Fania Borach, a.k.a. Fanny Brice. October 29, 1892 (New York City, NY) – May 29, 1951 (Hollywood, CA) Star of radio, television, stage (mainly the famed Ziegeld Follies), screen. Comedienne. Chanteuse.
Though a Yiddish accent was her signature shtick*, Franny Brice didn’t speak the language.
“I breathed and ate and lived theatre — in my neighborhood were all the nationalities of all of Europe. That is where I learned my accents; the Polish woman with her intonation rising up like chant. I saw Loscha of the Coney Island popcorn counter and Marta of the cheeses at Brodsky’s Delicatessen and the Sadies and the Rachels and the Birdies at the Second Avenue dance halls. They all welded together and came out staggeringly true to type in one big authentic outline.” Fanny Brice as quoted in Broadway, the American Musical, by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon.
Fanny Brice made such an impression that though she died when I was one, I feel like I remember her. My elders reminisced, sharing vivid memories of her stage performances. There was great pleasure taken in her subsequent movies, which were often aired as television reruns in the ’50s.
Thirteen years after she died Franny Brice was honored with a stage portrayal by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. My Aunt Yvonne and I saw the play . . . with Mimi Hines though, not Streisand. Uncle Phil saw it with Striesand and said he couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Aunt Yvonne and I agreed we couldn’t imagine anyone but Hines playing Brice . . . until we saw the movie version with Streisand. Streisand has the look and she had the manner, voice and inflection down pat.
FRANNY BRICE was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the child of Hungarian Jews. She grew up dreaming of the theatre and made her determined way from small-time vaudeville venues to Broadway and Hollywood. Big names were a part of her life: she got a pink-slip from George M. Cohen, was saved by Irving Berlin, and hired by Flo Ziegfield for his world-famous follies.
To survive after Cohen fired her, Fanny Brice played vaudeville theaters but didn’t give up her other stage aspirations. One day she went to see Irving Berlin. She needed an act for a charity show. He introduced her to his new vamp song, Sadie Salome (go home), which I think morphed in Sadie, Sadie Married Lady in the stage play Funny Girl. Subsequently, she was hired by Flo Zeigfield and her career took off. Her success was unprecedented. America embraced Brice despite her ethnic act, something that was generally unwelcome in those days.
Ultimately, there’s a lot we can say about Fanny Brice; but the truth is, she was simply t smart hardworking New York girl who happened to be a world-class comedienne.
1946 Ziegfield film “Norma, the Sweepstakes Winner” staring Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn, and William Frawley. This is a reprise of a skit Ms. Brice did on stage in the Ziegfield Follies. Hume Cronyn looks great here and is actually about twenty years younger than Ms. Brice. I would venture that none of us remember William Frawley stage and movie star days but most of us certainly know him as Fred of Fred and Ethel in I Love Lucy.
* schtick-Yiddish-a device (trick, cheating) to get attention.
© 2015, article, Jamie Dedes, (originally published in Brooklyn Memories); the top two photos of Brice are public domain photographs from the George Grantham Bain Collection of the U.S. Library of Congress; David Stone Martin’s Baby Snooks illustration © NBC Publicity, web source: the artist/illustrator David Stone Martin’s Drawger