Sunday, October 29, 2006

Today in history was "Black Friday" October 29th, 1929 --the day the Stock Market crashed in NYC and the start of "The Great Depression" -- perhaps no single event in American History provided a more disastrous course of events. Lives were ruined. People jumped out of buildings and the country was set back for basically ten years. We had a close call for the same scenario back in 1987, but now it appears that we are basically protected from automatic "sell orders" by computer safeguards. On the same day that the stock market was crashing, Fanny Brice, the amazing and legendary stage and screen performer was born. Although the classic Broadway musical "Funny Girl" depicted much of her life, there are glaring differences between the reality and the stage show. Most of it is simply delicious fiction. The producer of both the film and the musical was Ray Stark who was married to Fanny's daughter, Francis. First Fanny's real family name was Borach. After her career took off in burlesque, she changed it to Brice, much to her mother's costernation. Fanny's mother, Rosie spent years managing the bars while her husband played cards and drank his days away. When that got to to be more than Rosie could bear, Rosie finally got a legal separation and took her kids to Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, Rosie made a great living buying and selling real estate! While Fanny struggled towards fame, her family lived in a series of handsome apartments and townhouses including one on Manhattan's swankly "Beekman Place" (Yes, the same street immortalized in "Mame") Another thing: Fanny made her debut as a solo singer at Frank Keeney's popular vaudeville theatre. She was not part of the chorus-- on roller skates or otherwise! Fanny was eventually fired from a chorus by Broadway legend George M. Cohan. Cohan dropped Fanny from the Broadway cast of "Talk of The Town" because she couldn't dance! To cover her disappointmentFanny had claimed she was fired for having "sinny legs". The film makes no mention of her firtst marriage to Frank White, a small time barber. The marriage didn't last long, but it was consummated, so Fanny Brice lost her sexual innocence years before meeting Nicky Arnstein-- who, by the way was far from being gorgeous. Gorgeous? Not unless you might consider a guy who looked like William Howard Taft gorgeous! "Funny Girl" also makes no mention of Fanny's long time friendship with Irving Berlin, the world famous songwriter. Berlin had written several numbers for her (including the classic "Sadie Salome") which really helped her break into the big time. Why is it that performers seldom acknowlegde a great songwriter once they get famous. Don Ho did that and angered me greatly one night in Hawaii when he came out on stage and said "Ok, let's get this thing over with" At that point he sang out "Tiny Bubbles" like he was forced to! I doubt sincerely you would have ever heard of Don Ho without that great song! Back to Fanny. The real Nicky Arnstein was six foot six-- sophisticated and tall and imposing yes-- gorgeous-- no! Fanny Brice performed material her own way, but the pregnant bride number depicted in "Funny Girl" never happened. If it had Ziegfield would have fired her on the spot-- no matter how much the audience laughed! Fanny really debuted in the 1910 Follies singing the now defunct song "Lovey Joe"-- another great debut song forgotten! Another picture and Broadway fiction was that Fanny Brice did not debut at the New Amsterdam Theatre (where Mary poppins now reigns) Fanny actually made her debut at at the Jardin de Paris an open air summer theatre atop the now gone New York Theatre. The Follies did not move to the New Amsterdam until 1913. Fanny Brice actually had Nicky arnsteinm investigated and learned he was still married to his first wife. Hopelessly in love, Fanny pretended that it didn't matter. She had to wait seven years for his divorce to come through and married him in 1919-- just two months before the birth of their daughter, Frances. "Funny Girl" also depicts Nicky as a classy gambler who turned to crime because he didn't want to live on Fanny's money. Ha! Nicky Arnstein was nothing more than a common criminal and he had no qualms about sponging off of Fanny for thier entire marriage. In fact, before they were married Nicky Arnstein had been arrested for swindling in three different European countries! He was even convicted while he was married of wiretapping and Fanny would visit him every week in Sing Sing! Much later, after a federal court threw Arnstein into Leavenworth for fourteen months, Fanny used her influence to arrange for special treatment for him including meals cooked for him by the warden's wife. There are so many more. But it just goes to show you, the libretiers we take to make great fiction in movies and on the Broadway stage happen! But we still love both works! Well, that's all for today!

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