Vivien Marie Peterson was born September 13, 1910, Chicago, Illinois. Died: June 3, 1966, North Miami, Florida.
By age seventeen, she was an honor student in high school, played classical piano, winning a number of music competitions, accomplished dancer studying ballet and tap, loyal daughter to Anna Peterson, and sister, Frances Peterson.
At age 19, she moved to New York City and married vaudeville star, known as “Old Man Whoopee,” performing as straight woman for him in hundreds of performances around the nation. She shared stages with Burns and Allen, Ginger Rogers, Rudy Vallee, Ray Bolger, Edward G. Robinson, Ruby Dee, The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, Sophie Tucker, the Dorsey Brothers and many more entertainers of note.
“Old Man Whoopee” died (natural causes) in 1941, after which she remarried to Queens mobster, Willie Strauss. She had already birthed two baby boys, the eldest of whom died by drowning in Flushing Bay, New York, when he was age 7.
Four years after moving to Miami Beach in 1945, her second husband died. (natural causes) Times were tough in Miami Beach, a single mom raising one child as she work playing piano at dance classes for $20 a week. Eventually, in 1955, she married another mobster (widower) who she had known from her entertainment days in New York.
Vivien opened her own dance studio in 1953, which she operated until 1966.. Bernie, the bookie, her third husband had left her a widow for the third time, dying from heart failure. Vivien, a heavy smoker, died in 1966 from brain cancer.
Most folks who knew Vivien described her as a delight, full of humor and sensitivity, and a beautiful woman of many talents. Her friends admired her, her students worshiped her. She was a devoted mother who placed her surviving child on a pedestal, her highest of priorities despite her many sacrifices during the hard times. She made sure he ate three meals a day, had arch supports in his shoes and violin lessons from a high level Italian teacher, and enough love to last a lifetime. No mountain was too high for her boy.
“Old Man Whoopee’s” real name was Arthur “Art” Frank. And that little boy was me. I thought this tribute fitting on her 108th birthday. After all, as the days pass and I am gone, there will be no one left to remember her. And she deserves remembrance.
Happy Birthday Mom.