Tis Pity He's a Writer

Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor

Red Letter Day for Larger Than Life Ladies

The recent movie, The Kids Are All Right, is about two gay mothers and their teenage kids who contact the sperm donor who is father to both. Unusual premise, good movie.   But the following is not about the movie; it’s about the wandering of my mind after recently seeing the movie.  I imagined myself with two mothers and a sperm donor father.  And they weren’t just any run of the mill mothers.  My two mothers were larger than life ladies who stood astride the entertainment world years ago – during my childhood of course.  Separately, for the only connection they have is in my mind.  Well, they do have February 9 in common.  Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian Bombshell, was born on February 9, 1909.  Sophie Tucker, the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, died on February 9, 1966.

Carmen Miranda was born in Portugal, immigrating to Brazil as an infant.  Larger than life, but tiny in stature, she stood only 5’1” without her tower of bananas.  Nevertheless, she filled a stage her Latin energy and machine gun delivery, melodic Brazilian bullets ricocheting everywhere.  She and her samba stormed the United States in 1939 – nightclubs, radio, movies – and by 1945 she was a superstar. In 1955, after filming an appearance on the Jimmy Durante television show, at 46 years of age, she died of a heart attack.

Sophie Tucker was born in 1884 in Russia and immigrated to the United States as an infant.  She began her long career singing for tips in her parents’ restaurant and became a star in burlesque and vaudeville, appearing in many movies through the 30’s and 40’s and on television in the 50’s and 60’s.  She influenced many female performers, including such larger than life performers as Mae West and Bette Midler.  She continued performing until her death at age 82.

My two mothers.  I imagined us in our very typical, very 50’s home, and this kid was all right.  I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my bowl of Kellogg’s Pep, getting ready to head off to school.  Mama Sophie is banging out  “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” on our kitchen piano.  Mama Carmen is doing an unlikely samba to it.  She sambas over to me and plucks a banana from atop her head.  “For your cereal.  Bananas are goot, cucuracha.  I make my living from bananas.”

Sophie joins us at the table and belts out: “Some of these days, you’re gonna miss your mama.”

Quanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta,” Carmen adds.

The back door opens.  Lively music wafts in from out of nowhere, bringing along with it a bevy of beautiful women dressed as dancing bananas doing a frantic samba/rumba/mambo, and a gaggle of guys with top hats, white shoes and canes, doing the soft-shoe.  That’s my signal; it’s off to school time.  I head out the back door to the chorus: “You’re gonna miss your red hot mama, in the third grade.”

How’s that for a pair of mothers?

And then there’s my sperm donor father; it has to be Jimmy Durante.  Sophie Tucker was a fixture on his television show, and Carmen Miranda gave her last performance on his show.  My nose is a bit wanting, but I do have his shiny dome.  Goodnight, Grandma Calabash, wherever you are.

Read more about Carmen Miranda in my story from Calypso “Mama eu Quero.”


4 comments on “Red Letter Day for Larger Than Life Ladies

  1. Linda
    February 4, 2013

    It is obvious why you married an Ethel Merman wannabe! Lucky, lucky you!!


  2. Kenton Lewis
    February 7, 2013

    You must stay away from the medicine cabinet in favor of the liquor cabinet.


  3. harperfaulkner
    February 21, 2013

    That is one strange post! I love it! Keep up the good work. HF


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