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Movie Review: The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

SophieTuckerPosteWith commentary by Barbara Walters, among others, including Tony Bennett, Michael Feinstein and the late Mickey Rooney, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker diligently retraces her career in cleverly pictured (and occasionally animated) scrapbook clippings and interviews to rediscover an influential American performer.

Sophie Tucker, in case you haven’t heard of her, was a fat, Jewish singer, actress and comedienne, as the co-producers affectionately describe her in this 2014 documentary, scheduled for theatrical release next week. After her parents came from the Ukraine to America in 1886 and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where they opened a kosher restaurant, Sophie was dispatched to hustle predominantly Jewish actors at a local theater’s stage door into patronizing the restaurant. It’s in this endeavor that Sophie, raised as an orthodox Jew, apparently became hooked on burlesque or Vaudeville—brash and unsophisticated—a type of live theater experience popular through the 1930s.

Without sugarcoating her early career, when Tucker did blackface on stage as a “coon shouter”, a term which Michael Feinstein thoughtfully puts into context, the filmmakers make it clear that this bawdy woman earned her reputation as a pathbreaking performer who legitimized this type of broad humor. Paving the way for Bette Midler, Melissa Manchester and Cher, not to discredit Mae West and other bossy dames of the day, Sophie Tucker, who took her name from one of three ex-husbands, broke big first in Ziegfeld’s Follies. She worked with an unknown Irving Berlin and other legendary musical and comedy acts. William Morris, whom she met before he was the owner of the famous artist agency when he was still known as a theater owner, represented her for 60 years.

Sophie Tucker was a star.

As The Outrageous Sophie Tucker demonstrates, her singing technique involved calculated hesitation and Feinstein points out that in developing her distinctive vocal style, Tucker rarely gets the credit she deserves, which usually goes to black singers such as Bessie Smith. Tony Bennett (Amy) calls her the most underrated jazz singer that ever lived. Part of what makes her worth examining as a mainstream, popular performer is her endurance. Like Bob Hope, she succeeded in a variety of show formats.

The movie sheds light on the reasons. During Prohibition, for example, she allied with criminal mobs to play in their now-illegal clubs, she was pals with Al Capone—she was pals with J. Edgar Hoover, too—and she didn’t seem ashamed to be arrested in Portland, Oregon for a show in which she implied that women crave sex as much as men. In fact, she started commissioning songs about sex after the arrest and she crowned herself the headmistress of the school of “red hot mamas” that could teach girls about sex.

Several scrapbook items and interviews show her shrewd use of publicity and knack for salesmanship. As early as 1909, Tucker took out ads in newspapers saying Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings to her fans, which was unheard of, in a kind of pre-social media grasp of the long-term value of relationship building with a fan base. She earned (and hustled herself into) numerous endorsements, was asked by Warner Bros. to be the first female lead to make a talking motion picture and kept company with her co-stars and peers such as Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Robert Taylor, Jerry Lewis, Carol Channing and Danny Kaye, each of whom is interviewed or chronicled here. The woman, who worked rhyming into her routines with banter, including her television debut in 1951 on Jimmy Durante’s show, was like a constantly running motor.

Sophie had standards. She didn’t like TV’s censors, for instance, though she liked doing Ed Sullivan’s show. Even this late in her career, Sophie Tucker appeared at ease integrating business with the show, timing her bi-annual appearances on Ed Sullivan with revamped routines to foster demand for her stage act. More than outrageousness, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker shows her business savvy as the key to her sustained popularity throughout her 60-year career. She knew what people expected from, and liked about, her and she knew her limitations.

Along the way, she played poker, gin and pinochle—her father had sneaked young Sophie out for gambling as a girl—dabbling in solitaire to calm her nerves, according to scholar Jan Lewis, PhD. Sophie’s three husbands, a man named Tuck, Frank Westphal and Al Lackey, are covered as is her only child, Bert, whom she showered with gifts including the failed Robert E. Lee hotel in Miami, which finally seemed to disabuse her of the delusion that he could make something of his life. Also featured is her longtime pianist, Ted Shapiro, who was loyal to the end. The movie suggests that she later held exclusively gay relationships such as an intimate relationship with a doctor named Margaret Chung.

Whatever personal details, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker shows that Tucker’s professional legacy is strong and lasting. Sophie Tucker appears on the cover of Ebony with Josephine Baker, whom she introduced at a Miami nightclub following racist death threats. American soldiers entering Nazi Berlin defiantly played her song about a “Yiddishe Momme” as a triumphant tribute to a fallen American Jewish soldier who loved and played her records. Perhaps the best measure of what makes Sophie Tucker outrageous is that Judy Garland said Sophie, with whom Garland co-starred in Broadway Melody of 1938, taught her “how to put a song over”. This 90-minute documentary, which is endearing by today’s depraved standards, demonstrates how Sophie Tucker taught herself and Americans how to put brassy over without going over the top.

Defending Bob Hope

BobHopeAirportAfter I read that the local government is considering removing Bob Hope’s name from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper (read my article here). My theme is that Bob Hope Airport is a name that honors the city, the man and the airport. Citing history, I explain that each has similarly capitalist origins which ought to be properly named, recognized and revered. My article caught the attention of a local news producer for an L.A. NBC News affiliate, who wanted to interview me for the evening telecast, though I was unable to do so. But I’m glad the op-ed was noticed and I hope that my activism helps Bob Hope Airport retain its rightful name.

Obama’s Death Pact

IranFlagToday’s historic accord in Vienna between Iran and the West makes the West’s submission to Islamic fascism official government policy. The agreement, which trades lifting Western sanctions against Iran for United Nations-supervised nuclear advancement, creates a new alliance between America and Iran. It is in this sense that leftists and the Obama administration are correct that the Iran deal is a major advancement in complicity between these historic enemies.

I am not convinced that Barack Obama’s deal with the Islamic dictatorship makes Iran’s nuclear weapons development and acquisition easier. This is because I think nuclear proliferation by Iran is already extremely easy and a lot depends on Iran’s ability as a military dictatorship to make, maintain and use nuclear weaponry. But neither America nor Israel chooses to end the nuclear program which should have been decimated long ago. The only hope for termination of Iran’s nuclear program may come from France, which should have learned its lesson in the perils of appeasement the hard way when it was occupied by the Nazis and once stood for reason against an appeasing America over the Arab seizure of the Suez Canal. On this grim Bastille Day, France, which suffered a major assault by Moslem terrorists early this year in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, ought to be motivated to act in defense of liberty and Western civilization.

Motives are what this bad deal makes clear. With sanctions lifted, Islamic fascist Iran, which seeks total annihilation of the West, is free to expand banking into Europe and continue to sponsor and wage its terrorism with new power, yielding jihadist infiltration and domination of the West. Nuclearization ought to be obvious—Obama’s deal is a deal with a barbaric regime and thus contains no real safeguards for anything but the totally catastrophic prospect of Islamic nuclear attack—and there is every reason to think Iran will seek, make and use nuclear weapons against the West.

However, as this map illustrates, Iran’s new power hikes the potential for catastrophic war between Islamic factions of fundamentalists, as John Lewis warned in my exclusive 2011 interview, and threats or instances of nuclear strikes against America and the West in the region. Coupled with Obama’s deal’s explicit approval of Islamic economic influence and infiltration in the West, this agreement, even if stopped by a unanimous act of Congress and override of an Obama veto, may preclude the necessity of an Iranian nuclear act of war. Such an attack may not, given U.S. submission to Islam, be necessary.

Obama’s deal means the U.S.A.’s endorsement of Iranian nuclear proliferation and thus may or may not make nuclear holocaust on the West likely or all but certain. These monstrous years of Obama’s presidency make the end of America more realistic in either case. Obama’s evil deal makes official America’s submission to the world’s predominant faith-based barbarism and marks a change from a nation based on the enlightenment to a country kneeling to the looming, foreign threat of savagery and mass death. Netanyahu calls the Iran deal a “mistake” but will probably do nothing about it. Hillary Clinton says she concurs with Barack Obama that this is a good deal.

Ominously, Iran’s president pledges that Obama’s deal opens “new horizons”—as NASA’s New Horizons space probe climaxes with the best view of Pluto known to man, thanks to men of aerospace, science and reason—in an interesting and contrasting choice of words. By the time the West awakens to the reality of Iran’s new horizons—fanatical religious delusions by mystics inciting mobs to bring “Death to America!”—it will be too late.

Obama’s deal with Iran is a pact for mass suicide.

Movie Review: Malcolm X (1992)

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Click to Buy

The words “…by any means necessary,” conclude Spike Lee’s racist propaganda piece, Malcolm X.

This phrase asserting that the ends justify the means, a rationalization for tyranny throughout history, is the movie’s theme. Lee capably gives “by any means necessary”, which gained acceptance among black supremacists with the Black Panther movement during the rise of the New Left, and Black Panther founder Bobby Seale is featured among this cast of thousands, a cinematic flourish. Malcolm X, with Denzel Washington in the title role, is memorably distinctive.

Lee (Do the Right Thing) dramatizes the life of hoodlum Malcolm Little, who converted to Islam in prison, adopted the X and called for racial segregation, in broad but important strokes. As with the mediocre depiction of X’s peer, Martin Luther King, in Selma, this movie is fragmented and televisionary, not really epic in scope, and many scenes in the 3-hour movie are superfluous. But as with King at Selma, there is much in his life which is meaningful and from which the true freedom-fighter can gain and learn. Lee’s journalistic approach is often even-handed, though slanted and diminished by racism.

Malcolm X begins with an anti-homage to the famous scene from Patton (1970). An American flag writ large appears. It soon begins to burn. So commences Lee’s movie about x-ing out what America is founded upon, what America stands for, what America means. Blurry, black and white images of a Rodney King beating video that sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots are seen, clearly establishing this film as more of a statement than a biographical picture.

Biographical fragments are pictured, typically very well, with early flashback scenes of the Ku Klux Klan attacking the Little family’s home near Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father was a black separatist, too, a fact which is lightly treated, but he carried a gun and defended his family and the parallels to Tea Party activism are numerously unmistakable, though certainly this was not Lee’s intention.

Nevertheless, Little’s attempts at self-reliance, his hatred of government intervention in private lives—”the state agency destroyed my family”—and his admiration for the closest he could find to a man of honor (the always excellent Delroy Lindo) dramatize that his potential was real, his premises and choices were mixed and, whatever the rampant racism of American life, which was real, he had dominion over his own life. As with today’s persecuted Americans, including those targeted such as Tea Party groups by the government such as the IRS, Malcolm Little had control over his own life. Lee shows this. Lee shows that Little chose to be a con man, a thief, a hustler.

Mr. Washington’s smooth, arch portrayal captures the hustle in essentials. The hustle, which is partly an upright attempt to gain value and partly a downright play on putting one over on others, became Malcolm’s stock in trade. This is what he knew. That it morphed into a movement and gave birth to the race hustle—look for its main practitioner Al Sharpton in a cameo—should be noted by today’s cultural students and scholars. The hustle as Americans know it starts here with Malcolm X, who twists the self-made man into the self-made thug-turned-Moslem. It is mixed. It is born of real injustice. It could have gone either way.

Little first chose one way, crime and dishonesty, until he chose another way, which Malcolm X would have the audience believe was motivated by honest pursuit of the good: spiritual peace and honor through a radical, new intellectual import targeting the American Negro: the Nation of Islam.

With Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, The Amateur) as a prison priest who serves as the bogeyman—the “white devil”—for Malcolm to use to strengthen his newfound prison conversion to Islam, he slowly applies and integrates his worship of an Islamic deity, Elijah Muhammad, into his thinking, his habits and his practices. He wills himself into the man of faith, one without an ego, without thought. Seeking through Islam to free himself from “the prison of [his] mind”, Malcolm Little chooses to call himself Malcolm X, though curiously Malcolm X doesn’t make much of the name change, possibly because the X designation never caught on.

But Islam did and it is still spreading among non-whites in America, the targeted demographic by African Moslems, whom Malcolm visited in Africa, and it’s spreading to whites, too, as by now everyone knows. Lee romanticizes this particular religion, gently taking Angela Bassett’s meek Islamic woman, with whom Malcolm fell in love, from observant headscarf-wearing Moslem to uncovered housebound birthing vessel with not a trace of personality change other than her saintly concern for Malcolm and her marriage. The children are seen, not heard, and their father is never seen parenting them even for an instant. He’s more interested in giving speeches than in loving his wife or his children. Women are as segregated by the radical black Moslems as the races and this is depicted without judgment, and there is plenty of what would today be called “slut shaming”, again with not a whiff of castigation. Severe condemnation is reserved for whites only; as in today’s leftist circles, Islam and its archaic codes get a pass.

“The key to Islam is submission,” Malcolm X correctly states, so, in this sense, Malcolm X is honest. Malcolm X submits “100 percent”. One of the most interesting aspects of this star-studded movie, which is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (Roots) and co-written by James Baldwin (Go Tell it on the Mountain), though his estate asked that his name be removed from the credits, is how it depicts the turn on Malcolm within the Nation of Islam. Led by Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman, Jr.), ironically evoking charges against the film’s financier, Bill Cosby, Malcolm’s incendiary rhetoric—he stated that he was “glad” JFK was assassinated and that the murder was an act of “justice”—made his ascent more problematic for the cult.

For his part, Malcolm, who agreed with racists such as Bull Connor and George Wallace that people should be judged and separated based on race—”the only thing I like integrated is my coffee”—appeared to have shifted in his thinking after the trip to Africa. Malcolm X shows that he had regressed from being meek, humble and servile to whites while working on trains (“yes, sir”) to being meek, humble and servile to blacks while working in mosques (“yes, sir”). It is also impossible not to notice nearly 25 years after this movie was made that the nations whose black African leaders are depicted in the backdrop of a street rally mural have been subjugated to a barbaric new Islamic caliphate that’s spreading across what was once known as the dark continent; Africa as a symbol for black supremacy has become a breeding ground for the forces of the most brutal religious doctrines known to man.

Most people know what happened to the small-time crook who took up with a white woman and became a man of faith, urging blacks to separate from whites, “get off welfare”, meet with Martin Luther King at Selma—curiously omitted here—and usher in a “time for martyrs.” He was brutally gunned down by black Moslems in Harlem. But his story is part of modern American history and, as I wrote in my review of distinguished black scholar Manning Marable’s epic biography, Malcolm X, any one who seeks to know how America came to be insidiously threatened with Islamic holocaust ought to study this part of history, which is inextricably linked with Americans’ refusal to explicitly name and renounce racism’s source, collectivism, leading American Negroes into philosophies for dying, not living, on earth. As Ossie Davis, who delivered Malcolm X’s eulogy in life and in this film, said of Malcolm X, and he intends this as a compliment: “He didn’t hesitate to die.”

Whatever its flaws, excesses and gaping holes, Spike Lee’s uneven Malcolm X at least dramatizes that Malcolm X, who may have succeeded in ushering in an era of self-sacrifice, didn’t really acquire the tools to live.

The 1992 picture screened with an appearance by the writer and director at TCM’s Classic Film Festival on Hollywood Boulevard. Unfortunately, a dull, unexceptional interview was conducted and Lee never did discuss the essentials of Malcolm X’s experience in life, including Lee’s treatment of Islam and how Islam has manifested in today’s world. There was no mention of the Islamic terrorist attacks on America in 1993, 2001 or 2012, let alone at Boston or other recent acts of war, or the fundamentalist Moslem morality of persecuting the homosexual, the woman and the infidel. Lee did discuss Denzel Washington’s decision to stop eating pork and drinking alcohol, in observation of Islamic practices, and hiring an Islamic camera crew to film certain scenes.

But it is a telling sign that Spike Lee was flatly refused admission to film in Mecca for Malcolm X, proving again that the “religion of peace” grants no peace to the infidel of any color. To his credit, Lee did shoot down a jab at the project’s original director, Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night), and come to Jewison’s defense, and he credited talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey with giving him the money to finish the movie when Warner Bros. balked. But, when I called out a question asking if he had read Manning Marable’s excellent biography of Malcolm X (read my review here), Spike Lee, in his New York Yankees’ cap, turned to me and gestured with an equivocal horizontal hand wobble, which is too bad, because the book is better than the movie and he might have gained new insight about an important figure in U.S. history.

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The Shadow of Selma

King at Selma, courtesy of Bob Adelson

King at Selma, courtesy of Bob Adelson

On the 50th anniversary of the historic violence during a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama once again disgraced the nation based on individual rights. He did so by minimizing the history of what happened at Selma 50 years ago, when peaceful Americans were physically assaulted and murdered by the government, reducing its importance, distorting its meaning and telling lies about America.

I say this because, while the first intellectual to publicly name Obama as fundamentally both dishonest and anti-American was Leonard Peikoff, I think that if America is to survive Obama’s calamitous presidency, Peikoff must be the first of many more.

Amid distorted visions, lies and coded signals for what he really aims to do, as against what he says he wants to do, Obama talked about the need to “roll back poverty” despite six years of failed economic policies and incessant dismantling of capitalism through massive government controls and takeovers of work, banking, business, finance and industry.

The president’s dishonesty worsened, as he railed against voting laws targeting certain types of people while he enacts voting laws targeting certain types of people. By reducing the historic injustice against blacks to the so-called right to vote, he insidiously persuades the passive listener into forgetting that Selma should be remembered for its unjust actions by the state against the individual, clearing a path for Selma to be revised in history as some vague, faceless collective crusade for some vague, generic, automatic government voting mechanism. Never mind the bloodshed at Selma that ought to be remembered as part of a struggle by the individual against the state. Blank out that the so-called “right to vote” is meaningless without the right to live, think, create, make money and pursue happiness or that the politician for “voting rights” is destroying individual rights by dictate or “executive order”.

Obama’s dishonesty climaxed as the speech went on. Referring to claims of race-baiting, he invoked his own administration’s report exonerating a cop in a local police shooting, which the black attorney general admitted found no evidence of wrongdoing by the white policeman who had been accused of racism, manslaughter and murder. Obama distorted the truth of the Justice department’s report—which, crucially, dispels the notion that the person who’d been shot had his hands up—baiting with some discovered racist e-mail messages to discard and evade the fact that police acted properly. “We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that [charges of race-baiting are] not true,” Obama said, baiting for race and evading the facts. “We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”

Most Americans should know by now that it is the nation’s current president that casts the shadow of racism. Time and again, whether denouncing a white New England policeman or evading his administration’s exoneration of a white Midwestern policeman, it is Obama, who views his own life as a story based on race, who rushes to judge based on race. It is Obama who prejudges, judges and misjudges based on race. It is Obama who judges, and calls upon Americans to judge, based not on the sum total of a person’s virtues in action—what the Reverend Dr. King, Jr. rightly called the content of one’s character—but based on the color of one’s skin. The shadow of racism, which Ayn Rand rightly called a primitive form of collectivism, is cast by the president of the United States.

In this sense, Obama at Selma, having earlier this year exploited Oprah Winfrey’s mediocre movie Selma, dishonors King at Selma. Barack Obama belongs on the side of Selma’s oppressor, not on the side of Selma’s oppressed.

King in his magnanimously peaceful crusade sought to enlighten, unite and liberate Americans, to obtain for the wrongly deprived their inalienable individual rights. Obama in his unilaterally powerful government action seeks to confuse, divide and control Americans, forcing those he regards as unfairly privileged to serve those he regards as wronged. It should therefore by now be clear that Barack Obama lied when he invoked the great emancipator Abraham Lincoln those nine years ago in Springfield, Illinois. Obama lied yesterday, too, when he told those gathered at Selma:

America is not the project of any one person. Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can.”

Yes we can…what? On answering this question, contradictory Obama, who is himself the one person who regards America as his project to fix, blanks out.

The noble vow that “We shall overcome” refers to rising above the actions of an unjust government. America’s founders made reference to “We the people” …in order to form a more perfect union based on man’s rights. Obama’s Yes We Can serves only to negate and destroy: Yes We Can nationalize the medical profession. Yes We Can indiscriminately spy on Americans. Yes We Can destroy capitalism. Yes We Can refuse to wage war on states that sponsor Islamic terrorism. Yes We Can dictate what you eat, whether you travel, whether you use and what you say on the Internet. Yes We Can means No You Can’t do anything without the permission of the U.S. government.

“Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect,” Barack Obama said yesterday at Selma. This in practice means that Obama’s damage is not yet done; Obama the destroyer is bent on total destruction of the United States of America, its founding ideals and its highest laws. At its core, his Yes We Can means that Obama’s unthinking worshippers (“We”) can destroy America. With ObamaCare, the NSA, TSA and a gauntlet of government controls, and an unnamed Islamic enemy unchallenged across the world and appeased and encouraged to make catastrophic weapons, America’s end is closer than ever.

Obama closed his speech at Selma with another lie—a false profession of faith—that all Americans “believe in the power of an awesome God.” As usual, the president of the United States is 100 percent wrong. All Americans do not believe in God, let alone in “the power of an awesome God”, though Obama acts as if he wants Americans to believe that he possesses the power of an awesome God.

America is not a collective. America consists of Americans who are individuals. Some are believers. Some are atheists. All are considered to be infidels by America’s enemies, which is why all Americans should hold individual rights—including the right to not believe in a supernatural being—above all. While America’s Islamic enemies unite around what Benjamin Netanyahu rightly calls death, tyranny and the pursuit of jihad, Americans must reject Obama’s conflation of the injustice of the past with a future of total government control and instead unite around the truth that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are protected by individual rights.

To do so, Americans must step out of the shadow of America’s dark past and away from the shadow of this dishonest, dishonorable American president and into a new, reunified enlightenment marching as a nation of united individuals toward achieving the promise of the future the man on the mountaintop once so bravely described.

Reference Link

Read Obama’s speech