Twenty-five women have portrayed Fanny Brice on Broadway* – a 26th, Lea Michele, takes over the role on September 6 — but, half a century before she became a character in the Jule Style musical “Funny Girl,” the actual Fanny Brice — comedienne, singer, actress — made her Broadway debut at age 18 as a headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910. It was the first of her 19 Broadway shows over the next 25 years, just one part of a popular career that included recording artist, film actress, and radio star. And contrary to popular belief, Barbra Streisand was not the first performer to portray Fanny Brice on film: Fanny Brice portrayed herself, in the 1936 movie The Great Ziegfeld.
(from The Great Ziegfeld trailer:
It would be a mistake to confuse the real Fanny Brice, who died in 1951 at the age of 59. with the one depicted in “Funny Girl,” which I pointed out in my review of the current Broadway revival. She was born Fania Borach in Manhattan (not Brooklyn) in 1891, one of four children (not an only child) of Jewish immigrants who became well-off (not poor) first from a chain of profitable saloons, then by buying and selling real estate. Her signature songs (not “People”) are still familiar: “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose.”
The videos below begin with those two songs, and end with her priceless clowning in two film scenes, one as her famous Baby Snooks character shared with Judy Garland. In this post, the latest in the Broadway Alphabet Series, many of the photographs are from the Billy Rose Collection of the New York City Public Library for the Performing Arts, named after the songwriter and stage producer who was Brice’s third husband.
Click on a photograph to read its caption.
*Sixteen of the performers who portrayed Fanning Brice on Broadway, from to Kristin Chenoweth to Whoopi Goldberg, did so in a one-night only fundraising performance of “Funny Girl” in September, 2002.