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Bertha Levine (September 30, 1906 – January 7, 1971), who used the stage name Spivy (/ˈspɪvi/ SPIH-vee), was an American entertainer, nightclub owner, and actress.
Bertha Levine was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1906, the eldest of the four daughters of Louis and Helen Levine, Jewish immigrants from Russia. She played organ in churches and theaters before establishing a career as a singer-pianist in speakeasies and nightclubs under the name Spivy Le Voe, which she later shortened to Spivy. Her stage name was reportedly based on a younger sister's mispronunciation of the word "sister.":31
In 1936 she became a regular act at Tony's, a New York nightclub on West 52nd Street, where she performed satirical songs, some of which were written by John Latouche and Jill Rainsford. In 1939, the New York Times wrote that "Spivy's material, witty, acid, and tragicomic, is better than most of the essays one hears about town, and her delivery is that of a sophisticated artist on her own grounds. She knows the value of surprise in punching a line, she uses understatement unerringly, and her piano accompaniment is superb." From 1940–1951 she ran her own nightclub, Spivy's Roof, on New York's East 57th Street. The club was noted for its tolerance of gay performers and patrons; Spivy herself was a lesbian in private life. Among the artists who performed there were Frances Faye, Mabel Mercer, Moms Mabley, Thelma Carpenter, Paul Lynde, Martha Raye, Bea Arthur, Liberace, and actor-magician Fred Keating. Although it was reported that Spivy and Keating intended to marry on Christmas Eve 1942, this appears to have been a publicity stunt or lavender marriage. She released two 78 rpm albums of songs, which have never been reissued on CD. Her recordings indicate that her performing style was to "recite" (rather than sing) the lyrics over piano accompaniment.
In the 1950s, Spivy spent several years touring Paris, London, and Rome before returning to the U.S. in 1957, where she embarked on a new career as a character actor, usually billed as Madame Spivy. She had supporting roles in the films The Fugitive Kind, Studs Lonigan, All Fall Down, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and The Manchurian Candidate, where her stout physique led to her being cast as matronly or villainous characters.[Note 2] She also appeared on stage in a Broadway production of Auntie Mame. Her best-remembered television appearance is a darkly humorous installment of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the 1959 episode "Specialty of the House" in which she played the manager of a restaurant whose unsuspecting guests implicitly end up on the menu.
By 1969, Spivy had been diagnosed with cancer. Her friend Patsy Kelly arranged for her to move into the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, where she died on January 7, 1971, aged 64.[Note 1]
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