Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

1900 to World War II:

Fanny Brice: Star In Vaudeville, Radio, Theater & Movies

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Fanny Brice was in a class by herself when it came to mimicry, comedy, comedy dialogue and the ability to put over a song. She was able to establish a close rapport with audiences which skyrocketed her to stardom and fame.

Fanny was born as Fanny Borach on October 29, 1891, in New York City, to Rose, nee Stern, and Charles Borach, both immigrant parents. Her father's gambling and drinking caused her mother to leave him with Fanny and her other three children, Philip, Caroline and Lew.

Her career started when she began singing on the neighborhood streets for pennies. When she was thirteen, she wanted to avoid paying the admission charge at Kenney's Theater in Brooklyn, so she entered the "Amateur Contest" to get in free. Her singing touched the hearts of the audience and she won the five-dollar first prize.

She changed her name to Fanny Brice as she started her career in the theater. In 1914, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris had a review, Talk of the Town, and she managed to get herself cast as a chorus girl. Her inability to dance cost her the job and she decided to take dancing lessons.

She joined the Traveling Burlesque Company and when the leading lady took sick, she was asked to sing her songs. Not having the strength and fullness of an adult voice. she decided to sing them comically. This launched her career as a comedienne.

In 1910, Florenz Ziegfeld offered Fanny a contract to appear in his fourth Follies. The audiences loved her comic routines and Brook Atkinson, of the New York Times, described her as "the burlesque comic of the rarest vintage."

Fanny was not only known for her humorous songs, but also for her tragic songs like My Man and Second-Hand Rose. In The Song of the Sewing Machine, she sang about the plight of women working in sweatshops. While her serious trademark was My Man, her comic trademark was Baby Snooks.

She met and married Jules "Nick" Arnstein, a gambler and confidence man. They had two children, William and Frances. Arnstein was in and out ofjall for his scams and finally he disappeared from her life. She divorced him in 1927.

She met Billy Rose, a songwriter, and married him in 1928. She divorced him in 1938 because of his affair with Eleanor Holm Jarrett, a swimming champion.

Fanny Brice appeared in radio programs and movies. She starred in her own radio program as Baby Snooks, in 1934. Her first film appearance was for Warner Brothers in My Man, 1928. Her next film, in Be Yourself was released in 1930. She then did The Great Ziegfeld, 1936; Everybody Sing, 1938, and a repeat of The Great Ziegfeld, in 1946.

Fanny Brice suffered a mild heart attack in 1945. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 29, 1951. Her daughter, Frances, was married to movie producer Ray Stark, who produced the movie, Funnv Girl, in 1964, a fictionalized version of Fannv Brice's life. Barbara Strelsand was the star and she brought back the realism and majesty of Fanny's comedy, burlesque routines and songs.

Fanny Brice never forgot, or let others forget, that she was Jewish. Her struggle as a poor, young kid who became a star is an inspiration and model for our youth.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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