Sunday, July 3, 2016

I Am Sophie Tucker by Susan and Lloyd Ecker

In 1973, Susan and Lloyd Ecker went on their first date to a Bette Midler concert. They had a wonderful time and especially loved Ms. Midler's Sophie Tucker stories. Over the next forty years, the Eckers married and had three children, but they never forgot Sophie Tucker and so they tried to learn as much about her as they could. Sophie Tucker was a vaudeville star and an extraordinary entertainer during the first half of the twentieth century. As Barbara Walters says, "She was the star attraction". The Eckers spent eight years reading Tucker's scrapbooks and interviewing her family and friends. What resulted from all of their research is I Am Sophie Tucker. According to an interview with the authors in the back of the book, Sophie was meticulous in her record keeping, but she loved to exaggerate and embellish. "At the end, not even Sophie knew the difference between truth and tall tale." The Eckers were unable to verify all of Sophie's stories and so they label their book "a fictional memoir".

I admit I found this confusing because I didn't realize until I had reached the authors' notes in the back of the book that this wasn't completely fictional. I thought I was reading a very well done fictional representation of a fictional character. When I reached the end and realized that a large portion of it was true, it changed my perspective quite a lot. According to the authors, "this volume is 85% fact. The other 15%... who knows?"

Included in this book are photos of Sophie Tucker and many are with her famous friends. Susan Ecker refers to Sophie as "the Forrest Gump of the first half of the 1900s." The whole time I was reading this book, I was thinking that very thing. Every famous person in the early age of the silver screen is in this book: Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, "Bojangles" Robinson, Fanny Brice, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and many more. If all this is true, Sophie Tucker may be the most entertaining woman of the entertainment world. Ever. And as she says in the Prologue:

...Every word [is] the absolute truth- or even better!

But the entertainment world isn't the only place Sophie made her mark, or her friends. Also mentioned in the pages of this memoir are Arthur Conan Doyle, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Al Capone, J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Houdini, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and Queen Elizabeth. That's a rather varied roster of acquaintances. 

This book is funny and fascinating. There are so many bits that made me laugh. Talking about heading to the west coast for a run of shows, Sophie had this to say of her travels:

The West was mesmerizing. I managed to hit a few of the tourist spots on the way to my first date. I saw the view from the top of Pike's Peak and I even rode down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a donkey. After bearing my load for eight hours, I'm sure they had to shoot that poor beast to put him out of his misery. It's a rare thing to get to kiss your own sorry ass goodbye.

And this about all her hard work to break in to show business:

By 1911, only the guys who built Big Ben had worked as hard as me to make the big time.

The best part of this book is that we get to see how hard Sophie had to work to actually make it. She is certainly no overnight success. She worked hard night and day and employed some very interesting tactics to get the attention of the people who could help her, but never did she give up.

In addition to this book, the first in a trilogy about Sophie's life, Susan and Lloyd Ecker have also created a documentary about her. You can view the official trailer here. I can't recommend enough that you look through the website the Eckers have created,, look at all the amazing photos they have in the gallery and then read this book. It is a fabulous journey through the foundations of music and entertainment as we know them today. 

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