The vaudeville performer Fanny Brice was a highly popular entertainer in the early decades of the 20th century. Her mischievous eyes, half-moon mouth, and winning personality delighted audiences for nearly half a century. Her most famous comic creation was the badly behaved brat “Baby Snooks.”
Brice was born Fannie Borach, the daughter of Jewish immigrant parents, in New York City. She made her stage debut when she was 13, performing at amateur nights in New York vaudeville houses. Within five years she became a favourite of burlesque audiences, at a time when burlesque was still family entertainment containing jokes, slapstick, and comic songs. In 1910 the impresario Florenz Ziegfeld saw her act in a run-down Brooklyn theatre and instantly offered her a part in his “Follies.” She appeared in more editions of the Ziegfeld Follies than any other star.
In 1921 Brice gained an international reputation with her sentimental torch song “My Man.” Her heartfelt delivery was influenced by her personal life, especially her unhappy marriage to Nicholas Arnstein, a Broadway gambler and speculator who spent several years in jail. Her marriages to Arnstein, by whom she had two children, and to the producer Billy Rose both ended in divorce.
Baby Snooks was a popular character on radio from the late 1930s until Brice's death, in Hollywood. The musical comedies Funny Girl (1964) and Funny Lady (1975), starring Barbra Streisand, were based on her life.
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