Fanny Brice (occasionally spelled Fannie Brice) was the stage name of Fania Borach, born inNew York City, the third child of relatively well-off saloon owners of Hungarian Jewish descent. In 1908, Brice dropped out of school to work in a burlesque revue, The revue was called 'The Girls from Happy Land starring Sliding Billy Watson and two years later she began her association withFlorenz Ziegfeld, headlining his Ziegfeld Follies from 1910 to 1911. She was hired again in 1921 and performed in them into the 1930s. In the 1921 Follies, she was featured singing "My Man" which became both a big hit and her signature song. She made a popular recording of it for Victor Records.
The second song most associated with Brice is "Second Hand Rose," which she introduced in the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1921."
She recorded nearly two dozen record sides for Victor and also cut several for Columbia. She is a posthumous recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for her 1921 recording of "My Man."
Brice's Broadway credits include Fioretta, Sweet and Low, and Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt. Her films include My Man (1928), Be Yourself! (1930) and Everybody Sing (1938) with Judy Garland. Brice, Ray Bolger and Harriet Hoctor were the only original Ziegfeld performers to portray themselves in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946). For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on theHollywood Walk of Fame at MP 6415 Hollywood Boulevard.
From the 1930s until her death in 1951, Fanny made a radio presence as a bratty toddler named Snooks, a role she premiered in a Follies skit co-written by playwright Moss Hart. Baby Snooks premiered in The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in February 1936 on CBS with Alan Reed playing Lancelot Higgins, her beleaguered "Daddy." Brice moved to NBC in December 1937, performing the Snooks routines as part of the Good Newsshow, then back to CBS on Maxwell House Coffee Time, with the half-hour divided between the Snooks sketches and comedian Frank Morgan.
In September 1944, Brice's longtime Snooks sketch writers, Philip Rapp and David Freedman, brought in partners, Arthur Stander and Everett Freeman, to develop an independent, half-hour comedy program. The program launched on CBS in 1944, moving to NBC in 1948, with Freeman producing. First called Post Toasties Time, (named for the show's first sponsor), the show was renamed The Baby Snooks Show within short order, though in later years it was often known colloquially as Baby Snooks and Daddy. On the spinoff version of Baby Snooks, Hanley Staffordplayed Daddy, with Reed instead appearing as Daddy's employer, Mr. Weemish. Stafford eventually became the longest running actor to portray the "Daddy" character.
Brice was so meticulous about the program and the title character that she was known to perform in costume as a toddler girl even though seen only by the radio studio audience. She was 45 years old when the character began her long radio life. In addition to Reed and Stafford, her co-stars included Lalive Brownell, Lois Corbet and Arlene Harris playing her mother, Danny Thomas as Jerry, Charlie Cantor as Uncle Louie and Ken Christy as Mr. Weemish. She was completely devoted to the character, as she told biographer Norman Katkov: "Snooks is just the kid I used to be. She's my kind of youngster, the type I like. She has imagination. She's eager. She's alive. With all her deviltry, she is still a good kid, never vicious or mean. I love Snooks, and when I play her I do it as seriously as if she were real. I am Snooks. For 20 minutes or so, Fanny Brice ceases to exist."
Baby Snooks writer/producer Everett Freeman told Katkov that Brice didn't like to rehearse the role ("I can't do a show until it's on the air, kid") but always snapped into it on the air, losing herself completely in the character: "While she was on the air she was Baby Snooks. And...for an hour after the show, she was still Baby Snooks. The Snooks voice disappeared, of course, but the Snooks temperament, thinking, actions were all there."
Brice had a short-lived marriage in her teens to a local barber, Frank White, whom she met in 1910 in Springfield, Massachusetts, when she was touring in "College Girl." The marriage lasted three years and she brought suit for divorce in 1913. Her second husband was professional gambler Julius W. "Nicky" Arnstein. Prior to their marriage, Arnstein served fourteen months in Sing Sing for wiretapping. Brice visited him in prison every week. In 1918 they were married, after living together for six years. In 1924, Arnstein was charged in a Wall Street bond theft. Brice insisted on his innocence, and funded his legal defense at great expense. Arnstein was convicted and sentenced to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth where he served three years. Released in 1927, Arnstein disappeared from Brice's life and that of his two children. Reluctantly, Brice divorced him. She went on to marry songwriter and stage producer Billy Rose and appeared in his revue Crazy Quilt, among others. Their marriage also failed.
Television appearance and later years
Brice and Stafford brought Baby Snooks and Daddy to television only once, an appearance in June 1950 on CBS-TV's Popsicle Parade of Stars. This was Fanny Brice's only appearance on television. Brice handled herself well on the live TV broadcast but later admitted that the character of Baby Snooks just didn’t work properly when seen.
She returned with Stafford and the Snooks character to the safety of radio for her next appearance, on Tallulah Bankhead's big-budget, large-scale radio variety show, The Big Show, in November 1950, sharing the bill with Groucho Marx and Jane Powell. In one routine, Snooks asks Bankhead for advice on becoming an actress, despite Daddy's insistence that Snooks has no acting talent.
Six months after her Big Show appearance, on May 29, 1951, Fanny Brice died in Hollywood of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 59. The May 29, 1951 episode of The Baby Snooks Show was broadcast as a memorial to the star who created the brattish toddler, crowned by Hanley Stafford's brief on-air eulogy: "We have lost a very real, a very warm, a very wonderful woman." Brice was cremated. Her ashes were interred in the Chapel Mausoleum at the Jewish Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California. A half-century later, at the time of Brice's daughter Frances' death in 1992, Fanny Brice's ashes were reinterred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemeteryin Los Angeles, some 20 miles west of her original interment place. Today, the ashes, and those of her daughter, are in an outdoor pavilion.