Saturday, August 29, 2009

Totie Fields: A Blography

Being one myself, I've always been enamored of Jewish comediennes. But while Sarah Silverman, Roseanne, Sandra Bernhard, Gilda Radner, Bette Midler, Joan Rivers, Belle Barth, and Pearl Williams all make me laugh none have made me laugh longer than the too soon, too gone Totie Fields. Historically, Totie was more than a comedienne. She was arguably the first women to attract a national following as a comic.

I went into a department store and tried on a girdle that was
decorated with tiny rosebuds. When I got it on,
the roses opened up in full bloom.

In the 60s when her career really began its trajectory, women were still considered eye candy and not expected, or even allowed, to offer up opinions and ideas. Totie broke that glass ceiling by assuming a comic persona built on her weight and, pride in her shape - polar opposites. She might have been a zaftig yenta but rather than espousing self-pity she was confident in her appeal and sweetly brimming with self love. She explained that bringing up the subject of weight herself deprives the wise alecks from mouthing loud asides all night but, she was also teaching women of the era how to act.

Totie on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early 60s

Totie Fields was born Sophie Feldman, daughter of a shopping center owner, on 7 May 1927 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. She started singing as a child, making appearances on local radio stations by the time she was 4. She toured the Borscht Belt at 14 and before she reached 20 years, worked as a tummler in Boston area strip clubs. Even then Sophie was breaking the glass ceiling: tummlers entertained guests as a master of ceremonies between acts and, at the time, were generally male. It was during this period that Sophie took her stage name - Totie being the way she pronounced her given name as a child.

I've been on a diet for two weeks,
and all I lost was two weeks.

Totie married George William Johnston, Jr. in 1950. Georgie (as he came to be known) was a fellow comic in Boston who, over time, worked solely with Totie as her musical director. The couple soon moved to Brooklyn, NY and became the parents of two daughters—Jody was born in 1952 and Debbie was born in 1955. The Admiral's Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, now a bed and breakfast, was the family's private summer vacation residence during this period into the early 1960's.

It was after her pregnancies that Totie began to gain weight. She tried dieting but nothing worked. The only way to lose weight, really, she concluded, is to have someone put you in a bed where you can't get to the refrigerator. Ever the optimist though, Totie decided to incorporate her size into her act. Her broad accent, self-deflating jokes and extroverted kvetching helped to endear her to audiences whom she treated like friends AND lovers. It was after making this decision that her celebrity and work increased twofold.

Shirley Temple had charisma as a child.
But it cleared up as an adult.

In the early 60s, Ed Sullivan gave Totie her first national break when he booked her on his show after seeing her perform at the Copacabana in New York. She made multiple additional appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, topping out at almost 20!

WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE: Totie released Totie Fields Live on Mainstream Records and
wrote I Think I'll Start on Monday: The Official 8 1/2 oz.
Mashed Potato Diet
published by Hawthorn Books.

See Experience Totie Fields Live to listen.

Totie also made a name for herself on the talk show circuit during the 60s and 70s. There were multiple appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show (on which she famously helped Mike introduce KISS to the American public when she co-hosted the 1974 episode that was their first television appearance.)

The Tarzan reunion show with Mike Douglas, Johnny Weissmuller,
Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Buster Crabbe,
Denny Miller, and Jim Pierce.

Other notable appearances included Here's Lucy and a well-received dramatic turn on Medical Center. Totie played multiple roles in the 1972 television special Fol-de-Rol, a filmed version of Sid and Marty Krofft's live puppet show.

Totie visits with Jerry Lewis on his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon

Totie was diabetic and plagued with other health problems the last years of her life, having almost as many major medical procedures as television appearances. It has been rumoured that some of these problems stem from plastic surgery. This rumor is unsubstantiated although, interestingly, here is a link to 1972 episodes of The Merv Griffin Show on which guest Totie applauds plastic surgery as she questions Dr Kurt Wagner, the plastic surgeon to the stars. (Scroll to clip 4.)

In April 1976, Totie's left leg was amputated above the knee when surgery to remove a blood clot failed. Even with that traumatic experience, Totie fitted herself with an artificial leg and returned to work saying, "I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me." (Link to 1977 article from People Magazine)

Raquel Welch - a moron with less on.

In June 1977, Totie starred in the Home Box Office special series Standing Room Only, beginning her show seated. As the audience (filled to brimming with celebrity friends) welcomed her, she stood up, causing the cheering audience to stand with her. Said Fields: "I've waited all my life to say this... I weigh less than Elizabeth Taylor!" Totie was back and the audience was immediately at ease; if Totie could still laugh at herself, then it was all right to laugh with her.

While still recovering from the amputation, Totie suffered two heart attacks. In October 1977, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and her right breast was removed. Nevertheless, Totie continued to perform and in 1978, the last year of her life, she was voted Entertainer of the Year and Female Comedy Star of the Year by the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Totie was scheduled to appear at the Sahara Hotel when she suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism in her Las Vegas home on August 2, 1978; she was 51. She was buried in Las Vegas and later moved to the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles to be buried next to Georgie, who died in 1995.

Totie Fields: Inspirational, Outrageous, and Still Funny.

Totie performing in the early 1960s

Additional information:

  • Some sources speculate that Georgie had refused to release films, tapes, and other recordings of Fields after her death thus, explaining the dearth of material available. Can we then hypothesize that Georgie was crushed by her early death and felt it crass to capitalize on her body of work? They were so much in love - just look at the TattleTales clip - that it's a reasonable assumption.
  • Burial: Mount Sinai Memorial Park, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA - Plot: Gardens of Heritage, Main Level, Crypt 60C
  • Totie appeared on The Glen Campbell Show playing a night-club bunny, a cheerleader, a minskirted stewardess and a ballerina.
  • Adorable Me, A Musical Based on the Life of Totie Fields
    Adorable Me! The Totie Fields Story (1990)
    A New Musical Based on the Life of Totie Fields
    Conceived by Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan
    Book by Bobby Pearce & Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan
    Are You Happy?
    Flat Tire, One Headlight Out
    Someone To Notice
    Weaver High School
    He Likes...Me!
    Holding On
    The Taste
    Look, But Don't Touch
    Me, Myself And Cane
    Don't Remind Me
    I'm Not Ready
    With Friends Like Mine
    On Top Of The World/Years
    Papa Is A Nice Man
    One Day At A Time
    Heat Up The Pot
    Workshopped at Long Beach Civic Light Opera (1991)
    Produced by American Jewish Theatre, Inc., Stanley Brechner, Artistic Director (1993)
    Four-month run at The Ballroom, New York (1994)
    Four-month run at Tropworld, Atlantic City (1996)
    Also played in regional theaters and performing arts centers across the country, 
    including Seven Angels Theatre, Northridge Performing Arts Center, Bailey Concert Hall

  • Sophie, Totie and Belle : Sophie, Totie & Belle is a play based on a fictional meeting of the late entertainers Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth. It was written by Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen, with original music by Mark Elliott and songs associated with these entertainers. It opened in New York City at the off-Broadway Theater Four on March 15, 2000 after sold-out runs in Queens, NY Theatre in the Park, Boca Raton, Florida, Miami, Philadelphia, New Hope, Albany, and the Forum Theater in New Jersey, the Drama Center in Deerfield Beach, the Wilton Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Theatre Works in Sarasota. Another review.
  • A list from “I Think I’ll Start on Monday”
    Five Practical Reasons For Not Going On A Diet
    1. It’s very impolite to leave food on your plate.
    2. America is supposed to be the best fed nation in the world. Why make us look bad?
    3. Fish, meat and vegetables maybe chemically polluted. The U.S. Government has NEVER found mercury in a chocolate layer cake.
    4. Food is synonymous with love. If you diet, you are depriving yourself of much needed affection.
    5. Sara Lee, Laura Scudder, Betty Crocker and Mr. Hershey are sincere, hard working Americans. Check your conscience. 
    Do you really want to take a living away from these people?

  • From Fol-der-ol
  • You can now listen to the Totie Fields Live LP on YouTube. See the Experience Totie Fields Live blog entry for links.
  • You can still download the Totie Fields Live MP3 files but you need to email me for the link.
  • 6/15/11 UPDATE: I received the following information in an email from a reader:
    Just read your blog......interesting stuff! I only knew her because my dad, Harry Morton, was her booking agent. The stories I heard growing up as a kid, in Oceanside, NY, were all about what a pain in the butt she was to work with. She spent many evenings in the den, with other comics that my Dad either handled or knew. Harry was one of the top agents for the Catskills, as well as Miami, and Lakewood, NJ. His clients, just to name a few, consisted of: Henny Youngman, Phil Foster, Buddy Hackett, Alan King, Mac Robbins, Pat Henry, Norm Cosby, Harvey Stone, Jan Murray, and more. I have googled his name [Harry], only to find a sentence or two and nothing more. He was funnier than most of the guys he handled, He cut an album, "Look Out For Harry Morton" back in the 60's. I started to write a book with him, but we only wrote about 100 pages. He's gone now 8 years. He was married to Billie Lorraine, a nite club singer.
  • In this interview of Phyllis Diller from The View, Rosie O'Donnell brings up Totie and Phyllis mentions that Totie did not like Joan Rivers. Interesting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kim in the Studio with Dallas

Before beginning first run episodes of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, season 2, Bravo graciously re-aired season 1 so those of us who skipped it last year could catch up. Of course, I accidently erased episode 6 in which Kim finds herself in the studio with Dallas Austin. So I paid $1.99 to Amazon so I could see this moment in television (and music) history. It was everything I could have hoped for so I whipped out my camera and ... Voila!

I definitely got my $1.99 worth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barney Frank Speaks My Mind

It would be hard to imagine that this woman with her special picture of Obama is not now sitting at home humiliated by this soon to be viral video. Excuse me, I didn't mean woman; I meant dining room table.

Think she'll write a book?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coda to This Episode

A less shocking thing about this episode is that I remained objective and did not write that he was an overweight Cau-cau-cau-caucasion man that shared his environment with his seemingly Eastern European wife and a ten year old girl.

A more shocking thing about this episode is that I always thought I was straight acting - you know, no one could tell unless I told them. Go know.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm A Faggot

I have lived on the east end of a small one lane street in San Jose, CA for ten years. There is a house on the west end of the street in which a man, a woman and a child live with a dog. I've seen the man outside maybe 20 times in ten years and he nor I have ever attempted a meet and greet although I am friendly with his next-door neighbor (as he seems to be), a neighbor across the street and more households as you might walk closer to the east end of the street. Now I know why.

I took Max out for a walk (as I have done twice a day since I bought the house) and walked by this man's home. Max peed on his lawn. I continued walking and was at the corner (almost three houses away) waiting for Max to pee again when I heard someone yelling.

"You forgot something here."

I didn't know if the sentence was meant for me so I turned to see what was happening. The man in this house had (seemingly as I had not actually witnessed this) passed me driving home, and stopped his car in the middle of the street in front of his house after he saw me walk away with Max. When I turned he was getting out of the car and walking to his lawn.

"Huh?" I replied.

He crouched a little and looked around the lawn.

"I said you forgot..."

He seemingly realized that there was nothing there.

"Never mind."

When I realized what had just happened I yelled back (as I was almost three houses away).

"I am your neighbor why would you think I would not pick up after my dog on your lawn?"

I wanted to continue imploringly but all I could do was pull a bag out of my pocket. "I have bags."

"You know, fuck you." said the man.


"I said I'm sorry but fuck you for getting excited."

"That's nice language to be yelling on this street."



I turned and walked.

I'd like to file this episode away with a quote from Anne Frank. Unfortunately, with the negative discourse that only grows deeper with each passing day, the intolerance of people towards people, the fear-mongering of those seemingly in charge, and the animosity of difference I'm not sure I still believe it.

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I'm Dancing In My Room and They're Calling It Zumba®

Yes. For exercise, I am dancing in my room. Put on 25-30 minutes of my favorite dance tunes and I'm on my way - incorporating fluid yoga poses, dolphin-like undulations, and full body muscle stretches into the same dance moves I busted 25 years ago in da clubs, baby.

Granted, now my mind focuses on keeping the core muscles tight and the posture straight while busting a move rather than the blonde at the end of the bar. On the plus side, I find that this focus is lurking into matters it previously eschewed - like standing in line at the bank or walking Max. Stomach in. Shoulders back. What can I say? Dancing in my room work's up a sweat and works out the heart. Like it did in da clubs, baby. (OK, that won't work a third time.)

Some people bicycle for exercise.

Another plus is that I get to choose my own music. Set it up first - all the CDs in a row. Today I start slow with Flashdance (Got a Feeling), the extended remix, to Unbelievable EMF, the dance remix. Swap the disc out to get Ram Jam Black Betty b/w Grace Jones's Pull Up to the Bumper. Past the point of no sweat I throw on Rosebud's pumping Have A Cigar - yes, the Pink Floyd tune - and follow it with the O'Jay's Love Train. Bring it to new heights with the Pointer Sisters Jump (For My Love), the extended version, and cap off the evening with the Captain and Tennille's Do That To Me One More Time, the latter strangely invoking a Kate Bush-esque ballet stretch and a nice cool down. Good times.

Dancing with myself

A few weeks after I started having this fun, I received a renewal in the mail for a membership to 24 Hour Fitness, a gym I had joined in Denver and used twice. They were asking me to pay $49 for one more year. Fuck yea! Can't not go to a gym cheaper than that. I joined and clicked through to the 24 Hour Fitness San Jose class schedule. I noticed a trademarked class. Zumba®. I had never heard of Zumba® so I looked it up. On Wikipedia of course.

A Zumba workout mixes body sculpting movements with dance steps derived from cumbia, merengue, salsa, reggaeton, hip hop, mambo, rumba, flamenco, and calypso and Salsaton. The routines feature aerobic interval training with a combination of fast and slow rhythms. It targets areas such as the glutes, legs, arms, abdominals, and the heart. A Zumba class is typically not formulaic in that instructors often add on their own music choices and choreographies to make their class presentation locally unique.

They're dancing in a room and they're calling it Zumba®.

Video of a Zumba® class with a cutie at the fore

Dancing in your room. It's the latest thing.