Lois Young-Tulin book tribute to mentor Sophie Tucker

Lois Young-Tulin’s Book A Loving
Tribute To Her Mentor Sophie Tucker

“Independence! That’s the key Lois! Find yourself a career, something… some passion!… You once wanted to be a writer …I believe in you Lois. I believe that you̱re destined to be more than just a housewife. Start by finishing your college degree and launching your writing career… Promise me?”

“I promise.”

Backstage at the Latin Casino, mid-1960s

This was not an unusual conversation between Lois Young-Tulin, Ph.D. and her great grand aunt, renowned and trailblazing entertainer Sophie Tucker; it was just the one that turned Lois’ life around. Now, an established writer and teacher with a doctorate, Young-Tulin is paying a long overdue tribute to her beloved Sophie with the publication of Sophie and Me: Some of These Days. Tucker, known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” was a singer, vaudeville and film star, who also appeared on TV, during a more than 60-year career. Yet, she took Lois under her wing like a surrogate granddaughter, and was a mentor from the time they first met in 1950 when Lois was 10, until Tucker’s death in 1966. The book is a sensitive and touching portrayal, showing another side of this popular entertainer, who was also known for her signature song, Some of These Days, and My Yiddishe Mama, which didn’t reflect her own life.

“I wanted to write the book mainly because Sophie was a big influence on my life,” relates Young-Tulin (Wyncote, PA). “With all the writing I was doing, in the back of my mind was to do a book on Sophie. I started taking notes on what I remembered about her, and I found a lot of the letters we exchanged. The information was in my heart and it was time to do it. There are people living who still remember her. Her name kept coming up. There was an off-off Broadway show, Sophie on Sophie that I went to see. There were reviews and articles about burlesque where she was mentioned.

“I was busy raising a family when Sophie was ill and she didn’t want to see me. When she died, I went to the services. I did not have time to grieve. The book is a tribute. As I was reading the book for the first time, I was really choking up. I really missed her. This is my good bye.”

In many ways, Lois and Sophie were similar. As a young girl in New York, Lois did Sophie impersonations, even winning a talent contest at camp for singing Some of These Days. She and her father would sing together in the evenings. Lois and her sister didn’t believe him that Sophie was a relative. Then, Sophie’s brother, Moe, who was her agent, asked Lois’ father, who was a tax attorney, to handle her finances. From the moment Sophie saw Lois, she was taken. Sophie, herself, had grown up in Hartford, working in the family restaurant and singing for the customers.

“Looking back, I was an outgoing child,” said Young-Tulin, who never performed her impersonations for Sophie. “I didn’t hesitate to sing, dance and speak my mind. She saw that spunk. I had courage and she liked that. When I was a teenager, we got close. Teen-age years are supposed to be excruciating, but they were wonderful for me. She would say,‘’Don’t say can’t. Go ahead and do it!’”

But, Lois and Sophie had their disagreements. Lois was working in the civil rights movement when she learned that in Sophie’s early years, she performed in black face. An incensed Lois called Sophie and was surprised by the answer. Some director had said Tucker couldn’t perform with her looks and would have to wear black face. She was forced to, to break into show business, but hated it because she was denied her identity as a woman.

“She gave breaks to black song writers,” relates Lois. “She sang their songs and got the word out about black songwriters. She fought for black entertainers’ rights and gave to civil rights causes. Sophie was the first woman president of the The Jewish Theatrical Guild of America. She was a model for charity. She brought a bigger perspective than herself, to Jewish and Black causes.”

Young-Tulin maintains Tucker, with her full-bodied looks and voice, and colorful, spicy and bold acts and humor, was ahead of her time, blazing a trail for women entertainers like Bette Midler – who named her daughter after Sophie – Carol Channing, Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers. “They all have a bawdiness and comedic flavor that Sophie paved the way for by being a maverick performer,” she says.

It’s also a tribute that Tucker continued performing into her 80s through decades of change. “She was on Ed Sullivan frequently in the ’60s,” said Young-Tulin. “She would say ‘never be afraid to change or grow. Keep changing your material.’ She did, for 60 years, from vaudeville to TV. She tried it all. She died in her 80s, and when she got sick she had to cancel appearances. She never went through a period when she was unpopular.”

Especially with Lois, who kept her promise – and fulfilled it.