Sklaroff’s forthcoming book, Wanting to be Wanted: Sophie Tucker and the Creation of a Show Business Legend is the first in-depth biography of Tucker, one of the most famous female American entertainers in the first half of the 20th Century. Performing in vaudeville, radio, nightclubs, motion pictures, and on Broadway, Tucker witnessed and shaped some of the most significant developments in American culture.
Wanting to Be Wanted draws on over four hundred personal scrapbooks that Tucker donated to the New York Public Library, an invaluable archive for any historian. This collection contains a wealth of letters, programs, photographs and other materials relating to the larger entertainment industry in the years spanning Tucker’s career from 1907 to her death in 1966.
A pioneer in early jazz and an advocate for performer’s rights across race and religion, Tucker was one of the most influential women in show business. She was the first female president of the American Federation of Actors, a mentor to many young stars including Judy Garland, and a generous benefactor. Tucker donated more than a million dollars to charities over her lifetime, particularly those benefiting African Americans and Jews. Friends and fellow performers include Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Ed Sullivan, Bill Robinson and Josephine Baker. While she performed primarily in America, she also entertained audiences for decades in London, with command performances for three generations of British monarchs.
As Tucker was commonly known as the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” this book moves beyond the stereotype of a brazen, bawdy performer to re-create the world that Tucker and her contemporaries shaped.
Sklaroff’s research expertise centers on the intersection between the mass media and the making of racial and ethnic identity in America. Her first book, Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era was published by UNC Press in 2009.
Wanting to Be Wanted has received support from the Provost Humanities Grant program as well as a New York Public Library Short-Term Fellowship.