Thursday, July 23, 2015

THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER docu brings back our "Soph"--at least part of her--to view

From Barbara Walters to Bruce Vilanch, Carol Channing to Tony Bennet -- they all loved her (she even worked for Walters' dad early in her career). Sophie Tucker, the star of the new documentary, THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER, was the proverbial "household word" back in the day. So how come more of our current young people don't know who she is/was? That's a question the makers of this new documentary intended to find out and share with viewers young and old (us oldsters do remember). To a large extent they have succeeded.

Rowdy, raucous ladies who entertain by being naughty are hardly a new phenomenon: Hello Bette Midler! But Miss Tucker, shown on the poster above and photos below, was among the earliest and most notable here in the USA. As directed, photographed and edited by William Gazecki, at right, and produced by Lloyd and Susan Ecker, the resulting movie is as much a love letter to the "Soph" as it is anything else. For those of us who enjoyed her but knew little about her, it's a revelation, all right -- but one that manages to reveal a lot about the lady's history and career highlight while keeping mum on much of her personal life. Miss Tucker was a very private woman.

She was also, it would appear from what we learn from this film, bi-sexual -- which might account for a large portion of that need for privacy. As reminiscent of Sophie Tucker are performers like Midler (whose tributes to Tucker in her various shows first turned the producers into fans), the one you may most be reminded of is Mae West -- who probably stole the look, as well as some of the costumes, from the Tucker we see at left. West took Tucker's ribald spirit to much greater excess, and though she proved a sexy and fine, if limited, performer, she certainly couldn't sing like Soph. (Midler did that -- and then some.)

Tucker also did not ever have the movie career that West managed, and the documentary take pains to explain (without ever mentioning Miss West) how this happened and why. Instead she stuck with live performances, radio and, to some smaller extent, television.

The movie also makes us privy to Sophie's very interesting beginning: her family's Kosher restaurant, where, in passing out flyers to local actors, Soph caught the performing bug. We learn of her early work as a "coon shouter" performing in blackface (yes!), her time in the Ziegfield Follies, and a little trouble she had with the "I Don't Care" girl, Eva Tanguay.

We also learn about some of Soph's men, including a hubby or two, her son, and the replace-ment pianist (above) who became pretty much her lifelong confidante and accompaniest.

We see how clothes contributed to this "red hot mama," and how Tucker even hobnobbed with Al Capone during Prohibition. Her maybe biggest break came via Willliam Morris (who was then a theater owner,
prior to his opening that certain fabled agency).

There's a wealth of information here, most of which will probably be new, even to long-time fans of the woman, including a keeper of a tale about Sophie's song, "My Yiddishe Mama" and it uses during World War II. We also view the raft of famous folk who loved to see Sophie -- and be seen with her -- everyone from Hopalong Cassidy (at left) to Eddie Cantor (below, left) to Judy Garland (at bottom).

The documentary is alternately funny and moving and always informative. If we don't really get to "know" Soph all that well, that's OK, too. She was a performer, after all -- and above all -- and, as the movie makes clear, she was a damned good one.

From Menemsha Films and running 96 minutes, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker opens tomorrow, Friday, July 24, at NYC's Cinema Village with a live show after each screening, in which the film's producers will field a Q&A and talk about the upcoming Broadway musical, Soph. The film will also play Manhattan at the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Claremont 5, Royal and Town Center 5, at the Westpark 8 in Irvine, and in Massachusetts at the West Newton Cinema. Southern Florida, where TrustMovies is now based, will see a seven-week run, beginning November 7, and California's Palm Desert gets a five-week run, come February 6, 2016. To see all currently scheduled playdates and theaters, click here and scroll down.

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