Sophie Tucker: 'Last Of The Red Hot Mamas'

Sophie Tucker was the salty, zaftig, "last of the red hot mamas," who became one of the biggest stars of vaudeville, radio and nightclubs throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Tucker was born Sophie Abuza in 1887, while her family was en route from Russia (now Ukraine) to the United States; they settled in Hartford. She began singing in town in the family restaurant, "where the songs went free with the 25-cent gefilte fish dinner.'' In an early profile, The Courant reported: "She sang the first night, and the customers did not resent it. In fact, they seemed quite pleased."

She made her Broadway debut in 1909 in the "Ziegfeld Follies" and soon after became a star of live performance, most notably in the then-thriving vaudeville circuit singing signature tunes such as "Some Of These Days" and "My Yiddishe Mama."

When she visited The Courant's office in 1928, she was a superstar, and the reporter asked what she was doing with all her money.

"I'm building a battleship, darling," she wisecracked.

When in 1939 she celebrated the 30thanniversary of her Broadway debut, The Courant reported that the party included William Gaxton, her co-star in the show "Leave It To Me."

"Sing them the song that Lincoln liked," joked Gaxton.

"I may be that old, honey, but I just don't feel like it today. I still have another 30 years to go." (She was close — she died in 1966 at age 79.)

She remained a star until the end, but in her later years, she knew her era was over. She told The Courant in 1953: "Let's face it darling, television is not for me. I look too big, too fat, too ugly on that screen. I'll never like it until I can be Sophie Tucker. ... You can't do this. You can't do that. I couldn't even say 'hell' or 'damn' and nothing, honey, is more expressive than the way I say 'hell' and 'damn.'"