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Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice

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Also Known As: Fannie Brice, Fannie Borach Died: May 29, 1951
Born: October 29, 1891 Cause of Death: complications from a stroke
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: comedian, actor, singer, vaudevillian, interior decorator

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The epitome of the 'Nice Jewish Girl', this Newark- and Brooklyn-bred comedian and singer was a favorite on stage and radio from the 1910s through her death in 1951, though she never quite broke through in movies. Brice started her career singing in amateur contests and movie houses, working her way up to revues and burlesque. Her big break came when Florenz Ziegfeld signed her for his "Follies of 1910," as a singing comedienne. Gawky, big-nosed and rubber-faced, Brice was no Ziegfeld Girl, but she made her name with the "Follies." (She had changed the spelling of her first name from 'Fannie' to 'Fanny' in the mid-1920s). Brice appeared in seven "Follies" through 1923, as well as Ziegfeld's "Midnight Frolics" from 1915-1921. Her persona was that of the good-humored ugly duckling, skewering contemporary icons from Isadora Duncan to Theda Bara to Sally Rand. Her strong, clear voice could be used in straight songs, such as "Rose of Washington Square" and her signature tune "My Man" (which she introduced in 1921). But she was best known for her comic songs, often done with a Yiddish accent: "The Sheik of Avenue B," "Second Hand Rose," "Sadie Salome." While most closely identified with the "Follies,"...

The epitome of the 'Nice Jewish Girl', this Newark- and Brooklyn-bred comedian and singer was a favorite on stage and radio from the 1910s through her death in 1951, though she never quite broke through in movies. Brice started her career singing in amateur contests and movie houses, working her way up to revues and burlesque. Her big break came when Florenz Ziegfeld signed her for his "Follies of 1910," as a singing comedienne. Gawky, big-nosed and rubber-faced, Brice was no Ziegfeld Girl, but she made her name with the "Follies." (She had changed the spelling of her first name from 'Fannie' to 'Fanny' in the mid-1920s). Brice appeared in seven "Follies" through 1923, as well as Ziegfeld's "Midnight Frolics" from 1915-1921. Her persona was that of the good-humored ugly duckling, skewering contemporary icons from Isadora Duncan to Theda Bara to Sally Rand. Her strong, clear voice could be used in straight songs, such as "Rose of Washington Square" and her signature tune "My Man" (which she introduced in 1921). But she was best known for her comic songs, often done with a Yiddish accent: "The Sheik of Avenue B," "Second Hand Rose," "Sadie Salome." While most closely identified with the "Follies," Brice also appeared in "The Music Box Revue" (1924), "Sweet and Low," and Billy Rose's "Crazy Quilt." Her only non-musical show was "Fanny" (1926), which flopped dismally. After Ziegfeld's death, Brice appeared in two posthumous "Follies" produced by the Shuberts, in 1934 and 1936.

Like many stage stars, Brice did not translate well to film. She made two early talkies, "My Man" (1928) and "Be Yourself!" (1930) before returning to the stage. Her subsequent film career was indifferent at best. She played herself in the biopic "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936) and did a sketch in the variety film "The Ziegfeld Follies" (1946). Her only other film was as Judy Garland's maid in "Everybody Sing" (1938).

Radio, however, brought Brice a worldwide fame eclipsing even her stage career. She had done guest spots on radio shows as early as 1932, and in 1938 debuted her own program. Brice played Baby Snooks, a mischievous child always getting into scrapes and annoying her "Daddy." The show ran through 1949 on CBS radio and was thereafter picked up by NBC, where it ran until Brice's death in 1951.

Brice's private life made as many headlines as did her shows. After a brief first marriage, she wed Nicky Arnstein, who was jailed in 1924 for masterminding an embezzlement scheme (Fanny's comment was "he couldn't mastermind an electric bulb into a socket"). She stuck by him through his jail term, but later divorced Arnstein and wed producer-songwriter Billy Rose, who later left her for swimmer and showgirl Eleanor Holm. Down-to-earth and well-liked within the theatrical community, Brice moonlighted in her later years as a popular interior decorator.

Today, Fanny Brice is best known as the alter ego of Barbra Streisand, who portrayed her in the Broadway musical "Funny Girl" (1964) and its film version (1968, produced by Brice's son-in-law Ray Stark), as well as the sequel "Funny Lady" (1975). Singing Brice's old numbers ("My Man," "I'd Rather Be Blue") as well as original songs, Streisand brought a renovated Brice to the attention of fans too young to remember the original.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Wisecracks (1991) Herself (Archival Footage)
3.
 Ziegfeld Follies (1946) Norma Edelman in "The Sweepstakes Ticket"
4.
 Everybody Sing (1938) Olga Chekaloff
5.
 The Great Ziegfeld (1936) Fanny Brice
6.
7.
 Be Yourself! (1930) Fannie Field
8.
 My Man (1928) Fannie Brand
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Family moved from Lower East Side of NYC to Newark, NJ, to Brooklyn during Brice's early years
1904:
Made stage debut at Keeney's Theater, Brooklyn
1910:
First appearance in "Ziegfeld Follies"
1921:
Introduced theme song "My Man" in "Ziegfeld Follies of 1921"
1922:
Had nose done and changed name from "Fannie" to "Fanny" (date approximate)
:
First created character of Baby Snooks while appearing in the "Ziegfeld Follies"
1926:
Only starring role in a non-musical, "Fanny"
1928:
Film debut in "My Man"
1932:
Made radio debut
1938:
Began 13-year run as Baby Snooks on radio
1946:
Final film appearance in "The Ziegfeld Follies"
1964:
Posthumously portrayed by Barbra Streisand in Broadway musical "Funny Girl" (filmed 1968)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"I never worked out any business ahead of time. It would only happen when I hit that audience, because they speak so much louder than my mind. I could hear them much clearer. They would tell me what they wanted. You get your first laugh--boom! You're going. You lose yourself. You become whoever it is they're laughing at, but it isn't you...If you're a comic you have to be nice. The audience has to like you. You have to have a softness about you, because if you do comedy and you are harsh, there is something offensive about it." --Fanny Brice quoted in "The Fabulous Fanny" by Norman Katkov.

"Being a funny person does an awful lot of things to you. You feel that you mustn't get serious with people. They don't expect it from you, and they don't want to see it. You're not entitled to be serious, you're a clown, and they only want you to make them laugh." --Brice quoted in "The Fabulous Fanny".

Besides being portrayed by Barbra Streisand, Brice was played by Alice Faye in "Rose of Washington Square" (1939), Rosalind Harris in the 1984 film "The Cotton Club," and by Catherine Jacoby in the 1978 TV-movie "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women" (NBC).

"When you're young you make pictures in your head, you have ideas. You pick the type guy you want. But if I went to a party and there was one no-good bastard in the room, I'd go for him right away. It's so funny: for my friends I must have admiration and I must respect them. In fact, I never liked the men I loved, and never loved the men I liked." --Fanny Brice quoted in "The Fabulous Fanny".

"I was always amused by the high society people as much as they were amused by me. They were just a big study to me. I never kidded myself. I never said, 'oh, kid, you're in society now.' I knew I didn't belong there ... I knew they liked me because they knew I didn't give a damn for them, except if they were interesting." --Brice quoted in "The Fabulous Fanny".

According to an article by James L. Neibaur in Classic Images (December 1996), Brice appeared in several Warner Brothers talking shorts.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Frank White. Barber. Briefly married 1909.
husband:
Jules W Arnstein. Married April 5, 1919, divorced September 1927; was jailed 1924-1926 for embezzling $5 million.
husband:
Billy Rose. Producer, songwriter. Married February 1929; divorced October 27, 1938.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Charles Borach. Saloon-keeper. Of French descent.
mother:
Rose Borach. Garment factory worker, real estate agent. Born in Hungary.
brother:
Phil Brice. Eldest sibling; died in his 20s.
sister:
Carolyn Saul. Born 1890; survived her.
brother:
Lew Brice. Born 1892; survived her.
daughter:
Frances Stark. Born 1919; married Ray Stark who produced stage and film versions of "Funny Girl;" died 1992.
son:
William Brice. Survived her.
granddaughter:
Wendy Morrisey. Editor. West Coast editor, VANITY FAIR.
grandson:
John Brice.
grandson:
Peter Stark. Died 1970.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Fabulous Fanny" Alfred A. Knopf
"The Original Funny Girl"

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