'Making Trouble' documentary of Funny Jewish Comediennes a Treasure

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Northeast Indiana Times
Phil Potempa

Reader Ann Walton of Valparaiso was one of the readers who contacted me after a column I wrote last week about Fanny Brice and famous comediennes featured in a great new documentary.

After reading a mention about Brice's unhappy second marriage to gambler playboy Nicky Arnstein, Walton asked me about her third marriage to showman and nightclub owner Billy Rose, which also ended in divorce after just a few short years.

Rose, who was not very tall and died a wealthy man at age 66 in 1966, became famous for always paying for four seats when going to the theater: one for him and one for his date, as well as the two seats directly in front of him, assuring he could see the stage.

Brice is among the six famed names featured in this new documentary "Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women" produced and funded by the Jewish Women's Archive based in Massachusetts.

The documentary is an hour and 25 minutes, neatly divided into segments, and covering the highlights and the rocky moments in the lives of Brice, comedy actress Molly Picon, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, "Saturday Night Live" gal Gilda Radner and playwright Wendy Wasserstein, the latter who wrote the Pulitzer Prize play "The Heidi Chronicles."

In addition to many insightful interviews, each of the segments are introduced by four of today's popular funny females, Jackie Hoffman, Judy Gold, Cory Kahaney and Jessica Kirson. This foursome gabs about each of the featured ladies while chatting around a table at New York's Katz's Deli.

While I was somewhat familiar with Brice, Rivers and Radner, prior to watching this documentary, I knew less about Picon and Wasserstein.

I was especially fascinated by the details of Tucker, who prided herself with the tag "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas."

She died at age 82 in 1966 and despite her tough exterior, life wasn't always so easy.

The documentary does an excellent job providing intimate details, such as when Tucker had to travel during the early days of her career. She had her sister raise her only son, much to the shock of the women who knew her from the neighborhood where she was raised near Hartford, Connecticut. Her family was also quite well known because of their Abuza Family Restaurant.

As for her stage name "Tucker," it came from her real-life marriage name from 1903, when at the age of 19, she was briefly married to Louis Tuck. (At the urging of other show biz folks, she added the "er" to the end of her name to avoid any rhyming worries).

And as explained in the film, after she became a huge success in Las Vegas and in nightclubs, in addition to her many TV appearances on variety shows and talk shows, Tucker returned to her hometown and was greeted enthusiastically. According to Tucker, even the gossipy women who had once criticized her quickly changed their tune about her.

After one of the petty women snidely questioned how much Tucker was actually being paid for her appearance at the local theater, Tucker escorted her to the manager's office to show her the contract and the stipulation that she be paid only in cash.

"Making Trouble" is now available for purchase for $29.95 at makingtrouble.com.