Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sophie Tucker and Bette Midler, Last of the Red Hot Mamas

Sophie Tucker"I will never forget it you know. I was in bed one night with my boyfriend Ernie and he said to me, "Soph, how come you never tell me when you're having an orgasm?" I said to him, 'Ernie, you're never around!'"

There's this idea that's been floating around for a long while now that women are demure little creatures that blush, flush, and bat their eyes. And while I've met one or two that seemed to fit that description, I've known a lot more women who could laugh, sweat, cuss, and look me in the eye while doing it. I'd give names, but the list is too long and you know who you are anyway.

That's why I'm smitten with Sophie Tucker, Last of the Red Hot Mamas. Born Sophie Kalish in Russia in 1884, she emigrated with her Jewish family to Hartford, Connecticut (my home turf). She took off to New York in 1906 to break into show business, singing in vaudeville clubs, cafes and beer gardens. Her songs, including 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "I'm Living Alone and I Like It," "I Ain't Takin' Orders from No One," and "No Man is Ever Gonna Worry Me" were full of raunchy, tell-it-like-it-is humor. She was fat, Jewish, sexy, and proud. And if you didn't agree, get out. She also could deliver poignant, emotional, performances in the form of her signature tunes "Some of These Days" and "Yiddishe Momme." Her career ran over 50 year with recorded output ranging from wax-cylinders through taped color television performances. She's inspired generations of female singers and comediennes including, Bette Midler, the Divine Mrs. M.

Sophie Tucker, No One But The Right Man Can Do Me Wrong

Bette Midler was born in 1945 to a Jewish family in Hawaii got her big break joining the Broadway chorus of Fiddler on the Roof in 1966 and then getting the leading role of Tzeitel. Along the way Midler performed movies, TV shows, Broadway musicals, comedy shows, and for a while had a fifty dollar a night job singing to male homosexuals at the Continental Baths in New York. Like Tucker, Midler brings (she's still going strong) a frank humor and sexuality to her performances. Midler explicitly refers to Tucker in her stage shows through her character 'Sophie Tucker.' 'Soph' jokes draw and exaggerate Tucker's vocal style and risque humor to great effect. (They're hilarious)

Bette Midler "Pretty Legs" From the Arsenio Hall Show 1991

Ok, now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, here's Bette peforming "Soph" jokes on the Arsenio Hall show in 1991. Warning. These are raunchy and hilarious.

The Arsenio Show- Sophie Tucker

Here's another 'Soph Joke' video. And another one.
Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any of Midler's comedy shows with 'Soph' jokes being available on DVD or VHS, but two of them are available on CD. Amazon has "Live At Last" and "Mud Will Be Flung Tonight". A dedicated Mrs. M fan has posted all of the "Soph" jokes.

There are lots of online resources dedicated to Sophie Tucker, including a Wikipedia page, The Jewish Women's Center 'Jewish Women in Comedy' page, and "Sophie Tucker’s Visit to the Barbary Coast" and "Sophie Tucker and “Some of These Days”" at the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. A number of Tucker compilation albums are still in print and available.

One last note. Writing this post has gotten me a bit nostalgic thinking of my Grandpa Harry, who passed away over twenty years ago. He had a large record collection that I, a budding music fan, admired the breadth of but didn't relate the content of. While he would have been about 30 years younger than Tucker, I'll bet he knew her music well. It would have been nice to talk to him about it.


Eve said...


Does anyone know where to find the sheet music for "I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamma's"?

I'm having real trouble trying to find it!

Jack said...

Hi Eve. That's tough one. The best I've been able to find so far is a citation in the Santa Cruz Music Catalog for the 1979 Legal Fake Book. Of course, that raises the question of how to find the Fake Book. There are one or two books on Ebay that might be it, but of course they don't list songs.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a Milton Ager / Jack Yellen song. That's a pretty important songwriting team and I would have thought there would be a songbook of their work around, but no such luck. At least not one I've been able to find.

I'll keep poking, but vintage fake books might be your best bet.

Eve said...

Thanks Jack!

I'll gove thst a go!

Do you think maybe Sophie Tucker re-wrote the lovers song?


Jack said...

Hi Eve,

Good question, but I've got no idea. I've heard Tuckers version of "Last of the Red Hot Mamas", but I've never heard anyone else sing it and have never seen any scores so I've got nothing for comparison. The Songwriters Hall of Fame website credit Ager & Yellen for writing the song for Tucker. I'm not an expert on such things at all. You might get more info on that from a one of the Tucker biographies (in particular her auto-biography Some of These Days: The Autobiography of Sophie Tucker".

Eve said...

The lovely people at Santa Cruz gave me a scan! Nice huh?!

Thanks for your help!

Jack said...

Triumph! That's great Eve. I didn't think of just asking them for a scan. That's great.

matx said...

I'm also looking for sheet music for the song "I'm the last of the red hot mammas." Eve, where did you find a copy? I'm having trouble accessing the Santa Cruz Music Catalog.

Eve said...

I emailed the Santa Cruz crew. I have it on my email so if you wanna mail me @ i can fwd it to you. :)

matx said...

Yes I'm emailing you now! Thanks Eve.