In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Fannie Brice, comedienne, singer, and theatre and film actress.
SAY IT WITH SONGS
FANNIE BRICE. She was born at the stroke of midnight on October 29, 1892. Her square moniker is Fannie Borach.
Hasn’t a long list of friends. But those she has she can tap for anything.
She took the tag of Brice from John Brice, a next-door neighbor. He is now a watchman on the Ninth Avenue elevated. She told him that some day he’d see his name in lights.
Is a good judge of diamonds, furs and the value of real estate.
There is one thing in the world she can’t stand. That is cream in her coffee. It makes her sick.
She is the proud mother of two children. A girl of nine and a boy of seven. Has one brother, Lew, in the theatrical business. Also has one sister, Caroline, who believes that she would be a great actress if she didn’t suffer from asthma.
Her hobby is taking photographs of bedrooms. She has a picture of every bedroom she ever lived in.
Made her stage début at Keeney’s Theater in Brooklyn on amateur night. She won first prize singing, “When You’re Not Forgotten by the Girl You Can’t Forget.”
The only instrument she can play is the piano. That is, if hunting for notes with two fingers can be called playing.
Her father owned a string of saloons. He was known as “French Charlie.” Her mother really ran the saloons, for “French Charlie” was always playing pinochle.
When traveling she takes an electric stove with her. She’ll cook for anybody who wants to eat.
She once worked in a movie house on Eighty-third Street and Third Avenue. Here she sang songs, sold tickets and painted signs. Her salary was $8 a week.
The biggest surprises she ever got, good or bad, were from herself.
Is one of the best dressed women in the theater. Has her dresses designed especially for her by Kiviette. While in Hollywood she made dresses for Dolores Costello and Norma Talmadge. She has thirty dresses she hasn’t gotten to yet.
The moon makes her serious.
When watching Fannie perform her mother always says to the people sitting about her: “That’s my daughter. She’s good, isn’t she?”
She dislikes people who are perfect and have everything. Believes that such people miss something in life.
After she sang “My Man” for the first time her salary was raised from $1,000 to $3,000 weekly.
Her present husband is
Billy Rose, who also writes her songs for her. Her nickname for him is “Putsy.”
She’d walk ten miles if she could window shop on the way. Otherwise she wouldn’t walk two blocks.
Her first comedy song was “Sadie Salome.” She sang it merely to help Irving Berlin, then a newcomer, along. It started her on the road to fame and fortune.
She is a card shark.
When it is her turn to name the greatest actor in the world she cheers loud and long for Muni Weisenfrend.
Is never nervous on an opening night. Ten minutes before the opening curtain of Fioretta she was busy selling hats to chorus girls.
When signing checks she spells it “Fanny.” In the bright lights of Broadway she insists that it be “Fannie.”
She was once a Soubrette in a Hurtig and Seamon burlesque show.
Whenever she visits her mother she hears these two things: “Oh, did I cook a good soup yesterday. It was like gold.” And—“Fannie, save your money.”
She never dresses in the morning until after the bed has been made.
As a kid her ambition was to work in a candy store. So she could eat all the candy she wanted. Today her ambition is to write songs because Jolson does.
Likes to play the horses. Once was given a false tip and bet $400 on a horse that had never won a race. Through a fluke the horse managed to totter over the line a winner. That night the bookmaker not only delivered the money to her but also the horse.
As far as a favorite dish goes she is torn between an acquired taste for fried pork chops and a natural love for kippered herring.
No matter how hard she may try, she can’t say cinema, panorama and aluminum.
She summed up the Hollywood situation better than anyone else when she said: “I was out there eight months. i worked five weeks and got three years’ pay.”
At her wedding to Billy Rose she had a man, Jay Brennan, serve as bridesmaid.
Claims she never feels better than when she is expecting a baby.