastor for years. He 
played a nice, straight piano. But after listening to a master such as Burt 
Green for two and a half hours Mr. Brody seemed like an amateur. All at 
once I began to get panicky. The songs didn't sound right. They didn't 
sound like anything. I kept trying to show him what I wanted, but all my 
playing was done with one finger and I couldn't read a note of music. (I 
can't to this day.) 

There wasn't a thing I could do about it. I couldn't complain to the stage 
manager or to Tony Pastor. They would throw me out. Who was I to com- 
plain? Above all, I must not offend Mr. Brody or get myself worked into a 
lather. I'd seen other acts do this at times, and I'd seen how it injured their 
work. What I had to do was to get it out of my mind that things were go- 
ing wrong. 

A brisk walk up to and around Gramercy Park, a bite to eat, and I was 
back in my dressing room getting ready. Now I had other worries on my 
mind. There was the overture. The callboy came up to tell each act in turn 
to be down in the greenroom one act in advance of his own. 

I was all ready; might as well go down. I overheard one of the boys on the 
stage say, "Nobody in the house yet." 

"What's the matter?" I asked. 

"Nothing. It's always like this. The regular patrons all know the big show 
doesn't start till two-thirty. They don't start coming in till after two-fifteen." 

Where did that leave me? I studied the time sheet on the wall. I was next 
to the last on the bill before the big show. My time was two-fifteen. Did that 
mean I would have to play to rows of empty seats? Then reason came to 
dissolve those fears. Somebody must be in the house now. Somebody must 
come to see the small-timers, or else how did any of them get to be hits and 


get a chance on big-time as I had always heard could happen at Tony 
Pastor's? And if some o them were hits, got encores, stopped the show, 
then that would take up time and bring my act on later than the time sheet 
called for. 

Standing there, with my eyes glued to the clock, I prayed the act then 
playing would be a big hit. And it was. I heard calls for encores. The act 
that followed went over big too. Two-fifteen . . . two-twenty . . . two 
twenty-five. ... It was two twenty-eight when the boy put up my card: 


Then came the introduction to my first song. 

I am out on the stage now. I feel that I look nice, gold lace dress, red flower 
in my black wig, the perfect black make-up George Le Maire showed me 
how to put on. I smile at Mr. Brody and he smiles back. Nothing wrong 
there. All set? I start the song. . . . 

But I might as well have tried to sing against the racket of the Third 
Avenue El as against that tramp of feet coming down the aisles, the click and 
rattle of seats being let down, the careless laughter and calls of an audience 
who came only for the headliners and didn't give a hoot about the rest of 
us on the bill. 

I shut my mouth like a clam. The tinkle of Mr. Brody's piano died away 
uncertainly. Then the boom of my own voice, unaccompanied and so spon- 
taneous it scared me out of my shoes, shot across the footlights like a 
cannon ball, "What for you-all so late gettin' in hyar? Hyar I am, all dressed 
up and with some most "special songs you-all ain't never heard yet. Don't 
you-all know you're keep in' the show waitin*? Mr. Pastor's gwine raise hell 
with me, I reckon, holdin' up the rest of the bill." 

It got a big laugh. Where did I get the nerve to holler out like that to a 
New York audience? Out in the sticks kidding with the audience was one 
thing; this was New York's top-notch house. Now I had to sing my head 
off to make up for that amount of nerve. 

Maybe it stirred up something in Mr. Brody too. Together we sailed into 
my program. One . . , two . . . three songs. The house was giving me all 
the encouragement in the world. Why, it was a wonderful audience. A 
fourth song . . . then a fifth. . . . The applause seemed to fill that big 
house right up to the roof. 

"Go on," they cried from the gallery, "sing us some more." 


Out of the tail of my eye I saw the stagehands fussing. They had the regu- 
lar bill ready to start. I was holding up the show. 

"Listen, you-all," I said to the audience, "that's all the songs I rehearsed. 
I ain't got no more." 

"Sing 'em over again," came back from the gallery. 

In the wings the stage manager shook his head at me warningly. 

"I cain't do that/ 3 1 told the house. "But you-all come back tonight and I'll 
have some more new songs for you." 

In the midst of laughter and applause I was off. My first big-time New 
York showing was over. I was a hit. I'd stopped the show at Tony Pastor's 

In the greenroom Mr. Brody came up and congratulated me. He was so 
generous about it and so kind it gave me courage to say, "If Burt Green 
would play for me I would do even better." 

"Wait and see/' Mr. Brody advised. "Mr. Pastor always watches the Mon- 
day matinee, and then he changes the bill around for the night show. I 
wouldn't be surprised if you didn't get moved into the big show tonight 
and have Burt Green to play for you." 

Which is what happened. When the new time sheet went up I found I 
was down for Number Two in the big show. Tony Pastor himself sent for 
me to come down to the greenroom and told me. Burt Green was there, too, 
ready to take my songs. 

"You've got something, young lady," said Tony Pastor. "You're going 
places. You've got personality." 

(So he thought that too. First,, the music teacher, then Mr. Charles L. 
Ames, the school principal, then the Howard Brothers. And now Tony 
Pastor, the master showman.) 

"You're changed to the Number Two spot on. the regular bill, and Burt 
Green is going to play for you. Good luck, and God bless you." 

He saw me coming at him and ducked behind Burt. 

"For the love of God, don't fyss me" 

Through the rest of the week I missed the chance for a laugh I'd had at 
the first matinee. Still, the act went over at each show. Sime Silverman gave 
me a swell paragraph in Variety; and the differ, reporting that I had 
stopped the show cold, called me "an attractive-looking wench." 

Fine, said I to myself, but where are the offers from managers and booking 
agents? Where is next week's board money coming from? You didn't have 
to be a whiz at arithmetic to figure that forty dollars wouldn't pay off a 


fifty-dollar debt and leave much over to carry on with until another job hap- 
pened along. By Friday, with no bids in, I was as mournful as a torch song. 
What was I, even if I had held up the first show? Nothing but a fair-to- 
middling Number Two act. I compared myself with some of the bill's 
headliners. How smooth and finished their work was! How perfectly timed! 
Beside their performance my own was as crude as a first rehearsal. 

All the bounce was out of me by now. I shivered when f remembered how 
I'd thrown the bull around Tin Pan Alley because I was booked for Tony 

Saturday, and my heart felt as if it was lying in a morgue. Two Sunday 
shows, and then what? In words of one syllable, you are up against it, 

I was changing after the night show when the callboy came to my dressing 
room to say that a gentleman in the greenroom wanted to see me, "Name 
of Mr. Gus Hill" 

"Tell him I'm changing. I'll be down in ten minutes." 

The name didn't mean a thing to me; but suddenly, as soon as the boy had 
clattered down the stairs, I thought: what if this Gus Hill is a manager, or 
somebody important? I wasn't taking any chances leaving him loose around 
the greenroom for some other act to snap up while I dug black grease paint 
out of my ears. I gripped my kimono around me and tore down to the 
greenroom at the boy's heels. 

No, Gus Hill hadn't vanished. He came right up to me very businesslike. 

"I'm Gus Hill, of Manchester and Hill's burlesque wheel," he announced. 
"I've seen your act and I've got a place for you in one of our shows. It's on 
the road now. Plays Pittsburgh next week. You'll have to leave right after 
the show Sunday night, get to Pittsburgh at eight Monday morning, go 
right to the Gaiety Theatre to rehearse your songs and one or two bits to go 
on for the Monday matinee. Can you do it?" 

A job. But burlesque! Was that all that being a hit at Tony Pastor's had 
done forme? 

But a job was a job. And when you didn't have one, or the money for 
next week's room rent, you thought twice before turning down any offer 
even one that might entail letting the comedian in a false nose swat you on 
the fate with a custard pie. 

"I never played a part," I stammered to Gus Hill, "or spoke lines. I don't 
know as I could." 

"Oh, Mr. Emerson'll teach you all that," he sai<J, easy as anything. "He's 
the star. Harry Emerson and His Gay Masqueraders. He's been on the 


burlesque wheel for years. Knows all the ropes. A great dialect comedian 
Harry Emerson is." 

Suddenly a conversation overheard in the greenroom that week came back 
to me. Someone had sneered at burlesque. And another o the acts, one of 
the headlines, had picked it up. "Don't sneer at burlesque. That's the great- 
est training in the world. That's the place to learn, to get your schooling in 
show business. And the managers know it. They all watch the burlesque 
shows. That's where they pick up talent that has had enough training to 
have the rough edges rubbed off. . . ." 

Gus Hill was going right on: "We will want you to do your present black- 
face act in the olio. We'll make you the headliner of it. You'll have to supply 
your costumes for the blackface act, but we'll provide the costumes you will 
wear in the show. Mr. Emerson will decide when he sees you how he wants 
to use you. We pay all railroad fares. You will have to agree to stay with the 
show to the end of the season. That's the end of June. The salary is fifty a 

Fifty a week, and steady work for eight months. Why, that would put me 
on Easy Street. No railroad fares to pay. I'd save money. Mrs. Simon would 
be paid off for the rented clothes and I could send Mama, money regularly. 

Like a conjurer, Gus Hill whipped a folded paper out of his pocket and 
produced a fountain pen as from thin air. "You can sign the contract right 

I signed. For fifty a week, guaranteed for eight months, I'd have signed 
on to do a grass-skirt act in a honky-tonk. Though I did ask Gus Hill feebly, 
"You haven't any idea what sort of part I'll be required to play?" 

"Oh, we'll leave that up to Harry Emerson." He patted my shoulder. "So 
long. Remember, you're due at the Gaiety Theatre in Pittsburgh at nine 
o'clock Monday morning." 

"I'll be there," I promised. 

It didn't seem likely, after he'd seen the one hundred and sixty-five pounds 
of me, that Harry Emerson would cast me for pink tights and a spangled 
G string. Still, if he did, and would pay me fifty bucks a week . . . 

Oh, to hell with Hartford! 

CHAPTER 7: On the Burlesque Wheel 

IT WASN'T PINK TIGHTS* and a G string. It was a prim dress, a gray wig, and a 
make-up of cleverly simulated wrinkles that turned me into a crabbed, fault- 
finding woman of sixty. 


When the wardrobe woman presented me for Mr. Emerson's inspection 
he beamed approvingly. "Great! She stays just like that. No change." And 
to me: "Like that you'll play the part of my wife. And all the time I'm put- 
ting things over on you with the girls, see? You'll get the hang of it in a day 
or so. Meanwhile, learn the lines and be ready to rehearse tomorrow morn- 
ing. I want you to play the part on Saturday at both shows/ 5 

I took the part he handed me, changed, and went back to my boarding 
place- in a daze. I had done my blackface act in the olio at the afternoon 
show. It had gone, over big with the audience, and the Gay Masqueraders' 
Company had gathered in the wings to watch me. They gave me a big 
hand. Playing in the olio which was originally the variety show put on by 
members of the company between the two acts of the old minstrel shows, and 
which burlesque adopted was no different from playing on a bill in any 
small-time vaudeville house. But playing a part in the show, making up 
and pretending to be a character, that was a horse of a different color. I 
wasn't at all sure I was going to be able to do it. And with only four days 
to rehearse. 

Some of the chorus girls from our company were living at the same board- 
inghouse. They encouraged me. "You'll be great in that part, kid. Gee, what 
a break! To play opposite the lead! If you make good, why you can play the 
burlesque wheel forty-five weeks out of every year, steady. That's something, 
ain't it?" 

Forty-five weeks, steady, was something, I had to admit. Forty-five weeks 
of two shows a day, seven days a week, in states that permitted Sunday 
shows. And if you made good you stayed on the wheel, show after show, 
until you were too old and shaky to play any part at all And by that time, 
if you'd lived sensibly, you had a nice little savings-bank account to carry 
you to the end of your days. Oh, "legit" and musical comedy and vaudeville 
could say what they liked about burlesque. Burlesque was safe, because the 
people liked it and supported it. Folks weren't so highbrow they cried for 
Ibsen and Shakespeare the way babies cried for Castoria in the ads. Folks 
wanted a belly laugh every so often. They wanted to let down their hair and 
unbutton their vests and be natural. They wanted to laugh at sex. Sex was 
funny, not necessarily intense and tragic the way the playwrights such as 
Ibsen made it out to be. Why, weren't the best jokes in the world the ones 
that played on sex? And suppose burlesque was "vulgar," the way vaude- 
ville said it was. Hell! folks were vulgar. Otherwise burlesque wouldn't be 
the good business it was, playing to full houses forty-five weeks of the year. 

I listened to the chorus girls talking this way, sprawled out on the thin, 


lumpy mattresses of the boardinghouse beds, or taking turns with the land- 
lady's flatiron, ironing out our white shirtwaists to wear with our street 
clothes. And I learned a lot about burlesque. We were lucky, they agreed, to 
be in a company built around a man star. The women stars were bitches. 
They expected you to fetch and carry for them, do their errands . . . 

And if the audience liked you, and gave you a hand, the star would be 
furious. She'd take it out on you for weeks. Mr. Emerson was different, 
though. He gave everyone in the company a chance. Everyone wanted to 
get into his shows. Why, there were actors playing with him that had been 
with him for years. That was what was so good about burlesque. Once you 
got the hang of it, it was easy. 

"Oh, you'll like it, Tuck," the girls assured me. "You'll get along just fine, 
starting out with a real part in the show besides headlining the olio." 

I only wished I had their confidence in my ability. I had memorized my 
part, about four sides of dialogue, sitting up all that first Monday night to 
have it down by heart for the Tuesday-morning rehearsal. I was always a 
quick study. I could always learn a song or lines overnight and be ready to 
rehearse in the morning. But the rehearsal was a flop. I knew the lines but 
I couldn't put life into them. Mr. Emerson worked with me patiently. 

"Remember, you're not singing a song, young lady. You're speaking. And 
not to the house. To me. Speak to me. When you come on and say, 'Henry P 
your voice ought to hit the back wall of the house like a cannon ball. Re- 
member, everybody's got to know you're a domineering woman. Everybody's 
got to laugh at you, and get a kick every time I put something over on you. 
You've got to let them know what kind of person you are. And right off, 
the minute you come on. Make your first word count." 

I tried it again. And again. Ten, twenty, forty times. I couldn't seem to 
get it. Even my voice wouldn't obey me. I had no confidence in my ability, 
and that lack of confidence gave me a stage fright that began in my vocal 
cords and ended in my feet. 

That week I lived in hell. Day and night, when I wasn't on the stage for 
my blackface act in the olio, I had my part in my hand, studying it, trying 
to get the intonation Mr. Emerson wanted. Every day he and the stage man- 
ager rehearsed me. There was no getting round it, I was terrible. 

The others in the company did their best to buck me up. "What do you 
care, Tuck? Nobody's ever any good at rehearsal. Wait till you go on, you'll 
knock the audience dead." , 

If I don't drop dead first from stage fright, I thought. 

At rehearsal after the late show on Friday I overheard Mi. Emerson say 


to the stage manager, "There's no -use working with her any more. Well 
try her out tomorrow. If she's rotten, well put the character woman back in 
the part. She can do her act in the olio until Gus Hill finds a spot for her in 
one of his other shows." 

Going home that night, clutching my part, I felt as though the bottom had 
dropped out of everything for me. Here was I, thinking I was going to go 
places in show business and I couldn't hold my own in burlesque. Now I 
knew why burlesque was a great school. I began to have a respect for actors 
who could read lines and make a character come to life on the stage. 

All that night I sat up in bed with a petticoat pinned around my shoulders 
to keep off the draft and studied my lines. Softly, under my breath, so as 
not to wake the girls in the next room, I tried reading them. With eyes tight 
shut I tried to feel myself a nagging wife with a gay cheater for a husband. 
By morning I was worn out and a wreck. 

A cup of regular boardinghouse coffee didn't make me feel any better. 
There was no rehearsal for me that morning. Mr. Emerson had thrown up 
his hands after the one the night before. However, I decided to go down to 
the theater and try out my lines alone. Maybe, I thought, if I go over them 
all alone, in the empty theater, I can get the intonation right. 

It was early in the morning, before nine o'clock. The theater was shut tight 
and apparently deserted. I remember I walked round the block and dis- 
covered an alley leading to the back of the building. I banged on several 
metal doors before I roused a grumpy janitor, who looked as though he had 
been sleeping in the ashcan. 

He didn't want to let me in, being suspicious of anyone who wanted to 
rehearse all by herself. But I insisted. Finally he opened the door wide 
enough to let me squeeze past him, jerked a thumb in the direction I was 
to go to find the stage, and went back, I guessed, to his bed by the furnace. 

1 stumbled and felt my way along a passage until I came to the wings. The 
stage was dark and the house pitch black except for little streaks of light 
that outlined the exit doors in the gallery. I stood a moment in the wings, 
remembering what Mr. Emerson had said about making my first word 
count. Then I took a deep breath and walked onto the stage. 

"Henry!" I shouted. 

My voice hit the back wall of the house like a blitz. The rafters shook. 
From somewhere in the dark there came a yell, a clatter, and the slamming 
of doors. The lights flashed on. In ran the janitor, a couple of scrub women, 
and a policeman. 

"My God, what's happened? You scared the hell out of us." 


I laughed till my knees shook. I told them 1 was rehearsing. "If I can just 
do it that way this afternoon." 

That afternoon, at the matinee, I did it just that way. "Henry!" It scared 
Mr. Emerson so he jumped. And it rocked the house. They howled so loud 
and so long I began to get hysterical I shook all over. Mr. Emerson came 
over to me, put his arm around me, made believe he was making up to me, 
while all the time he was whispering, "Steady. Keep steady. You're fine. Get 
a grip on yourself and you'll be all right." 

"All right," I whispered back, "but I can't remember another darned line." 

Mr. Emerson prompted me, also the stage manager from the wings. My 
nerves quieted, and the lines came back to me. I went through the show from 
that point without any trouble. 

"You see," said the girls at the boardinghouse. "You were fine. Keep at 
it and who knows? You may get to be a queen of burlesque like Lizzie 
Freligh and Mollie Williams." 

For six months the Gay Masqueraders toured the Midwest. Behind us, 
coming into each theater as we moved out, was another burlesque show, one 
of Hurtig and Seamon's. Occasionally, when we were playing a territory 
which did not permit Sunday shows, the two companies would be in town 
together for a day. 

The dancer in the Hurtig and Seamon show was a tall, lanky, funny-faced 
kid with rubber legs. Yes, meet Fanny Brice. She didn't have the Jewish 
accent then. Fanny didn't know a word of Yiddish until years later, when 
she learned the dialect from Harry Delf, a grand Jewish comedian who used 
to play the joints in Brooklyn and Coney Island. 

Our friendship dates from that season. We were two kids brimming over 
with ambition, with ideas, schemes, and plans for what we would do when 
we got into the big-money brackets. Neither of us had any doubt but that 
we would get there someday. Our first appearance on a bill together was one 
Sunday in New York at the Murray Hill Theatre. They played burlesque 
there through the week. Burlesque was banned in New York on Sunday. 
On that day they ran vaudeville bills. Our companies were playing the 
Pennsylvania territory (Pennsylvania banned Sunday shows), and so Fanny 
and I were both free to take a date in New York and pick up an extra ten 
dollars apiece. After the show, I remember, Fanny took me to a hotel on 
I25th Street to meet the star of her company, the burlesque "queen," Lizzie 
Freligh. She was a tiny, dainty creature, adored by the galleries for her 
roguish smile and her gift for being naughty in a nice way. Fanny thought 


the world of her and ran her errands with the devotion of a schoolgirl for 
an older girl crush. 

Whenever our two shows played simultaneously in New York, Fanny and 
I palled up. Later on, however, we never seemed to meet in New York, 
where Fanny was first a Ziegfeld and later a Shubert star for so many years. 
But I have never come into Chicago to play in vaudeville or in the cafes that 
I haven't found Fanny was playing there too. Then what times we have had 
together, catching up on the news, swapping experiences, laughing over old 
times, exchanging confidences. Stretched out on a couch, with our corsets oflf 
and our hair down, with no one around to horn in, we've spent hours telling 
each other what we would have done if only life had been different. Mean- 
ing, as women do, if the men in our lives had been different. 

My friendship with Fanny Brice, ripening through more than thirty years, 
is one of the good things I got out of my season on the burlesque wheel. 

Another good that season brought me was the training in making friends 
with the people I met in the theater. Playing in a company did a lot for me. 
There were none of the achingly lonesome days I had gone through when 
I played the small-time vaudeville circuits. The Gay Masqueraders traveled 
together; we were like a big, noisy, intimate family. Oh, there was plenty 
of doubling up. That goes on everywhere in show business. Some of the 
girls wondered why I didn't. I hated it as much as I ever did. Besides, I 
wasn't the type of girl the boys liked to play around with on tour. But they 
liked me as a pal, a good egg: good for laughs, good to know if they were 
broke or in some trouble. I could josh with them, listen to their troubles, 
pan them for getting tight or mixed up with some girl. We were friends. 
They knew they could always borrow a, few dollars from me. But I was 
right there when the salaries were paid on, Sunday, to get my money back. 
The money order went regularly every week to Mama, and another to 
Brother Moe, who had started to Yale that winter. 

In every town we played I would hunt up the local entertainment bureau 
to see if I could pick up any extra jobs singing at stags or smokers or ban- 
quets. In that way I could earn many an extra five or ten dollars which gave 
the budget a boost. And that kind of work made friends for me in the towns. 
I figured it would help to build up an audience for me when I came back 
to that town again. 

I've said there were no lonesome times. But sometimes I used to stare at 
the four walls of my boardinghouse bedroom and wonder if I had really 
ever had any other home. Whitewashed walls, or walls papered in night- 
marish designs. The bed, the dresser with its mirror that made you wonder 


why they ever let anyone who looked the way you looked get on a stage, the 
straight chair, the rocker, the one window with white cotton lace certains, 
the washstand with pitcher and bowl, the little rug beside the bed, the one 
electric light above it and the white china night pot beneath it. From 
Worcester, Massachusetts, to Kansas City, Missouri, from Dallas to Duluth, 
the pattern of those rooms remained the same. 

But the photographs of my three dear ones were on the dresser to welcome 
me when I came home after the night show and to greet me when I opened 
my eyes in the morning. 

"Yes, Mama, Papa, Son. I'm doing fine. Have faith in me. Just wait till 
I get on top. It won't be long now. Ill be seeing you some of these days." 

Those words which were destined to play such a large part in my life 
seem to have been the theme song of my early letters home. 

Wherever the show took me I was constantly on the lookout for new songs 
to use in my blackface act in the olio, visiting the offices of the big music 
publishers in all the key cities. I knew I mustn't get stale, or caught in a 
rut. When we played a week in Chicago at the Trocadero Theatre on State 
Street I haunted the offices of all the music publishers in that city. It was 
in one of them that I met Bernie Adler and heard him play a smooth new 
rag that I felt sure was destined to be a smash hit. "The Lovin' Rag," he 
called it. I asked him to keep it for me and I would introduce it in my act 
when the show came back into Chicago to another burlesque theater after 
a few weeks. 

For all the years I have been in show business, to singers who have asked 
my advice I. have said: "Get new songs. Pay a writer to write them for you. 
Get songs that you can make your own. Don't copy other singers. Don't sing 
their songs. Don't do their stunts. Don't make your act a carbon copy of 
someone else's. Not if you want to succeed. And not if you want to stay in 
show business more than a season or two. Put off buying that mink coat or 
the diamond bracelet and buy songs instead. They'll pay you dividends and 
cost nothing for insurance or storage." 

I began doing that early in my career, and I've never stopped doing it. I 
know it pays. 

In March we played a week in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It seemed ages 
ago that Louis and I had gone there to get married. Only an hour or so 
from home, but I hadn't yet made good on my promise to be a headliner. 
I couldn't run in on the folks. Not until I was really among the topnotchers. 


I only hoped there were none of the old gossips from Front Street snooping 
around Holyoke to see the bills plastered outside the theater and carry back 
the news that Sophie had gone from bad to burlesque. 

Our first matinee in Holyoke was marked by a tremendous tension back- 
stage. The rumor had gone round that no less a person than Mr. Marc Klaw, 
of Klaw and Erlanger, had come on from New York to look us over. He 
was scouting for talent for the second Ziegfeld Follies. Everyone, from 
Corinne de Forrest, the soubrette, to the rawest chorus girl, was jittery. 
Opportunity, in the shape of Mr. Marc Klaw, was sitting somewhere in the 
darkened house, with a Broadway contract for one of us if she made good. 
The whole show was suddenly pepped up; the performance came alive. The 
atmosphere backstage tingled with the electricity of suspense. 

I played my part that afternoon with a prayer in my heart that Mr. Klaw's 
sharp eyes would be able to pierce the old-woman make-up I wore and dis- 
cover me underneath it. When the time came for the olio I made up for my 
blackface act with careful regard for all I had learned since George Le Maire 
gave me lessons in putting on a blackface. How carefully I selected the songs 
I would sing that day. Only the best. "Rosie," that had been a hit at Tony 
Pastor's, and "That Lovin' Rag," which I felt sure Mr. Klaw had never 
heard, and the others that audiences always went for. I knew my act was 
better now than when I had played at Tony Pastor's in the fall. I'd learned 
a lot that year. I had burlesque to thank for it. 

And yet, standing in the wings, waiting for the first bar of my first song, 
determined to do my best to win that opportunity on Broadway if I pos- 
sibly could, a deep resentment welled up in me. Why did I have to appear 
in blackface? Why couldn't I have my chance as myself, as the other girls 
in the company had theirs? 

"Too big and too ugly" Chris Brown's words came back to me taunt- 

Hadn't I overcome those obstacles yet? I'd worked so hard. My hands 
were smooth and white now. No one would suspect them of long association 
with the dishpan and scrub pail. My own hair under the wig was a mass of 
burnished gold curls. Nature and my Crimean ancestors had done that for 
me. They had given me, too, my smooth, fine skin, that was pleasingly white 
now, since I had* learned how to care for it. 

Why couldn't I show these to Mr. Klaw instead of a countenance pains- 
takingly smeared with black grease paint, a black horsehair wig, and a pair 
of black- suede gloves? 

"Turn . . . turn . . . turn, turn, tumpty turn turn . . 


My song. I'm on. Keep your eye peeled, Mr. Klaw. 

Well, this time real life behaved just like the movies. I got the job. I 
couldn't believe it myself. Standing there in the greenroom after the show, 
hearing Mr. Klaw say things like "a spot for you in the Follies . . ." "Open- 
ing in Atlantic City in June, then playing the New York Roof . . ." "One 
hundred dollars a week ..." I kept thinking: this isn't really happening. 
It's that cheesecake you ate last night. You'll wake up in a minute and find 
yourself in the same old, lumpy bed with the sagging wire spring that has 
felt the weight of a thousand troupers before you. Things like this don't 

But they do happen. Mr. Klaw stayed real and substantial even after I'd 
given myself a pinch in the thigh warranted to put an end to any dream. 

"Well want six minutes of your act. In One, so we can set the big finale 
scene," he was saying. 

The pinch had brought me back to life. 

"Let me work in whiteface," I suggested. "Really, I'm not bad looking. 
And I'm only twenty-one. Honest, Mr. Klaw. If you'd just give me a tryout." 

He shook his head. "No. Blackface is what we want. You'll be notified 
when to come for rehearsals." 

And that was that. 

During the next week Harry Emerson was taken seriously ill. The show 
had to close. Gus Hill came on from New York to wind things up for us 
and to place members of the company in other shows on the wheel to finish 
out the balance of the season. 

To me he said, "You can go on to Boston and do your act in the olio of 
the show playing the Howard Atheneum Theatre. It needs bolstering up. 
Then I'll find a place for you in one of our other shows." 

I told him about the contract I had signed with Mr. Klaw for the Follies. 
The rehearsals would start before the end of the burlesque season. 

"You can't do that," Gus Hill said sharply. "What about that contract you 
signed with me? You'd better read it through. We have an option on you 
for another season." 

I had forgotten the contract. I had never read it, being too busy from the 
first learning a part and getting up my songs for the olio. And if I had read 
it, the word "option" would have meant nothing to me. 

"Oh, but, Mr. Hill, this is the Follies. It's a chance on Broadway . . ." 

"Well, this is your chance on the burlesque wheel We're featuring you 
now in the olio. We'll give you lots of advertising when you go on to 
Boston. We've built you up with our audiences and we aren't going to lose 
you nov/." 


Here was my precious contract with the Follies threatening to take wings 
and fly away. I pleaded with Gus Hill. I begged. It was stupid of me 5 of 
course, not to have told him when Mr. Klaw made me the offer. But since 
the theater manager knew of it I took it for granted everyone else did, too, 
and that it was all right for me to accept. 

"One hundred dollars a week, Mr. Hill. Think what that means. Think 
what I can do with that money. Not just for myself, for my folks." 

He listened, and he gave in. 

"All right. It isn't legal, but I'll do it. You can't ever say Gus Hill stood 
between you and Broadway." 

"I'll say he helped me get there," I promised. 

I've kept that promise and I'm keeping it now. 

There were big billposters plastered on the Howard Atheneum Theatre 
and on billboards all over Boston : 


They looked good to me. I stood there, gripping my music case (I never 
trusted that out of my hands when I traveled), and read it over and over. 
Maybe that was how they would bill me in the Follies. Maybe the news that 
the Follies was taking me had gone round and the Boston papers would 
play me up as somebody to pay attention to in show business, not overlook- 
ing the fact that I was a Boston girl. Maybe they would give me glowing 
write-ups and Mr, Klaw and Mr. Ziegfeld would read them and would give 
me more than just the one spot in the show. Maybe . . . 

After the rehearsal I looked around for my trunk which I had checked. 
No trunk. I went down to the railroad station. The baggageman took my 
check, rooted around in a pile of luggage, and came, back with the news 
that my trunk had gotten in with a lot of other theatrical trunks and had 
been sent on to Lowell, Massachusetts, by mistake, 

"It'll come back all right, miss," he said comfortingly. 


"Sometime this afternoon. We'll get it right over to the theater soon as 
it comes in. You'll have it in time to dress up pretty for the show tonight." 

"Tonight!" I blared at him. "Hell! it's today's matinee I've got to think 
about. I'm a blackface comedienne and all my stuff is in that trunk." 

"Well, it ain't my funeral," said the baggageman, and turned away. 

No, I thought, it's mine. And what am I going to do ? 

I hurried back to the theater and saw the manager. He took it as calmly 


as the baggageman. "Oh, that sort of thing happens all the time. Trunks 
are always getting lost. The audience is used to that." 

"But what will I do?" 

"Go on in your street clothes, the way you are. A good-looking, hefty 
squaw like you don't need black make-up." 

I stared at him. He'd called me "a good-looking, hefty squaw/' which was 
quite another bill of goods than Chris Brown's description of me. He said 
I didn't need black make-up. Wasn't that just what I'd tried to make Mr. 
Klaw believe? Well, here was my chance. If I could prove it. If I could put 
my act across without the coon shouter's make-up maybe the word of it 
would get to the great Ziegfeld. Maybe I would be through with blackface 

Now here's something funny. Remember, though, that I had never yet 
walked out on the stage without some sort of disguise. It was the hardest 
thing in the world for me to step out of the wings in my tailored suit, white 
linen shirtwaist hastily pressed in the dressing room, with no covering on my 
blonde hair, and no make-up except lipstick, a dab of rouge, and a dusting 
of white powder. In tights and a G string I wouldn't have felt more stripped. 

The leader and the boys in the pit gaped at me. They expected blackface. 
So, of course, did the audience. I could see them consulting their programs. 
I'd have to explain. Somehow, telling them about the trunk that had gone 
on to Lowell by mistake started me getting even more confidential. 

"You-all can see I'm a white girl. Well, I'll tell you something more: I'm 
not Southern. I grew up right here in Boston, at 22 Salem Street. I'm a Jewish 
girl, and I just learned this Southern accent doing a blackface act for two 
years. And now, Mr. Leader, please play my song." 

"That Lovin* Rag" got them started. They were right with me. All the time 
I was singing five numbers, six, seven, then an eighth, inwardly I was 
exulting: "I don't need blackface. I can hold an audience without it. I've 
got them eating right out of my hand. I'm through with blackface. I'll never 
black up again. And I wouldn't have known I could do it if that damn trunk 
hadn't got lost. God bless that dumb baggageman. He's done me the best 
turn I've had in many a day." 

Afterward, up in my dressing room, peeling off my wet clothes (believe 
me, it's no joke singing in a heavy "tailored suit), reaching for the alcohol 
bottle (I mustn't catch cold), I was jabbering out loud to myself: "What 
will I do tonight? I can't repeat that about my trunk being lost- I'll have to 
think of something else to start off with. It's my chance to show 'em I can 
make good in whiteface. Ill get myself a swell evening gown. The stores 


aren't shut yet. But I haven't got the money. I'll make the manager advance 
me my week's salary. I'll dress up grand. I'll look important. Like a head- 
liner. I'll ask the girls to show me how to put on eyelashes and a real 
make-up. . . ." 

Outside the dressing room the property man shouted, "Miss, your trunk's 

Before I could answer came the manager's voice, "Throw out that trunk. 
The kid doesn't need blackface. Miss Travers" Josephine Travers was the 
star of the show. She was reputed to have the finest wardrobe on the wheel 
"give the kid one of your gowns. Put a make-up on her. We're going to do 
great business this week. The men all went for her in a big way." 

That's how it happened that I went on that night in a tightly laced black 
velvet princess gown. It made me feel like a boloney in mourning. I didn't 
know whether I could draw breath to sing. But Miss Travers, who dressed 
me herself and made me up and showed me how to swish my train of red 
chiffon ruffles to give point to my songs, said, "Now you look like a head- 

When I filled up my lungs I was in a panic for fear the seams of the dress 
would split, and the train, the first one I'd ever worn, had me nervous as a 
cat, but a good look in the mirror told me Miss Travers was right. I did 
look like an important act, 

Oi, Chris Brown, you should see me now. 

I had a wonderful reception. The relatives had turned out loyally. I had 
taken pains to send them cards to say I would be at the Howard Atheneum 
that week. Already I was using that address book of mine. 

No apologizing now for not being in blackface. I was living up to my 
grand gown, swishing my tail around like a tomcat, copycatting the head- 
liners I had watched at Tony Pastor's. 

The act went perfectly. Then came the moment to bow gracefully and run 
off stage. I backed up a step, felt the red ruffles catch my feet, and stopped. 
The audience was calling for more songs. But I'd already sung all I had 
rehearsed and had run over my time. A glance into the wings showed rne the 
stage manager beckoning. 

"Don't milk the audience," I heard him call "Come off." 

I tried to kick the ruffles away from my feet. My heel caught in them. I 
hopped back, trying to loosen it, and kerplunk, down I went on my fanny 
like a ton of bricks. 

There was a howl of laughter: "Funny act." "Very funny girl." In the 
wings the cast were shrieking. 


"What are you laughing at? 55 I shouted, crying. The fall hurt, and the 
shock of It set my nerves on edge. My feet, too, were all snarled up in those 
damn ruffles, and the dress was so tight I couldn't move myself to get free. 
"It Isn't funny at all," I bellowed. "I never wore a dress with a train in my 
life before. I don't know what to do with the damn thing." 

Still the house went on laughing, applauding while I did the only thing 
I could do, slide off stage on my backside. And that was the climax of my 
elegant performance. 

The manager clapped me on the shoulder. "Kid, you're a knockout. Im- 
mense. Don't tell the audience about your train. That's a great piece of 
business. Keep it in your act. You're a real comedienne." 

Yeah, I thought, feeling myself gingerly. If I have to do that two shows 
a day, seven days a week, I'll never last to make the Follies. Right now I must 
be getting a nice blue stripe to run alongside that red one across rny rear. 
It took Boston to paint Old Glory on Sophie Tucker's backside. 

CHAPTER 8: In and Out of the Follies 

THE first of the Ziegfeld Follies rang up the curtain on a new era in show 
business. It marked the beginning of the super-shows, elaborately staged, cos- 
tumed, and lighted spectacles whose production costs ran into hundreds of 
thousands of dollars. 

The Follies were "Class." They offered Americans something Americans 
used to think they could get only in Paris, and at prices that lifted this 
form of variety way out of the vaudeville class. The suggestion of French 
naughtiness was implied in the name of the special theater, the Jardin de 
Paris, built on top of the New York Theatre in Times Square and dedicated 
to Ziegfeld's venture. People simply couldn't get over the first Follies In 
which Nora Bayes had starred. You would think, to hear the talk, that 
Ziggy had manufactured those long-legged, beauteous show girls. 

And now a second Follies was being advertised, bigger, more glittering, 
more marvelous, and even more expensive than the first. What, everybody 
in show business was asking, can they find to pfut into it? How are they 
going to make the Follies of igog live up to, let alone surpass, the first Follies 
of igo8? In mid- April, just when the theatrical season was folding up, show 
business was all a-tiptoe with curiosity about the new show on the New 
York Roof, rehearsals for which had just been called. 

Never in njy whole life have I seen so many beautiful girls. Their assem- 
bled good looks seemed to fill the Jardin de Paris to the exclusion of every- 


thing else. Moving across the stage at Mr. Ziegfeld's orders, their perfect fig- 
ures left you breathless. 

If that was what just watching a rehearsal did to me, I could imagine what 
these same beauties, made up and gorgeously costumed, would do to the 
audience when the show opened. 

The queen of the Venuses was Lillian Lorraine; petite and exquisite with 
her auburn hair, perfect complexion, and enormous brown eyes. A girl with 
looks of that order didn't have to do anything in order to get the center of 
the stage in any show. An eyeful of her knocked you cold. Next to her, to 
my eyes, came tall, statuesque, queenly Annabelle Whitford, known as the 
"Nell Brinkley Girl of 1909." As though these weren't enough, we had Mae 
Murray, destined for Hollywood stardom, Vera Maxwell and Florence 
Walton, who later joined up with Maurice to form the internationally fa- 
mous dance team. 

The Follies dancers were Bessie Clayton, the world's greatest toe dancer, 
and two swell modern dancers, Gertrude Vanderbilt and Rosie Green, the 
mother of Mitzi Green. For comedians we had Harry Kelly and the team of 
Bickle and Watson; like me, they had come to the Follies by way of 

But all these and the ponies were only the backdrop, you might say, for 
the stars of the show, Nora Bayes and her partner and husband Jack Nor- 
worth. Nora was then at the peak of her career. 

Also, of course, there was Sophie Tucker. Though no one at that first 
rehearsal seemed even aware of her existence. 

After waiting an hour or so, when no one questioned me or showed any 
interest in my being there, I presented myself, contract in hand, to Mr. Zieg- 
feld, who was watching a scene being rehearsed. 

"Glad to meet you, Miss Tucker," he said with that pleasant manner for 
which he was famous. He gave me a quick looking-over. "You sing, don't 

"Yes," I said. I was just opening my mauth to explain that though my 
cohtract called for a blackface act I had turned myself into a whiteface 
singer, when he added in a tone that dismissed me completely: 

"Sit down somewhere. We'll call you when we're ready for you." 

That, incredible as it seems, was the extent of my contact with Mr. Zieg- 
feld until the Follies first night* Through the eight weeks of daily rehearsals 
I sat obediently "somewhere,'" waiting for a call Mr. Ziegfeld gave no sign 
that he knew I existed. Mr. Klaw never stuck his head inside the theater the 
whole time. Julian Mitchell, the director, deaf and over his ears in the job 


o staging a Ziegfeld show, took no more notice o me than if I had been 
a shadow. One hundred and sixty pounds of Sophie Tucker sitting impa- 
tiently on the edge of an orchestra seat, gripping her contract and trying 
to figure out whether she was in the Follies or not. 

There was plenty to watch. I had never seen a show put together before, 
and watching Julian Mitchell and Mr. Ziegfeld mold and weld all those 
diverse elements into a whole fascinated me as nothing I had ever seen in 
my life before. Here was magic, the power to create something vivid and 
alive which would appeal to all the senses. I watched the ponies rehearse 
dance steps, the show girls practice their distinctive parades and poses. I 
watched Harry Kelly, that grand comedian, work over, his business dozens 
of times, with a painstaking care for detail and timing that I realized 
amounted to genius. A year before, without my experience in burlesque, 
I might not have appreciated all that I saw during those eight weeks of 
daily rehearsals. I might have thought they were fussing over trifles. But a 
season on the burlesque wheel had opened my eyes to the fact that in show 
business there are no trifles. Everything is important. Your way of walking 
on the stage, your manner, how you hold your hands, turn your head, bow 
all these are a part of your act, and as important in their way as the song you 
sing or the lines you read. Watching that great showman, Florenz Ziegfeld, 
rehearse his Follies cast, and listening to his directions were an education 
which I was only too eager to accept. 

We were starting on the seventh week of rehearsals. One week more and 
the show would open in Atlantic City on June 17. Still I hadn't the faintest 
idea of what would be expected of me, or where my spot would be in the 
show. My hands gripping the pocketbook with my contract in it were often 
cold and clammy with fear. In my mind the worries chased themselves 
around like rats in a trap. Suppose I never was called? Suppose Mr. Ziegfeld 
persisted in ignoring me till the opening day? What would become of the 
one hundred dollars' salary on the promise of which I had rented a tiny 
apartment in New York and arranged for Brother Moe to live with me 
there while he finished his law course at New York University? Visions of 
being dispossessed for non-payment of rent, of being haled into court, dis- 
graced forever, filled my mind while I sat there watching the rehearsals go 
endlessly on. 

For days the papers had been full of stories of Teddy Roosevelt's return 
from his African hunting expedition. The cartoonists' pencils, had been 
working overtime on pictures of Roosevelt grinning at lions and lions grin- 
ning the familiar Roosevelt grin at the G.O.P. elephant. One cartoon, by 


Davenport, widely circulated, showed all the animals of the jungle climbing 
to the top of the tallest tree because they heard that Teddy was coming. 

From my seat in the theater I heard Mr. Ziegfeld arguing with the writers 
and producers, 

"We ought to have a jungle number. It's topical. Timely." 

"But we're opening in a week/' someone reminded him. "There's no time 
to add anything more to the show now." 

"Time" Mr. Ziegfeld brushed this away as of no consequence "there's 
plenty of time. You boys get busy and write a jungle number." 

"Who's going to sing it?" another voice objected. "Everyone has all she 
can do right now." 

"Damn it," Mr. Ziegfeld exploded, "here's a singer. Miss Tucker. Go on, 
boys, get busy. Write the song. Teach it to her. Mitchell will stage it." 

And he turned back to the rehearsal. 

The next day the boys brought in the song, "It's Moving Day Way Down 
in Jungle Town,"" which Davenport's cartoon had inspired. They rehearsed 
me. I memorized the song overnight. Once again I thanked God for that 
quick, accurate memory of mine. Now* I had something to do, a spot in the 
show. I sang, dressing to go to the theater for rehearsal. Now I would have a 
chance to show Mr. Ziegfeld and the others that I could sing. 

But, funny as it sounds, I never had that chance. I sat on the side waiting 
to be called while Mr. Mitchell instructed the wardrobe mistress about 
costumes. For me a leopard skin, with the animal's head for a cap, brown 
sandals, bare legs. For the chorus, costumes representing other jungle ani- 
mals. As he staged the number I was to lead the chorus, who were to do a 
dance also. He rehearsed the chorus that day and the next and the day after 
that, still without calling me to sing the number. Not until the fourth day 
did I hear: ^ 

"All right, Miss Tucker, we're ready for you." 
, And then I had to reply that I had caught cold and couldn't sing a note. 

"Never mind," said Mr. Mitchell. "It's okay, anyway. Just walk through 
the number; save your voice. That's it. Fine! All set now. The number is 
finished," He beamed at me. "Miss Tucker, you will do the jungle song. And 
six minutes, in One, before the finale number of the first act. Get three songs 
ready. You will rehearse them and the jungle song with the orchestra in 
Atlantic City. The wardrobe mistress will get a dress for your six-minute 
specialty. You're all set for the jungle costume. We doa't need you for 
rehearsals any more. Thank you." 


And that, believe it or not, was all the preparation I had for my first ap- 
pearance in the Follies. 

I know it sounds incredible, none the less it's true. Through eight weeks of 
rehearsals not one member of the Follies" management or cast ever heard me 
sing a note. Even after I got to Atlantic City for those three hectic days 
before the opening, though I rehearsed several times with the orchestra, it 
so happened that neither Mr. Ziegfeld nor Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. Erlanger 
was ever in the theater at the time. I had been engaged to do a six-minute 
specialty, but apparently no one was in the least interested in what I sang 
or what I did. 

I couldn't understand it. 

I looked at the dress the wardrobe mistress had had made for me, a gor- 
geous gold lame gown. I thought of the three songs Irving Berlin had se- 
lected for my act: two of his, "The Right Church but the Wrong Pew" and 
"The Yiddisha Rag," and "The Cubanola Glide" by Harry Von Tilzer. The 
boys in Tin Pan Alley had coached me in them well. I \ncw those songs 
were smash hits. I \new I could sing them. I %new when I tried on the gold 
gown that I looked stunning* All right, I'd show Mr. Ziegfeld, Mr. Mitchell, 
Mr. Erlanger, the stars, and everybody else in the Follies that I could do 

"I'll tie the show up in a knot," I promised myself. "Suppose that big finale 
number did cost forty thousand dollars to produce and all they want me for 
is to fill in time while they get it set. They're going to see something tonight. 
I'll hold up that forty thousand dollars' worth of finale or my name isn't 
Sophie Tucker." 

When I went to my dressing room to hang up my things I found I was 
dressing with Annabelle Whitford, the "Nell Brinkley Girl." Next door to 
us was Lillian Lorraine with her colored maid. Annabelle and Lillian were 
great friends apparently. 

"What do you do in the show?" they asked me curiously. 

"I sing." 

"That's funny. We never saw you rehearse." 

"Hope you're a big hit," Annabelle said kindly. 

Presently she and Lillian left the theater. I was alone. Everyone, it seemed, 
but me, had friends waiting to take them to dinner, to ride in the chairs on 
the Boardwalk, to go swimming. I had looked forward to this, my first trip to 
Atlantic City, and to having fun there. Now that hope was dashed. I could 
feel rising now the cold wave of loneliness that used to sweep over me back 
in the days when I was on the small-time circuit. It threatened to engulf me. 


I knew I mustn't let it do that. I knew I must keep calm and secure inside 
if I was going to make good on the promise I had made to myself to stop 
the show cold. I knew I mustn't let myself feel lonely and out of things. 
That sort of thinking killed your work. If only there was somebody, any- 
body, I could talk to. 

In the next dressing room I heard somebody moving about, singing softly 
to herself. I knew Lillian Lorraine had gone out. This must be the maid I 
had seen with her a handsome, light-colored woman. I'll go in there, I 
thought. Black or white, what does it matter? It's somebody to talk to. 

I pushed open the door of the other dressing room. The maid had her back 
to me, hanging Lillian's exquisite costumes behind a dust sheet. 

"May I come in and sit down here with you for a while?" I asked. It sur- 
prised me to find my voice shook. "I'm so blue." 

The maid turned halfway round and gave me a glance over her shoulder. 
Then she smiled. That smile, wise and kind and tolerant, said more to me 
than all the fine words in the dictionary. I flopped down on the chair in 
front of the dressing table. Before I knew it I was pouring out all my wor- 
ries, chief of which was the fact that Mr. Ziegfeld didn't seem the least bit 
interested in me or in my work in the show. 

"Well, you got to take that," she said. "This show business is funny some- 

"You know a lot about show business?" I asked. 

"I ought to." Again she smiled. "One way or another I've been in it most 
of my life." She went on to explain that she had been one of the beauties in 
the Williams and Walker colored show that ran on Broadway a couple of 
seasons before. Her name, she added, was Mollie Elkins. 

"And did you ever know of anything like this happening to a singer in 
a show before now?" I persisted. 

"Listen, honey" she might have been instructing a child "every show 
I've been in, every show I ever heard of, there was always one kid who was 
the goat, the 'patsy,' that nobody paid no mind to. But always that, patsy 
was the one that ran off with being the hit of the show. Why can't it be 

"It's just that I'm scared." 

"Huh! What you scared about?" 

"Scared I won't make good, I guess. I must make good. Everything de- 
pends on it now." Briefly I sketched my plans for the family : two years in 
law school for Moe "He started in the morning I left to come down here 
to Atlantic City"; a home of her own for Mama, no more hard work in the 


restaurant. "And I've got a son, Mollie. The cutest little fellow you ever saw. 
I want him to have an education, advantages, a break. What's going to 
happen to all of them if Fm a flop tonight? If Mr. Ziegfeld doesn't think 
I'm any good he'll fire me. And he can't think much of me because he's 
never once asked me to sing for him." 

"Mr. Ziegfeld must think you're some good, or he wouldn't have you in 
the show at all/' Mollie retorted. 

"But Mr. Ziegfeld didn't hire me. Mr. Klaw did. And I've never set eyes 
on him since. And none of them have heard me sing, only the song writers, 
the pianist, and the orchestra." 

"Well then" Mollie shook out a skirt briskly before hanging it "don't 
you suppose these people have told Mr. Ziegfeld you were good or bad by 
now? Come on, Patsy, keep your chin up. Go on out on the Boardwalk in 
the sunshine. Don't hang round the theater. That kind of moping never did 
nobody no good. Remember, I promise I'll be rooting for you tonight. Run 
along now, child. I've got to tend to Miss Lorraine's things." 

That friendly, wholesome talk, that promise to root for me, the feeling 
that there was now at least one person in the theater to whom Sophie 
Tucker was something more than just a name on the program, sent my blues 
flying. I came out of it with a snap. Hell! Of course I could put across those 
three grand songs of mine as well as the jungle number. Just let me once get 
out in front of the audience and I'd show the Follies what I was made of. 

God bless you, Mollie Elkins, you bucked me up just when I needed it 

An Elks' convention wouldn't have drawn a bigger crowd to Atlantic City 
than the Follies opening brought there. That first-night audience was of a 
kind to start you shivering with stage fright or inspire you way beyond any- 
thing you ever thought you could do, depending on the way your nerves 
behaved. Every New York paper had sent its dramatic critic to report the 
opening. Most of the big music publishers came down to hear the songs. 
Everybody in show business, and a lot of those who played around the edges 
of it, managed to run down to the Jersey resort to take in Ziegfeld's new 

The only ones from New York whom I knew were Irving. Berlin, Harry 
Von Tilzer, and Henry Watterson all music publishers. Naturally, they 
were interested, as I was singing their songs. 

They pointed out Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell, so gorgeous looking 
that even the Follies girls paled beside her, Fay Templeton, Weber and 


Fields, George M. Cohan, Sam Harris, C. B. Dillingham, and a lot more 

"You've got your chance tonight, Sophie," Irving said to me just before the 
show was on. "If you carry this crowd, nobody can stop you from now on." 

"Watch me," I replied. * 

Take it from me, a first-night audience of New Yorkers or Londoners is 
the toughest audience in the world to play to. A first night in Chicago is 
pie; the audience is right with you from the start to the end of the show. 
They want the show to go over, and they let you feel it. But New York first- 
nighters and that was what our first audience at Atlantic City was made 
up of make you quiver and shake. Oh, they're polite. They never fail to 
give each performer a reception when she comes on. But the next minute 
they freeze up and lean back in their seats and defy you to get them. That's 
what makes them so tough. 

I had my first taste of them that night in Atlantic City. I had stage fright, 
as who wouldn't at her first big show, and playing to the most critical 
audience in the world? It was the first time I'd ever played to an audience 
all in evening dress. I can't explain why the clothes seemed to make such 
a difference, but they did. But I quickly discovered that my fright was 
shared by every member of the company, even by Harry Kelly and Bessie 
Clayton and others who were veteran performers. 

Of course that kind of audience puts you on your mettle. It challenges you 
to do your best. It's as stimulating as a new love affair* What receptions they 
gave the stars that night! The house buzzed with enthusiasm when Lillian 
Lorraine made her entrance, coming from the flies in a rose-covered swing 
a beautiful number, and her beauty dominated the whole stage. A skit 
followed this; then came my jungle song. 

Everybody laughed at our animal costumes, got the idea, enjoyed the 
timeliness of it. It was a good number, but that was all. No sensation. I had 
the feeling that it followed too close on Lillian Lorraine's appearance. It 
would have gone better later in the show. As for me, all the audience saw 
in me was a big gal with a big voice. I was miles away from making any 

I dressed for my specialty: cloth-of-gold gown, gold slippers, my hair 
brushed till it shone like the same golden metal. The callboy knocked on 
the dressing-room door. 

"Fifteen minutes, Miss Tucker," he warned me. 

I would have liked to stand in the wings to watch the show but I was told 
I was in the way. My eye fell on a ladder leading to the flies. I mounted it 


a few steps, so I had a clear view of the stage. Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth 
were on singing "Shine on. Harvest Moon." She was dressed exquisitely. 
What an artist! They took six or seven encores. Bessie Clayton followed 
them. Her dancing brought the audience to its feet, cheering her. Then 
came the first bars of my music. 

I had brought along a cup of water and I set it on a ledge of the switch- 
board where I could reach it quickly when I came off to the wings. A man 
was sitting on a high stool beside the switchboard, watching the show and 
making notes. He spoke ,to me. 

"It's a big scene we're staging behind you. Miss Tucker. Give us time- to 
set it." 

This, I knew, was the costliest number in the show, the big battleship 
finale in which each girl represented a country and wore a ship headdress. 
That one number cost forty thousand dollars to produce. 

"I have rehearsed only three songs," I told the man on the stool "But there 
are more in my book if you want me to kill time." 

I missed his reply because just then came the bar on which I made my 

Funny, isn't it, how a person will remember some things in her life so 
vividly that every little detail stands out? And other things, that may be a 
lot more important, are just a blur. Even the time it took for those things to 
happen shortens up, like a concertina when you squeeze the wind out of 
its folds. That's the way it is with my appearance in the Follies. I know I 
sang my three songs. I know that critical, hard-to-please audience ate them 
up and yelled for more. I know I sang three additional songs and still the 
applause kept up, demanding more. I know instead of playing six minutes- 
just long enough to give the crew time to set the big battleship number 
I did twelve minutes and held up the scene that cost forty thousand dollars 
and which Mr. Ziegfeld considered the smash hit of the show. I know that 
I, the "patsy," stopped the Follies cold. 

The man on the stool was Mr. Abe Erlanger. Not that I knew it, or cared, 
when I ran off to the wings, frantic with the excitement of my success. 

"Where the hell is my glass of water?" I shouted at him. 

"Who do you think you're talking to?" he snapped back. 

"What do I care? Quick, give it to me. My throat is dry." I took a good 
swallow from the cup I found off in a corner. "I tied the damn show up in 
a knot," I crowed at him. "Listen to them out there. They want more." 

They did too. There was no getting round it. Those hard-boiled first- 
nighters liked Sophie Tucker and wanted more of her. I could have gone 


on singing for another twelve minutes but I was up against the hard-and-fast 
rule of show business. 

"Out of the way, please. Miss Tucker," Mr. Erlanger ordered sharply. 
"The show must go on." 

What did I care about the rest of the show? Mollies arms were around 
me. She was hugging me while I laughed and cried all together. "I did it, 
Mollie. I did it, didn't I?" 

"You were great!" Mollie was nearly as excited as I was. "From now on 
you're going places, Patsy." 

"Yes, and when I do, you're going with me. You'll be my maid, Mollie. 
We'll go all over the world, you and I." 

The battleship number was on now, but for all the attention the audience 
paid the marvelous set and costumes or the singing, the stage might have 
been dark. Oh, they applauded. But it wasn't the forty-thousand-dollar scene 
they were applauding. It was me Sophie Tucker. All through the number 
the house kept on applauding and calling for me to come back. The battle- 
ship finale fell flatter than a pancake. 

Of course after what had happened there was bound to be an upset of 
some sort. You simply couldn't pass it off. Even the evasive Mr. Ziegfeld 
couldn't go on ignoring Sophie Tucker. 

What's npct? I asked myself, changing in my dressing room during the 
Intermission. Already I heard rumblings downstairs where the stars had their 
dressing rooms. 

Ordinarily I would have left the theater then, since my part in the show 
was over. But I decided to hang around and see what was going to happen. 
What .was Mr. Ziegfeld going to say to me? 

Nothing happened right away. The second act began; the show went on. 
Number after number played to a hit, though none had the success that had 
been mine. Then came the final curtain and applause and curtain calls. 
There was no doubt of it, the Follies of 1909 was a success. We would move 
into New York in a few days to find the town ready to storm the New York 

Gradually I became aware of something going on downstairs that I knew 
must have to do with me. Angry voices. Nora Bayes's, quick and sharp. 
Mad. "I won't have her in the show with me. I'm the star. I'm the singer of 
this show. No other singer, I tell you. Either she goes out, or I go." 

Bang! A door slammed violently. 

I stood petrified, my heart bursting, all my jubilation exploded like a 
balloon. There was no mistaking who it was Nora Bayes objected to. And if 


she objected, if the star threatened to quit, why, my own common sense told 
me that Mr. Ziegfeld would send me packing before he risked upsetting her. 
I peeked over the railing. Mr. Ziegfeld, Mr. Erlanger, and Julian Mitchell 
were huddled together in a knot outside Miss Bayes's door. I sneaked back 
and waited until I heard the stars leave the theater. Everyone else had gone, 
too, to supper parties and fun. Only the maids were left, hanging up cos- 
tumes, packing up. I stole into Lillian Lorraine's dressing room to find 

"Mollie, you heard what happened? What will I do? Why should Nora 
Bayes do that to me? I didn't interfere with her. It isn't fair she should take 
my chance away." 

"Now, Patsy" Mollie's face was grave "you've got to remember this is 
show business. Even a star like Miss Bayes has got to protect herself. Remem- 
ber, no one must interfere with her success." 

"But what will become of me? If Mr. Ziegfeld puts me out like she told 
him to . . ." 

"Go on home," Mollie advised. "Go to bed and get some sleep. Rehearsal 
is called for ten tomorrow morning. Maybe everything will be fixed up by 

Out on the Boardwalk I found Irving Berlin waiting for me. I poured 
out the -story to him: "Nora Bayes told Mr. Ziegfeld he'd have to put me 
out of the show. They can't do that to me just when I'm getting a start." 

"Listen, kid" Irving repeated Mollie's words "this is show business. You 
know what you did tonight, don't you? After this there's no stopping you. 
You're going places, young lady. Only yours will be the hard way. And re- 
member, the hard way is the best way. I've got to go back to New York 
tonight. Keep in touch with me. Let me know what happens." And he was 

Tossing on my boardinghouse bed I thought of a thousand things. To lose 
my place in the Follies was bad enough. To lose the salary attached to it was 
calamitous. Every dollar of that hundred a week was already laid out accord- 
ing to carefully considered plans. If Nora Bayes won out and I received my 
notice, then all those plans would fail As the first streaks of dawn glimmered 
in the dark square of my window I considered taking Mr. Ziegfeld into 
my confidence, begging him to keep me on for just a few weeks until I could 
get a chance to go back into vaudeville. Of course it was midsummer. It 
would be hard to get bookings now, still I could try. The milkman was 
rattling bottles along the street as I finally dozed off. 

I was prompt for the morning rehearsal. From my seat in the last row 


I watched the company come in all but Nora Bayes. Mr. Ziegfeld an- 
nounced several changes in the running order of the show. 

"Miss Tucker," he said, and my heart bobbed up into my throat, "you 
will do only the jungle song." 

The stillness that filled the theater spoke louder than any words what 
everybody was thinking. Every member of the company knew by now what 
had happened. Probably they all had been waiting to see what Mr. Ziegfeld 
would do. They began to crowd round me. 

"Sorry, Miss Tucker." 

"Rotten luck. Miss Tucker." 

"Better luck next time, kid/' 

It was good to feel their understanding. They meant to be kind. But they 
couldn't know the relief I was feeling. True, I had lost my chance on Broad- 
way. But I wasn't fired. So long as they kept me in the cast, even just to sing 
the jungle song, I could draw that hundred dollar's a week. Moses's law 
course was safe. Mama could go ahead and pick out the house she wanted. 
Son could go away to a good boarding school. Anna could have new, pretty 
clothes a good time. Somehow or other I would pull out. I kept hearing 
Mollie's words of advice: 

"There's other shows. Do your one song great. Patsy, and when the season's 
over you'll get a chance in another show. You'll see. It'll turn out all right. 
If you've got the goods, and you have, there's nobody can take your chance 
away from you." 

What a wise Mollie! And what a lot I owe to her. She kept me from feel- 
ing resentful and bitter. She made me see that this was just one of the tough 
breaks that show business is full of. You have to learn to take them without 
flinching, without letting them turn you sour or making you want to get 
even, either with the person who does you the injustice, or with others who 
might seem to be in your way. 

The summer of 1909 is a long time past. Today I know that my experience 
with Nora Bayes in the Follies taught me more than anything else that ever 
happened to me in show business. It taught me that show business is a busi- 
ness, and a hard-boiled one. If you are in it, it's up to you to protect yourself. 
No one else is going to do it for you. And there's no room in show business 
for hurt feelings, resentments, or self-pity, 

I learned that lesson early in my career, and I have never forgotten it. 
You might say that my whole career has been built on it. Certainly, I can 
truthfully say that a very large part of what success I have had I owe to 
Nora Bayes, who taught me, even in a backhanded way, how to win that 


success. It Is what I learned from her more than any other one thing that 
made me what I am today. In all the eight weeks o rehearsals, and after- 
ward until she left the show, Nora Bayes never spoke one word to me or 
gave a sign that she knew I existed. Naturally, I couldn't speak to her. She 
was the star. That experience in itself is something I can never forget. In 
every show I have been in, as the star, or headlining the bill, I have known 
every single person in the cast. I've made it like one big family. 

Nearly ten years after that experience in the Follies 1 was formally intro- 
duced to Nora Bayes at a luncheon party. She was immediately cordial. 
Neither I nor she ever said a word to reveal that I was the girl she ordered 
out of the Follies. I was always one of her admirers and always went to see 
her work whenever I could. As years went on we became close friends. I 
think I was one of the last to be entertained at her home before she went 
to the hospital to have the operation from which she never recovered. But 
the Follies of 1909 was something neither of us ever mentioned. 

Knowing Nora taught me another lesson: to live modestly. Nora was 
extravagant in all that she did. She loved life and living. She traveled with 
a staff of secretaries, servants, pianists, and manager. She adopted three lovely 
children and added them and a governess to her train. And she was always 
surrounded by hangers-on. Her party filled several suites in the hotels. 

When I would meet Nora in some city she would always fuss with me: 

"Sophie, you must take a suite. You must live well. It helps your prestige. 
People take notice of you. It makes you important." 

"I can't afford to do those things," I would answer. 

"Nonsense. You're in the big brackets." 

"Just the same, I can't spend money just on myself. It's enough I spend 
lavishly on my clothes and on my acts. I have my family, remember. I must 
save a few dollars too. I can't sing forever. What if I lose my voice? Who is 
going to take care of me, or them, then?" 

But Nora wouldn't listen. She earned a lot and she lived the way she 
wanted to. I would have liked to live extravagantly, too, as she did. But I 
couldn't, not when I knew that money would buy things for other people 
that they wouldn't have otherwise. Yes, I learned a lot from Nora Bayes. 

We came to New York and opened at the New York Roof on the twenty- 
second of June. Nora Bayes had had her way with Mr. Ziegfeld, still she 
was not happy. There was constant friction which was felt by the entire cast. 
Then we heard that she was leaving the show. Eva Tanguay was coming to 
take her place. 


Eor a day I had a wild hope that now Mr. Ziegfeld would let me do my 
specialty again. No such luck, however. 

Tanguay came. She heard the jungle song and asked to rehearse it. The 
next day there was a notice in my box telling me that my services were no 
longer required. 

CHAPTER 9: Mollie & Co. 

NEW YORK may have had hotter summers than that one of 1909, but I don't 
remember them. Through those late July and early August days the city 
sweltered under a burning blanket. No air-conditioned restaurants and 
theaters then to give you a breathing spell when you felt you couldn't live 
in that furnace another minute. 

In our apartment the temperature hung persistently around one hundred. 
Moe and I pushed our cots as close as possible to the fire escape and tried to 
pretend we got more air that way. 

We did a lot of pretending. We pretended we weren't afraid of being 
alone in New York and stony broke. I pretended I didn't feel like something 
stepped on and squashed flat by being let out of the Follies after only four 
weeks* work. Moe pretended he didn't mind hunting for a job to work at 
after law school which would help to pay some of his expenses at least. And 
I did my best to pretend I wasn't scared'blue because something terrible had 
happened to my throat which tied my singing pipes up into a knot and 
wouldn't let me do more than croak like a frog. 

To be out of a job was bad enough, especially in late summer when it was 
next to impossible to pick up any bookings in vaudeville. To lose your voice, 
and not to know whether it would ever come back, made you know what 
it is like to live and sleep and wake again with terror for a companion. 

But we had one bright star on our horizon Mollie. She had taken me 
under her wing that night of the Follies opening and she never let me forget 
that she was my friend whose faith in my ability to get somewhere, someday, 
never wavered. On those nerve-racking, sultry afternoons, when the heat 
and the city's noise seemed to fill our little apartment so full that you couldn't 
draw a breath, she would come in, fresh and beaming, on her way over to the 
theater to work for Lillian Lorraine. 

"You've got to rest up," she advised. "It's all that upset about losing your 
job in the Follies that's got into your throat and tightened it up. The doctor 
told you that*" 

It was Mollie who had insisted on my going to a doctor and who was 

MOLLIE & CO. 79 

paying for the visits and the medicine he prescribed. He, too, had ordered 
rest and freedom from worry. "Give your voice and your nerves a complete 
rest," he said. An easy prescription to take when you have no money and 
no job, when the landlord will be looking for his rent on the first of the 
month, and the grocery stores don't give credit. Confronted by these prob- 
lems I couldn't help thinking bitterly, why did Nora Bayes have to do that 
to me? And why did Eva Tanguay have to take away my one song in the 
show and with it my salary? With one hundred dollars a week Moe and 
I would be sitting pretty. And I would be able to help Mama and keep Son, 
and save too. 

"You can't afford to let yourself get bitter," Mollie said, again and again. 
"Getting bitter never did nobody no good. It does harm. A lot more harm 
than just losing a job. You do what the doctor says: rest, don't worry. Bill 
and Fll see you through. (Bill was her husband.) We'll look out for you till 
you get your voice back again and get into another show." 

"Mollie, I can't take your money. All my life I've earned for myself." 

"Sure, and you'll do it again," she replied confidently. "You ain't finished. 
Patsy. You've got what it takes to go places." 

I looked around our sparsely furnished flat, at the bare kitchen, the empty 
icebox. "This doesn't look like it," I said grimly. 

"You didn't see yet what I brought you." Mollie spoke as soothingly as 
though I were a sick child. "Lamb stew. That Bill Elkins just gets to hanker- 
ing after a lamb stew every so often; seems like nothing else just hits the 
right spot with him. I cooked enough for all of us. For you and Brother Moe 
when he gets home. And coming down I stopped at the grocery and fetched 
along some eggs and milk and things. You eat a good supper now, Patsy, 
and see what it does for those pipes of yours." 

"I can't let you spend your and Bill's money on me," I objected, but 
faintly. The stew, as Mollie unwrapped the package, smelled wonderful. 
You can't live on a cup of coffee a day and not get hungry. 

"You don't need to worry about this money," said Mollie, and gave me a 

"You made it on the horses?" 

"That's right. So long as the luck stays with me and I've got two bucks to 
bet 'em on the nose, you ain't going hungry, Patsy." 

Then while I ate the stew she entertained me with backstage gossip 
from the Follies and a couple of stories that made me laugh for the first time 
in days. It wasn't till after she had gone and I was washing up that I found 
the dollar bill she had dropped into a cup on the kitchen shelf. 


Mollie played the horses a two-dollar bet was her limit and the luck 
stayed with her. Out of her winnings she kept Moe and me. We might have 
been her children the way she mothered us. She shared with us her money, 
her food, and, what was even more valuable, her philosophy. Hers was a 
philosophy which would admit neither defeat, resentment, nor despair. She 
radiated a goodness that was invincible. In later years I was to meet a fair 
number of men and women the world considers great. For true greatness of 
spirit I have never met anyone who outmatched Mollie. 

She was determined that I should not let my experience in the Follies build 
up a resentment against either of the stars who had refused to let me shine 
near them. I have already told of my friendship in later years with Nora 
Bayes. I have always been glad that Mollie herself was a witness to my meet- 
ing with Eva Tanguay. 

It happened some fifteen years later, when I was headlining the Majestic 
Theatre in Milwaukee. I opened that Monday afternoon with a very bad 
cold. Eva Tanguay had been the headliner the previous week. She was the 
biggest attraction in vaudeville, barring none; the most publicized and 
highest-paid performer. Her salary at the time was five thousand a week.. She 
was laying off in Milwaukee, spending a few days with friends, and she 
came to see my opening matinee. The manager brought her backstage to 
meet me. 

I'll never forget that meeting. I was sitting in a light-weight kimono over 
silk underwear when Eva came in. She took one good look at me and then 
started in to give me hell No wonder I had a cold. "You don't dress 
properly. , . . In the winter ... A girl with your voice . . . You should 
take better care of yourself. . . . Wait a minute, I'll be right back. . . ." Out 
she dashed to the nearest department store and to a drugstore, and back she 
came with a lovely set of silk-and-wool underwear and a bottle of cough 
medicine. She, herself, insisted on getting me into the one and dosing me 
with the other, scolding me the whole time. The minute I was fixed up to 
her liking off went the dynamo. Neither of us said one word about the 
Follies of 1909. In fact, I am sure Eva Tanguay never associated me with the 
girl who had sung the jungle number and whose job she had taken away. 
She didn't know who I was any more than a rabbit. 

Mollie, pushed into a corner by Eva, was taking it all in with a big grin 
on her face. 

"Well, Mollie, are you proud of me?" 

"Yes, Patsy, you've learned all right not to carry any bitterness in your 

MOLLIE & CO. 8l 

heart. I'm going to live to see you getting five thousand a week, same as 
Miss Tanguay." 

Eva Tanguay was famous not only for the sums she made, but for those she 
spent. Every gown she wore cost from five hundred to fifteen hundred 
dollars. Her bill for gloves and hose alone was one thousand dollars a month. 
She dressed and lived in the grand manner, giving away her money freely. 
She was a tradition in show business. Several years after our meeting in 
Milwaukee, Eva Tanguay was in Chicago, at the Hotel Sherman, her life 
savings, furs, jewels all gone. Her eyes had started to go bad with cataracts 
and she suffered from arthritis. 

It was a tribute, I think, to Mollie's philosophy that it should be I to 
whom Eva Tanguay turned for help in those dark days. 1 was able to raise 
the money immediately among the members of our profession so she could 
have the needed operation on her eyes. While she is still alive and bedridden 
her stanch friends such as Joe Schenck, Eddie Cantor, Irene Castle, as well 
as many others in and out of the profession who answered my call for help 
for one of the great stars of American vaudeville, are standing by. 

It was about this time, 1929, that I had my first meeting with Florenz 
Ziegfeld since I was in and out of his Follies of 1909. He was then producing 
Noel Coward's Bittersweet at the Ziegfeld Theatre, Fifty-fourth Street and 
Sixth Avenue, in New York, starring Evelyn Laye. 

I had met Noel and Evelyn in London. On their arrival in New York 
they phoned me to lunch with them and to watch a rehearsal. Evelyn, Noel, 
and I were walking arm in arm toward the theater when whom should we 
bump into but Mr. Ziegfeld the same charming Mr. Ziegfeld I remembered 
from those weeks of* rehearsals twenty years before. He was full of praises 
for my work. 

"But, MruZiegfelcT I couldn't resist putting it up to him "why haven't 
you played me in any of your shows all these years?" 

"You made too much money in cafes and vaudeville," he replied. "I 
should have placed you under a personal contract when I saw you tie up the 
show in Atlantic City in 1909. But I had so many worries, so much to think 
about, I let you get away from me. Much to my regret." 

I waited nearly twenty years for that bouquet. 

After the third or fourth week of rest I found my voice coming back. 
Immediately up went my spirits. One day I went down to Tin Pan Alley to 
the office of Watterson, Berlin, and Snyder to have a talk with Irving Berlin. 
He knew about the bad break I had had in the Follies. So did all the boys 


at the- music publishers'. They were all sorry for me. More than once they'd 
slipped me a buck or two to help out through those idle weeks. But now I 
didn't want sympathy or a loan. It was songs I was after. 

Several days later I was rehearsing in one of the music rooms when the 
door suddenly flew open. A man's voice shouted: "Who's the colored gal? 
What a pair of pipes." Then, catching sight of me, "I beg your pardon. A 
white girl. My God! you're Abuza's daughter from the restaurant in Hart- 
ford. Do you remember me?" 

"Of course I remember you," I sang out. "You're Harry Cooper, of the 
Empire City Quartette." 

"That's right. Many a time I ate in your father's restaurant and you sang 
for me." 

"Funny I never bumped into you since I've been knocking around," I 
said. "I've been in New York nearly three years now." 

He wanted to know right away where I was working. I said nothing about 
the Follies, only that I had been having a bad time with my throat and was 
hoping to get started again. 

"Listen," he said. "On Sunday night I'm playing a benefit at the hotel 
down at Arverne, Long Island. You come down too. I'll make a place for 
you on the bill. There's no money in it, but there'll be a big crowd, and 
there are sure to be some* booking agents or theater managers on hand to 
look the acts over. Do you know who William Morris is?" 


Harry Cooper proceeded to explain that William Morris was then opening 
his own circuit of vaudeville houses, the American Music Halls. 

"Music hall is what the English call a vaudeville theater. Morris is one 
swell guy. If he thinks you're good he'll give you every break. If you make 
good in one of his houses he'll play you in them all. I'll have a talk with 
Ed 3loom. He's Mr. Morris's manager. He'll be over at Arverne Sunday 
night. Remember if he likes you you're all set. And listen, kid, with pipes 
like yours you can't miss." 

That's how it happened that on a Sunday morning in late August Mollie 
and I took the train out to Arverne. I had Mollie's suitcase (mine was 
pawned long since) and in it a dress which Mollie had worn for years, her 
purple slippers, her silk hose. Even her rnake-up kit, plus a new box of 
white powder. 

My first impulse on getting a chance to perform again had been to go to 
Mrs. Simon and rent a dress. But Mollie had put her foot down. 

"You can't afford it. Take my yellow lace. Ill refit it for you. It'll be lucky. 
I've seen you through so far. I'm going the limit now!" 

MOLLIE & CO. 83 

"If you could only go with me," I sighed. 

"I am going. I'll go down and dress you. It'll make you look Important. 
Your personal maid. After all we've been through. Patsy, do you think I'd 
miss seeing you tie this show up in a knot?" 

We started early, as I had to be there to rehearse with the orchestra. I 
carried the suitcase. Mollie had the luncheon box she had packed with fried 
chicken, tomatoes, bread and butter. Mollie was very light-colored. She could 
have passed anywhere as white. We might have been any two girls off for 
a day at the beach, instead of two adventurers with wildly beating hearts and 
hopes too big and glittering to put into words. 

I rehearsed three songs: "The Lovin* Rag," which always went well with 
audiences and which no one in the East was singing; a dramatic Southern 
song, "My Southern Rose"; and Irving Berlin's new "Wild Cherry Rag." 
Thank God my voice sounded all right. 

After the rehearsal Mollie and I found a quiet spot on the beach where we 
could eat our lunch. "We've got to save some for supper," Mollie said 
prudently. Even though Harry Cooper was going to give me a big build-up 
with Ed Bloom, there wasn't any money for me in this benefit performance. 

The sun was still hot on the beach when we started back to the hotel 
to get ready. Mollie dressed me, even to the gold rose she had bought for 
my hair. 

"You strut like a peacock," she said, proud of her work. 

I still didn't know what spot I'd be on the big bill of so many acts. Sud- 
denly I was scared. The chicken was talking to me. Suppose my voice failed 

"Mollie, I'm frightened. Suppose they put me on one before closing." 

Before she could reply came a voice: "Miss Tucker. Mr. Cooper wants to 
see you." 

"Go on, Patsy." Mollie gave me a little push. "Pick up your train. Here" 
she held out something "it's my diamond ring. Put it on. Put on this 
gold bracelet. The horses ran right for me yesterday and I got my jewelry 
out of pawn. Wear them for luck. Go on now, strut your stuff." 

I found Harry Cooper ready to go on the stage. 

"Stand by in the wings," he told me. "You follow our act as soon as we 
finish, I will introduce you." 

"But, Harry," I protested, "I'm a singer too. It's no good. You'll take the 
edge of? my work. I can't follow a singing act." 

"We're four men," he reminded me. "There hasn't been a single woman 
on the second half of the bill. I heard you rehearse this morning. Your songs 


are different from ours. Pull yourself together, kid. I'm going to give you a 
big build-up. You can't miss.'* 

He was on, and I was standing ia the wings watching him, with Mollie 
standing alongside me. 

The Empire City Quartette was the greatest comedy and singing act of 
the day. Harry had a 'marvelous baritone voice. The other boys were Harry 
Mayo, the tenor; Harry Tally, bass; and Harry's brother, Irving Cooper, 
the soprano. That night the house gave them a terrific reception, as always 
when they appeared anywhere. 

I clutched Mollie's arm. "I'll never make it after this," I whispered to her. 
"My legs are wobbling under me." 

"Come on, Patsy," she steadied me. "You've been waiting for this chance 
for weeks. God gave you back your voice. He gave it to you for a purpose. 
Use it. Don't forget those promises you made to me. Don't let me down. 
And don't disappoint Mr. Cooper." 

I heard Harry Cooper talking to the audience: "Ladies and gentlemen, 
I was up at the music publishers' a few weeks ago and I heard a singer re- 
hearsing. I thought it was a colored girl at first, until I walked into the room, 
and there was a kid rehearsing coon songs a kid who used to wait on me in 
her father's restaurant back in Hartford, Connecticut. I want you to hear 
her. If my judgment is wrong, and if she doesn't do to you what she did to 
me I mean thrill you with as big a pair of pipes as you've ever heard, then 
blame it on me. Introducing to you Miss Sophie Tucker. . . ." 

"Go on, Patsy," I heard Mollie whisper, and felt her gentle shove. 

I was out on the makeshift stage. The ballroom was packed. I could hear 
the women buzzing. They thought I looked nice. I had my hair up on top 
of my head in a million curls. My gown was long, with a train of ruffles. I 
looked twenty-five years old. I caught the voices: "What a kid!" "A husky 

The audience was warmed up now. Harry had disarmed them completely. 
The build-up he had promised me was marvelous. I gave them the first 
song, my old stand-by, "The Lovin' Rag," and I felt the audience swaying 
with me, tapping their fingers on their programs, beating time. They liked 
the song. Then the second number, "My Southern Rose." Suddenly I re- 
membered I'd forgotten to ask whoever was taking charge of the props to 
have a chair ready for me so I could lean on it while I sang this number. 
That was how I had rehearsed it. 

"Oh, Mollie," I called. "A chair, please, for this number.'* 

Out came Mollie, toddling as only colored people with their inborn sense 

MOLLIE & CO. 85 

of rhythm can. Toddling to her own humming, and grinning broadly, she 
brought out the chair. The audience began to laugh, 

"Here's yo' chair, honey chile," and off she toddled, to a roar of delighted 
laughter. I was laughing too. 

The orchestra was now beginning to play the music for "My Southern 
Rose." Suddenly I remembered I needed a prop red rose to hold in my hand 
while singing. I had forgotten to buy one that afternoon. But there was the 
flower in my hair. That would have to do. It seemed as though a million 
hairpins got in my way; as though all my fingers were thumbs. But I had 
the gold rose. 

The stage was all blacked out. I was in a white spotlight, leaning over 
the back of the chair, the gold rose in my hand. I forgot all about the audi- 
ence, everything, everybody. I had to make believe I had a real red rose in 
my hand, singing a dramatic song of the South. I had laughed so hard at 
Mollie the tears were in my eyes. Never mind, the tears will help put the 
song across. If I cry, the audience will cry too. 

All through the darkness of the ballroom I could see hankies corning out. 
Good! It worked. A new trick. I'll keep those in the act: the business with 
Mollie over the chair, the rose. They're good stuff; make my act different 
from just standing in the center of the stage singing one song after another. 

All this I thought to myself as I was singing. To this very day, when any- 
thing strikes me, when I get a new idea or if some accident happens on 
the stage that I can turn to advantage, I always try to elaborate on it and keep 
it in my act. 

I had saved "Wild Cherry Rag" for my last song. It was a novelty song, 
with a very catchy melody. In my excitement at the rehearsals I'd omitted 
to show the orchestra leader where the musical breaks in this particular 
number came in. When it came to the part for the orchestra to play them, 
the musicians didn't know what to do, so I whistled them. My intention 
was just to show the orchestra what I meant for the first strain, thinking 
they would catch on for the balance. But my whistling a rhythm break was 
more of a novelty than for the orchestra to play it. The audience picked it up 
so quickly that when I came to the second break the whole house whistled 
it. And the song, just by this accident, was a riot. Had I rehearsed it properly, 
the song possibly would never have meant a thing. So in one performance 
I discovered two new tricks, my own tric\$, to make my singing of songs 

The audience wanted more. But three songs were all I had rehearsed. I 
felt I was a big hit. Better not spoil it, singing without a rehearsal. Besides, 


the Empire City Quartette had sung for over thirty minutes. I mustn't overdo 
it. But Mollie must take a bow. She had made a hit, toddling on with the 
chair. She must get credit for helping put my act over. 

"Come on, Mollie, and take a bow," I yelled of! stage. "You're part o my 
act now." 

There was terrific applause as Mollie toddled on again. 

Harry Cooper was standing in the entrance. I walked over, took his hand, 
and drew him on the stage with me. "Harry, I hope I didn't disappoint you. 
You made this tryout possible for me and I'm grateful to you." 

Harry put it up to the audience. "Are you satisfied with my judgment 
that this kid can sing?" 

The applause said that they were. 

Well, it wasn't just my imagination that the audience liked rne. Ed Bloom 
came back after the show and booked me for the following week at Mr. 
Morris's ace house, the American Music Hall at Forty-second Street and 
Eighth Avenue in New York. Salary, forty dollars. 

"We're starting to climb," said Mollie, packing up the yellow lace dress. 
"I'll just run out and give that box of chicken to the first hungry-looking 
man I see. After that, Patsy, you and me'll celebrate on a beefsteak!" 

CHAPTER 10: Vaudeville, Big-Time 

No WONDER that day at Arverne stands out in my mind after all these years 
as clearly as if it was only yesterday. I turned a corner that day, perhaps one 
of the most important corners in my life. 

I didn't know it at the time. I don't suppose we ever do realize when we 
make the fatal swing out of one road into another. It isn't till afterward, 
when we have climbed a hill and caught our breath, that we can look back 
over the way we've come and see where the important turns were and where, 
only for a friend's helping hand and what seemed an accident at the time, 
we got started on the right road. At the time I was chiefly excited about 
getting a job that would give me some money and a chance to get bookings 
ia vaudeville. Now I know that infinitely more valuable than the job itself 
and the chance it offered to get out of debt was the connection it gave me 
with that great man in show business, William Morris. 

A finer man and a more lovable character never lived. For twenty-eight 
years, except for the interval after the failure of the American Music Halls 
and Mr. Morris's stay up at Saranac to get back his health, he was my "Boss." 
The agency he founded still handles me.' I'm their oldest client; aot in years, 


but in terms of paying my weekly commissions. "Junior," whom I remember 
in short pants, inherited me along with the firm. Back in the early days 
there was an office boy named Abe who used to usher me in to see the 
Boss. He was Abe Lastfogel, who is now an equal partner in the agency and 
continues the tradition the Boss trained us both in. 

William Morris had been a booking agent on his own and then for a 
combine of Klaw and Erlanger that invaded the vaudeville field. The com- 
petition between this company and the United Booking Office formed by the 
Keith-Albee interests was so keen, each side bidding against the other for 
popular acts, sending up the salaries of performers, that finally United paid 
Klaw and Erlanger $150,5000 to get out of vaudeville and stay out for ten 
years. Promptly, and determined to stay in vaudeville, William Morris 
started his own circuit of American Music Halls, This was just a few months 
before he signed me on. 

He was a man of imagination, terrific foresight, and big ideas. And he had 
the daring to follow them through. He believed ardently in vaudeville as 
the greatest popular entertainment. And he believed the American people 
appreciated great performers. But what endeared William Morris to every- 
one and especially to the performers he booked was his personal interest 
in them. That was the grandest thing in our show business. If he watched 
you work, he would come around backstage and give you the best creative 
criticism a performer could possibly get. "I'd tone it down just a little bit 
if I were you," he might say. "I wouldn't play it quite so fast. Slow it down 
a trifle," or, "You weren't right on your timing tonight, dear. It didn't get 
across the way it should. Watch that." "Always play to your audience," was 
one bit of advice he gave you again and again. 

What that kind of criticism does for a performer! It gives you a feeling 
of security, of knowing there's somebody who wants you to do your work 
well and who is standing by to see that you do. In the case of foreign actors 
it makes all the difference between their being a success with American 
audiences and a flop. Harry Lauder knew this. That was why he stuck to 
William Morris without there ever being a contract between them for all 
the seasons he played this country. In all the years I have been with the 
Morris Agency there has never been a piece of paper between us. 

That interest in the actor was backed up by big salaries. William Morris's 
circuit was the beginning of big money paid to vaudeville performers. In 
his houses the bills ran from twenty to twenty-two acts, as compared to the 
eight or ten acts on the Keith bills. Continuing the tradition of Tony Pastor, 
Mr. Morris brought over every British music-hall star he could find Sir 


Harry Lander, Marie Lloyd, Alice Lloyd, Lily Lena, Arthur Prince, Vesta 
Victoria, Charlie Chaplin in "A Night in an English Music Hall," George 
Lockwood, and many others. He paid these British stars three and four 
times more than they got in England. 

To the American performers playing his circuit he was just as generous, 
Nowadays, a lot of people seem to think that big money for actors didn't 
start until Hollywood became the capital of show business. As a matter of 
fact, way back, in 1909 and 1910 William. Morris was paying such weekly 
salaries as: 

Julian Eltinge, Female Impersonator $3,500 

Pauline, the Hypnotist $4,000 

Montgomery and Moore $2,500 

Empire City Quartette $2,500 

Jim Jeffries, Prize Fighter $5,000 

Grace La Rue $2,500 

Consul the Monk $2,500 

Elizabeth Murray $1,500 

Juliet $1,500 

Besides these, I, engaged to play my first week at the American Music 
Hall at Forty-second Street and Eighth Avenue, New York City, at forty 
dollars, was an also-ran. But the act went over, and I was held over for a 
second week. Immediately Mr. Morris, raised me to seventy-five dollars, 
making it possible for me to buy another dress to have a change. When I 
started on the road my salary was raised again to one hundred dollars. 

At last I was on "big-time." Two shows a day instead of three. Top prices, 
one dollar and a half. And every bill with two or three occasionally four 

With such salaries as I have cited paid to headliners and standard acts it 
is easy to figure that the salaries for a week's bill on "big-time" would run 
easily to twenty thousand or twenty-five thousand dollars. In the small-time 
houses the salaries for a show usually ran weekly from five thousand to seven 
thousand dollars. 

Mollie couldn't go with me, of course. Even on a one-hundred-dollar-a- 
week salary I couldn't afford a personal maid. Besides, Mollie still had her 
job with Lillian Lorraine, who was making a big hit in the Follies, and 
there was Bill and her home to be looked after. Whenever I played any 
house in^Gr eater New York, Mollie would manage to be with me. 

"Someday 111 be making enough so I can afford to take you with me every- 
where I go," I promised, hugging her. 


"Remember, Patsy, Fm always rooting for you/ 5 was her final farewell 
to me. 

For the first time since I started in show business I knew what it was not 
to be worried about money. With the responsibilities I was carrying I 
couldn't be wasteful or extravagant, but every Sunday night my pay envelope 
was there for me and enough in it to take care of me and the folks back 
home. Every Monday morning I would be the first one at the post office to 
buy the three money orders I sent every week, regular as clockwork: one to 
Mama, one to Moe who was now able to give aE his time and attention to 
his law course at New York University, and my commission to the "boss." 

The sense of security that I got out of that pay envelope along with the 
greenbacks did a lot for my work. I know I worked harder to make my act 
a success and sang better because I was free from the kind of anxiety that 
had caused me to lose my voice after my experience in the Follies. William 
Morris was wise enough to know that by paying performers good salaries 
he got better work from them. 

He never let one performer on a bill interfere with another. Everyone 
had an equal chance. Though his bills ran to twenty and even twenty-two 
acts, he was careful to have only one singer, one mimic, one wire walker or 
trapeze performer on each bill Every act had its chance, and every act was 
expected to prove its value in the only way that this ever can be done by 
box-office receipts. 

The system of the New York office was to send out weekly, to every house 
on the circuit, a list of the performers on that week's bill, starting with the 
headliner and running down to the opening act. The headliner was always 
put on one or two before the end of the show. The value of each act on the 
bill was indicated by the size of type used for the name. After each name 
came a line telling what the act was toe dancer, ventriloquist, comedian, 
et cetera. 

From this list the theater manager knew how to arrange his bill The local 
publicity man knew who to feature in the newspapers that week and what 
each performer's specialty was. Billing that, as every theater manager would 
tell you, was their grief. It seemed as if the headliners who got all the space 
in the press, anyway were never satisfied. I have known them to walk out 
of a show simply because their names didn't appear in type as big as they 
thought they were .entitled to. Or, if there were two headliners, and their 
names appeared side by side, the one who drew the left-hand side of the bill 
would be jealous and ready to bite the manager's head off. 

Jack Lait, Mirror editor, was then William Morris's publicity man in 


Chicago when I arrived there to play my first week at the American Music 
Hall at Peck Court and Wabash Avenue. I found myself Number Four on 
an eighteen-act bill. Pauline, the Hypnotist, and Julian Eltinge, Female Im- 
personator, were the two top headliners that week. Jack Lait, following 
orders, had spread big stories about them both in all the Chicago papers. I 
didn't get a line. Even on the program there was nothing after my name to 
tell the audience what I did to entertain. For some reason or other the New 
York office had failed to send Jack Lait any information about me. He didn't 
know whether I was a singer, a juggler, or a leopard tamer. 

That house was very much like Hammerstein's in New York, with a bar 
on the mezzanine floor. A long, narrow theater, very intimate, and a very 
warm house. The audience at the Monday matinee was wonderful. I found 
that in Chicago, as in New York, the same people came to every Monday 
matinee, week after week, fifty-two weeks a year. They knew every per- 
former on big-time and they welcomed their favorites with a grand reception. 
I had had absolutely no build-up, but they liked my songs, and they kept 
me there on the stage, calling for more and more, refusing to let the next 
act go on until I told them I had no more songs to sing. I sang for a half- 

The minute the act was over Jack Lait dashed to his typewriter and tore 
off a piece for the evening editions, telling Chicago to come to the American 
Music Hall and hear "The Mary Garden of Ragtime." That title was a burst 
of inspiration, not only for Chicagoans who worshiped their gorgeous-look- 
ing prima donna, but for American audiences everywhere. I carried that 
line for many years as my billing. It was Jack Lait, too, who spread the word 
to Ashton Stevens, Amy Leslie, Percy Hammond, and Charlie Collins, the 
dramatic critics of the Chicago press: "Go to the Music Hall and see and 
hear a great gal with a pair of pipes, that the audience made their own head- 
liner at the opening matinee today from a twenty-act bill." 

Seeing my name played up in the papers for the first time was a thrill. 
Now to repeat the hit at the night show when, so Jack Lait said, the critics 
would be there. I went on with my heart in my mouth. The green chiffon 
hanky in my hand shook like a lettuce leaf with the jitters. But the reception 
the audience gave me cured my stage fright immediately. That reception 
could only mean that the people who had liked me that afternoon had al- 
ready told their friends about me. What a friendly gang to do a thing like 
that! Chicagoans are wonderful that way. If they like you they let you know 
it, and no halfway about it, either. They had made me their headliner and 
their headliner Fve stayed up to this very day. Jack Lait grinned when he 


showed me the report he was wiring In to the New York office. It read: 
"Sophie Tucker the hit of the show! 3 

The critics came across as gracefully as it is possible for professional high- 
brows to bow to the public's choice. They all took a whack at my size and 
the size of my voice and my brand of coon songs which, according to Charlie 
Collins, "were not for parlor use, but were certainly a success with the audi- 
ence." Amy Leslie, of the Chicago Daily News, qualified her calling my 
songs "near to shocking" by adding: "But Miss Tucker's fairness, her calm 
amiability, ready smile, and emphatic gestures carry her through, even with- 
out a bump." 

Ashton Stevens's piece in the Chicago Examiner still gives me so much 
pleasure I can't resist giving it in full: 

. . . And speaking of elephants and ladies, there is Sophie Tucker. If life were 
as large as Sophie Tucker there would be room for all of us. I don't mind saying 
at once that Sophie Tucker is my headliner, even if the American management 
does employ other type and position for her. 

She has a voice well, if Julian Eltinge's singing voice was as virile as Miss 
Tucker's, he would be executing a long overdue male impersonation. Miss 
Tucker could have sung right through the matinee and into the evening per- 
formance, so far as the audience was concerned. Actually, she had to chase her- 
self away from us with a stupid song. You may recall that Lucy Weston used to 
do that when the motorcar was honking at the stage door. And Miss Tucker 
reminds, heavily, of Miss Weston. Some of her songs are red, white, and blue, 
and some of them omit the red and white. But they are never quite dark navy 
blue. Rather they are inclined to be evil only to the fellow that brings evil with 

If your heart is pure and your mind like the beautiful snow, you will have a 
lovely time while Miss Tucker is singing "But He Only Stays Till Sunday" and 
"I Just Couldn't Make Ma Feelin's Behave." Even less secular is the New York 
rag "Carrie," which becomes a syncopated hara-kiri before Miss Tucker has 
finished you with it. 

Miss Tucker can move an audience or a piano with equal address. Don't 
miss any of her. . . . 

I don't know whether it surprised any of the critics to receive a note from 
me in the next morning's mail, thanking them for their criticism and prom- 
ising to benefit by it. I sent off the notes right after the second night's show. 
I do know that we became good friends in the years when I played Chicago 
so often and for such long engagements that that city became my theatrical 
home. I lost a good friend in Percy Hammond, and when Amy Leslie 
died in 1939 a light went out of rny life. 


For years Amy Leslie was one o Chicago's "characters." No first night 
in Chicago could begin until Amy, dressed in very gay colors, fluttering 
shawls and scarves and fur pieces more o them than any other woman 
could wear at one time carrying a staff, not a cane, came dowrx the aisle 
to take her seat. She was a short woman, on the plumpish side, with bright 
red, frizzly hair that rose defiantly above her rainbow of colors. When I met 
her she was already in the fifties. Her penetrating mind and her fearless 
and witty pen made her one of the powers in the world of show business. 
Producers, managers, and performers paid court to Amy. Her rooms at the 
Parkway Hotel, where I knew her for more than twenty-five years, were 
crowded with rare and beautiful things given her by the show people whose 
success she helped to make. She had a collection of clocks, I remember, of 
every sort and description. She adored big, stunning-looking handbags, and 
her assortment of these was greater than that of any of the performers whose 
photographs literally covered the walls of her rooms. Amy's bags were given 
to her and replenished regularly by her friends David Belasco, Florenz 
Ziegfeld, A. H. Woods, the Frohmans, C. B. Dillingham, Sam Harris, and 

One night while I was playing a return engagement in Chicago I was 
having supper at the Hotel Sherman with Jack Lait. He pointed out Amy 

"I'd like to meet her,* I said impulsively. It wasn't just because she was 
Chicago's most important dramatic critic. There was something about the 
little woman with her flaming topknot and her shouting gay colors and 
glittering jewels that made me love her. There was pity mixed up with the 
love. For all her gaiety, her importance, her popularity, Amy Leslie im- 
pressed me as a very lonely woman. 

"Come on, then." Jack Lait jumped up and motioned me to come with 
him. He took me across the crowded room to Amy's table. From that minute 
we were friends. 

I was right: Amy was lonely. The bright colors were her defense against 
an enemy I could understand. We never talked about it, but she knew I 
knew. Then came her marriage to Frank Buck, of "Bring 'Em Back Alive" 
fame. Frank was twenty years her junior. She was bursting with pride of 
him. Meanwhile her colors grew gayer, her jewels bigger and more gorgeous, 
her smile a beam of content. At this time, I remember, her red hair got to 
misbehaving so she had it all shaved off and wore a lovely red wig until 
her own hair came in silvery white. In a white, mannish bob Amy looked 
much more distinguished than she ever had before. 


Then her marriage went on the rocks, at about the same time my marriage 
to Frank Westphal (Fm coming to that part o the story soon) sprang a 
leak and had to be towed into court. I hadn't seen or heard from Amy in 
some time when I arrived to play Chicago and phoned her. As usual she 
came over to the Hotel Sherman and lived with me while I was in town. I 
knew whatever hurt she had suffered hadn't killed her sense of humor when 
she greeted me. 

"Well, beloved, we will have our Franks." 

And that one line is all Amy ever said to me about her married life. 

She had a terrific sense of humor, and she loved telling stories on herself. 
I remember her coming in one day grinning over an encounter with the 
policeman at Clark and Randolph streets, Chicago's busiest corner. Amy was 
up in years and afraid to cross the traffic alone. She called to the mounted 

"Hey, Paul Revere! Help me across the street, please." 

"Sure, lady/' he beamed down at her, "Fm glad to. Only youVe got my 
name wrong. Tis Paul McCafferty, it is." 

George Ade, the humorist, was Amy's best friend. On one of her visits to 
New York with me, George was in town. Knowing what a terrific appetite 
Amy had, he sent her a big Virginia ham. As ham was taboo in my house, 
Amy had to take her ham around to George's hotel for her breakfast. How 
Amy loved to eat! "Remember, food is not to be wasted," she'd say, and finish 
everyone's plate. 

As the years went by and Amy drew near eighty it was pitiful to see that 
bright mind grow confused, her letters rambling. The News pensioned her, 
She retired into her rooms at the Parkway, hung with relics of the days when 
she was sought after and courted. Sad to see how few of those who used to 
wait on Amy Leslie's favor remembered her when her mind and her eye- 
sight were fading and when she could no longer be of use to them. Texas 
Guinan was the only one I know of who visited Arny in those last dark 
years. But Amy went to the end undaunted. As she said to me: 

"Beloved, my eyes are- only tired. They need a rest. Soon I will see you and 
the sunshine."' 

And how she loved the sunshine! She made several trips with me to Cali- 
fornia. While we were there she ordered a copy of the Chicago News to he 
delivered to her. Amy couldn't begin her day without it. The paper came 
before we were up and was thrown over on the lawn. The neighbor's little 
six-year-old boy always got it and took care of it till he saw Amy come out 
on the porch. One morning, as he handed her the paper, she asked him if he 


would like to marry her. The youngster hesitated a moment. "I don't know 
if I can marry you," he said, "but I wouldn't mind being your sweetheart" 
Quoting Amy: "That's Hollywood, true to form." 

From the start, when I got my first vaudeville engagement, I had kept all 
my press notices and letters, even post cards, pasting them into ledgers I 
bought at the Five-and-Ten. While in Chicago I invested half a dollar in a 
regular scrapbook. Now that I was on big-time, I was determined to be 
strictly businesslike about my career and keep a perfect file of everything con- 
nected with it. I've kept that self-made promise all these years. There are 
now five big trunks filled with scrapbooks the day-to-day records of more 
than thirty years' work. 

As a result of that first big- day at the Music Hall in Chicago Jack Lait tele- 
graphed the Boss, advising that I be held over for a second week. I nearly 
lost my voice from the excitement. I had had no billing for my first week, 
but for the second week Jack Lait billed me as "The Extra Added Attrac- 
tion" and "The Mary Garden of Ragtime." I simply had to live up to a line 
Jike that. Out I dashed to the music publishers' on a hunt for new songs, and 
stayed up nights learning them. A holdover like that cost money. It meant a 
new dress for one thing. The audience mustn't hear the same songs or see 
the same gown a second time. 

One of the new songs I found that week was called "There's Company 
in the Parlor, Girls, Come on Down." It was a double-entendre song, and 
the first one of the sort I ever used in my act* Way back in the days when I 
was singing at the German Village, Fred Fisher, who wrote a lot of swell 
songs, used to tell me that that was the kind of song I could and should sing. 
His argument was that because I was big and gawky, and entirely lacking in 
what the fashion writers nowadays call "allure," I made a song such as that 
funny but not salacious. 

"Why is it that jokes on sex always get the biggest laughs?" Fred would 
say. "Because they're about something everybody knows about and thinks 
about. They're jokes about life and about a side of life most people don't 
dare mention above a whisper in the dark. Give an audience a chance to 
laugh at sex, instead of feeling afraid and ashamed of it, and God, how they 
love it! They get a feeling of relief right away. 

"Of course not everybody can handle a comedy song about sex. You have 
to walk a hairline. Take a pretty, sexy-looking girl and let her pull some- 
thing of the sort and it's offensive right away. It's smutty without being 
funny. There are damn few singers who have what it takes to put a double- 


entendre song over. But, Soph, you've got it. And if you don't make use of it, 
cash in on it, you're losing a bet that's worth thousands o smackers to you*" 

When I heard "There's Company in the Parlor, Girls," those words of 
Fred's came back to me. It was the kind of song that if you were a prim 
little teacher from Squedunk you would think mildly amusing, but it would 
have a very different meaning for the wise guys in the audience. The inno- 
cents couldn't find a thing in it to object to, and the others would find a 
belly laugh in every line. The song, as I figured, was sure to go over big with 
a Chicago audience because of the famous Everleigh Club in that city which 
was so popular with all the Chicago playboys. At the same time, every city 
across the country had a club, patterned more or less after the one owned by 
the Everleigh sisters. Yes, that song would panic the wise guys in every 
audience in every town where I might be billed. 

I introduced "There's Company in the Parlor, Girls," in my second week 
at the Music Hall. I was right about it: it brought down the house. After the 
Monday matinee Jack Lait came back to tell me that all the girls from, the 
Everleigh Club were there to hear me sing the song. The girls became my 
biggest boosters. 

After that week I made it a rule always to have a double-entendre song in 
my act. I would start off with a lively rag, then would come a ballad followed 
by a comedy song and a novelty number. And finally the hot song. In this 
way I left the stage with the audience laughing their heads off. For encores I 
always had popular songs, new ones. I very seldom sang numbers for the 
audience to sing with me. A lot of performers did that. I was determined to 
be different. 

Occasionally theater managers would ask me to cut out the hot numbers. 
They were afraid of offending the prissy patrons. But I always came back: 
"The audience likes them. Listen to them laugh. So long as folks like those 
songs they stay in my act. My job is to entertain." And the box office con- 
tinued to show how right I was about this. 

Often I am asked: "Why do you sing hot songs?" And I can answer truth- 
fully: "I've never sung a single song in my whole life on purpose to- shock 
anyone. I sing to entertain. My 'hot numbers' (and especially the songs Jack 
Yellen has been writing for me for the past twenty years) are all, if you will 
notice, written around something that is real in the lives of millions of 
people. They are songs that mean something to everybody who hears them." 
One of the most popular songs I ever used was Jack Yellen's "Life Begins at 
Forty!" It's a hot song, and, I insist, it's not dirty. It expresses what every- 
body who shivers at the word "middle-aged" feels; that is, the longing to 


make life over, to- live it more fully and freely. To have more love and a lot 
more laughs. 

Another thing about my "hot numbers/' they are all moral. They have to 
do with sex, but not with vice. That, I believe, is one secret of their unfailing 
popularity with American audiences. 

The other secret that makes for their success is the fact that they are all 
written in the first person. When Fm singing them I am talking about my- 
self. This makes me do them better than I could do a song about some in- 
definite third person. And the audience likes them better that way. Right at 
the outset of my career in vaudeville that afternoon in Boston when I fell 
on my backside and the audience laughed and applauded, and thought it the 
best thing in my whole act I got something out of that black-and-blue mark 
that has put thousands of dollars in my pocket. It was the discovery that the 
audience found my distress funny. All right, I thought, Fll capitalize on that. 
And I have, consistently. Fve found that audiences always enjoy it when I 
make fun of myself in my songs. They laugh at me, at whatever predicament 
I find myself in, just as they laughed when I fell down. And at the same time 
their laughter is tinged with the knowledge that the same thing could 
happen to them, 

If I should sing the songs in such a way as to point them at them, not at 
me, they would feel too self-conscious to enjoy them. Making it a song about 
myself leaves them free to apply it to themselves. 

And they do. 

Jack Lait made it possible for me to play return dates at all the houses on 
Mr. Morris's circuit. New York called me back to play. So did Brooklyn. 
Each time I had new songs and new gowns. I had a lovely wardrobe now, 
and the Boss raised my salary to one hundred and seventy-five dollars a week. 
I was getting to be the most booked act on the whole circuit. No other per- 
former played Chicago as often as I did. 

At this time C. B. Zittell was playing up the American Music Hall and 
William Morris's performers in a column in the New York Journal called 
"The Vaudeville Chart." Zit was a warm friend to newcomers in show busi- 
ness. He had an unquenchable admiration for talent. It was he who built up 
Eva Tanguay to the point where she was the highest-salaried performer in 

What a thrill I got when I saw his charts build me up from fourth and 
fifth position to third, then to second place, and then to the headline spot. 


The ladder of vaudeville fame Is Indeed a hard one to climb, and the public 
never knows the obstacles strewn In artists* paths. On this week's program there 
appears a name Sophie Tucker. The electric sign does not bear her name as 
she passes In front of the theater. Her name Is not even In large letters on the 
three sheets. . . . But what a wonderful strike it was for Sophie Tucker at the 
American track this week. Appearing in a study of black velvet, Miss Tucker 
sang six riotous songs to such applause that the statue of Purity fairly shook 
in Times Square. Miss Tucker Is fortunate in having an act that Is somewhat 
out of the ordinary. Her selections of songs are perfect. Her renditions of them 
are exquisite. From Miss Tucker's success last night her path in the future can- 
not help being one golden line. The electric signs will come, so will the large 
type on the three sheets, and she will be able to dictate her own spot on the bill 
before many moons go by. 

So wrote Zit after I played my second return date at the New York Music 
Hall. Just five weeks after that I rang him up from Atlantic City to tell him 
that my name was up in electric lights at the Criterion Theatre there. 

"I'm coming down to see it for myself," he said. And he did, over that 
week end. I remember him doubled up with laughter when he caught me 
standing outside the theater trying to take a snapshot of the electric sign with 
my Brownie and dripping tears of excitement. 

"Big crybaby," said Zit. , 

He couldn't possibly know what those bulbs flashing SOPHIE TUCKER 
over the Boardwalk meant to me. It was just a little more than a year since 
the first night of the Follies of 1909 and the disappointment and heartache 
that began for me that night. And right there in Atlantic City too. All that 
came over me when I first saw my name up in lights. Even before I tele- 
phoned Zit I sent off a hasty note to Mollie with a ten-dollar bill tucked into 
it to give her the news and to tell her to come right down and see for herself 
that her prophecy had come true. I was a headliner, not a "patsy" any more. 

She came. A broken leg wouldn't have kept her away. She and I stood hand 
in hand outside the theater staring at those lights like two- kids at a circus. 
And after the night show we squeezed into a double chair and rode up and 
down the Boardwalk, enjoying the crowds and the noise and the fun, talking 
our heads off. 

CHAPTER n: High, Wide, and Handsome 

THERE'S NO GETTING ROUND IT, success does things to you. Makes you feel 
different, act different. I was strutting now. 


"Don't let it go to your head, Patsy/ 1 Mollie would warn me whenever we 
were together, and in every letter she wrote me when I was on the road. 

"Not me/' Fd reply. I meant it too* But Lord! I could no more keep the 
success feeling from getting me than I could keep from catching measles in a 
room full of them. Not after the lean., hard years I'd come through. Just you 
try walking out into the blazing sunshine after spending three years in a 
dark room and see if you don't blink and stagger and get a bit dizzy In the 

For the first time since I was a kid I was enjoying life; finding in it some- 
thing more than just hard work and the worry about getting ahead. 

There was still plenty of work. In Chicago, in the residential districts of 
the suburbs, theaters were springing up* everywhere the President, the 
Wilson, the Kedzie, the Willard, the Circle, and many more. As soon as an 
act was a hit at the American Music Hall it would be engaged for these out- 
lying ten-cent houses. I found myself the headliner in all these theaters. 
Whenever I played Chicago this meant I would play there eight to ten weeks 
at a stretch, and when I could manage it, I lived close to the theater. Then I 
would hop out of bed, in pajamas, just half an hour before I had to go on for 
the first show around noon. With a coat over the pajamas I was round the 
corner, into the stage door, and in my dressing room ready to make up. From 
then on I stayed in the theater until I finished my act in the night show, 
around eleven. Then out for some supper and perhaps a poker game. And 
back to bed by three o'clock. 

Playing two months or more in one city meant new songs all the time. I 
couldn't afford to go stale. If people paid their dimes to see and hear Sophie 
Tucker they didn't want to hear the same songs over and over or see the 
same clothes. If something happened so that one or a couple of the other 
acts on the bill fell flat I had to work like hell to make it up to the audience, 
give them something extra, so they would go home feeling satisfied. I was 
finding out that topping a bill means responsibility. But working that way 
I was able to run my salary up to two hundred and two hundred and fifty 
dollars a week in those ten-cent houses. The Boss was pleased with me. 
Whenever I played a return date at the Music Hall he would raise my salary 
twenty-five to fifty dollars. 

The Circle Theatre, on Chicago's West Side, was the first of the now 
famous Balaban and Katz circuit of houses. I played there when Barney 
Balaban, president of Paramount Pictures, was in the box office selling tickets. 
In those days Ida Balaban, .the first Mrs. Sam Katz, played the piano, and 
her brother, A. J., used to sing with the illustrated slides. The Balabans 


revolutionized show business. They started the new era of big movie houses 
in Chicago. A. J. was the first to put on presentation shows in all the picture 
houses. It was he who brought out the first big bands. His houses with their 
huge orchestras, stage show, and pictures, all for less than a dollar admission, 
killed vaudeville. 

A. J. had a positive genius for knowing what the public would go for. 
And if he felt any doubts about his own ideas he would go to William Morris 
for advice. 

All of us knew that the Boss knew best 

While I was in New York playing one of my return dates I made up my 
mind to follow a hunch I had. I'd heard that the Edison Recording Com- 
pany was paying a thousand dollars for ten records by singers who already 
had a popular following. What, I asked myself, was to prevent me making 
ten records and chipping off the thousand dollars to make a down payment 
on a new house for Ma and Pa? 

I went up to the Recording Company's office, saw the manager, and got 
him to come to the Music Hall to hear me. He offered me the contract, and 
it was arranged that I should make one record (two songs) the following 
week. I would be paid one hundred dollars for these, and would be paid in 
the same way for the other nine records as I made them during the year. 

This arrangement didn't suit my plans at all. I tried to get the manager to 
let me draw the thousand dollars in advance, after the first two songs had 
been recorded, but he said it could not be done. 

I made the songs "The Lovin' Rag" and "That Lovin' Two-Step Man. n I 
worked a whole morning on them. When I heard the playback I turned to 
the boys and let out a yell: "My God, I sound like a foghorn!" 

I was terrible. 

However, the manager seemed satisfied with the recordings, and when I 
read the advertising the company put out about them I said to myself: the 
Edison Company must know what they're doing. They can't think I'm as 
bad as I think I am. They even wanted me to make a second record before I 
left New York. So I cheered up a little and right away my business instincts 
went to work. Those two records had to sell. 

I got out my address book and sent off post cards to everyone I knew, all 
over the country, telling them about the records and urging them to buy 
them. I felt I must prove my worth to the Recording Company. I had the 
two hundred dollars for the first two records safely put into a postal money 
order and I was holding on to this like grim death until I could collect the 


eight hundred dollars balance. Like everybody in show business in those 
days who wanted to save any money, I went out and bought a post-office 
money order made out to myself. This could be cashed anywhere you hap- 
pened to be. All of us who were constantly on the road used to do that. We 
let Uncle Sam keep our savings for us. 

While I was still in New York that time Mama came down and brought 
Son to spend a day with me. Every time I got to New York I would let them 
know at home and send the railroad fares so Mama or Pa or Anna could 
come down on an excursion ticket and bring Son along. He was growing up 
fast, going to kindergarten at the Brown School where I had gone; not a 
baby any more. Pa just worshiped him. He wouldn't let Anna take Son to 
school on his first day there. He insisted on doing it himself so he could tell 
the teacher how smart his grandson was. 

Every time I saw my boy I felt I must work harder, get ahead quicker, 
make more money so I could do more for him. I wanted to send him away 
to a good boarding school, a military school where he wouldn't be spoiled the 
way poor Pa spoiled him at home. And every time I saw Mama, getting old 
and bent, still working hard to make the restaurant pay and to catch up on 
what Pa lost in those pinochle and poker games, I felt I couldn't wait an- 
other week to get her out of that life and into a home of her own where 
there would be no restaurant business for her any more. 

But to do that would take a good lump sum to start off with besides what 
I could send her regularly every week out of my salary. 

After I put her and Son on the train at Grand Central to go back to Hart- 
ford I hurried back to the theater to get ready for the night show. My mind 
was in a whirl. Somehow or other I had to get the money to buy Mama a 
home of her own. I had two hundred dollars toward it, but I needed one 
thousand dollars. There was a house on Maple Avenue she said she liked. I 
had asked her some questions about it, not letting on, though, that I was 
figuring on a way to buy it for her. Then back in the theater, putting on my 
make-up, I got my big idea. 

I'll write to Mr. Edison himself, I said. No, I'll go to see him. Ill tell him 
right out why I want the thousand dollars, and I'll promise to make the 
other eight records any time he wants- them if only he'll pay me for them in 
advance. Then, still smearing on the cream, I let my imagination run on, 
planning how I'd dash up to Hartford before I started out on the road again, 
and how I'd pull the grand out of my pocket the way a magician takes 
rabbits out of a silk hat, and say to Mama: "There's your home. Now let's go 
right out and buy it." 


The next morning saw me over in Orange, New Jersey. 1 couldn't see Mr. 
Edison, but I did see his secretary. I explained the matter to him, and he 
promised to take it up with Mr. Edison. He said I could expect a letter in a 
few days' time. 

So I didn't go to Hartford after all. I didn't have any wonderful good news 
to take me there. Instead I left for Indianapolis to play a week's engagement. 
I'd given the secretary my address, and every day the first thing I did on 
coming into the theater was to look in the mailbox for the promised letter. 

On Wednesday, I remember, I got to the theater early for the matinee. 
Maybe I had another hunch that I would hear that: day. Anyway, there was 
the- letter. And in it a check for eight hundred dollars. 

I didn't waste a. minute getting down to the post office and buying another 
money order for eight hundred dollars payable to Brother Phil And right 
after the matinee I got the letter off to him enclosing the order, and telling 
him to buy Mama the house on Maple Avenue she wanted and to move the 
family into it right away. Now* that I was working steadily I would send 
money regularly every week to keep up the payments and to take care of 
Ma and Pa. No more restaurant. That was done with forever. 

In the same mail went a heartfelt note of thanks to Mr. Edison, who had 
made all this possible. Enclosed in this was a signed agreement to make the 
remaining eight records when I came back to New York. 

I had heard a lot about the Pantages time and the Sullivan-Considine time, 
a circuit of independent theaters west of Chicago to California. These were 
small-time houses running in opposition to the Orpheum Circuit. I made 
contact with the Pantages Circuit and booked my first trip to the West Coast 
at two hundred and fifty dollars and railroad fares. There were houses in 
Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Tacoma, Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, Oak- 
land, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Denver, besides other 
theaters in the smaller towns where we had to take a cut in salary. I was 
headlined now and carried Jack Lait's billing "The Mary Garden of Rag- 

What a thrill to see my own U. S. A.; picturesque and historic spots I had 
read about; towns I had heard other performers talk about! 

I was determined to prove my value. I had great songs with me, and a 
lovely wardrobe. To see my name up in electric lights in every city made me 
work all the harder. In every town I played I tried to make friends, and when 
I came back to that town to play a return engagement I would let those 
friends know in advance that I was coming and counted on seeing them 
again. My address book was filling up fast. 


I have always believed (I still do) that an entertainer who builds up for 
herself a friendly audience has the most valuable asset in the whole show 
business* There's a wonderful stimulation in playing to people who know 
you. You can feel the warm wave of friendly interest come across the foot- 
lights the minute you step onto the stage. It eases some of the terrible tension 
which every performer, no matter how long she has been in the game, feels 
at the start of her act. And then it acts like a powerful stimulant. You can't 
let your friends down, 

Looking back over that first trip to the West Coast is like the series of 
quick flashes the movie directors use to give you the feeling that a lot of 
events are happening very fast. 

Seattle means a tangle of queer-looking ships in the harbor and a supper of 
crawfish so good I ate too many and lost two shows being sick as a poisoned 
pup. It was in Seattle I first met Texas Guinan. She was doing a Western act 
on the Sullivan-Considine time in opposition to the Pantages houses I was 
playing. Tex couldn't sing or dance, but she had a line o chatter that went 
over big with the audience. And her personality was terrific. She was then 
the same Texas Guinan who was so beloved later on in New York's night 
clubs where she reigned as the queen of good fellows. She had something 
that made everyone feel instantly at ease and ready for a good time. And she 
had a heart as big as her native state. 

In Seattle, at Pantages Theatre, I saw the funniest thing I have ever seen 
in any theater. A man was sitting in the upper right-hand box* During my 
act he leaned over, laughing so hard his false teeth fell out onto the stage at 
my feet. I picked them up and tried to hand them back to him, but he was 
$o embarrassed he ran out o the house and sent a messenger boy back to 
claim his ivories. 

In Denver, on that trip, I made one of the best friends I have to this day 
Reverend Garrett J. Burke. I had plenty of work cut out for me to do in 
Denver in connection with the tubercular colony there. For years Mama and 
her buddies back in Hartford had been raising money for a cottage to which 
tubercular cases could be sent and where they would be with others from 
their own home town. I had strict orders from home to visit the Hartford 
cottage and see what I could do for the patients. After that first visit when- 
ever I have played Denver I have entertained the tubercular colony and have 
made a host of friends through that work. Father Burke has long been 
resident in the East, but he knows Fm as interested in his work wherever 
that happens to take him as when he ministered to the white-plague victims 
out in the Rockies. What a grand sense of humor that man has! And what 


spiritual power! When he comes to see me, and he does whenever I am 
playing any city near enough for him to spend an afternoon with me, we 
have a grand laugh. Then, before he goes, I kneel down and he blesses me. 

My first engagement on the Pantages Circuit was at the Chutes in San 
Francisco. Art Hickrnan, who brought the first California band to the Zieg- 
feld Roof in New York, was employed there then. It was there, too, I got 
to know Bob Fitzsimmons and his tiny, delicate wife, who had come West 
with him in a new act. Bob was passionately fond of music. He was as crazy 
for new songs as any vaudeville performer* 

We had a lot of fun seeing the sights of Frisco, especially the Barbary 
Coast. In those days it was full of spots such as Purceil's, the hot colored 
joint, and the Cave, which San Franciscans boasted was the toughest place 
in the world. I was keen to see and hear the entertainers there so we made 
up a party to go one night after the show. We had a guide because we had 
been told it wasn't safe to "do" the Barbary Coast without one. 

I was taking it all in the singers, the dancers, the girls hustling, just as 
they used to at the German Village and asking the guide a hundred ques- 
tions, when all of a sudden one of the hustlers let out a yell like an Indian: 
"What the hell are you doing with my man?" and made a grab for ray hair. 

I ducked. Somebody upset the table. There was an uproar, and all the 
lights went out. Our party managed to get outside unhurt. 

The others were all for going on to another joint, but I'd had all the 
Barbary Coast I could take at one dose. I went home, escorted by the police- 
man on duty in that section. Dan O'Brien was his name. We became good 
friends, Dan and his family and I, for I pkyed a great many return dates at 
the Chutes. How proud Dan was when his son George O'Brien made his 
first success in the movies. I still have the little gold cross which Dan gave me 
as a good-luck piece, and I know he kept and treasured to the end of his 
days the little gold mogandovid (the five-pointed star of David) which I 
gave him. He used to show it to me every time I was in Frisco. 

San Francisco in those days had a lot of great entertainers, Al Jolson was 
playing there. Mary Lewis was singing at "Tait V Others I remember were 
Lee Lloyd, Baby Ruth, the Three White Kuhns, and that swell song, dance, 
and comedy team Blyler and Brown. Jimmy Blyler and Fred Brown were 
doing their act in Nome, during the Klondike Rush, when Rex Beach saw 
them. He brought them to Frisco, where they were a terrific hit. They were 
the first to sing "Turkey in the Straw." 

Playing a return engagement in Portland, Oregon, on that trip I ran into 
trouble. I had a song called "The Angle-worm Wiggle." The song itself had 


nothing to it (it was a gospel hymn compared to some of the numbers you 
hear today), but I got a jeweler to make me four rings of bright green stones 
which I could wear on the second and fourth fingers of both hands to glitter 
as I used my hands snaklly up and down my body as I sang, producing, as 
I hoped, a naughty effect to put the song across. 

Of course I had no way of knowing that a Mrs. Baldwin who then headed 
Portland's Department of Safety for Women was having a political row with 
the chief of police, or that the lady would seize on me and my "Angle-worm 
Wiggle" to make trouble for the chief. After the first matinee Mrs. Baldwin 
swore out a warrant for my arrest on the grounds that my act was "immoral 
and indecent." I believe I was represented as a muscle dancer from the Bar- 
bary Coast. Of course the papers ate it up. 

The chief of police came to see the show and declared that my act was all 
right. He gave it as his opinion that "The Angle-worm Wiggle" was less 
indecent than some of the other acts on the bill which apparently hadn't 
brought a single blush to Mrs. Baldwin's cheeks. This made the lady furious. 
She took the matter to the mayor. She also swore out another warrant against 
me on the grounds that I had ridiculed her from the stage by ad-libbing as 
I wiggled my fingers up and doWn my torso, "very immoral." 

I had opened on Monday. On Friday, after the press had been full of the 
case all week, I was taken off the stage. My friends in Portland, Mr, and Mrs. 
Percy Egbert, got me a lawyer. I put up fifty dollars bail and offered to sing 
any song the mayor, the chief of police, and Mrs. Baldwin should select to 
prove that my act was neither indecent nor immoral. When this offer was 
refused, my friends took me to the district attorney. I made the demand of 
him that he give me* a jury trial at which I would sing "The Angle-worm 
Wiggle" for the jury. 

The D. A. read the lyrics and then threw out the case. He bawled out the 
mayor and Mrs. Baldwin and the whole kaboodle. I was left sitting on top 
of the world with pages and pages of publicity and a line at the box office 
three blocks long. The theater held me over for two more weeks, and I had 
to promise to play a return engagement before I went back East. 

Rigo, the gypsy violinist, was playing at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland 
and was all the rage there. His wife, Kathryn, was a gorgeous big blonde and 
a very shrewd businesswoman. She was Rigo's manager. But the fiery, dark 
little man was temperamental, like so many real artists, and that clever, 
stunning-looking woman waited on him like a spoiled child. 

They invited me to have supper in their rooms with them after the show 


one night. That was the first time I ever saw a real suite of rooms in a hotel, 
a retinue of servants, and a background of luxury. My eyes nearly popped 
out of my head. Kathryn swept about in a regal-looking tea gown worthy of 
a headliner. I remember she cooked something spicy and hot in a chafing 
dish. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone do that, either. 

Kathryn *s bedroom gave me another jolt, with its draperies of real lace, 
the flock o tiny lace pillows on the bed, the flowers, the big signed photo- 
graphs of celebrities in silver frames. She pulled open the drawers of a dress- 
ing table and showed me her jewels boxes and boxes of them. She threw 
wide a wardrobe and showed me the gowns made for her in Paris. She 
opened a closet that held a fortune in furs. 

When Kathryn saw my eyes get bigger and bigger she began taking one 
fur coat after another off their hangers and trying them on for me to get the 
effect. They were superb. There was a sable coat, a mink coat, a sealskin 
coat, an ermine wrap, a chinchilla wrap, and I don't know what more be- 
sides. But what caught my eye and held it (I didn't know sable from mink 
or chinchilla from gray squirrel in those days) was a leopard-skin coat. 
Right then and there I made up my mind to have a leopard-skin coat if I 
never had another thing. Kathryn's was a short sports model. But mine., I 
promised myself, should be down to the ground, with a border of sealskin 
and collar and cuffs of seal. 

I got the coat and a sealskin muff. And a hat of sealskin with a big 
leopard-skin bow! I went in hock to get them. I wore them proudly when I 
came back to Portland to play a return engagement. I sure was a loud baby. 
I advertised to the whole world that I was a performer. You could see me 
coming five blocks off. 

Gradually I began to notice something queer. Whenever I sported my fur 
coat the others on the bill were never anxious to go anywhere with, me, for a 
walk or to dinner. If I didn't wear the leopard-skin outfit, the gang was 
always around. When I wore it, it seemed as if I was alone a lot. After a few 
seasons I got wise. No more loud, showy clothes, Ultimately I had the fur 
coat cut down to a sports model. But that style wasn't becoming to a woman 
as big as I, so I turned in the leopard skin and two hundred dollars to boot 
and got a plain sealskin coat. When I wore it you would never have known 
I was in show business. 

Never after that did I go in for showy coats. But I developed a love of fine 
furs and began to buy them to wear on the stage an ermine wrap in which 
to make my entrance. The press began to comment on how well I dressed. 
Nothing shoddy. I never kept my fine clothes to wear in New York and the 


big cities and used second bests or soiled or out-of-date gowns in the smaller 
places as many performers did. The folks in Calgary and in Indianapolis 
and Nashville got the best I had. That didn't escape the press, either. 

Does anyone think I am talking too much about clothes? The reason is not 
because I am a woman, or vain, but because I am in show business. In show 
business clothes matter. This was proved to me at the first matinee I went to 
at Hammerstein's in New York when I heard the women seated near me 
commenting more on what the performers wore than on what they did. 
Vaudeville, playing daily matinees, depended on women. You had to please 
the women patrons to be and stay a headliner. 

Thinking over some of my costumes and the publicity they got for me 
makes me remember my sheath skirt. This was very tight and had a slit up 
the right side so that when I walked you saw my leg to the knee. Very, very 
daring in those days. I had the dress made for the stage and I copied it for 
wear on the street for publicity stunts. 

I was playing the small-time houses in the Midwest that summer. The 
sheath skirt was a big publicity getter in Canton and Youngstown and other 
towns. I would wear it to take a stroll down Main Street and the crowd 
would follow me right back to the theater. 

When I got to Dayton to open at the Monday matinee I decided to go out 
after rehearsal and parade down the main stem and drum 'up business. I 
found the streets crowded. Was there going to be a parade? If so, I had some 
idea of joining in the line of march. 

I asked several people where the parade was to start from. 

"What parade?" they said, and looked surprised. 

Funny, I thought. This town is jammed with people, and I'm walking 
around in my sheath skirt and nobody follows me. Nobody even notices me. 
Finally 1 went up to a traffic policeman and asked him when the parade 
would start. 

"Parade? Hell!" said he. "Look up there in the sky. See that airplane? It 
was made right here in Dayton, and it's going to revolutionize ttie world. 
There's two people in it: the man who built it and his mechanic. They are 
testing it to see how long they can stay up there. Didn't you read about it in 
the papers?" 

My leg didn't have a thing on the Wright brothers' airplane. The matinee 
was a flop. Everybody was too busy staring up at that speck in the sky that 
was "going to revolutionize the world." But the next day, and for the rest 
of the week, Dayton's main stem saw my sheath skirt. I wore it when the 
theater manager took all the oerformers out to the factorv to see the first air- 


plane. I'll never forget the Wright brothers, how they laughed when I told 
them they were too tough competition for me that Monday morning. Me 
with my sheath skirt and leg and they with their airplane, 

I got back to Chicago from my first Western tour in April 1911. I was 
playing at the Wilson Avenue Theatre when Earl Lindsay came to see me. 
He was putting on a musical show. Merry Mary, at the Whitney Opera 
House, and made me a flattering offer to be featured in it at two hundred 
and fifty dollars a week. 

I had run my salary in vaudeville up to five hundred dollars a week, but 
there was something more to be considered than just the- salary. 

My mind started ta work fast. A show, if it is good, gets great publicity. If 
it is a hit, it boosts your prestige and consequently your salary. The way I 
saw it, I would be a fool to let a chance like that get away from me. 

I was green as to knowing whether the part was a good one for me. And I 
hadn't the Boss to go to for advice. He was up in the Adirondacks getting 
his health back after the closing of his Music Halls. All I could think of was 
that if the show was a hit I would be made. If it was a flop, I could always go 
back to vaudeville. So I signed up. 

Rehearsals started. Costumes were made to order and I saw my whole 
salary being invested in clothes. However, a show is a show. And I guess 
some of the gambling instinct I inherited from Pa was coming out in me. I 
was playing Merry Mary* to the limit. 

Playing in a show with several quick costume changes to make I needed 
a maid. Besides, a personal maid made a performer important. Here was a 
chance to make good my promise to Mollie; a chance to have her with me. 
With her there to rely on, to love me, to inspire me with her philosophy that 
"what happens, happens for the best/ 5 I felt confident of new and greater 

Well, Merry Mary opened, and flopped. The press gave us the cold 
shoulder. The critics didn't like the show, and they didn't like me in it. The 
general comment was that I could sing, but I needed a lot more experience 
in acting before I tried to carry a part. And they were right. I know now 
that I was pretty terrible. 

However, there was one person in Chicago who didn't think so. It was 
during Merry Mary's brief three weeks of life that I had my first experience 
with a stage-door Johnny. Night after night I had seen the same man sitting 
in the same front-row seat. It never dawned on me that I was the attraction. 


Then one matinee flowers and a jeweler's box were brought to my dressing 
room. Mollie's face was one broad grin as she handed me the box. 

"Well, Patsy, guess you got yourself a man now." 

I opened the box and a pair of diamond earrings sparkled at me. I was no 
glamor girl, and a gift like this, while it thrilled me, made me feel there must 
be some mistake. I sent for the gentleman whose card was in the box. 

"You must take the earrings back," I said to him. "It was nice of you to 
send them, but surely the flowers were enough to tell me that you enjoy my 

"You must take them, Miss Tucker," he insisted. And he went on about 
how much pleasure I had given him, and how much he admired me, until I 
began to feel as though I were running up on Lillian Russell. 

So I kept the diamonds and wore them every night and as often in the day- 
time as I could find an excuse for doing so. Those earrings marked me. They 
started me itching for diamonds, just the way the sight of Kathryn Rigo's 
furs put me in hock to the Connecticut Fur Company for years. I wanted 
diamond rings, a diamond bracelet, a diamond necklace. A performer, I told 
myself, strutting before the mirror admiring the sparklers in my ears, has to 
have diamonds. They make you important. 

Mollie and I were living at the Hotel Sherman, and Frank Behring, then 
the manager, was a good friend of mine. He recommended me to a jeweler 
from whom I bought my first diamond ring. We made an arrangement that 
I was to pay twenty-five dollars a week. As soon as the ring was paid for I 
bought a bracelet, then a brooch, and so on. 

"It's the diamonds or the poker games, Sophie," Frank Behring said 
shrewdly. "You can't have both. You'll have to choose between them." 

"Then poker is out," I told him. "Anyway until I get my fill of diamonds." 

"Maybe that's the only way you'll save any money. You people in show 
business and I've seen a lot of you when you get into the big brackets you 
throw money around like nobody's business. You go haywire." 

"Listen. Not me. I don't forget the responsibilities I've got back in Hart- 
ford. And I'm not likely to. Only, when you work hard the way we show 
people do, you've got to have a little fun once in a while." 

"Sure. Don't I know? You and Fanny Brice and Jack Lait and the Dolly 
Sisters and a lot more of you playing poker till dawn." 

"I told you. I'm through with gambling. I'm buying diamonds now." 

"Okay. See that you pay for them. I swore to Thompson that you were 

"He won't lose any money on me," I promised. 


Merry Mary folded. As soon as the notice was put up a week before clos- 
ing I went out and got busy for bookings in vaudeville. Then I started on a 
circuit in the Midwest. Mollie went with me. Every week, no matter where 
I was playing, I sent off my sheaf of money orders: to the folks in Hartford, 
to the Connecticut Fur Company for my fur coats, to the jeweler for the 
diamonds I was sporting. 

My first stagfe show may have been a flop, but I wasn't giving up. 

"There'll be more shows," Mollie said wisely. 

And again she was right. Harry Askin was producing Louisiana Lou, 
starring Alexander Carr, at the La Salle Theatre in Chicago. He engaged me 
for the show to be featured with Bernard Granville. 

CHAPTER 12: "Hartford's Own" 

MERRY MARY had taught me more about show business. I knew now that I 
must have a good part and good songs. The manager must be reliable and 
prominent or I would have another flop. Two failures in six months would 
make the comeback as hard as roller skating uphill. 

Louisiana Lou f however, was a very different kind of show from Merry 
Mary. It was a book show by Addison Burkhart and Fred Donaghy; music 
by Ben Jerome. I had two swell songs: "Now Am de Time'* and "The 
Puritan Prance." The last was a burlesque of the bunny hug and grizzly 
bear which everybody was dancing that season. The plot was built around 
two families, one Irish, the other Jewish, living across the street. And this, 
years before Abie's Irish Rose. My part was Jenny Wimp, the servant in the 
Irish family. When I read the part I said to Mr. Askin, owner and producer 
of the show, that I didn't see why they wanted me at three hundred and 
fifty dollars a week for a role that any fifty-to-seventy-five-a-week actress 
could play. 

"Young lady," said Mr. Askin, "if you can make a small part stand out in 
a show you will be more valuable than the star." 

"All right," I said. "I'll give it the best I've got." 

I spoke right from the heart. My pride had suffered a lot in the Merry 
Mary flop, especially as this happened in Chicago, where I had been so suc- 
cessful in vaudeville and where I had so many friends. I was determined to 
show Chicago audiences and the Chicago critics that I could handle a part. 

I was bad at rehearsals. When it came to reading lines from the script as 
the others did, I was flat. I just couldn't do my stuff on an empty stage. I 
could memorize my part overnight cues, positions, everything but at re- 


hearsals, though I was all right with the songs, I couldn't give satisfaction 
with the lines. I could see that Mr. Askin and Frank Smithson, who directed 
the show, were very much annoyed with me. 

I kept remembering my experience in burlesque, how hopeless I had been 
at the rehearsals, and yet when I opened how I panicked the audience. I kept 
telling Mr. Askin that when the show started he would find I would be all 

"I'm just rotten at rehearsing. Once I'm in front of an audience I'll deliver. 
See if I don't." 

"H'm!" he said doubtfully. 

At the next rehearsal I saw another woman sitting on the stage, and I knew 
that she had been engaged to play my part. It damn near killed me. I ran 
over to Mr. Askin and the director and begged them not to give my part to 
anyone else. 

"I'll make a bargain with you/' I said. "Keep me on and let me open with 
the show in Milwaukee. I'll play the opening week for nothing. You won't 
have to pay me one cent. If I'm no good, no hit, then no salary. And you can 
let me out. Only give me the chance to show you what I know I can do." 

They talked it over and finally agreed to my proposal. Just the same, the 
other woman had to go along to Milwaukee with us in case I fell down on 
the job, and so she would be ready to step in for the Chicago opening. 

"I've just got to make good," I said to Mollie desperately. 

"Keep your shirt on, Patsy: Take it in your stride and you'll come through 
all right." 

"If I don't," I snapped, "I suppose you'll say, the way you always do, 
'Whatever happens, happens for the best/ " 

"Seems like that tumble you took onto your rear end when you was playing 
Boston that time kind of set a pattern you've been following ever since. 
Something happens and you come down with a bump, and boy if you don't 
laud with, your nose in the butter! That's the way it's been so far, ain't it?" 
she came back, cool as a cucumber. 

And of course when I stopped to think over the years I had to admit that 
Mollie was right. 

However, this philosophy didn't help me much on the night we were to 
open at the Davidson Theatre in Milwaukee when eight o'clock came and 
my wardrobe had not yet arrived from the costumers in Chicago. I was in a 
panic. Here everything depended on my showing Mr. Askin I could be a hit, 
and no costumes. 

Eight-ten, eight-fifteen. . . . The curtain was at eight-thirty. Mollie was 


trying to improvise something I could go on in. I was dancing up and down 
with impatience and rage. With fear too. I couldn't keep my mind off that 
other woman who would be standing in the wings ready to smile slyly at 
my failure, which would mean a chance for her. 

Eight-twenty, and the messenger boy rushed in with my things. I jerked 
out the tissue paper and hurried into the green chiffon harem pants with a 
little lace apron effect in front, which was the costume for my entrance. The 
callboy was calling me to go on stage. My fingers were all thumbs. MolHe 
was kneeling. on one side of me fastening the pants when I heard my cue* I 
nearly knocked her over in my rush to get on the stage for my opening line* 

Suddenly the audience began to scream with laughter. I asked myself: 
Why? I haven't said anything so terribly funny. I don't look funny in the 
pants; it's a smart outfit. What's got into them? Every time I moved, or 
spoke a line, the shrieks began again. 

A horrible thought hit me. Suppose Mr. Askin thinks I've bought tickets 
and padded the house to put myself over. Nothing else would explain that 
hysterical laughter. 

Then I happened to lift my lace apron and saw, to my horror, that I had 
omitted to button up the whole front of the pants. 

"Well, I'll be damned," I said. I couldn't help it. 

At this the house went into an uproar while I fumbled and tried to fasten 
the pants while going on with my song. They wouldn't let me forget it, 
either. Every time I came on they started to laugh and kid me. 

"Once is enough," I had to kid them back. 

I kept the job. The other woman disappeared. I opened with the show in 
Chicago, where we played nine months and were the season's greatest suc- 
cess. But I've never been able to convince some people I didn't pull that stunt 
with the harem pants on purpose. 

Louisiana Lou was a hit with the Chicago press from the start. Alexander 
Carr was magnificent. Very temperamental, but a superb actor. Later on he 
and Barney Bernard made nation-wide fame for themselves as Potash and 
Perlmutter. When Louisiana Lou went on the road after the Chicago run, 
Alexander Carr left the comedy and Barney Bernard took his place. 

Bernard Granville, whose dancing was a constant delight to me, made his 
first hit in Louisiana Lou. Later he was a star in Florenz Ziegfeld's New 
York shows. Bernard's daughter, Bonita Granville, is carrying on for him 

Mary Quive, sister of the opera star Grace Van Studdiford, played an im- 


portant part in the show. One of my show girls, "Brownie/ 5 is now the wife 
of Jorges Sanchez, the Cuban sugar millionaire. 

I was making a lot of money now, playing club dates and at private parties. 
I had fun too. Mollie and I were living at the Hotel Sherman and my suite 
was a gathering place for a jolly crowd nights after the show. It was a fast 
crowd too. The poker games began again, in spite of Mollie's frowns and her 
warnings to me. When spring came and we were due to go on the road I 
realized that though my earnings had been up to a thousand dollars a week 
many times that winter, I was in debt to the Hotel Sherman for two 

I couldn't alibi myself out of it. Poker had cleaned me out just the way it 
cleaned poor Pa time and time again. Here I had been making big money 
for nine months, and though I had taken care of my responsibilities back 
home and had bought myself some gorgeous diamonds, that was as much as 
I had to show for the season's hard work. 

I had to make a clean breast of it to Frank Behring. He gave me hell. For 
gambling and for backing shows (which I'd been doing too). He had the 
goods on me, for he had seen me take a thousand dollars out of the hotel 
safe to help finance Ed Bloom's Hanf^y Panfy starring Montgomery and 
Moore. I kissed my grand good-by, as the show closed after a few weeks in 
New York. 

I asked Frank to trust me for the bill I owed, and he said he would if I 
would promise him to stop gambling. 

"Tucker will never be a sucker again," I vowed. 

"Okay," said Frank, and we shook on it. 

I went CHI the road, and for the eight months we played out to California 
and back as far east as Philadelphia I forgot gambling and the fast crowd. I 
paid up my debts-and saved money. 

We never came into New York. At that time New York had the reputa- 
tion of not liking Chicago-made shows. Why, I never could understand. It 
has always seemed to me that a good show is a good show no matter what 
town it hails from. 

We closed around Christmas, and I ran on to Hartford to see the family. 
It was my first visit home since that bitter one early in my days in vaudeville. 
And what a difference! Neighbors, friends crowding the house. Mama and 
Papa proud, not ashamed of me now. Son, home for the holidays from mili- 
tary school at Peekskill, and looking so cute, buttoned up tight in his little 
uniform. Anna so pretty, and making good in her job. Moe in the office of 
the criminal attorney Moses A. Sachs in New York, and Phil married to my 
old school chum Leah Zwillinger. 


Those few days were wonderful after the months on the road. The Hart- 
ford papers were full of the news that Sophie Tucker, the star of Louisiana 
Lou, was visiting her folks. Papa boasted about me to his cronies, and Mama 
dug a good big contribution out of me for her pet charities. I went dowa to 
visit my teachers at the Brown School and my principal, Mr. Charles L. 
Ames. They were all proud of me as a home-town girl who had made good. 

We sat up late the night before I left for New York, Mama, Sis, and I, 
talking over my plans. I was going back into vaudeville, I told them. Before 
too long I would be playing Poll's Theatre in Hartford as the headliner. I 
had my heart set on that. 

How I needed the Boss! He would have known just what I should do next. 
After two years in a show I felt out of touch with vaudeville. What I needed 
was a booking agent the right one. 

I had heard a lot about Max Hart and that he had a hundred-per-cent 
entree with the Keith Circuit officials. The Orpheum Circuit was booked out 
of the Keith office. This circuit started from Chicago and went to Winnipeg, 
Calgary, St. Paul, Vancouver, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Tacoma, Sacra- 
mento, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, 
Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, and back to Chicago. I had already played 
those towns, but in the cheaper vaudeville houses, and again in Louisiana 
Lou. I had every confidence in my being a big box-office attraction this time. 

Max Hart's office was in the Palace Theatre building in New York. I went 
up there, cocky as hell. I thought: I won't have any trouble now getting 
bookings. Everybody knows me after two years in a big show. 

I sat in the outer office over an hour while a dozen acts of first-rate im- 
portance that I had seen or read about came in and out. Finally, I got in to 
see Max Hart. I told him that I was Sophie Tucker. 

"Is that so?" said he, looking me over and not a bit impressed by what he 
saw. "I never heard of you and never saw you. Just what do you do?" 

Well sir, the floor just came up and hit me. I was stumped for an answer. 
Max Hart was a very rough, aggressive, crude man, but as I found out after- 
ward, after you knew him and his ways, when you worked for him, he was 

That day I told him if he would book me in some small theater for a try- 
out, I'd like him to handle me. 

He shook his head. He let me know that he was only booking the cream 
acts of vaudeville and couldn't be bothered with me. 

"You'll be glad to book me some of these days," I said to myself as I went 
out the door. 


I soon found another hooker, Max Hayes, and got started. I had some swell 
songs, new ones that the boys In Tin Pan Alley coached me in. And one 
song that I got in Chicago and introduced there at White City Park before I 
went into Louisiana Lou. It was a wonder song that never failed to make a 
hit wherever and whenever I sang it "Some of These Days." 

"Some o These Days" is one thing more I owe in a way to Mollie. I was 
riding high in Chicago, palling around with a fast crowd, too full of myself 
to pay attention to a lot that was happening around me. Many song writers 
used to bring me their work, beg me to try the songs in my act and plug 
them. Every performer is besieged with that sort of thing. At first you hear 
them all, consider them all, you're so fearful of missing a good thing. But 
after a few years of it you get careless. I guess it was that way with me. 

One day Mollie came and stood in front of me, hands on hips, and a look 
in her eye that I knew meant she had her mad up. 

"See here, young lady," said she, "since when are you so important you 
can't hear a song by a colored writer? Here's this boy Shelton Brooks hang- 
ing around, waiting, like a dog with his tongue hanging out, for you to hear 
his song. And you running around, flapping your wings like a chicken with 
its head chopped off. That's no way for you to be going on, giving a nice boy 
like that the run-around." 

"All right. I'll hear his song " I promised. "You tell him." 

"You can tell him yourself," said Mollie. And she brought him in. 

The minute I heard "Some o These Days" I could have kicked myself for 
almost losing it. A song like that. It had everything. Hasn't it proved it? I've 
been singing it for thirty years, made it my theme song. Fve turned it inside 
out, singing it every way imaginable, as a dramatic song, as a novelty number, 
as a sentimental ballad, and always audiences have loved it and asked for it. 
"Some of These Days" is one of the great songs that will be remembered and 
sung for years and years to come, like some of Stephen Foster's. 

Later Shelton Brooks wrote "Darktown Strutters' Ball/' which I sang too. 
But nothing else he ever did touched "Some of These Days." 

For five months or so I worked around the Middle West as Max Hayes 
booked me. Everywhere I went I kept my eyes open and my ears for new 
ideas, stunts I could work into my act. I remember at Rock Island, Illinois, I 
got a la\igh unexpectedly. I used to ask the audience to call for any song 
they wanted to hear. A fellow called out for me to sing "If I Had One at 
Home Like You," to which I fired back: "What would you do with her?" 
There, I thought, that's a trick I can us^. I went to work, and soon I had an 


answer for all song titles, and it gave me a start for a lot of comedy In the act. 

I hadn't given up hopes of getting Max Hart to book me. I wanted to get 
on the Orpheum Circuit and everybody said he was the man who could put 
me there. I asked a lot of questions about him and who his friends were. 
Whenever I played New York 1 managed 10 get around with the crowd he 
played with. I became friends with his wife, Madge. She was very quick at 
picking talent too. She knew show business. One night when I was with 
them Max suddenly asked me where I was playing. 

I told him Max Hayes had booked my next date at Proctor's Fifth Avenue 
Theatre, which was at Twenty-eighth Street and Broadway. I was opening 
there on Monday. 

"Then 111 see you," said Max Hart. "I've booked the greatest comedian of 
all times to break in there before he opens at Hammerstein's. Frank Tinney n 

This was an important date for me, especially if I could get Max Hart 
Interested. I got a new gown and I chose my songs carefully: "I Sent My 
Husband to the Thousand Isles," "Where Was Rip Van Winkle When His 
Wife Went Away ?" "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," and of course "Some of 
These Days." I was on the first half of the bill, Frank Tinney on the second 
half, but I phoned Max Hart, and he promised to be In the house in time to 
hear me. 

I went over big. Even I was satisfied. I went back to my dressing room 
and waited for Max Hart. No sign of him. Finally, the second half of the 
show was on. I went out to watch Frank Tinney. What a comedian t For 
some time Frank had been a big hit in the vaudeville houses in Texas, but 
he had never played New York. Someone told Max Hart about him and Max 
went to Texas to look him over. He came back boasting he had discovered 
the greatest comedian of all time. This tryout at Proctor's looked as if Max 
knew what he was about all right. I never heard an audience roar so loud 
with laughter. Frank's repartee with the orchestra leader (this was the first 
time a performer did his whole act with a leader) was excruciating. I 
laughed myself sick, standing in the wings, watching. 

The show was over, I was back in my dressing room ready to leave, when 
there was a knock on the door. Max Hart. 

"I caught you," he said. "You're all right. A little rough, and your routine 
is rotten. I suggest you switch your songs." He gave me a few orders. Then: 
"I'll see you at my office tomorrow at eleven. *By." 

That is how I became one of Max Hart's acts. I got a release from Max 
Hayes, and Max Hart promised to book me at the Colonial Theatre on Sixty- 
first Street and Broadway. 


"It's a tough house," he told me. "They let you know at once if they like 
you. They've got a gallery there with a claque, so watch yourself. If they 
don't like you, they throw pennies at you." 

I was to get three hundred and fifty dollars for the week, with the promise 
of five hundred for the next date if I went over well at the Colonial. 

Mollie was helping me in the act again. With new songs I had new tricks 
and different props. I looked over my wardrobe and decided the date at the 
Colonial was worth a new dress. I had heard of Madame Francis, who 
dressed the topnotchers on Broadway, a great friend of the performers. I 
went up to see her. I told her I was going to be up against a tough house and 
I wanted to make a grand impression. 

"If they see me dressed nice they'll respect me. I'm sure I won't have any 
trouble with them." 

Madame Francis studied me for a minute or two. She said: "I would like 
to see you make an entrance in a lovely white beaded gown and a gorgeous 
royal-blue velvet wrap. You should have a headdress to go with the gown. 
That will make you look very important." 

"How much?" I asked her, point-blank. 

"The cheapest gown I make is two hundred and fifty dollars. The cheapest 
I can make this ensemble is six hundred dollars." 

I had the Colonial contract in my purse. I took it out and showed it to 
Madame Francis. "I'm starting at three hundred and fifty dollars. If I make 
good at the Colonial my agent says he will get me five hundred dollars in all 
the other theaters. Can I give you a two-hundred-dollar I O U against my 
salary now, and pay you two hundred dollars a week for the next two weeks 
if I get the bookings? If anything happens that I don't get them, I can always 
get a salary of three hundred and fifty a week. And in that case I'll pay you 
fifty a week until I'm paid off." 

I guess Madame Francis had had a lot of performers who made promises 
like that and failed to keep them. She said "no." But I phoned Max Hart, 
got him to okay me to her, and she agreed to make the dress and wrap on the 
terms I offered. 

Meanwhile I gave a lot of thought to that claque at the Colonial. A claque 
always has a leader. If I could find him, win him, I would be all right. After 
the rehearsals on Monday I went out to the gallery entrance where a few 
customers were already standing in line. Pretty soon I heard a boy yell: 
"Hey, Mike, what's the routine?" 

Mike was a heavy-set, foreign-looking fellow. I watched him. When an- 
other boy called: "Hey, Mike, what do we do?" I knew I had my man. 


I eased up to him. He didn't know me or recognize me from the pictures 
which showed me in evening clothes. "Let's walk down to the corner, Mike/* 
I said. 

He looked me over, sensed I wasn't one of the gang. 

"What do you want, sis?" 

By that time we were out of the line and the crowd, and I told him: "I'm 
opening this afternoon. I heard there's a fine bunch of boys and girls who go 
to the Colonial gallery and are very kind to newcomers. Will you please 
help me? This is my first appearance in this house, and I've got to be a hit. 
I'm sure you'll like my act. Please help me." 

He must have liked me for being so frank and for singling him out as the 
leader. He gave me a pat on the back. "Sure, kid, we'll put you over. Just be 
good." And away he went. 

The matinee was on. It was a very good bill. Most of the acts were a hit. 
Then came a monologuist. The gallery went after him. Pennies rained down 
on the stage. The poor man tried to argue with the gallery gods, but they 
wouldn't listen. He got sore, and the gallery booed him off the stage. 

I came next. I was shaking from head to foot. I'd told Mollie about my 
talk with Mike, but suppose he didn't keep his word? Suppose the gallery 
started to razz me? 

"Go on, Patsy," Mollie whispered. "When they see how nice you look that 
will put you over. And when you start to sing you'll have them in the bag. 
Go on, honey. You always use your head when you're in a tight spot." 

Now I was on the stage. If I say so myself, I did look nice. No single 
woman playing these theaters went to the expense I did. Madame Francis 
told me I was the first vaudevillian she dressed. My knees were knocking 
against each other, but I looked up at the gallery and smiled. They began 

"Thanks," I said. "I'm happy you like my outfit. I hope you like my act 
as well." 

From that minute I played my whole act to Mike and his gang. I had to 
please them first; the orchestra and balcony customers were at their mercy. 
I could see the lower part of the house enjoyed my songs. I watched their 
faces, could see them applaud. But Mike and his gang gave me a great hand. 

Max Hart caught the matinee and came back to tell me he was pleased. 
He booked me in all the houses, and I played return dates at the Colonial for 
a long stretch. I paid off Madame Francis because I got the promised raise, 
and she and I became friends. She took a great interest in dressing me until 


she left business to marry Nate Spingold, who is associated with the Columbia 
Picture Company in Hollywood. 

As for Mike, he and his gang adopted me. For a long time they followed 
me around and put me over in all the houses in New York where I played. 
In return, whenever "The Gang" had an entertainment a dance or a smoker 
if I was in town I would go to sing for them. It wasn't that I was building 
up a claque for myself. The claque already existed. Every performer was up 
against "The Gang" at the Colonial until the police broke it up. I couldn't 
break it up, so it seemed to me the thing to do was to get it on my side and 
keep it there. A lot of performers don't bother about things like that. I 
always have. Maybe I've a knack for doing it. Maybe it's foresight. I only 
know it has always paid in the long run. 

I suppose everybody has one week in her life that stands out as the climax 
seven days that more than make up for all the effort and disappointment 
and sorrow that have gone over the dam. My week is the one in October 
1913, when I headlined the bill at Poli's Theatre in Hartford. 

From the farthest back that I can remember this theater stood first in my 
affections. It was where Dora Diwinski and I used to go and pay down our 
dimes to see shows. How many times I've had my bottom spanked for hang- 
ing around Poli's instead of coming right home from school. How often I've 
stood in the alley beside the stage door waiting for the actors to come out so 
I could tell them about our restaurant. How" often I've comforted myself 
when I was lonely or downhearted or sad, off somewhere on the road, plan- 
ning how I would go back to Hartford some of these days and be a headliner 
at Poli's. 

And now* this is coming true. 

Never was there such a slow train as the express that took me from New 
York to Hartford. I thought over the preparations I'd made for the week 
the new clothes, my fine jewels and furs, even a new trunk (my first ward- 
robe trunk) with SOPHIE TUCKER painted across it in big white letters. I was 
sure of myself. I'd been playing big-time houses under Max Hart's booking 
for over a year. Now I was going to headline the ace house in my own home 

Now we're getting into Hartford. The sun shines on the capitoPs big gold 
dome. There's Bushnell Park with the trees all red and gold. We're pulling 
into the station. There's Mama and Papa. And Son, God bless him, home 
from school for the week. And Anna and Moe and Brother Phil and his wife. 
And a big crowd, and every reporter in town. 


Up on the boardings, and plastered all over the city* are posters: 



Think that didn't make me feel good? 

When the hugs and kisses and some o the tears were over, the theater 
manager, Mr. Lou Kilby, came up. "Come on, Sophie. Your suite at the 
Heublein is ready for you." 

I caught a glimpse of Mama's and Papa's faces. The smiles were wiped off. 

"Sorry/* I said to him. "No hotels for me. I'm going home with my family." 
And we went. 

I'd forgotten for a moment that the family had moved from Maple Avenue 
to 160 Barker Street. It was a two-family house, and Mama rented the down- 
stairs apartment, which paid the taxes and gave them a little revenue. Up- 
stairs were a living room, dining room, a bedroom for Mama and Papa, and 
another for Anna. Up in the attic were two more bedrooms, one for Moe 
whenever he came home and the other for any relative who came to visit. 
Anna moved up into this and gave me her room. 

Mama was so proud of her house, her little nest. So proud of her comfort- 
able beds with their big down pillows and feather-filled comforters. And all 
so snowy white. The whole house was spick-and-span; you could eat off the 
floor. Mama wouldn't have anyone ia to help her with the housework. 
"What's the use? I have to go over everything they do. They're only in my 

She kept taking me round and round, calling on me to admire every- 
thing: her front porch, her little garden. Everywhere, on every wall, were 
photographs of me. Some of the first ones I had sent home Mama had had 
enlarged, framed, and hung in places of honor. To her they ranked as works 
of art beside the portrait painted by Jean Negulesco. I'll never forget, in later 
years, Carl McCullough who started at the American Music Hall in Boston 
with me, played Hartford, and went to Mama's for dinner. He said to her: 
"Mrs. Abuza, your home is lovely. Your food is delicious. You and Papa are 
wonderful people. The only criticism I have to make is, what a pity you 
haven't got a picture of Sophie in the house." 

Mama didn't get his ribbing at first. But she, too, had a grand sense of 
humor. She told him: "Be sure when you leave here you buy yourself a good 
pair of glasses. You certainly need them." 


In one corner of the little dining room stood Papa's samovar steaming 
away all day and all through, the evening, just as I remembered it. Ten to 
twelve glasses of tea a day were Papa's routine a habit he had brought 
with him from Russia and which he never changed. Another habit of his, 
which none of us liked but which not one of us would have dared find fault 
with, was to sit sidewise at the table with his spittoon beside his chair, which 
he used continuously throughout the meal. Even as little girls, Anna and I 
used to wish he wouldn't. But what could you do about it? We might feel 
ashamed, but ours was an Orthodox home, and not one word of criticism 
could be spoken against the head of the house. 

There was the spittoon, just as usual. I might be the headliner at Poli's 
that week, and "Hartford's Own Sophie Tucker," but at 160 Barker Street 
I was just a daughter and had to keep my mouth shut. 

But not Son, fresh from boarding school and what he had learned there. 
He piped up: "Grandpa, it isn't proper and it's very bad taste to sit like 
that and spit during meals." 

Will I ever forget Papa's face? If the ceiling had dropped on him he 
couldn't have been more surprised. Mama and the four of us let out a whoop 
of laughter. 

"It isn't funny, Mother, to correct anyone,'* said Son, very solemn. "It's 

Papa was in convulsions, his mouth full of food. The spittoon was handy, 
but obeying his grandson he got up and went into the bathroom. The next 
day all the neighbors heard him tell how his grandson was making a dude 
out of him. Sophie, for all she was a headliner, was just folks. But not Son, 
after a year away at military school. "Oi, oi, the chickens have more sense 
than the hens." 

It was proof of Papa's love for the boy that he changed his table manners 
from that day. I think my son meant more to Pa than all his own children. 
I don't think he ever got over the separation from Son, after the boy went 
away to school. He missed their walks together, going downtown every day 
hand in hand. Poor Pa, with no restaurant to keep him busy and make him 
feel important. No people coming and going. No card games upstairs. His 
gambling was confined to the old neighborhood and the back room of the 
saloon there. This meant a streetcar ride there and back. The cars on that line 
stopped at midnight, and Mama was severe about late hours. The idleness 
and the loneliness made Pa an old man before his time. He would perk up 
whenever he came to spend a day or two with me in New York or some 
other town. His step would get brisk, his air jaunty. Even the way he wore 


his hat was different from when he was in Hartford. He was seeing Life, and 
believe me he didn't miss a single thing. And the tall tales he told Mama 
and Anna when he got back to them! He would get them sitting around 
the kitchen table, wide-eyed, not knowing how much to believe and how 
much was chutsba* 

I remember when I played Poll's Theatre in New Haven the very same 
house where I had gone so fearfully to ask Willie and Eugene Howard to 
make a place for me in their act Pa came down and spent the week with 
me at the Taft Hotel. It was brand-new then, and the Connecticut papers 
had been full of stories about how grand it was. That was Pa's first experi- 
ence of staying in a real hotel. What impressed him most were the push 
buttons. He spent hours every day pushing them, curious and eager as a child 
to see what would happen. I know when he went home and Mama wanted 
to know: "How is Sophie?" Pa brushed the question aside. All he could talk 
about was how wonderful it was to live in a hotel and push a little button 
and have a waiter or a chambermaid appear and ask you what you wanted. 

"Is that all you have to do, push a button?" Mama wanted to know. 

"That's all" 

"I don't believe it," Mama said flatly. 

"But I tell you it is true. Just push a little button and there is the prettiest 
young girl ready to do whatever you want." 

"And I tell you I don't believe it. It can't be like that. Not even in America. 
Not even in a hotel." 

"But, mein Dolly, it is." 

"It can't be." 

And they had it back and forth till Anna put her hands over her ears and 
ran out of the kitchen. 

Mama never did believe him, not until several years later when she came 
and stayed with me in New York and experimented with a few push buttons 
for herself. Then she broke down and cried. Poor Papa was dead then, and 
she remembered she had called him a boaster and a liar. And all the time he 
had been right. And now there was nothing she could do about it. 

All that week when I played Hartford you couldn't keep Pa away from 
the theater. It was he who came running to me with the news that the 
manager had had my contract framed and hung in the theater lobby so every- 
body in town could see that they were paying me five hundred dollars for 
the week. Nothing would do but I must go with him and see it too. We were 
looking at it when Lou Kilby, the manager, came along and told me: 


"You know, Sophie, the mayor called me up and wanted to know if it is 
true we are paying you five hundred or if it's a publicity stunt." 

"Tell him to be over here Saturday night when you pay off and he can 
count it," I replied. 

The big blowup pictures of me in the lobby thrilled me as much as they 
did Pa. And the banner stretched across the street, "HARTFORD'S OWN 
up for everyone to see wiped out a lot of the bitterness and the struggle and 
the heartache of the years since I had left Hartford with the words "bad 
woman" stinging my ear. 

I thought, I've got to be good now. I guess I didn't appreciate all it meant 
when other performers said to me: "Wait till you play your own home town. 
That's where you'll find out how good you are. It's only in your home town 
you can lay eggs and big ones too." 

I opened that Monday matinee to a house jammed to capacity. I wore my 
loveliest Madame Francis outfit: a perfectly plain, clinging gown of white 
satin with a dashing big black bow across the front; a black lace skull-cap 
with a big black bow to give me height, and all my diamonds, of course. How 
I wished Mollie could have been there too. But, knowing there wouldn't be 
room for her at Mama's, I had left her in New York. Mollie would have 
loved the excitement, the reception they gave me fully five minutes I stood 
there, bowing, smiling, but with tears in my eyes. 

There in the stage box was my family, all of them, looking so proud, and 
loving too. In the next box was my old principal, Mr. Charles L. Ames, and 
the teachers I had had at the Brown School. In the stage box on my right 
was the mayor of Hartford and his family. Looking up at me from the front 
row were the faces of all my old school chums. The second row was taken 
up with Mama's buddies, most of whom couldn't speak a word of English 
or understand it. But they had heard so much about "Mein Sophie" that 
they had to come to see for themselves. 

Maybe you think I was proud? I wasn't. I believe I felt humbler at that 
moment than I've ever felt before or since. "O God," I prayed, holding tight 
to my big chiffon hanky so nobody could see how my hands were trembling, 
"please don't let me lay an egg today, and I'll die happy." 

Maybe that prayer was heard. All I know is I damn near broke a blood 
vessel that week, I worked so hard. But Hartford was satisfied, I guess. We 
played to capacity all week. Papa would nip out in front and count up the 
house every show. He'd come backstage rubbing his hands, grinning from 
ear to ear, proud as a peacock because I was doing good business. 


"Lots o customers tonight," he would say. "And I've been talking to some 
of the boys around town. They say you're all right. Oi, Sophie, I guess Syl- 
vester Poll will clear expenses this week. Nicht?" 

Best of all was coming home each night after the show to supper in the 
kitchen, the table loaded with special dishes Mama had made for me because 
I liked them. All of us gathered round the table, with the samovar bubbling 
away in its corner and Papa keeping us convulsed with all he had to say 
about show business as he saw it. He was full of curiosity about everything 
and everyone he saw backstage. The little soubrette in her short skirts, show- 
ing legs he said were too crooked and hairy for his taste. The Musical Family 
of Five, with two or three little tots that were in and out of the dressing 
rooms all day and half the night. Papa was worried about them until I ex- 
plained that our kids of the theater are often better behaved than the children 
the audience have left at home. Backstage everyone learns self-control and 
discipline. You have to learn how to take it on the chin, and to smile while 
taking it. You learn never to be late. Never to be caught unprepared. Above 
all, never to think you are the whole show. 

"Those kids you think are running wild with nobody to teach them any- 
thing are learning how to be good troupers/' I finished. 

He professed to be scandalized by some of the loose ways and frank talk 
he observed among a lot of show people. Papa pulling the Puritan on us! 

"Listen," I protested. "In our profession we call a spade a spade. We make 
no bones about life. But take it from me, those very same performers you 
think must be evil-minded and evildoers, are honest, hard-working guys 
sending money home to their families every week and always ready to put 
their hands in their pants* pockets to help some other trouper who gets 
caught in a jam. There aren't any people in the world so kindhearted and 
generous as show people. If a few of the self-righteous hypocrites who are 
so ready to sling mud at us had half as much real goodness of heart . . ." 

"Sophie/' said Mama, looking at me hard over one side of her spectacles. 
That look took me down a peg just the way it used to when I was eleven 
and would fling out about having to stay home and help in the restaurant 
when I was itching to go somewhere with the rest of the kids in the block. 
My ears were all ready for what Mama was going to call me: A zovarecha, 
a wild animal, which was what she used to say I was when I would hustle 
through the housework and be out the door, banging it after me. 

Mama was always a stickler for the respect she considered due your elders. 
And she hadn't changed any as I found out one night that week when Phil 


and I got into an argument about some people I didn't like. I lost my temper. 
"What the hell do you know about anything?" I snapped. 

Smack! Mama's hand caught me flat across the face. 

"Don't forget, young lady, you may be a headliner, and you may be the 
breadwinner of this family, but just the same this is my house. And in my 
house you'll show respect for your elders at all times." 

I wasn't likely to forget, not with that stinging mark on my cheek. Believe 
me, I watched my P's and Q's from then on. Mama never had occasion to 
smack me again until just a few years before she passed on in 1924. Then she 
heard me let out at Phil again for not doing something I had asked him 
to have done in the house. I was smacked right down, and I was in the 
two-thousand-dollar brackets then too. Not that that made any difference 
to Mama. 

But one thing Phil did get out of me that week was a promise to send him 
every dollar I could save from my salary for him to invest and look after, so 
I would be sure to have a few dollars for a rainy day. He knew I took after 
Pa in loving to gamble. Living the kind of life I lived, here, there, and 
everywhere, with always the temptation to get into poker games or to play 
the horses, I would have been in the same spot that a lot of performers I've 
known, and ones who made big money, but for Phil keeping me to that 
promise all through these years. Oh, I've broken it time and time again. 
And I've always been sorry. I've been furious at Phil for budgeting me and 
keeping me to that budget, but even when my temper was hottest I've 
known deep down inside myself that he was right, and that I was a fool 
for not paying attention to what he said. 

, Saturday. My closing day. I'm leaving for New York right after the night, 
show, as I am booked for a Sunday concert. Directly after the matinee I 
must go home and pack and take everything to the theater to be ready to run 
for the train. 

The house when I come in is full of women: all Mama's friends Mrs. 
Katzman, Mrs. Koppleman, Mrs. Susinan, Mrs. Laschever, Mrs. Gaberman, 
Mrs. Diwinski (Dora's mother), and Mrs. Greenberg Ettie, who is Mama's 
oldest friend. 

"It's my committee," Mama explains importantly. "We're planning how 
to raise the money to build the Jewish Home for the Aged." 

I knew what that meant: going from door to door, collecting pennies^ 
nickels, dimes, quarters, whatever they could get. They were all women past 
middle age, with grown sons and daughters women who had been born 


In Russia and Poland and Hungary, who had come to this country with no 
more than they could carry in their linen-wrapped bundles the way Mama 
had come. All of them had had to work hard helping their men support 
and bring up their families. And now that those families were grown, and 
were looking out for them, they were concerned for other old people, the 
ones of their faith who didn't have children or grandchildren to care for 

They had all been to Poll's that week to see my act. And now all of them 
more or less complimented me. Not too extravagantly it's the Jewish way to 
be cautious about compliments but enough to seem polite to Mama. 

I am sitting at the table, having my early dinner, when Ettie, Mrs. Green- 
berg, cornes over to sit beside me. This is the conversation. All in Jewish, o 
course : 

SOPHIE: "Well, Ettie, did you go to Poll's this week?" 

ETTIE: "Yes, I had to go and see what everybody was talking about." 

SOPHIE: "I hope you enjoyed my act." 

ETTIE: "You yell just as loud in the theater as you did in the restaurant. 
I see no difference." 

SOPHIE: "What did you expect me to do? I am a singer." 

ETTIE: "Why can't you dance?" 

SOPHIE: "I don't know how." 

ETTIE: "Why can't you tumble like the other acrobats?" 

SOPHIE: "I don't know how." 

ETTIE: "Why can't you play the piano? Your mother spent plenty money 
for your lessons." 

SOPHIE: "But I'm a singer of songs. That's my specialty." 

ETTIE: "Well, I can't speak English. I don't understand English. How do 
you expect me to enjoy your act?" 

SOPHIE: "Surely there was something you enjoyed?" 

ETTIE: "Yes, I liked the dancers. And the musical act. And the acrobats." 

SOPHIE: "But didn't you think I looked nice? I wore some very lovely 
gowns and diamonds." 

ETTIE: "The night I saw you you wore a white schmatie (a rag) with a 
black bow. I saw bows like that at the Five-and-Ten. And your diamonds 
can't be anything but chips. They were so small. From the back of the 
theater where I sat they looked like nothing. They didn't shine at all. Tell 
me the truth now: are they paying you five hundred dollars?" 

SOPHIE: "If you'll come with me to the theater tonight I'll let you see the 
treasurer pay me my salary. And if they don't pay me five hundred dollars, 


I'll give you one hundred dollars toward the home. If they do pay me five 
hundred dollars, I'll give you fifty dollars. Is it a go?" 

And that, believe it or not, was the windup of the most wonderful week 
in my life. I was in no danger of getting a swelled head as long as I stayed 
in my own home town. 

CHAPTER 13: "I've Got a Man" 

WHEN I was playing in George Jessel's High Kickers I had a song with that 
title and that refrain. It was my hit of the show. Why? Not for the sophis- 
ticated lines. Not for the innuendo. But for the idea on which the song was 
built that, come hell or high water, hard luck, middle age, world wars and 
five-per-cent income taxes, you can take whatever life deals you and smile 
if you've got a man. 

There isn't a woman in the world who doesn't feel like that, no matter 
what she tells her hairdresser. And there isn't a man who doesn't secretly 
want his woman to feel that way about him. I don't need any psychologist 
to tell me this. I know it, because that's the way I'm made, myself. 

Coming back to High Kickers, every night it came time for me to take that 
number I'd start thinking: "Why the hell couldn't it have been that way 
with me? What's the matter with life, or with Sophie Tucker, that I've never 
had a man in my life to stand up to me and give me as good as I could 
give him?" 

There was Louis Tuck, the boy I married when I was just a kid myself, 
the father of my son. I've told you about him. Louis was never unkind to 
me. He never gave me a cross word. But he wouldn't put his shoulder under 
the responsibility of marriage. And I had seen Mama work too hard through 
too many years to be willing to start that way myself. So I pulled out and 
set my mind and my heart on making a career for myself that would make 
me independent. Maybe that was my big mistake. Not leaving Louis, but 
turning myself into the family breadwinner. Something happens to a woman 
when she does that. She may kid herself that it's just temporary, only until 
the right man turns up, and then she'll throw her arms around his neck and 
be a clinging vine all the rest of her life. It doesn't work that way. Once you 
start on the independent circuit, you're committed for life. There's no back- 
ing out or breaking that contract. Once you start carrying your own suitcase, 
paying your own bills, running your own show, you've done something to 
yourself that makes you one of those women men may like and call "a pal" 
and "a good sport," the kind of woman they tell their troubles to. But youVe 

*VVE GOT A MAN" 127 

cut yourself off from the orchids and the diamond bracelets, except those 
you buy yourself. 

Naturally, I didn't know this when I turned my back on Hartford and 
my face toward New York and a start In show business. Even after I started 
on the road in vaudeville I used to dream that someday, maybe in the next 
town I played, there would be a man whose eye, when It fell on me, would 
light up with that unmistakable look that tells you you've gone over big 
with him, and when you come out the stage door after the show, hungry as 
a horse at the end of a hard day's work, and ready for some fun, and a little 
loving, hell be there waiting for you. One of those strong, masterful men, 
who know their own minds, who never say: "111 take vanilk too." A man 
who thinks a woman is somebody to be looked out for, and not somebody 
to borrow money from. 

1 looked for him, and I went on looking. For years. If he exists, all I can say 
is that he and I never hit the same town together. We're on different circuits. 

There have been a couple of times when I thought I had him spotted. 

Back in September 1909, when I was playing my first date at the American 
Music Hall on Forty-second Street and Eighth Avenue, I used to walk from 
the Times Square subway station down Forty-first Street to the stage door. 
On the corner where the Hotel Hermitage now stands was a very popular 
bar. I mean a corner saloon, the kind we had in those days, with the street 
door opening into a back room with tables for ladies. Then, if you wanted 
your husband, you went to the back room and asked if he was at the bar* 
Today a husband can find his wife and children in any bar. 

Going back and forth I noticed a fine-looking man, around thirty, who 
evidently owned the place, standing at the door. He would smile and nod 
at me. And I would nod and smile back, "Hello, there," and go on to work. 

About the third day this happened Mrs. Bernstein, my first friend in New 
York, was with me. "Who is he?" she wanted to know. "You know as much 
as I do," I told her, adding that we had been nodding and smiling for 
several days. 

I had dinner with the Bernsteins, I remember, and they both walked me 
back to work. There was my friend again. The Bernsteins laughed and 
teased me about it. "It looks like he's on the make for you. He's a fine-looking 
fellow too." 

After the show that night I hesitated. Should I walk up Forty-first Street 
again, or take the next block and put an end to this nonsense? I remembered 
the Bernsteins' comments. I thought: I've always said I didn't want a man 
in show business, and this man is not an actor. Four years, always alone, is 



a long time. Well, anyway, I walked up Forty-first Street that night and into 
my first romance since I eloped to Holyoke with Louis. 

His name was I'll call him Joe. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. 

I didn't, have to tell him my name. When I started to, "I know who you are," 
he cut in. "I saw you at your opening matinee. You're grand." 

That went over like a bang with me. 

When I told Mollie about him she grinned. "Good for you, Patsy. Just what 
you need, someone to be interested in you. You mustn't give your whole life 
to your family and your career. It ain't natural. Get some fun out of life too." 

All that year I was in and out of New York, working hard all the time. 
But wasn't it a grand feeling to come back to somebody who cared? All 
through those months I was on the West Coast I looked forward to playing 
New York again with Joe there to welcome me and make me feel, what 
every woman wants to feel, wanted. It wasn't as if we could be married. I 
wasn't divorced. And being constantly on the road, as I was, I knew if I were 
tied up I would start to worry and fret. Best to leave well enough alone. 

So for a while I was happy. I had a man. 

Then, gradually, things began to change. First, the Hotel Hermitage was 
rebuilt, and Joe's place had to come down. When I came back to town I 
found he was in a new business horse racing. Right away when I heard that 
my heart gave a big flop and dropped twenty degrees. I knew what a 
gambler's life was. I thought of Pa and of others I'd known. But Joe was so 
hopeful, so sure he was going to be in the money. 

"The next time you hit this town, honey, well be sitting pretty." 

You can see, can't you, how things were shaping? Me working, pushing 
my salary up as I have told. The house for the family to be paid for. Brother 
Moe finishing law school. Son growing and needing things. And now feed- 
ing the horses. It just didn't work out. 

When I was in Chicago, rehearsing for Louisiana Lou, I made myself 
think hard. If the show was a hit, it would mean a long run. I couldn't get 
back to New York for months. It was no way to go on, Joe in New York 
playing the ponies and me footing the bills for the ones that ran wild, I 
wrote Joe: "Best to call everything off. It doesn't work." 

He took it hard. Joe cared for me a lot. And I cared for him. He came on 
to Chicago, thinking there was some other man in the picture, but there 
wasn't, and I made him see the real reason for my decision. I might play 
poker myself. Or the horses. As I did. But that was my money I was 
gambling with money I earned. I couldn't carry him too. And I wouldn't. 

I missed him dreadfully, but I knew I was doing right. And Mollie 

"I'VE GOT A MAN" 129 

helped me. I had her wisdom, her philosophy to lean on when 1 felt my own 
knees wobble and my courage begin to slide. 

"The trouble with you, Patsy, is you're a one-man woman/* Mollie would 

"I know. But where in hell is that one man for me?** 

In Chicago, a retired businessman made quite a fuss over me. He was 
great fun, and I liked him. Then one night I saw him in the theater where 
I was playing with a very lovely-looking woman. When he told me she was 
his wife, I called a halt immediately. I knew there would be no luck for me, 
no successful career if I hurt anybody. I was never one to go out after the 
other woman's man, and I wasn't starting now. So that romance had a 
quick curtain. 

People used to kid me because I was always alone. No man of my own. 
Ill never forget August (Gary) Hermann, the president of the Cincinnati 
Reds and the Exalted Ruler of the Elks, one of the best friends I ever had, 
teasing me: "Come on, Sophie. What's wrong with you? I never see you with 
any men." 

"Not a thing, Gary. Only I guess the men are hep to me that I wear tin 

That crack was our standing joke for years. 

One season when I played Cincinnati, Gary threw a big party for me at 
the Sinton Hotel The mayor was there, and all of Gary's brother Elks- 
two hundred people seated in the ballroom. After the banquet, speeches, all 
in my honor. Finally up got Gary. "I have here a little token which I hope 
Sophie will always cherish and appreciate from her friends in Cincinnati.** 
He handed me a jeweler's box tied with blue ribbon. 

"Open it, Sophie," everyone yelled. 

Inside was a tiny pair of drawers made of tin with ruffles and a huge 
safety pin. 

How we laughed! Especially Jeweler Sol Gilsey, who had made this work 
of art for the occasion. After the laughs, Gary presented me with a lovely 
gold wrist watch. Often, when I looked at it, I thought: 'What right have, 
you got to feel lonely and sorry for yourself when you have such swell 
friends ? You're doing what you want to do, and doing it successfully. You've 
got a family you love, and who love you. You have friends in every town,, 
in every state. Good friends. You haven't an ache or a pain, or a real worry,. 
What more do you want ?" 

But all the time I knew what I wanted: a man. 


A short time before I played that week at Poll's in Hartford I met Frank 
Westphal. He was on the same bill with me, booked as a piano act. A very 
funny entrance he used to make, coming off the street with topcoat, hat, and 
rubbers. He would take these off one by one, then go into his piano act. 
Frank could play a mean piano. 

Many times we had lots of fun on these vaudeville bills, butting in and 
clowning on one another's act. The audience loved it because they never 
knew what to expect. That was how the famous "after-piece stunt" we did 
on the big-time at the close of the regular vaudeville bill got started. It 
became quite a fad, and a great drawing card for the box office. As for the 
butting into one another's acts, you had to be on your toes the whole time. 
You never knew when one o the other performers would suddenly come on 
and start to stooge for you. One day, I remember, Frank Westphal suddenly 
pushed his piano out on the stage during my act. The house shrieked with 
laughter when he said: "Excuse me, Miss Tucker, I forgot to play a song 
in my act. I know you won't mind if I do it now." 

"Of course not. Go right ahead," I replied. 

I walked toward the piano, and as Frank played a popular song I started 
to sing it. Before we knew it, we were a riot, ad-libbing back and forth. The 
audience wanted more, but we had nothing more to offer. It was just a gag 
a laugh to break up my act. But it had something. 

In the next town we played we did it again. Pretty soon the managers 
began to report to the main office that these two performers had a good stunt. 
As we played through the Midwest, Frank and I were booked together, and 
we went on improving the stunt, building it up. I started to write to the 
New York booking offices that Frank and I had a great double act. 

After I finished playing the Midwest I went East and opened ac Hammer- 
stein's in New York, first time with Westphal. This was my first appearance 
in New York in over two years. I had a lot of new songs: "Floating Down 
the River," "Somebody's Coming to My House," "Swing, Swing, Swing," 
and others. 

It was quite a feat to- come into New York in July and do a big business. 
I was getting a thousand dollars a week now, and earning every cent of it 
by hard work. I was working steadily, off on the road playing the Keith- 
theaters (I started to play them in 1913), back in New York for return dates 
at Hammerstein's and at the Alhambra and the Royal. The vaudeville bills 
were getting bigger every season: Louis Matin (he would condense one of 
his legitimate shows for a vaudeville act), Gene Green, Chic Yorke and 
King, Emma Carus, Nat Wills, Evelyn Nesbit, Frank Joyce and Dorothy 

GOT A MAN 131 

West, dancers (Frank was Alice Joyce's brother)., the Dolly Sisters, Lew 
Lockett and Jack Waldron, the Three Keatons (including Buster) all the 
big B. O. acts of those days. 

"The first time I played the Palace . . ." How many times I've heard per- 
formers start off a story like that. And immediately all listeners sighed with 
envy. To play the Palace was to American performers what a command 
performance is to a British actor. Something to live for. Something to boast 
about all the rest of your days. 

The Palace was New York's top-notch vaudeville house through so many 
years it became a tradition. To go on there was what "going on at Tony 
Pastor's" was in the Gay Nineties. 

The first week of August 1914 goes down in history for events of world- 
wide importance. Even in the midst of the most startling headlines our gen- 
eration had seen I could still feel a thrill that I was "playing the Palace." 
Chic Sale was on the bill with me, I remember. I had some swell new songs: 
"There's a Girl in the Heart of Maryland/* Irving Berlin's "International 
Rag/' "Papa and Mama Left Me All Alone/' and for my risque number, 
"Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle?" Frank Westphal was billed 
with me, and together we put those songs across with a wallop, i I do say 
so. The press said it first. The boys handed me the biggest bouquet of my 
life in vaudeville: 

. . , she just walked out and owned the place, putting over eight songs so 
quick and great that at five o'clock she stopped the show dead still, until she 
made a speech. She has a chap, Frank Westphal, at the piano who is some 
accompanist, and with some songs she had a walkaway. Sophie made the biggest 
hit ever mlide in this house by a single woman. . . . 

I nearly wore the paper out reading those lines over and over. It seemed as 
if, now, I hadn't anything left to wish for. 

Frank and I were getting along together very comfortably. He had a sense 
of humor and our act was a big success. We might have gone on the way 
we were indefinitely, but after we had been out on the road a while I could 
see it was a case of splitting up or getting married. I gave a lot of thought 
to it because Frank was younger than I, about seven years. True, I had always 
said nothing on earth would induce me to marry an actor. But this, I told 
myself, was different. (I suppose every woman says that to herself some time 
or other, and thinks it's true.) Still, as I say, we hit it off well Louis Tuck 
had passed away by this time, so there was no barrier to my marrying again. 


Of course Frank was not of my faith. I didn't know how Mama would take 
that, so I decided not to say a word to the family until after we were married. 
As it turned out, Mama made no objections. "It is your happiness that mat- 
ters most/' she wrote me afterward. 

Frank and I were playing Chicago and were billed to go West from there 
on the Orpheum Circuit. My old friend Frank Behring made the marriage 
arrangements for us. Gary Hermann was in Chicago that week, and gave 
us a wedding supper at the Cafe Royale, at Clark and Munroe streets. Who 
should be dining there that same night but the great Paderewski? He con- 
gratulated us and joined our party and the fun. With a wave of those 
famous hands he sent the pianist away from the piano, sat down, and played 
the Lohengrin Wedding March in our honor. 

I was thinking: this is some step up for Sophie Abuza, to have Paderewski 
play for her wedding. Frank squeezed my hand under the table. "I couldn't 
play it much better myself," he said with a straight face. 

It was Frank's sense of humor, as much as anything else, that kept us to- 
gether so long. Life on the road, from one hotel and one theater to the next, 
gets pretty tough. It isn't the audiences that take it out of an entertainer; 
it's the train trips, the everlasting packing and unpacking, the hotel bedrooms 
all so much alike, the drafty, often dirty backstage and dressing rooms, the 
tempers and jealousies of the other performers on the bill. Most of all, it's 
the theater managers, each with his own pet notions about how an act should 
be put across. Each with his own pet hates and prejudices. 

You've got to have a sense of humor to be able to stand it. God help you 
if you haven't. 

Naturally, I'd heard a lot of talk from other performers all along the line 
about whether a husband and wife can play together and at the same time 
keep their marriage from going on the rocks. There were lots who said it 
couldn't be done. They said the only way to stay happily married and in show 
business was to work separately, and not worry about who was two-titning 
who through the season. Then to go down to Freeport, Long Island, to- 
gether and enjoy a summer honeymoon. A lot of them did that* 

That kind of married life never appealed to me, which was one reason I 
always said I'd never marry an actor. Just the same, as I pretty soon found 
out, there's an awful strain in working constantly with the person you're 
married to. What with two shows a day, six sometimes seven days a 
week, and continually rehearsing new songs and new business, neither hus- 
band nor wife ever gets any time off. 

Fm honest. I admit there were plenty of days when I wanted to throw my 

"I'VE GOT A MAN" 133 

cold-cream jar at Frank's head and burst into a fit of hysterics to raise the 
roof. Mollie kept me from doing it. She had not favored my marriage 
except, as she said, "Go on and do it if it makes you happy." Likewise, there 
were times when Frank probably felt he'd like to wring my neck. Those 
were the times when his sense of humor and mine (which were pretty 
much alike) saved the day and our act. Something ridiculous would happen, 
and both of us would have to laugh. Or out of our mad one or the other of 
us would get an idea to put into the act. We'd go to work on it and forget 
whatever it was started us calling names. 

We were always looking for something new. Once, when we were playing 
a return date at the Palace Theatre in Chicago, Frank and I had a row. He 
flung himself out of the theater, and I went into my dressing room and 
slammed the door so hard it sounded like a bomb. Show time came, and 
no Frank. The curtain went up. Still no Frank. I got madder and madder. 
Maybe, too, I was a little scared. Coming up the hard way, as I have, has 
given me a respect for the law of show business, which is that a performer 
shall be there and ready when his call comes. Two minutes to go, and along 
came Frank. With him was the crumbiest-looking bum you ever laid eyes 

I was ready to let all the fireworks loose, but Frank shushed me: "Hold 
everything, Soph. The bum goes on in the act with us." 

He went. And what a riot! The bum had a mouth organ, and could he 
play it? He accompanied Frank and me as if we'd rehearsed the act a 
hundred times. Frank had found him in a saloon, entertaining customers 
for the price of a drink. Frank's "find" later went with the Gallagher and 
Shean act. If only he hadn't been so fond of the bottle he might have had a 
career in show business. 

It was Frank who sold me on the idea that I should buy a car. I'd never 
owned one, but Frank knew cars: at one time he used to race them. Soon 
our family had an addition: a "big maroon, underslung Mercer, with 
SOPHIE TUCKER painted in big letters on the doors. We used the car to 
drive from date to date, instead of crowding into Pullmans any more. It was 
fun, and plenty of publicity. There never was any doubt when Sophie 
Tucker hit town. 

Whenever we played New York I'd send for Son. He would come down 
from the Peekskill Military Academy'and stay with me. It was fun showing 
him the town. I remember taking him to Churchill's to dinner when that 
place was in its heyday. Son was cute in his uniform with his solemn little 


face. I got a great kick out of the other diners turning to look at us, saying, 
"Why, that's Sophie Tucker. That must be her little boy." 

Never will I forget; we had oysters big ones. I had to gulp to get mine 
down. Son tried to do it, failed, and had to pull the oyster out of his throat 
with his fingers. Maybe he felt everybody was watching him. Anyway, he 
flopped the oyster down on his plate, took a knife, and cut it in two and 
ate the pieces with a fork, while the customers laughed. 

Whenever I could, I'd run up to Hartford for a few hours with Ma and 
Pa. I always tried to be with them for our High Holidays, knowing how 
much it meant to them to have all their family with them at these solemn 
times. I knew Ma would boast to her buddies about "mem Sophie" that was 
a headliner and made so much money coming home. And Pa would be 
doing the same to the pinochle players in the back room of the saloon down 
in our old neighborhood he used to go to every day. 

Sure, I felt puffed up and pleased with myself and my fine clothes and 
diamonds and willow plumes going home, a success. I got a big kick out of 
taking presents to all the family. Giving Ma the diamond earrings that that 
stage-door Johnny in Chicago had given me years ago. I had much bigger 
ones now that I was buying on time. Ma wore hers proudly till one day, 
riding in the streetcar, she fell sucker to a couple of con men who offered 
to exchange her diamonds for a pair of much bigger blue stones. She thought 
she was getting a bargain until her friend, the jeweler on the corner, told 
her the big blue stones were glass. 

But no matter how set up I was with myself, the minute I set foot in Ma's 
house I had to fall in line with the rules of an old-fashioned, religious house- 
hold. I had to stop being a headliner and the boss, and remember I was just 
a daughter, who had to sit back and let the men of the family take the lead. 
Even Son, the eldest grandson, ranked ahead of me when it came to our 
religious ceremonies. 

I nearly choked with pride and tears one time when I was able at the last 
minute to run home for Pasach, and I heard Son ask Pa the four \a$ha$. 
These are the ritual questions which must always be asked by the youngest 
male at the feast. 

We were all there: Pa at the head of the table in the king's chair, banked 
up in pillows, and Son at his right hand; Ma at the other end of the table 
as "queen," and close to the kitchen door so she could slip in and prepare 
each dish as Pa read the ritualand bring them in at the right moment; 
Phil and Leah, Moe, Annie, Frank, and I on the other side of Son. And 


always guests, according to the ancient custom of our people. How sweet It 
was! How homey! How solemn! How far away from show business with all 
its ambitions, struggles, disappointments, and heartaches. 

"O God/' I prayed, looking at all those dear faces in the candlelight., 
"please let us stay like this, together, for a long, long time." 

CHAPTER 14: five Kings to a Queen of Jazz 

MAX HAHT had done well by me. It had helped my prestige a lot to be 
known as one of the acts he handled. Just the same, for me there never 
was, never could be, but one "Boss." So when William Morris, Sr, came 
back from his stay at Saranac, cured, and opened up the William Morris 
Agency, I couldn't wait to get a release from Max Hart and go back to 
work for the man who first put me on big-time. 

Abe Lastfogel and I have gone along working together aU these years. 
In Abe we have the Boss again, not only in his ways of handling people, 
working with them and for them, but also in his foresight and understand- 
ing of the amusement world. To this day, when you take a difficult problem 
to Abe he thinks it over and usually says; "If the Boss was here I'm sure he 
would suggest such and such." 

Then there is young Bill Morris, As a kid in short pants he used to come 
into the office and sit at his tiny desk. The Boss adored him, and made him 
his confidant. You could see his eagerness to have Junior learn the business 
and follow in his footsteps, as he has done so successfully. 

The Boss and I had many a good talk. It was wonderful how he had 
his finger on the pulse of show business. He could see changes coming long 
before ,other people knew a change was possible. There was one thing, 
though, he kept telling me never changed. That was the customers* response 
to an entertainer who met them at their own level; who was one of them. 
"It isn't that the public doesn't like success. It does. But if the performer's 
success and what she does with it, separates her from the life of the folks 
who plunk down their dollar bills to see her and hear her, something hap- 
pens to her that kills her work." 

I listened, and I thought a lot about what the Boss said. On the road the 
office booked Frank Westphal's act and mine together, although we were 
billed individually I used to watch the box office all the time. I would go 
out in front of the house to hear what the customers said when they bought 
their tickets. After the show I would go out into the lobby to catch the com- 


ments. When I heard them say: "Sophie Tucker with the man who pushes 
his piano out on the stage while she's singing is awfully funny," I knew we 
were all right. We hadn't lost touch, as the Boss called it. Of course we had 
to keep the act alive with, new ideas, new tricks all the time. You can't let 
yourself get stale in this business. And each new piece of business we added 
had to be put to the same test did it have human appeal? Was it the kind 
of thing everybody was going to laugh at? 

"What gives an act its great entertainment value/' the Boss used to say, 
"is its spontaneity. It's the way an actor seizes on something that happens 
unexpectedly and turns it into a laugh. The public loves that." 

How right he was; just as right today as twenty-five years ago. 

Frank and I worked together on big-time through several seasons. I was 
gradually changing my style of singing, getting away from the coon shout- 
ing. I was more subdued, smoother. The press noticed it approvingly. Mean- 
while, as the war in Europe went on and everyone realized that America 
would inevitably be drawn into it, you began to notice a difference in the 
audiences. Everywhere we played you felt an emotional tensity. Folks were 
keyed up; on edge. They were quick to respond to songs of emotional 

At the Royal Theatre in the Bronx I introduced the ballad "M-O-T-H-E-R, 
the Word That Means the World to Me." You couldn't possibly go wrong 
with a song like that. It was sure-fire. 

There were a lot of clever young performers breaking into- show business 
in those years. Fred and Adele Astaire were one team that was getting a lot 
of notice. Gus Edwards, who deserved the title of star maker if anyone ever 
did, was playing his famous school act. And what kids he had with him! 
Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Georgie Price, Lila Lee, Walter Winchell. 

The first time I played a bill with them was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 
The kids put on a great show, and the customers loved it. They were fun 
around the theater too, always in some deviltry, playing tricks on one an- 
other. It was that season when I played a week in Knoxville I came down 
with a bad cold and laryngitis, I went to a doctor, who gave me a lecture on 
the way I was ruining my voice coon shouting. I finished the week, then 
took the M. D.'s advice canceled my next date and went home to rest. 

That week the Edwards act played Knoxville, Tennessee, and Eddie Can- 
tor caught cold. He went to the same doctor, who told him he had a patient 


named Sophie Tucker who abused her throat so much she couldn't possibly 
last long. He warned Eddie against following my bad example. 

Well, the good doctor has passed on, but Eddie and I seem to be still in 

Gradually, as Frank and I worked along together, my eyes opened to 
something I should have been on to long before. This was the bad effect on 
my husband of my making more money than he made. Frank was develop- 
ing what in those days was called a steady grouch. Now we call it an in- 
feriority complex; but it all comes to the same thing in the end. On paydays 
he would cringe and slink off. I wouldn't see him again till show time. And 
it would take a couple of days to get him back into the state of mind he 
needed to be in to put our act across. 

I didn't know what the hell to do about it. I talked it over with Mollie, 
who could see what was happening. She made me see it was my fault. And 
yet I didn't see how I could be or do any different. Maybe I was bossy and 
domineering. If I was, it was the good of our act I was thinking o I wasn't 
out to ride my husband because I was pulling down seven hundred and 
fifty or a thousand dollars a week. I swear I wasn't. Just the same, it was 
my success that brought about the failure of my marriage. Since I've been 
in show business I have been married twice. Both marriages were failures, 
due as I can honestly say to my earning capacity. As Mollie said, no red- 
blooded man can stand that situation. 

I worried a lot about Frank. I could see that his act alone would never be 
in the big money. Meanwhile, this double act of ours, with me earning more 
than twice what he could earn, was the worst thing in the world for him 
and for our married life. Frank needed a business of his own something 
unrelated to show business. 

Before he went on the stage he had fooled around with automobile racing 
in Chicago. He knew a car from A to Z. That gave me an idea. The next 
time we played East I talked it over with my brother Phil, who was investing 
my money for me. He approved the idea of a garage for Frank. No more 
show business. 

Frank fell for the idea. I guess he was sick and tired of being "Mr. Sophie 
Tucker." A place was found out in Baldwin, Long Island, on the Merrick 
Road. We called it, in big, block letters you could read as far as you could 

Another mistake, of course, as I can see now. Then, all I thought of was 
the publicity: for the garage and for me. I never thought what that name was 


going to do to Frank. Just dumb. I know I'm not dumb when it's a matter 
of show business, but in iny love life Fve certainly laid plenty of eggs. My 
experience with Frank was the beginning. And what it has cost me in hard 
money! Not long before Ben Bernie died he said to me: "Sophie, how much 
do you figure your love life has cost you? A couple of hundred thousand?" 

"A couple of hundred thousand nothing/' I fired back, thinking of Frank 
and then o my third husband Al Lackey. "It 9 s set me back a million if it has 
a cent. And what have I got for it? Not a damn thing but experience!" 

With Frank started in the automobile business I was up against it for a 
new act. I couldn't go back to do a single again it wouldn't mean a thing. 
What could be different about a single woman on a bill singing songs when 
so many were doing that? 

I talked it over with the Boss to get his advice. He agreed with me that 
I should have something entirely new. He made me feel good when he said 
that I had developed a grand sense of comedy, and that I could no longer do 
my best stuff as a single. "Loaf for a while," he advised. "You haven't done 
that for a long time. It will do you good. Get out and see what's around 
town. You'll get an idea." 

Frank and I started out to go cabareting. New York had a lot of places 
to see. There was Shanley's, the Everglades, Pabst's on Columbus Circle, 
Rector's, and a lot more. Rector's drew the Broadway crowd as it featured 
the best dance orchestras in town. Those were the days of the famous ball- 
room dance teams the Castles, Maurice and Walton, Joan Sawyer. Nobody 
yet had heard of torch singers, and jazz was just coming in. 

We had no master of ceremonies in those days. At all the hot spots the 
proprietor kept things going. Usually whenever any professional entertainers 
came in he recognized them and would call on them to come out on the 
floor and entertain the crowd. It was free entertainment, impromptu, and 
it created a feeling of real camaraderie. It wasn't often that the vaudevillians 
went to such places. For one thing, most of us couldn't afford it; for another, 
we preferred to get together in one of the crowd's hotel room for supper and 
poker where we entertained ourselves. 

Going around to all the smart places in New York, which were new to me, 
I thought I might see something different that would give me an idea for an 
act. But I didn't. After one of those evenings when I was about ready to 
give up and go home somebody" said; "Come on, let's go over to the Tokio." 

The Tokio was one of Broadway's hot spots. Henry Fink ran it. He was 
there at the door with a big "Hello" to everybody. The place was packed, 
and it seemed as if everybody was having a grand time. In a few minutes 


I heard him sing out: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, another great 
comedy and singing act Sophie Tucker and Frank Westphal." 

There was nothing for us to do but get out on the floor. It was the first 
time I'd ever worked on a floor in New York, and if you are used to working 
on a stage it comes hard at first to sing to people who are so close to you 
and on the same level, and who are sitting at tables eating and drinking, 
instead of sitting quiet In rows facing you. A lot of performers can't work 
on a floor at all. They can't stand the nearness or having the customers see 
their make-up. Some get a complex about it. Fm one of the lucky ones who 
can feel as easy on a floor as on the stage. 

Frank went to the piano. As 1 started to sing, I heard the band that played 
the dance music join in with the piano. That band did something to me; 
I sang so different. I looked behind and saw five boys, none of them over 
eighteen or nineteen years old. Fine-looking kids, smiling, peppy, and hot. 
I sang for an hour. I guess I enjoyed the band playing for me more than 
the audience enjoyed my singing. I whispered to Frank: "This is it. A band 
like this. Fve got my new act." 

That was the start of Sophie Tucker's Five Kings of Syncopation. The 
Boss liked the idea. "Okay, dear. Get your boys. How long will it take you 
to get the act set?" 

"Give me a couple of weeks." 

He could see how enthusiastic I was to get going. It seemed as if I 
couldn't wait for Frank to find five boys and sign them up so we could start 
rehearsing. My mind was working a mile a minute thinking of things to try 
out with the band. When we started the rehearsals, I worked the boys to 
a frazzle. I was a regular Simon Legree. If a boy showed he could sing a 
note, or play a solo, or dance a step, we made a place for it in the act. I was 
hell-bent on getting the utmost entertainment value out of the "Five Kings 
of Syncopation" as we decided to call them. Instead of "The Mary Garden 
of Ragtime," I became "The Queen of Jazz." That change in my billing 
marks the end of one era and the opening of another. Fve lived through 
coon shouting, ragtime, jazz, swing, the hep-cat, jitterbug, and zoot-suit 

I knew there wasn't an act on the road anything at all like what I had in 
mind. I was determined to make mine so good that the press would hail 
it as something new, "different," and all the customers who had been coming 
regularly to see me would say this new act was the best Fd ever given them. 
It was some work I was laying out for myself. 

We opened at the Greenpoint Theatre in Brooklyn for a break-in. The 


building was once a church that was renovated to be a theater. Those walls 
never echoed to anything like what the boys and I gave them that afternoon. 
The boys were on their toes, eager to make good. So was L I must have been, 
for I was able to sing ten songs in twenty-five minutes. Not only that, but I 
made a change of costume during the act, coming on in semi-formal and 
changing to full evening dress with all my diamonds. I still kept In mind 
that the women In the audience like to see stunning clothes. 

The Boss came over to see the act. He said it was still rough and needed 
lots of work, but he liked it. He booked us for several weeks at the Islesworth 
Gardens in Atlantic City, and then on the Orpheum Circuit. It would be 
my fourth trip to the Coast* 

Mollie went with me, as usual. I needed her as I never needed her before. 
I had my hands full managing the boys, keeping the act up, trying out new 
stunts to introduce as we went along. I was using props in the act for the 
first time: gorgeous Spanish shawls to fling over the piano, a grass skirt for 
a "hula" song, a big Mexican sombrero for a song about the Rio Grande. Up 
to this time the only prop I ever used, since that rose I used to take out of 
my hair and sing to, was a big chiffon hanky. The big hanky, which I believe 
I Introduced, was something more than a bit of colorful decoration. It was 
a prop in every sense of the word. 

When I started singing, 1 was terribly clumsy with my hands. I didn't 
know what to do with them, and I was conscious of their size long after I 
had eliminated the red dishwashing look. I used to stand in front of the 
mirror every day and make gestures, learning how to use my hands grace- 
fully. Today, when I see a singer standing in front of a "mike" hanging on 
to It for dear life while she sings into it, instead of to the audience, I feel like 
yelling at her: "Let go, sister. If you only knew how terrible you look like 
that, you'd lower the mike and stand clear of it and use your hands as a 
part of your act,' the way an entertainer should." 

At the beginning the handkerchief gave me something to pull on if I got 
nervous. It helped me, and as It became identified with me (here's Sophie 
and her hanky) I always carried one. I do to this day. One night, not long 
ago, a taxi driver driving me home after work in Chicago turned round in 
the seat and said: "Say, ain't you Sophie Tucker?" 

I admitted it. 

"I seen you a long time ago, in vaudeville. Say, do you still use one of 
them big handkerchiefs ? " 

It's funny what folks remember. 

At the break-in with the Five Kings my salary was six hundred and fifty 


dollars. Out of this I had .to pay each of the boys fifty dollars and traveling 
expenses. I wouldn't be In pocket nearly so much as when Frank and I did 
our act together. But I figured I was doing the right thing: branching out 
Into something bigger and more important. It was just as It had been when 
I realized it was to my advantage to give up work and good pay at the 
German Village to get Into vaudeville, even at twenty-five dollars a week. 
It was stepping out In the right direction. If the customers liked my new act, 
then I could soon raise my price for it* First, though, I had to sell it to the 

Out came the good old address book. Off went hundreds, thousands of 
post cards as we traveled the circuit. I wrote everybody I knew everywhere 
along the line: "Loo^ out for me. I'm coming your way with a brand-new 
show. New*songs. New clothes. Don't miss it!" 

My hopes were high, for the press in New York when we opened there 
had been terrific. The critics praised the new act: said It was something 
entirely new, and prophesied it would go over big. Variety said: "Sophie 
Tucker Is back. In all, a fine combination. Back with the best act she has 
ever been Identified with." 

God bless Sime Silverman for what those words meant to me. 

We played in luck for the whole tour to the West Coast. The press stayed 
enthusiastic and the customers showed they approved of the new act. It was 
up to the minute. Peppy. 

The original Five Kings who went on the first tour with me were Slim 
Pressler, pianist; Sam Green, violinist; Ralph Herz, drummer; Phil Saxe, 
saxophonist; and Peter Quinn, cellist and clarinetist. Now and then I'd have 
trouble with one or another of them. They would get out of hand and have 
to be smacked down. Rehearsals were very trying at times. How often I re- 
gretted not having kept on with my twenty-five-cent piano lessons when I 
was a kid. To- this day I can't read a note of music and I know nothing about 
a piano keyboard. But when I hear a tune my ear is quick to detect in it 
what will suit me and what has to be changed for me. 

Many times the boys and I lived at the same hotels on the road, and many 
a night after the show we six would get together and play poker. No high, 
stakes (I usually got trimmed anyway). One thing I made clear to them 
right from the start no drinking. If a boy started that, his contract was 
canceled at once and he left the band. But the boys were all nice kids and 
hard workers who wanted to get ahead. Lord knows I lectured them enough 
about that. Save your money; send home your money order every payday; 
take out insurance and annuities. Remember there's many a rainy day in 
show business. 


When we left California, heading for Salt Lake City and Denver, I was 
given a chance to satisfy any latent mother hunger I had in me. 

Mollie and I were sitting in my drawing room when a little girl came by 
and peeked in the door at us. "Come on in/' I said. 

She was a friendly little thing, very talkative; she told us her name, June 
Campbell, and that her mother was in the Pullman coach ahead. She added 
importantly: "She's an actress too." (I found she had been traveling with an 
illusion set, handling the props.) A little later the youngster came out with: 
"We're going home so my mother can have a baby." 

After dinner I walked through the Pullmans to see whether I knew Mrs. 
Campbell or if there were other show people aboard. I asked the porter about 
the child and her mother and was told they had retired. I spent some time 
in the observation car, then Mollie came to tell me our drawing room was 
made up and I should get to bed. 

Going back through the Pullmans something one of my hunches, I guess 
told me to hunt for that porter, again and ask him what berth Mrs. Camp- 
bell and her little girl were in. He told me the number, and I went down 
the aisle to it. I touched the green curtains. 

"Mrs. Campbell/' I said, "it's me, Sophie Tucker. Your little girl told 
me . . ." 

I heard a low moan. 

I put my head through the curtains. "Your kid told me about you. Can I 
help you?" 

The poor woman was in agony. She had her face buried in the pillow to 
stifle her groans while her hands reached up to the upper berth to hang 
onto something. 

I got the conductor and a couple of porters. We managed to carry Mrs, 
Campbell into my drawing room while the conductor wired ahead for a doc- 
tor to board the train at the next place we came to. Mollie and I held the fort 
till the doctor came aboard. A couple of hours later, while we were racing 
over the great salt desert, the cutest little trick was born in my drawing 
room. At Jericho, Utah, the doctor took mother, baby, and the sleepy little 
girl off the train to the local hospital. A few days later I got a wire: 



Little Sophie is married now, and has a small son. There's always a wel- 
come for me at her home in Detroit. 


CHAPTER 15: Trouping 

As WE SWUNG ROUND the Orpheum Circuit playing to big houses everywhere 
I always looked forward to playing Chicago; always wondering how my 
good friends there were going to like the Five Kings. 

We came into the old Palace Theatre with a great bill: Herb Williams, the 
comedian, and Hilda Wolf us; Laura Nelson Hall in a sketch; Frank Orth; 
Tom Dugan and Babe Raymond; Bensee and Baird; Bert Kalmer and 
Jessie Brown, dancers. Later Bert Kalmer turned song writer and wrote High 
Kic\ers, in which I played with George JesseL I was headlining the bill. 

The act had a wonderful reception at the Monday matinee. This was 
always a great day for the regular customers, especially women. Many of 
them never missed a Monday matinee at the Palace from one year's end to 
the next. They knew all the performers and had their favorites. They didn't 
miss a single trick of what you wore and what you did. Besides these at the 
opening matinee you had the press, with their notebooks and pencils; and 
this was the show all the performers who happened to be laying off in. 
Chicago always came to. Turning over my book of clippings I find that the 
critics noticed a number of members of the profession in the house that 
afternoon. Al Jolson was there; Ann Pennlngton, and Emma Haig, two won- 
derful dancers from the Zlegfeld Follies then playing Chicago; William 
Hodge from the legitimate stage, and many others. 

I didn't know they were there. I had other things on my mind. Fd played 
Chicago so often, more than any other city in the country, by ttiis time I 
thought I knew pretty well what the Chicago customers wanted. Were they 
going to like my new act which was so different from anything I had given 
them before? 

I need not have worried. The press gave me the best notices I had ever 
had in Chicago a city that has always been wonderful to me. Dear Amy 
Leslie beamed and crowed over my success. Praise from her, from Charlie 
Collins, "Doc" Hall, and Ashton Stevens meant a lot to me. Speaking of 
Ashton Stevens, when I opened in Chicago In November 1942 he wrote In 
his column that he had been reviewing me steadily for twenty-five years 
"After a quarter of a century, Sophie is an institution.'* 

We did great business in Chicago. I doubled at the Marigold Gardens, 
which was the smart place on the North Side where Ruth Etting was ward- 
robe mistress of the line of girls, and where she skyrocketed to fame as a 
singer, helped by her husband, Moe Snyder (Colonel Gimp). 


The boys were getting better all the time. I felt confident of a great re- 
sponse as we swung round the last of the circuit, playing Detroit, Buffalo, 
Rochester, and Montreal where Mike Shea, when I told him how much 
the act was setting me back, fixed things with the head office so I got more 
money after playing his theaters. Then back to several dates in New York. 

And was the Boss pleased! As I always did every week I was on the road, 
I wrote him telling him how I was doing; what the box office was like. 
Those weekly reports were strictly on the level; no kidding. I was like a 
salesman on the road sending in weekly reports to the head of the firm. I had 
seen other performers come into his office and start to tell him how mar- 
velous they were. Many a time I'd seen the Boss get up from his desk, button 
up his coat, and say so gently, but with so much meaning, "Let me tell you 
how good you are.'* 

We were playing a return date at the Palace in Chicago. I remember I was 
very restless and jumpy all that day. Every little thing annoyed me. It seemed 
as if I sensed something was wrong: not with the act, but at home. Sister 
Annie always wrote me several times a week wherever I was playing but 
I hadn't heard from her for several days. 

The show was on and I was in my dressing room. At the Palace the head- 
liner's dressing room was right by the stage door. My door was open; that 
was how I saw a messenger boy come in and heard him say to the doorman: 
"Telegram for Miss Tucker." 

One of the rules that governed life backstage was that a telegram was 
never given to a performer before he went on for a show. It was always kept 
till after his act was over, then put into his mailbox, or handed to him. The 
managers weren't taking any chances of a bit of bad news queering an act 
at the last minute. 

Ordinarily, I wouldn't have had this telegram until after the show, but 
I'd caught sight of the boy and heard my name. I sent Mollie to get it from 
the boy before the doorman could even sign the book. When she handed me 
the yellow envelope, I didn't need the three stars in the corner to tell me 
it held bad news. 

"You open it," I said. "Something is wrong back home, I know. I can 
feel it." 

She read me the message: Come home at once. Pa very lotu. \Annie* 
Mollie's arms went round me tight. "Now, Patsy, keep a stiflf upper lip. 
We've got to think fast what to do." 

There was only one thing to do: send for the manager, tell him I would 


have to leave after the matinee to catch the first train I could get to Hartford. 
No planes then, and very few fast Limiteds. Meanwhile, Fd have to go on a 
give the customers the best I had. I couldn't let the show down. 

While Jack Lait, who was then with the Hearst newspapers in Chicago, 
got busy for me about tickets and reservations, the theater manager found 
that Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, always big favorites at the Palace* 
were laying over in Chicago that week. They agreed to pinch-hit for me. 
I've never ceased being grateful to them for that. 

By the time I got to Hartford poor Pa was gone. I was too late to see him 
alive. If only I'd had Sis's wire a couple of hours earlier, I could have caught 
the Century and been there in time. After he had the fatal stroke, and 
couldn't speak or move, they told him they had sent for me. I was always 
his favorite. He kept watching the door for me to come until he finally 
closed his eyes. 

I found a host of friends there at the house when I reached home. The 
Boss, and Zit, and dear Emma Carus with her strong arm around Ma, as 
well as Carl McCullough and Harry Cooper and the whole bill that was 
showing at Poll's that week. Everyone was so kind,* so loving, I thought: 
yes, this -is show business. We may squabble and feel jealous of each other> 
but when any sorrow touches one of us, all the others are quick to show 
their sympathy and to lend a hand, and money if it is needed. 

I couldn't help wishing poor Pa could have seen them and heard the nice 
things they said about him. He always loved performers. 

I felt his death keenly, all the more because I knew he had been lonely in 
the last few years with Son away at military school and living in a new* 
neighborhood, too far for him to join his old pinochle-playing crowd as often 
as he used to. He loved visiting with me whenever I played a theater where 
he could come and spend the week with me; but I had been West for a 
good many months, and he had missed this pleasure for a long time. 

His death affected my work. Even though I sang comedy songs, I didn't 
feel funny. That made me turn to ballads, "tear-jerkers," and I found myself 
singing them more and more. Because I felt them, I was able to make the 
audience feel them, too, and I would see the handkerchiefs come out and 
hear the sniffs as people tried to keep from crying. Then the managers 
started complaining. Where's the comedy ? I had to shake myself out of it. 
In show business you can't let your personal feelings get you off on the wrong 
track with the customers. I went back to the comedy songs, but meanwhile 
1 had learned something: that I could sing a ballad effectively. I had always 


loved the cello and violin In a song; that combination brought out all the 
drama I had in me. 

Thinking over how some of the audiences had responded to the ballads 
sung to violin and cello started me on something Fd never done before: 
dramatizing songs with the help of the band. I remember one song called 
*Tm Waking for Ships That Never Come In." When I found it, I sent for 
the writer and asked him to write me a recitation as a preface to the song. 
He brought it to me, a recitation that began: "Life's a game of poker . , ." 
That reminded me of the poker games the boys and I often had, and I got 
the idea: how about opening the act like that? The stage set like a living 
room. The boys dropping in, the way they would in their own home, some- 
body suggesting a game of poker; all of us playing, then an argument. One 
by one the boys leaving the table to go to their instruments, the stage black- 
Ing out just the light from under the glass top of the table playing on me; 
and I would start the recitation; "Life's just a game of poker . . ." leading 
into the song with the band: "I'm Waiting for Ships That Never Come In." 

When I started dramatizing songs like this, it was an experiment; I was 
feeling my way. What made me know I was on the track of something good 
as entertainment were the letters I began to get from the customers. You 
could see what they liked were songs that were built around something that 
might have sometimes had happened to them. For instance, I never sang 
a song called "You're Cheating on Me," which I dramatized, that I didn't 
receive letters from women in the audience who wrote me that I was singing 
their own experience with their men, and that the philosophy underlying 
the song seemed directed especially at them. They thanked me for singing it. 

As we went along I changed the setup of the band several times. In the 
second set were: Al Siegel, the brilliant pianist who later married Bea 
Palmer, that gorgeous-looking singer o hot numbers. In later years, Al in- 
troduced Ethel Merman with a new style of singing a song, by which she 
skyrocketed to fame. And Richard Himber, violinist, now maestro of his 
own famous band, Dick was about fourteen when he came to me looking 
for a job; a fat, stubby, round and rosy-faced kid, fresh as paint. I wish I 
had a dollar for every time I put him across my knee. Others of the second set 
were: Manny Klein, cornettist; Julius Berken, cellist; and Dan Alvin, 
drummer, who could do a mean shimmy and still beat his drum. He could 
throw the sticks up in the air and catch them without losing a beat. As the 
boys changed, their salaries varied; some were paid more than others. All 
of them were getting more than I paid when the act started. There was a 
lot of responsibility and expense carting seven people around the country, 


what with, railroad fares, sleeper jumps, excess baggage, and so on. The boys* 
clothes cost me money, as I had to get tuxedos, patent-leather shots, et cetera, 
for all of them. I was determined to dress the act smartly to make it stand 

My dressing room was my home. I carried two trunks one for the theater 
and one for the hotel. In the theater trunk, besides my gowns and accessories, 
were cretonne hangings, wall sheets, chair and table coven, and a cheap, 
homemade rug for the cold cement floor. What a blessing those furnishings 
were as I look back at some of the theaters we played drafty old firetraps, 
no toilets, filthy dirty cracked walls that let in the wind and the rain, old 
broken floors . . * One hard jump and down into the cellar yon went. Never 
enough heat, I would come into one of these places, take a look around, and 
then roll up my sleeves. I would borrow a hammer and nails, get a heavy 
cardboard to cover up the ratholes in the wall and ceiling of my dressing 
room. I would go out and rent a heater gas, oil, or electric, whatever I 
could get. 

Those were the "good old days'* of trouping. But today these conditions 
aren't any better, if you are touring one-night or two-night stands, playing 
in any theaters the motion pictures haven't gobbled up. Just as bad in their 
way are the civic auditoriums and Shriners* temples (seldom completed). 
These places have gorgeous auditoriums. Hundreds of thousands of dollars 
have been spent on the front of the house, on the lobby, theater, stage, and 
lighting equipment* But it seems as if the architects who designed them 
never gave a thought to the comfort of the performers. Trouping is tough. 
Curtain down at eleven-fifteen , . . a bite to eat ... bed . . . train call at 
seven-fifteen, which means up at 6 A.M. Breakfast before you get on the train. 
You have to be in the next town by noon so as to hang the show and get it 
set for that night's performance. And there you walk into your dressing 
room to find it filthy 'dirty, cold, eight or ten people huddled in one dressing 
room, no sink, no toilet. . . . 

It's not quite so bad for the stars, who don't have to leave with the com- 
pany. They can make a later train, or take a plane. But for the rest . . . Take 
it from me, trouping today is just as bad as it was twenty-five years ago. I 
know what I'm telling you. In 1940 Billy Gaxton, Victor Moore, and I did 
four months' hard labor with Leave It to Me on tour, and I couldn't see 
any improvement over the "good old days" of before World War L 

There were many theaters that I liked to play. First the Palace Theatre, 
in Chicago (now Erlanger). I always went to Chicago first with everything 
new I had to offer. If they okayed the act, I had greater confidence in it 


everywhere else. Second, Keith's Theatre, Philadelphia. Harry Jordan, the 
manager, was always on the stage on a Monday morning to greet the actors 
with a smile and a kind word to those of us who had a rotten jump into 
Philadelphia. Harry Jordan made you forget how tired you were. He treated 
you like a human being. If the orchestra didn't play the rehearsal music 
just right, he was there to see that they did. At his theater, if you had been 
a hit at the Monday matinee, you could go to him and tell him how much the 
act was costing you and ask for more money. And if you were a hit, Harry 
Jordan would go to the front for you and get you a raise. He helped all the 
acts this way and, because he did, he always got the best out of them. His 
house had the best shows not only in Philadelphia, but on the whole Keith 

Mike Shea, Harry Jordan, and Fred Schanberg of the Maryland Theatre, 
Baltimore, were all like that. The Maryland was a smaller house and a cut 
week. Still, it always had a great audience and we all liked to play there. The 
Temple Theatre, in Detroit, was another grand house. Manager Williams 
would sit in his comfortable chair in the first entrance watching every act, 
making notes, cutting out this or that. He never was seen to smile, but you 
could tell by the way he shook his head whether you were going over okay 
with him. 

The Keith theaters boasted a number of managers who were very self- 
important. They made things tough for the performers. Take the Davis 
Theatre in Pittsburgh, Keith's in Boston, and the Hippodrome Theatre in 

It's not going too far to say that the Davis Theatre was hated by every 
performer in the business. Lots of them refused to play it, knowing that a 
date there let you in for a hell of a time. The manager of the Davis was very 
strict, and he had his own ideas which he insisted on the performers carrying 
out. During the Monday matinee we all knew he was watching and making 
notes; not on what the audience liked or didn't, but on what he liked or 
more frequently disliked. Between the matinee and the night show the blue 
envelopes began to appear in the performers' mailboxes backstage. You came 
back from getting a bite of dinner to find one of them in your box. Inside 
would be a curt order to cut out a blue line of a song, or a piece of business. 
Sometimes there was a suggestion of something you could substitute for 
the material the manager ordered out. 

Poor Eugene Connolly, who was publicity man for the Davis Theatre, 
used to have to invent these substitutions at the manager's command. And 
all changes had to be made in the Monday-night show. 


Is it any wonder we used to hit the celling? Me especially, being one of 
the worst offenders in the manager's eyes. What went on backstage every 
Monday between the matinee and the night show was enough to crack the 
walls. I've heard more violent and fluent cursing backstage at the Davis than 
in all the other houses I've played in put together. 

As a result, the Monday-night shows were always terrible. Everybody was 
too mad, too upset, too nervous, to do good work. Come to the Monday 
matinee if you want to see a good show, or later in the week. Only, for God's 
sake, don't come on Monday night, for it's sure to be terrible, we all said. 

But and this tells better than anything else what show business really is 
no matter how rough the Monday-night show was, with all the cuts, every 
performer was ready on Tuesday with a smooth performance. In that short 
time they would have rewritten their acts using Eugene Connolly's sugges- 
tions or working up something new of their own. The customers who came 
then, or later in the week unless they had caught the Monday matinee 
never knew anything had been cut or changed. 

There was no arguing about the orders in the blue envelopes. They were 
final. You obeyed them or quit. And if you quit, you got a black mark 
against your name in the head office and you just didn't work on the Keith 
Circuit any more. During my early years on the Keith Circuit I took my 
orders from my blue envelope and no matter what I said or did backstage 
(and it was plenty) when I went on for the Monday-night show, I was 
careful to keep within bounds. 

It used to make me furious because the lines the manager ordered cut out 
of my songs were always the ones that got laughs from the customers. What 
he was doing was ruining my act; not to please the audience, but to satisfy 
his own self-importance. Like the rest, I had to obey his orders, but I used 
to boil. I would tell myself: "When I'm a headliner, 111 tell that such-and- 
such I'll play my act my way, and so long as the customers like it, there'll be 
no changes." 

I'd been promising myself that for several seasons. When I played the 
Davis Theatre with the band, headlining the bill, I made the promise good. 

During the Monday matinee, which went over great, I knew the manager 
was there at the back of the house scowling and sharpening his pencil. When 
I came back to the theater after dinner, to dress for the night show, there 
in my mailbox was the blue envelope. 

I took it out, and without reading the note inside, I tore it up and dropped 
the bits in the scrap basket in my dressing room. 


"Huh!" said Mollic, her eyes very big. "Ain't you going to pay attention 
to what he tells you?" 

"I am not I" 

"But, Patsy, you know what that man is like." 

"He's going to find out what I'm like, and about time!" 

The boys were hanging around, waiting for orders what to cut and what 
to change* They nearly popped out of their collars when I told them: "No 
changes, boys. We play the act just the way we played it this afternoon." 

And we did. 

When we came off, there was the manager waiting for me. He wanted to 
know if I hadn't got my orders from him. 

"I got them/' I said. And I pointed to the scrap basket. 

He blew up. The show he put on there in my dressing room was better 
than anything on the stage of his theater. The boys gathered around the 
door, looking scared, and behind them all the others on the bill stood where 
they could hear and see. They heard and saw plenty. 

"Okay/* I yelled in the midst of the row, "I'm through right here and now. 
Mollie, start packing. Well get out of this town tonight!" 

He began to argue with me that I couldn't do that. 

"Can't I?" I yelled. "Get going, Mollie. Either I sing the songs I want and 
the way I want to sing them, or I leave. As long as the customers like my 
songs and they do no manager on earth is going to tell me to rewrite 

Mollie was throwing things in the trunks and cleaning up the dressing 
room as though the train left in five minutes. I started to pull off my clothes 
to change. "One of you boys run down to the station and get the reserva- 
tions/' I hollered. "We've no time to waste around here!" 

It wasn't bluff. I meant it. I never was more serious in my life. The man- 
ager realized it. By the time Mollie had one trunk locked and called the 
porter to take it, the manager came round to see things my way. He agreed, 
if I would finish out the week, to let me sing the songs I wanted to sing in 
my own way. 

The manager of the Davis Theatre let me alone after that one experience. 
I had similar trouble once at the Hippodrome Theatre in Cleveland. That 
time I packed up, left the theater, and was in the station just about to get 
aboard the train before the manager came after me to ask me to go back. 

In New York, the Riverside, the Alhambra, and the Royal were great 
houses, always with fine bills. But the house in New York> of course, was 
the Palace. I suppose more careers were made and more hearts broken in 


that one theater than In all the other houses of the catire Orpheum and 
Keith circuits. 

Ill never forget the week Rosa and Carmela Ponselle opened their first 
vaudeville date at the Palace as a sister act. Two big, husky, fine-looking 
girls. They stopped the show cold. And then a few years later Rosa was 
singing at the Metropolitan with Caraso. Marilyn Miller appeared at the 
Palace with her father, mother, and sisters in an act called the "Five Colum- 
bians/* and was promptly discovered and started for stardom. 

Your success in show business depended on how you went over at the 
Palace. At a Monday matinee there were more upset stomachs backstage 
than at a Metropolitan opening. Would the czar o vaudeville, Mr. K F. 
Albee, see your act and would he like it? Would Mr. J. J. Murdock okay the 
price you asked for it after the matinee? Every booker in New York, and 
many from London, would be standing in the back of the theater at a Mon- 
day matinee. So were all the "legitimate" managers and producers, scouting 
for talent. The Palace was like an auction block. Knowing this, many per- 
formers would go on at the Palace for less money than they got elsewhere. 
No actor can truthfully say he ever walked on the stage of the Palace calm, 
cool, and collected, and with an "I-don't-care-how-I-go-over" manner. 

I never remember playing the Palace in all the years, from a small act to 
the headliner, that I ever walked on the stage without new songs, new 
gowns. Later, when I went to Europe, I always brought back handsome 
drops and clothes for my engagement at the Palace. I would spend as high 
as two thousand dollars on the act before the Monday matinee. 

The actors had two great friends in the Keith booking office: Harry 
Jordan and Eddie Darling. Eddie's layout of a Palace bill was second only 
to that of William Morris. He always gave a great show, even though there 
were plenty of headaches for Eddie every Monday. If you were a hit at the 
Palace, you got a week each at three Brooklyn houses the Flatbush, the 
Orpheum, and the Bushwick which Eddie Darling booked. This meant 
you played ten to twelve weeks in and around New York. 

The Palace was the rendezvous of all the legitimate actors in town. Alfred 
Lunt and Lynn Fontanne never missed a Monday matinee when they were 
in New York. The Lunts were great vaudeville fans, though they had never 
played in vaudeville themselves. I met Alfred first at a party at Noel Cow- 
ard's. Several years later I had a note from him asking if he could come 
and see me on very important business. He came and brought Lynn along. 
I didn't have any idea what the business was until Alfred got up and went 
over to the mantelpiece and draped himself against itpreparatory to tell- 


Ing me he was going to play the part of a vaudevillian In Idiot's Delight. 
"And I've come for help to the greatest vaudevillian of them all," 

I coached him there in my sitting room. My son, who Is a dancer, taught 
Alfred a few steps. I added what I could to give his acting the genuine 
vaudeville iavor. What an actor he is! And how he worked over every little 
detail to keep it all in character. And what a performance he gave! And 
how the critics praised him and marveled at a legitimate actor out-vaude- 
villing vaudeville. 

I was making more and more friends In the profession. As I toured the 
country with the band, we would meet on the road and have a good time 
during the week we played the same town. One of my good friends of those 
days was Trixie Friganza. I first met Trixie when J. J. Shubert wired me 
to pinch-hit for her in his Town Topics, then on tour. Trixie had opened 
with the show at the Winter Garden in New York, but fell ill while on 
tour. I took her place for eight weeks, Later, when she played in vaudeville, 
we were sometimes on the same bill and often playing in the same city. 
Trixie her baptismal name was Delia O'Callahan -was a devout Roman 
Catholic. She was Irish, but as thrifty in her way as German-bora Emma 
Carus. I believe Trixie and I were the first vaudeville performers to buy 
annuities. Trixie managed her career as a business. She invested money in 
exclusive songs that made her act a tremendous success and always in- 
dividual. She was very lovable and lots of fun to be with. I remember she 
used to say that she wasn't going to be like a lot of performers, afraid to 
quit while she was still a headliner. Trixie did just that. She left the stage 
and went into a Sacred Heart Convent in the Midwest. I hear from her 
frequently, and always her letters bring back the days of twenty-five years 
ago, when we were troupers together. 

Lots of times performers would ask my advice, knowing that I had come 
up the hard way and knew some things by experience that you can't learn 
in any other school. One of these was Belle Baker. She was then married 
to Lou Leslie and was just starting out on the British' stage after playing 
in the Jewish theaters on New York's East Side. I remember I was riding 
home in the subway, one night after the show, and she came and sat down 
beside me. She told me some of her personal troubles. She went home with 
me that night and we talked for hours. 

It was while I was playing a long run in Chicago that I got to know the 
Four Marx Brothers and their redheaded driver of a mother, Minnie Palmer. 
Everybody called her Minnie. She was hell-bent her boys should be a sue- 


cess. She put oa their act and rehearsed them; one minute she was out in 
front of the house, watching, the next she was backstage ready to wallop 
the kids for doing something wrong; arguing with them, protesting that 
if only they would listen to her they could be headlines. When the kids 
did well, Minnie would laugh louder than even Milton Berle's mother 
laughed at his act. The few times the boys played on the same bill with me 
I would sit out in front with Minnie and she'd ask me to watch them so she 
could go back and remind them of something they missed doing. After 
a show I would listen to what the audience said about the boys and report 
it to Minnie: "Can Harpo talk at all?" "Is he really dumb?" "Chico, he's 
an Italian." "Groucho, what is he supposed to be?" "Zeppo, that's the baby. 51 
"They can't be brothers; they all look different." She would think over such 
comments as these and sometimes get ideas from them. Minnie lived to 
enjoy the boys' success for a long time, and nobody enjoyed it more than 
she, who had put her whole heart and soul into creating it. They were four 
wonderful boys to her, and four grand friends to me to this very day. 

Often a vaudeville act would be a great hit in the out-of-town theaters 
from coast to coast and yet couldn't get booking in the New York houses. 
One of these was a comedy talking act, Whipple and Huston. They played 
with me a number of times and I used to rave about the act to every agent 
and hooker in the Keith office that I bumped into. Finally, the act played the 
Palace in New York. 

Unfortunately it got a bad spot on the bill and was not noticed. That 
often happened. You might get the spot on the bill just after the inter- 
mission, before the house was in. If you did, it was almost impossible to 
make a hit. Or you might be billed too early in the show. Those were the 
chances and the heartaches of vaudeville. 

I lost track of Whipple and Huston for several years. Then one week, 
when I was laying off in New York, I decided to see a show which people 
were raving about. I didn't know who was in it. I was late getting to the 
theater, too late to read the bills outside or even look at my program. So I 
got one of the surprises of my life when on came Walter Huston of the 
old vaudeville team, Whipple and Huston. 

Walter is one of the friends I made twenty-five years ago who is still the 
same today. When I was in London, he was having a great success there in 
Dodsworth, and I used to swell with pride when I heard the British people 
rave about him. 

When I first went out on the road with the band there were two boys 
who had a musical act who sometimes turned up on the same bill with me. 


They were Ben Bernie and Phil Baker. Back In the days when I was an 
entertainer at the German Village, Ben Bernie, then playing the piano at 
the smart Haymarket Cafe down the street, sometimes came up to the Vil- 
lage to look over our show. However, it was in Montreal, back in 1918, that 
Benny and I really became friends. The way he used to tell it: 

It was as freezing cold as it can be in Montreal, and then some. A blizzard 
had hit town just ahead of us, and the snow was piled up in the streets 
to the level of the street lamps. (Yowser! it gets like that in Montreal.) 

Everybody on the bill was out of sorts from the cold and being delayed 
on the trains getting in. It didn't seem likely we'd do much business that 
week. According to Benny, he and Phil Baker got bluer and chillier as 
they heard me the hcadliner rehearse. My Five Kings and I were using 
two or three numbers Phil and Benny had counted on using in their act 
all their best numbers. 

They got into a huddle to see what they could do. As the headliner, I had 
first right to the numbers. It was up to them to rearrange their act not to 
conflict withjttiine. But there was no time to learn and rehearse new num- 
bers. The show was due to start in another hour. It looked as though their 
act would just have to fold up for the first show anyway. 

Then Benny paid me a real, straight-from-the-heart compliment: 

"Sophie's a good schnuc\" he told Phil "Let's put it up to her." 

They did. Sure, I knew my rights as the headliner. But I also could re- 
member a few experiences of my own a few years back, and what it meant 
to have other performers come out with songs you had been counting on 
using yourself. That had happened to me once, playing a date in San An- 
tonio, Texas, Five of the six songs in my act were rehearsed by other singers. 
I went to the manager about it, but there wasn't a thing to be done, and I 
had no time to work up a new set of songs before the Monday matinee, I 
had had to go on and apologize to the audience for giving them songs they 
had just heard, and then do my best to make my singing of the songs so 
different that the customers would find them interesting. That was an 
awful experience, and I've never forgotten it. 

I called the boys in the band and rearranged our act to use different num- 
bers so that Benny and Phil would not lose their week's work. 

Benny always insisted that from that minute I took him and Phil Baker 
over not as part of my act, but to play poker with me after the late show 
every night. They were rooming in a five-dollar-a-week actors' boarding- 
house a long way from the Hotel Windsor. They say I kept them playing 


till three and four every morning, and then they had to stagger back to their 
rooming house through the drifts -"breaking a trail for the milkman." 

One nlght ? they say, I dragged them and a lot of others on the bill to a 
house down the line to entertain the girls. The Madame had come backstage 
to call on me. She invited all of us to the house for supper. After supper we 
put on a show for the girls who weren't doing any business that evening in 
our honor. It was a swell show, I remember, and as chaste as a Sunday-school 
picnic. Afterward, the boys say, I lectured them all the way home on how 
they ought to be glad to do a good deed like that once in a while. 

They got their revenge on me that week, though. I love to play poker, but 
I Inherited poor Pa's bad luck with the cards. Those two kids took enough 
money off me in that one week in Montreal to buy etch of them a fur-Hned 
coat to finish the tour in. 

CHAPTER 16: Reisenweber's 

WHEN the Boss first wrote me that he had sold me and the baad to Reisen- 
weber's for a four weeks 5 contract, I let out a groan. I'd been headlining in 
big-time vaudeville, rolling up successes from coast to coast, and now here 
was the Boss putting me right back into the restaurant business that I had 
worked so hard to get away from. I had a long talk with him the minute I hit 
New York. 

"What," I objected, "is the use of going back if I don't have to?" All my 
life it seemed as -if I had been trying to get out of working In restaurants 
and to establish myself in show business. 

The Boss let me register all my objections, then he explained, and what he 
had to say about the restaurant business and vaudeville I've never forgotten. 
The way he explained it, vaudeville really began in eating places. Once upon 
a time, it seems, there was a miller somewhere in France who had the bright 
idea of setting out some tables and benches under the trees by his mill and 
selling the farmers red wine and homemade bread and cheese while they 
waited for their grain to be ground. This mill was just one of many in the 
valley of the Vire River. Competition was pretty keen, and this particular 
miller counted on his restaurant to draw trade to his mill. It drew something 
else as well the show people who traveled along the highroad through that 
valley up to Paris. There were jugglers and acrobats and singers of songs and 
men with dancing bears and trained monkeys. When these saw the crowd 
gathered by the mill, eating and drinking, they would stop in the road and 
put on a show for the customers and then pass the hat. That gave the miller 


an idea* He offered them a free meal and a night's lodging to stop at his mill 
and put on regular shows for his customers. I don't know what became of 
the miller; probably he ended up a millionaire. Anyway, other restaurant 
proprietors got the idea that most folks like entertainment as they eat and 
started to offer their customers shows. That, the Boss told me, is how vaude- 
ville began. Even its name is derived from Vaux de Vire (valley of the Vire). 
And wasn't one of the great cabarets in Paris the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill) ? 

The Boss assured me that I wouldn't lose prestige by going on as a cabaret 
entertainer. Cabaret was the new name then just coming into use for restau- 
rants ;uch as Reisenweber's, Bustanoby's, Maxime's, Jack's, Cafe de Paree, 
Moulin Rouge, and a lot more springing up all over New York. The com- 
petition among all these places was cutthroat. Each had to offer some extra 
attraction besides good food and wines to draw the crowd. Up to the time the 
Boss took his idea to Mr. Reisenweber and his son-in-law, Louis Fischer, and 
John Wagener, most of the attractions consisted of ballroom dance teams. 
The dancing craze was still running strong. 

The Boss sold them the idea of giving the customers something different in 
entertainment a vaudeville headliner, a woman who could sing and with 
her own band. It was a new idea, but it worked. Once again it proved how 
well the Boss understood the entertainment world. Following his advice, 
Reisenweber's started the Jazz Era and changed New York night life com- 
pletely. We opened two days before Christmas, 1916. We entertained during 
the dinner hour and put on a late show. My band played for the dancing 
during dinner and again during the supper hour. Another band relieved them 
until the supper crowd came in. 

Reisenweber's was on Eighth Avenue, neat Columbus Circle. The building 
had four floors. On the first floor was the main restaurant. The third floor 
was above the swank Paradise Room. Above this was the Hawaiian Room, 
where Doraldina became famous for her Hawaiian dances. Just above the 
main restaurant was the room called the 400-Club Room where I went on. 
It didn't- keep that name long. The customers started calling it the Sophie 
Tucker Room, and so it became and remained all through my first engage- 
ment there, which ran on into eight months instead of the four weeks 
originally contracted for. Not only did I play there steadily all those months, 
but I played return engagements at Reisenweber's regularly for the next five 
years. What began as an experiment grew into an institution. I became as 
closely associated with Reisenweber's as John Wagener, the manager of the 
place, or John Steinberg or Christo, Steinberg later went with Paul Salvin 


and Jimmy Thompson and ran Rector's, the Palais Royale, and the Planta- 
tion for them. 

Steinberg brought Paul Whiteman from the West Coast and featured 
him. He introduced Abe Lyman and Guy Lombardo to New York. Out at 
his Pavilion Royal at Valley Stream, Long Island, which was one of the 
first big high-powered and high-priced roadhouses of the Prohibition Era, 
Steinberg put on shows, copying those I originated at my Bohemian Nights 
at Reisenweber's. I entertained there several times. So did Eddie Cantor, Al 
Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Ray Bolger, Ethel Merman, and a lot more. What I 
started at Reisenweber's soon was spreading all over the country. 

A big revue featuring Ruby Norton and Midgie Miller and a capable cast 
of twelve was playing at Reisenweber's when I came in. I had worked up a 
stunt for our opening, with Dick Himber sitting up in a tree built to a 
column and heckling me. It was a stunt that went over big with the cus- 
tomers. I sang about twenty songs a night. I changed the bill every Sunday. 
This meant a lot of rehearsing and kept me on a constant lookout for new 
material. I made it a rule to introduce new songs all the time. But all that 
paid dividends. My original contract was for seven hundred and fifty dollars 
a week, but I was soon making a lot more than that, just as the Boss had 
prophesied. His foresight was terrific. 

Reisenweber's was a place where the same people came night after night, 
We had no cover charge except on Saturday and Sunday nights. The food 
was marvelous; and, if I do say it, the entertainment was the best the town 
had to offer. One proof of this is that all the other places started to copy what 
we were doing at Reisenweber's. People began to demand jazz bands and 
something more than ballroom dance teams and a line of girls. Over at the 
Palais Royale they started to feature Ted Lewis and his band. I remember 
going over there to see what Ted was doing and how he worked, in case I 
wasn't up to the minute with my own boys. Ted and his wonderful wife, 
Adah, have been friends of mine for years. Ted is the personality the public 
knows, but Adah is the power behind the scenes, the one who manages 
everything and who is largely responsible for her husband's long, successful 
career in show business. Of the many bandleaders who came to fame during 
the Jazz Era, Ted Lewis is the only one who has lasted and who is still draw- 
ing big money up to sixty-five hundred dollars a week. And for a season 
of fifty-two weeks a year! Ted's outstanding success is due to his being a 
stylist in his way. Like all stylists, he has created his theme song which is 
identified with him everywhere. "When My Baby Smiles at Me" means Ted 


Lewis to the customers just as "Some of These Days" means Sophie Tucker. 
But Ted has never let himself get into a rut. He has watched the trend o 
the times and gone on developing and changing his act to keep pace with 
them. He has always surrounded himself with grand performers and has 
staged his act magnificently. His career is another proof of my contention 
that success In show business doesn't come from luck or favoritism. It grows 
out of Intelligence and hard work. 

Joe Frisco, Eddie Cox, Loretta McDermott, Bea Palmer all entertained at 
various times, and when they were a success with the customers at Reisen- 
weber's, the theater managers engaged them. Even Willie Moore, Dinty 
Moore's son, who wanted to be a dancer, got his chance one Sunday night. 
But George Raft outclassed Willie, who went back to the restaurant business. 

It wasn't only performers who were publicized on our Bohemian Nights. 
I would look over the room and see who I recognizedit might be a fighter, 
a beauty-parlor specialist, a song writer, the owner of a new dress shop-. Who- 
ever they were, I would Introduce them to the crowd and call on them to 
stand up and take a bow, A lot of new songs were tried out at Reisenweber's. 
If the song went over there, we knew we had a hit on our hands. Inside of a 
week it was being sung all over America. Remember, all this before radio! 

I had heard of a team of singers, May Gray and Mildred Vernon, and a 
wonderful dancer, Chic Barrymore. Someone came in from Chicago raving 
about them. Just about that time Frank Westphal had to go to Chicago on a 
trip and I asked him to see the girls, and if he thought they were as good as 
the reporters made them out to be, to get them to- come on to New York for 
a tryout at Reisenweber's on one of our Bohemian Nights. They came dur- 
ing July 1919, right after the wartime prohibition measure had been put into 
effect, and everybody was wondering what was going to happen to cabaret 
life. I remember Chic was sitting at a table with Ford Sterling, one of the 
first comedians of the silent pictures; Joe Pincus, now of Twentieth-Century 
Fox; Jimmy Hussey, an Irish lad and due of the funniest Jewish-dialect 
comedians we had in show business; and several others, including Harry 
Cohen, then a song plugger for one of the music publishing houses and 
today president of Columbia Pictures in Hollywood. They coaxed Chic to 
get up on the floor and dance for the crowd. She was a riot. Marlene Dietrich 
never had legs like Chic's. 

The following Sunday night I put her in my act at the Winter Garden 
Sunday-night concert, in which I was then doubling. Later she was engaged 
by J. J. Shubert for Hello, Alexander, starring Mclntyre and Heath, in which 
I played too. 


Ol the team Gray and Vcrnon, Mildred had a glorious voice* bet she 
she didn't have the sex appeal to make a success in show business. So she 
gave it up and went back to Chicago and married. May Gray, however, 
quickly became the sensation of Broadway. May was a little Polacky with, 
frizzy blonde hair, skin like a baby, a body as agile as a snake's, aa in- 
fectious smile; and a toughie. When she came on from Chicago, she was 
poorly dressed, and had no idea how to groom herself. When she came out 
she looked like a million dollars. The night I introduced her to the gang at 
Reisenweber's she wore a silver lame gown, very tight fitting, with a big 
bustle bow at the back. Her hit number was the u St Louis Blues/ 9 in which 
she did the shimmy. She brought the word "shimmy" from Chicago, and 
New York picked it up. It made her famous overnight. She became the talk 
of Broadway and everybody rushed to see her. She panicked the Winter 
Garden audience the first Sunday night I introduced her there, and I had 
to keep her in every show after that. 

But, you say, that was Gilda Gray. Sure! But she never heard of the name 
Gilda until I gave it to her. I was going up to Hartford to visit the family 
and in the Grand Central I bought a ten-cent magazine of short stories to 
kill the two-and-a-half-hour train ride. The first story I turned to started off: 
"Gilda Gray was a fascinating blonde.*' The minute I got back to New York 
from Hartford on the milk train, which got in at 4 A.M., I rushed up to May's 
room, on the floor above mine at the Circle Hotel, next door to Reisen- 

May was sound asleep. "Wake up!" I yelled. "I've got a new moniker for 
you Gilda Gray! You'll never make a cent with a name like May Gray. It 
sounds just as tough as you are. But Gilda is class!" 

Gilda was with me a lot and I grew very fond of her. She had a terrific 
sense of humor. She was crazy about my son, Bert, and would fool with him 
and go around town with him whenever he came down from military school. 
I didn't know until later that Gilda had a boy of her own whom she had left 
out in Milwaukee. Gilda was my first protegee, and she was a sensation- 
After her first showing at the Winter Garden, ]. }. Shubert sent for me and 
signed her up for five years on a sliding scale of one hundred and fifty to five 
hundred dollars a week, starting her oflE in the show starring Ed Wynn. 
Gilda was going to the top fast, and deservedly so, because she was a hard 
worker. Then she fell in love with Gil Boag, a publicity man. I could see 
what I was up against when }* ]. Shubert called me to his office to tell me 
Gilda would not go on tour with the Ed Wynn show which was due to open 
in Philadelphia, and what could I do about it. The answer was, nothing. I 


tried to tell Gilda that a contract Is a contract and she owed it to J. J. Shubert 
to go out with the show. Moreover, she owed it to me to live up to the agree- 
ment which I had gotten for her. I never had Gilda under contract. I never 
made one cent out of all her engagements. Whatever money I got for her,, 
she got it in full I wasn't Gilda's agent, or anybody's agent, but I tried to be 
her friend and adviser. After we had that showdown about the Shubert con- 
tract, I didn't see Gilda again for a great many years, not until she played the 
old Club Richman on West Fifty-sixth Street, New York. During that time 
she had made a name for herself in pictures, made big money, and was 
the toast of show business. She had married Gil Boag, who acted as her pub- 
licity agent. 

I have spoken of Sunday-night concerts at the Winter Garden. The Winter 
Garden, which was organized and owned by J. J. and Lee Shubert, was 
famous as the theater where Al Jolson played. His shows were very popular. 
They never ran less than a year. The show did not play Sunday nights, so 
J. J. Shubert got the idea of staging a series of Sunday-night concerts. 
Actually, he was putting on a high-class vaudeville bill in competition with 
my Bohemian Nights at Reisenweber's and the big vaudeville houses in town. 
J. J. had to pick his talent for these shows from the small houses and cabarets 
for the reason that the Keith Circuit would not let their stars double in other 
shows. Naturally, this made it hard for him to get big names that would 
draw the crowd. When Jolson went on the road with his show, J. f . Shubert 
sent for me to be the headliner at his Sunday-night concerts. I was cashing 
In on my success at Reisenweber's, but I can tell you it took some hustling to 
do it. I would go on at Reisenweber's for the dinner show, jump into a taxi, 
and race over to the Winter Garden to change my dress and close the bill 
of the Sunday-night concerts; then back to Reisenweber's and another change 
of costume for the late supper show. I knew I was on probation, and I was 
determined to make good and draw the crowds as well as Jolson did some 
job. But I did it. These concerts later called the Sophie Tucker Sunday- 
Night Concerts were the feature of the 1919 theatrical season. They were 
really top-notch vaudeville, and they gave New York the entertainment it 

Oh, but New York was gay in that year right after the war. The town was 
full of men just home from France and hungry for fun, laughs, gay songs, 
pretty girls. Cabarets how the word had taken hold! -were springing up 
all over town and doing big business, though everybody was wondering 
what Prohibition was going to do to them and to the whole entertainment 
world. I don't think anyone guessed what we really were in for that is, the 


Speak-easy Era. But everybody in the cafe business felt Jittery, and wondered 
what would happen after the Volstead Act went into effect. 

I was working as I had never worked before at Reisenweber's, doubling 
at the Winter Garden and then in Hello, Alexander, which opened in New 
York in October 1919. 1 was booked in the show as a specialty. 

We broke the show in at Wilmington, Delaware, where I had my first 
piece of bad luck, losing one of my diamond earrings* I must faaYe shaken 
It off as I sang. It fell either on the stage or in the orchestra pit, and It dis- 
appeared so completely and so quickly it wasn't funny. I offered one thou- 
sand dollars reward for it. There was a sentimental value attached to- the 
stones. Three of the six diamonds I bought on time, paying off twenty-five 
dollars a week for them. They were the first of my Jewels. I couldn't help 
thinking a lot of my luck was invested in those stones, and I hated losing 
them. But no one turned the earring in, and the police could do nothing 
about it. I left Wilmington for New York, feeling pretty rotten. And with 
reason, as far as Hello, Alexander was concerned. Mclntyre and Heath were 
very funny, but the rest of the show was only fair as the New York press 
immediately pointed out. The press didn't care much about me, either. 
However, the show ran in New York several weeks, and I had my first oppor- 
tunity to see my name up in electric lights on Broadway. 

Frank Westphal had a small part in the show and he was also appearing 
at the Winter Garden with me, which was like old times. I guess show busi- 
ness is like any bug, once it bites you you've got it in your blood forever 
after. Frank was, like that. Even though he had a chance to make more 
money in the garage business he couldn't get over wanting to get back behind 
the footlights again. . 

Meanwhile, I was constantly buying and rehearsing new songs for Reisen- 
weber's, working up new bits of business with the boys of the band, disci- 
plining them when they got to thinking they were the whole show, getting 
new clothes, new accessories, to keep the customers pleased. In that season 
of 1918-19 it seemed like the whole A.EJ?. passed through Reisenweber's on 
its way home from France, I remember meeting William Gaxton there for 
the first timethen Sailor William Gaxton. It was just before he married 
Madeline Cameron, of the famous dancing team, the Cameron Sisters. In 
1939-40 Billy and his side-kick, Victor Moore, and I played together in Leave 
It to Me, Vinton Freedley's smash hit. 

Yes, everybody ultimately turned up at Reisenweber's, including the boys 
of the underworld. They were all great spenders and a wonderful audience 
to work for. I remember one night, just before the show started, I came into 


the room to look around to see who were there that night. My room had 
settees built aroond the wall. I stopped off at several tables to say "hello" to 
the customers and to shake hands. 

That's something I've always done and always will do as long as I play in 
cafes. It's something I think the performer owes to the customers. I know 
it's good business. I've proved it so all during the years. Bill Jones who comes 
to town on business likes to be able to go back home and tell the boys of the 
local Lion's Club he shook hands with Sophie Tucker. The next time he 
comes to town, or I play his town, he turns up again, because he feels he's a 
friend of mine. Other performers sometimes josh me about doing this. "Soph, 
you're always the Madame of every joint you play in/' Ben Bernie used to 
say. "Oh, what the hell, Benny," I fired back. "What is this but a saloon 
business, anyway? We're all of us bartenders!" 

Well, to get back to my story, as I was going around the room a man 
reached out and grabbed me by the arm. Very quietly in my ear he whis- 
pered, "You're a swell broad. I'd go to hell for you. I had some of your 
matzoths you sent to Dannemora. I just got back from a stretch up there." 

I thanked him. I said something about hoping he'd never go back there. 
"The world is too beautiful to be buried behind prison walls. It's tough 
enough to be buried under ground when your time comes." 

I left his table and went on up to my room to change and put on the show. 
I had just started to sing when I heard a commotion in the rear of the room. 
I saw It came from the table and the chap who had whispered to me. The 
audience were getting to their feet and craning their necks to see what was 
going on, but I beat everyone to it and got to his table first. There was my 
friend from Dannemora standing up with a gat in his hand, pointing at a 
woman a few tables away. I grabbed him by the arm. "Listen," I said, "you 
just told me you'd go to hell for me. What do you want to do? Ruin my 
business by shooting up the joint?" 

That got him. "Get that broad out of here, Sophie," he muttered, "and 
nothing will happen. Just get her out*" 

I went over to John Wagener, our manager, to see that the woman and her 
party were asked to leave the room immediately. Then I went on with the 
show. After the show was over, the gunman came back to my dressing room 
to apologize for starting a rumpus. The woman had been his moll before he 
was sent up. 

"I saw red when I saw my old girl with another guy on my first night out. 
Fm sorry, Soph, it had to be where you were working." 

Later, in Chicago, where I played twelve consecutive weeks doubling in 


vaudeville and at the Marigold and the Edelweiss Gardens, 1 met more of the 
underworld. I knew the boys by their first names and nicknames only* They 
were great fans of mine and had a lot o respect for me as I have reason to 
know. I was sporting gorgeous diamonds, furs, and clothes. I was living at 
the Hotel Sherman, just a block away from the Palace Theatre. One night a 
phone call came through, just as I was leaving the hotel to go to the show. 
An unknown voice said, "Don't wear your diamonds any more." 

I hung up* with no idea who it was, but I paid attention to the warning. I 
went to work that night very nervous. After the show I met some of the boys 
and told them about the call, and asked them to find out what it was all 
about. A few hours later a message came back to me. A cokey in a small cigar 
store on the North Side had made a crack to his pal, "Let's go after Tucker's 
diamonds tonight." It was the pal who had called me not to wear them, after 
he had beaten up the cokey and told him to lay off a regular fellow. 

A few years later, when I was playing out at the South Side Theatre in 
Chicago, I was just about to go on the stage when a phone call came through, 
"Don't go home tonight on the outer driveway:" I didn't recognize the voice, 
and I got panicky, especially as I knew that just the week before Paul White- 
man had been relieved of his salary on pay night when he played the same- 

What I did was to ring up Mayor Thompson, whose apartment was on the 
floor above mine at the Sherman Hotel, and tell him about my mysterious 
phone call. 

"Don't worry," he said, "111 have somebody, take you home okay when the 
show is over." 

When I got out to the front of the theater, there was an armored car with 
half a dozen police and detectives waiting to escort me home. What a ride 
that was! A crowd gathered in front of the hotel, and what a roar went up 
when they saw me get out of the car. I learned from these two warnings 
never to carry large sums of money or wear valuable jewelry any more. The 
only times I sported my jewels was at an important occasion. 

Like lots of performers in those days, I had been in the habit of going-about 
the streets wearing as much of my jewelry at a time as I could, telling the 
world I was in show business. But I learned better. One morning I was walk- 
ing down Broadway, all aglitter, when I heard a woman remark, "What a 
load of ice that gal wears in the daytime!" It was her tone as much as the 
words that taught me how vulgar it was to wear so much jewelry in the day- 
time. I never did it again. 


I feel I must speak about that twelve weeks* run in Chicago because it 
really was phenomenal I opened at the Palace Theatre and at the end of the 
week was held over to play three wee\$ more. It was the first time this had 
ever happened at the Palace, and since then only one headliner was ever held 
over and then for only one more week. While playing the Palace I doubled 
at the Marigold Garden on the North Side. Then I went on at a theater 
on the West Side; played there four weeks, doubling at the Edelweiss Gar- 
dens on the South Side. Then I came back to the Palace for another four 
weeks* engagement, doubling again at the Marigold Gardens. Chicago went 
wild about my Five Kings of Syncopation and the songs we were giving. 

And speaking of songs brings me to the big event that occurred while I 
was playing Chicago. This was my first meeting with Jack Yellen. 

At that time Jack was just another young song plugger selling his wares. 
He had written "Down by the O-H-I-O," which was a hit. His songs had 
something something that seemed especially right for me. He brought me 
"Dapper Dan" and "Hard-Hearted Hannah/' two swell numbers which 
went over big with the audience when I used them. * 

There was no doubt that this fellow had something on the ball and was 
going places as a song writer. What he had was a new type of song. It was 
something I could dramatize and something I could identify with myself, 
which I always wanted to do. Another thing Jack would do was to write a 
special chorus or a recitation something that made the song part of Sophie 
Tucker. Jack has been writing songs for me for more than twenty years. In 
all that time we have never had a contract* We have never needed one. We 
have an understanding that when Jack writes a song for me, that song is 
mine. It is never published. You never hear another singer sing it. If you 
want to hear "If He Is Good Enough to Fight for His Country, He Shouldn't 
Have to Fight for His Love," or "When They Start to Ration My Passion, 
It's Gonna Be Tough on Me," you've got to go where Sophie Tucker is sing- 
ing them, or buy a Sophie Tucker record. 

Jack Yellen's songs have a lot more to them than their news value. Every 
one of them is packed with sound psychology. They bring the laughs, and 
the reason the customers laugh is not because the songs are funny or risque, 
it's because they express some truths which all of us know, deep down in our 
hearts, and which a lot of us are afraid, to mention above a whisper even to 
ourselves* Take that song of his, "You Can't Serve Love in Dishes, and You 
Can't Sew a Button on a Heart." What is it, except good, straight-from-the- 
shoulder advice to women on how to keep their men? Isn't that what most 
women want to know? 

"PERSONAL** 165 

It Is hard for me to write about Jack simply because I've known him so 
loag and so well and I'm so fond o him. After William Morris, Jack 
Yellen is the best friend I ever had. His friendship, his "Well done, Sophie!" 
his advice mean a hell of a lot to me. This book is dedicated to him with 
reason, because after the Boss he has done more for me than any other human 
being. Jack Is a wonderful person, as a lot of people will agree* The world 
knows him as a song writer one of the most successful in the country. Re- 
member "I Wonder What's Become of Sally"? Remember "Happy Days 
Are Here Again"? These are two of Jack's and Milton Agar's songs. "Happy 
Days'* was a hit. It was made the theme song of the second Roosevelt presi- 
dential campaign, and swept the country all over again. But Jack Is a lot 
more than a successful song writer. He's a great reader, a student, especially 
of the history of our Jewish people, and he is one of the most devoutly re- 
ligious persons I have ever known. 

All his success has never gone to his head. He still gets a kick out of find- 
ing that the public likes his songs. I know, for when I'm off on the road, 
every so often I get a wire or a penciled scrawl from him demanding: "You 
tightwad, why don't you wire me how my songs are going?" 

One time I landed in London to- play in Follow a Stcr at the Winter 
Garden Theatre. Jack went along, as he had been engaged to write the lyrics 
for the show. As soon as I was settled in my rooms at the Savoy, he turned 
up, and we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. It was spring, and the 
windows were open and the noise of London so different from the voice of 
New York or Paris or any other big city and the peculiar damp, sooty 
smell of London came into the room. Presently something else came through 
the window too the sound of a barrel organ being played just outside. The 
tune? "Happy Days Are Here Again!" 

Jack's thin, sensitive face broke Into a schoolboy grin. I really think hear- 
ing his song played like that in London made him happier than all the 
attention he was getting from important show people in Britain. 

CHAPTER 17: "Personal" 

PLAYING LONG ENGAGEMENTS at Reisenweber's and at the Brighton Beach 
Hotel, which Mr. Reisenweber also owned, gave me the feeling of being 
settled in New York as I had not felf since the days when Brother Moe and 
I had our little apartment. When summer came round, I followed the lead 
of other vaudevillians and rented a house at Freeport, Long Island. It was 
handy for Frank, who was supposed to be running the Sophie Tucker Garage 


on the Merrick Road, and It was handy for me. Frank would come in and 
meet me after the late show and drive me home. In a way, I was having my 
first experience of normal married life in a home, in a community, and with 
a circle of friends. 

Freeport was always the place for vaudevillians to summer in. Our colony 
that year included the Frank Tinneys, my old friends Max and Madge Hart, 
Jimmy and Myrtle Conin, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Moore, the Four Mortons, 
Gracie and Eddie Carr, Nellie Nichols, and a lot more show people I had 
been meeting on bills for years. 

Week ends were gay, as we always had a house full of guests* The whole 
crowd would gather at the Lights Club and put on impromptu shows not 
for the public, just for the "pros" and their friends. 

Inevitably there was a lot of drinking. Not because it was a crowd of show 
people; the same was true of most groups in the country at that time. Amer- 
icans were thumbing their noses at Prohibition. I had had my lesson that 
gin and I didn't get along together, and this cut me out of some of the 
parties* I was working too hard and too steadily to take any chance with 
liquor. I managed to enjoy my holidays without the stuff. One thing 1 
couldn't get used to, though, was the gossiping that went on all the time. 
Everybody knew too much about everybody else, or thought they did; and 
everybody told what he did know, and then plenty more. Drinking parties 
and gossip have broken up a lot of homes. They broke up mine too. 

Frank was having too good a time to pay attention to the garage, as he 
should have done. The expenses there grew bigger every month while the 
profits fell off. I was going out on the road with the band until I was due to 
come back for a second engagement at Reisenweber's, so I wrote Brother 
Phil to go down to Freeport and check up on the garage and find out where 
the leak was. Phil wrote me after a couple of weeks: "Frank is not a busi- 
nessman. He is a good mechanic, knows a car backward and forward. Pull 
your reins in, Sophie, and do something before you get in too deep with your 
hard-earned money ." 

When I got back to New York, I had a talk with Frank. As tactfully as I 
could I tried to show him the necessity for having a businessman run that 
end of the garage, leaving him on the mechanical end. As Brother Phil was 
not doing anything at the time, why not have him take over? With the two 
of them at it, the Sophie Tucker Garage was sure to be a success. 

Frank never gave me the feeling that he resented Phil's going into the 
business. He and Phil always got along. However, though there were no 
more demands for more money to be invested in it, business didn't seem to 


pick up. Letters I had from Phil ? while I was out on the road, that 

Prank wasn't very active around the garage any more. Phil didn't know a 
bolt from a screw; he wrote he'd had to hire a mechanic, I figured something 
was wrong, and I knew I would have to check up on things when 1 got back 
to New York again. 

I was booked to play at the Palace. When I got in town, Frank wasn't at 
the station to meet me. I figured he'd be at the theater, to drive me home 
after the night show. The matinee and night show over, still no Frank. I 
wasn't too worried. It was raining cats and dogs, and I said to myself, Frank 
couldn't make it in the storm. He figured I'd probably stay at a hotel in town. 
However, several acts on the bill with me lived out at Freeport, and I had an 
offer to drive home after the show, so I went. 

Never will I forget that night! The storm was raging as if D. W. Griffiths 
were directing the show. The lightning snapped, the thunder crackled, and 
the rain pounded on the roof and sides of the car. When we drew up in 
front of my house, it was pitch dark, no light anywhere. I tried the door. It 
was open. Inside the dark hall I switched on the lights and started calling, 
but there was no answer. The house, I discovered, was completely empty. 
Where was Frank ? Where was the cook ? There was no getting anybody by 
telephone in that storm wires were down all over the island. I locked up and 
went to bed, and, ultimately, to sleep. 

It was after ten when I woke and found that I was still alone in the house. 
Then I got busy on the phone. Nobody I called could, or would, tell me any- 
thing. Around noon, when I was getting ready to go back to New York for 
the matinee, Frank strolled in, unshaven not the Frank I knew. When I 
asked about the cook, he said she had left. When I asked if drinking parties 
had been going on, "So what?" he demanded. 

It took me several days to get all the facts. I went over to the garage. Phil 
was glad to see me. I knew if I questioned him about Frank he wouldn't say 
anything. No need to put him on the spot, so I quietly snooped around, put 
some questions to the mechanic, and began to find out things. At the homes 
of some of our friends I picked up some more. And in a week or so I had 
enough to make the story complete. There was nothing new about it, A wife 
away on the road, a good-looking young husband left in Freeport who soon 
found someone who could make him happy and not boss him. 

Well, I took it. You have to take things like that when they happen to you, 
even if they do hurt your pride and your affection and your trust. There 
was nobody to blame but myself. Frank wasn't any different from most men 
who can't stand having a wife more successful and making more money 


than they do. Oh, I did my share of crying, but not In public. As I had been 
doing for over ten years, I turned to Mollie for comfort. 

"Well, Mollie, I guess you nicknamed me Patsy for some good reason. I 
never have any luck with my men." 

"It's like I told you years ago, Patsy, you're one of the ones that has to learn 
the hard way. Just the same, you'll get over this one and likely enough you'll 
get into other mistakes. (How well she knew me!) 

"What you've got to do now is stiffen up your backbone, don't tell yourself 
any lies, and carry on." 

When I played the twelve weeks' run in Chicago, I applied for a divorce 
in that city where Frank and I had been married. The divorce was granted 
not without some unpleasant newspaper publicity but I was free. 

I did a lot of thinking about my experience with Frank. When I married 
him, I had gone against my better judgment, which always was not to marry 
anyone in show business. Well, I had done it, and it hadn't worked out. I 
couldn't blame anyone but myself. I still hoped that somewhere in the world 
there was a man for me, someone I could be happy with through the years, 
and who would give me companionship and love, not only when I was in 
the big money, but through years to come. That desire is in every woman's 
heart. I knew I would never be completely content while that desire was un- 
satisfied. But I'd learned quite a bit from my two mistakes in matrimony- 
enough to know that the greatest obstacle to rny happiness as a woman is my 
success as an entertainer. I said to myself: "If I ever marry again, it will be a 
man who has his own business and is successful in it, so I needn't be afraid 
he wiU resent my success in my profession." 

Maybe I enjoyed playing Chicago all the more because of my unhappy 
experiences at Freeport. The Edelweiss Gardens was my favorite spot. Frank 
Libuse, the Mad Waiter, was making his debut there and was a riot. Benny 
Davis came to the Edelweiss and introduced his song hit, "Margie." I wanted 
to sing the number for him, to plug it, so I had a pair of rompers made of 
large checkered pink-and-white gingham, with a big white muslin sash. I 
wore socks, low-heeled shoes, my hair down in curls with a big bow, and 
sang it for the customers. 

It was during this long run in Chicago that I palled up with the Three 
Musketeers Alderman Dorsey Crowe, Alderman Joe Kostner, and Alder- 
man George Maypole. William Hale Thompson was then mayor of Chicago 
and living at the Hotel Sherman. Many nights after the show we all got to- 
gether for laughs and a late snack. Then Alderman Anton Cermak wanted 


to join our gang. I remember he sent his card up a gallon of red Bohemian 
wine. He was a grand person and a good friend to remember. 

I don't mind telling, though the laugh is on me, that I fell for Dorsey 
Crowe. He looked pretty good to me, and I couldn't help hoping he felt that 
way about me. He asked me out to his house to meet the family and that 
was where the romance did a nose dive. Not that they didn't like me, but 
they started calling me "Mom," and Dorsey took it up, and that was the end 
o the romance. 

In those months after Prohibition came in you can't say it ever was en- 
forced night life rapidly began to change. In competition with the big 
cabarets, thousands of speak-easies opened up for business. These places 
offered nothing in the way of entertainment. They were dark, gloomy rat- 
holes stables and cellars that people crept into to drink bootlegged liquor. 
Prohibition did terrible things to our country ; even the theaters were differ- 
ent to work in in that era. All the gaiety was gone. The homes 1 used to visit 
were troubled. Entertainment was reduced to a bottle on the hip a bottle 
that was emptied before the night was out. Trying to compete with that 
bottle was hell. 

But there was a boomerang for me in the stand I had taken on drinking 
with Frank and the crowd at Freeport. I was playing at the Cafe de Paris at 
Atlantic City in the summer of 1920, doing good business and seeing a lot of 
my friends. One day Prohibition agents staged a raid on my apartment and 
went away with the few bottles I had there and which really belonged to 
the Boss, who came dowrt occasionally to see how the act was going. My 
stock turned up in the headlines as nine cases of champagne and twenty-five 
gallons of scotch! The public whistled, and my friends, who knew me, called 
it the best joke of the Prohibition Era. 

I used to run up to Hartford for a few days with the family whenever I 
could. Ma had kept up wonderfully after poor Pa's death. From that time on 
she gave herself, heart and soul, to the poor. Every afternoon about half past 
one she would go to the corner and wait for the streetcar to take her down- 
town for her charity work. The four of us Phil, Moe, Sis, and I all gave 
her a weekly allowance, but at the end of every week she was broke. She'd 
given it all away. 

One day the streetcar conductor came over to her and said: "Mrs. Abuza, 
excuse me for asking you a personal question, but you've been riding my 
car for over twenty years, every day rain or shine, snow, all kinds of weather 
always the same time, always getting off at the same place. You're not a 


young woman. Please tell me, where do you go? What do you do every day?" 

Ma looked around, to make sure nobody was listening. In a very low voice 
she said: "If you promise not to tell anybody, I'll tell you." 

"No," he said, "I won't tell a soul" He bent his ear down, and Ma whis- 
pered: "I'm taking piano lessons." 

She told us about it when she came home, very indignant because the con- 
ductor was so nosey. "So I told him, and I gave it to him good!" 

She" was still the queen of her own home, and demanded the respect and 
obedience of her children as if we were still kids. For years after I started 
smoking I was afraid of Ma catching me with a cigarette. Whenever I went 
home for a visit, I would snatch a smoke in the bathroom, or the cellar, or 
after she had gone to bed. Then one night when I was there, and very much 
worried about some changes I was making in the act, it seemed to me I'd die 
if I didn't have a cigarette. We were- having dinner just Ma, Sis, and I in 
the kitchen. Sis knew how I felt. When she saw me reach for my bag which 
had the cigarettes in it, she said: "Don't be surprised at anything Sophie does 
today. Ma. She's nervous." 

"Yes," I added, lighting up. "I've gone to the dogs, Ma. I smoke, and don't 
you invite your cronies up here to- the house to catch me at it." 

I watched her face out of the corner of my eye, expecting a scolding. But 
she didn't say a word. Nor did she mention it during the rest of my visit, 
though, after that, I smoked frequently in her presence. Sis told me later 
that after I had left she had said to Ma: "What do you think of Sophie 

Ma gave her one of her looks. "Who is she fooling? I knew it all the time!" 

Occasionally Ma came to New York to visit me when I was playing a long 
engagement there. She never would come unless she had a new dress. She 
was so pretty with her lovely baby complexion, in which there wasn't a 
wrinkle, and her plump, dimpled little hands, which she had always washed 
with naphtha soap. She loved pretty clothes, and all her early life she had 
been poor and had to do without them. Now her little vanities all came to 
the top. She wouldn't admit it was vanity, though. "It isn't fitting for Sophie 
Tucker's mother to be seen in the same dress twice," was how she used to 
put it. 

Never will I forget her joy in her first mink coat, which I sent up to Hart- 
ford to her. And her diamond earrings. She loved it when my friends compli- 
mented her on her fine clothes. One trouble about her coming to New York 
was she didn't want to miss anything that my crowd was doing. After the 
show, when a bunch would gather in my apartment for a poker game and 


play till four or five In the morning. Ma would sit up to the very end. **Why 
don't you go to bed, Mama?' 5 the boys would say to her; "It's getting very 

"No one has to rock me to sleep/* she would retort. 

One night I took her to a cabaret. Not to just one. That night we made 
quite a few spots aad it was around 4 A.M. vvhen we finished up for a bite 
to eat at the Moulin Rouge. Ma wouldn't eat anything in any of the places, 
as she was strictly Orthodox. Finally, we insisted that she order a box of 
sardines and a pot of tea. In fact, there were six oi us and all of us ordered 
tea. Twelve little silver pots, all on the table at once. Ma had never seen so 
many at one time. 

Later, when we got back to the hotel, and I was helping her undress, she 
pulled something from the pocket of her mink coat, "What have you got 
there?" I asked her. 

"There were so many little teapots on the table the boss will never miss 
one," she said, "And I remember Leah said she needed a little pot for Phil's 
tea. 55 

I laughed till I cried* She went off to bed clutching her souvenir. The next 
day I called up the manager of the Moulin Rouge to tell him what Ma had 
done, I asked him to rib her over the phone, and tell her if she didn't return 
the pot he would send the police for it. Half an hour or so later, when Ma 
was in the room with me, he did phone to ask, very severely, if we had a tea- 
pot from his place. Ma turned white as a sheet 

"Quick, quick!" she said, "give it back and put me on a train for home be- 
fore they arrest me! It will be a scandal if the papers say Sophie Tucker's 
mother stole a teapot!** It took the rest of the day to convince her that it was 
all a joke and that the boss had given her the teapot for a souvenir. 

Even more than fine clothes Ma loved dressy hats. And I mean dressy! She 
was never satisfied with those Sis or I would pick out for her. She thought 
them much too plain. Her idea was that if you paid ten to twenty dollars 
for a hat it should have plenty of trimming on it! Consequently, it was Moe 
who bought her hats, because he would buy the kind she liked dripping 
with willow plumes, birds of paradise, flowers, jeweled buckles, and Lord 
knows what else! 

For years she had heard me talk about Chicago, my second home, and 
about my friends there. One day she asked me if she couldn't visit me in 
Chicago. It was arranged that Brother Phil would bring her out to meet me 
in Milwaukee the week I was playing there, and then she and I would go on 
to Chicago. The trip out West was wonderful to her. It was the first time she 


had ever slept on a train or seen a Pullman drawing room. Phil told us how 
he tucked her up for the night in the lower berth and told her if she felt 
cold and didn't want to wake him in the upper, all she had to do was to push 
the button and the colored porter would attend to anything she needed. It 
was bitter cold that winter,, and when Phil waked in the morning and looked 
down to see if Ma was all right, there she was asleep with her shoes on and 
her fur coat over her for an extra blanket. 

"Why didn't you push the button, Ma?" Phil asked her. 

"I was. afraid," she said. "I didn't want to have a black man get into bed 

with me." 

Our week together in Milwaukee was lots of fun. Then we came into 
Chicago to play Christmas week at the Palace. Who should be playing on the 
same bill but Jack Rose, one of the greatest comedians we ever had. A riot 
on every bill, and the grandest, sweetest, craziest soul in show business. One 
of Jack's stunts was to wear funny-looking hats and smash them during his 
act. The first thing he did, when he hit a town, was to make the tour of all 
the secondhand shops and buy up all the old hats available. Sometimes he 
would break fifteen to twenty hats during a performance. 

On our opening night atthe Palace Ma sat in the front box. The house was 
packed and every box jammed to capacity. Ma was sitting there among 
strangers, never cracking to them that I was her daughter, just listening and 
taking in everything the folks around her had to say about me. I had tipped 
Jack Rose off not to say anything to the audience about Ma being there. I 
wanted to spring a surprise on them. For years Chicagoans had thought \ 
was born and brought up in their city, that I came from Halsted Street. I 
never denied it, or confirmed it. 

The whole show that night was a riot of fun. My act went over bigger 
than ever. Flowers- were coming over the footlights and I was getting a great 
kick out of having Ma there to see the way Chicago welcomed me. After the 
act I was. center stage with my arms full of flowers and baskets of flowers 
banked around me. I started to make a speech of thanks. Out of the corner 
of my eye I could see Ma, wiping her glasses, blowing her nose, straighten- 
ing her hair, primping up. 

"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, "ever since 1909, when I first played the 
William Morris American Music Hall and you made me a headliner, you 
and the press have publicized me as Chicago's Favorite. Tonight, after eleven 
years of your hospitality and accepting me as a Chicago girl, may I introduce 
to you a little lady who has just made her first trip to Chicago from Hart- 
ford, Connecticut. May I introduce to you my mother." 

"PERSONAL** 173 

I could see the handkerchiefs coming out in the first fifteen to twenty rows 
in the house and every man in that theater stood up. The spotlight played 
directly on Ma* I had a moment of terror* not knowing how she would take 
this, but I might have known Ma would be ready for it. She stood up in the 
box, straight as a tree, smiling, bowing, and throwing kisses to everyone. And 
was she a riot! Jack Rose jumped into the box, hugged and kissed her. That 
scared her. 

"You crazy man!'* she cried in Jewish, a get away from me!" How the 
audience laughed. Afterward, back at the hotel y where we had a big Christ- 
mas party, I asked her if she was nervous when I called on her to take a bow. 

"Why should I be nervous? In my mink coat and the spotlight on my 
plumes! I was thinking, now I get my money's worth out of my expensive 
hat. And isn't it nice all Chicago can see me dressed so nice!" 

During the four years I played with the Five Kings there were frequent 
changes. Al Siegel left to play for Bea Palmer, and I engaged Jules Buffano 
as pianist in his place. Other boys came and went. 

Meanwhile, I worked my salary for the act up into the big brackets 
twelve hundred to fifteen hundred dollars a week. The boys were getting top 
money, but not all at the same salary. I paid them according to their value 
to the act. Then toward the end of 1921 1 began to have serious trouble with 
the boys. Rehearsals were more trying than ever; the act was sagging. The 
boys weren't cheerful and peppy any more. They were quarreling among 
themselves about their pay. I wired the Boss to book me into New York, 
that I would have to change the men in the band. He got me dates at the 
Flatbush Theatre in Brooklyn, with the Palace in New York to follow. 

When the Monday matinee in Brooklyn was over, I felt something was 
Tery wrong. I said to myself there was no use putting off the showdown any 
longer, so I sent word up to the boys that none of them should leave the 
theater, that I wanted all of them to come to my dressing room. When they 
were all there, I put it to them straight: "What the hell is the matter with 
you fellars!" 

There was a shuffling of feet on the floor, but no answer. "Come on," I said, 
"out with it!" 

There was a lot of hemming and hawing. Finally, one boy said: "We feel 
that the five of us should be getting more money, and that all of us should 
be paid alike." 

"Yeah!" I said, "and what brought this on?" 

His reply was: "We feel we are too valuable to the act not to get more 


i You mean you feel you mean more to the act than I do?" 

No answer, but you could see that that was the way they felt. 

"Well," I said, "what about next week? We are booked to play the 

They gave me their ultimatum. They wanted more money or they wouldn't 
open at the Palace. I thought fast. The act was a big success; the theaters all 
over the country wanted it. The Palace was an important date. Just the same 
I saw no reason to let five smart alecks tear down something I had spent 
years to build up. I gave them my ultimatum: 

"Okay, fellows. The act closes here at the Flatbush Sunday night. No more 
Sophie Tucker and her Five Kings of Syncopation!" 

After they'd gone, I called up Eddie Darling. "I'm closing the act with the 
band on Sunday night. I'm through with that headache. Ill work out some- 
thing else. If you'll put the Palace date off for a few weeks, I'll be ready to 
open with a brand-new act." Eddie okayed it, and that was that. 

The rest of that week at the Flatbush was sad. I guess the boys never 
thought Fd let them go. They soon realized they'd made a mistake, and they 
tried to talk me out of closing. But I knew better than to change my decision. 
I knew once there was dissension among them, once they got the idea they 
were the whole act and could run me, or that I couldn't play without them, 
Fd never be able to handle them. We closed on Sunday night, and that was 
the end of the Five Kings of Syncopation. 

In the meantime, I was scheming what to do next. I'd heard that Al Siegel, 
who had been my pianist, was not working, so I got hold of him. Jack 
Yellen, Jack Lait, who had come on to New York for the Hearst papers, Al 
Siegel, and I built up a new act. We got entirely away from the jazz idea. 
We had Siegel at the piano, Morris Blumenthal, violinist, and Ida Forsyne, 
the colored dancer, who doubled as maid. I had nine new songs, all different 
from the type of song I had been singing with the Five Kings. 

We had a break-in at Hartford, and tried it out in a couple of other places 
before we opened at the Palace. I was jittery about the press; the act was so 
far away from what the public expected of me. But my luck held. As one 
reviewer put it: 

. . . Sophie Tucker's act without the aid of a jazz band was thought to be 
something like Hamlet, with Hamlet left out. But the comedienne came along 
yesterday minus a jazz band and showed that, as far as she was concerned, 
syncopating songs had lost none of their fascination to the ear when she was 
the singer. Her art is mightier than the jazz band, so to speak. 

* PERSONAL ' 175 

The Boss booked us on the road, and we played around for several months, 
coming back Into Reisenweber's this time for a short engagement. 

It was while we were there that Al Siegel left me. I phoned round to the 
music publishers' asking for a piano player. One of the publishers seat over 
a tall, thin kid in horn-rimmed glasses, solemn as an owl. Ted Shapiro was 
his name. He had a record in show business as having been Eva Tanguay's 
accompanist and also with the Wellington and Cross dance team. The boys 
at the music publishers' said I wouldn't go wrong if I took him on. 

I had to have someone at once, so right after the performance about 
3 A.M. I took the kid over to my suite at the Hotel Claridge and rehearsed 
twenty-six numbers with him. I pushed the lead sheets into his hands and 
told him to be on hand next day for rehearsal. 

The rehearsal was terrible. The kid wasn't good at transposing, which was 
very important for me, as I didn't sing the songs in the keys in which they 
were written. I had no set routine, which made It difficult for my piano 
player. I had a habit of fitting the songs to the audience. He had no way of 
knowing which number would follow, which; and as I always sang from 
the center of the floor or room, and the piano was always set up on a plat- 
form and behind the orchestra, he could hardly see me and couldn't possibly 
catch a signal from, me which song to strike into. 

I was desperate, not knowing what to do. I was ready to let the kid go, but 
he asked could he take the songs home with him. I let him. I figured he 
would work on the songs by himself, which meant he was a good, hard- 
working kid who wanted to make good on the job. The next night was Sun- 
day, and Celebrity Night. I had a lot o acts to go on for me, and I asked 
Ted to play for them. He had no time for rehearsal He pushed the piano 
out on the floor, and all the acts that night went over so big I began to feel 
maybe the kid was going to shape up into something, after all. 

From then on I kept easing him Into my act on the off nights at Reisen- 
weber's, and he kept getting better and better. I thought he was working on 
the songs at home. It was years before I tumbled to the fact that his taking 
them home was just a stall. Something to impress me. What Ted did was to 
memorize the songs as I sang them. His memory was so accurate he could 
trust it completely. 

He had his first stage appearances with me at the Jefferson Theatre and at 
the Academy of Music in Fourteenth Street, New York, just before I was due 
to sail for London. He asked me then if I was satisfied with his piano play- 
ing. I was In a big rush. 

"I'll let you know later," I said. 


Well, that's over twenty years ago, and I still haven't told him whether I'm 

I guess it's characteristic of Ted that in all the years we have been working 
together, and with everybody from newsboys, bellhops, and bus boys up to 
three-star generals and royal princes calling me "Sophie/ 9 he still calls me 
"Miss Tucker/' or sometimes "Boss." 

It was at the Academy Theatre that I played the first time with Jack Benny, 
then just a fresh kid from Waukegan. He did a single act. On opening day 
he came into the theater just in time to go on. He worked in his street clothes, 
carrying his violin. Jack walked out on the stage and said his opening line 
to the audience: "Oh, hello." Somebody in the gallery gave him the good old 
"bird." Jack said "Good-by," and walked off the stage without playing a note. 
And he never came back. 

Meanwhile, I got to thinking, the way I generally do: "What next?" Fd 
been playing Reisenweber's for five years and headlining in the big-time 
houses all over the country between engagements. I could do that for some 
time, provided I kept on changing and improving my act. But I wanted 
something different. One day I went downtown to see the Boss. 

Abe Lastfogel was sitting in the outer office when I breezed in. He gave 
me a sharp look. "What's eating you?" he wanted to know* 

"Wait till I try it on the Boss/' I answered. 

As soon as I was in Mr. Morris's office I brought out my idea. "Boss," I 
said, "how about me going over to London and trying my luck over there?" 

The Boss leaned back in his chair and thought it over. I was watching 
his face for the little gleam in the corner of his eye that always told you 
before he spoke if he thought your idea was good. I went on : "I've been with 
Reisenweber's so many years. I've played the Palace over and over again. I've 
got to open a new field, a new home. If I could do that in London, it would 
mean great prestige for me when I carne back here." 

Then I saw the gleam. 

"Good idea!" said the Boss. "Well try it. I'll get busy with bookings. Have 
you any idea what you're going to do for an act?" 

I told him I would take Ted along to play for me. And an extra piano 
player, in case anything happened to Ted. I wouldn't risk being stranded 
and having to break in a British piano player who might not be up on Amer- 
ican jazz rhythms. I would show the folks over there what American jazz 
was like. 

"Good/' said the Boss. And I went out, walking on air. 


A few weeks later he phoned me that he had booked me for four weeks, 
to open early In April at the Finsbury Park Empire Theatre IE London at a 
salary of two hundred pounds. A big price for England, 1 was told. 

As soon as I knew I was booked, I began to get the jitters. What did I 
know about British audiences and how to entertain them? London was a 
hell of a long way from Times Square. "If only you were going to be there," 
I wailed to the Boss, "then I'd feel I was playing safe," 

Back came his voice over the wire, the sweetest words I could hear: "I 
shall be there. I am taking the family over and 111 meet you when you lend* 
There's nothing to worry about." 

"Not now there isn't!" I sang out. 

So long as the Boss was on hand I knew I wouldn't lay any eggs. 

CHAPTER 18: My Battle of Britain 

WE SAILED on the Homeric, on Sis's birthday, March 25, 1922. Getting away 
was exciting and lots of work. The family came down from "Hartford to see 
us off, for Sis was going along. There would be Sis and me, and the two boys, 
Ted Shapiro and Jack Carroll. I decided not to take Mollie. 

A few nights before we sailed the boys at Reisenweber's gave me a fare- 
well party. Everybody who was there that night joined in. There were quite 
a lot of stage and screen stars on hand Conway Tearle, Bert Lytell, Viola 
Dana, and a lot more and they all helped to keep the fun going. Nobody 
got more fun out of that night than Ma. She got up and danced and was the 
hit of the evening. And with another new dress, of course. 

Everything about the trip across was wonderful to me. Not the least won- 
derful was the thought, how different this trip was from my first one coming 
to America in the steerage. Thinking about that, I could realize something of 
the meaning of America, the only country on earth where the sort of thing 
that had happened in my life could happen. America had given me the 
opportunity to make good. I owed it everything I had. Now I was going back 
to Europe in a way to represent America to audiences. It was going to be up 
to me to show the British what America can do for an immigrant girl. 

On the way over there was a ship's concert, of course, at which I was asked 
to sing. That wouldn't have been important except for something that hap- 
pened which gave me an idea on which I later built my act. The lounge on 
the Homeric was so big and the piano was screwed down to the floor some 
distance from the platform. All right if you were going to sing with an 
orchestra, but the ship's orchestra wasn't up to playing my American jazz. I 


needed the piano near me. What we did was to move in another piano onto 
the stage and the two boys, Ted Shapiro and Jack Carroll, played the two 
pianos for me. Right away I saw that this was a good stunt, and decided to 
work it up when we got to London and try it on my first theater audience. 
At that time no singer had used a two-piano team. 

England was different. You felt that the minute you landed at South- 
ampton. What impressed me, I guess, is what impresses most Americans the 
first time they go to England the smallness of everything. And the neatness. 
No kids playing in the streets. Rows of little red brick houses, every window 
with the whitest of white old-fashioned lace curtains. The pubs. The 
chemists' shops, so different from American drugstores. No ice-cream sodas, 
no hot dogs, no hamburger White Castles, no big advertising signs. So few 
telephones. Going up to London in the train, I read a newspaper story of a 
girl suing a man for a large sum of money for throwing her over. The judge 
asked the girl why she thought the man could pay such a sum, and she re- 
plied she was sure he must be rich because he had a telephone in his flat. 

The Boss and Mrs. Morris, with Junior, George Foster, and his son Harry, 
the London correspondent of the William Morris office, were at Waterloo 
Station to meet us and drive us to the Piccadilly Hotel, where the Morrises 
were staying. 

Before the Boss had left for England he and I had had a long talk. We de- 
cided that no advance publicity was to be used before I opened in London. 
No blasting in the press about Sophie Tucker, singer of hot songs, or what 
I had done at Reisenweber's, or the big money I was making. I was to go 
over quietly and sneak up on the British, unannounced. If I made good over 
there, then so much the better for the surprise element. If I didn't, then I 
could always fall back on the old gag "there's a boat leaving every Wednes- 
day and Saturday." 

Right away I saw I had a lot to learn about British ways of doing things. 

The Boss suggested we take in a music hall (British for vaudeville) to give 
me an idea of what goes over with a British audience. We went to the 
Coliseum, which was then the ace variety house. It compared with the Palace 
in New York. It was a huge place, and packed. Everybody smoking. Those 
British pipes damn near killed me. There was a bar at the back of the house, 
as in every theater I saw over there. There were a lot of other differences I 
noticed at once: the billing out in front of the theater was different from our 
way. The first and second headliners were printed in top boxes, with the 
smaller acts, in smaller boxes, down the sheet. Inside the house the fire cur- 
tain was kept up until the orchestra came into the pit. Seats in the pit 


meaning the first two or three rows In the orchestra were cheaper 
the other rows. If a show was a success, you would always find a queue wait- 
ing for the pit seats, the same as they queue up for the gallery. It's wonderful 
how patient the Britishers are about standing in line for something they 
want. They bring along campstools and shawls and make themselves com- 
fortable while they wait all night for the box office to open. Hawkers go along 
the line selling sandwiches and hot tea, and sometimes street musicians, 
singers, and conjurers entertain the queue and then pass round the hat. 1 
used to love seeing that. It was all a part of show business and made me think 
of the Boss's story about how vaudeville began. 

Ill say one thing for the inside of British theaters; every seat Is big and 
comfortable and has an ash tray. At that time the lighting systems were 
superior to ours. Not one spotlight from a booth, but three played on every 
act 3 besides the stage lighting. In this country, even in the finest theaters on 
all the circuits, we wouldn't have more than one lousy spot. The drops and 
curtains at the Coliseum were lovely and richly colored. Quite a change from 
the standard drop or park scene that was used, week in and week out, for 
generations in every American vaudeville house I played in* Over here, every 
* sketch had to use the same old library scene that you saw In every town from 
Boston to Seattle. 

But what struck me funny at the Coliseum was the show. Though the 
stage drops and curtains were fresh and beautiful, not a single act that came 
out on that stage dressed smart or looked up to date. Most of them wore 
comic clothes. None of the men wore tuxedos or tails, or even well-tailored 
street clothes. And the gowns of the women performers looked like some- 
thing out of the old-clothes shops in Petticoat Lane. I couldn't get over it* I 
said to the Boss: "Hell, I've got one thing that'll put me over here some 
clothes that are worth looking at!" 

The show at the Coliseum was very much like our bills, with the acrobats 
to open, the neat dancing girl, the street comedians, the jugglers, the mono- 
loguist, the women singers, the comedienne, the ballroom dancers, the pair 
of hoofers, the comedy sketch, the dramatic sketch, then the headline^ and 
the standard acts. But there the likeness ended. Men predominated on every 
bill. The songs were drawn out from eight to ten minutes. While performers 
made changes there were many stage waits. It all seemed slow and draggy 
to me. 

But there was no doubt that the audience liked it. There was a lot of 
laughter and plenty of applause and cries of "Core! Core!" Later I found out 
this meant "Encore." All the time I sat there cold as a dead fish. And it 


wasn't just the lack o steam heat In the theater, though the house was so 
chilly everybody kept their coats and hats on. I didn't understand one 
word that was said on the stage. I didn't get the point o a single joke or gag. 
I couldn't make head or tail out of the songs. 

My teeth began to chatter. "Boss/* I said, and grabbed his arm, "let's get 
out o here, quick. I'm sick. You've got to get me home." 

Outside, he looked at me, worried. "What's the matter, darling?' 1 

"Get a taxi/' I said. "Let's get back to the hotel" 

In the taxi I told him: "I've made a terrible mistake coming over here. 
Ill never be able to entertain these Britishers. If I can't understand them, how 
the hell are they going to understand me? They speak a different language 
from me. I'll flop over here, sure as hell." 

He tried to buck me up. He said it was just an attack of nerves. (As though 
I ever had the damn things.) But I knew better, I knew I was up against 
the toughest proposition Fd run into since my early days. "Listen/' I told 
him, "you've got to cancel that Finsbury Park date. I won't open Monday. 
(This was on a Wednesday night.) Put it off for a week and give me time 
to get around and find out some things about these folks over here. Give 
me time to learn their tricks. If you make me open on Monday, I'll lay an 


The Boss tried to calm me the way he always did when one of his acts got 
the jitters. I can still hear his beautiful voice saying: "Now, now, everything 
will be all right. Leave it to me. If you want time to change your material, 
111 call Foster and Gillespie tomorrow and fix it with them." 

He was as good as his word, and Harry Foster and Mr. R. H. Gillespie, 
who was general manager for the Moss Empires, Ltd., agreed that I was 

I found out later that they had had plenty of trouble with many American 
performers whose acts didn't go over with the British. The same was true 
of lots of British performers who came to America. The Boss was always 
trying to make them see the importance of adapting their acts to American 
tastes. Those, like Sir Harry Lauder, who listened to the Boss and took his 
advice, made fortunes in America. The ones who didn't, found out the mean- 
ing of a Bronx cheer. 

They had grand beds at the Piccadilly Hotel, but I didn't get any good out 
of mine that night. I tossed and turned. I lay staring into the dark, worrying 
as I hadn't worried in years; not since I started on the burlesque wheel and 
found I was up against a kind of entertainment I didn't understand. How, 



I asked myself, was ! going to get a Hue on these British folks? And how in 
hell was I going to make the British understand Sophie Tucker? 

When the Boss and I got together the next day, we mapped out a cam- 
paign First, to see all the successful shows in London, We begaa with the 
revue at the HIppodrome > Round in Fifty, in which George Robey was star- 
ring* The idea was a trip around the world in fifty days. (Funny* to think 
of that now, when we make it in a week.) 

Robey was a scream. I gathered that he was considered off color* but 
funny, so I watched him carefully. I had to find out where the British drew 
the line. How we howled at the scene where he got to Chicago and all the 
men wore cowboy pants and ten-gallon hats. But the California scene was 
even funnier. There were orange trees hung with oranges stuffed with cotton. 
The backdrop was painted with the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, 
the Alleghenies, the Catskllls, and the Mississippi River. At a cue a Missis- 
sippi River stern-wheeler came up the river, all lighted up and crowded with 
coon shouters. Our party laughed so loud an usher came down the aisle and 
asked us to be quiet, as we were disturbing the people around us. 

Well, London producers sure didn't know much about the U. S. A., and 
the British audiences didn't know any different either. They took it as "a 
bit of all right, what?" 

The next night we took in Welcome Stranger, in which Harry Green was 
making a big hit. At that time not many American acts had made a success 
in London. Nora Bayes had. And Ethel Levey, who was George M. Cohan's 
first wife. I found out that her great song over there was my "Some of These 
Days." The song was identified with her. This meant I couldn't include it in 
my act, as according to custom when a British music publisher brought out 
an American song and gave it to a performer no one else sang it until it was 
published for the general public. The Trix Sisters were playing to a hit in 
A to Z, and Yvette Rugel's golden voice was making her a lot of friends 
around town and in the provinces. 

The more I saw of London's music halls, the surer I was that I would 
have to have rny songs rewritten. I suggested* to the Boss that he invite a few 
British people up to his suite and let me try my stuff out on them. The next 
day he had a dozen people up for the tryout. There was only one piano in 
the room so I couldn't give them the two-piano-act stunt. I sang "I Know 
It," "I'm Nobody's Fool," "When They Get Too Wild for Everyone Else, 
They're Perfect for Me," "Bluebird, Where Are You?" "Dapper Dan," 
"There's More Music in a Grand Baby Than There Is in a Baby Grand," 
"The Broadway Blues," and others. 


While Ted played for me, Jack and Sis were over in one corner dancing. 
I remember the crowd thought that the dance was part of the act. They liked 
it better than they liked my songs. Oh, they were polite. Said they liked my 
rhythm, and that I had great vitality and a wonderful personality. But no 
laughs! At that moment I would have sold my chances of being a success in 
London for a wooden nickel. 

After that tryout the Boss got hold of the best song writer in London 
Eric Valentine and we went into a huddle. Again I went over every one 
of my songs. All the all-American words we changed to British equivalents. 
Gas became petrol, nickel and dimes, bobs and tuppences. Meanwhile, Ted 
and Jack and I went to work on slowing up all the songs. I've always been 
proud of my timing; it's something I've worked at ever since I've been in 
show business. I know it's good (it ought to be after years of work at it). 
My figure may bulge, but my act is streamlined. 

The boys and I sweat blood that week. We had two pianos in the hotel 
ballroom and rehearsed there while Sis went sightseeing and brought me 
back news of London. 

Harry Foster had booked me at the Stratford Empire Theatre for one 
show only on the next Monday night for the break-in. In London, variety 
shows played twice nightly, at six-thirty and at eight-thirty. We couldn't 
get two pianos for the opening, which, maybe, was just as well. I was saving 
that for my date at the Finsbury Park Empire. London had never seen a 
two-piano act up to that time. Ted was to play for me at the Stratford, with 
Jack standing by. 

The Boss, Mrs. Morris, Junior, Mr. Gillespie, Harry Foster, Sis, the boys, 
and I filled .three taxis, and drove out to the Stratford a long ride. The 
theater was on a par with the old Jefferson Theatre on Fourteenth Street, 
New York, before it became a Keith house. I had played there to an audi- 
ence of foreigners, workingmen with no collars and ties. A great audience if 
they liked you and if you had something to give them. But impossible to 
fool The crowd at the Stratford Empire made me think of them: British 
workingmen with their wives and sweethearts. They were going to be hard 
nuts to crack. If I could put my act across to that crowd, I felt I'd be safe 
with the audiences at the Finsbury Park. If I didn't make good at the Strat- 
ford, I knew I'd get the razzberry. And no mistake! I'd already learned in 
the week I went around to shows that British audiences give it very quickly. 

We sat in a box to watch the show. I sat at the back so none in the house 
would see Hie. Act after act came on the comics, comedienne, dancers, 
singers and not one woman or man on that bill wore dress clothes. I was 


wearing a very lovely white fringed dress, an ermine wrap, and gorgeous 
jewels. My hair was dressed In the height of fashion, like shining spun gold- 
I felt 1 didn't fit into that bill. 

a Why did you book me in here," I whispered to Harry Foster, "and why 
didn't you tcii me what the pkce was like so I would have dressed simply?" 
I was still spluttering about it when the manager came to tell us the act was 
going on that I was to follow. 

Backstage, and waiting* Then the piano was pushed onto the stage and 
the manager beckoned to Ted. He came over to me. "Very good, Miss 
Tucker. We're ready. You can go on," 

"Wait a minute," I said. "How about introducing me?" 

"Oh, we don't do that over here, 3 * he told me. He waved his hand, and a 
boy went out in front of the drop with a sign which he held up for everyone 
to read, I craned my neck and saw that the sign held just one word: 


There was nothing to tell the audience my name, what I was going to do* 
or anything about me. I might have been a performing horse, for all they 

"Go right ahead/* said the manager. 

Ted went to the piano and I walked onto a stage that sloped so steeply 
down to the footlights that I nearly fell on my face* Later, 1 found that all 
British stages are built that way. Between my terror of my first British audi- 
ence and that ski slope I was expected to perform upon, all I could do was to 
sidle over to the piano and hang onto it for dear life. It felt as if my kaees 
were shaking the fringe of my dress like a hula dancer's skirt- The hanky 
I was carrying was torn to shreds before I even knew what I was doing to it. 

I looked out at the house. Were they going to be friendly? From here and 
there I caught sounds of tittering. So that was what they thought of tny fine 

As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness out front, I could see no 
faces. Only hundreds of backs. The audience was moving out on me. For a 
second I stood there paralyzed. Then I thought fast: they're going back to 
the bar. Fve got to stop them. I've got to make them forget they want a beer,. 
and make them want Sophie Tucker instead. 

I've heard other performers tell of similar" experiences and how upset they 
were too upset to be able to handle the situation. But they hadn't been 
schooled in the Ten-Twent'-Thirt's as I was. Everything I'd learned from 
handling the gallery gangs in some of the tough houses in New York and 


Chicago came back to me that night In London. I knew I mustn't give those 
guys a chance to get to the bar. I'd have to catch them midway. I whispered 
to Ted to change the opening number and struck right into "Dapper Dan.** 

That song had a great syncopated melody. It was catchy. You couldn't 
pass it up. Those British workingmen didn't know where Alabam' was, or 
care a damn. That didn't matter. What caught them and stopped them in 
their tracks was the American rhythm and all the power in my pipes. 

As I sang, I could see I'd turned the tide. They were forgetting about 
wanting a beer. They were moving back to their seats. I could see faces now. 
A lot of them were smiling. 

*Tve got *em," I said to Ted. And without a break we swung into a 
comedy number: "When They Get Too Wild for Everyone Else, They're 
Perfect for Me." 

That number brought the laughs. The crowd loved the blue lines Eric 
Valentine had written into it especially for them. They never missed a point. 
I slowed down my usual tempo, feeding it to them as they could take it. 

It paid. At the end of the number there were cheers and cries of "Core! 
Core!" I'd shown them I could sing to them in their own language, whoever 
I might be. 

I had planned to do a ballad next, but I threw it out of the routine. Now 
I'd found their level, I didn't dare risk losing it. Better stick to rhythm and 
comedy songs. I finished with "There's More Music in a Grand Baby Than 
There Is in a Baby Grand," with the British blue lines. They simply ate it up 
and yelled for more. 

My throat was drying up. I left the stage while the house was still shout- 
ing. The manager stood in the wings with his arms out, barring my way. 
"Go back," he said. "They want more!" 

I grabbed a glass of water and swallowed it. I was wringing wet and my 
nerves were shot to pieces. In the fifteen minutes I'd been on that stage I had 
worked harder to win that British crowd than I had ever worked for the 
customers at Reisenweber's or at the Palace in New York, 

The manager insisted I go back. 

So I gave them three more songs all ojff-color ones, since those were what 
they liked. I was to find out that British audiences love a good bawdy joke. 
They take their meat rare and they like their humor on the raw side too* 
That goes for all classes and both ends of London. Most of their own per- 
formers who have made themselves tremendously popular with the crowds 
have been off color in their work. Look at George Robey. And Gracie Fields. 
And Marie Lloyd. In Britain there are some things you can't say in a song 


without giving offense, such as mentioning a member of the royal family. 
(As I was to find out later on.) But sex they don't mind. Quite different 
from the U. S. A., where an entertainer can take all the cracks he wants at 
the President and other national figures* but brings the wrath of the censor 
down on him if he mentions some of the well-known facts of life. 

The audience was still applauding when the Boss and Harry Foster and 
Mr. Gillespie came backstage, grinning from ear to ear. They said they were 
sure now that I would go down with the British audiences from the way 
I had handled this tough assignment. It had gone far better than they hoped. 

As for me, I was a wreck. There wasn't a thing in the world I wanted but 
a steak and then bed. 

When I was back in my hotel room, undressing, I got the scare of my life* 
My diamond bracelets were missing. I knew I'd worn them to the theater, 
but where or how I lost them I had no idea. 

"Get into bed," Sis ordered. "Try to go to sleep. Teddy and 111 do the 

So at 3 A.M. Sis and Ted got a taxi and went back to the Stratford Empire. 
It was locked tight, and they couldn't raise the night watchman. So they 
hung around, waiting for dawn and the arrival of the charwomen to clean 
the theater. When the chars eame with their mops and pails, Sis and Ted 
went in with them. Luck was with them, and with me, for they found the 
bracelets on the floor of the box where we sat to watch the first part of the 

The Boss okayed an opening date for me at the Finsbury Park Empire on 
the following Monday. I was all set to go. Meanwhile, I suggested to him 
that he get me a chance to make one appearance at a fashionable night club 
before my opening. I wanted to test myself and my songs on a smart, 
sophisticated audience. 

That season the Metropole Hotel was London's swank place for supper. 
Paul Murray was putting on a revue there called the Midnight Follies. I had 
met Paul in Chicago a season back when I was there with my Five Kings. 
Then he had offered me a spot in his London show, but the salary he held 
out was too small to make it an inducement. Besides, at that time I didn't 
see that I would get enough out of a London engagement to make it worth 
the trip across. 

The Boss liked the idea, and he and Harry Foster arranged for me to sing 
at the Metropole on Wednesday night. This was always a gala night there. 
Wednesday and Friday were ''extension nights," which meant that you could 
drink until 2 A.M. On all other nights all drinks had to be off the supper 


tables at twelve-thirty. The British Blue Laws also prohibited performers 
from sitting around a cafe after they had entertained. You had to leave the 

When we got to the Metropole, the room was packed. Such handsome- 
looking people all in evening dress. The men very distinguished in "tails." 
Whenever you saw a black tie, you could be sure there was an American 
behind it. The women, though they appeared to better advantage in their 
evening gowns than in street clothes, still didn't have the style o our Amer- 
ican women. What struck me at once about the London cabaret crowds was 
the predominance of elderly people. One of the results of the war. 

The smartest people in London society flocked to the Metropole for late 
supper. Prices were high: admission one guinea for men, ten shillings for 
ladies. Champagne sold for one guinea per bottle; cocktails at two shillings. 
This was the other side of the London I had seen at the Stratford Empire 

But another thing I noticed about the crowd at the Metropole was its easy 
friendliness. All those who came there seemed to know each other very well 
and to be ready to be amused and have a good time. It was like Reisen- 

We had a table at the back of the big room. We could watch the people 
at the other tables as well as the dance floor and the big staircase, which the 
revue came down. It was a fine show. The stars were one of our best 
American dance teams Dorothy Dickson and Carl Hyson. 

We watched the show, me sitting on pins and needles wondering when 
Paul Murray would call on me. As time went on, and the show, and Paul 
never came near us, or made an announcement about me, my heart began 
to sink. I did want a crack at the smart people of London. 

Then I spotted Carl Hyson sitting at one of the tables. At the same minute 
he caught sight of our party and came over. 

"I didn't know you were in London, Sophie," he said. "I dare you to sing 
for us here tonight." 

"Go ahead, Carl. Introduce me." I was thinking, to hell with Paul Murray. 
Why should I sit around and wait for him to make up his mind? 

Carl left us and went backstage. Now, I thought, well see what happens. 

The comic of the revue was Fred Duprez. Fred was an American who 
had made good in England and remained over there. We had worked to- 
gether in vaudeville years before and he knew me well. It was he who intro- 
duced me that night at the close of the revue: 

"Ladies and gentlemen, a great American star, a singer of songs, is here 


tonight. With a little coaxing I think we caa get her out on the to sing 
for us." 

I didn't need any coaxing. That was my cue. It didn't matter that Fred 
hadn't mentioned my name. Sophie Tucker didn't mean a thing to that 
London audience. Fred coold have said "Tillie Klutz'* and they would have 
given Tiliie the same warm reception* As 1 made my way through the tables 
to the dance floor s the folks all smiled and were so friendly. I gave a big 
"hello" to everybody, the way I did at Reisenweber's. **Happy to sing for 
you," I said to them all, pulled off my ostrich-feather hat and put it down 
on the piano as Ted took his seat there. In that moment I certainly con- 
gratulated myself that we both looked nice and that I had taken Teddy and 
Jack to a good tailor and ordered "tails" for them as soon as I saw what was 
what In London. I went Into hock fifty apiece for their suits, but It was 
worth It. 

Maybe thinking about our appearance threw me out, because, for the life 
of me, 1 couldn't hear the piano. Ted looked over at me, and his eyebrows 
went up. I could see his hands moving over the keys 3 but I had no idea what 
song he was playing. 

"That's funny," I said to the audience. "Here I'm dying to sing for you, 
and I'm so damn nervous I've forgotten the words." It was a natural They 
howled. Probably they thought It was a gag. It wasn't, though; it was the 
honest truth. 

"Give me a minute," I said. "I'll be okay." 

They laughed again. "Okay" was new to them. I could hear them repeat- 
ing It to each other, trying out this new sample of American slang. 

They were so friendly that my stage fright left me as fast as it had come on. 
Suddenly I could hear the piano, and the words of the song came back to 
me. I opened my mouth and sang. One song after another. I guess I was on 
the floor a full half -hour; the crowd wouldn't let me go. It was Relsenweber's 
again in London; and was I happy? Not just because 1 was a success with 
that smart crowd but because I felt now that I was on the right track with 
British audiences. After this experience I wouldn't be afraid of playing their 
theaters anywhere. 

Still, thinking it over the next day, I felt there was one more thing I ought 
to do before my opening at the Finsbury, and, when I put it to the Boss, 
he agreed with me. 

"Maybe it's superstition/ 5 I said to him, "but I have a hunch if I were to 
sing once for my own people the Jews in London and if they accept me, 
nothing will stop me over here." 


The Boss never laughed at my hunches; he always treated them with 
respect. He said he would find out what Jewish benefit was scheduled for 
that Sunday,, and would get to the head of the committee and see that I 
appeared on the bill. It turned out there was to be one at the Palladium 
Theatre for the Lying-in Hospital 

I went into a huddle with the Boss as to what songs I would do. We de- 
cided on a jazz song first, then a comedy song, and a ballad for the third 
number. I wore a handsome white satin gown studded with brilliants, my 
ermine wrap, and gorgeous diamonds. I knew the audience would admire 
the outfit, and it's just as important to look well at a benefit as in a theater 
or a cafe. Even if you aren't making money out of the performance, you are 
building popularity and prestige, and making friends, all of which are 
tremendously important in show business. 

The Boss was able to have two pianos on the stage for me at the Palladium. 
This was important because Ted, Jack, and 1 needed a tryout together 
before we opened the next day. We needed to get at least one showing under 
our belt to know how the act shaped up. The pianos were set in front of 
a black-velvet drop and the stage manager went out in front and introduced 
"Miss Sophie Tucker, an American singer, who has asked to appear at this 

I had forgotten to tell him to announce that I had a two-piano act, so when 
the curtain parted, showing Ted and Jack seated at the pianos, there was a 
rumble of wonder and applause for them. When I parted the black-velvet 
backdrop and made my entrance between the two pianos, I was conscious 
of the nice picture we three made black and white. 

The sloping stage bothered me agaii^ but now I was getting onto British 
ways. The confidence I had won at the Metropole stayed by me. The boys 
didn't take it as easily, though. As they played the introduction to "Dapper 
Dan" I couldn't hear the melody. It was just a jumble in my ears. After all, 
we had never tried out the two pianos on a stage before. I had to stop them. 

"For goodness' sake, boys, there's nothing to be nervous about. We are 
among our own Yiddisher Joinder" 

I heard the audience gasp. They* didn't know whether I was a Jewess, or 
whether I just learned to say those words for the occasion. Then they 
laughed. I kept on with the asides in Jewish till the boys got their bearings 
and I got mine. Then we swung into the first song. 

The audience liked the jazz and they liked the comedy song with its blue 
lyrics. It brought a lot of laughs. I had told the Boss about the ballad. "This 
will be the number that will put me over with our people in London." When 


I ready to give it to them, I announced: "My next song Is a very simple 
one. I shall sing it first as it is written, 'Bluebird, Where Are You?* n 

I sang the first verse and the chorus. It is a very beautiful, light ballad, and 
I could feel the audience liked it. 

"Now," I announced, "I will sing the song like a chazin (a cantor)." 

The effect of that real Jewish word, pronounced correctly as it is done 
only by Orthodox Jews, electrified the audience. They sat spellbound while 
I sang the verse and chorus. Then came thunderous applause, cheers, 
"Bravo!" and that London cry of "Core! Core!" When I went back to thank 
them, I tried to tell them what their acceptance of me meant. I said: "My 
work in England will be easy now." 

And I didn't overlook putting in the plugeroo: 

"Don't forget, I open tomorrow night Monday at the Finsbury Park 
Empire Theatre. Be sure to come and see me." 

CHAPTER 19: The British Arc Regulars Too 

MY OPENING at the Finsbury Park Empire went without a hitch. I had a few 
minutes of worry because the orchestra wasn't up to handling the orchestra- 
tions and arrangements for my songs. Those arrangements had cost me a lot 
of money, but I figured it was better to drop them over the side rather than 
worry myself sick getting a British orchestra to play them my way. We 
arranged it so that the two pianos did all the work, and the orchestra came in 
at the finish of the numbers. This had the advantage of making the boys 
stand out in importance, and it put my songs over better than if I had de- 
pended on an inadequate orchestra. What's more, I didn't have to appear 
before British theater managers as a temperamental American dame. 

Again, I found I had to slow down my tempo on all the songs to make 
sure the audience would understand every word. And again at the Finsbury 
Empire and in the theaters I played in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Nottingham, 
Cardiff, and Manchester, it was the off-color "point" songs that the audience 
liked best. The British are just folks, same as those in the U. S. A. 

Every day the boys and I were at work, throwing out songs that didn't 
seem to mean much to the British audiences and substituting others. Fortu- 
nately, we had brought plenty. Everywhere I played I found the second 
show, at eight-thirty, easier to play to than the first one. That was the same 
as at home. In every theater in the United States the "supper shows" were 
the toughest. But aside from the rehearsals and playing every night, I had 
time to go sightseeing in London and to make friends too. 


One of those friends was Hanan Swaffer, the dramatic critic. The first I 
heard of him was when Harry Foster rang me up about noon the day after 
I had appeared at the Metropole, 

"Did you see Hanan S wafer's article about you?" 

In my excitement I didn't ask who Hanan Swaffer was or what paper he 
wrote for. At the hotel newsstand I asked for a copy of Hanan Swaflfer's 

"Sorry, Miss, we have the Daily Express, the Daily Telegram, the Sketch, 
the Star . . ." 

"But I want Hanan S waller's paper!" 

The man thought 1 was crazy. Finally he called the manager, who told me: 
"Mr. Swaffer writes for the Daily Express." 

I hunted through the pages until I found his column and read: 

A big, fat blonde genius, with a dynamic personality and amazing vitality, an 
American singer of songs, took the Metropole audience by storm last night. Her 
name is Sophie Tucker. 

Naturally, after that I wanted to meet Hanan Swaffer. Harry Foster said 
he would arrange it, but as it happened he didn't have to. The next day the 
Boss took us all over to the Savoy for lunch. At a near-by table I noticed a 
party of four two little stout ladies, who looked like sisters, and two men, 
one tall, thin, with scanty gray hair, dark clothes, a black tie askew and 
poking up from his collar, a cigarette hanging from his niouth, and ashes all 
over his coat. The ladies kept smiling and nodding at me as though they 
knew me, but not the man I've described. The Boss said he didn't know 
who he was, but we agreed he looked like someone of literary importance. 
I made up my mind to find out. When I saw the ladies from the other 
party go to the ladies' room, I followed, and there I met Madeline and Ida 
Cohen, two of the four daughters of Mr. Edgar Cohen, director of Harrod'% 
London's great store. They took me back to their table and introduced the 
literary-looking man who was none other than Hanan Swaffer! 

My friendship with the Cohens, begun that day at the Savoy, has flourished 
through the years. Their home at No. 4 Hall Road was open to me from the 
first Sunday I spent in London. What a family! The Governor, as they 
called their father, four daughters, Ida, Madeline, Connie, and Hilda, and 
the son, Stanley. Every Sunday at the Cohens' was open house. People from 
all walks of life came there theatricals, newspapermen and -women, au- 
thors, politicians, and titled patrons of the arts. I met my first lord and lady 
there that afternoon' Sir Alfred and Lady Butt. At the Cohens', too, I met 


our American Fannie Hurst and Dame Sybil Thoredlke, Leslie Henson, the 
great comedian, and a lot of other show people. Jack and Teddy went there 
with Sis and me and shared the fun. We entertained for the crowd, aad I 
tried out some of my songs and stunts to get the British reaction. 

Then, and later all during my time In London Hanan Swaffer's advice 
about my routine was a tremendous help. Ill never forget the panning he 
gave me after a show In which I sang a ballad called "Dear Old Lady/ 5 1 had 
engaged a sweet-looking elderly woman to sit in a chair, dressed in a lovely 
black taffeta dress I bought her. 1 paid her five pounds a week for appearing 
on the stage with me. The Cohens were horrified. They said I would ruin all 
the help In London. Swaffer caught the show in which 1 did it, and back in 
my dressing room he laced hell out of me for doing a sob song that meant 
nothing, when I had grand songs, such as he had heard me sing at the 
Metropole and at the Cohens' home. I paid attention to his criticism aad cut 
the song out of my act at once. When I paid the old lady off for the week, 
she was terribly mad at Swaffer and me for killing her career In show busi- 
ness. She even dropped a few tears. "I've never had so much loving before 
in my life," she sniffed. 

The Boss had booked me for the provinces, which gave me a chance to 
see more of England and Scotland, to find out more about British audiences. 
Playing the provinces was like trouping in America, only more so. Most of 
England we saw through the rain. I had to go out and buy high boots and 
rubbers. I never was warm once. Nothing in the hotels had been changed 
since Queen Victoria was crowned. Private baths were practically unheard 
of. No central heating. And fifty-five cents for a bucket of coal to keep up 
a pretense of a fire In your bedroom! But there were great houses to play 
to in all the towns, the press was enthusiastic, and, when I wasn't shivering 
and worrying about getting pneumonia, Sis, the boys, and I had a swell time. 

Manchester was different. No trouble there about getting rooms with 
baths. And the best food since we left London! I liked the Manchester 
people too. They were like Americans, in a way. Not easy to fool and gen- 
erously appreciative of what they liked. Manchester had two variety theaters. 
I was booked at the Empire for a week. The Four Marx Brothers were 
booked at the other house that same week; so was Yvette RugeL We were all 
at the Midland Hotel Every night after the show we had supper together 
and a barrel of fun. One night we decided to have a get-together party all 
the American performers In town. There were about twenty of us at the 
table. As we sat down Harpo Marx was on one side of me and Groucho on 
the other. It was an eight-course supper and, as usual in England, the table 


was loaded down with silverware. This gave Harpo and Groucho a chance 
for a stunt. They mixed up all the knives and forks on a big tray and Harpo 
tied a napkin over his eyes and picked out a tool for each of us to eat with* 

I was beginning to wonder what next? I had no wish to- play around the 
British provinces indefinitely. If there was nothing more exciting to do than 
that, better go home. Then came a wire from the Boss saying he had booked 
me to play with George Robey in the revue, Round in Fifty at the Hippo- 
drome Theatre just to sing a few songs. After the show I was to double in 
the Midnight Follies at the Metropole. 

Back in London we went to live at the Hotel Metropole, which would 
make it more convenient for me working in the club. The first thing to do, 
of course, was to report at the Hippodrome Theatre to get a line on what 
I was to do in the show. That first day I met all the cast, including the 
principals Alec Haloway, Helen Gilliland, Barry Lupino. All except 
George Robey, the star. I never saw him the week rehearsals were called. The 
rest of the cast were friendly, though, and didn't make me feel strange a bit. 

After a bit I asked Frank Boor about it. Frank was the manager of the 
Hippodrome a new type to me with his corset, his tails, his monocle. Such 
an ardent worshiper of all London its towers, abbeys, old streets, and, above 
all, its ladies. 

I asked Frank why Robey wouldn't meet me. What was eating him? 
Frank hemmed and hawed, then showed me an article in some paper which 

Sophie Tucker says she will show George Robey a thing or two when she joins 
Round in Fifty. 

"Well!" I said to Frank, "that just goes to show how the newspaper boys 
and girls over here are like some of those back home. They don't give a 
damn what they write in their columns whether it's true or not so long 
as it fills up space. Wouldn't I be a fool to say a thing like that and stir 
up trouble for myself over here before I had a chance to get started? What's 
more, anybody who knows me knows I never boast ahead of time. Maybe 
I'm superstitious; maybe I'm scared. I've been in show business too many 
years to make a break like that! And I wish you'd tell George Robey so for 
me, if he's too dumb to think of it himself." 

Frank said he would, and I had to leave it at that. 

It got around to the night I was to openWednesday, May 17. All the 
members of the company sent me wires. All the members of the chorus 
knocked on my dressing-room door, wishing me luck. Everybody connected 


with the theater. It seemed, from the stage manager down to the stagehands, 
was friendly and encouraging. AH but George Robey! I didn't like the feel- 
ing it gave me, 1 felt I couldn't walk out on that stage with him sore at me 3 
especially over something I hadn't done. 

I dressed on one side of the stage* Robey's dressing room was at the head 
of the stairs as you came In off the street. 1 put on a robe, went over to his 
room, aad knocked on the door. 

"It's me, Mr. Robey, Miss Tucker. Please, may I come In?" 

"Yes, come In." 

I opened the door. "Mr. Robey, I'm awfully sorry about that article in the 
paper, but I swear to you I never made, nor did I ever give, such a statement 
to the press. In my country, I'm known as a hell of a good scout. And once 
you get to know me, you will say so too* I'm opening tonight, and I just 
can't go out on that stage with you sore at me." 

By this time I'm crying like a baby; so I shut the door, go back to my 
dressing room, and finish getting dressed. I kept waiting for a knock, for 
Robey to come in and wish- me luck, but he didn't come. The show was on. 
Soon it was time for me to go down to the stage. I was standing in the 
entrance, waiting for my music to strike up, nervous as a pup, even though 
I know I looked well in my stunning outfit of light blue crepe, with ostrich 
sleeves, made for me by Madame Isobel on Regent Street. (Forty quid It 
set me back!) I kept hoping Robey would come by and say a friendly word. 
I don't think I'm any more superstitious than most performers, but my mind 
kept going back to the opening of the Follies of 1909 and what had happened 
to me because of Nora Bayes's jealousy. There's no getting around it, it's 
unlucky to open In a show with the star down on you. 

I was taking my last look off stage, and suddenly- there was George Robey 
dashing toward me. "Good luck, young lady. Kill 'em out there! Sorry Fm 
late, but I was making quick changes throughout the show, or else I would 
have seen you sooner. Go ahead, you bloody bitch, and God bless you!" 

There was just time to say, "Thanks, Mr. Robey. I'm so happy.** Then my 
music began. I went out on the stage feeling fine. When Robey called me a 
bitch I knew he liked me; wasn't mad; I tried to make myself believe I was 
standing on the Palace stage in New York, entertaining the audience there, 
and I guess it worked because that London audience acted just the way the 
crowd at the Palace used to act. The songs went over with a bang. It was a 
glorious night. What touched me most deeply was to see George Robey, 
Barry Lupino, Helen Gilliland, and the rest of the cast, standing in the 
wings applauding and glad I was a hit. We had a jubilee in my room after 


the show for the entire company and all the Americans who could crowd in. 
We put away thirteen quarts of champagne and twelve bottles of scotch. 
Teddy and Jack were at the two pianos, playing American jazz, and every- 
body was dancing. What a night! 

The next night when I drove up to the Hippodrome there was my name 
In big electric lights on the sign in front of the theater. The bobbies on that 
beat got used to me standing across the street, staring at It from every angle 
and taking snapshots. Me, Sophie Tucker, blazing away like that in the 
West End. Even in the wildest dreams I'd dreamed back in the days after 
I was let out of the Follies, my imagination never reached- to this. This was 
something I owed to the Boss, and to his faith, in me and his constant en- 

As I went along with the show Round in Fifty, I got to know Robey better, 
and I guess he found out that I was a right gal because he was always very 
friendly and nice to me. Robey, with his funny blackened heavy eyebrows, 
his naughty vocabulary, and his heart of gold. One time when the London 
fog and smoke were playing the devil with my throat, Robey insisted- on 
taking me to his Dr. Lloyd. "Take care of this gal. We need her in London," 
he said. 

I played nearly three months in Round in Fifty. Meanwhile the British 
reviewers started to go American in writing about my act. Some of their 
attempts at Broadway slang gave us a lot of laughs. It flattered me when they 
said I reminded them of their own Marie Lloyd. I had met Marie Lloyd in 
New York, where we became friends. What a trouper she was! And what a 
marvelous entertainer. To have the British critics link my name with hers 
set me up no end. If they could go American, I could go British! 

I loved J. J. Shubert's comment after he saw me in Round in Fifty. 
"Sophie, how lovely and quiet you are, working over here." 

Hell! I had to soften down after my first performance at the Finsbury 
Empire. In the front row sat two elderly ladles, with their hands up to their 
ears for fear I would burst their eardrums. Right away I knew I would have 
to tone down. And I did. 

When my time in Round in Fifty was up, at the end of my act on the clos- 
ing night, George Robey brought me down to the footlights and presented 
me with a huge gold jewel box engraved with the name of everyone in the 
company. I didn't know then, what I learned later, that it was unheard of in 
London at that time to stop the show to make a presentation of this sort to 
one of the performers. I was too touched by Robey's little speech. "Sophie, 
after we have played together three months it is with a great deal of pleasure 


that I am privileged to present this token of affection from the com- 

pany to a hell of a good scoot." 

London had its autograph hunters, as I soon found out. One night, as I 
was coming out of the stage door of the Hippodrome* a little girl came up 
and spoke to me. She had been waiting there in the rain for me to come 
out, to get my autograph and to tell me she had a brother in California 
whom she had not seen in many years. She told me his name, Maurice 
Gebber, and it turned out that 1 knew him. I had bought a fur coat from 
him on one of my trips to Los Angeles. I'll never forget the child's face when 
I told her I knew Maurice Gebber. She asked if she could bring her mother 
to see me. That Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter, while I was in London, 
Betty and her mother used to come to see me and bring me Jewish delica^ 
tessen. Years later, when I was playing in Los Angeles,, a card was sent back- 
stage to me: "Mr. and Mrs. Jack Leibo," and penciled underneath it, **The 
little girl who used to bring you the delicatessen in London.'* 

Working at the theater and doubling at the Metropole was tough, but I 
loved it. I loved meeting the British people at the cafe. The same ones came 
again and again. The British never seem to get too much of what they like. 
Everybody was very kind to the boys and to me, and made us feel at home. 
At the Metropole I got to meet members of the nobility, important business 
people, producers, and artists. Ethel Levey and her husband Grahame-White, 
the celebrated aviator, were my big boosters in London. They gave a lot of 
theater and supper parties, and brought their friends to see me. I noticed, 
though, that very few British artists patronized the cafes. They all had their 
lovely homes mostly out of London. Our first invitation to an actor's home 
came from Barry Lupino and his wife Gertrude to spend a Sunday with 
them at their country house near Maidenhead on the Thames. 

Several times I went to Fannie Ward's house in London. I met Eddie 
Darling there. He was scouting for acts for the Palace. Heather Thatcher, the 
English actress, was there that day. She couldn't get over my handbag, kept 
exclaiming over its size. "Oh, I always carry an extra pair of drawers," I 
told her airily. She never cracked a smile. 

Some of the houses we were invited to were something to see. I remember 
going to an "At-home" with Eddie Darling. At the door of the drawing 
room he grabbed my arm, stopping me to take it all in the velvet hangings, 
the dark, carved furniture, the bronze and marble statues, the paintings in 
heavy gold frames.. 

"What a swell whore-house set!" he exclaimed. 


One night at the Metropole I suddenly decided to give the customers a 
typical Bohemian night, as we used to at Reisenweber's. John Charles 
Thomas was there, so I introduced him to the customers, and what a sen- 
sation he was when he sang. Others I called on were Sam Bernard, Harry 
Green, who starred' in The Cherry Tree, Anatole Friedland, our fine song 
writer and producer of great acts, and Ella Retford, an English variety 
artist who had never been on a floor before. All entertained that night. The 
Metropole crowd loved it; especially the impromptu feel of it. 

One night there was great excitement backstage at the Metropole. The 
whisper ran through the dressing rooms: "Yes, he's here! Give a good show." 
The stage manager came back to caution us all. "Remember, this is his first 
visit here." 

"Who's here?" I piped up. 

"His Highness, Prince Henry." (Now the Duke of Gloucester.) 

"Listen," I told the boys, "we're entertaining royalty at last." My music 
was playing, and I was making my entrance down the staircase, meanwhile 
trying to spot His Royal Highness in the crowd at the tables. I should have 
watched the steps. I missed one of them and damn near rolled down the 
balance, only I caught the balustrade and just saved myself from going on 
my fanny on the floor. 

"It's your fault, Prince; I was looking for you," I said, and shook my finger 
at him. 

There was a dead stillness as the whole room waited to see how he was 
going to take it. When he let out a yell, the rest joined in. Later, when I was 
presented to him and tried to apologize for doing something that isn't done 
in England, he wouldn't let me. 

At the Metropole lords and ladies flowed in and out till I found myself 
able to use their titles as nonchalantly as we use nicknames on Broadway. 
What I couldn't get over was that none of them were stiff or hard to enter- 
tain. They all seemed crazy about everything American and eager to take 
up American jazz, American dance steps, American slang, and American 
mannerisms. One thing I had to learn was that though you could sing 
"point" songs to a gathering of these swells, you couldn't sing one, even an 
innocent one, in which royalty was mentioned. I had a song in which I 
referred to the Prince of Wales. I sang it just once, then the censor asked 
me to substitute another name for that of the prince in singing that particular 
song. I wrote in Sir Thomas Lipton, who got a great kick out of the joke. 

A lot of the same people came again and again to the Metropole: Sir 
Francis and Lady Towle, Lord Cowley, Lord Napier Allington and his 


mother Lady Allington, and Lord Ned Lakam. Lady Allington asked me 
to help her with the benefits she held at the Palace Theatre for the waifs of 
London. The Princess Royal, King George V's eldest sister, was the patroness. 
(The kick I got when I heard a woman comment; "Look, she's wearing her 
last year's hat!") The minute I heard that I switched all my songs. No off- 
color lyrics for that audience! 

After the benefit I enjoyed seeing everybody curtsey to the members of 
the royal family. Everybody but me. Just the same I was thrilled when Her 
Royal Highness gave me a real American handshake and said, "Pm delighted 
to know you, Miss Tucker, and my sincere thanks for your wonderful help/* 
Gosh, I thought, 1 wonder what she'd have said to me if I hadn't switched 
those songs! 

London was very gay because it was the season and there were a lot of 
benefits for every sort of charity. I averaged three to four a week; some of 
them tough, such as Lady Maud Tree's at Wyndham Theatre. A small house 
and nearly all women in the audience, with the Countess of AtHone sitting 
in the royal box. I sang my first song, and I could see they didn't know just 
how to take me. I guess I was like a gust of wind and hit them in the nose. 
During the second I could see them look at their programs, asking each 
other, "Who is she?** During the next song they wanted to laugh, but were 
too full of British reserve. With my last number I got a few laughs and I 
could hear the kid gloves applaud. But the ice sure was thick that day. 

Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Guinness gave a party in a converted mews back 
of their big house. It was a very intimate, jolly party, with a buffet supper 
served on the piano. There I met His Royal Highness Duke of Connaught 
and Princess Victoria. 

One of the parties I was asked to sing at was given by Lord Beaverbrook. 
His house and the treasures in it were so wonderful I nearly forgot my songs. 
Lord Beaverbrook was so friendly, and insisted on introducing me to every- 
body. To this day I carry with great pride an onyx cigarette case, the gift of 
Lord Beaverbrook. 

The Duncan Sisters were very popular in London at this time. They intro- 
duced me to Lady Michelham "Cupie," as she was nicknamed by her large 
circle of intimate friends. She was then a little over forty-five dark, not too 
short, and on the plumpish side a widow with two sons. We had been told 
of her great wealth, her host of friends, and her beautiful homes in Paris 
and in London. She invited me to a luncheon she gave for Madame Cecile 
Sorel, wlio came to London. Lord Allington and Harry Melville picked me 
up to take me to the luncheon. 


On the way the men kept raving about "Cissie" Sorel who, they said, had 
more lovers than any other woman in the world, besides being the idol of 
the Paris stage. Well sir, I took one look at Sorel and it fairly staggered me. 
She was a middle-aged woman, very homely, gaudily dressed, but wearing 
jewels worth a king's ransom. I sat and stared at her. I could have murdered 
Hanan Swaffer for saying I was ugly* What chances that guy spoiled for me! 
But I quickly found Sorel a most talented woman and a great artist. Even if 
both of us were not in the "good-looks" department, we each had something 
else worth having. 

When Cupie invited the boys. Sis, and me to dinner, we drove up to 20 
Arlington Place and saw a house which seemed all boarded up. I thought at 
first there was some mistake, but when the boys rang the bell, the footman 
ushered us into an enormous hall covered with rich red carpet so thick our 
feet sank into it. All around were marble statues and paintings, as in a 
museum. The footman announced, "Miss Sophie Tucker and party," and 
we were ushered into an enormous drawing room more paintings, more 
statues, exquisite laces, brocade hangings, furniture you were afraid to sit in. 
There must have been thirty people there and almost as many servants 
handing around cocktails. Our eyes nearly popped out. I couldn't talk in- 
telligently to Lady Michelham as I was trying to take everything in. The 
Duncan Sisters and our party were the only Americans there. Most of the 
guests had come only for cocktails. They left, and a small party went into 
the dining room for dinner. When I saw the solid-gold service on the table, 
my heart just about stopped. Sis gave me a look and I gave one back to her. 
We sure were up against it, with all that elaborate table service. I whispered 
to Sis, in Yiddish, to watch Lady Michelham, and do what she did. 

At my right sat Lord Ned Lakam, a handsome young man, a writer, who 
was crazy about professional people. I had seen him at the Metropole and 
at the theater too. He had a grand sense of humor and was a fine storyteller. 
Between listening to him and trying to wangle my way through the ten 
courses most of it food I had never tasted, seen, or even heard of before 
I got more and more excited. "My God, Lady Michelham, what's this? 
What's that?" I kept asking. 

The table was in an uproar. By the time we got to dessert, Ned was telling 
me a very funny story. The butler was serving peach ice cream in glass 
plates, finger bowls, fruit knives and forks, and what not. I hunted around 
for a teaspoon, but took my cue from Lady Michelham, who picked up what 
looked to be a small soup spoon and a fork. I followed suit, and was getting 
along all right with the dessert when I put down my fork and spoon to 


toward Ned to catch the finish of his story. Immediately the 
removed my plate. Fll never know what prompted me to sing out: a Hcy, 
there! Bring back that dessert!" 

Right away I knew I'd put my foot la it, and Fd have to think fast. I 
figured, 111 have to turn this Into a laugh to save my ignorant hide. I turned 
to Cupie. "Now* look, Lady Michelham, when I sat down I told you that 
never in my life had I seen such elegance as at this table. I asked you a lot 
of questions as we went 'along, and I watched every move you made with 
your knives and forks and spoons. Everything you did, I did, and I didn't 
make a single mistake. But I haven't finished with my dessert and I want it 

The table was in an uproar with laughter; Cupie was hysterical. The 
butler came back with my dessert, his face twitching, trying not to grin. 
Lady Michelham said: "Sophie dear, you failed to watch how* to place your 
fork and spoon when you have finished eating. You placed them parallel on 
your plate which over here means you want the plate removed. You should 
have crossed them." She showed me how it was done, and I told her she was 
the best teacher I had in London, 

The next day I read in the society columns: 

You must invite Sophie Tucker to your home. She is great fun. The questions 
she will ask . . . Her frankness about everything is priceless. 

Cupie and I became friendsa friendship which increased with the years 
until her passing. Every time 1 went over, her home in London and her home 
in Paris were open to me. 

Cupie fell in love with and married Fred Almy, who had the American 
Rodeo in London. How upset and unhappy she was because her two sons. 
Lord Michelham and young Jack Stern, were displeased over her marriage. 
Cupie came to America several times and we were together frequently 
during those visits. I lost a grand friend when she passed away. It meant a 
great deal to me when her son Jack sent me a miniature of his mother, which 
hangs near my bed. I was proud, too, when I read in the London papers 
about the auction at 20 Arlington Place, and the reporters mentioned "on 
the mantelpiece in Lady Michelham's bedroom were only two large photo- 
graphs, handsomely framed His late Majesty, King George V, and Sophie 

One night after the show at the Metropole Lord Napier Allington. came 
to my dressing room to take me to a party at the house of his cousin, Mrs. 


Belleville, in Grosvenor Square. He said the Prince of Wales was to be there. 

"Look, you're not kidding me?" I said. 

"No." He shook his head. "His Royal Highness is there. I was asked to 
bring you over to entertain for him." 

As we were starting, who should we bump into but Bill Gaxton and 
Madeleine coming to ask me to have supper with them. I told them I 
couldn't, as 1 was on my way to meet the Prince of Wales. 

"You big liar," they said, and began to razz me for trying to high-hat my 
old friends. 

"Naps" had hurried me away from the cafe so, as soon as we got to Mrs. 
Belleville's, I asked to be excused to fix my hair and my make-up. The room 
the maid took me to was at the top of the house. When I came downstairs, 
I couldn't find Naps. On every landing of the staircase were people laughing, 
eating, drinking, having fun. I looked into one or two rooms, but found 
nobody I knew. Standing in a doorway of a large drawing room on the 
second floor, I said to myself: "This is probably the room where I will sing." 
As I stood there a young man came through the room and smiled at me, 
"Good evening," he said. "I am so glad you're going to- sing for us." 

"Yes, brother, and I'm raring to go," I said. 

With that I suddenly sensed a lot of eyes were focused on both of us, and 
my teeth started chattering. If this was the prince, I sure had let myself in 
for something. The way he smiled, I realized it was. Fortunately, Lord 
Allington and Mrs. Belleville arrived in time to- stop me from making an- 
other wisecrack. 

The prince escorted me to the piano, and then he and all the others, fol- 
lowing his lead, took sofa pillows and sat down on the floor around me. That 
got into the papers too. To quote the press: 

Sophie has them sitting on the floor around her, like children listening to 
fairy tales. 

I sang and sang, the prince and all the others laughing, swaying with the 
music, and enjoying every song. I guess I didn't know when to stop. Teddy 
and Jack both played solos to give me a breathing space. The crowd that 
night went wild about the boys and danced to their music* London society 
sure was going crazy about American jazz. My night was perfect when the 
prince danced with me. What a fine dancer he was, and how apt when I 
showed him the fox trot we were doing back home. 

The Duke of Manchester "Kim," as he was called by* his friends loved 
professional people, and he asked Mel Gideon and Con Conrad to bring me 


out to his house at Battlcmcad-on-the-Thamcs one Sunday. His daughter. 
Lady Mary, was there too. Con Conrad was one of our ace song writers, who 
later married Franclne Larrlmore, He wrote a great song which I saag for 
him, "The Continental" Mel Gideon was an American song writer and a 
fine artist. He was In the Co-optimists show which was then running In 
London, He and his wife, Mabel Bunyea, made a big success in England and 
never went back home. 

Another Sunday we went down to Brighton to play a concert on the pier. 
Brighton is the Atlantic City o England, with a side dish of Coney Island, 
On the train going down were Leslie Henson and the American performers, 
the Trix Sisters, Mel Gideon, and Roy Roys ton, so we had a jolly trip* 111 
never forget the thrill I got when we saw our American flag waving on the 
pier. I hadn't seen it since we left home. Sis and I wanted to stand under 
it for just a moment. Imagine how we felt when we got out to the end of 
the pier and found the Stars and Stripes flying on top of a public toilet. We 
were plenty mad, but there wasn't a soul around to have an argument with. 
I was still mad all through the concert. When that was over, and I was 
called on for a speech, I got my inning. I concluded my speech by saying: 

"The next time I play Brighton, I hope to see our American flag wave over 
some Important building and not the lavatory!" 

Well, I guess the Stars and Stripes are flying from a lot of places of Im- 
portance in England right now! 

The next day was Jahrzeit (anniversary) of Pa's death. Sis and I drove 
down to London's East End to a poor little Orthodox shule to have Radish 
(a prayer) said for our beloved and departed father. The shule was as old 
as Methuselah and filled with the air of sanctity that you feel in any house 
of worship that people have been praying in for generations. 

Another who made us welcome was Ted ("Kid'*) Lewis, the fighter. I 
never knew an Englishman go nuts over Americans as he did. He and his 
wife, Elsie, took the boys and me all through the East End and to a lot of 
fights and introduced us everywhere. I'll never forget the tea party he and 
Elsie gave for four hundred boys from the free Jewish school in Petticoat 
Lane, at which I entertained. 

It seemed as if every boat that docked at Southampton brought more and 
more American show people. All of them ultimately turned up in my dress- 
ing room at the Hippodrome Theatre, or for supper at the Metropole. 

A few days later who should come along but Olsen and Johnson, the now 
famous Hellzapoppin boys. I had known them for years in vaudeville. Now 


they had come over to try their luck in London. By this time practically the 
whole United States has seen these two crazy guys, so everybody can 
imagine the laughs and fun we had. Sis, Teddy, Jack, Olsen, Johnson, and 
I went around to shows, to cafes, to sights. We all went out to see Kid 
Lewis fight Frank Burns. The place was jam-packed and the crowds so 
quiet you could hear a pin drop. But the yells that went up after the knock- 
out were deafening. Afterward Olsen and Johnson put on a burlesque of the 
fight and 1 laughed so hard I damn near broke a blood vessel. 

But the greatest time of all we had "with the Hellzapoppin* boys was on 
Derby Day, when we ill went to Epsom Downs along with Mr. and Mrs. 
Vogt, an English act, to try our luck with the horses. That was the greatest 
sight 1 ever saw in my life. Pouring rain, naturally, and the crowd on the 
road Rolls-Royces, gypsy carts, taxis, hacks, delivery wagons, lemonade 
venders, sapsage stands slosMng good-humoredly through the mud. More 
than a million people were at Epsom Efewns that day, from the richest to 
the poorest. Droves of bookmakers everywhere. TJbirty horses in the Derby 
and everyone betting from sixpence up. How we yelped when we backed 
the winner, Captain Cuttle. Boy, was that a day! " 

A few 1 days later Olsen fell sick. He was up at Teeny's flat and he couldn't 
be moved out of the place for eight solid weeks. Teddy had to find another 
flat, and between the five of us we took turns in tak|&g^ar^b poor Olie. 
The damn flat was up three flights of stairs (no elevator;, and I puffed and 
fumed every time I climbed up to it. One day Sis went up to do the cooking, 
and her stories of what went on with Chic Johnson thiiiku% up the 
damnedest things to do for laughs were funnier than any of the stunts the 
boys pulled in Hell^apoppiri . One day when I went over there after york, 
Johnson was Dressed up as a nurse. The next day, he was the char0>man. 
I'll never forget the day I went over to cook a hamburger dinner for Olie 
and found the Four Marx Brothers parked around the room, Al Herman, 
the black-faced comedian, and his wife, Madge, Bob Milo, Yvette Rugel, 
Teddy, Jack, Sam Joseph (the owner of London's foremost bookstore), who 
was Binnie Barnes's husband, Chic Johnson, and Sis thirteen of them, all 
yelling for hamburgers. Olie, the sick man, was in stitches, me in the kitchen 
hysterical and making hamburgers for that gang. That was a night! The 
bobby on the beat came upstairs to find out what the disturbance was all 
about, and we gave him the time of his life! 

Olsen and Johnson had bad luck that trip. They had had only a week or 
ten days over there before Olseh fell sick. London never did get to see the 
boys work, and so misse two great nuts. Olie and Chic are two^well fellows 


who away for years. They struggled for over twenty-five years,, 

when they came Into New York and took Broadway by storm with their 
show Hcttzapoppin' , there was nobody in show business more deserving of 
success than they. 

Our closing time was drawing near, A new show was going into the 
Hippodrome, and the Metropole was petting on a new revue. The papers 
publicized my last few weeks in London. Walter Wanger was at that time 
manager of the Rivoli Theatre in Whitechapel, in the East End, He came to 
ask me if I wouldn't play one week at the Rivoli sailing for home. 

This house had a sealing and standing capacity of five thousand; admission 
prices were tops- one shilling (twenty-five edits); other seats, sixpence 
(twelve cents). They had a 95 per cent Jewish audience. When the date came 
round I left my hotel in a taxi for the which started at two-thirty. 

When we got near the theater, waiiad to stop. The street was black with 
people, bobbies holding^ the crowd badb I asked the driver, "What's the 
crowd for? What's happened!/" He didn't know. A kid jumped up on the 
running board arM the driver asked him what was going on. 

The kid said, "The^Jewish actress, Sophie Tucker, is expected any 
minute!" "' "' 

I was proulfer $ tibat than of anything that had happened to me in 

In a minute^ the crowd recognized me and a cheer went up. The bobbies 
made wayfiol^e could get to the entrance. A big sign over the front of the 
house read: WELCOME, SOPHIE T0CKER, Americas -foremost Jewish 
actres^, The theater was hung with flags every sort of Mg except the Jewish 
one. @ i,; 

I got out of the taxi, and I was mobbed. It took half a dozen bobbies to 
fet me inside. The house was packed to capacity. What a reception they gave 
me! That welcome will always ring in my ears. I sang myself hparse that 
week six nights, six matinees to about 50,000 people. They came from all 
over London. That week I played at the Rivoli I went to a lot of Jewish 
restaurants and met all the Jewish actors of London. They ran me ragged 
with requests for autographs, photographs and touches. 

During that time I met an old friend of Pa's, Professor Mallinx. He was 
a cHjurer, and he used to do card tricks at our restaurant. It was years since 
I had laid eyes on him, but I recognized him the minute he was ushered 
into my dressing room. We sat there and talked about the past for an hour, 
rememberingjthe nickels and dimes he used to give me to sing for him. 


We had a big gala the last night of the Midnight Follies at the Metropole. 
The boys from Eton and Harrow had their party at the club that night, 
which added to the gaiety. Ethel Levey sang for me. There were flowers, 
speeches, gifts, and then "Auld Lang Syne," sung by everybody in the room 
all on their feet, singing. I remember among the crowd that night Princess 
Helena Victoria, the Duke of Connaught, Lady Curzon, Mr. and Mrs. Ben- 
jamin Guinness, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Guinness, Major Bridges (the hero of 
the Battle of the Marne in 1914), Jascha Heifetz, Elsa Maxwell, Lord and 
Lady Allington, Lord and Lady Orsery, Lady Michelham and her party, 
and ever so many more. When they swung into "For She's a Jolly Good 
Fellow," I felt the tears come to my eyes. Is it any wonder I say "The British 
are regulars too" ? 

CHAPTER 20: Everybody's P-d 

I CAME HOME BROKE. A swift run across the Channel to take a look at the 
night life of Brussels, Berlin, and Paris fixed that. But I had trunks full of 
gorgeous gowns that fairly screamed Rue de la Paix, and I had a complete 
stage setting of black patent-leather drops. I went for a lung ($1,000) for 
them. When the colored lights hit the drops, they turned all colors and 

"The IL S. A. has never seen anything like them," I told the Boss, on 
landing. "Wait till you see me in my black gown and black-and-silver wrap 
I got from Lucien Lelong, with the spray of real black paradise in my hair. 
And the boys in their tails against those drops! Get me a date at the Palace, 
Boss! Give me two weeks to get some new songs, and K11 be in the big money 

Fd already built up some terrific publicity on landing. The minute I saw 
the reporters and photographers come aboard, I rushed to my stateroom and 
got into a Paul Poiret royal blue suit trimmed in gray caracul. What a laugh 
when I barged in in front of the camera boys, leading the two German police 
dogs Fd bought in Berlin, and the boys saw I was wearing pants! Yes, it 
was Sophie Tucker, and not Marlene Dietrich, who introduced pants in 
the U. S. A. They got me into the headlines and the newsreels and were 
good for laughs any place. Yes, I beat Marlene to pants, but Fve got to admit 
she beat me in them as far as looks go. 

The Boss booked me into the Palace. ''Sophie Tucker, direct from her 
European triumphs, with Ted Shapiro and ]ac\ Carroll at the pianos' 9 


Smart billing now! I had to engage an electrician to work the special colors 
on my gorgeous patent-leather drops. But what a reception we got when the 
curtain went up: the two boys at the piano framed against those lovely 
"made-in-Paris" drops 5 and my entrance all in black and silver. Everything 
smacked of Paree. Was I proud! And was my MolIIe proud as she stood 
in the wings! 

"Now, honey, strut your stuff!" 

One of the triumphs of that engagement at the Palace was the following 
letter from Mr. Albee the one and only nice one I ever got from him in all 
the years I worked on his circuit: 

April 5, 1923 

Notwithstanding you have regulated yourself and act into a Sunday-school 
class, now and then an old pal will show up just as you are shaking hands with 
the Prince of Wales and say, "Well, Soph, how's tings?" 

One could not have a greater demonstration of the fine feelings of your 
present self than to be unstrung at the remark of your friends. To refrain, as you 
say, from swearing after you arrived at your dressing room, is the personification 
of your redemption from your hoop-la-high-da-do of years ago to your parlor 
entertainment of today. Marvelous change and very commendable, very com- 
mendable. What wouldst have me do? 


It was during this engagement in New York that Sime Silverman started 
to go to town for me. Sime's Variety was and still is the No. i vaudeville and 
theatrical paper. If Variety liked you, boosted you, you couldn't miss getting 
to the top. Your biggest booster was Sime himself if you had the stuff. 
What he did for Jimmy Durante will go down in the annals of show busi- 
ness. He saw a great talent and he saw to it that the whole world knew 
about Jimmy. Liberal, lovable Sime Silverman, the best-known figure on 
Broadway for years, with his curly chestnut hair and the one funny curl 
always out of order; a cigarette hanging from his lips at all times; his fingers 
yellow from nicotine; his low, rasping voice. A terrific personality. You never 
saw him go to a cafe, or any place, that he didn't have a gang with him. He 
and his wife, Hattie, and his son, Sid, all writing for Variety and making 
it the most powerful influence in American show business. 

It was Sime who gave me the new billing "Madame Sophie Tucker/ 5 and 
Arthur Unger, Sime's writer in Hollywood, later labeled me "La Belle 
Tucker.'' Today I'm "Soph" to Variety. It was always Sime Silverman's idea 


to handle everything and everybody with humor. A swell idea for publicity 

From my opening at the Palace in New York I went on to Boston, Phila- 
delphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chi- 
cago to show off the new act with my new billing Madame Sophie Tucker. 
I was the cats! And I don't mean maybe. 

I went out on the Orpheum Circuit to the West Coast. While in Chicago 
I signed on to do The Pepper Box Ret/ue for Ackemian and Harris. They 
were my first bosses at the old Chutes when I played San Francisco in 1910. 
Featured with me in the Revue were Joe Phillips and George Le Makethe 
same George Le Maire o the team Conroy and Le Maire, who gave me 
lessons In blackface make-up in my coon-shouting days. My contract was for 
ten weeks, to open in San Francisco after niy vaudeville tour. 

I finished the tour in Chicago and was much upset because Mollie was 
taken ill there. She could not walk up the stairs and was in great pain. The 
doctors looked grave and shook their heads. She was in no condition to 
travel, so I had to send her home. The parting after our being together so 
many years and through so many ups and downs broke us both up. I went 
West with a heavy heart, knowing I must look for a maid. I knew I would 
never find anyone to take Mollie's place. I struggled along, hiring somebody 
to help me weekly, and did the best I could until we started rehearsals in San 
Francisco. Then at the Curran Theatre I was lucky in finding another maid, 
who has been with me ever since. 

After the Revue folded I thought I would go down to Los Angeles and 
loaf for a bit something I hadn't done for a long time, I took a bungalow in 
a court on Westminster Boulevard in the midst of the movie colony, and 
went domestic in a big way. Will I ever forget the hamburger dinner I 
cooked for Fanny Brice and Aunt Jemima! How they laughed at the barren 
little bungalow after the elegant and luxurious homes of the movie stars! 
But I had fun with so many friends of earlier years in vaudeville coming out 
to Hollywood all the time. 

Of course I was bitten by the movie bug! I started out to see if I had any 
chance in the silent films. The Warner Brothers, Harry and Jack, were the 
first victims I asked to make a test of me. They sent me out to make an 
outdoor farm scene. All I remember is the silver-back reflectors used, and 
that I was dressed in a gingham outfit and told to roll a big barrel up and 
down a hill. I looked as large as the Rocky Mountains. Worked a whole day 
on this test and nothing happened. After I took a look at the rushes, I 
made up my mind I was wasting time hanging around the edges of Holly- 


wood. 1 had neither beauty nor glamor to offer the screen. I went down to 
the Orpheum Theatre to sec Harry Singer, then the manager there, 
asked for some dates. I played the Orpheum tour back to Chicago, then more 
vaudeville in the East and so into New York. 

Through the next two years 1 played steadily in vaudeville back and forth 
across the country; the Orpheum Circuit and the Pantages and SiilEvan- 
Considine circuits on the West Coast. My old friend, Marcus Loew, had just 
brought out these rivals of the Orpheum Circuit. I had built up a big follow- 
ing on the West Coast and made several trips, with longer stays than the 
other acts in the cities there. Sis and Amy Leslie went along with me on one 
o these trips Son was already' in California, living with Nellie V. Nichols, 
recuperating from sinus trouble. On the next trip Eva and Sadie Mandel, 
two of the four big zojtig daughters of the Mandel family who had the 
restaurant on State Street, Chicago, went along for the fun. We had a tre- 
mendous bill on that trip the first real big vaudeville bill presented on the 
West Coast Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields, Frank Fay, Mosconi 
Brothers, Margaret Young, Jack Pearl, Emma Cams, Karyl Norman (the 
Creole fashion plate), blackfaced comedian Al Herman and his wife, Madge, 
William Haines (who made a nice place for himself in the movie world), 
a pair of fine hoofers. Jack Coogan and Eddie Cox, (Jack was the father o 
Jackie Coogan who was soon to spring into fame as the "Kid" with Charlie 
Chaplin.) Montague Love had a fine dramatic sketch, which landed him in 
the movies. Pola Negri, also on our bill, barely got over with the audience, 
but the movie scouts picked her for a type and she promptly skyrocketed to 
fame in the silent pictures. Handsome Clara Kimball Young was another 
performer on our bills who made the grade in Hollywood. These big bills 
were shown only in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The silent pictures were 
forging ahead so rapidly they were putting a dent in the vaudeville business. 
Theater managers were worried and were trying to fight the advance of the 
movies by putting on tremendous shows. 

Helen Keller, with her teacher, Mrs. Macy, was on our bill too. She was 
a darling and full of fun. I got a great kick out of making her up for the 
show, dressing her. She would laugh, place her fingers on my mouth to read 
my lips, and howl with laughter at some off-color story or word I'd say to 

There were parties at all San Francisco's , wonderful eating places, but 
some of our best fun went on at Coffee Dan's, across the street from the 
Orpheum, where the performers would go for ham and eggs and laughs. 

During my engagement in San Francisco, President Harding arrived there 


to stay at the Palace Hotel. During the days he lay 111, the whole city was 
tense, and his death plunged San Francisco into mourning, I had met Presi- 
dent Harding a few months before, when I played Washington at Keith's 
Theatre. He saw our show and enjoyed the whole bill. We all met him 

While still in San Francisco I had a letter from the warden of San Quentin 
Prison, asking me if I would entertain the boys there. I wired him that I 
would bring a few acts the next day, Sunday. I took Al Herman, Margaret 
Young, and Aveling and Lloyd. Teddy went along to play for us. It was a 
glorious morning when we took the boat across the Bay. The fields over in 
Marin County were ablaze with yellow poppies, blue lupin, and purple iris. 
We were all in high spirits until we came in sight of the high, ugly prison 
walls. Those walls made us all dry up. No more laughing, clowning for our- 
selves. We had to make the men behind those ugly walls laugh. Some job 
to put on the old phony smile when your heart cries for everyone shut up 
in that grim pile. We had lunch with the warden in his quarters, then we 
went into the hall to entertain the boys. It was a swell show we put on, and 
the prison walls rang with laughter, applause, and cheers. 

After the show the warden asked me if I would see some of the boys who 
were sick and unable to go to the hall The first one we met was Tom 
Mooney. Meeting him, talking to him, you knew he could never do such a 
diabolical job as bomb the Preparedness Parade. The warden pointed out 
one prisoner who had killed eighteen women. He looked the murderous 
type, sullen and greasy. He was in the house for killers and going to the 
chair. In the hospital, which was as clean as a whistle, were dozens of men 
in the wards or coming in and out for treatment. The warden said: "Miss 
Tucker, meet our trusty, Norman Shelby. Possibly you knew him as Kid 

For a minute I couldn't get my speech, "Kid McCoy? Of course I knew 
him! What's he doing here?" 

"He killed the woman he was living with," the warden said. 

Kid McCoy recognized me. He came toward me with outstretched hands a 
tears running down his face. "My God! Sophie Tucker! I'm happy to see 
your smiling face. I couldn't get away to the hall to hear you. I had a sick 
man I couldn't leave. What I wouldn't give to hear you sing again!" 

The warden left us to reminisce, and we had plenty to talk about. Eighteen 
years ago Kid McCoy's Rathskeller, under the Martinique Hotel, at Thirty- 
first Street and Broadway, was one of New York's well-known spots. Many 
a night I went there and Kid McCoy would let me sing for the crowd and 


with twenty to thirty dollars pick-up money all in silver dollars, 
quarters thrown on the floor while I was singing. Then Kid McCoy 
was in his heyday s a pugilistic success, and I was struggling to find my way 
ia show business. I never knew he was in trouble, or doing a stretch. Life 
is funny. You're on top one day, down the next, 

I was ready to leave. The whole afternoon had been very trying; to keep 
smiling to all the boys, with a kind wordj a joke, a laugh for each one* The 
warden stopped me. He asked me to come to one of the hospital wards. 
"There's a man here who knows you very well a very sick man. He heard 
the boys talk of the show you brought down. Won't you please come over 
to see him?" 

The man lying in the bed was nearly sixty years old. I knew him well. He 
was Herman Roth, the lawyer, once prominent in New York. I was sud- 
denly sick at the pit of my stomach. "May I have a chair. Warden, please? 
Sure, I know Herman. He is a friend of mine. A great friend to the profes- 
sion. Many times I have asked his help for fellow artists in trouble. And he 
took care of them all without a fee, n I asked Herman what had happened 
that put him in San Quentin. He told me that Barbara La Marr had had him 
railroaded and sent there. I could hardly sit there without crying. His pallor, 
his cough scared me. It broke my heart to see him there, thousands of miles 
from his home and family in New York, left to die alone In prison. 

"Keep your chin up, Herman," I said. "FI1 do something for you if I have 
to spend my last cent." 

We got back to San Francisco about six that afternoon. I had just two 
hours before my train left for Los Angeles. I jumped into a taxi and drove 
out to my friend Chief Dan O'Brien's house. I told him about Herman. 
"I /don't know anything about the case. All I know is that he was a friend 
of the actors. Now he Is sick; dying alone miles away from home." I made 
Dan promise to make every effort to get Herman out of San Quentin and 
sent home to die. A few weeks later Dan called me to tell me Herman was 
on his way East. And the letter Herman sent me before he passed away 
made me feel that the friends I had made in California, such as Dan and 
Governor James Rolfe, were real friends and always willing to help when 
called upon. 

Now here's something which may be coincidence, though I think not. 
I'll always believe that my visit to San Quentin that day, and what I was 
able to do for the boys there especially poor Herman brought me a 
prompt reward. That night I left San Francisco on the Lark at 8 P.M. instead 
of our earlier train. Our train had just pulled out of Santa Barbara, we 


weren't fifteen minutes out and away from the station, when the earthquake, 
which damaged Santa Barbara's railroad station and town, occurred. None 
of us heard the rumble as the train was going pretty fast, but the conductor 
came by to tell us what had happened. Gosh, did I say a prayer o thanks! 

I enjoyed my stay in Los Angeles that trip. The town was full of people 
I knew. Friends from old days in vaudeville now making careers in pictures. 
I got to know a number of the movie celebrities. I went out to the studios 
to watch them work. Aside from the celebrities, every studio seemed to have 
any number of beautiful girls who had to be taught to act. I used to look 
on and listen in amazement. The director with his megaphone, tearing his 
hair out, bursting blood vessels, shouting: "Go to the door! Open it. Look 
out. Be surprised. Surprised, damn it, not happy! Close the door." Hours and 
hours spent teaching gorgeous-looking creatures how to open and close a 
door, how to look surprised, horrified, happy. I kept wondering why the 
studios went through so much hell, but I had to be satisfied with the same 
answer from every director I asked why they bothered with such and such 
an actress: "She is a gorgeous creature." 

How those gorgeous creatures took gas when the talking pictures came in. 

We were out at Warner Brothers Studio one day when Belle Bennett was 
making Stella Dallas. I had known Belle when she was in vaudeville years 
before. I admired and liked her immensely. I was particularly fond of her 
brother, a handsome boy of seventeen, who was there in Hollywood with 
her a swell kid in every way. The boy was taken ill and rushed to a 
hospital Belle was on the set, worried and sick at heart, as she told Mrs. 
Upright, one of her and my intimate friends, and me that day. But true to 
the code of the profession, she was carrying on. Mrs. Upright and I were 
watching her, full of admiration for her work, when the message came that 
she must go to the hospital at once. Mrs. Upright and I took her there. We 
were met by the doctor and a nurse. They told her she must be brave, that 
her brother was dying. It was only a matter of a few hours. 

"Brother?" she cried. "He's my son! My son! I must tell him before he 
goes that I am his mother! He never knew me as Motheronly as Sister 

What passed between that swell kid and Belle that afternoon no one liv- 
ing will ever know. He died in a few hours. Meanwhile, the studio kept 
calling her to go on with Stella Dallas. What a trouper Belle Bennett was! In 
one week she was back at work. Stella Dallas was finished. It was a great 
picture. Had there been Academy awards at that time, Belle Bennett would 
have won the Oscar. 


What made Stella Dallas the best picture of 1925 wasn't the director^ or 
the publicity department, or the Warner Brothers Studio It was Belle Ben- 
nett, the mother for one hour only something only her intimate friends 

I was still playing around Los Angeles* having fun, when a wire came 
from the Boss to say he had booked me to play the fashionable Kit-Kat Klub 
in London. I hopped East and sailed to keep the engagement in August 
1925. 1 followed Ted Lewis and the Dolly Sisters after their long and suc- 
cessful engagement there. 

I looked forward with delight to returning to London where 1 had made 
so many friends and had such success three years before. Sis went with me 
again, and my good friend, Mrs. Sim Kracko, of Chicago, Ted Shapiro was 
my pianist. Jack Carroll having left the act when he got married a few 
months before. I now had a one-piano act, but I had a lot of swell new 
songs and I was confident I could not only repeat the success I'd had in 1922, 
but do better. 

The Kit-Kat Klub was in the Haymarket next door to a cinema. You 
entered from the street into a fair-sized lobby, checked your things off at 
one side, and made a grand entrance down a wide staircase into a huge 
room done in white and gold, with luscious red hangings. Settees ran 
around all four sides. No matter where you sat, you saw everybody as they 
entered. The bandstand faced the staircase, and a spacious balcony ran 
all around the room. The balcony was a rendezvous for the professional 
people. It was only on the balcony that Klub members were permitted in 
street dress; no one could dance on the floor unless he was in dinner clothes. 
I had them build a platform for me in front of the bandstand so I could 
see everybody in the place and everybody could see me easily. 

The Kit-Kat Klub was a membership club, with an entrance fee of a 
guinea. It was very swank, but I noticed many more Americans in every 
club, cafe, restaurant, and theater than there had been in 1922. Stock- 
brokers, salesmen and their wives proof of America's postwar prosperity. 
They were welcomed everywhere as good customers; on the noisy side, but 
free spenders. 

At the Kit-Kat Klub Brooke Johns and his Oklahoma Collegians, featur- 
ing Goody Montgomery, a very fine dancer, opened with me. Brooke Johns 
was a big handsome six-footer, who had a fine band and was very popular 
in London. Later on he left the band business and became a country gentle- 
man, living outside of Washington, D. C. 

Opening night was sensational. The ovation the crowd gave me lasted at 


least six minutes and warined my heart. The manager, Colonel Jones, and 
Mr. Poulson, the maitre d'hotel, had told me earlier in the evening that 
there were a lot of important people in the room, including Lord Louis and 
Lady Mountbatten, Viscount Castlerosse, who was on the "Daily Express, 
the Marquis of Donegal (the Walter Winchell of the Sunday Dispatch}, 
Lord Beaverbrook and party, Lord Napier Allington and party (good old 
"Naps"), Lady Loughborough, the Duke of Manchester and party, the Hon- 
orable Mr. and Mrs. Richard Norton, and Lord and Lady Port Arlington. 
There were also many of the professionals, Ethel Levey, Alice Delysia, 
Tallulah Bankhead (then having a great success in The- Green Hat), Bea- 
trice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Ella Retford, Leslie Henson, Mel Gideon, 
Maisie Gay, Barry and Gertie Lupino, and my own intimate friends, such 
as the Cohens, were out in force. 

The biggest thrill of the evening was when His Royal Highness, the 
Prince of Wales, came in. He sneaked in on the balcony, as he wasn't dressed 
and he came only to hear me sing. I kept trying to spot him up there, but 
I couldn't. I wondered how he was going to take one of my new songs, 
"I'm the One the Prince Came Over Here to See/ 5 which, of course, was a 
play on his recent visit to the United States. The prince didn't object to- it. 
In fact, as I learned later, he was the one who laughed the loudest. But the 
London County Council did object. One of its members spoke to the man- 
ager and I was asked to eliminate the number from my routine from then 
on. The story got into the press, which went to town with it. Across Eng- 
land and America and across the whole British Empire went the flash: 


There was such a stew about the incident, and so much unfavorable 
publicity, it nearly killed off my contract at the Kit-Kat Klub. Finally, I 
went to Lord Beaverbrook about it. I said, "Can't you make the folks over 
here understand I didn't mean any offense to the prince? We can say things 
like that in my country. I'm an American. I didn't know I couldn't say 
it over here." Lord Beaverbrook saw my point. He ordered the story killed 
in his papers, and the fuss blew over. 

My engagement at the Kit-Kat Klub was originally for eight weeks. Then 
the contract was extended for an additional ten wfeeks. It called for doubling 
in the music halls. One of these where I played a long run was the Alhambra 
Theatre. I'll never forget when I came into the Alhambra to do my first per- 
formance. There was the orchestra leader seated in a huge, comfortable 


armchair directing his show. He had no Idea of Jazz, Tec! 1 
to laugh to see how he gradually woke up to the new American rhythm, 
getting more and more interested each day, until by the end of the first 
week of my engagement he was doing his directing on his feet. He became 
one of the greatest jazz enthusiasts in London. It was at the AUiambra that 
Gracie Fields made her London debut oa the bill with me. She has a great 
talent, a great flair for comedy, and was a very big success. 

In 1925 London was sporting a new type of rendezvous- small, intimate 
places, each with its own crowd. The most celebrated of these, the Forty- 
three Club, was owned and run by Mrs. Merritt, whose daughters later 
married into the nobility. The Forty-three Club was like our speak-easy 
joints. The only difference was that it was decorated with women, more 
women, and again more women. And the sky was the limit. 

The cafe at the Piccadilly was another popular night spot. I doubled there 
awhile and then I went over to help in Chariot's Revue, In which Jack 
Buchanan, Beatrice Lillie, and Gertrude Lawrence three great artists 
were appearing. I went to pinch-hit for Maisie Gay, the leading comedienne, 
who took sick, and I only filled a gap in the Revue, coming in just before 
closing time and* singing a few songs. I couldn't have done much more 
considering that at the time I was averaging over forty songs a day. Andre 
Chariot was very much worried as to what he would pay me, so I told 
him that I was just helping out a fellow artist and he could send me a 
bunch of flowers. I was repaid by the paragraph that appeared in the Sun- 
day Referee: 

A ray of sunshine (and some ray) fell across my path, however, when Sophie 
Tucker came along from the Alhambra to strengthen the show. Sophie would 
prove a veritable tower of strength to any show. She is a very remarkable artist. 

After playing the Alhambra I doubled at the Holburn Empire Theatre; 
also at the Coliseum. There was one week when I played the following 
theaters without missing a performance: the Coliseum, matinee and night 
show, in a legitimate play called The Monkey Tal^s. It was a French comedy 
of circus life and I appeared as a singing clown in the prologue of the show, 
doing a straight dramatic bit and singing four songs. From the Coliseum I 
went on to double at the Piccadilly Hotel cabaret; then to do my bit in 
Chariot's Revue; and from that on to the Kit-Kat Klub. That was the most 
hectic week I can recall in my entire experience in show business, doing 
different numbers and wearing different clothes in four shows a night. I 
was drawing top salary now. 


Hanan S warier paid me a great tribute when he said in the Daily Express; 

What Mistlngoette is to the little Parisian midinette, so Sophie Tucker em- 
bodies the very spirit o American sentimental and syncopated emotion. In Eng- 
land we have Marie Lloyd; in Paris they have Mistinguette; Sophie Tucker is no 
less a triumph for America. 

I've already spoken of Tallulah Bankhead and what a sensation she was 
in London. I went to see her show and she gave a brilliant performance. It 
was there that I first learned about the "Gallery First-nighters" a club of 
men and women, about one hundred strong who went to every first-night 
opening. When they liked you personally, no matter how bad the show 
was, they made you a riot. I've never seen such a demonstration in any 
theater in the whole U. S. A. as they gave that night at The Green Hat. 
Leslie Bloom, the president of the First-nighters, was a great friend of the 
Cohens and I had met him at their home. He gave me a dinner at the club 
rooms and I welcomed the opportunity of making friends with a very 
powerful crowd. At that dinner I put my foot in it. Between two of the 
courses I asked Ted for a cigarette. He lit it for me, and at that moment 
Leslie Bloom sprang to his feet and proposed a toast to the King. I didn't 
know till later that the rule was no one smokes until after the toast to the 
King, which marks the conclusion of the meaL 

I was getting to know a lot of professionals. In the theater, British show 
people are very conservative and stand-offish at first* They never speak to 
you unless you speak to them first, but after you get to know them they are 
friendly and great fun to work with. And what a memory they have for old 
favorites. Ill never forget going to see George Robey in SJ(yHigh a couple 
of nights after we landed and before my opening at the Kit-Kat Klub. He 
welcomed me from over the footlights and the whole audience greeted me. 

But another experience I had later on during that stay in London was 
still more remarkable. Fred Lonsdale was putting on The Last of Mrs. 
Cheyney, starring Sir Gerald du Maurier and Gladys Cooper. Ina Claire 
came over to see the show to take it back to America, where she made a great 
hit in it. I was invited to the opening, and I told Mr* Lonsdale I would be 
a little late, but I had asked at the theater to be put on earlier in the bill so 
I could get to the premiere. A premiere in London is a sight worth seeing. 
By the time I drove up to the St. James's Theatre it was eight forty-five, and 
I was sure the show would be on. I rushed in aad sneaked up quietly into 
Lady du Manner's box, where she, her two daughters one of them Daphne, 
who wrote the 1940 best seller and sensational picture, Rcbecc&r and Ina 

PAL 215 

Claire were seated. No curtain up as yet, but the was 1 

looked down from the box to see was happening, I a few 

friends in the audience and waved to them* The house was 
madly BOW, so I applauded too. There was a roar of laughter* 1 kept on 
applauding^ and turned to Lady du Maurier. 

"What's holding up the show?" 

**You are, my dear," she replied. "The audience has recognized you. Until 
you bow to them and acknowledge your reception, the curtain won't go up." 

Well, I damn near fell out of the box. Then I turned quickly, bowed, 
threw kisses, waved right and left, and yelled: "Go on! Start the show!" 
Fancy a performer in the United States walking into a theater to see a show 
and holding up the curtain! But that's London when they like you. 

The Kit-Kat management had a place called the Cafe de Paris at Bray- 
on-the-Thames, which was very popular on Sundays. I was compensated for 
my extra day's work there. The management would send a car for me to 
the hotel at n A.M. After a twenty-eight-mile ride through the beautiful 
English countryside I would get to Bray for lunch on the lawn which sloped 
down to the river. The tables were set under colored umbrellas; al the 
guests would be in sport clothes. After lunch, parties would split up and 
go out on the river in punts and canoes. (Not me. I stuck to the motorboat.) 
Cocktails, from six to seven-thirty; dinner at eight. Dinner was served inside 
and outside on the terrace. After dinner, about 10 P.M., I would entertain, 
There was a small orchestra of two or three pieces and everything was very 
informal It was like a house party. And I would sing for an hour or more. 
After a time or two the place was so crowded I said: "Come on. Everybody 
get a cushion and sit down on the floor. Get comfortable." Sitting on the 
floor became the thing after that. I didn't intend to start a custom; it was 
something that just happened. It was here, at the Cafe de Paris, that I intro- 
duced the "blackboard" and taught the British folk a great many of our 
popular songs. I had the chorus of each song painted on a canvas and would 
have it set up like a blackboard in a schoolroom, and make everybody join 
in the choruses with me. 

And everybody means everybody. Every Sunday the Cafe de Paris was 
crowded with nobility, theatrical people, swells. I got a great kick one night 
when my fiance, Al Lackey, was there having dinner with me. While we 
were dining, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent, came over and spoke 
to him, thinking he was Lou Holtz. Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Lasky were our 
guests that Sunday night. 

Yes, I had a new love affair by this time. I'd met Al when I was working 


at Relsenweber's. He used to come there with four or five Philadelphia boys. 
They all worked out o a brokerage office in Wall Street. They were all 
great fans of mine, the boys. Never any women at their table. I would pass 
their table, say, "Hello, how are you?** but I didn't know one of them 
by name. One night Lou Clayton, of the Clayton, Jackson, and Durante trio, 
was at the table with them. That night I did something I very rarely did 
at the cafe* That was to dance. I stepped out with an out-of-town friend of 
mine and as we passed the boys Clayton started to rib me about dancing 
with one of them. I kidded him back. For some reason I'll never know 
why I picked out one of the boys and said, "I'll have the next dance with 
you." That was how I met Al Lackey. He was a swell dancer, and I love 
to dance. Night after night he and the boys would be at Reisenweber's 
and Fd get a dance. After my show they would go on to other late spots, 
or upstairs to our Paradise Room, and I would be invited to go along. Some- 
times AI took me out alone, and we had a lot of fun. I was eight years older 
than he but in spite of the difference in age it was love right from the first. 
And so the big romance of my life got started. 

The first time I went to London Al cabled me he was coming over. He 
came and stayed several months. When I was playing around the United 
States, we were together whenever it was possible. Al was a great help to 
me. He had a number of irons in the fire, but no steady* job. We kept hop- 
ing things would work out so- he would be in a position for us to marry. 
I'd had one experience of being married to a man who made less money 
than I made, and I knew what that situation did to romance. I wasn't going 
to repeat it, no matter how much I was in love. When I went to England in 
1925, Al came over again, so we could be together. 

Brooke Johns left for America and Isham Jones came into the Kit-Kat 
Klub with his orchestra. This meant rehearsals again on top of all the other 
work I was doing. I kept changing songs every week at the Klub and at 
the theaters where I played constantly. I had three outstanding song hits 
that season. In the theater it was my "Yiddisha Mama," which Jack Yellen 
wrote for me. I sang it in English and in Yiddish, and the song was 
tremendously popular, not only with the Jewish public but generally. The 
phonograph records of it have had an enormous sale. From that season, 
whenever I have gone to England, my "Yiddisha Mama" is one of the 
songs the audience always demands. It is identified with, me every bit as 
much as "Some of These Days." In the Klub my most popular numbers 
were "Nobody Loves a Fat Girl" and "Me and Myself." The popularity of 
these two songs was due to that thing I discovered early in my career in 


show business that an audience enjoys hearing you make fun of yourself. 
At our Sunday nights at Bray and on other nights at the Klub the crowd 
would shout for me to sing "Me and Myself/* 


I read of married folks who don*t get along. 

I know of all their little troubles. 

I hear of people finding romance all wrong, 

And agree to disagree. 

They have a barrel of care. 

But I'm In no hurry to share 


I get along with me and myself. 
Me gets along so well with myself. 
No one to lie to, say hello or good-by to; 
So I'm happy, sez I to myself. 

Getting in late and getting in wrong, 

Trying to make your alibis strong, 

Makes you grow older 

With a chip on your shoulder; 

I live and love It, but there's not enough of it, 

Just to spend It and end it with somebody 

No one, but me and myself. 


I want to take this opportunity to tell you folks that 

Me and myself are real pals. 

I wake up every morning, fresh as a lark, 

No one around swearing about a collar button; take my little exercise, skip over 

to the mirror and say: 

Greetings, Sophie. And the mirror smiles back and the day Is started right. 
Thren at breakfast, when there's only one piece of toast left, 
I don't have to grab for it. Myself sez to me: 
Soph, old girl, finish the toast. You must be hungry. 
And I say to myself: I don't mind if I do. No arguments at all. 

*Copyright, 1945, by Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc. (International copyright secured.) 


Then when I find that I need a lot of new clothes 

I don't have to run over to any fat old tyrant in Oxford bags 

And call him Darling when I'd like to kill him. 

Myself sez to me, Soph, old thing, you need a lot of new clothes. 

And I say to myself, you're right, old thing! 

And I go out and buy just what I want. 

No questions asked. 

Then when the first of the month rolls round, 

The first of the month when the bills clutter up the vestibule, 

The first of the month when every wife is humble, 

What do I do? I open them up boldly. I show them to myself. 

Myself sez to me: Soph, old top, send them over to your gentleman friend. 

He'll take care of them! 


That's why I get along with me and myself. 
Nothing goes wrong with me and myself. 
1 live and love it, but there's not enough of it, 
That's why I'll hurry and worry about nobody 
No one but me and myself. 

Just picture getting an audience of British swells warmed up to sing 
that song with you. They changed some of the punch lines "fresh as a 
lark" to "fresh as a daisy," "collar button" to "collar stud." Funny, those 
Britishers couldn't say "at all" quick and brisk like I do. I'd make them say 
it over after me. They would try, but they got all tied up, and then the 
fun would start. When we came to "no questions asked" well, you can 
guess how they said "ahhs\ed." I'd stop them. 

"Is that how I say it?" 

"No!" they would yell. 

"All right! Now, how do I say it?" 

And then all together: "Aaasked!" 

As fast as I introduced new songs, I gave them away to British performers; 
so many were giving impersonations of me, and I had great fun teaching 
them |he numbers. I was very proud when Alice Delysia asked for some of 
my songs. Ella Retford was the first British star to give an impersonation 
of me, and I made her do it one night at the Kit-Kat alongside of me. 

It was at the Kit-Kat that I introduced Binnie Barnes to her own people. 
Ted had been palling around London with Sam Joseph. Binnie was Sam's 
girl, whom he later married. Binnie was then playing around the smaller 

PAL 219 

clubs la London. Ted thought she had something, and started 
rehearsing her. After he had her set he asked me to give her a chance at the 
Kit-Kat. I did, and she was a big hit right from the start. From she 
went on to her success in America in the movies. 

My coffee parties were getting very popular in London. The first 
1 was over there I found I just couldn't drink what the Britishers call coffee. 
So when I went back in 1925 I filled one compartment in my trunk with 
Maxwell House coffee (I should get a nice check for this plug)* Anyway, 
I toted pounds of Maxwell House coffee aad dozens of tins of Carnation 
condensed milk to London. I took along my own percolator, the con- 
nection changed for British current, and after that I had my coffee the way 
I liked it. All the Americans I knew in London knew this, and a lot of my 
British friends too. Often I would serve ten to fifteen people in my sitting 
room. Whenever we ate in the hotel dining room, the page boy would 
bring the percolator of coffee from my room to the table. That would be a 
signal for every American in the room to bring over his cup and ask for a 
drink. I guess I was living up to the billing they gave me in London that 

Naturally, there were a lot of benefits going on and I played them when- 
ever I was asked. They were swell publicity for me, of course. At that time 
I didn't know the value of the AP service, and I didn't have- a personal 
publicity man. I did my own job. I saw to- it that every newspaperman and 
-woman I knew in the U. S. A. and Eddie Darling got clippings every" week 
from all the British papers that wrote me up. My paper bill was over two 
pounds (ten dollars a week), including the stamps for postage, but I 
figured it was important to keep the press at home in the know. The prestige 
I was rolling up in London should be good box office for me when I played 
vaudeville houses in the United States again. 

I had opened at the Kit-Kat on August 31, and I went right on there 
and played the music halls until New Year's Eve. In addition to the shows 
and the cafe work and the benefits, there were any number of parties at 
private houses at which I was asked to entertain. These were at the fashion- 
able houses in London. The smartest of all the parties was also the smallest. 
There were only eight guests. This was the party that Lady Loughborough 
gave for the Prince of Wales at her house in Talbot Square. During the 
evening I was sent for to sing for the prince. His equerry. Captain Alastair 
Macintosh, came and escorted me to Lady Loughborough J s. Alii later mar- 
ried Constance Talmadge and has been a figure around New York for some 
years. That night I took Sis and Fred Almy along with me to the party. 


Fred had just brought the American Rodeo over to London, and Lady 
Michelham was busy falling in love with him. That special intimate little 
party at Lady Loughborough's was as informal and full o fun as a party 
of college kids over here. I sang all the songs the prince called for. He loved 
playing the ukulele. He got me to teach him my song, "Ukulele Lady." 
That same night I taught him the Charleston, then all the rage in the United 
States. Ted Shapiro was very, very popular now at all the house parties. The 
Prince o Wales had Ted with him many times alone, to play for him. 

It was just before Christmas that we got word from home that Ma wasn't 
well, and it would be best for Sis to go back. For many years Ma had suffered 
from diabetes. She was told if she watched her diet carefully she would live 
to a ripe old age. She did this religiously. For years she had kept up 
marvelously and gotten every bit of enjoyment out of my success and out 
of what she was now able to do for her pet charities. 
Sis caught the first boat for home, and I pitched into a few weeks of extra 
heavy work, what with all the Christmas festivities and private parties and 

The first cables I got from Sis, after she got home, were reassuring. I 
snatched a few days" holiday right after New Year's and ran over to Paris 
to get some clothes and have some fun with Jennie and Rosie Dolly, who 
lived there. But I was back at work again in London inside of ten days. I 
had been signed up by Mr. Julian Wylie to star in one of his revues. I 
planned to do this directly I finished my contract at the cafe, so as to be 
ready to rehearse and open early in February. Then came the cable that 
was handed to me at the Alhambra Theatre during the matinee on a Wed- 
nesday. I knew before I opened it the message would be either "Come 
home at once," or "Mama is gone." My fingers turned to thumbs and my 
heart stood still There were just four words. "Make first boat home." 

There was no boat until Saturday. I called Harry Foster and the managers 
o the theater and the Kit-Kat and told them: "I'm closing Friday night, 
sailing Saturday morning," and gave them, my reason. They objected, told 
me I couldn't break my contracts that I'd have to fulfill them. My answer 
was: "The hell with you and your contracts! My mother comes first. I'm 
doing what we do in my country. You can always get success, money, but 
you can't get another mother. I'll make up my contracts on my next trip over. 
But I'm leaving on Saturday, and that's final." 

God alone knows how I managed tQ do my shows at the theater and at 
the Klub through Wednesday night, Thursday, and Friday. But the show 
went on. I'm trouper enough not to fall down on that tradition. The Kit- 

MY MAMA 221 

Kat advertised my farewell night on Friday* ! never went through a per- 
formance with such a heavy heart. What nearly bowled me the 
crowd that packed the place to say good-by to me. There were royalty, 
nobility, theatrical managers, producers, the leaders in the theatrical profes- 
sion, and hundreds of friends that I had made during my two London 
seasons. All so friendly 3 all so kind, all so eager to let me see that they were 
feeling for me 3 and no matter what It was I was going home to I could count 
on their affection and support. There were tears in my eyes when we came 
to "Auld Lang Syne" and "She's a Jolly Good Fellow." 

But I couldn't leave them like that. That's not show business. No tears 
at work. I gulped down the lump in my throat and started to call on all 
the performers in the room Clssie Loftus, Alice Delysia, George Grossmith, 
Hilda Glyder, Ethel Levey, Elk Retford 5 Heather Thatcher, Lew Hern, 
Eddie Chester, Fay Marbe. I introduced Fay to the British public that night, 
which was the night before her opening at the Cafe de Paris. 

What a gala night! What I did at the Metropole in 1922 I did on a bigger 
scale. Now I dared take liberties with my British friends, I was standing on 
my platform in the middle of a bower of flowers and three enormous double 
magnums of champagne (I gave one to Ted, who clasped it to his chest 
all the rest of the evening) when I looked over toward the staircase. A 
party was just coming in, very late. I thought: I know that little fellow. 
He's an American. Then I saw his face, and I nearly whooped. 

It was Irving Berlin, whose marriage to Ellin Mackay had filled all the 
papers in America and in London. After the marriage they had ducked the 
press and came over to England. That was all anyone knew. They had given 
the reporters the slip and kept in hiding until that night. 

"Hello, Irving/' I sang out. And then, "Ladies and gentlemen, Intro* 
ducing America's foremost song writer and my old friend, Irving Berlin!" 

Poor Irving looked as if he didn't know what the hell hit him when there 
was a terrific welcome of applause. Then up he came, sat down at the piano, 
and, like old times, Irving played and I sang his old numbers. 

And that was how I left London. 

CHAPTER 21 : My Yiddisha Mama 

SOUTHAMPTON in the pouring rain. Bitter cold. Everybody hurrying to get 
out of the raw January fog and aboard the big luxurious Leviathan. It 
seemed to me I couldn't wait for her to pull away from the dock and nose 
out through the Solent toward home. It was a beastly crossing all the way. 


It seemed as though the sky and the sea were taking their color and mood 
from my feelings. I spent my time in bed, hugging my prayer book and 
making trips to the wireless room to receive and send messages. 

As always aboard ship, a concert was arranged, and all the performers 
aboard there were quite a lot of us, Including Rudy Valentino were ex- 
pected to take part. I knew I'd have to entertain though I never felt less 
like it in my life. There was some relief in the fact that, due to the terrible 
weather and so many of the passengers being seasick, the ship's concert 
was postponed twice. Finally, the date was set for the night before landing 
in New York. 

By that time I was about all in from anxiety and' the delay which the bad 
weather had caused and the radio messages I had had from home. I knew 
there was no hope of Mama getting better, and I was desperately afraid I 
wouldn't get home in time to see her before she passed away from us all. 
I thought about that time in Chicago when I'd had the wire telling me about 
poor Pa. I hadn't been in time then either. It seemed as if I couldn't bear it 
if I were too late this time. 

I wasn't going to the concert. I was alone in my jstateroom, which I shared 
with Mrs. George Claire. She was Tommy Dawes's sister and the mother 
of those two beautiful British artists, Johnnie and Wynne. There was a 
knock on my door. 

"Come in," I said, and my heart gave a thump, thinking it might be a 
steward with another radiogram. 

In came Rudy Valentino. He wanted to know if I was coming up to the 

"I can't sing tonight, Rudy dear. My heart is too heavy. I couldn't sing, 
even if I wanted to. You'll have to tell the passengers to excuse me, and 
explain "to them why." 

Rudy shook his head. "I know it's tough," he said, "but if you could 
make it, it would be a grand gesture. And it would mean a lot to every- 
body such a miserable crossing, with people sick and panicky." 

a l can't," I said. 

He went away disappointed. Poor Rudy, so real, so unaffected. Success 
hadn't gone to his head. How many times we recalled the days when he felt 
he was lucky to earn fifty dollars a week as a ballroom dancer at Reisen- 

I tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate. The ship was pitching badly. 
Everything rattled. The toilet articles fell off the dressing table. I began to 
feel worse and worse. Frightened. I suppose the other passengers were feel- 

MY MAMA 223 

too* I thought, "YouVc not anybody any or your- 

self either^ brooding down here all alone. If you can do to cheer 

up the rest of the crowd, that's the thing you can do for yourself and 
for Ma. That was what Rudy and Kitty Claire were trying to tell you." 

I dressed quickly and ran up to the lounge. Not easy to do when the ship 
was throwing me from one side of the staircase to the other so the stewards 
had to keep me in balance. Up in the lounge I faced a sea of anxious faces, 
everybody holding onto their seats for grim death, chairs sliding all over 
the place. A lot of people had given up trying to keep in chairs and were 
sitting on the floor. Every time the boat rolled, you'd hear gasps and now 
and then a scream. Rudy was acting as master of ceremonies. He spotted me 
the minute I got to the door. 

"Hooray for Sophie!" he hollered. "I knew she would come up and sing 
for us!" 

Rudy and Teddy came down to the door and guided me to the piano. 
Just as I got there the boat listed again. I tried to hold myself up against the 
piano. Then the piano started sliding. It took Rudy and Ted and six 
stewards to keep it and me from smashing through the wail of the lounge. 
It was Rudy Valentino who suggested lifting the piano off the platform and 
setting it on the floor, with six stewards sitting around it, bracing it in place. 
Nobody could think of a way of bracing me up too. People were laughing 
now. It was funny, because while I was singing I was sliding around all 
over the place. I boomed out: 

"The damn truck horse can't even stand up!" So I sat down on the floor 
and gave a show that way. 

I shouted out whatever funny things I could think of to say. After all, 
what was important was to keep those hundreds of people from getting 
panicky. I sang all the songs I could remember all that were funny and 
sure to get laughs. Rudy Valentino was sitting on the floor beside me. 

"Please go up to the wireless room," I begged him, "and see if there is any 
message for me. It's been several hours since I've had any word from home." 

He went. And I went on singing more songs, watching the door all the 
time for Rudy to come back. He'd been gone so long. What was keeping 
him?*Fd been singing for over an hour. 

"Listen, everybody, this is my last song. No more." 

I looked toward the door. There was Rudy coming down the lounge. One 
look, and I knew. His face was a dead giveaway. 

"Rudy!" I yelled. "My mother! She's gone!" 


That's all I remember o the concert. I didn't have to read the message, 
which Teddy gave me later, "Ma passed away." 

All that night and all the next day the storm kept up. There would be 
no landing for us within twenty-four hours. The boats behind us had been 
warned to turn back to avoid the path of the storm. A British freighter, 
the Antinoe, was sending out an SOS. What hope had she against the 
mountainous waves which the mammoth Leviathan couldn't plow through? 
All I could think was, "We're more than a day late now. It will be im- 
possible for us to make up any of the time. I won't be able to see my angel 
before they put her away." Orthodox families do not embalm the dead; they 
are buried the next day. That seemed the bitterest drop of all. 

Brother Moe was at quarantine to meet me, and we caught the first train 
to Hartford. Teddy went with us and Kitty Claire. 

Ill never forget, when we got to the street, seeing the sidewalk and road in 
front of the house black with people all crying. They were Mama's poor. 
"She's gone. We've lost our best friend. Who'll give us food and coal 
now?" they wailed. 

I ran up the stairs to Ma's little "nest" as she used to call her home. The 
stillness was terrible. 

"Mama!" I cried, "I'm home. I've come back to see you!" 

Sis and Phil came to the head of the stairs. 

"Yes, Sophie dear, Ma is still here. She's waiting for you. She made us 
promise not to put her away until you came home." 

My darling yiddisha mama knew what it would mean to me if I couldn't 
see her again, and, knowing that, she was willing to set aside her Orthodox 
beliefs. There was nothing that she could have done that would have showed 
me how much she loved me and how well she understood my love for her. 

Several years before she died, when she was with me in New York, she 
said one day that she wanted to have her will drawn. I told her it wasn't 
necessary. She had only to tell me what she wanted done and I would prom- 
ise her to take care of everything. "All right," she said; "the next time I 
come to New York we will do it." She never brought it up again, and I 
decided she had forgotten about it. After she was gone, we found her will. 
She had gone to a next-door neighbor and asked the neighbor's daughter 
to write down her instructions, what she wanted done with her possessions: 
her jewelry to Annie; her fine bedclothing Jio be divided between Annie and 
Phil She was careful to explain in the will that if Moe had been married 
she would have left him some of the bedclothing. Her wearing apparel 
and mink coat to her friend, Mrs. Ettie Greenberg. "And to my daughter, 

MY MAMA 225 

Sophie, who gave me everything, nothing because she don't anything/ 1 
It was more than three months before I felt fit to work again. I weal down 
to Atlantic City with Sis. When 1 began to feel that I could again, I 
sent word to Ted and to the music publishers to send their their 

latest songs down for me to hear them. 1 knew I'd have to get back to work, 
and I knew the only way for me to do this was to have some new songs 
and work up some new ideas. Down came Lew Brown and Ray Header- 
son, o the writing team o DeSyiva, Brown, and Henderson. Bud DcSylva 
later left the combination and produced those two terrific Broadway hits, 
DuBarry Was a Lady and Louisiana Purchase* Lew Brown's Yo%el Boy was 
a hit in 1939. 1 remember they brought me some swell songs, and I picked 
their hit number for 1926, *Td Climb the Highest Mountain." 

After consultation with the Boss, we decided that I should appear at a few 
benefits, to get my bearings, before he booked me for vaudeville dates, and 
he thought, after all I had been through, and considering the long time I 
had been out of the country, it was a good idea. The first was a benefit at 
the Manhattan Opera House for the Jewish Theatrical Guild, in which I 
hold a life membership. It was my first appearance in New York after the 
big success I'd had in London, which the papers over here had made much 
of, and after Mama's death. The audience showed their feeling for me by 
giving me a deafening welcome. What was terrible was that I stood there 
paralyzed. It seemed as though my feet just wouldn't move. The footlights, 
the faces, the applause scared me worse than I had ever been scared In my 
whole life. I felt my throat close up. I don't know how I got to the piano. 
When I did, I hung onto the side of It as though for dear life. 

Somehow I managed to sing, but It was a mechanical Sophie Tucker. 
I might have been wound up like a doll. I couldn't smile. I couldn't be 
funny. I couldn't feel myself. I could only thank the audience and beg for- 
giveness, hoping I woulH soon find myself so that I could entertain as 
I used to do. Teddy led me off the stage. I couldn't have found the entrance 
myself. I was one mass of jitters. I got back to the hotel, and for weeks I 
couldn't leave my bed. Now I'd lost my self-confidence. I'd had stage fright 
before, but never anything like this. 

"Darling, you mustn't give way like this," the Boss kept telling me. "You 
must pull yourself together." 

And then, finally, his plea was: "Please do this for me." 
I could see how grieved and worried he was, and that hurt me more than 
anything. I'd always been so proud of his faith in me. I couldn't let him 
down now. "All right, Boss, I won't let you down. Ill keep trying!" 


For several weeks I made myself play all the benefits the Boss asked me 
to play one for the survivors of the S.S. Antinoe, the freighter which had 
sent out the SOS in the storm; one for Eddie Cantor's Lake Surprise Camp; 
the Newspaperwomen's Ball; the New York Rotary Club; the Actor's 
Equity Show. 

A message came from S. J. Kaufman of the Green Room Club that they 
were giving a get-together to welcome to America Jack Buchanan, Beatrice 
Lillie, and Gertrude Lawrence, who were with Chariot's Revue, then play- 
ing in New York, and Jack Hulbert and Cicely Comtneidge, who were 
playing In their own revue, and would I come to the party? I said I would 
get there in time for the show and to sing a few songs that they had heard me 
do at the Kit-Kat Klub In London, but I couldn't join the party, as I hadn't 
been well enough to go out socially. S. J. Kaufman introduced me to the 
gang and I walked on the little stage to a heart-warming ovation. There in 
the front row were those familiar faces I used to see in London, calling 
"Hello, dariing!' r "Good old Soph!" It ought to have bucked me up, but it 
did just the opposite. I went to. pieces again. I couldn't put any life into the 
lines of the song. I was simply terrible, and I couldn't do anything about it. 

Next morning I called the Boss and told him what had happened. I had 
a feeling I was done for as a performer. I'd tried, honestly, to make a come- 
back, and I hadn't been able to control my nerves. The Boss came over 
to the hotel that evening, and we had a long talk. He said he felt the only 
way for me to get my self-confidence back would be for me to work in a 
cafe. He believed working in close contact with the audience would cure me. 

"All right," I said, "I'll try it, Boss. Ill do my damnedest!" 

At that time the big cafes at which headliners used to appear weren't 
flourishing. The Prohibition Era was in full swing. The small speak-easies 
were popular. After looking the field over, the Boss decided he would open 
a cafe for me himself. He got in touch with John Steinberg and Christo, my 
Reisenweber captains, and a deal was made. A. place was found on West 
Fifty-second Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It would seat 
four hundred, and there the Sophie Tucker Playground was opened in 
March 1926. Our opening night was a riot. According to one reporter: 

Aftel five years' absence from Reisenweber's, Sophie Tucker's debut at her 
Playground Wednesday evening was the scene for the heaviest first night in 
Main Street cabaret history. The frenzied shouts and cheers came from the 
throats of the town's most front-paged. Over five hundred celebs sat down in 
the same place, at the same time, peacefully a Broadway record. 

MY 227 

Mayor James J. Walker did the honors oa the 

celebrities, o whom entertained, were Wilda Carl 

Belle Baker, Lew Brlce (Fanny Brice's brother), Ann Peaaington, Jack 
Rose, Joe Frisco, Willie Howard, Charles Purce!! ? Fowler Tamara, Al 
Herman, Bea Lillie, Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence, the Duncan Sisters, 
Harry Richman, Yvette Rugel, Ben Beraie, and many more. Texas Guioan 
came over from her place, the Three Hundred Club. Freeman Gosden and 
Charles Correil, a piano and singing act, newcomers from Chicago, 
at the Playground and later became the sensation of the air waves as "Amos 
and Andy." 

One thing everybody seemed to enjoy was being in a roomy cafe after 
months of speak-easy two-by-four joints. It was a relief not to be crowded 
into a garage or a stable. 

Well, the Boss had been right about it. Working in a cafe turned the 
trick for me. I began to get back my old assurance. 1 felt It flow back into 
me like new blood in my veins on that opening night. Maybe it was having 
my own place to work in, feeling the responsibility for the success of the 
venture into which the Boss had put his money. On that opening night, 
after the fun started, I kept remembering days in our restaurant back home 
in Hartford when I had entertained for the customers and felt it was up 
to me to bring In business. 

Sophie Tucker's Playground was a hit right from the start. Fanny Brlce 
called me up to say her maid told her that Sophie Tucker had given up the 
stage and had opened a playground for children! 

Before many weeks I was my old self again hitting on high. We were 
doing a big business. Eddie Elkin and his band gave out the popular music, 
with Morton X)owney as soloist. They were big favorites, as well as Allan 
White's Collegians. Yes, we had loads of laughs and fun at the Playground. 
Ill never forget the night Jackie Osterman insisted on getting up on the 
floor. Jack Rose tried to stop him. 

"Let him alone," yelled Frisco. "Maybe he'll flop " 

And the night after Al Jolson had his tonsils removed and I announced 
from the floor that Al was doing fine, Jack Rose yelled, "I offered him a 
million dollars for the one with the mammy song in it!" 

Yes, everybody came to the Playground. A lot of British friends who 
came to New York, came there to see me Lady Loughborough, my old 
friend Cupie, Lady Michelham, Lord and Lady O'Shaughnessy among 
them. At the same time we had a new audience the bootleggers! Most of 
these were foreign-looking, the men flashily dressed. Liquor was always 


plentiful at their tables. But they were well behaved, and they showed re- 
spect for me In that they would always check their guns. On most nights 
you could count as many as fifteen guns In the coat pockets of our customers 
In the Playground's checkroom. 

At the Playground one night I got the shock of my life. Eddie Cantor and 
George Jessel came up for an evening of fun. I had helped Eddie at his 
benefit, so he came to do a turn for me. We had a big crowd that night, 
and Eddie and Georgie were in great form. They were the masters of cere- 
monies and I was busy going from table to table, meeting the customers. I 
caught Eddie saying: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to 
introduce a young fellow a dancer. This is his first appearance in public. 
His mother is a very well-known performer and he has asked us not to men- 
tion her name, as he wants to make good on his own. After he dances,- if 
you like him, I'll tell you who he is." 

Just then I was called to the office. I was busy there for several minutes. 
When I came out I stood at the rear of the room. Out on the floor, dancing 
a mile a minute, was a kid. "Gee," I said to John Steinberg, "he looks a lot 
like my son Bert!" 

I moved up closer to the floor. "My God, it is my son!" I yelled. "Eddie! 
Georgie! Bert! What are you doing here?" 

The house was in an uproar by now. "It's Sophie's son!" "Isn't he a fine- 
looking boy?" "A good dancer too." Then tremendous applause. 

I was stunned. I had no idea Son danced, or knew anything about show 
business. He had been in military school since he was six years old. He was 
now about fifteen. I never permitted him to hang around the theater or club 
where I was working. And his visits backstage were very few and far be- 
tween. I had always been against his going into show business. I told him 
so many times, when, as a youngster, he said he wanted to be an actor. "No," 
I would tell him, and explain that as long as his grandmother was alive 
that was out of the question. I had given -Ma my solemn promise. Never, as 
long as she lived, would anybody else in our family go into show business. 
My being in it was enough for her. 

Oh sure, I was pleased that Bert had put it over, and I couldn't help ad- 
mitting he danced well. But, when we got home, I laid the law* down to 
him. "No show business for you until you finish your education!" However, 
I softened up and promised to send him to a dancing school to learn some 
routines. I also promised that at the proper time I would groom him and 
set him sailing on the ocean of show business if his heart was still on it 
when that time came. 

MY MAMA 229 

For years the KV,A. (National Vaudeville Artists) had a 

club for vaudevillians la West Forty-sixth Street, New York City. The 
association charged only small dues, but money to support the was 

brought in by ail-star vaudeville shows, balls, benefits, and ads in the various 
programs that all successful artists were compelled to take. Mr, E. F. Albee 
headed the association. The club did nice work, but that work didn't reach 
out far enough. My Boss, William Morris, was the real instigator of a very 
wonderful charity for vaudeville performers. He had spent years at Saranac 
Lake, recovering his health. Through his efforts and the generosity of Ms 
wife and her sister Ella, a lodge at Saranac was opened and maintained, to 
which performers could go for a health cure at very little cost. The gratitude 
of the profession to William Morris for this benefit gave the N.V.A. directors 
the idea to open a sanitarium at Saranac which would be available for all 
their members. Immediately a drive was started to raise funds for this 
project, and at every vaudeville theater in the country money was collected. 
Special shows and attractions were put on to draw contributions from the 

At the Palace Theatre, New York, the N.V.A. made the best showing and 
the biggest collection. In addition to the regular Palace bill, headlines and 
acts playing in the other theaters throughout greater New York would come 
to the Palace for one performance gratis to help the drive. Never in the 
history of American show business has there been anything like N.V.A. 
Week at the Palace! 

Eddie Darling rang me up at the Playground and asked if I would give my 
services for one performance during N.V.A. Week, which was Easter week. 
He told me I could come at any time and at my convenience. I said I would 
gladly do so, But, inasmuch as my work at the Playground kept me every 
night until 4 or 5 A.M., I would have to go on at a matinee. I arranged with 
Eddie for a Tuesday afternoon. It was agreed that as soon as I got up I 
would rush to the Palace, and he promised to put me on the minute I got 
there, so I could do my turn and get back home and rest for my night's work. 

It was just 3:45 P.M. when I showed up at the Palace on Tuesday. Eddie 
Darling came backstage as soon as he was notified I was there. Elmer 
Rogers, the manager of the Palace, told me Eddie had given instructions that 
I was to be put on as soon as I arrived. He said the act before intermission 
was on and I would follow this act. This was all right with me, of course. 

Working at the Playground every evening and night, I never got a chance 
to see any of the shows in town. I wasn't on to who or what was playing 
at the Palace that week. It wasn't until I got to the theater that I learned that 


Nora Bayes was the headlines Right away I thought, that's swell! Between 
the two of us at this matinee we are sure to make things hum and there 
will be a big collection. 

I had no Idea Nora's act closed intermission. Usually top headliners were 
placed second from last, or one before closing. 

I was seated near the entrance of Nora's dressing room, waiting for the 
act to finish that I was to follow, when I saw Eddie Darling dash madly 
across the stage as if he was going to a fire. Nora's maid and Elmer Rogers 
were right on his heels. Eddie didn't stop for me. He rushed straight into 
Nora's room, leaving the door open. Nora's voice came out to me, clear 
and sharp: 

"I tell you she does not go on ahead of me! If she does, I will leave the 

I heard the arguing back and forth, Eddie protesting, telling her I was 
there just to help the N.VA. drive, that I was giving my services for just 
that one performance. Nora kept on protesting: 

"I tell you I will leave If she goes on ahead of me!" 

I pushed Into the crowded dressing room. 

"Nora dear, please don't get upset. Eddie asked me to help the N.VA. 
drive. That's why I'm here. I just woke up, and I came right over to sing 
a few songs. You know I wouldn't deliberately hurt you or your act. If 
you feel that my going on ahead of you does that, I will go on right after 
intermission. Another half-hour of waiting won't kill me." 

It could have been fixed that way, of course, but for something I didn't 
know until Eddie told me long afterward. Mr. Albee had had it in for Nora 
for some time. He wanted to discipline her, bring her to heel the way he 
handled so many performers. Eddie Darling, who knew Albee like a book, 
hadn't wanted him to get wind of the trouble Nora was making backstage. 
But some busybody carried the news to Mr. Albee in his office upstairs. 
Down came the command: Miss Tucker was to go on as arranged. Nora 
Bayes could take it or leave it. Nora left it and the theater. With all our 
pleadings Eddie Darling, Elmer Rogers, and I Nora flounced out. Robert 
Emmett Keane, who was acting as master of ceremonies during N.VA. 
Week, had to go out in front and tell the audience that Nora Bayes left the 
theater because of me. 

I hadn't played the Palace for almost a year, and the audience gave me a 
grand reception. Still, I felt sick at heart over the whole business. How 
grand it would have been if Nora had stayed on. She could have brought me 

MY 231 

out, introduced me. The repartee from the of us would a 

not* But no. 1 left the theater Immediately I finished, went aad 

to bed to be ready for work at the Playground that eight* 

I was having dinner when Eddie Darling called me. Would I go on that 
night at the Palace and for the balance of the week as headliner? He 
Mr. Albec would not accept Nora's flouncing out of the theater, especially 
at a time when money was being raised for her fellow artists. 

"Mr. Albee will not permit her to go on tonight/" Eddie said. "She walked 
out of her own volition. He refuses to accept her excuse and says she cannot 
come back and play the Palace again." 

I couldn't let Eddie dow% and besides it was a big feather in my cap to 
be asked to headline the Palace bill in that Important week. For the balance 
of the week I doubled there with the Playground. Once again, as a result of 
an unhappy experience, came financial success for me. Up to this time I 
had always had trouble with the Keith office when it came to salary, I was 
always fighting for what I thought I should get and not getting it. Nora 
Bayes got top money In vaudeville. When the Keith office asked me to take 
her place, I felt I could demand the big salary they paid her. I did, and I 
got it. I played the Palace two weeks, with great shows. 

One of the acts on the bill was Jack Benny, billed as a monologuist and 
doing a violin solo. He took his violin work very seriously, I remember how 
frightened he used to be before going on the stage; and look where he is 
now and what he Is doing in show business thanks to radio! 

There was something very touching about Nora Bayes. After that big 
scene at the Palace you'd have thought the next time she met me she would 
have been ready to claw my eyes out, but not a bit of it. She was as sweet 
as though there never had been any trouble. She never mentioned it, and 
I saw her many times before she died. 

I was talking all this over with Eddie Darling, preparatory to writing the 
story of that episode at the Palace. It was Eddie who told me about Mr. 
Albee wanting to discipline Nora and doing so to the extent of giving orders 
she was not to go on at the Palace again. Eddie told me something else 
about Nora, which I have his permission to tell here and now. 

It was some years after that N.V.A. Week that Nora rang up Eddie and 
asked him to come to see her. She hadn't been very cordial to him when they 
met, but now she was like her old self. He found her looking ill and tired. 
She said she had not been well and was going out of town the next day 
to rest up. She said to Eddie: 


"There is one thing I want to ask you to do for me, Eddie." 

He thought she wanted a booking at the Palace, and he started to explain 
that Mr. Albee had given strict orders . . . 

But Nora went on. It wasn't a booking at the Palace she asked for. She 
wanted Eddie to promise her that he would get out the big photographs 
of her that used to be put up in the lobby when she was the headliner. She 
wanted him to promise her that he would put them up in the lobby early 
the next morning: "Just as if I was playing the Palace." He could take them 
down before the matinee, but she said she wanted to know, when she drove 
past the Palace the next morning, on her way out of town, that her pictures 
were there. 

Eddie promised. He had some misgivings the next day for fear that Mr. 
Albee would come in, see the pictures and raise hell. But the pictures were 
there in the lobby, and for all anyone knows Nora Bayes drove by while 
they were there or perhaps got out of the taxi and walked into the lobby 
and saw them. 

Just a day or two later Nora Bayes was dead, following an operation. 

It was soon after that N.V.A. Week at the Palace that one night Jack Rose 
came up to my apartment to dinner. While he was there, he was taken 
sick. I had a lot of trouble getting him to agree to go for an X ray, but 
finally I got him to the Polyclinic Hospital. He was told he would have to 
be operated on. A finer, funnier fellow than Jack never lived. Everyone in 
show business loved him. He made big money, but he spent it all most of 
it he gave away. I had known his folks in London, and their home was 
always open to me when I was there. I felt I wanted to do everything I 
could for Jack. I told Al Woods, who was fond of Jack, what his condi- 
tion was, and that there was no money on hand to pay for the operation. 
Al Woods said he would call up Dr. John Erdman and have him do the 

"Don't worry," he told me; "I'll take care of it." 

Next I went to see J. J. and Lee Shubert, who were also very fond of Jack. 
They told me they would give me the Winter Garden for a benefit the next 
Sunday night, all the proceeds of the show to go to Jack Rose. 

Next I rushed over to Al Jolson and got him interested. Between the 
Shuberts, Al Woods, Al Jolson, and me, the following show was booked for 
the Winter Garden that Sunday night. Reading over the list of performers, 
I would say that there never was such an array of stars giving their services 
to help a fellow performer who was in need. 

MY MAMA 233 

Clayton, fackson s and Duranic Al folson 

Moran and Mack Harry Richman 

The Three Ritz Brothers Joe Frisco 

Sid Silvers Jack Ostermaa 

Phillips Family Dennis King 

Sylvia Froos Harry Delf 

Van and Schenck Julius TanneE 

Ben Bernie and Orchestra George Raft 

Rita Owen Jack Rcpper 

Bob Nelson and Harry Link Belle Baker 

Phil Baker Vincent Lopez and Band 

Willie and Eugene Howard Jimmy Savo 

J. C. Flippen Jack Pearl and Harry O'Neal 

Brennan and Rogers Saliie Fields 

Borah Minnevitch Georgie Jesse! 

Sophie Tucker Janet Winters 

Before the night o the show I had seen Jack taken up to the operating 
room at the hospital and brought down again, Dr. Erdman had sent for 
me to conic to his office, and told me the truth about Jack "Give him 
everything his heart desires, Yes, It's cancer. Make him as comfortable and 
as happy as you can for the little time that he has left," 

I didn't tell anyone what Dr. Erdman had told me 3 but I sent Immediately 
for Jack's mother and sister to come over, only praying they would be in time 
to see him before the end. 

The night of the big show I was la the hospital with Jack. Al Jolson had 
sent over a radio and wired it up so that Jack could hear the show. I sat with 
him until half past ten, when It was time for me to go over to the Winter 
Garden. "What do you want me to sing, Jack?" I asked him. "And what 
do you want me to tell the audience and all your friends who will be there?*" 

"Tell them all I thank them from the bottom of my heart and you who 
have been like a mother to me. Please sing 'My Yiddisha Mama* for them. 
Before you sing it, here's a letter I wrote my mother. Read it to the audience 
and then mail it to her/* 

When I got over to the Winter Garden, it was about ten fifty-five and the 
show was going great guns. The house was rocking with laughter. I thought: 
I won't go back just yet. They all know I've been at the hospital I'll only put 
a damper on the show if I walk in now. Ill time myself. At about eleven- 
fifteen they will have had plenty show and I will go on. 

I walked over to the corner drugstore and had a cup of coffee. I sat there 


at the counter killing time. Then back to the theater, and backstage. I heard 
Al Jolson say, "Sophie should be here any minute." He spotted me standing 
in the entrance. "Here she is! Sophie has just come from the hospital We 
have collected nearly twelve thousand dollars." 

A hush went over that enormous house as I walked out on the stage. 

"Yes,, dear friends, I've come straight from the bedside of the most beloved 
boy in show business, to bring you his message. Here it is: 'Tell them all I 
thank them from the bottom of my heart. 5 He gave me this letter that he has 
written to his mother in London. He asked me to read it to you and then 
to sing one song for you his request. Before I read the letter I want you 
all to know that I have sent for his mother and sister and I expect them here 
Tuesday morning. Here is Jack's letter : 


They are giving me a benefit tonight because I am a very sick boy, a very 
foolish boy because I didn't take care of myself. If I get well, dearest folks, I 
promise I will come home and make up for everything. My beloved friend and 
your friend, Sophie Tucker, has been like a mother to me, a real Yiddisha 
Mama, and while she is singing this song tonight at this benefit for me, my 
thoughts, my love are with you. God bless you both. 

Your loving son, 


Yes, I sang "My Yiddisha Mama 5 ' at 11:30 P.M. at the Winter Garden 
after a terrific show of laughs. Jack had asked for it and he got it. And maybe 
he was a great showman as well as a homesick boy, because there is no doubt 
that that song bowled the audience over. It was the climax of the show. 
People said there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I went home and to bed, not 
to leave it till Tuesday, when I went to the boat to meet his folks. 

Four weeks later Jack passed away. Gone was a great performer and a 
wonderful friend. 

CHAPTER 22: A Good Show Is Hard to Find 

SUMMER SET IN. As New York loosened its collar and pushed its hat back, 
several big cafes opened up for business in the West Fifties. Trade at the 
Playground started to slide. The Boss and I decided to close up; better get 
out with a small loss than risk our shirts. All the time we ran the Play- 
ground, no liquor was sold on the premises. After all, the real object of 
Sophie Tucker's Playground Cafe was to get me back into shape for work. 
Now that I was raring to go, the Playground had fulfilled its purpose. 

A IS TO 235 

Hie Boss booked vaudeville for me Things 

good. Then I heard that Rufus Le Mairc was going to produce a thrce-star- 
name revue to open In Chicago that summer. I thought would be a 
thing for me to get Into if 1 could get to Le Make try to a 

with him. 

Rufus Le Maire had been the Shuberts 9 head man for casting and produc- 
ing their successful revues for several years. Now he decided to step out 
for himself and put on his own show, Le Mairc V Affairs. He a brother 
of George Le Maire. I had known him a long time. Rufus came with a deal, 
but first he took me over to the theater to watch rehearsals. He had already 
signed Ted Lewis and his band and Lester Allen, the very funny little 
comedian. The rest of the cast was swell and there was a gorgeous-looking 
chorus. Rufus showed me the costume designs. Everything looked good, 1 
told him I would talk it over with the Boss. 

I gave the Boss my impressions of the show. "Okay," he said s "if it looks 
that good to you, I see no reason why a deal can't be made," He sent for 

Al Lackey was made manager of the show in return for my getting my 
friend Mr. Al Lef court to loan me money to take the show to- Detroit. 

We opened in Detroit to a smash hit, then went into the Woods Theatre 
in Chicago. That was in mid-July, and we stayed there until the first week 
in December, doing a gross business of over three hundred and fifty thousand 
dollars. I introduced two great songs, "When the Red, Red Robin Comes 
Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along," which was an immediate hit, and "The Turkish 
Towel." The minstrel scene, with Ted Lewis and band, and entire company, 
was a sensation. It wasn't only that the show was a success with the public, 
the company got along so well together. Lots of laughs on and oft the stage 
for five months, and not one argument or cross word in the entire company* 

When we knew we were a success, and sure to have a long run in Chicago, 
the parties started. Ted Lewis and Adah were the first with theirs, at the 
Hotel Sherman. Next, Lester Allen gave a costume party at the Congress. I 
kept my costume a secret from everybody, even from Al. I had rented a 
pirate's outfit, with a big hat, boots, dark wig, and mustache. It took me hours 
to get ready, particularly getting used to the boots, which didn't fit and hurt 
my feet. I wouldn't allow anyone to escort me to the party, which was at its 
height when I got to the Congress Hotel. I strolled in, went up to the bar, 
ordered a whisky straight, drank it down, ordered a second, and passed out 
of the picture. When I came to I saw John Price Jones, dressed in bath 
towels, doing a burlesque of my "Turkish Towel" number in the show. 


Georgie Jessel was there as Rip Van Winkle, with a long white beard he 
kept tripping over. Ted Lewis was dressed as a Japanese girl. He had such a 
fine make-up that he went into the ladies' room and nobody screamed. We 
ail left the party to go to the Frolics Cafe to see Joe E. Lewis, who had just 
started in business. By this time my feet were so sore, with blisters on both 
heels, that I pulled off my boots. When I was called on to entertain, I went 
out on the floor of the Frolics Cafe in my stocking feet. 

Then it was my turn to give a party in the grand ballroom at the Sherman. 
Everybody came in rompers. There were about two hundred guests, as I had 
many friends in Chicago, and all the professionals playing in town were in- 
vited. Mayor Thompson was the guest of honor. The hit of the evening was 
made by Frank Behring, manager of the Hotel Sherman, who rode in on an 
enormous white horse. Shrieks went up from the crowd and a cry of, "I hope 
he doesn't . . . !" And the horse did, promptly! 

Queen Marie of Roumania came to Chicago during our run there. We all 
hoped she would come to see the show, and an invitation was sent to Her 
Majesty. But she sent a gracious letter of apology, and we had to be content 
that night with Al Capone and a party of twenty. I have never seen so many 
bodyguards filling the boxes and all over the theater. 

Rufus had given my son, Bert, a job in the show. Son carried one of the 
signs in the minstrel parade, up and down the aisle and onto the stage. 
Everybody backstage used to kid Bert. They tried out all the old show- 
business jokes, even to sending him out to the different theaters to find the 
key to the curtain, until Bert got wise to them. 

At this time Paul Ash had set up a new kind of show business at the 
Oriental Theatre, giving amateurs and everybody a chance to go on the 
stage. One day Son came to me and told me he was all set to go with Paul 
Ash "If I make good, Ma, I hope to be on my own." He had ten days in 
which to get ready for his opening, and I went to work to groom him. I had 
seen him rehearse a nice soft-shoe dance, and he also did the Charleston 
very well. Still, those two dances wouldn't make an act. I got hold of a writer 
and had him write an opening song to lead into the soft-shoe dance. After 
this, Son said he would like to give an impersonation of me singing the 
"Turkish Towel" number, which I was singing in Le Maire's Affairs. He 
sang it for me, and I must say he gave the best impersonation of me I ever 
saw anyone do. We worked over his act, and I ordered a smart Eton suit 'for 
him, in which he looked very well. 

When the Thursday came on which he was to appear I called up Amy 
Leslie to go with me to the Oriental to catch Son's act. There was no pub* 


licity about It Son had told Paul Ash not to Introduce him as my son, as he 
wanted to make on his own. Amy and I got to the theater the 

picture was on, so it was possible for me to find a seat and not be recognized. 
I was wearing dark glasses anyway. When the show startcd t I to get 

the jitters. Every time Paul Ash Introduced a kid, my heart jumped up into 
my throat. He had a bunch of clever youngsters. Ginger Rogers, Milton Wat- 
son, Sy Landry, Johnny Perkins. After two or three, It was Son's turn. When 
he came on, I slid down in my seat, more scared than I have ever been 
In any theater. "Hold my hand, Amy/* I whispered. He must not radke his 
entrance as a fresh kid and "know It all!" But he didn't* He came on smiling, 
quiet, like a little gentleman. Over to Paul Ash, shook his hand, and thanked 
him, then faced the audience and started his introductory number and soft- 
shoe dance. That got over nicely. He accepted the applause just the way 
I would have had him do. 

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, I will give you my impression of that 
popular song, the Turkish Towel* number, as sung by my mother, Miss 
Sophie Tucker." 

There was a buzz of excitement through the house. People began turning 
around, trying to find me, but I was so low in my seat I was practically 
invisible. Son had to wait for the audience to quiet down, then he gave his 
impersonation. The house ate it up. By this time I noticed that his hands 
were trembling and his legs were getting shaky. He still had his big Charles- 
ton number to- do. But he pulled himself together. Before I could say "J a ck 
Robinson" he was into his dance, his legs flying. Now he's through. He runs 
off the stage a terrific hit. 

Paul Ash called him back and complimented him. Poor Bert, his legs were 
shaking so hard he could hardly walk. As for me, I had about broken Amy's 
arm. Then I heard him yell, "Ma! Where are you, Ma?" I flew out o my 
seat and ran down the aisle toward the stage. 

Tm coming, Son, I'm coming!" I had him in my arms. The audience 
was cheering. I could feel Bert trembling all over. 

"Did I do all right, Ma?" he whispered. 

I told him: Tm proud of you today." And I told the audience: "For the 
fourteen years that I have been coming to Chicago you've accepted me in 
everything I've had the pleasure of bringing for your approval. Not once 
have you ever let me down. Today Sophie Tucker, the mother, gave you her 
son, and you accepted him, for which I am deeply grateful May you all live 
to enjoy the pleasure and thrill of your children as I have today with my 


Son left Le Moire's Affairs to go on his own, and with this warning from 
me: "You are primarily a dancer. That means continuous rehearsing al- 
ways getting new routines. If you do songs, new ones must go in the act. 
There are four and five shows daily in the theaters you are booked to play. 
You will need rest. You can't do any running around. Take care of your 
health, first, last, and all the time. If you pay attention to what I say now, 
you'll make a success of show business. If you don't, I give you less than two 
years and you are finished." 

I would give that same advice, and I have given it, to any youngster today 
who is starting out on his own. 

After a long run in Chicago, Rufus decided to take the show on the road 
and into New York. First stop, Cleveland, where we cleaned up forty thou- 
sand dollars. Cincinnati, thirty thousand dollars. Christmas week was split 
between Columbus and Dayton; result, thirty thousand dollars. We played 
Pittsburgh New Year's week and cleaned up forty-two thousand dollars. 

In Washington, Rufus decided to make a change in the cast for the New 
York opening, three weeks off. He said the change was advised by the 
New York ticket brokers, who had come to Washington to see the show and 
make a buy for the New York opening. 

When Rufus got that far, I butted in. "Your show has been going over 
eight months, playing to phenomenal business. Don't, don't! tamper with the 
success. Every city has loved it. Think of our long run in Chicago! Take your 
advice from the box office and don't pay any attention to the brokers." 

Ted Lewis and Adah, Lester Allen, Bill Halligan all begged him not to 
make, any changes. 

During this discussion none of us had any idea that the only change ad- 
vised by the brokers, and decided upon by Rufus and his brother George, 
was to replace me! Then it came out. I was told that the brokers said I wasn't 
B. O. in New York. The way Rufus put it, "As a singer, you're all right, but as 
an actress, you stink," He then announced that he was going to get a great 
comedienne, Charlotte Greenwood, for the opening, and Peggy Fears for the 
singing lead. I gave him my two weeks' notice and left the show after our 
first week in Boston. We made forty thousand dollars that first week. Then 
Charlotte Greenwood came in. The show was pulled all around, sketches 
changed, new costumes an output of about twenty-five thousand dollars. 
They played the second week with Charlotte Greenwood, and the .receipts 
took a terrific drop. Lester Allen passed the news on to me. They played a 


week in Newark went into New York, where Le 

got only fair reviews. In six weeks the show folded! 

Well that's show business. 1 shrugged my shoulders and went to 

vaudeville. Then the Shuberts sent for me to go Into the Winter Garden with 
their revue, Gay Paree, and to take it on the road. Apparently the Shuberts 
didn't agree with Le Maire and the New York brokers. Shuberts" 
featured Chic Sale and Ben Bernie and his orchestra. Oscar Levant, of 
"Information, Please!" then played the piano in Bernie's band. And George 
Raft did his dance specialty, the Charleston, in the act. 

I was so thrilled to have a chance to play on Broadway that 1 splurged on 
new clothes. Two handsome outfits! One of black sequins, with a high back 
collar, called for large drop earrings, which 1 didn't own. I hurried to a 
novelty jewelry store, bought a pair of imitation-diamond earrings for five 
dollars, and mixed them up with my good stuff. On opening night ? at the 
party after the show, the comment I heard over and over again was not 
praise of my four hundred dollar gown or my work or Irving Berlin's new 
song hit, "Blue Skies," that I introduced that night. It was "Sophie, your 
earrings are the most gorgeous things I've ever seen on a stage!" 

Well, maybe Rufus Le Maire and the brokers weren't so far wrong. Gay 
Parec lasted two weeks at the Winter Garden then went on the road. We 
played Chicago for three months to good business, then the Shuberts de- 
cided to send the show on a tour of one-night stands and I was replaced by 
Rita Gould. I figured I would treat myself to a |much-nee4ed vacation, but 
no sooner did I get to New York than the Boss called and said Eddie Darling 
wanted me for the Palace, with the Riverside, Royal, Alhambra; and Brook- 
lyn houses to follow. 

I held out. "I'll go if my salary is boosted again." The Boss said he would 
make a try. "It's July, remember hot weather . . ." 

Then Eddie Darling called me himself, with the usual bickering back and 
forth. I said I'd planned a vacation. I'd rather wait till fall and play the 
Palace later, but Eddie was stuck. He hadn't been able to get his show set, I 
was needed, and so I got the salary I asked for* 

Anyone would think I would have had enough of revues by this time to 
stick to vaudeville. But when Earl Carroll made me an offer to go into his 
Vanities that September, I fell for it like a ton of bricks. I signed up to start 
rehearsals at once; break in at Staten Island for one week and then open at 
the Music Box in New York. The Boss made a nice deal with Carroll as to 
money, but there was some doubt about the billing because Carroll had 
signed Joe Cook to star in the show. I wtnt up to see Carroll, whom I had 


known when he was a song writer. Now, as a producer, he had changed a 
lot tall, thin, pale-faced, long, thin hands working a mile a minute. He said 
there was nothing he could do about the tilling unless Joe Cook and I de- 
cided between ourselves. In other words, Carroll passed the buck. Al Lackey, 
who had gone along with me he was acting as my manager asked Joe if 
he was game enough to gamble, toss a coin. Heads, Joe would get first bill- 
ing; tails, I got it. I had my usual luck at gambling and lost. 

Carroll had promised me several great comedy sketches, but rehearsals 
were awful. Not one funny sketch! And the days were flying. Joe Cook 
didn't depend on Carroll. He always had his own great acts, and with his 
prize stooge, Dave Chasen, who today has one of the finest restaurants in 
Hollywood. I had a few great songs, a lovely wardrobe, and some promised 
comedy scenes. When Carroll finally threw me in a few homemade scenes, 
they were godawful! I decided, as all of us in show business did, that 
Carroll was strictly a producer for the gal end of it. He picked the show girls 
and chorus girls, gave his individual attention to their numbers and their 
costumes. That's all he was interested in, putting over the most beautiful 
girls in the world. But as to laughs, sketches, talent, Carroll would never 
spend money for this sort of material. 

There is no getting around the fact, Earl Carroll could pick girls. Suzanne 
Bennett, who was in the show, and is now Lady Hubert Wilkins, was the 
dancing partner of the Prince of Wales at a private party given for him at 
the Lido by Josh Cosden. Flo MacFadden, the present Mrs. Jack Haley, was 
a dancer in our show. Another of the girls, Beth Vane, married Walter 
Douglas, the WMCA executive. Of the others, there were Kitty Ray, Dolores 
Costello and her sister, and Joan Crawford, then called Lucille LeSueur. 
Joan was spotted there and called to Hollywood. 

We broke the show in over on Staten Island. Joe Cook was very funny, 
only his sketches were too long, and there were too many of them. With all 
the girl numbers, I was crowded down to % spot for a few songs. The show 
was fair. To cap it all, Carroll insisted that I lead a number with the girls 
on a spiral staircase. Thirty beautiful girls in the number, and he stuck me 
on top of the staircase to make the picture complete. Never having won a 
beauty prize, you should have seen me leading this chorus of beauty! By the 
time I got to the top of the staircase, I was so out of breath that I couldn't 
sing a note. And by the time I got down, I was dizzy, watching myself so I 
didn't fall. I called up the Boss. "Nothing will happen, as far as Fm con- 
cerned, in this damn show. Carroll is set with a real nude show and going 
the limit. The coppers will throw me in jail as a Madame, so get me out!" 

A IS TO 241 

Ten days after we opened in New York I left Ear! Carroll's 
with a sigh of relief. Back into vaudeville for Sophie Tucker. And to get 
there! I played the Pantagcs Circuit at five thousand dollars a week. On 
trip I introduced Jack Yellen's song ? u Mama Goes Where Papa Goes, 1 ' 
a prop gue. I sang the song in English and then did a Jewish parody of it. 
Later on I taught Cissie Loftus to do an impersonation of me singing this 
song when we were both playing at the Palace in New York. I stood beside 
her during the number, and the act was a riot. Cissie did the impersonation 
at the Coliseum in London and I went on with her there. 

Early in 1928, while I was playing engagements in the West, came a wire 
from the Boss, saying he had booked me back to the Kit-Kat Klub during 
the London season, which, of course, is the late spring and early summer. I 
made preparations to go. Sister Annie was living alone in Hartford, where 
she had a job at the Connecticut Furrier Company* I wrote her and asked if 
she would like to go along with me to England again. Back came a letter. 
Jules Aronson had asked her to marry him, and what did I think of it? I 
thought well of it. Fd always liked Jules, and I was sure he could give Sis 
the happiness she was entitled to and needed right now. It was over a year 
and a half since we had lost Ma, and with the boys away Moe was in busi- 
ness over in Brooklyn that left Annie alone. I remembered my promise to 
Ma, made years ago when I was just starting out in show business. I had 
promised that Annie, who was then raising my son for me, should have the 
grandest wedding any girl ever had. Now I would make good on that 

Annie set the date for March 31. As soon as I got back to New York,* 
Brother Phil and I started with the preparations. Annie came down to shop 
for her trousseau, and day and night we were on the go. I engaged Chalif s 
Rooms on West Fifty-seventh Street for a real kosher wedding and supper, 
such as Ma would have had. Cantor Rosenblatt was singing in New York 
and I rushed over to arrange for him to officiate at the ceremony with Rabbi 
Aaron. Two hundred invitations were sent out to all the relatives in Boston 
and Detroit, the close friends of the family, Ma's old friends in Hartford, the 
miskfocha in Brooklyn and New York, and a lot of my personal and pro- 
fessional friends. Railroad tickets were sent off to those who couldn't afford 
to come so far. Hotel quarters were engaged to put up the family, relatives, 
and friends. Nearly every stage dress I had was sent to those who needed a 
fine dress for the occasion. During the ceremony Sime and Hattie Silverman 
came up to me. "My God, Sophie,'* said Hattie, "I see the Palace Theatre 
represented in all your gowns!" 


The excitement grew every hour as the wedding time approached. I was 
over at ChaEfs all day, overseeing the decoration. o the little shule where 
the canopy stood, decorated with palms and flowers. Then checking on the 
supper arrangements, the seating at the tables, the food, wine. . . . Then 
back to the Park Central Hotel to get dressed in a lovely tan lace outfit. By 
that time I was trembling as if I were the bride myself. 

Sister Annie in her white lace wedding gown looked beautiful. How I 
wished Ma and Pa were there with us to see her. She was escorted to Chalif s 
by Phil and his wife, Leah, Moe, and me. Phil wouldn't buy a dinner suit. He 
said he didn't believe in spending money for clothes he never wears, so he 
rented one for the evening. The bridegroom was escorted by his parents. We 
all met in the lobby at Chalif s. 

Eddie Elkins and his orchestra struck up the Wedding March, and the 
bridal procession went into the shule for the ceremony. I was the matron of 
honor. I was taking the place that Ma, if she were alive, would have had. As 
I stood under the canopy near Annie, t&rs blinded me. I sent up a prayer 
of thanks to God for making this evening possible. 

After the ceremony the fun started with supper and was kept rolling by 
Mr. William Morris, Sime Silverman, Herman J. Weisman (he was my 
school chum in Hartford, a prominent criminal attorney in Waterbury, 
Connecticut, and close friend of our family), and Jack Yellen. Annie's boss, 
Sam Cantrowitch, was there, and after a few drinks he insisted on making 
a speech about how sorry he was to lose "Hene," as he called her. "Ladies 
and gentlemen," he began. No sooner had he started than Al Lackey and 
Harry Lenetska gave him a hot foot. "God damn it!'* He put out the hot 
foot and started again. Another hot foot. After three or four of these at- 
tempts, he exclaimed: "To hell with Hene!" and sat down. The wedding 
party kept up until daylight and continued until sailing time. 

CHAPTER 23: The Last of the Red-hot Mamas 

THE WEEK BEFORE SAILING for London I played the Palace in New York 
again. I was billed as "SOPHIE TUCKER, THE LAST OF THE RED- 
HOT MAMAS!" This was the first time I carried this billing, which was to 
become so closely associated with me that it has persisted through all the 
years since that season when I introduced Jack Yellen's song hit, "I'm the 
Last of the Red-hot Mamas." I took the song and the billing to England 
with me after the Palace had approved them. 
It was grand coming back to London to find that I was still remembered. 


Grand having all kinds of people, starting with the at 

the docks at Southampton, say, "Hello, Soph!" tt How are you, Soph, old 
top?** or "Good old Soph!" ail of these lines from my hit **Me 

Myself that 1 had in the cafes and British when 1 over 

there the last time. Even the bobbles In London knew me grinned a wel- 
come, besides the autograph seekers and fans who knew 1 was arriving 
packed the railroad station to welcome me* 

I had sailed a week ahead of time so I could have a little fun and take 
a look at the shows in London before opening at the Kit-Kat. A new variety 
theater, the Palladium, had opened up and was very much in vogue. Two 
great scouts, George Black and Val Parnell, were at the head of it and were 
responsible for putting on wonderful shows. I dropped in to see Gracie 
Fields and a new comic who had sprung up, Max Miller. I found lots of new 
night clubs doing business in London besides the Kit-Kat; Quaglino's, Giro's, 
the Embassy, the Mayfair, the Berkeley, Cafe de Paris, Grosvcnor House, 
Dorchester House, and the Cafe Anglaise, where Morton Downey was then 
singing. I found American performers playing in nearly all the swank cafes. 
London was terrifically gay and jazz mad. They'd certainly caught on to 
the new American rhythms since my first visit six years before. 

The Kit-Kat was no longer run as a membership club. It was a restaurant 
now, under the direction of Sir Walter Gibbons and managed by Robin 
Humphreys and Monsieur Poulson. There was a ten-dollar cover charge 
for my opening night, April 30. Just as I was getting ready for the opening, 
two American visitors dropped in to see me Mr. and Mrs. John Balaban, of 
the Balaban Katz theaters in Chicago. I invited them to come along to the 
opening. They demurred at first, since they had no dinner clothes with them, 
They had just flown in from Paris and their trunks were coming by express. 
My Niece, Sadie, who had gone over with Al, Ted, and me that trip, and 
friends, who knew the Balabans, and I scurried around and fitted them out 
to go to the Kit-Kat. I got a table for them close to the little platform I used. 
I went into my dressing room and stayed there until I was ready to go on, 
making a real Tucker entrance in great form, great voice, gorgeous outfit, 
new jewelry. Yes siree! I was damn proud of myself that night! And pretty 
damn careful. Every song had been gone over with Harry Foster and the 
managers of the Kit-Kat. I didn't want any more trouble with the censors 
or the London County Council. 

If I got a kick out of being recognized and welcomed by the customs 
inspectors, the railroad guards, and the London police, it was nothing com- 
pared to the thrill of the greeting I got that night from London's upper crust 


when I walked down the staircase to the strains of "Some of These Days. 
"Welcome, Soph, old girl!" "Hello, Soph!" I wasn't nervous or frightened. 
My heart sang. I called back: "Hello, everybody!" "Glad to-be back!" "Glad 
to see you all!" shaking hands here and there as I waded through the tables 
up to my platform. I could see the Balabans eating it all up. Well, that 
wouldn't do me any harm when I went back to- play their theaters in 
The write-ups in the press were all I could ask for". To quote the Bystander: 

Soph, this one calls herself, as she pours a bucketful of Tuckerisms over our 
delighted heads. She is not young, nor slinky; she will admit to the deficiency 
of both with a disarming frankness. But she tells us, and the whole gamut of 
stark satire is uncovered in the saying that she has a kiss like a hungry mosquito. 
Whatever she says, the assembled world roars with delight at the sound of her 
voice. And well it may, for if ever there was a woman who earned her weekly 
salary, it is the incomparable Soph. . . 

A few days after the opening I had a visit from Andre Chariot to ask 
whether I would be interested in helping the Sunday Play Society and do a 
bit in one of Maurice Baring's Greek plays. Roland Leigh, now director for 
Warner Brothers, was directing it. 

"What the hell can I do with a Greek play?" I demanded. "Why pick on 

"Come on, Soph, it will be great fun if you do.' 3 

I finally said I would, and found myself up to my neck rehearsing daily 
the part of Xantippe in the play Socrates. I was the old boy's scolding wife 
and played opposite Mr. Edmund Brean. God knows why they picked on 
me for the part. My outfit was a Grecian robe of flowing white crepe with a 
wide gold kid belt, a leopard skin over my shoulder, and flat gold sandals. 
For thirty years I had worn high heels, and those sandals were a torture to my 
dogs. By the time Sunday arrived, I was limping and cursing myself for 
ever getting into such a business. 

Well, the play was on. The house packed. My cue came, and I went on 
to a terrific reception. I hadn't gone three feet when the sandals made me 
stumble. Under my breath (I thought!) I exclaimed: "Those goddamn 
sandals!" The house caught it and broke into a whoop. My Grecian dra- 
peries got in my way and tangled up my knees. I couldn't, for the life of me, 
think of my opening lines. All I could remember was that I was to scold 
Socrates for getting home late. It made me think of my experience years ago 
in burlesque. There was Socrates in his dirty outfit. So I boomed out: 


"Socrates, you're twenty minutes late. And you need a lot of new clothes'' 
The last was one o the punch lines from my song "Me and Myself." 

Well, that just broke up the Greek play. From then on it was an ad-lib 
show full of laughs and I guess everybody^ including the press, was re- 

My contract with the Kit-Kat was for eight weeks, but it was extended to 
run sixteen weeks. Meanwhile, I doubled at the Alhambra, the Palladium, 
and a number of other variety theaters in and around London. And all the 
time I was entertaining at benefits for every sort of thing from Queen Char- 
lotte's Hospital birthday party at which Her Royal Highness Princess Louise, 
the King's aunt, cut an enormous birthday cake with one hundred and 
eighty-four candles to mark her grandmother, Queen Charlotte's, birthday, 
to the annual ball of the Oxford University Debating Society. Lady Keeble 
was hostess of the ball and sent a car to the Kit-Kat for me. I finished work 
at the club at twelve-thirty and drove to Oxford, arriving there at 3 A.M. I 
kept thinking: this is one place I never expected Sophie Tucker to get into. 
But I found the ballroom packed with boys and girls waiting for me, and we 
kept the fun going till the sun came up. 

One of the benefits at which I was asked to help was for the Sir Douglas 
Haig Memorial, which was sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of York, 
now King and Queen of England. They came to the Alhambra Theatre to 
see me work. There was great excitement in the house when they were seen 
to enter the royal box, and delight when they laughed and applauded the 
show from start to finish. One night the duke and duchess came to the Kit- 
Kat with a party. I was using my blackboard there, with the choruses of the 
songs painted on it. I would call on, all the men in the room to stand up and 
sing the chorus with me; then the men and women together. An old stunt, 
but always good. The night the duke and duchess were there, when I called 
on the men to stand up and sing, the men injhe royal party were timid at 
first about rising. The duchess said: "Sophie said to stand up. Do what 
Sophie says." The whole room c f heered their good fellowship. 

England was getting back on her feet after a long period of hard times. 
The Exposition at Wembley was drawing big crowds. It seemed as if every- 
body wanted to have fun. The Kit-Kat and the Cafe de Paris, down at Bray, 
where I worked every Sunday, were running high.. Show people from 
America and from France kept passing through. One of these was Maurice 
Chevalier. I was sick in bed at the Savoy, with a very bad head cold, and a 
trained nurse was giving me inhalations of benzoin when Al Lackey came in. 

UJf JLilJbbJi JJAX5 

bringing Chevalier to meet me. It would be hard to imagine a less romantic 
setting me under the steam tent and Chevalier firing questions at me about 
American audiences. He had just signed to make his first trip to America 
and he wanted pointers from an old hand like me. 

Several years later Chevalier gave an interview to the Daily Herald, which 
I clipped and pasted in my scrapbook, marked with a big red star. Chevalier 

Playing London at the moment is an actress to whose performance I personally 
owe a great deal. Just after the war I used to pay hurried visits to London fairly 
frequently. I would write Tom Hearns, my present manager, what were the best 
shows to see. He always met me at Victoria Station with a carefully compiled 
list of good shows. But whenever possible I scrapped the list and went to see 
Sophie Tucker. "Why," asked Tom on the first occasion, "do you choose 
Sophie? What has she to teach you?" 

"Everything," I replied. There were scores of prettier actresses on the London 
stage and many with nicer figures, but there was no one who could put a song 
over like Sophie. Others relied to a degree on their beauty. Sophie relied on her 
brains and her art. She won. She made every man in the stalls think she was 
singing especially to him. I told Tom Hearns then that the actress who could 
hold her position as Sophie did had a lot to teach everybody who cared to learn. 
That is still true. 

Chaliapin was singing in London and drawing big crowds. I met him one 
night at the Savoy. "Sophie dear," he boomed in his million-dollar voice, 
"with my voice and your personality what I couldn't do!" 

The Exposition at Wembley was attracting important people from all over 
the continent. Sooner or later they would turn up at the Kit-Kat or for 
Sunday dinner at Bray Indian princes with their retinues, ambassadors, and 
government officials, such as Prince Potenziani, the governor of Rome, and 
his daughter Princess Myriam. I got to know them quite well. The prince 
loved to hear me call him "Guv'nor." Hell! I didn't know what else to call 
him. I wish I knew where those two grand people are today. 

After sixteen weeks at the Kit-Kat I contracted to go to the provinces 
Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton. I took my 
own road show out and went on sharing terms. That meant I played the 
house on a percentage. I paid the acts, .and the balance was my own. I en- 
gaged about eight acts. I was now in business as the Sophie Tucker Enter- 
prises, Ltd. In Leeds; which is a very big Jewish center, we did a hell of a 
business, and the hit o every bill was "My Yiddisha Mama." 


Tallulah Bankhead was breaking In her show, Her Cardboard Lover? with 
Leslie Howard that week in Leeds. She did a grand job of it too she and 

All in all, my touring the provinces was a big success financially. I had 
only one setback: in Manchester. The theater there refused a percentage deal 
and offered me a weekly salary, but I insisted on a percentage. I had been 
told that the Manchester Handicap was to be run that week, and I figured 
on doing big business with the crowds up for the race. Ultimately, the 
theater managers came round and signed up. On the day I opened a black 
fog settled over Manchester and all that week it was as dark as night, even at 
noon. Business was terrible, and no wonder. The theater managers wore a 
broad grin, realizing what my obstinacy had done to keep them out of the 
red. I barely made enough that week to pay the performers, and had to wire 
the London office for money to carry on. Fortunately, the fog didn't extend 
to the next town we were booked into and from then on we made money. 

The tour was a big feather in my cap and great publicity. I made new 
friends, filled many pages of my address book, and came to London for my 
last week at the Holborn Empire. 

I went back to London two years later to play in the musical comedy, 
Follow a: Star, at the Winter Garden Theatre. A great deal happened to me 
and to those I loved during the two years I have skipped over. One of the 
things that happened was my marriage to Al Lackey. We had waited and 
put it off, hoping for a time when he would be established in some business 
of his own, but it seemed as though that time would never come. We loved 
each other very much and wanted to be together, so I said to myself, even 
though It was against my better judgment, why wait? Why let money inter- 
fere with two people's happiness? Besides, Al was acting as my personal 
manager. He was a lot of help to me. He was smart about show business. 
And so we were married. 

Some of the things that happened during those two years I'll tell you later, 
since they were all a part of the last days of vaudeville. They were years in 
which the changes in show business, which had been coming along ever 
since the public developed a taste for motion pictures, suddenly swept away 
the entertainment world which most of us old-timers had grown up in. They 
were years full of headaches for everybody in show business. 

I had plenty of headaches myself as well as heartaches, especially in the 
last weeks before I sailed for England in June 1930. 1 played a week at Loew's 
State Theatre in New York just before sailing and the time between shows I 
spent at Mollie's bedside. I lived in the theater and in the hospital. One night 


I rushed up to see her after my second show. The nurse met me in the hall. 
She said Mollie was asking for me, waiting for me. I went in and sat by her 
bed and held her hand so thin and wasted now. She lay so still under the 
white covers. After a bit she looked up at me and smiled. "Patsy," she said, 
"don't ever let down. You're one in a million. I love you." Her eyelids 
dropped tiredly. There was a little sigh and Mollie was gone. She took a 
piece out of my life when she went. 

We sailed on the Ik de France. Jack and Sylvia Yellen went along. Jack 
had been engaged to write the lyrics for Follow a Star. We had a good cross- 
ing, with lots of performers and artists aboard, including Norma Talmadge 
and Walter Damrosch. Between us we put on a fine ship's concert, but dur- 
ing the concert, while the ship was sailing smoothly and I was seated talking 
to the captain and Mr. Damrosch, something queer happened to the ma- 
chinery. Jack Yellen was on the platform, as master of ceremonies, announc- 
ing the next act, when suddenly the lie de France listed way over to one side. 
All the chairs and tables started sliding. Women screamed. The captain made 
a quick dive for the engine room. Mr. Damrosch grabbed me. "Quick! get up 
on the platform. Quiet these people!" The ship was still lying far over on 
her side and it was all I could do to walk to the piano. It seemed as if the 
boat would never straighten up again. Teddy started one of my numbers, 
and we swung into a show that we carried on in response to nods from 
Walter Damrosch until the ship's crew got the lie de France on her keel 

Paul Murray was producing Follow a Star, and starring Jack Hulbert and 
me. The book was by Douglas Ferber, with music by Vivian Ellis. Jack 
Yellen was to write special numbers and take care of my dialogue. The cast 
included Alfred Drayton, Claude Hulbert, Betty Davis, Archie Baskcomm, 
and Irene Russell. I had some handsome clothes, but Paul Murray and Hul- 
bert insisted their costumer make my clothes for the show. I'll say they were 
stunning. A black cloth suit with a long coat trimmed with luxurious white 
fox; a beige afternoon frock trimmed with blue fox; a white panne velvet 
evening gown studded with brilliants and with a coat trimmed in ermine. 
The whole show was very smartly dressed. 

During -.the weeks of rehearsals I had a chance for some fun with old 
friends, like the Cohen girls and Sim Rose, and I could accept some of the 
invitations from notables. The tennis matches were on. I remember going 
out to Lady Sophie Wavertree's at Sussex Lodge where I met and enter- 
tained ex-King Manuel of Portugal and his mother both tennis fans-- 
Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught, and the champions, Bill Tilden, 


Cilly Aussem, the German champion, Jacques Bragnon, the Australian 
tennis expert, and Christian Boussos, the French tennis king. 

There was a very clever Englishman, Douglas Bing, playing at the Cafe 
Anglaise in London. The town was wild over him, and no wonder. Never 
have I seen such an artist, and what songs he had! I guess I was his steadiest 
American customer. 

The first night we were in London the Yellens and I went to see Gracie 
Fields at the Palladium. Gracie spotted me from the stage and called on me, 
with the whole house egging her on, until I had to stand up and sing "Some 
of These Days." Ted wasn't along, so I sang without accompaniment. 

We opened the show in Manchester. I'll never forget the welcome the Jew- 
ish Community Center gave me on our arrival there. It was pouring rain, of 
course. Dress rehearsal was called at the theater Sunday afternoon, and we 
never left the theater from then until Monday at 6 P.M. We had just time to 
go to the hotel, freshen up, and get back for the eight-thirty opening curtain. 
Bess Lonergan, writer for one of the American newspaper syndicates, the 
Cohen girls, Sim Rose, and Madame Suzanne came down to Manchester as 
my guests for the opening. I was scared stiff. This was the first time I had 
played in a musical comedy in a good many years, and I wasn't at all sure 
how the British audiences would like me in a show, playing a part. I still 
remembered Rufus Le Maire's verdict: "You're all right as a singer, but as an 
actress you stink!" However, during rehearsals the show had shaped up well, 
and Paul Murray and Jack Hulbert kept assuring me I was all right and had 
nothing to fear. 

Well, Manchester agreed with them. We played all week to sellout busi- 
ness, and the press went to town for me in a big way. 

The Manchester Guardian said: 

It is not a style to suit everyone, but the Palace audience last night unmis- 
takably relaxed on her ample bosom. 

The show played the provinces four weeks before we came into the Winter 
Garden Theatre in London. If only the show had stayed the way it was 
when we opened in Manchester it would have been, I think, a smash hit 
in London. 

But once again, as with Rufus Le Maire's Affairs, I saw a good show taken 
to pieces and badly put together, even after it had proved itself to be good. 
This happened in Glasgow, where Paul Murray fell ill. Jack Hulbert made 
all the changes himself, and the show that was brought to London was not 
a good one. Jack is a great artist, but that does not necessarily imply the. 


cleverness of a producer. He never asked me if I thought this was good or 
bad. Several times I had to bite my tongue and remember I was a stranger 
and I had to be tactful I was playing my first part in the show, and I couldn't 
afford to voice my opinion. Still it went hard with me to see a good piece of 
property butchered and to see family relationships and heart affairs affect a 
whole cast. The London Press welcomed me in headlines: GOOD OLD 
Hanan Swaffer actually liked the show, and said of it: 

Sophie Tucker brings the house down. Sophie Tucker, making her London 
debut as a musical-comedy star, scored last night an enormous personal triumph. 
The first act of Follow a Star, full of novel ideas, is one of the most interesting 
I have seen in a musical show for a long time. Although the second is not so 
good, it is a clever show. 

But it was Sophie Tucker's night. She is the wife of the world's worst con- 
jurer, who discovers in a New York cabaret that he is an English baronet. So 
Sophie has to enter English society as Lady Bohum. We see the maternal Sophie, 
resplendent and sunny, skating over all the ice of swell manners, daring, saucy, 
and pert, and yet the most womanly of women underneath it all. 

Betty Davis, a girlish newcomer, is charming and sweet. Jack Hulbert and 
his brother, Claude, have some good dances. The world's best. But it was 
Sophie's night. She proved, when she stepped out of the play, toward the end, 
and sang seven or eight numbers, with Ted Shapiro at the piano, that she was 
the cleverest artist of her kind in the English-speaking world. 

She sang about how fat she was, told women how to make love "Lonely 
Wives, You Should Worry," she chanted, "that's what God made sailors for" 
and she sang about her size, and how red hot she could be, and how cruel she 
was. Nobody believed it, but it brought down the house. Beautifully gowned in 
white, with her golden hair shining, and with her face beaming with sauciness, 
Sophie held the house for number after number, daring, challenging, and yet 
so attractive. Follow a Star with Sophie is a splendid entertainment. Sophie is 
the star to follow. 

While playing at the Winter Garden I opened the Kit-Kat restaurant 
again and doubled there. When my birthday came round, the Kit-Kat man- 
agement gave me a party with' a huge birthday cake. I sent invitations to all 
my friends in London to come to help me serve the cake to the customers. It 
was the first time anything of this sort was ever done in a public restaurant 
in London, and the people who were there that night enjoyed it enormously. 
The cake was served by Cicely Courtneidge, Irene Russell, Ivy Tresmand, 
Peggy Wood, Clarice Mayne, Janet McGrew, Hilda Glyder, Binnie Barnes, 


Stephanie Stephens, and Erin O'Brien Moore. Marie Burke and the girls put 
on a show, too, which turned it into a gala night. 

One of the pictures previewed in London that season was the Marx 
Brothers' Cocoanuts, and C. B. Cochrane brought the boys over to make a 
personal appearance at the same time. What a difference from 1922, when 
they first played the British music halls and how the British audience went 
wild over the boys and the picture! Sir John and Lady Milbanke gave a party 
at Quaglino's for Elsa Maxwell, Lady Ribblesdale, Mrs. Richard Norton, 
Mrs. Dudley Ward, Sir Adrian Bailey, Miss Grace Edwards, Lord and Lady 
Brownlon, Douglas Bing, Mr. Archie Campbell, the Marx Brothers, and me. 
Elsa was in great form that night, and as for the Marx Brothers, they had the 
crowd in stitches. 

The show closed just before Christmas, which gave me a chance to run 
over to Paris and to keep a date with Jennie and Rosie Dolly. The Yellens 
left for home, but my hubby came over to spend the holidays with me, and 
we went down to Jennie's chateau at Fontainebleaii. 

I had an idea that a cMteau was a simple little country house, and that was 
what I was expecting as we drove down from Paris through beautiful coun- 
try. All the way along the road high iron or wooden fences hid the houses 
from our view. Finally, we drove through a huge estate into a magnificent 
courtyard. There was a big fountain in the center all covered with snow. 
You entered a long hall with marble pillars, then went into a huge living 
room with french windows opening onto a terrace overlooking the grounds 
of the chateau. The biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen, trimmed and 
weighed down with gifts, stood at one end of the room. The house was 
magnificent throughout. I went on tiptoe after Jennie, "ohing" and "ahing" 
at everything she showed me. Antique furniture, priceless crystal and china, 
furniture covered in Louis XIV petit point, bedspreads of handmade lace. A 
chateau to the Dolly girls, but a palace to me! And it had all the modern 
touches as well as the antique beauties: plenty of luxurious tiled bathrooms, 
and a kitchen with every modern American household device. Jennie and 
Rosie went into the kitchen to fix a Hungarian goulash the way their mother 
used to make it. It was a marvelous Christmas the most wonderful I re- 

Jennie and Rosie Dolly had made a fortune in Europe and they lived up 
to it. Jennie's home in Paris was as luxurious as her chateau at Fontainebleau, 
and her salon on the Champs Elysees was the most exquisite shop in Paris 
to buy anything from baby clothes to luxurious furs. The walls were hung 
with fine paintings and etchings, and there was a little cocktail lounge for 


the patrons. The rugs in the dress salon had Jennie Dolly woven into the 

Rosie didn't go in for these luxurious things as Jennie did. The two girls 
so different in temperament adored each other. 

It is one o the things in life I could never understand that Jennie Dolly, 
who would give the shirt off her back to anyone who asked for it, should 
have had the deluge of misfortune that wrecked her fortune and her career, 
but not her spirit. First, the automobile accident in which she was nearly 
killed, the operations by the greatest plastic surgeons in France to restore her 
face. A fortune spent to save her life. After two years a new Jennie Dolly 
came to America, her wealth dissipated, her fabulous jewels confiscated by 
the French Government. Later Jennie came to Chicago and married Ben 
Venissky. All her friends hoped she was going to have happiness after so 
much trouble and suffering, but I guess happiness was not for Jennie. She 
left Venissky and took her two adopted daughters to Hollywood to put 
them in pictures. I was playing in the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles that 
week, and she rang me up to tell me she was coming down to visit with me 
"just like old times." That was one night. The next day, when I woke up, 
they were crying the extras with the news that Jennie Dolly had committed 
suicide. Fanny Brice and I, who were the Dolly Sisters' oldest friends, stood 
by Rosie in her tragic loss. Rosie had married a Chicago man, too, Irving 
Netcher. Jennie's passing away cemented the tie of friendship between Rosie 
and Irving and me, a friendship which increases with the years. 

While I was in Paris that trip I went to Jennie to make some striking 
gowns for me. I told her and Rosie that I'd had an offer to play the Empire 
Theatre in Paris early next March, and that I had asked a stiff price of 
seven thousand dollars, American money, not French, for the two weeks' 

"But no artistAmerican or Frenchever got that kind of money in 
Paris!" the girls exclaimed. 

"Well, kids, your Sophie will get it if she plays there," I told them. I didn't 
explain that I had asked the stiff price on purpose^so the manager wouldn't 
book me, as the idea of playing in Paris scared me 'Stiff. 

CHAPTER 24: The Last Time I Saw Paris 

You CAN'T be in show business steadily for over twenty years and not get 
wise to a few things about yourself and about audiences. I figured that I 
knew something about how to entertain Americans. God knows that if I 


didn't know it by this time, I never would. My experiences in England, play- 
ing the theaters and cafes, had taught me something about what goes over 
with the British customers. But what did I know about French audiences? 
Not a damned thing. 

On my first trip to Europe, back in 1922, Sis, Jack, Ted, and I had taken a 
flying look at Brussels, Berlin, and Paris. We had sampled the night life in 
those three capitals. I'll never forget a play we saw in Berlin, with the most 
wonderful acting I have ever seen anywhere and a story that still haunts me. 
After the show we went around to a few of Berlin's hot spots magnificent 
dance halls, marvelous food. At Pelzer's I swam in their big bowl of caviar. 
Gosh, I kept thinking, how Pa would have enjoyed this. But aside from those 
swell and high-priced places the one word for Berlin's night life was "rotten." 
The Europa and the Cafe Vernon were "nude" palaces vulgar, dirty. The 
less said of them the better. Yes, everywhere you went you were struck by 
the cheap morale of Berlin and the number of "fag" joints. There was no 
time of day or night that you didn't see men dressed as women. On the 
streets and in every hotel lobby were men and women hustling. And there 
was nothing discreet about the way they sold their wares. 

On that trip we went on from Berlin to Paris, which was then swarming 
with Americans and working overtime to keep the spenders amused. We hit 
all the high, spots Maxim's for lunch with the Dolly Sisters, the Folies- 
Bergere to see Mistinguette, then at the height of her popularity. I'd been 
compared and contrasted with her so many times, I was crazy to see her 
work. She was very good, but the rest of the show was only fair to my way of 
thinking. However, the scenery was gorgeous. It was that night that I copied 
down the name of the designer, who was programmed for staging the revue, 
and made inquiries where to find him. The next day I ordered from him 
two handsome patent-leather drops which I took home with me, as I have 
told in a previous chapter. 

I had never seen so much nudity on the stage as at the Folies-Bergere. 
Apparently, that was what put the show 'over with the French customers. 
The show girls and the demimondaines (plain hustlers in our country) who 
packed the big barroom of the Folies were beautifully groomed, chic, smart. 
You could see those French gals knew their stuff. 

At that time the New York Bar was the most popular American rendez- 
vous in Paris. Les Copeland used to sing there his specialty was the old, 
old songs of Chinatown. Les came from San Francisco's Barbary Coast and 
he made the songs he brought from there popular with Americans and Brit- 
ishers who flocked to Paris. After Les Copeland, the New York Bar carried 


on with two singers from New York's East Side Tommy Lyman and Roy 
Barton. Their great stunt was singing the barroom ballads of the Gay 

But the great night spot in Montmartre, back in the Twenties, the place 
that people fought to get into, was Zelli's. Zelli was an American, and he 
built the success of his place in Paris on what he had learned in America 
about running a successful saloon. He always greeted the customers at the 
door and called most of them by name as he shook their hands. Then he 
would tell the waiter to conduct them to the royal box. A great bull artist, 
Joe Zelli. He knew his Paris and he knew his international society. The fizz 
water I had there made me very happy, and I put on a show for the custom- 
ers that should have been worth something more than just the headache I 
woke up with the next morning. 

But even if I had been around Paris, what did I know of it except what it 
had to offer to tourists? I didn't know what French people were like inside, 
what would make them laugh or cry, or what made them mad. But I knew 
enough to know a continental audience was different from a British or an 
American one. 

I'd had OHQ experience playing a Saturday night at Ostend, Belgium, right 
after my engagement in London in 1928. Ted Lewis and his band had played 
there at the Casino and were a riot. I thought I could do what he had done, 
but, boy, oh, boy, did I flop! Did I lay eggs in Ostend! About fifteen hun- 
dred people packed the room to hear the big American artist. No one under- 
stood a word of what I sang. I sang song after song, and all the time the 
noise and chatter were terrific. A few applauded, but the rest didn't know 
what the hell it was all about. After I finished work, the manager sent word 
for me to come to his office for my money one thousand dollars. He gave 
me a French check. "Nothing doing, mister," I told him. "I want American 
money." He told me it would take some time before he could do that. 

"That's okay," I told him. "I'll be in my room. Send it up." 

"Why don't you go into the gambling room?" he suggested. 

"Thank you," I said. "I've already given it the double-O. I'm taking Amer- 
ican money back home!" 

Upstairs in my room, Carl McCullough, who was along with me, and 
my niece, Sadie, and I got into a pinochle game while waiting for my money 
to be delivered. The boat for London left at 5:30 A.M., and we had to catch 
it because I had an engagement for Sunday night. Four-thirty came, and no 
money. That's when I began to raise hell. At five-fifteen the money was 
handed over, and boy, did we streak it to the boat! 


That experience at Ostend didn't make me feel too sure of French man- 
agers or of rny ability to win and hold a French audience. When I found 
that the two managers of the Empire Theatre, Messieurs Varno and Dufre, 
hadn't balked at the price I asked them for a two weeks' engagement 
seven thousand dollars I made up my mind I was in for it. All through the 
winter weeks, while I was playing in and around London and the British 
provinces, I kept worrying about what was going to happen when I played 

If only the Boss had been there to give me a steer! 

My first worry was about the French house orchestra. French orchestras 
simply couldn't play American jazz. All the smart dancing places in Paris 
employed some American musicians. The Paris City Council had passed a 
law that 50 per cent of the musicians in every orchestra employed in a cafe 
had to be of French nationality. In some of the places the manager would 
have the French musicians keep quiet while the Americans played the jazz 
the customers wanted. I made up my mind that as soon as I got to Paris I 
would engage a five-piece band to play for me. Teddy was busy a week 
before the opening rehearsing five boys. I gave a lot of thought to what songs 
I would sing, and I made up my mind to use only melodies and rhythm 
songs, choosing those which I had recorded in London and the records of 
which had had a good sale in France. 

It was Edwina Mountbatten who advised me to sing my theme song in 
French as well as in English. She and the Earl of Sefton made a translation 
of the chorus of "Some of These Days" and taught me to sing it. It took me 
weeks to memorize it, but I got it down pat. When I told the Dolly Sisters I 
was going to do this, they approved of the idea. It took me almost another 
week to train myself to call the Empire Theatre "Om-peer." But that pro- 
nunciation made a big hit with Messieurs Varno and Dufre. Having finally 
agreed to my price, they couldn't be nicer or more cordial to me than they 

For weeks, before I opened in Paris, Jennie and Rosie Dolly were busy 
building up publicity for me. I don't think there was a single American, liv- 
ing or visiting in Paris, that the girls didn't call up, write, or wire to be at 
the opening to put over Sophie Tucker. This included the American am- 
bassador and the entire staff at the Embassy. Maurice Chevalier, meanwhile, 
got busy with the press, who went to town for me. 

When I got to Paris I found my suite at the Claridge filled with flowers 
and the exciting-looking boxes containing the clothes Jennie had made for 
me. There was another big box from the girls with love which they sent 


around to my dressing room at the Empire. It was full of the craziest assort- 
ment of things you ever saw soap, towels, perfume, make-up, and a roll of 
toilet paper. 

"Ha, ha," I laughed, when I came to this, thinking it was one of their 

"There is nothing to laugh at," Rosie came back. "You'll soon find that 
the most useful present anybody can give you in a French theater. Have you 
taken a look at die toilet yet, Soph?" 

I hadn't, but after Rosie tipped me off, I prowled around until I found the 
toilet. There was only one for men and women. Ill bet no one had cleaned 
It since Bernhardt played that theater. And just as Rosie said, the manage- 
ment provided no toilet paper. In France, every performer has to carry his 

I had the jitters when I walked on the stage at rehearsal. Every board 
creaked under me. I had visions of a cave-in. But there was a marvelous stage 
crew, who all seemed very friendly, even though not one of them spoke a 
word of English. 

On my opening night, when I heard my introduction played, I stood in 
the entrance holding onto the scenery. I had a godawful feeling. Not about 
my looks. The clothes Jennie Dolly had made me were beautiful and as chic 
as anything a Paris audience ever saw. Just the same, I was plumb scared of 
facing those French people. Teddy was on the stage. He had the band in 
hand. The house gave him a good reception. I thought to myself, don't be a 
damn fool. The Dolly Sisters are out front. They won't let you down. Sing to 
them. Don't see anybody" else. 

With that I walked out onto the stage. To my surprise, the house gave me 
a rousing reception, cheers. I looked out at the audience. There in the front 
row were Jennie and Rosie, Maurice Chevalier, and, as far as I could see, 
rows and rows of American faces. I thought, where in hell are the French 
people? I looked off at the side. Standing along a balcony that seemed to run 
around the whole orchestra were Frenchmen with their caps on and no ties; 
French gals, all standing up, leaning against the railing. In London these 
people would be sitting in the pit or in the gallery. In an American theater, 
they would be upstairs in the balcony. Here the whole lower floor was a 
beautiful sight everyone in evening dress, the women wearing exquisite 
jewels. I could see to the third row in the first balcony, which was packed 
with nice-looking French people. The gallery was jammed. I could make out 
a blur of faces. That's where the French people were who had come to give 
the American chanteuse the once-over. They were the people I had to think 


about they and the gang with caps on leaning against the railing, sizing 
me up. 

I sang song after song, still with my eyes and my heart on the galleries. 
When I swung into "Some of These Days," the house went wild. Then I sang 
the chorus in French, and it brought a terrific laugh and applause from all 
over the theater. There were calls for "encore," but I had rehearsed only five 
songs. I saw the ushers coming down the aisle with basket after basket of 
flowers. Fifteen of them were handed up over the footlights to me. What I 
couldn't get over was that the cards on the baskets of flowers bore names of 
people I'd never heard of. Then I found out that every single basket had 
been sent by Jennie or Rosie. The girls were determined to put me over with 
the Paris audience if they possibly could just like their loving loyal hearts. 

Of course every night isn't an opening night. The test comes later in the 
week. That's when you find out whether or not you are GOOD. The next few 
days went smoothly. The press was good, and the French people kept turn- 
ing out. I think they decided I had personality and they appreciated that I 
was an artist. But the trouble was that they wanted me to sing in French, 
and all the French I knew was the chorus of "Some of These Days." 

On Thursday night the audience started calling to me to sing in French. 
I tried to explain that I didn't know or understand French. The nicer people 
in the house tried to quiet the roughnecks. I'd been up against tough gangs 
in the small-time houses back home and I had my own way of handling 
them. Yd found out that I could win them over to my side by calling out 
to them. But here again the language was the barrier. There wasn't one damn 
thing I could do with that French gallery gang. 

On Friday night the house had quite a lot of French Jews. Several note 
had been sent back to me, and the managers also told me there were a great 
many requests for me to sing "My Yiddisha Mama. n I was leary of this. I 
told the managers they would have to leave it to my own judgment as the 
act went along. 

I went out to do my regular program. Again there were the calls to me 
to sing in French. And after every song someone in the audience would call 
for "Yiddisha Mama." Immediately the roughnecks would shout "no! 11 

I was in a hell of a fix and perfectly helpless as the audience fought back 
and forth something I had never seen or heard of in any theater. 

I finished my routine, singing the chorus of "Some of These Days" in 
French. I had made up my mind not to sing "My Yiddisha Mama." Then 
came more shouts and calls for it. Teddy shot me a questioning look. 

I thought and it was one of the stupidest blunders I ever made so many 


have asked for It, I ought to sing it. Ill explain why I'm singing it. The song 
Itself will touch everybody in the house. 

I explained, and then sang the song in English. Everything was all right 
until I started the first sentence in Yiddish. Then up went "boo!" from all 
over the house! The boos were answered by a yell from the Jews and cries 
to be quiet The others yelled back to the Jews. They didn't want the song. 

The noise was so great I couldn't hear my own voice, nor could I hear 
Teddy at the piano. I thought: in a minute there'll be a riot. Quick as a flash 
I turned to Teddy and said, "Switch!" Before the audience knew what the 
hell was happening I was singing, "Happy Days Are Here Again." 

My God, I only hoped they were! 

While the house was still in an uproar I was off the stage. The American 
press ran headlines on the story: SOPHIE TUCKER HISSED OFF PARIS 

Well, it was great publicity, and my agent, Paula Gould, was right on the 
job to make the most of it. 

I finished rny engagement at the "Om-peer," being careful not to make 
any more changes in my standard program, That was the first and last time 
I played a Paris theater. I went back to help open the American Legion 
building there, Pershing Hall, when the American Legion held its convention 
in Paris that summer. All that spring and summer I played the variety 
theaters in the British provinces and the British seashore resorts. I had been 
away from the United States for over a year, and working all the time. 

When I finished the tour, I was glad to join my husband in Switzerland, 
where he had gone to visit Mr, and Mrs. A. J. Balaban. There is one thing 
about working as hard as a performer works on tour, when you get a chance 
for a vacation you make the most of it. Al and I didn't miss a trick in 
Switzerland or in Venice. But the high spot of our trip was Vienna, All my 
life I had wanted to see that city of which I had heard so many stories and 
which is so famous in the world of show business. Poor Vienna, so pitifully 
changed, everybody said, since the world war and still managing to be gay 
and hospitable. 

Something happened in Vienna which I like to think of in connection with 
that experience at the Empire Theatre in Paris, when the audience booed me 
for singing "Yiddisha Mama." Al and I were out shopping. We passed a 
gramophone store and, for the fun of it, went in and asked: 

"Do you sell Sophie Tucker's records?" 

"Oh yes!" the saleslady said. "We have all of them." 

"Which is the best seller?" 


" 'My Yiddisha Mama!' " she said at once. "We've sold thousands o them. 
Fd venture to say, gnddige Frau, there isn't a home in Vienna that doesn't 
boast that record. Would you like to hear it?" 

"Go ahead,' 7 1 said; "put it on." As she brought the record from the shelf, 
I said to her, "What would you say if I were to tell you I am Sophie Tucker ?" 

She looked at me blankly. "I could not believe or disbelieve you, gnadige 
Frau. I have never seen a picture of Sophie Tucker." 

"Put the record on," I said, "and I will sing with it." 

She put the record on and started the machine. There was the introduc- 
tion to the song and then I started the first line, "Of things I should be 
thankful for, I've had a goodly share . . ." 

Her mouth opened in amazement. "Gott im Himmd!" she cried. 
"Gnadige Frau, you are she!" Without another word she ran into the street 
and began to call to the people passing by and upstairs to people on the 
balconies and at the windows of the flats. "Come quick! Come quick! Here 
is the Yiddisha Mama herself. It is Sophie Tucker!" 

In less than five minutes the store was crowded and the street outside 
black with people. Policemen and newspapermen elbowed their way through 
the crowd to find out what was happening. There weren't any boos for Jack 
Yellen's song in Vienna. Instead, I had to sing every word of it for the most 
eager audience I have ever faced. 

A few nights later, when Al and I were dining at the Coblenzaal, one of 
Vienna's famous restaurants built on a cliff overlooking the Danube, the 
marvelous gypsy music the orchestra was playing got into my blood. Al and 
I got up to dance, as we loved to do. When we came to our seats, there was 
a note at my place: 

Make us all happy tonight. Please sing "Some of These Days." 


Standing in the moonlight, on a terrace in Vienna, singing "Some of These 
Days" to the music of a gypsy band, is the most romantic experience my life 
in show business has brought me. And "Of things I should be thankful 
for . . ." one is that I was permitted to taste some of the flavor of Vienna 
before its spirit was stamped out by the Nazi heel. 

There were no Nazis on view in Berlin when we got there for a big July 
Fourth celebration for Americans at the Hotel Adlon. A gala dinner party 
was staged by the American ambassador, and I looked forward to appear- 
ing in one of my stunning Paris gowns. It wasn't until I started to dress for 


the dinner that I found what the marvelous food of Vienna, Budapest, 
Prague, and other vacation resorts had done to my figure. Not one evening 
gown fitted me any more. It was then six-thirty and every minute counted. 
I called the hotel housekeeper and showed her the gap in my white crepe 
gown, where the hooks wouldn't meet. What could she do about it? 

She sent out for a sewing machine, then she sat down and ripped open the 
seams. We tore up one of the sheets on the bed and set a piece of white linen 
in under the arms of the dress. That's how I went to the American am- 
bassador's dinner. I never left my seat. I didn't dare move around. I enter- 
tained from the dais. 

It is a commentary on Berlin in the summer of 1931 that I was invited to 
broadcast a recitation of "My Yiddisha Mama." I had to recite the song, as 
I didn't have any music with me and Teddy wasn't along to play the accom- 
paniment. It was "Yiddisha Mama" that the Berlin Broadcasting Company 
asked for. 

That for the Paris mob! 

"My Yiddisha Mama" was written for me by Jack Yellen and Lou Pollack. 
I introduced it at the Palace Theatre in New York in 1925 and after that in 
the key cities of the U. S, A. where there were many Jews. Even though I 
loved the song, and it was a sensational hit every time I sang it, I was always 
careful to use it only when I knew the majority of the house would under- 
stand the Yiddish. However, I have found whenever I have sung "My Yid- 
disha Mama," in the U. S. A., or in Europe, Gentiles have loved the song 
and have called for it. They didn't need to understand the Yiddish words. 
They knew, by instinct, what I was saying, and their hearts responded just 
as the hearts of Jews and Gentiles of every nationality responded when John 
McCormack sang "Mother Machree." You didn't have to have an old mother 
in Ireland to feel "Mother Machree," and you didn't have to be a Jew to be 
moved by "My Yiddisha Mama." "Mother" in any language means the same 

I scored a tremendous hit with "My Yiddisha Mama" in England. All over 
the continent this is the song which has always been identified with me, as 
"Some of These Days" is recognized as my theme song in America. 

Several years later, after Hitler came into power and started the persecu- 
tion of the Jews in Germany, I heard that my records of "My Yiddisha 
Mama" were ordered smashed and the sale of them banned in the Reich. I 
was hopping mad. I sat right down and wrote a letter to Herr Hitler which 
was a masterpiece. To date, I have never had an answer. 


When Al and I sailed home from Cherbourg at the end of that summer I 
had something to look forward to: this was the meeting with my daughter- 
in-law, Lillian. 

It seemed as if all the important family news was always being wired or 
cabled to me. I was playing in Manchester early that summer, and just 
getting ready to go on for the second show, when a cable was handed to me. 
I ripped it open and read : 

JUNE 2, 1931 


I didn't have a chance for any reaction to this news because my introduc- 
tion was being played. I went on, still clutching the cablegram inside my 
chiffon handkerchief, and all I could think of while I was singing was if only 
I could have been with Son when he got married. And, like every mother, I 
guess, I thought how young he was to take a wife. 

Before I knew it I started telling the audience about the cable and Son 
getting married. It was good that I told them. I got it off my chest and felt 
better. And I could sing "My Yiddisha Mama" when the audience called 
for it with my heart in every line. 

The Boss had booked me to play the Paramount theaters in New York and 
Brooklyn. I had a new moniker now the "International Favorite." Georgie 
Jessel and I headlined the bill, and we did a fine business, but I noticed that 
a great change had happened in American show business during the four- 
teen months I had been in Europe. There was no getting around it, the 
movies had a death grip on vaudeville. It was extraordinary how the public 
had changed. They had become very blase about entertainment. Whereas 
Americans used to arrange to spend an evening in the theater for a treat, 
now they seemed to go to the theater just to kill time. With the newspapers 
and motion-picture magazines telling the public the private lives of stars., a 
lot of the illusion and glamor of the stage were gone. The public knew too 
much about all of us. When they came to see us, they were more concerned 
with how many times we had been married or in the divorce courts and how 
many lovers an actress had than with what the show was like. 

The theaters were full of children. At the first two shows in the afternoon 
the house would be full of boys and girls, slumped down in their seats, 
obviously bored with the acts and only waiting for the picture to come on. 
Kids and necking couples those who started necking during the picture and 
kept it up when the show was on. It was worth something to try to un- 


tangle them to applaud your act. By the time of the last show, at 9:30 P.M,, 
when you had your best audience, you were dead tired. Too tired to care 
whether they liked your act or not. 

It was hell working in theaters the size they were building those days for 
the movie fans. Many times I would get right down in front of the orchestra 
pit so I could be close to the audience instead of singing miles away from 
them. Another thing, after the audience had been looking at a picture on a 
screen, a stage with just one or two performers on it seemed terribly empty. 
To get around this problem, Jack Yellen wrote a big production number for 
rne, "Dance-hall Doll" I engaged a number of people to go on the stage 
with me to fill it up. Another song I dramatized in my bills at that time was 
"River, Stay Away from My Door." 

I played across the country and in the cities of the West Coast. Changes 
everywhere. The Orpheum headliners playing picture houses in California 
didn't mean a thing any more. A picture name of any kind drew more busi- 
ness than I or any vaudevillian could do. If you were lucky to get a good 
picture, it meant a big week's business; a bad picture, and you starved to 
death. I was lucky to get Katherine Hepburn's first big picture, Morning 
Glory, at the Palace Theatre in Chicago. I went in on a percentage. Gone 
were the glorious days of the Palace vaudeville! They now ran four shows 
a day and only a few acts of vaudeville. Business was down as low as sixteen 
thousand dollars a week as compared to thirty-two thousand and thirty-five 
thousand dollars weekly receipts before the days of the picture theaters. I 
went in on- a percentage and I finished up that week with eighty-five hun- 
dred dollars for my cut. But I wasn't responsible for the business. It was a 
great picture that drew the crowds. They publicized two Hartford girls at the 
Palace that week Katherine Hepburn and Sophie Tucker. The mayor of 
Hartford sent a wire of greeting so we could publicize it. I sent off several 
wires to Miss Hepburn, asking her to send me a message for publicity for her 
picture and for me. I had to find out that most of the picture stars have no 
time and no interest to do things like that the very things we vaudeville 
performers found out long ago piled up B. O. I was brushed off completely. I 
worked like a horse all that week. I didn't depend upon the theater's pub- 
licity budget. I engaged a personal publicity man and I spent over one thou- 
sand dollars for extra advertising. Oh well, I walked out with a bundle. 

After being away from the Palace Theatre in New York for nearly three 
years, I played my first date there again in February 1932 with a fine bill 
Bill Robinson, Smith and Dale, Jack Whiting, the Four Golden Blondes, 
Bernice a&d Emily. Prior to this bill the Palace .had Lou Holtz for ten con- 


secutive weeks, who did a record-breaking business. Lou could have stayed 
on ten more weeks if he hadn't demanded more money. So I came in and 
did only a fair week's business. 

But I was back home at the Palace the only theater left in New York 
that wasn't playing pictures. The demonstration by the audience at my 
opening performance gladdened my heart. It made me feel that the New 
York public still wanted real vaudeville. After months playing picture 
houses, it was like old times. The show around me looked like old times too. 
I tell you it felt good just to walk in the alley, to hang around backstage 
and talk to Morris, the doorman, Bill, the stage manager, all the boys. Ed 
Sullivan's article in the Evening Graphic sums it up much better than I can 
do. What he said for me was said for every performer in vaudeville: 


There was a world of meaning in the remark Sophie Tucker let drop at the 
Palace the other night. "I'm glad to be back here," she said simply. "Returning 
to this theater is like coming back home to me." Watching one of these grand 
veterans of vaudeville returning to such a theater as the Palace always sort of 
chokes me up. It's like watching a Dempsey or a Johnny Dundee crawling 
through the ropes in the twilight of their careers and going into action with 
colors flying. That's what I thought as Sophie Tucker came out on the Palace 
stage Sunday night. It was the return of the queen to the domain which she had 
ruled for years. 

With her clean-cut jaw thrust out at almost a belligerent angle, Sophie came 
out on the Palace stage and went into action directly. There was no fencing and 
no sparring around for time. Here was a grand veteran of vaudeville, obeying 
vaude's dictum: "Make it fast and snappy, and make it good." No tiresome 
speeches, no coy mannerisms. "I'm Sophie Tucker," she seemed to say, "and 
here's what I've got." Her lower lip slipped out and put a twist to the lyrics 
as she sang, for the mannerisms of a Tucker belong to her alone. Looking at 
her, I wondered what thoughts were in her mind. Here she was, back in the 
Palace again after three years. Perhaps glamorous sections of her career were 
conjured up as she trod the familiar boards again and looked out into the 
orchestra over the bald dome of Lou Forman. There was no hesitancy in her 
movements. These veterans don't scare easily. She hit that first song and "went 
to town" on the second. She went into her third song, and the house came down. 

Only then did Sophie Tucker relax. "I'm glad to be back here," she said 
simply. "Returning to this theater is like coming back home to me." Vaudeville 
performers all over the country knew what was in La Tucker's heart. For the 
veterans can read between the lines of even so unadorned a statement as she 
vouchsafed. And probably the audience got it, too, for the applause was staccato 


as Sophie Tucker, with mascara staining her eyes in suspicious fashion, walked 
off, with the roar of a Palace crowd again in her ears. 

Backstage, the talk flew round that the Palace would soon go into a grind 
policy four shows a day with pictures. The gloom was so thick you could 
cut it with a knife. We all had the feeling that now that E. F. Albee, the 
czar of vaudeville, was dead, even the Palace wouldn't hold out much longer 
against pictures. You know how people used to try to help a horse pull a 
load up a hill by sitting forward on the seat and working with him? That 
was the way every actor on the bill worked that week at the Palace. As 
though he could keep New York's only vaudeville theater by his efforts. I 
worked that way myself. 

On Wednesday night I was standing center stage singing my fool head 
off when I happened to glance off at the side entrance. Bill, the stage man- 
ager, was beckoning to me. I paid no attention. I went right on with my act. 
A crowd gathered at the entrance. They were all beckoning to me to get 
off the stage. Then they pointed overhead for me to look up. I looked and 
saw a tongue of flame shoot out in the flies. Fire! I thought: I can't leave the 
stage now. I've got to tell the audience to leave quietly so there won't be a 
panic. The house was packed. 

"Take it easy, folks. Don't run. Give everybody a chance to get out." 

The front and side doors of the theater were open and the draft spread 
the flames above me. I was dressed in a gown covered with bronze sequins. 
If a spark fell on it, it would go up in a blaze and me with it. I stood there 
singing and praying no spark would drop. Then I was yanked off the stage 
by the property boy and the steel curtain came down. 

That was the famous fire at the Palace. Most of the damage was up in the 
flies and in the orchestra pit. Very little damage out front; only a few mink 
coats singed. The newspapers ran headlines: 




CHAPTER 25: Command Performance 

THE grand and glorious days of the Palace ended with the fire. The Palace 
was never the same again. When it reopened it was on the four-a-day grind 
policy. No pictures as yet but there was no longer any thrill in playing there. 


It was just another week's work. All of us knew It wouldn't be long before 
pictures would crowd vaudeville out of its last stand in New York. 

Up on the sixth floor of the Palace Theatre building, where Eddie Darling 
had his office, the atmosphere wasn't the same. You didn't see the bookers 
and the agents and the big executives of show business hanging around there 
any more. It was about as cheerful as a morgue. Nobody said it, but every- 
body knew that soon the elevators wouldn't stop at the sixth floor any more. 

The years 1931 and 1932 saw the death of American vaudeville. Albee was 
gone, and the Orpheum Circuit of houses closed up one by one. No more 
routes of forty to forty-five weeks. In July of 1932 Florenz Ziegfeld died, 
though his name will never die in show, business. Many of the ideas he 
launched are still going strong and piling up B. O. But the greatest loss of 
that year, not only to me personally but to the whole of American show 
business, was the death of my boss, William Morris. The whole theatrical 
world mourned him as a great man, not only in his profession but in all the 
human relations. To me, there never was anyone to equal him, or even stand 
beside him. I am not alone in my judgment of William Morris. For many 
years, and while American show business was running on high, there was 
hardly a show put on Broadway that its producers didn't seek his advice. 
And that went for the Metropolitan Opera House as well as for the ten- 

It took me months to realize that the Boss was gone and our close friend- 
ship of many years was over. So many little things that happened in those 
years came back to me and made me feel as though I wouldn't be able to 
carry on, especially in the tough times we were having, without his counsel 
and direction. America was sunk in the depression. The bottom had fallen 
out of show business and nobody knew what would happen next. How 
many times of late years the Boss had said to me, with a worried little frown, 
that he was afraid Abe Lastfogel would leave the office for a big contract 
in the movie field, and how could he carry on without his Abe, as he called 

"Abe will never leave you or the office, Boss," I told him a dozen times. 

Black as things looked in show business, the Boss had faith that things 
would right themselves before long. It meant everything to him to believe 
that the William Morris Agency, which he had founded and built up to the 
most important theatrical agency in the country, would carry on after he 
was gone. The Boss counted on Abe and on young Bill Morris to develop the 
work he had started. Show business might be in for a lot of new turns, but 


he expected Abe and young Bill to keep up with them and to keep ahead of 
the game. 

For years everybody in show business used to say that the Boss's foresight 
was terrific. Well, he wasn't wrong about Abe Lastfogel or young Bill, as 
things have turned out. Abe Lastfogel, who started his career in show busi- 
ness as the Boss's office boy, has been called by the government to direct the 
shows which the U.S.O. puts on for our soldiers and sailors .all over the 
world. And young Bill is making the William Morris Agency as great a 
force in show business in these days of radio and coming television as it was 
in the days before vaudeville turned up its toes and died. 

All these changes made me do a lot of thinking. I found I wasn't doing 
a big business any more in the theaters. A lot of the pictures were bad and 
the public was getting tired of them. They stayed away from the theaters 
unless there was a five- or six-star bill in addition to the picture. The picture 
stars were coming in to take a fling at the theaters and pulling down fabulous 
salaries. The public ran to see what their idols looked like in the flesh. There 
wasn't a picture star who invaded the theater who got less than twenty-five 
hundred dollars a week for appearing there. The top salaries ran up to ten 
thousand dollars a week. Appearing is about as much as any of them did. 
Very few of the glamor girls and boys of the screen knew anything of the 
stage or could entertain an audience. They could pack the picture houses 
once around, but they could never play a return date, as they had nothing 
new to give. They laid eggs in every theater and they hurt themselves and 
the whole of show business by these attempts. The theaters still had to play 
real vaudevillians to give the audience the laughs they came for and which, 
God knows, they needed plenty of in those days when the banks were 
crashing all around us. All this ran into enormous sums. 

I can tell you it hurt like hell to have to step down for the "no-talent" 
stars of the movies after you'd spent sixteen years plugging away to get to 
the place where you were a headliner and commanded big money. 

I had a taste of this back in 1932, when I was asked to play the Capitol 
Theatre in New York. They had booked a headliner, Lilyan Tashman, who 
was billed as the best-dressed woman in pictures. I had known her as a Zieg- 
feld chorus girl, and one of the best. She was booked to headline the Capitol 
with Jack Benny, Jack Pearl, George Olsen and band with Ethel Shutta. 
A few months before I had played and headlined the Capitol at my salary 
of forty-five hundred dollars. They couldn't pay me forty-five hundred dol- 
lars this time, with the big bill, and they couldn't headline me, but they 


needed me on the bill that week. Would I agree to go on for thirty-five hun- 
dred dollars and share billing with Tashman and the other stars? 

I tried to figure out the right thing to do. Of course thirty-five hundred 
dollars isn't "tin." If this combination of a show is a hit, it ought to be good 
for six weeks' work. Fm still in the good graces of my public and B. O., even 
at the picture houses, or they wouldn't be after me. 

I figured I'd get Jack Yellen to give me a few good new songs. I was out 
to make myself the outstanding hit of the bill, but the billing was the prob- 
lem. Tashman's contract was for sole billing. George Olsen and his band and 
Ethel Shutta were headliners too. Jack Pearl had been starred in musical 
comedies, so he called for headline position. God knows I'd been a headliner 
for so many years, I'd lost count. (Jack Benny never headlined any bill back 
in those days, so nobody worried about him!) I had the whole Morris 
Agency tearing their hair, trying to figure out a way in which I could have 
my position as a headliner without breaking the contracts of the others on 
the bill. The Boss it was only a few months before he left us pointed out 
that if I would give in, all the others would follow, and this would mean 
weeks of work for everybody and the biggest show on Broadway, 

Jack Yellen phoned me, "Go into the Capitol, Soph. Fve got two great 
songs for you. Sing them, and close with 'Some of These Days.' Don't sing 
any more. Tie the show up. Grab your (lough and forget the billing." 

I figured Jack and the Boss were right. I said I'd do it. Out I went to buy 
a few handsome gowns, as I had the best-dressed gal on the screen to com- 
pete with, and Ethel Shutta was no slouch herself when it came to dressing. 
On the bill Lilyan was headlined. I followed. Then came Jack Pearl, Jack 
Benny, and George Olsen's band with Ethel Shutta. For two weeks we mur- 
dered the customers, doing over one hundred and thirty thousand dollars 
business. With the same line-up we went to the Paradise Theatre uptown, 
then over to the Metropolitan Theatre in Brooklyn, breaking all records in 
those houses. We would have gone on playing in the same formation in 
every big theater in every key city across the country, but poor Lilyan fell 
ill at the end of the third week and was rjished to the 'hospital. She died 
shortly afterward. When we finished at the Gapitol, Lilyan, Benny, Pearl, 
Olsen, and 'Shutta chipped in and gave me a beautiful, huge brown suede 
handbag with a card that meant more than the gift: "For Sophie. Still the 
tops in show business and a regular gal." 

To make this success I gave up my position as a headliner, the thing I'd 
worked sixteen years to establish. I didn't do it willingly, or easily, or grace- 


fully. I did it because I felt I had to, and somewhere around in the back of 
my mind there was a feeling that just as it had been good business to give 
up the big money I had made at the German Village to take twenty-five 
dollars a week in small-time vaudeville and good business to leave vaudeville 
for a smaller salary when I went to Reisenweber's, it would be good business 
in the end for me to meet the new conditions in show* business even more 
than halfway. 

Show business is changing all the time. If you want to stay with it, you 
have to change with it. Performers who refused to do that have been 
stranded all along the way. The old-timers such as myself W, C. Fields, 
Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor who are still going strong today, owe our 
prestige to the fact that we were smart enough and flexible enough to change 
as show business has changed. 

One of the changes that came about in those years and which has had a 
tremendous and far-reaching effect on show business in this country was the 
increasing popularity of cafes. As I looked over the field, I decided to build 
up the cafe work.. I went to it and kept busy for twenty-five to thirty weeks 
in the year, giving only ten to fifteen weeks to theaters. When the Chicago 
World's Fair opened, I was playing at the "225" Club in that city. I opened 
there in April and played straight through until August. It was a small club, 
seating not more than one hundred and twenty-five people. The show con- 
sisted of four acts, including me. Joe E. Lewis came in for a run with me 
and we put on our "Stormy Weather" duet, which was a riot. There was I, 
standing in the middle of the floor singing the song with all the voice and 
heart I could put into it, and there was Joe behind me in a yellow raincoat 
and hat, with an umbrella and his stooge standing over him pouring buckets 
of water on him. 

The cafes were paying me top money now. It was a lot of hard work and 
expense to pull down that salary. I had to have new gowns all the time and 
new songs because, in order to make a season's work at a cafe, you had to 
play return dates and have something new for the old customers all the 
time. I lived by schedule. Every night after work, at 3 or 4 A.M., I would 
put in an hour or two studying new songs before I went to sleep. Every 
afternoon from four to five Ted and I would rehearse. It was a full day. 
Living like that you don't have much time, or energy, for a personal life, 
and mine wasn't too happy. 

I played the cafes back and forth across the continent. Joe Moss's Holly- 
wood Restaurant was the big noise on Broadway, with Rudy Vallee and his 
orchestra. I went in there for six weeks with a great show. The Hollywood 


Restaurant was a showcase with beautiful girls, many of whom found their 
way from there out to Hollywood and pictures. The Hollywood was the 
nearest thing to the shows that made Ziegfeld famous. During the winter 
months the Florida cafes opened up and did a whale of a business. I booked 
to play two weeks at the Hollywood Country Club in Florida in the winter 
of 1934 and stayed six weeks doing good business. But there, as everywhere, 
I had to compete with the crooners who were coming in strong, and with 
the name bands which radio was making famous all over the country. Radio 
had become the big medium. If you were lucky enough to get a radio con- 
tract, you were made. I made several trips to Mr. John Royal at N.B.G and 
with the big shots at C.B.S., but the old stalling game was handed out to 
me the same as to hundreds of others. I just couldn't get a contract. Radio 
wouldn't have Sophie Tucker! That made it tough for me, but it wasn't 
the only obstacle that had been put in my way since I had started in show 
business. I'd overcome most of the others. I didn't see any reason for letting 
radio put me out of business. 

Paula Gould, who was doing my publicity, and I put our heads together 
and thought up all the stunts we could to keep my name before the public. 
At the same time the news of my divorce from Al Lackey broke in all the 
papers which didn't hurt me in the cafe business. Just the same, I wasn't 
of any value in the theater any more and I knew it. I didn't kid myself any. 
When the cafe business began to drop off, I called Abe Lastfogel on the 
phone: "Book me in London, Abe. I'm stale. Can't do business here." He 
called me back a few days later to say he had booked me for eight weeks at 
the Cafe de Paris in London, and to double in the theaters there. I was due 
to sail on the S.S. Manhattan on the first of May 1934. Thank God for the 

I began to feel better the minute we sailed, and I went on feeling better 
every day. Just knowing that there was a welcome for me in the British 
theaters did that for my spirits. But there was no holding me down on the 
third day out when a radiogram from Harry Foster was handed to me. It 
informed me that I was selected to sing at a command performance for 
Their Majesties, King George V and Queen Mary, at the Palladium Theatre 
on the same night of my opening at the Cafe de Paris. What a night's work 
was laid out for me! Three opening performances on May 9: at the Holborn 
Theatre, at the Cafe de Paris, and the command performance at the Pal- 

Only one thing dampened the pleasure of my arrival at Southampton. I 
couldn't understand why my pals, the Cohen girls, Madame Suzanne, and 


Sim Rose, weren't at the pier to meet me. It was the first time they had failed 
to be there. I worried all the way up to London. When we arrived at Water- 
loo, Harry Foster was there to meet me, and there were the Cohen girls 
and Madame Suzanne, but no Sim. Their faces told me, even before they 
spoke, that Sim Rose was gone. She had been buried a week before I 
arrived. It was the first break in our little circle, and I missed Sim every day 
I was in London. 

With less than a week to go to my opening I had plenty to do. George 
Black, the manager of the Palladium, wouldn't give out definite information 
if I would or would not appear at the command performance, and the press 
made a lot of it. One of George Black's publicity stunts. One day the report 
was that I was in; the next day, the story came out that Sophie Tucker was 
too hot for Their Majesties to take! Great publicity! I engaged Jack Oliphant 
to do personal publicity work, to keep my name in the papers in London 
and in America. I knew all that was very important. 

On the night of the ninth I opened at the Holborn with a grand bill. The 
house gave me an enthusiastic welcome. I gave them "Stay At Home, Pappa," 
"Lord, You Made the Night Too Long," "Louisville Lady," "He's Tall, Dark, 
and Handsome," "My Extraordinary Man," and, of course, "Some of These 
Days." I finished my two shows at the Holborn, getting more and more 
excited every minute. After all, a command performance in London is a 
command performance! I had sung for Their Majesties, King George and 
Queen Mary, once before. That was the first season I played in London in 
George Robey's Round in Fifty. One of the acts of the revue was selected 
for that season's command performance, and it happened I was in it, and 
sang my two numbers, "Dapper Dan" and "When They Get Too Wild for 
Everyone Else, They're Perfect for Me," and got laughs and applause from 
royalty. Then I had appeared as part of a cast of the most popular revue in 
town. This time I had been selected as an individual performer to entertain 
Their Majesties. 

After the second show at the Holborn, I freshened up and drove over to 
ttei Palladium Theatre. It was a rainy night, but all around the theater the 
street was black with people, waiting for a glimpse of the King and Queen. 
ft w^s as much as I could do to get to the stage door. My appearance had 
bee& timed almost to the second. I had hardly a chance to powder my nose 
before I heard Jack Hylton introduce me and then my music being played. 
With hardly time to realize that this was the event of a lifetime, I went out 
on the stage. 

You might think a command performance would be very stiff and cere- 


monious. There wasn't anything stiff about the welcome the house gave me 
that night. From all over that huge, crowded theater came applause and 
voices calling, "Hello, Soph!" "Welcome home, Soph, old thing!" "Glad to 
see you back.' 5 

That damn near did me in. I couldn't open my mouth. I stood there, my 
hands and my knees trembling, my legs ready to cave in. I bowed and 
bowed, and kept shutting my eyes to keep the tears back. It "wasn't the King 
and Queen in the flag-decorated royal box, it wasn't that enormous audience 
all in evening dress it wasn't the stage entrances packed with all the 
other performers, all smiling, applauding, and cheering, it was the idea that 
these people loved me and wanted me and .weren't too high-hat to let me 
know it. 

The house quieted, and I sang the two songs which had been selected by 
the royal chamberlain "Louisville Lady" and "Some of These Days." Maybe 
I ought to explain for American readers that the royal chamberlain selects 
the acts for a command performance for Their Majesties. He passes on all 
the material which will be used and, with the manager of the theater, is 
responsible for arranging the bill. It is usual to have one command perform- 
ance made up of all British acts from the popular shows and variety houses 
in London once every year during the court season. The proceeds go to a 
home for aged actors and actresses at Bernsworth, near London. 

Both songs had great arrangements, and I was at the top of my form. I 
had selected a lovely white lace ensemble with coral and diamond jewelry. 
My bracelet had a dozen coral balls dangling from it, and in my nervousness 
I kept fumbling with it until one by one they dropped off. By the time the 
first song was over, I was stepping on the balls. I had followed the Four 
Mills Brothers, American colored entertainers who used a microphone. The 
boys were the first colored act to appear at a command performance, and 
they introduced the microphone to the London stage. The mike was left 
standing on the stage 5 so when I kept slipping on the coral balls, I grabbed 
the mike and hung on for dear life. It made a funriy piece of business, and 
the audience laughed. After my second song I left the stage, but the house 
called me back. I bowed and bowed. I knew I couldn't sing an encore only 
the two songs which the chamberlain had selected. I looked up at the royal 
box. King George was smiling broadly. Queen Mary, looking so regal in a 
silk coat of peacock blue embroidered with Chinese dragons, smiled at me 
encouragingly. With them were the Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, 
and the Earl of Athlone. I thought to myself, I will curtsy to them. I know 
how to do it. They and the audience will be pleased if I do. I took a graceful 


pose, started to put my right foot back, and go down. I was all right for a 
second, then my heel got caught in the lace. I straightened up, ready to 
start again. This time I was just about to get down when I felt my knees 
begin to wobble. "Better not try it," I said to myself. "If you miss, Sophie, 
you'll wind up sitting flat on your fanny. And what then?" So I straightened 
up, gave Their Majesties a good American salute, and left the stage, while 
the royalties and the audience howled with laughter. 

After being worked up to such a pitch of excitement, it was a good thing 
for me that I had to go on to my opening at the Cafe de Paris. Otherwise, 
I would have exploded. As it was, it took me nearly an hour to get from 
the Palladium to the Cafe a five-minute taxi ride at other times. But the 
command performance had brought out the crowds and the autograph 

The Derby was something to remember that year. The Cohen girls and 
I placed our bet on some nag and we were sure we had a winner. The night 
before the race the Rajah of Rajpippla invited me to his house at Windsor 
where he was giving a big party in honor of his horse Windsor Lad, who 
was running in the Derby, 

"Did you bet on my horse, Sophie?" he asked me. 

"No. I've made my bet already." 

"But you must bet on Windsor Lad. He can't miss. Here, bet twenty 
pounds on him, with my compliments." 

I took the rajah's money and hurried to the phone and called the book- 
maker. The price on Windsor Lad was down from 15 to y-to-i. "Okay," I 
told the bookie. "I'll put a hundred pounds on Windsor Lad." 

I'd been betting on horses for years, but I never made such a big bet in 
my life. The way I figured it, if the rajah can give me twenty pounds, he 
must be damn sure his horse is going to win. 

We all drove out to the Derby the next day. I didn't dare tell the Cohen 
girls I had a hundred pounds on Windsor Lad. They would have thought 
I had gone potty. All I told them was that the rajah had given me twenty 
pounds to put on his horse. Boy! oh, boy! did I ruin my pipes shouting for 
two nags! I remember Lady Oxford (Margot Asquith) stood beside me 
during the race and seemed rather bored by the whole proceeding. When 
Windsor Lad romped in, I damn near had heart failure. Seven hundred 
pounds, thirty-five hundred dollars, wasn't a bad take. 

It was during that engagement in London that I met the great artist, 
Elisabeth Bergner, who was playing there in Escape Me Never. I went to see 


the Wednesday matinee and was so stirred by her performance that I sent 
a note back to her dressing room: "May I come back and meet you?" Back 
came the usher with the message: "Miss Bergner will see you after the next 

Backstage, a nervous mite of a girl, who looked only about fifteen years 
old, came toward me. "Are you Sophie Tucker?" 

"Yes, that's me." 

"But I pictured you so differently. From your 'Yiddisha Mama' record I 
had a different idea of you. I carry that record with me wherever I go. 
There isn't one of us in Germany who hasn't this record of yours." 

That girl, so gifted, was then a refugee. She had been ordered out of 
Germany and everything she owned had been confiscated. Even though she 
was adored in London, and was the sensation of show business there, she 
grieved for her homeland and suffered from being an exile. When she came 
to America, to play Escape Me Never, I was on tour. When I got back to 
New York, a month or so after the play opened, I wired her that I was 
coming to see the show. She stationed her manager to watch for me and 
bring me back to her dressing room, where I found two great artists, 
Katharine Cornell and Marlene Dietrich, paying her tribute. 

Playing in Glasgow, I was told that Helen Keller was living in Strath- 
peffer with her teacher, Mrs. Macy. I got busy with the press to help me 
locate them, and wired them both to come to Glasgow to spend the day 
with me. We had so many memories to talk and laugh over from the days 
when we both played the Palace Theatre and I used to make Helen up for 
her act. They came to my matinee that afternoon. How the audience cheered 
when I introduced them! Helen understood every word I said by placing 
her hands on my lips, and I was able to repeat her replies to the audience. 
I remember the day before they arrived Peter Dewar, of the famous whisky- 
making firm, who was fishing in Scotland, rang me up. I told him about my 
guests, and he sent me a thirty-pound salmon for lunch. We fed the hotel 
help and everybody at the theater. 

After playing the provinces I got back to London and planned to take 
a rest and a brief trip to the continent before sailing for home in time for 
the High Holidays with my family. Dr. DeKoos, who directed concerts in 
Holland, came to see me and asked me to take on a week-end engagement 
at Scheveningen, the fashionable summer resort near The Hague. 

I laughed and shook my head. "The Dutch people would never under- 
stand me!" Then, when he kept on urging me, I said quickly I would go 
for a thousand dollars. I made the price stiff so he wouldn't play me, but he 


agreed to It without a murmur. I signed up for a Saturday-afternoon concert 
at the Kursaal and a supper show in the cafe in the same building. I was 
flattered that Dr. DeKoos would engage a roughneck like me for one of his 
concerts. He had booked Caruso, Alda, Jeritza, and other operatic stars. 

What nearly floored me when I got to Scheveningen were the meals, espe- 
cially breakfast, where you were offered a basket of twelve different kinds 
of bread, several kinds of jelly and jam, and an assortment of cheeses that 
I've never seen in any restaurant anywhere else in the world. And I've been 
around some. Luncheon began with seventy different hors d'oeuvres fol- 
lowed by chicken, beef, potatoes, vegetables, more cheeses, fruits, and nuts. 
Only the Dutch can put away meals like that. I used to think I was good 
when it came to eating, but they had me stopped. It's a perpetual wonder to 
me how those people are surviving on Hitler's war rations. 

By Saturday afternoon we -were all ready for the concert. There was a 
very fine Dutch band to play selections and solos, to be followed by Ted and 
rne* The program was arranged as follows: orchestra selections of three 
numbers, then Tucker and Shapiro, seven songs. Intermission. Orchestra, 
three selections, then Tucker and Shapiro, seven more songs. About a two- 
hour show. I was in grand voice > as I had rested nearly a week, and I was 
happy about my gown, a lovely white satin fringed dress with which I wore 
diamond and ruby jewelry. But, just the same, I was nervous, because I was 
positive no one would understand a word I said. I remembered my experi- 
ence in Paris, and I didn't count on being a success with a continental audi- 
ence anywhere. 

When my music was played, I went on and was given an almost deafening 
reception. It was a rainy afternoon a real downpour so the house was half 
empty. But everyone in the hall was standing up and applauding. I was 
flabbergasted. I turned to Teddy. "What's it all about? Are they kidding 
me?" He shrugged his shoulders. Neither of us could understand it. Well, 
I thought, there's something screwy here. 

Finally, all were seated. I thanked them for their reception and started my 
first song. To my amazement, those Dutch people missed nothing. They 
laughed at every gag, every catch line. They caught onto everything I did. 
After the seventh song there was such a demonstration of enthusiasm that 
I couldn't believe my ears. 

During the intermission I changed to a lovely light blue crepe, with a full 
skirt and a sheer bodice studded with blue stones. With this I wore dia- 
monds and sapphires. Again an ovation when I went on, and appkuse after 
every song. By the end of the program I was tired, and gave the cue to Teddy 


and the orchestra for the last number. When I finished, bowed, and left the 
stage, a riot broke loose. "No! No! Don't leavel You haven't sung 'Yiddisha 
Mama.' " I had to go back and give it to them. Then for half an hour I 
held a reception on the stage and everyone in the audience came up and 
shook hands and told me in English how much they had enjoyed the 
concert. Dr. DeKoos kissed me on both cheeks; he was so thrilled over the 
success of the concert. 

"Wait a minute," I said to him. "There's something I can't get through 
my head. Outside of a very few people who may have seen me in London, 
and those who know my phonograph records, nobody in Holland knows 
who I am or what I can do. How, then, could I rate an ovation of seven 

"Dear Miss Tucker, if you could understand Dutch, you would have heard 
the words the entire audience let out in one gasp at your entrance: 'My God! 
she's a white wpmanP" It seems the Dutch thought from my phonograph 
records and my syncopation and deep voice that I was a colored star. The 
Dutch shopkeepers advertised my records: "By the American Negro Singer 
Sophie Tucker." 

I had quite a different experience singing in the cafe that evening. It was 
a large room, seating about five hundred, and everyone there was beauti- 
fully dressed. The women were jeweled and wore long evening gloves 
something we had discarded quite a few years earlier. At the afternoon con- 
cert I had sung melodic and rhythm songs; for the cafe I selected hot ones. 
The first songs went over fairly well and brought laughs. The men ap- 
plauded lightly. The women, however, just patted their hands quietly. Gosh, 
I thought, they're a stiff lot tonight! This is going to be tough. What a dif- 
ference from the afternoon audience! 

A few more songs. They laughed a little heartier; the ladies tapped a 
little harder. But that was about all. I turned to Teddy. 

"This is the last one. This bunch is too cold for me. I'm a flop." 

I finished and left the stage. I had my wrap on and was ready to leave 
the cafe when Dr. DeKoos came flying back. 

"Why, Miss Tucker, you can't leave! The people are sitting there waiting 
for more!" 

"Waiting for what?" I asked. "They don't applaud." 

"Oh," he said, "I told you this afternoon that you would find the evening 
audience different These people are the '400' of Holland, and it is not 
customary among them for ladies to applaud. Only the men do the clapping. 
But they do like you." 


"Okay, Doc, I'll take care of them." 

Out on the stage I went. I looked around at the bunch. "I understand from 
Dr. DeKoos that you like me. Is that so?" Applause and titters. "Well," I 
went on, "in my country, if we like an artist, we let her know it. I've got 
plenty more songs, and I can stay out here for hours, but you can't sit there 
and just tap your fingers and keep me guessing. Now, then, if you want to 
have some fun, and if you really like me, then let me hear the applause and 
we will all have a swell time!" 

I nodded to Teddy to get to the piano, and we went to work on that bunch 
of Dutchmen. We made the gals peel ofi their gloves, and by the time I 
finished with them, they were as free and easy an audience as any I'd sung 
to on Broadway. 

CHAPTER 26: A Good SchnucJ^ 

WHEN WE GOT BACK to London I found a message from the owner of the 
Hotel Martinez in Cannes, asking me to come there to sing at their annual 
gala for the war veterans. They already had a bill of all the leading French 
stars, he said, but they wanted to add me for an American touch. It would 
be a touch, all right, I decided as I wired him my acceptance. I'd do my 
damnedest to roll up a tidy sum for the veterans. 

All this meant swell publicity for me, especially as I was to be the guest of 
the French Legion, and Jack Oliphant made the most of it. He had worked 
up some good stunts which kept my name in the British papers; the best of 
them a story about me rescuing a child from being run over in the street. 
That kind of publicity sounds silly to people outside the profession, and 
that kind of publicity wasn't necessary in the days before the motion-picture 
stars got all the headlines and the sensational write-ups. Vaudeville per- 
formers used to be able to stand on their own performances, but in late years 
we have had to follow the lead of Hollywood when it comes to publicity. 
There's just one thing a performer can't afford: to let the public forget about 
her. You're on the shelf if the public thinks you are. 

So it was the Blue Train to Cannes, and a grand welcome for me on the 
station platform. Those Frenchmen certainly did it up brown. I felt like a 
king's mistress in the magnificent suite they gave me at the Hotel Martinez! 
Those were the big days on the Riviera, when Cannes was full of free 
spenders having fun before the big storm broke over their heads. The house 
for the gala was sold out; nearly ten thousand dollars was raised that evening 
I was set to close the bill on which I was the only American performer; a 


grand show, headed by Mistinguette, Mayol (the George Robey of France), 
Gaby Morley (the French Gertrude Lawrence), and about ten other stars, 
whose names were too difficult for me to catch. 

Before the show two important jewelers from Paris, with shops in Cannes, 
came to see me. They asked me to wear their jewels to give a plug to their 
business. I had some very nice pieces of my own, but they looked like dime- 
store stuff beside the sapphires and diamonds Arnold Ostertag offered me to 
wear with my blue gown. I told the other jeweler, Jack Van Cleff, that I 
would display his emeralds and diamonds the next night if any affair came 

The show was very long, and I only wished I could have understood all 
those fine French actors. I tell you it meant a lot to me after an hour-and-a- 
half show to be introduced to a marvelous reception. The audience was a 
very cosmopolitan one, with a lot of Americans. After the show I was called 
on to make a speech, which gave me a chance to plug Ostertag's diamonds, 
of which I was sporting about fifty thousand dollars worth. So I thanked 
him publicly for entrusting this beautiful jewelry to my "keep ing; and then I 
told the crowd if they would all go to the Plantation Cafe I would be there 
and would entertain them until morning. It was 9 A.M. when I tumbled into 
bed next day, after a breakfast of onion soup. Some night's work! I had my 
chance the next night to do something for Jack Van Cleff, because the direc- 
tor of the Casino asked me to give a gala night there. I said as long as it 
wasn't for charity they would have to pay me one thousand dollars. The price 
was right, and I strutted my stuff in a white satin gown with Van ClefFs 
emeralds and diamonds. 

I loved the Riviera. The sky and the sea were so blue; the white villas 
looked so clean in the sunshine, the big pines so stunningly dark. The flower 
beds jammed with flowers of all colors were like jewels. Everybody was out 
for a good time and, as far as I could make out, the sky was the limit. I 
kept running into people I'd met in London, and Americans from all over 
the U. S. A. It was certainly old-home week for Sophie Tucker. I would 
have liked to have stayed on for several weeks, just to amuse myself, but 
there was a cable from the Morris office in New York, notifying me that 
they had booked me into the Chez Paree in Chicago for six weeks and then 
back to the Hollywood Restaurant on Broadway. I had to go home and back 
to work. 

It was swell coming home to work and the knowledge that I was wanted 
by my own people. No matter how long you are in show business there is 
never anything boring about that. But this home-coming had something 


extra about it that will always make it stand out in my memory. This was the 
Beefsteak Welcome Dinner which the American Federation of Actors gave 
me shortly after my arrival in New York in the first week of November. 
About fifteen hundred of our profession and their friends came to the 
dinner which was held in Mecca Temple. 

On the dais with me were Eddie Cantor, then president of the A.F.A., 
Ralph Whitehead, the executive secretary. Bugs Baer, "Uncle Dan" Frohman 
(who scared us all by having a heart attack as soon as he finished his speech, 
but in a quarter of an hour he was all right again and back in his seat and 
the fun went on), Joe Laurie, Jr., Harry B. Warner, Rabbi Tintner, Jack 
Benny, Judge Aaron J. Levy, C. F. Zittel ("Zit"), Walter Huston, William 
Morris, Jr., Abe Lastfogel, Elias Sugarman, George Burns (of Burns and 
Allen), Joe Penner, Harry Hirschfield, and William Wineberger. 

Bugs Baer wrote an introduction for the menu which had a photograph 
of me: 


The picture shows Miss Tucker as she looked in 1914 and from then on. 
Sophie hasn't changed a bit, except husbands. The last of the Red-hot Mamas 
started her singing career telling her lawyer about her ice-cold papas. 

She just got back from England, where she gave a command performance 
before the King at Windsor Casde, which is now four a day. 

The Queen was there, of course. Sophie never broke up a home in her life. 

The King was delighted. He said, "That was the first voice I ever heard with 
a stucco finish." 

He didn't know that Sophie had been singing that way for thirty years and 
hits a ripe pumpkin with a bed slat to get the key. 

In this panoramic view, Sophie is shown in the role of an innocent litde 
country girl in Rube Bernstein's Bathing Beauties. 

That's five kings in Sophie's mitt. They had new deals in those days too. 
Sophie played "La Belle Madame" in Rube's show which had a triumphant tour 
of three years on Staten Island on the old Hoss-and-buggy Circuit. In those days, 
Sophie was very proud of her waistline, which can plainly be seen in the picture. 
She modeled for the Murray Hill Tent and Awning Studios. 

Sophie tells us that she sat up all night and made that costume herself. No 
matter what she does, we always like to meet a little girl who taught herself. 
We went all the way down the river in a tug to meet Sophie on this trip, but 
the captain of the liner decided it would be better to unload Sophie right on 
the wharf. 

This little affair is a home-coming party to Sophie, a great gal and a brilliant 
performer. We could have held it in Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, London, or 


a thousand other towns. For, when you get as good as Sophie, no matter what 
town you are in, it is "Home." 

I was all set with an after-dinner speech which Jack Yellen wrote for me 
and which I had carefully rehearsed, but when the time came to stand up 
and deliver it, I was so fussed I couldn't remember a word. I had to fumble 
for the lead sheets and try to read it, and I made a hell of a job of that, too, 
between trying to manage them and the stylish long-handled tortoise-shell 
lorgnette that Edwina Mountbatten who always uses a lorgnette had 
given me for a bon voyage present when I left England and I wanted to show 

"Mr. Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends my very, very dear 
friends. There probably is some way of expressing what I ... what I feel 
. . . that is, what I ... 

"Oh, hell! I should have broken this speech in at Jamaica. It's no use. 

"I knew this would happen, so help me! I haven't been so nervous since 
my first bridal night. I'll have to read it. If I can read. (Business of putting 
up lorgnette.) How do you like that? Tucker with a lorgnette. Derlebt! 

<C A duke gave me this in London. It didn't do him a damn bit of good 
either. . . . 

"But really, seriously, I wish I knew how to tell you how happy you've 
made me. You know, you must know that I appreciate this with all my 
heart and soul. But I'm just no good at this sort of thing. Give me a piano 
and some dirty catch lines and I'm all right. But this! Well, really, it's too 

"I can only tell you that this is the biggest moment of my life. And Tve 
had some moments! I swear to you that not even the command performance 
before the King and Queen meant as much to me as tonight does! 

"To have you make all this fuss over me, receive me at the boat and come 
here tonight with all these people who really are somebodies, and pay me 
all this tribute, honestly I don't feel that I rate it. 

"There is a story somewhere in the Talmud about two rabbis who were 
walking through the market place in Jerusalem, and one said to the other: 
'Rabbi, show me in this crowd someone who you think is destined for 
heaven; who is sure of a reward in the world to come.' The rabbi looked 
around the crowd of merchants, learned men, pious men, and pointed to* 
two actors, comedians. 'These two,' he said. 'Those actors are destined for 
happiness in the world to come.* 

"The explanation for the rabbi's statement is that it was because the actors 


lived to make others happy. And we do. After all, that's the only real excuse 
for living. 

"And tonight you've made me happy happier than I ever thought I 
could be. I hope Rabbi Tintner will forgive me for muscling in on his terri- 
tory. Just for that, if he wants to, he can get up and sing 'Some of These 

Yes, it's perfectly true. The approval and the affection of the members of 
your own profession are a greater reward and more soul-satisfying than just 
popularity with the public and big money. There are some performers who 
go over big with the public and are in the big-money brackets, but who have 
never stood well with their own profession. Fve always been sorry for them. 
And I mean sorry not envious. Because, when it's about 5 or 6 A.M. and the 
crowds have melted away and you're left alone to wipe off the make-up and 
take off your corsets and go to bed and to bed alone there's a lot of com- 
fort in knowing that the men and women who work in show business have 
a respect for you and are fond of you. It takes away some of the lonesome 
feeling that overwhelms every woman who hasn't got a husband and kids 
around her, more times than she likes to admit. Money in the bank and 
plenty of bookings ahead don't cure that kind of heartache. But knowing, 
as you stretch your tired body out between the sheets with a sigh of relief, 
that you've done a good job, and the members of your own profession think 
you have, and say: "Oh, Sophie's a good schnucJ{!" goes a hell of a long way. 

The American Federation of Actors had been organized by Ralph White- 
head in 1932, starting with a handful of vaudevillians and cafe entertainers. 
Eddie Cantor was president. Up to the time it was formed, vaudeville per- 
formers were still looked down on by other members of the profession in 
pretty much the way that all actors used to be thought of by the so-called 
respectable people not connected with the stage. A lot of us felt it was high 
time we had some kind of union which would assure vaudeville performers 
<of some security and respect. The A.F.A. was the first concerted move made 
by actors to lift the status of the vaudeville performer and, if only for that 
reason, it deserved the support and encouragement of everyone in the pro- 
fession. There was another reason why some such organization to protect 
the interests of entertainers was needed just at that time. Like every per- 
former in the big cafes, I noticed an increasing racket in the number of 
benefits, political rallies, et cetera, that entertainers were expected to appear 
at for nothing. For example, when I opened at the Hollywood Restaurant 
in New York, that wiater o 1934-35? I played my first week to capacity busi- 



ness. The second week I averaged ten different affairs the manager expected 
me to play besides the few benefits I was personally Interested in. That week 
business at the Hollywood Restaurant fell off. The third week there were 
again eight to ten outside engagements I had to keep no pay in them for 
me, of course and business at the Hollywood fell off still more. On the 
fourth week still demands to appear at various affairs for nothing and no 
business at the restaurant, I had to take a cut in salary in order to keep work- 
ing and give the place a break. 

I called up Ralph Whitehead, executive secretary of the A.F.A., and told 
him he must find a way to put a stop to this racket. Theatre Authority, Inc., 
was the result of Whitehead's work in this direction, and for a while did a 
good job. The benefits were curtailed and our actors 7 charitable organiza- 
tions profited by them as Theatre Authority Inc.., demanded 10 per cent 
to 15 per cent of the take, to be used for the actors* charities. Later, however, 
those running Theatre Authority, Inc., fell down on the job and the benefit 
racket boomed again. 

During that season 1 kept plugging away at cafes. I played the House of 
Morgan Club in New York City. On the same bill with me were Edgar 
Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Of course this was before they went on the 
air and became world famous. After I saw Bergen's act, I knew it was a wow, 
and I made up my mind, right then and there,, if ever I played London 
again, I would see to it that Bergen and Charlie went with me. I knew they 
would be a sensation in England. 

That season everybody in show business was out to get a radio contract. 
Radio had come to the fore just the way the picture business had done 
during the Twenties. Radio was where big money was being made and big 
names. Everybody said, "Get on the air and you're made!" I made several 
attempts, but I had no luck landing a radio contract. It looked as if I was 
going to have to keep on playing the cafes indefinitely. Paula Gould, who 
was handling my publicity, and I went into a huddle. "Look/* I said to her, 
"it's going to be tough this winter. You've got to think up some stunts to 
keep Sophie Tucker's name in the papers." Paula suggested that I try to get 
some dates at a cafe in Hollywood. She reminded me that I might land a 
picture contract that way. The next day I called Abe Lastfogel and asked 
him what cafe I could play in Hollywood. 

"There's only one. The Trocadero. But they don't pay your prices." 

"Try them, anyway," I said. "See what you can get me. I've got a hunch it 
may lead to something." 

My hunches have generally been one hundred per cent good. The Boss 


used to trust them, and Abe had caught the habit. But while they generally 
worked out all right in the end, most o them cost me a pretty penny on the 
side. This one ran true to form. The best Abe could get for me for a week 
at the Trocadero was one thousand dollars. When I paid the commission to 
the office, 10 per cent to Jack Yellen, Ted's salary, three railroad fares to 
Hollywood and backnot to mention hotel bills at a swank hotel out there 
and some new gowns to impress the movie moguls I was going to be well 
in the red. Just the same, I felt the trip was worth it. There comes a time 
when you've got to spend money yeah! and a lot of it to make money. I 
could go on playing at the cafes and pile up profits, but show business was 
changing and I knew I ought to change with it. If I could get into pictures 
or on the air, I would be opening up new business for myself, which is what 
an entertainer has to do. And so I went to Hollywood. 

Billy Wilkerson, the owner of the Hollywood Reporter, owned and ran 
the Trocadero. Ill hand this to him: he put over the greatest opening night 
for me I've ever seen anywhere. Phil Olman and his band were playing there. 
The night I opened, the Trocadero was packed. Every picture star and every 
important executive in the movie industry was there. I said to myself: "This 
is your chance, Sophie! If you don't put it over tonight, it is your own fault 
and nobody else is to blame." 

I sang myself hoarse, and when the parade of flowers started and Irving 
Berlin and Fanny Brice came out on the floor to congratulate and kiss me, 
it was all I could do to make my little speech. I didn't mince matters. I told 
the crowd that the reason I came out to the Troc on a sacrificing salary, at 
big expense, was because I hoped I could find a place in the movies. 

Well, business was so good the Trocadero kept me over a second week. 
Billy Wilkerson did everything he could to sell me to a studio, and on the 
day after my opening L. B. Mayer sent for me to come out to the MGM 
Studios to see him. I never heard a man rave as he did about my work. He 
said he was sure he could find a place for me in pictures. And I left feeling 
I was made. It had been worth while playing my hunch and Paula Gould's. 
I told L. B. Mayer I would stay around Hollywood for a while to give him 
time to get together with his producer, directors, and writers. There was no 
doubt in my mind I would soon be launched in. the movies. 

While I waited for that to happen, I ran to every party that every movie 
executive gave, hoping to get into their good graces. My friends gave parties 
for me to meet important people. I gave a few parties myself. Benefits piled 
up. I turned nothing down. I hung around three weeks, four weeks, five 
weeks still no telephone call from MGM. At the end of six weeks I called 


the Morris office in Hollywood to book me a few theater dates. I couldn't sit 
around for months, doing nothing but wait. I would go nuts. The office 
arranged dates in San Francisco and Los Angeles and I played them. Then 
I came back and notified Mr. Mayer I was on hand. Did he have anything 
for me? The answer came back: "Sorry. Not right now." I hung around for 
another few weeks while my hopes got fainter and fainter. Then I said to 
myself: "To hell with pictures, Sophie. Forget them!" I packed up and 
caught the first train out of Hollywood for New York. 

So, it was back to the cafes for Sophie! That winter I played the Holly- 
wood Country Club in Florida for eight weeks and had the excitement of 
seeing my namesake, Emil Schwartzhaupt's filly, Sophie Tucker, run at 
Hialeah. She won the purse that afternoon and paid twenty-two dollars and 
fifty cents for two dollars. I told myself this was a good omen. 

All the time I was looking around for new ideas. The more I looked over 
the entertainment field, the more clearly I saw that the big-narne bands were 
making the biggest hits of anything in show business. They were getting 
the work in the leading hotels all over the country. I decided to get in on 
this field. After all, I'd had my own band with my Five Kings of Syncopa- 
tion. When I told Abe Lastfogel about my idea, he was against it, but I was 
stubborn. We argued it out, and then I left the Morris office, after having 
been with them for nearly twenty-six years. 

The Music Corporation of America was the leading booking office for 
bands. I got in touch with them, and in April went out to Chicago and 
rehearsed for three weeks with the band the M.C.A. organized for me - 
fifteen boys, including Ted Shapiro, and a girl singer, Dale Sherman. We 
played dates in the Midwest Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit- 
hut the stunt wasn't a success. I lost money every week. No sponsor offered 
me a radio contract. The M.C.A. were not successful in booking the act 
into the hotels my heart was set on. I learned that Abe Lastfogel was a lot 
smarter than I was. 

After the month of August at the Piping Rock Cafe in Saratoga, I knew 
the band act wasn't going to last very long. The M.C.A. at this time was 
setting up an office in London and I booked through them at Grosvenor 
House for six weeks, to open the last of September, with an option of four 
more weeks, and to double in the theaters. M.C.A. also handled Edgar Ber- 
gen, and I got them to book Edgar with me. It was the first time I ever 
played London away from my own office and from Harry Foster, who had 
always looked after my bookings in England. 

Going over, aboard the' S.S. Normandie, I had my first transatlantic tele- 


phone call. The B.B.C. wanted me to do a radio program and offered forty 
pounds. I cabled back my price was two hundred and fifty pounds, where- 
upon the Daily Mail telephoned me to ask why I refused the B.B.C. offer* 
I told them I didn't need two hundred dollars that bad. Later on the B.B.Q 
raised the ante to one hundred pounds for a program, and I gave it to a 

My opening night at the Grosvenor House made me feel good all over. 
There were a lot of familiar faces in the room and everybody the fashion- 
able people and the professionals treated me as though I had come home to 
my own. That season the London County Council found fault with one of 
my songs "I Picked a Pansy in the Garden of Love" and I had to elim- 
inate it from my program. The song "My People" was my big hit that 
season in the music halls. 

London was different that fall of 1936. There was an uneasiness in the air. 
Everybody knew and everybody whispered about Mrs. Simpson and her 
divorce, even though the newspapers didn't print a word of the news that 
was on everyone's tongue. As the fall drew on toward winter, the anxiety 
around Buckingham Palace deepened. People were taking sides and nobody 
knew just what the King was going to do or what Baldwin or the Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury had up their sleeves. That was the first season that I 
played in London that I didn't entertain some members of the royal family. 
The court was still in mourning for King George V. 

The Lord Mayor of London wrote me and asked if I could do something 
to raise money for the King George V Memorial Fund. This was a great 
honor, of course, and I knew it would be a big job, but I decided to- tackle 
it. I called in my accountant. Jack Reubens, for advice and help. He was very 
enthusiastic about the idea, and soon he lined up a list "of important per- 
sonages as patrons. 

It was arranged to give an all-American show at midnight on December 
10 at the Coliseum Theatre. Every American stage and screen star then in 
England would be asked to take part. The British stars, headed by Leslie 
Henson, were- to sell programs and act as ushers. The tickets were priced 
from three guineas (fifteen dollars) up to eight guineas (forty dollars). 

After Jack Reubens had the committee signed up and all arrangements 
made for the theater, I left town to play a few weeks in the provinces* While 
in Manchester I received a cable from Abe Lastfogel Abe had forgiven me 
for my obstinacy about the band. After all, I had been honest with him, 
telling him I knew I had made a mistake and the figures proved it. Abe sent 
word that Hollywood had tumbled to my sex appeal. MGM wanted me! At 


last! Abe had signed me with their studio to do Broadway Melody of 19^7 
with Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor. 

That cable was one of the thrills of my life. To think that L. B. Mayer had 
kept his word and come through with a movie contract! Well, maybe my 
hunch about playing the Trocadero in Hollywood hadn't been wrong. And 
maybe my feeling that L. B. wasn't conning me when he complimented 
me on my work wasn't wrong either. When you go along for a good many 
years as I have, you get to sense a right guy from a wrong guy. You get so 
you can size up people for what they are. You know, the handshake of a 
regular feller, and you don't fall for the slimy-fish handshake. You're on to 
the quiet guys and the talkative ones who say a lot and yet say nothing at alL 
I had trusted L. B., only I didn't have the patience to sit on my fanny in 
Hollywood and wait for him to come across. 

I got busy with cables to Jack Oliphant in London and Paula Gould in 
New York to step on the publicity. I canceled further dates in England, as 
I had to report in Hollywood on January 2, 1937. Back in London, from the 
provinces and a week of one-night stands in Holland, where the audiences 
called for "Some of These Days" and "My Yiddisha Mama,'* and seemingly 
couldn't get enough of either or both of them, I rolled up my sleeves and 
started in to work on our all-American show. Ann Harding and I had a 
date to meet the Lord Mayor to discuss and make the final arrangements. 
All the American performers were notified and called to rehearsal. Some of 
them I went to see personally. Only two American performers turned me 
down. When I called on Lupe Velez, who lived in Mayfair, she refused to 
see me. ZaSu Pitts, who was staying at the Hotel Savoy, sent dowri word 
she couldn't see me either. After these two slaps in the face I felt a little 
timid about facing the next star on my list Marline Dietrich. When I got 
to her apartment I asked the boy at the desk to please call and ask Miss 
Dietrich whether she would see Miss Sophie Tucker, who was down in the 
lobby. Such a pleasant voice came over the phone: "Send her up imme- 

And there, when I got out of the lift at her floor, was Marlene herself to 
welcome me. She took my arm, insisted on my taking off my hat and coat, 
and seated me in a big chair by the open fire. With one kick of her world- 
famous legs she pushed a footstool under my tired dogs. Tea was brought in 
and Marlene waited on me, insisting that I have my hot drink first and 
then she would talk about the show. 

Marlene liked the idea of the show and agreed to help. While I was there, 
Doug Fairbanks, Jr., came in and I enlisted his help too. At rehearsals they 


were real troupers, Marlene especially. She would be there on time, willing 
to sit in the cold theater for hours, waiting her turn, eating a sandwich, 
drinking coffee from a paper cup. At that time Marlene was not an Ameri- 
can citizen. The rehearsals were a lot of work, but a lot of fun too. The 
laughs we had watching Edward G. Robinson, Ben Lyon, Monte Banks, 
Allen Hale, and Jack Whiting rehearse their sketch! The three Diamond 
Brothers, Laura La Plante, June Clyde, and I did a burlesque of the old 
Florodora Sextette. We had three American bands, led by Roy Fox, Jack 
Harris, and Harold Gibbons. As we lined up the acts, it looked as if Lon- 
don had never seen such a show. 

Meanwhile, as the night of the show drew nearer, the clouds over London 
darkened. The British papers were very circumspect, but the news was 
pretty general property that King Edward VIII was considering abdicating. 
One American gal had upset the traditions of British royalty. There was a 
question as to how popular Americans were going to be in England and 
whether an all-American show, under the circumstances, was a good idea. 

On Wednesday, December 10, the B.B.C. announced to listeners to keep 
tuned in, as at any minute the news would be broadcast whether His 
Majesty would go on the air to verify or refute the rumors of his abdication. 

I was playing that night at the Chiswick Theatre. From there I went by 
taxi to the .Metropolitan for my last show. I left the taxi and was entering 
the stage door when I was struck by the fact that the street and the alley 
were deserted. There was no usual crowd hanging around to say hello or 
to ask for autographs. Suddenly I became aware that all of London was 
still. It was like a clock that had run down. It scared me, and I hurried into 
the theater. The show was on and the house was packed. But everybody 
was under a strain. In the dim corners backstage members of the stage crew 
gathered, whispering. The acts waiting to go on stood quiet in the wings. 
One o the women was crying. That was how I knew the King had abdi- 

I had my own anxious moment as I waited my turn to go on. I was the 
only American on the bill. How would the audience receive me? How 
would they feel tonight about Americans? My heart was in my throat as 
I went out onto the stage. I heard Teddy play the introduction twice, then 
a third time and it seemed as if I couldn't find my voice. I guess the audi- 
ence sensed my feelings. Anyway, a voice called from the gallery: "Carry 
on, Soph, old girl! Carry* on!" The whole house picked it up. As I swung 
into my opening number, I could feel that great British public carrying on 
like the great people they are. 


My act over at the Metropolitan, I changed my costume and made a dash 
for the Coliseum for the big midnight show. The theater was sold out. We 
made twenty thousand dollars that night for the Memorial Fund. Everybody, 
outside of the royal family, showed up. At the Coliseum, the atmosphere 
backstage was tense. Maybe it was that which made our American per- 
formers outdo themselves. It seemed as if they were determined to give the 
best that they had to give, as if to make up a little for what one American 
had done. 

At the final curtain call, when everyone was on the stage, Michael Bartlett 
stepped down in front to sing "Auld Lang Syne." He followed this with 
"The Star-Spangled Banner." I don't suppose our national anthem was ever 
sung to an audience under such peculiar circumstances, but the British took 
it. As the last note died away Michael turned to me: 

"Darling," he said, "shall I sing 'God Save the King' now?" 

(Backstage there had been a lot of discussion whether it would be proper 
to sing "God Save the King" that night when England's king had just 
announced his abdication. I had asked some of the British folks what we 
should do. Some said we should sing it and some said no. I had meant to 
go out front and ask the Lord Mayor, but there had been so much to do 
backstage I didn't get to it, and here was Michael Bartlett asking me if he 
should sing it. It was up to Sophie Tucker to decide.) 

The orchestra leader's eyes were fixed on me for the signal. 

"Go ahead, Michael," I said. "Go ahead, leader." 

To that waiting silence that filled the theater Michael's voice struck up 
firmly: "God Save Our Gracious King!" 

Thousands of voices took it up voices that choked, that broke down in 
the middle of the lines, and started off key. In the wings, where the stage 
crew crowded, they were singing, and men and women were crying. The 
tears started to trickle down my make-up. 

The curtain was held, and the Lord Mayor came down to the stage from 
his box to receive the check for four thousand pounds which Ann Harding 
presented to him on behalf of American performers in London. 

CHAPTER 27: / Crash Hollywood 

I GOT EVERY DROP of satisfaction out of that trip to Hollywood, with an MGM 
contract in my pocket and their publicity staff on the job to make news out 
of my arrival there. Maybe if I hadn't gone through some heartaches over 
getting into pictures this contract wouldn't have meant so much to me. And 


then, too, I remembered not only the times I wanted to crash Hollywood 
and hadn't, but the time back in 1929 which I have saved till now to tell 
about when I made my first picture, Hon\y Ton\, for Warner Brothers. 

That contract, too, \yas offered me during a successful run in London. I 
had gone out to the Coast with trunks full of new Paris clothes and the 
feeling I was riding on air. The welcome the Warner Brothers gave me at 
the station, with flowers and a crowd of friends and a brass band, didn't 
deflate me. I was still elated after my first day in Hollywood when I climbed 
into bed, along toward morning, got myself comfortable, and started to 
read the script of Honfyy Ton\. I read it through from cover to cover, and 
my jaw dropped down on my chest. I couldn't see Sophie Tucker anywhere 
in the picture. I went over the script a second time, fighting my way through 
the flowery language. Could anybody picture me saying, "I shall be waiting, 
my dear, overlooking exquisite gardens from the french windows, watching 
the golden horizon" ? Derlebt! I reached out an arm and grabbed the phone. 

"Hurry, operator, and get Mr. William Morris in New York. And get 
him quick!" 

When he answered, I began to jabber. "Listen, Boss, I've just finished read- 
ing the script, and it is godawful. It isn't me. I must not make this picture! 
Every bit of success I've built up will be killed if I do!" 

"But, darling, you have a contract!" 

"Contract or no contract! I can't do it!" 

"You can't walk out on it," came the Boss's order. "Wait till you see the 
Warner Brothers. Have a talk with them. I'm sure they will change it and 
everything will turn out all right." 

I had to be content with that. The next day was Sunday. I had an appoint- 
ment at the studio Tuesday morning. In the meantime, I was to open at 
the Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre. The Boss had booked California dates 
for me before starting on the picture. He was shrewd enough to believe this 
would help to make the picture a success. It would give the- Warner 
Brothers' staff a chance to see me do my act, and this was bound to be of 
value when we came to shoot the picture. All that Sunday I kept thinking 
I must put over a big hit at my two shows on Monday. Everybody from 
the studio must see the greatest act in my career, then they would understand 
why the script they handed me would have to go into the junk heap and a 
new one, that featured the real Sophie Tucker, be substituted for it. 

We had a great show at the Orpheum that week, and I did my damnedest. 
I felt sure the studio gang would all be out in front. I'd show them what I 


could do. Harry Singer, the manager of the Orpheum, came back to my 
dressing room. 

"Well, Sophie, this is your last date in vaudeville. I sure hate to see you 
leave us." 

I didn't say it, but what I thought was: last day, hell! After the script I 
read Saturday night 111 be back in six weeks! 

The press went to town for me. 

". . . That tiny ton of personality plus speaking o Sophie Tucker is 
back in town. That's why the Orpheum was completely sold out early last 
evening an unheard-of event since the new house opened. Seventeen baskets 
of flowers went over the footlights. Probably no performer since Bernhardt 
has received such an ovation over the Orpheum footlights. . . ." "The in- 
defatigable, incomparable Sophie Tucker is back again. And how! After 
knocking them dead over in Europe, she panicked a packed house yester- 
day. . . ." "Sophie introduced herself as the last of the Red-hot Mamas. Say 
not the last, but none better! She leaves the stage this week to cool off in the 
talkies. . . ." 

Wouldn't you have thought that would have told them something over 
at the studio? After reading the notices Tuesday morning, I felt sure the 
Warner Brothers would listen to me about the script. I'd known the Warner 
family from way back in the early days, when I used to play Youngstown, 
Ohio. Mother and Dad Warner were very kind to me. Whenever I played 
Youngstown, I had a standing invitation for a gefuUte-fish supper at their 
home on Friday night. After stuffing ourselves, Dad Warner and I would 
play pinochle. 

Sam was the Warner brother I knew best. When he married Lina Bas- 
quette they stopped off in Minneapolis on their honeymoon to visit me. How 
Sam worked to put over the Vitaphone Talkies. His death was a great loss 
to the picture industry. Well, I thought, while riding out to the studio, 
Harry and Jack would surely see the point of my argument. They're great 
showmen, and as businessmen they aren't going to pay Sophie Tucker's 
price and not get Sophie Tucker value out of their money. 

Out at the studio everything was very grand and all the executives 
Jack Warner, William Koenig, Darryl Zanuck, writer of Honfyy Ton\ and 
producer, Graham Baker, coauthor, Lloyd Bacon, director welcomed me 
enthusiastically. I started to thank them for their flowers and said I hoped 
they enjoyed my performance at the theater. 

JACK WARNER: "Shame I missed it, Soph. I was at dinner and couldn't get 


DARRYL ZANUCK: "Funny, I've never seen you work in my life. I tried so 
hard to get down, but just couldn't manage it." 

GRAHAM BAKER: "I saw you work years ago. I must go down to the 
Orpheum to see you." 

LLOYD BACON: "My God, Sophie, I haven't seen you perform since you 
first sang the 'Grizzly Bear 5 back in 1909!" 

I looked at them, and I was completely speechless. After a bit, when I got 
my breath, and started in to argue, I found I was up against a blank wall. I 
could see they put me down as one of those temperamental vaudeville dames 
who was trying to teach the motion-picture industry how to run its own 
business. I went home sick at heart and sick at my stomach. Repeated 
phone calls to the Boss in New York, asking him to get me out of the con- 
tract, didn't do a thing. If only there had been a clause in the contract "script 
subject to approval." But there wasn't. I was in for it. I did manage to get 
the studio to send for Jack Yellen and get him and Milton Agar to write 
some numbers for me that would be more my kind of thing than what was 
originally in the script of Honf^y Ton^ 

Naturally, all this fussing and fuming didn't make me too popular with 
the executives at the studio. Getting up at 6 A.M. was a tough job for me, 
who was used to going to bed about that time. And the work was hard 
harder because I was unhappy. Trained as I had been in show business, I 
couldn't believe a picture could be good with no rehearsals. In vaudeville 
we rehearse an act or a new song for weeks. Break them in. Take out bad 
spots. Add good ones. That was how I was used to working. In the studio 
I discovered a new technique: one scene taken at a time, not more than four 
or five lines to a person. While they were setting the scene and the cameras 
were being arranged for shooting, the director and actors would be oflE at 
one side studying and rehearsing their lines. When the cameraman said 
"Ready," the scene was shot. One man, the director, looked on, approved. 
And that was that! If he didn't approve, the scene might be taken over a 
few times. But he was the only critic to be pleased. No one else had any 
idea what it was like, and you didn't have a chance to improve a look or 
a gesture. And while this was going on and the picture was being made in 
pieces, the publicity department was starting its propaganda to sell the pic- 
ture, featuring the great ability of the star and cast, the warm, human, 
dramatic story, the cleverness of the writers and the directors. When I got 
an earful of this, I asked myself can the studio fool the public? Can a smart 
publicity department make the public like something just because they are 
clever at selling it? 


Well, the picture was shot, and so was Sophie Tucker. There was nothing 
to do but to lie around, waiting for the preview. I just wished I could kid 
myself into believing the picture was as good as Jack Warner, Zanuck, and 
Lloyd Bacon said it was. I kept trying to pin Lloyd down about it. (I had 
known his father, Frank Bacon, the great star of Lightning, and his mother, 
Jane, a grand soul.) But all I could get was a pat on the back. After the 
morning rushes you always got "they were great" when you came to work 
the next day. 

The Warner Brothers gave several big parties to introduce their new pic- 
ture star. The parties were very elegant, but I kept wishing they would give a 
party for their old friend, Sophie Tucker, instead. In all the eight weeks I 
went in and out of the Warner lot I never met one of their stars and never 
saw the inside of a star's home. I wasn't made a part of the movie colony. 
It bothered me a bit at first, then I realized that at that time all the silent 
picture stars were feeling pretty panicky. Nobody knew if he was going to 
be any good in talkies. There was a revolution going on in the picture busi- 
ness and everybody in it had the jitters. 

Well, the time came for the preview. My hubby, Al Lackey, Jack Yellen, 
Agar, and I started for the Westlake Theatre, Los Angeles, to see it. In those 
days they didn't have the splurges at previews they have today the big arc 
lamps, the motion-picture cameras, the loud-speakers, and a master of cere- 
monies to announce the stars as they drive up. When we drove up to the 
theater, standing on the curb were the Warner Brothers, the directors, writers, 
actors, and everybody from every department. There were "hellos" and good 
wishes, and we all trooped inside, filling the house. When the announcement 
of the picture was flashed on the screen, everybody applauded. Then came 
the names of the cast, with applause for each one; the names of the authors, 
applause; producers, applause; directors, applause. Applause for the assistant 
directors, song writers, and the cameraman. Nothing but applause before 
the picture got going. I wondered what the picture would get after it was 

I slid down into my seat. I was just a novice at the motion-picture game. 
I knew I knew something about show business and vaudeville, and it seemed 
to me the rules of that game must apply to pictures too. If* they did, and 
I knew those rules, then this picture was sure to be a flop. 

I came on the screen. Yes, I looked very nice for a big woman no 
wrinkles, no bags under my eyes, lovely clothes, hair smart, feet and ankles 
neat, jewelry the McCoy no paste! Personality natural in everything I did. 
But as scene after scene was played, I kept thinkingif only I had been 


properly rehearsed, if only I had had a chance to break that in, I would 
have played it and I would have sung the number so much better* 

Well, the picture was over at last, and the house went wild with applause. 
Applause from the Warner Brothers' Studio crowd. To Zanuck, "Swell 
job." To the Warners, "A great picture." To Bacon, "Best direction yet." 
To me, Warner Brothers' new star, "Colossal, sensational" I looked at all 
of them and I said just two words: "It stinks!" 

I climbed into my car and went home and phoned the Boss. "Listen care- 
fully, Boss," I said over the wire. "I worked hard all these years to make the 
name of Sophie Tucker a success. Now I've got to roll up my sleeves and 
start over again. I've got to overcome this stinkeroo picture or I am finished 
in show business!" 

Next day I called up Jack Warner and asked when Hon'ky Ton\ would 
be released. He thought in about two or three weeks. This just fitted in with 
a plan I had made. I called up Harry Singer and asked him to arrange to 
play me a week in San Francisco and a week in Los Angeles before I went 
East. I promised to have a new act ready. And I reminded him that he 
would get the benefit of all the picture ballyhooing. 

Jack Yellen wrote a production number for me around the theme song in 
the picture "I'm Doing What I'm Doing for Love." It was the biggest 
production number I had ever had, and I had to engage half a dozen people 
to help me in it. Jack also fixed up some of the other songs from the picture 
that were tame, making them hotter for the stage. 

I opened in Los Angeles first to a smash hit; then I went to San Francisco 
and on to the Palace in Chicago, doing great business. It wasn't until after 
Hanky Ton\ was released that my headaches started. The first town I 
played after the picture was shown was Rochester, New York. I had always 
been a big box-office attraction in that city, but that week the receipts went 
down. In the next town it was the same, and it was like that in every place 
I played where Honky Ton\ had been shown. The press panned the story 
and my acting and they were right about both. They liked the singing, they 
liked me personally, but that didn't save the picture or make me a picture star. 
The only satisfaction I got out of HonJ^y Tonf^ was betting Harry Warner 
five hundred dollars the picture wouldn't play over two weeks in New York. 
Hon'ky Tonf( was taken oflf before the two weeks* run was over, and I col- 
lected my bet. To get the taste of Hon'ky Tonl( out of the public's mouth, 
the Boss started negotiating with London for me to go back there to play 
in Jack Hulbert's show Follow a Star. 

was a flop in America. When I met Jack Warner in London, 


in 1931, he told me that Honf^y Tonf^ was still making money for him in 
England, on the continent, in Africa and Australia, on the strength of my 
popularity. For years I got fan letters from all over the world. My favorite 
came from Port au Bain, Algiers: 

I saw your beautiful self in the cinema play Hon^y TonJ^, and I wish to tell 
you that I think you are the most beautiful lady I have ever seen. Your generous 
proportions appeal to me more than I can say. 

I am a very rich man, and have an old, splendid house in Algiers, with eighteen 
rooms, and much silver and gold. If you will do me the honor to come to Algiers, 
I shall make you the favorite of my harem, give you your own chamber, with 
bath and many lovely gowns and shawls. I also have a pet monkey which I shall 
be honored to present to you. 


To this I replied: 

Very much flattered with your letter but I'm afraid my husband, Al Lackey, 
might not like the idea. 

This, as I have explained, was my first venture in Hollywood. Do you 
wonder that I looked forward to my next adventure in 1938 with some mis- 
givings and a great deal of hope? 

This time I had a house in Hollywood. There were six of us hubby and I, 
Ida Cohen, my English friend, who took over the job as housekeeper, Emma, 
my maid, my niece, Sadie, who drove out with a friend to see California, 
fell in love with it, and stayed on with us, and the cook. Al and I were still 
together in those days. We had our "ups and downs" and our "ins and outs,'* 
but I wanted to make a go of my married life if 1 could. God knows if you 
are in show business it's a hard thing to achieve a successful marriage. You 
are always having to pack up and move somewhere else when your married 
life requires you to be there on the spot. You are always having to go to 
the theater to put on a show when your husband wants you to- sit down 
and listen to him talk about his business. And, if he has a business and 
works at it all day, he's too sleepy to pay attention to you when your work 
is finished around 2 or 3 A.M. and you feel like having supper and a game of 
pinochle and a little loving. I thought when we went to Hollywood: "Now 
is the time to establish a home!'* And for five months I really did have one. 

Hollywood was full of old friends who welcomed me with parties. It 
seemed as if everybody I'd ever known in show business, from the earliest 
days, was out there on the West Coast making a picture. And when I went 


round to the MGM studios, it was like old-home week. There was Sam 
Katz (of Balaban and Katz), the producer of Broadway Melody, in which 
I was to play. There was L. B. Mayer's secretary, Ida Koverman, a swell gal 
whom I've known from the Orpheum days in San Francisco. There was 
Eddie Mannix, a big lovable Irishman who used to be the bouncer at the 
old Palisades Park in New Jersey and would keep our crowd in order when 
we went there of an evening for fifty cents' worth of fun. There were Harry 
Rapf, reminding me of the fights he and I used to have over billing when 
he was producing and booking on the Keith time; Benny Thau, whom I'd 
known when he worked for Eddie Darling in the Keith booking office of 
the old Palace Theatre building in New York. Benny used to run downstairs 
to the theater to get a line on all the acts, then hustle upstairs to report to 
the chief. There was John Considine, Jr., the son of my old pal John, Sr., 
of the Sullivan-Cons idine Circuit, and young John's wife, who had been 
Carmen Pantages, and whom I'd known when she wore rompers. There 
was the writer Edgar Allen Woolfe, the bushy, redheaded kid who showed 
me his first script when I lived in New York in the same hotel with his 
mother and dad and who had been lots of fun to be with in London. There 
was Billy Grady, the casting director I reminded him of how he and 
Maggie, his wife, had hauled me over to Brooklyn one time to see the new 
"blessed event" in their home. In those days, Billy worked for Max Keller, 
a prominent booking agent. There was Eddie Buzzell, as fine a vaudeville 
performer as we ever had, and now a director. There was Dolly Tree, who 
had dressed my first show in London, Round in Fifty, in 1922. And there 
was Mary Garden, whom I met for the first time though I had carried the 
billing, "The Mary Garden of Ragtime," for several seasons after Jack Lait 
gave it to me in 1909. There was Robert Z. Leonard, director, who had never 
failed to come backstage and say "hello" to us vaudevillians every time he 
went to see a show; Jack McGowan, who had written a part for me in 
Broadway Melody; Edgar Selwyn, whom I used to pester to death to put 
me in his shows; Albertina Rasch, whom I hadn't seen since 1926, when she 
put her dancers in our show, Le Maire's Affairs; Arthur Freed and Nacio 
Brown, two boys from Tin Pan Alley whose songs I always liked to plug; 
and Gus Kahn, also from Tin Pan Alley. Gus and Grace Kahn taught me 
their first song hit in Chicago years back. 

It was like getting home to the old crowd of the days before vaudeville 
ended. The only thing that was strange was the place, and what an amazing 
place the MGM lot was. A city in itself, with its rows upon rows of buildings. 
The executive offices lined up on one side of the main street. There was the 


bustling, humming publicity department; the wardrobe department with 
its millions of dollars' worth of merchandise; the music department; rows of 
offices for script writers, producers, directors, and their assistants; the dra- 
matic school, headed by Phyllis Laughton; the photograph galleries; the 
foreign publicity department; the sound studio headed by Douglas Shearer 
(Norma's brother); the make-up department; the scenic department. There 
was the doctor's office, the dentist's office, the barbershop, the shoe-shine 
parlor, and the commissary where over five hundred people were fed at one 
time. And, moving around this city, hundreds of technicians of every kind- 
extras, writers, gag men, cameramen. 

No wonder, I thought, people go nuts over Hollywood. There never was 
anything in show business on such a scale as this. 

The cast of Broadway Melody was headed by Eleanor Powell and Robert 
Taylor. Binnie Barnes played in it, and Judy Garland. Roy Del Ruth directed 
the picture. It was a story of show business, and when I read the script I was 
terribly enthusiastic about it. I was determined that my second picture should 
be a success. And, remembering some of the things I thought were wrong 
with Honfyy Ton^ f I tried to keep from making the same mistakes all over 
again. After all, I told myself, I am a singer of songs not an actress. I had 
heard Laura Hope Crews was a wonderful coach, so I called her up and 
asked her to coach me. For weeks I went every day to Santa Monica and 
Laura worked with me to get me ready for the picture. 

When we began to shoot, I found that the original story had been re- 
arranged considerably to build up Robert Taylor's part. The first day I 
worked with him was in the backstage scene in which I had to sing "Some 
of These Days." Believe it or not, I was so excited by the idea of doing a 
scene with Robert Taylor that I fumbled and forgot the lines of my theme 

Buddy Ebsen, George Murphy, Eleanor Powell, and Judy Garland were 
all vaudeville troupers like me. All of us were eagerly hoping for a break in 
pictures. Eleanor Powell was a tireless worker and a great dancer. It seemed 
only yesterday that she was just a hoofer on a vaudeville bill with me. Judy 
Garland was so eager and so determined to get ahead in pictures that it 
made me proud to work with her. One day I was told that Willie and 
Eugene Howard had been signed on to play a few scenes with me to give the 
picture the true feel of vaudeville. Strange as it seems, in the twenty-six years 
that Fd known the Howard Brothers, up to our work in Broadway Melody, 
the boys and I had played just one vaudeville date together. That was at the 
new Palace Theatre in Chicago. Of course we had played a few benefits to- 


gather. The laughs and the fun we three had on the set, working in the 
boardinghouse scene! 

And all those scenes on the cutting-room %or at the finish of the picture! 

After our first day's work on the picture I was, naturally, very eager for 
L. B.'s comment and criticism. A few days later he called me into his office 
to tell me I looked lovely, my face was kind, my work with Judy was 
motherly, and he was greatly pleased. In return for these compliments 1 
threw my arms around him. Then I ran home and phoned Abe Lastfogel 
the good news. L. B. often asked me over to his home for Sunday brunch, 
served out on the patio in front of the swimming pool. There would be 
twenty to thirty people everybody of any importance in filmland. The food 
was the best I have ever eaten anywhere always finnan haddie, a favorite 
dish of L. 3B/s, among other things. After brunch he would have a concert 
and then pinochle and bridge games. L, B. is a champ at pinochle, and how 
he loves to beat everybody he plays with which he usually does. He took 
me on a few times, but he was too good for me. 

I'll never forget the day I drove out to the studio in the Chewy I'd rented. 
As we drove in the gates there were L. B., Sam Katz, Harry Rapf, and Eddie 
Mannix in a huddle. I got out of the Chewy and L. B. greeted me: "Is that 
your car, Sophie?" 

"Yes sir," I said. 

"You an MGM star riding around in that rattletrap!" And to the chauffeur, 
"You go to the Packard Company and get your missus a better-looking car!" 

"Hold on, L. B.," I yelled. "I'm one gal on this lot that won't buy a car or 
a home out here until I find out how good you think I am in this racket!" 

They started to shoot Broadway Melody in January and we finished early 
in April. Then came weeks of waiting while the cutting room was busy with 
their scissors. I hadn't any idea how much of my part was going to be left in 
or what chance I stood of doing another picture. I was drawing down the 
salary on my contract. But hell! I'm not used to hanging around doing noth- 
ing and being paid for it! I began to fret. I couldn't find out where they 
were going to have the sneak preview. When I heard that they had taken 
the picture down to San Diego, there wasn't time for me to make the trip 
there. I bet I never closed an eye all that night wondering how it was going 
over with the audience. I was the first one out at the studio the next day to get 
the report, and the first man I bumped into out there was Roy Del Ruth, I 
was almost afraid to ask him* "How was it, Roy?" He smiled and said: "You 
were great!" Then Sam Katz came along and added: "They laughed and 


applauded every time you came on the screen. When was the last time you 
played San Diego?" 

"I haven't played there in oven eight years. 55 
"Well, they remembered you all right. You were great!" 
I stood there like a fool, looking at the two of them, blinking back the 
tears, not able to say a thing. It began to look as though I had launched 
myself on a career in pictures. And this, after thirty years in show business! 
I felt so good about the future I started to branch out. I bought a new car 
and I rented a lovely fifteen-room house in Beverly Hills, No house is con- 
sidered fit for occupancy unless it has a swimming pool, and this one had 
a forty-by-sixty-foot pool, surrounded by tall trees, with dressing rooms and 
shower baths and everything just as you see in the pictures. Two or three 
times a week we had dinner parties, not for the movie rnoguls or important 
visitors, but for my old trouper buddies the friends I'd known in vaudeville. 
They were the ones I wanted to be with and wanted to share my home with. 
I never ran my home Hollywood style, but more the way Mama had taught 
me. Friends were welcomed there at all times for a good home-cooked meal 
and a game of cards. My Sunday luncheons were mostly for children Judy 
Garland and Freddie Bartholomew would bring their friends and the gang 
would have a swell time in the pool. 

Still, I wasn't working, which was something strange for me. The pub- 
licity department had sent out word that Sophie Tucker would be built up 
by the studio to take over Marie Dressler's stories and her parts. I shook my 
head over this, and I begged L. B. to curb this sort of publicity. "Listen/* I 
told him, "for over twenty-five years I've worked to build up the name of 
Sophie Tucker, and now your publicity department think they can turn me 
into a Marie Dressier. Marie left a name and reputation that belong to her 
alone. I'll never be anything but Sophie Tucker. Build me up for pictures! 5 * 
But the publicity had already gone out over the wires and my clipping 
bureau was sending me hundreds of clippings, from papers all over the 
country, in which I was played up as the next Marie Dressier. One day at 
lunch in the commissary on the lot I was asked to join Ida Koverman, who 
was entertaining Gloria Swanson and Frances Marion. Frances Marion had 
been a great friend of Marie Dressler's. I heard her tell Ida: 

"Sophie is the one to play Mollie, Bless Her!' This was the story of Marie 
Dressler's life. The next thing I'd heard was that L. B. had bought the story, 
and the news in the press was that Sophie Tucker was to do the life of 
Marie Dressier. It struck me that it was a mistake to hammer me into the 
public's mind as a second Marie Dressier before Broadway Melody came out. 


In the years I've been in show business there have been dozens of performers 
billed as the second "this" or "that" All of them died by the wayside. You 
can't be successful on someone else's reputation or name! No publicity de- 
partment can bamboozle the public into accepting, as genuine, something 
that is fake. 

I have great respect for Marie Dressier as a performer. I never knew her 
in the heyday of her success on Broadway. I met her first in London as Mrs. 
Jack Dalton, when I was entertaining at the Kit-Kat Klub and she was kind 
enough to compliment me on my work. The next time we met was in Phila- 
delphia, where I was headlining Keith's theater. Marie Dressier had booked 
a two weeks' engagement at the Walton Roof in Philadelphia. She came 
backstage to see me and asked me to advise and help her, as she was petrified 
about playing in a cabaret show something she had never done before. 
When I finished my show that night, I rushed up to the roof and took over 
the show there, introducing Marie to the night-club audience. For a whole 
week I was on the job, and she was a big success. However, she didn't like 
cafe work. It was out of her line entirely. But a great artist is great any place, 
any time, and I kept telling her so, Marie finished the Philadelphia engage- 
ment and the next I heard of her she was in pictures, where she was rolling 
up an enormous success. 

After the news from San Diego I couldn't wait to see Broadway Melody. 
There was a preview at Long Beach, to which all the cast and staff from the 
MGM studios were invited. I should say there were about five hundred of us. 
The rest of the audience was very friendly to the cast as we came in, and 
when the names appeared on the screen, there was a lot of applause. But 
when the picture began, and scenes I remembered making were missing, I 
began to feel jittery. I felt as though the best of me had been left on the 
cutting-room floor. 

"What do you think of it, dear?" Al Lackey kept whispering to me. 

And I whispered back, "It stinks, if you ask me!" 

Al had a lot of sense about show business and I could see that he agreed 
with me that for all I'd been told the San Diego preview was such a hit the 
picture wasn't good, and I was only fair. It was okay for Eleanor Powell and 
Robert Taylor. For them it was just another picture. Judy Garland was the 
only one in the whole cast in whom I saw great possibilities. I said so to 
L. B. and to everyone on the lot: "Judy, if carefully handled and groomed, 
will be the big MGM star in a few years." My predictions were right! 

Now it remained to be seen how Broadway Melody of 1937 would hit the 
general public. I wanted to get away from Hollywood for a while, because 


hanging around there and not working got on my nerves, Abe Lastfogel got 
me bookings to play Chicago and Detroit and then Piping Rock, Saratoga, 
for the month of August. I made only one personal appearance with Broad- 
way Melody that was in Albany. The audience gave me a warm reception, 
but I didn't like the picture in Albany any more than I liked it in Long 
Beach. It didn't seem to me that my career in pictures was breaking just 
right. However, I had been ordered to report back at the studio after the 
Saratoga engagement to make a second picture, Thoroughbreds Don't Cry. 

The cast included Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Another boy's part 
in the picture was to have been played by Freddie Bartholomew, but the 
part was given instead to Ronald Sinclair, a little Australian boy new to 
pictures. I didn't particularly like my part. It was a part any fifty dollar 
character actress could do better than L Producer Harry Rapf kept telling 
me: "Here's your chance to be another Marie Dressier." If he had that in 
his mind, I knew I was sunk, I was to play a straight character part- no 
singing and the studio dressed me in Marie Dressler's dresses. I wasn't very 
hopeful of Thoroughbreds Don't Cry. But the picture was made, and then 
came the weeks of waiting, going out to the studio every day, hoping to hear 
the good news: "I've got something for you, Sophie!" 

After four months- of waiting I found myself getting irritable. When I 
entertained at benefits, I didn't feel that I was holding my audience. My 
songs weren't funny. It seemed to me that my work was strained. I knew 
what it was the movies were getting me down. What I needed was to get 
back into my own hard-working two-a-day world. I called Jack Yellen and 
Abe Lastfogel to come over to my house, and I told them: "I can'tTstay out 
here any more and wait for MGM to come through. I'll go nuts sitting 
around doing nothing. Sure I'm collecting my weekly check every Friday, 
but, boys, I've been a check collector for over twenty-five years and I can 
still collect them. Jack, you get me some new songs. Abe, you book me East 
at once. Ill get the hell out of Hollywood before I become one of the has- 
beens in show business." 

Abe was worried about the contract, which had twelve more weeks to go. 
I told him: "To hell with the contract! MGM will be just as happy to get rid 
of me as I shall be to get away." And I was right. L. B. Mayer came through, - 
paying me up in full with no worries about lawsuits. I left Hollywood with 
fifteen scrapbooks, loaded with the greatest publicity I've had in all of my 
years of show business the movies did that for me. 


CHAPTER 28: And That's Show Business 

PLAYING a fifteen-week engagement at Ben Marden's Riviera on the Jersey 
side of the George Washington Bridge during the summer of 1938 made me 
feel that I was back in my stride. I said to myself: "Now is the time to get 
into a musical comedy to open on Broadway in the fall.'" 

To show how my hunches work out: I was coming out of my hairdresser's 
one day, on Sixth Avenue near Fifty-fifth Street, when who should I run 
into but Harry Bestry. Harry is a booking agent who works only on shows. I 
toldiiim I was ripe for a musical comedy. "Get busy, Harry. See what you can 
do for me/ 9 

A few days later he called to ask me to meet him in Vinton Freedley's 
office. Freedley had a comedy he was putting on. We talked about it, but the 
part didn't just fit me. I left, hoping something more in my line would turn 
up later. 

What did turn up was Cole Porter at the Riviera. I could see him watching 
my performance. Maybe, I said to myself, something is up. Then several 
nights later there was Cole Porter again. I began to feel goose pimples down 
my back. Then nothing happened for several weeks. I finished my engage- 
ment and went down to Atlantic City for a rest. Just when I was beginning 
to get philosophical about my hunch, there was Harry Bestry on the phone 
telling me to get back to New York to hear the new score Cole Porter had 
finished for Vinton Freedley's comedy, especially a couple of numbers 
especially for me. If I liked them, we could talk business. 

The show was Leave It to Me, in which William Gaxton and Victor 
Moore starred, and in which lovely Mary Martin sang her famous number, 
"My Heart Belongs to Daddy." 

The first time I saw Mary Martin rehearse I predicted she would be the 
outstanding hit of the show. She had so much on the ball eagerness, charm, 
real ability. She just couldn't miss. Everyone in the company was crazy about 
her. We all grieved for her when the wire came announcing her father's 
death & piece of sad news I had to break to her. She took it like a real 
trouper, keeping back the tears in obedience to the first rule of show busi- 
ness : the show must go on. 

Leave It to Me was a success from the start. There was not one bad notice 
in the press. So, after twenty-nine years of working, hoping, trying, flopping, 
trying again, I made my first hit in a Broadway success. And, boy, did it 
feel good! The show played from the first week of November to the end of 


July 1939. Then we went on the road. Through the following winter we 
toured the South in the worst cold weather they had had down there since 
Grant took Richmond. It was tough going, like the early days of trouping; 
the train jumps in the early mornings, the dirty, drafty dressing rooms, 
the eating places we would gather in for supper after the show. Tough, but 
I reveled in it. This was show business as I had known it long ago, and it 
suited me a lot better than plush-covered and chromium-plated Hollywood. 

The hard work on the tour helped me to forget some of the unpleasant 
experiences connected with the big fight that had centered around the A.F.A. 
(American Federation of Actors) and which had come to a head and burst 
just about the time Leave It to Me was finishing its run on Broadway. 

At the time I was president of AJFA., which meant that I was in the fight 
up to my neck. 

The A.FA. was the first union especially for vaudevillians after the 
organization known as the White Rats, which was formed around 1905, and 
which had only a short existence. What had interested me in the A.F A. from 
the start was that it was organized by vaudevillians for vaudevillians. Ralph 
Whitehead, himself a vaudevillian, started it and became executive secretary. 
Among its presidents were Eddie Cantor, Fred Keating, and Rudy Vallee. I 
was elected to the presidency in 1938 the first woman to hold the office. 

You cannot grow up in vaudeville, as I did, without realizing that every 
variety artist should belong to a union. For many years the variety artist was 
the butt of the inequalities in show business. He had to travel long distances, 
playing one-week engagements and at a salary which kept him living in 
cheap, uncomfortable actors' rooming houses. Not infrequently his act would 
be canceled after the first show, which left him high and dry for the rest of 
the week. The personal preferences and prejudices of the theater managers 
could interfere with his act and cause arguments and scenes backstage that 
upset the performer before he went on, making him give a bad performance. 
I've told some of my own experiences along these lines. The crowded, un- 
sanitary conditions backstage in many of the showiest theaters were shocking. 

For years, whenever a bunch of us vaudevillians got together, we would 
talk about these things and argue over what vaudevillians could do to get a 
better break in show business. Everyone agreed that vaudevillians needed a 
strong union of their own. But everybody admitted in the next breath that 
variety artists, as a rule, made bad union members. The successful ones were 
always on the road and could not attend regular meetings of their union. We 
weren't like the legit actors who remained for a whole season on Broadway. 


Some o usand I was one of them felt that the variety artists* union 
should be so organized that it would benefit its own members when any of 
them got into a tight spot. All of us have known what it is like to be out of 
work, to need money for an operation, or to have your teeth fixed, or your 
hair dyed so you can get a job. Most of us have felt that awful gone feeling 
at the pit of the stomach when you haven't got the money for that week's 
room rent, or for train fares to the next town where you believe you can get 
work in a cafe. I believed that a percentage of the actor's union dues should 
be set aside to form a fund to take care of emergencies such as I have pic- 
tured. It seemed to me that the actor who paid his dues to his union was 
entitled to relief from that union when he needed it. 

I held these ideas long before I was elected president of the AJF.A. and 
they influenced me greatly in all that I did for the association while I was in 

The A.F.A. was one of the organizations included in the 4As, which is the 
parent body of all the actors' guilds. Frank Gilmore was then president of 
the 4As. 

Early in 1938, before I came East to open at Ben Marden's Riviera, a series 
of articles appeared in the Hollywood Reporter which implied that White- 
head was not managing the affairs of the A.F.A. properly. Membership in 
our organization was increasing steadily; it was now over fifteen thousand, 
with eighty-five hundred members in good standing. We had opened our 
federation to include circus performers. Whitehead reported that there had 
been some discussion among the officers of the 4As over this. 

"Has the 4As ever returned the per capita tax on these members?" I asked 

"No," he said. 

"Have they ever asked if the tax paid them on our membership fee comes 
from circus performers, vaudevillians, or night-club entertainers?" 

He assured me they had not. 

That seemed to me to put us in the clear. 

That summer the World's Fair opened in New York, which meant a lot 
of work for entertainers and a lot of business for our office. Meanwhile, the 
articles in the Hollywood Reporter kept appearing, hinting that the business 
affairs of the A.FA. were not what they should be. I began to get letters 
from members demanding to know what about it. When I came East to 
open at Berx Marden's Riviera, I had a long talk with Whitehead. I was con- 
vinced of his honesty and I could not see that the A.F A. was doing anything 


wrong. However, I did not like the adverse publicity we were getting, so I 
suggested to Whitehead and he agreed that we request the 4As to ex- 
amine our books. I felt that for us to take such action would prove our good 
faith, and when the investigation showed that our affairs were all in order, 
as I was sure it would, that would give the lie to the annoying attacks in the 
Hollywood Reporter. 

The investigation was started. For months during that winter and spring 
the accountants retained by the 4As were busy with our books. Meanwhile, 
I was doing eight shows a week at the Imperial Theatre in Leave It to- Me, 
cafe work, and a twenty-six-week engagement in radio. One afternoon I went 
to the races. I came back to my hotel around six o'clock to get ready for the 
show and found a message to call Whitehead. There were also several slips 
with the message that Eddie Cantor had called me at twelve-thirty, at one- 
thirty, and later in the afternoon. 

I called Whitehead. He said the investigators had handed him their report 
at eleven that morning. I told him to bring it round to my dressing room 
that night after the show. Then I rang up Eddie. When*I got him he said: 

"Sophie, I'm talking to you- like my own sister. Get out of the A J?A. Get 
out at once." 

"Why?" I fired back. 

"Because if you don't, you'll be in the middle of a rotten mess. Whitehead 
is under suspicion of misusing the A.FA. funds. Resign, and do it qmc\l f 

"Where did you get this information from?" I asked. 

"Never mind where I got it. I'm telling you what to do." He added that he 
had called Harry Richman, our vice-president, and had told him the same 
thing: "Resign." 

I hung up, and then I went down to the theater for the show. After the 
last act Whitehead came round to my dressing room with the report. The 
first paragraph read: "There were no discrepancies"; though later on there 
was reference to "misuse of funds." 

From my telephone conversation with Eddie Cantor I figured that the 
stories going around town were probably a lot worse than the report, and 
that the best thing to do was to call a meeting of the A.F.A., present the 
report, and thrash the whole business out then and there. 

I was determined to have as large a representation of our members as pos- 
sible at that meeting. We set it for midnight, which would allow most of 
them to get there, and we arranged with the Hotel Edison, where we held 
it, to serve coffee and sandwiches so no one would have to stop to eat supper 


before coming to the meeting. For five nights before the meeting I went out 
after my show with some members of our A.F.A. office staff and we made 
every important night club on Broadway* in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, 
Queens, and out at the fair to notify as many of our members as we could 
reach, and to make them promise to come to the meeting. 

The night of the meeting was terribly hot. Maybe that had something to 
do with the tempers of those who came. The room was packed. On the plat- 
form sat Ralph Whitehead, Rudy Vallee, Joe Howard, Frank Fay, Milton 
Berk, Morton Downey, Aunt Jemima, Bill Robinson, Harry Richman, and I. 

When I stood up to read the report of the 4As* investigators someone in 
the audience gave me the bird. I was prepared for that. Jack Gould of the 
New York Times had warned me several days before that a man whom 
Whitehead had once befriended and helped out of his own pocket had 
organized a gang of "ferrets" to break up the meeting. 

The "ferrets" started on me. I tried to read the report, with the sweat pour- 
ing down my face and back, while the hecklers razzed me. Meanwhile, 
photographers who had been tipped off that there was going to be trouble 
at the meeting kept snapping away at us on the platform. Once, when I took 
my handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from my face and my glasses to 
see to read, a camera snapped me. Next day there was my picture in one of 
the papers with the caption: SOPHIE TUCKER WEEPS AT MEETING. 

I never was further from tears in my whole life. I was too mad to cry. 
Fighting, cussing mad. 

Finally, I saw there was no use going on with the meeting. The "ferrets' 5 
had staged one of the worst riots I ever saw anywhere. I turned to Harry 
Richman and told him I was going to call for an adjournment. I hardly got 
the words out of my mouth before the "ferrets" started a free for all with 
the members who wanted to hear the report. Then someone put out the 
lights. What began as an open meeting of the A.F.A, finished as a brawl in 
which the police had to be called in. 

Worse than the newspaper stories of the meeting, some of which were 
PLATFORM BY ANGRY ACTORS were stories published in the press and circu- 
lated generally that the books of the A.F.A. had been taken over by Mr. 
Thomas Dewey, then district attorney of New York City. This publicity, 
which was untrue, did the cause of the vaudevillians a great amount of harm. 
I am able to state unequivocally that these stories were false because of the 
following letter addressed to my attorney: 


Office o the District Attorney 
New York County, 
New York City. 

June 22, 1939 
170 Broadway 
New York City 


This will acknowledge receipt of your letter of June 22. You are correct in 
your statement that no books or records have been seized by this office or anyone 
subpoenaed or examined. 

If it shall at any time become necessary to examine any of the officers or em- 
ployees of the association which you represent, or the books and records thereof, 
I shall be glad to take advantage of your kind offer of co-operation. 

Yours very truly 
(signed) ROBERT H. THAYER 

Assistant District Attorney 

in charge of Indictment Bureau. 

However, true or false, the harm was done to the A.F.A. The 4As revoked 
our charter and organized a new Guild of Variety Artists to take the place 
of the disgraced A.F.A. Some of us objected to this procedure; we felt that 
the A.F.A. had been wrongly condemned, and that it had not been given a 
fair chance to state its case. Consequently, we refused to disband the AJP.A., 
and so requested a new charter from the I.A.T.S.E. (International Alliance of 
Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Operators). 

This move didn't please the 4As. The LA.T.S.K often called the Stage- 
hands' Union was very powerful. George Browne was then its president* It 
looked to me and to Harry Richman and to some of the others that we 
would strengthen the cause of the vaudevillians by becoming affiliated with 
such a powerful organization. But, as it happened, and soon came to light, 
Browne and a man named William Bioff were then racketeering in the 
IA.T.S.E. The court started an investigation of their activities with much 
publicity, and that ended what remained of the A.F.A. 

Harry Richman and I had been suspended by the Screen Actors' Guild, by 
the A.F.R.A. (American Federation of Radio Artists), and by Equity for 
joining forces with the LA.T.S.E. But this suspension was soon lifted and 
Harry and I were permitted to go back to work. 

You might think after these experiences that I would have lost faith in the 


value of a union for variety artists. On the contrary. I am convinced that the 
actor needs his union. But he needs to he an active, vigorous part of it. It 
isn't enough for him to carry a card the way it is now, some of us carry 
a whole deck of union cards to prove our membership in all the various 
guilds. The actor must take part in the affairs of his own union to keep it 
working for his benefit and to prevent racketeers muscling in on him. The 
only actors' union that is of any use to actors is one which is run by actors 
and for actors. 

Because of the many branches of show business today, the performer fre- 
quently carries several union cards and pays dues to several unions. This 
in itself is confusing and annoying. Too often the artist doesn't bother to 
attend meetings, even when he could; nor does he read his union newspaper. 
Then he grumbles: "What good is a union to me?" 

There are a lot of abuses to performers that should be legislated out of 
existence, and which could be done away with if the actors' unions went to 
work on them. Take this business of late shows in cafes, when, frequently, 
there aren't more than a dozen customers in the place, and half of them 
are drunk or asleep. Another thing that should be done away with, to my 
way of thinking, is the custom of running six or seven shows a day in the 
motion-picture theaters. It doesn't wear out the films, but it sure plays hell 
with musicians, singers, entertainers. All entertainers should have one day 
a week off to rest. They would give better shows, and the customers would 
be just as satisfied. 

I've said a lot about what it takes to stay in show business. Above all, the 
performer must look ahead. You can't grow stale or cling to a period. You 
must belong to your time. Show business is constantly changing. And there 
are a lot more changes right around the next corner. You can see some of 
them coming. Take this business of taking shows to the workers in war 
plants. There's no reason to believe that this is going to end with the war. 
One of the great powers of radio as entertainment is that it takes entertain- 
ment to the people wherever they are. It is quite likely that workers are 
going to demand that entertainment be brought to them where they work, 
and that we will have traveling shows, touring the industrial centers, play- 
ing during rest hours in big industrial plants, long after those plants have 
been converted to peacetime production. 

The trouble over the A.F.A. is directly responsible for this book. Not that 
it was my original idea to tell the world the low-down on that. But this is 
how it happened. 


When the publicity was at its height and its nastiest, I was working at the 
Versailles Restaurant in East Fiftieth Street. One night Ted Friend, of the 
New York Mirror, came over to my table. 

"You know, Sophie," he said to me, "you should write a book." 

"I've been writing a book for years," I answered back. "It's called Horses 
That Owe Me Money, and I haven't come to the end of it yet." 

"Just the same, I mean it," said Ted. "You're an institution, Sophie." 

"A lot of guys have called me a lot of names," said I, "but you're the first 
one ever called me that." 

I might have passed up Ted's remark but for Louis Sobol coming along 
not ten minutes later. He dropped into the chair where Ted had sat. And 
the first thing he said was: "Sophie, you should write a book. Your auto- 
biography. Now is the time for you to do it." 

Well, as I figured it out later on, Ted and Louis are two smart boys. Maybe 
they've got something in that idea. Maybe Sophie Tucker has got some- 
thing to say to folks that she hasn't said in her songs and her gags. I decided 
to buy a stack of yellow paper and some lead pencils and see for myself if 
I could take on a new act. 

It has been a long, slow business, writing down everything \ could remem- 
ber; writing it by hand, usually late at night after I have come home from 
work, wherever I've been in New York, Chicago, Hollywood, Florida. I've 
had no time off for writing. As a matter of fact, since I started on my book 
I've been kept working harder and steadier than I've worked in years. There 
has been my season on Broadway with George Jessel in High Kickers, a lot 
of work in cafes all over the country, and several pictures, including Sensa- 
tions of 1944, and Follow the Boys. 

From the beginning I have wanted this book to answer some of the ques- 
tions beginners in show business ask me about how to get started, and how 
to make a success as entertainers. 

From the days when I started headlining bills I have been asked how to 
get ahead in show business. Harry Richman's mother brought him a kid 
in short pants to play for me; Mama Dolly used to question me about 
what was good for her girls, and there was Minnie Marx and ever so many 
more. In this book, as I told my story, I have tried to stress those things that I 
know are vitally important; such as the obligation to be always on time. If 
you're in show business you can never afford to be five minutes late. When 
you're starting out, you've got to be on time or you'll be fired. After that it 
gets to be habit. The headliner is never late. 

Be sure you look right. The performer never has any time off. There never 


is a day or an hour when you can afford to slump. You never can tell whom 
you may meet, who may come along, what opportunity may come your way. 
And you've got to be ready for it. You can't afford to be passed over because 
you didn't make up properly that day, or you were careless about your 
clothes, or didn't keep the appointment with the hairdresser the day before. 

Never let down on a show. Suppose there are only a handful of people in 
the house; one of them may be a producer. You never can tell. Besides, the 
artist learns about entertaining through such experiences, and no artist ever 
knows all there is to learn. 

Ill never forget the last show at the Palace in New York. It was ghastly. 
Everyone knew the theater was to be closed down, and a landmark in show 
business would be gone. That feeling got into the acts. The whole place, and 
even the performers, stank of decay. I seemed to smell it. It challenged me. I 
went out on that stage determined to keep my mind on the future not on the 
past. I was determined to give the audience the idea: why brood over yester- 
day ? We have tomorrow. As I sang I could feel the atmosphere change. The 
gloom began to lift, the spirit which had formerly filled the Palace and which 
made it famous among vaudeville houses in the world came back. 

That's what the entertainer can do. That's the power he has; and which 
he can use when he knows how to use it. 

One of the most important things to remember is that when you're on the 
stage you're in character. Don't ad-lib. Don't be smart-alecky. You may think 
you're being terribly funny, but it's ten chances to one the audience doesn't 
think so. Comedy doesn't come as easy as all that. Most of it has to be worked 
over, carefully timed, rehearsed, planned. It looks light and easy, but it only 
looks that way because the comedian has rehearsed it until his technique 
is perfect. 

Be individual. Don't make yourself into a carbon copy of some other enter- 
tainer, or some glamor girl of the screen. One of the saddest things in show 
business is the number of girls working in cafes in every town of any size 
who look, dress, and sing just alike. You can't tell one from the other. And 
not one of them will ever get anywhere in show business until she breaks 
away from that pattern, until she sings something original, individual. They'll 
go on clutching the mike, the way a Saturday-night drunk clings to a lamp- 
post, singing into it the same monotonous song, and wondering why they 
never get a break. 

Making a success in show business calls for plenty of patience and for 
tolerance. You can't afford to hold resentments or grudges. They interfere 
with your work. And first, last, and all the time, it's your work that counts. 


It isn't easy to be a successful entertainer. Not any easier than to be a success 
in any other profession. For entertaining is a profession. When you go into 
one of the professions you expect to make sacrifices and to work to get ahead. 
Doesn't a nurse have to study and work hard? Doesn't a teacher have to 
educate herself? Think of the years of work that go into the making of a 

We talk about "the profession," meaning the actor's. It's something to be 
proud of. It has a great, honorable tradition. It's worth working for. 

Writing a book isn't easy. And neither is ending it. I was sitting staring 
into space, chewing on my pencil, with a blank sheet of paper in front of me, 
when who should come along but Louis Sobol. 

"What's the matter, Soph?" 

I told him I was trying to think up a way to end the book he had urged 
me to write. 

"That's easy," said Louis. "End it this way: