Fanny of fiction?
Curious about the history behind all the razzle-dazzle? According to John Kenrick of Musicals 101.com …it was reshaped quite a bit for the stage!
Fanny's family name was Borach. After her career took off in burlesque, she changed it to Brice, but her mother was always known as Mrs. Rose Borach.
Fanny was not an only child, but the third of four. Fanny's parents owned a chain of profitable saloons in Newark, New Jersey. So they raised their family in comfort, with household servants and trips to visit relatives in Europe.
Fanny's mother Rose spent years managing those saloons while her husband played cards and drank heavily. Rose finally got a legal separation, sold off the saloons and took the kids to Brooklyn, where she made a good 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 swanky Beekman Place – nothing like the lower class Henry Streetlife seen in the musical.
Fanny made her amateur debut as a solo singer at Frank Keeney's popular Brooklyn vaudeville theatre. She was never part of the chorus, on roller skates or otherwise.
Fanny was fired from a chorus by Broadway legend George M. Cohan. He dropped Brice from the Broadway cast of Talk of the Town because she could not dance. To cover her disappointment, Fanny claimed she was dumped because of her "skinny legs." That incident inspired the Keeney scenes in the musical.
In her teens, Fanny was married to (and quickly divorced from) Frank White, a small town barber with a taste for young actresses. Although the union was brief, Fanny later claimed it was consummated, so she lost her sexual innocence years before meeting Nick.
Fanny was not in Brooklyn burlesque when Ziegfeld sent for her. In fact, she had already made her legit debut in a touring Shubert Brothers production.
While it is true that Fanny performed material her own way, the pregnant bride number depicted in Funny Girl never happened. Fanny actually made her Follies debut in 1910 singing the now forgotten song "Lovey Joe." Fannny and Ziegfeld always treated each other with professional and personal respect. She always abided by his creative decisions, and never "gave him an ulcer."
Nick Arnstein, “gorgeous"? Oy vey! He may have been sophisticated, and at 6'6" he towered over most men, but he was not a beauty.
Fanny first met Nick in Baltimore while on tour in the Shubert Brother's 1912 revue Whirl of Society. Betting on horses under the alias "Nick Arnold," his real name was Julius Arnstein. He used several aliases to cover his international criminal record.
Nick tagged along with the Whirl of Society tour, returned to New York with Fanny, and immediately moved in with her and her mother. He also began spending Fanny's money. Mrs. Borach saw through Arnstein's charms and distrusted him from day one.
Fanny had Nick investigated and learned he was still married to his first wife. Hopelessly in love, Fanny pretended 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 depicts Arnstein as a classy gambler who turned to crime because he didn't want to live on Fanny's money. Not so! Nick was a common criminal and had no qualms about sponging off Fanny for their entire marriage.
Before meeting her, he had already been arrested for swindling in three European countries. Shortly after they met (and before their marriage), he was jailed for wiretapping. The lovesick Fanny visited him weekly in Sing Sing, so she knew what he was long before they exchanged vows.
Nick and Fanny had a daughter named Frances (who later married producer Ray Stark) and a son named William who became a respected artist and college professor. By mutual agreement, William was not mentioned in Funny Girl.
Fanny owned a Manhattan townhouse on West 76th Street and a large county place in Huntington, Long Island. Her money paid for both, so Arnstein's financial losses never changed their living arrangements.
Funny Girl suggests Nick's big "mistake" was selling phony bonds. In fact, he was part of a gang that deliberately stole five million dollars worth of Wall Street securities – a tremendous sum in 1920. Instead of gallantly turning himself in as depicted in the film, he stayed in hiding for four months, leaving Fanny to face the intense press and police harassment while giving birth to their son William. When Nick finally surrendered to the authorities, he fought the charges on every possible technicality for four years - and three guesses who worked like a slave to pay off Nick's gargantuan legal bills.
A federal court finally threw Nick into Leavenworth for 14 months, where Fanny used her influence to arrange for special treatment (including meals cooked by the warden's wife!).
Fanny finally divorced Nick in 1927 after discovering that he was having an affair with an older, wealthier woman.
Nick attempted reconciliation with Fanny in the late 1940s, but she wisely chose not to risk dealing with him again.