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.



14 Responses to VIVIEN: A SHORT STORY.

  1. Donald September 13, 2018 at 11:26 am #

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Few of us think to do that when we lose our parents.

  2. Old Gray Haired Jack September 13, 2018 at 11:32 am #

    Young Marshall,

    Your Mom was a very talented and beautiful Lady. She also had a great son that grew up to be equally talented and much loved.

  3. Les Le Gear September 13, 2018 at 11:42 am #

    A fine paean to your mother, Marshall.

  4. Lil sis September 13, 2018 at 11:46 am #

    A beautiful tribute. She was my first dancing teacher and remained so till I left for college in 1964. Your Mom and mine remained dear friends until the very end. Xox

  5. Evelyn Frank Goldberg September 13, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    A Beautiful Tribute to a women who did so much for her son—and her love for him was the most important thing she lived for. R.I.P. Vivien.

  6. Rosemarye Levine September 13, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

    Would that all us mothers had sons like Marshall Frank!

  7. Pat Pesce September 13, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

    She is absolutely beautiful! And was a great Mom I’m sure because she raised an accomplished, sensitive gentleman, a patriot and great friend. Judeing the picture of your Mom dancing with your Dad you look more like him though. A happy birthday to her, she lives on through you and your work.

  8. Laura P. September 13, 2018 at 7:37 pm #

    A nice tribute – she was gorgeous!

  9. Joseph Pesce September 13, 2018 at 8:37 pm #

    Very beautiful and talented woman. She is in a better place not forgotten and with friends and family ….. god bless

  10. Frank Mussoline September 14, 2018 at 6:32 am #

    A fabulous tribute to a beautiful and dedicated mother. The fruits of her devotion to her family are evident in the result of that upbringing. You turned out to be a multi talented and accomplished individual who I am proud to know and be considered a friend.

  11. Virginia Andreades September 16, 2018 at 11:52 am #

    I remember her very well she was a beautiful women.
    She also worked for my Father Tony Gerardo as a dancer at the Queen;s Terrace.
    My mom and Dad was close with her.
    I also took dance lessons from Vivian for a short time I use to save my lunch money
    to go to classes until my Father pulled me out of there he said I don’t want my daughter being a dancer.
    Later years when my father passed away it was to late to be a dancer so I studied Belly Dancing
    and became a dancer and teacher.
    She did a great job bringing you up you turned out great.

  12. Edward A. Hensley September 18, 2018 at 6:12 am #

    Edward A. Hensley My belated respects to your lovely &
    remarkable mother. She died much to young, yet here we 2
    old lessor deserving guys are sneaking up on 80. Let’s set a
    course for 85, after next April, not knowing what storm might
    take one or both of out before 85. Reality is; this was a good
    time for you to pen such a lovely memorial of your mother

  13. Erle Grubb September 19, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    Everything we do in our lifetime, no matter how small, can make a difference to someone else. And that difference can create “high-level” (your words) results, not imaginable, otherwise.

    Such is your heartfelt tribute to Vivien for her 108th birthday. Your mother raised you to higher levels, as did your violin teacher Attilio Canonico. And, hearing you play, as you have done for me, giving me the incentive to bring my violin playing back to life — “because I can”.

  14. Just Me September 23, 2018 at 12:59 pm #

    I love this story and think your mom was a beautiful, remarkable woman.
    You’re a lucky man to have had her.
    I believe you will see her again.