Stories & Cast Interviews

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fanny of fiction?

Posted by: wbtpress on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 2:55:00 pm Comments (0)

Curious about the history behind all the razzle-dazzle? According to John Kenrick of Musicals …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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Make way for Mrs. Brice...Louisa lets loose!

Posted by: wbtpress on Friday, May 1, 2009 at 12:12:00 pm Comments (0)

Louisa Flaningam is brilliant on the WBT stage! She is a delight off stage too!  Read on!

I was born in a small town in South Carolina.  I’m actually a pre-baby boomer as I was born a few days before VE Day!  I lived the first few years of my life in that town in S.C where my grandmother was the county auditor.  My parents were trying to get set up in Washington, D.C. but it was hard after the war.  We didn’t really settle down as a family ‘til I was 6 in our new house in the suburb of Bethesda, Maryland.  I started dancing as a child and loved it.  However, when I started college at the University of Maryland I thought I had to study for a more “normal’ career.  Maryland had a modern dance department and it didn’t take long for my passion for dance to have me leaping about the stage and dream of New York!


I remember one day I was working on costumes for the dance company at university and the head of the department, Dorothy Madden, looked and me and said “you’re happy here, aren’t you?”  She had been a part of the early modern dance world of Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham and I thought she was a very wise woman.  I realized she was right…so as soon as I graduated I packed the U-Haul truck and headed to NYC.

I have been so fortunate to have worked with so many great people who were always willing to answer questions and give advice or just teach by example.  I got my first job and my union card by sneaking into an equity audition a couple months after I got to NY.  The next thing I knew I was at the Goodspeed Opera House in a revival of ALLEGRO.  The cast found out it was my first job and just took me under their collective wings.  They taught me how to sing harmony lines and not be afraid to ‘act’ even when I wasn’t dancing!  Years later Grover Dale who was the choreographer gave me my first Broadway job playing Charmin in the MAGIC SHOW with Doug Henning.  I learned there is the magic of the theatre but real magic can be very tricky, dangerous and make for a lot of bruises as you get sawed in half and transformed into a cougar!


I think I have been so blessed to have done such wonderful shows as COMPANY and have Elaine Stritch coach me on how to get a laugh….PIPPIN and knowing Bob Fosse

singing along side Georgio Tossi in the 1979 Broadway revival of THE MOST HAPPY FELLA and walking into Sardi’s opening night with my mother and father and having the whole place stand up and applaud.  To have Tony Randall tell you the most important thing an actor can do is….listen! Wow!  Traveling across this great country and playing all kind of theatres.   I particularly love the old theatres.  I remember that Penny Singleton once told me that in the vaudeville days they called each other “artists”.  How lucky to have spent the last 41 following in the footsteps of so many “artists and carrying on such a grand tradition!  So, I’ve done so many dream roles from Ma Joad in GRAPES OF WRATH to Daisy in DRIVING MISS DAISY to Bea in QUEEN OF THE STARDUST BALLROOM.  I just want to keep trying to do good work and who knows what the future holds!


FUNNY GIRL became a favorite show of mine ever since I worked as a dresser in a summer stock production on the Guber, Ford and Gross circuit in 1967 when I was still in college.  George Hamilton played Nick Arnstein and I actually did a play with him years later.  I wore the album out and Cornet Man was my up tempo audition song for probably 30 years!!!  So it is a real treat for me to play Mrs. Brice….particularly with such a glorious Fanny as portrayed by Jill!!!  And…sharing a dressing room with Karen McDonald and having her play my dear friend Mrs. Strakosh is just icing on the cake!!

My dear parents have passed on but were the best “stage” mom and dad.  They worried at first as all parents do when they think you’re crazy to try show biz but then relaxed and were great fans!! 


My husband, P.J. Benjamin, is not only a fabulous actor…he’s currently the Wizard in the Broadway show WICKED but he’s also a great guy.  It means so much to have such great understanding and support at home.   We first met on the National Tour of PIPPIN in 1975 and re –met on the national tour of TORCH SONG TRILOGY.  He was playing Arnold and I was playing Laurel.  It was September 5th, 1984 and the ‘first sneaked kiss in the elevator’ and we have been inseparable ever since.   And….that’s really the most important part of my life…home.  I love the theatre but as Fanny says…”you can’t take an audience home with you”.  I do work I love in order to enjoy my house and garden and trips and exploring and nights with candle light and a big white cat with a very loud meow and dreams of seeing Italy again and someday owning a boat and going out on the Chincoteague Bay on my beloved eastern shore of Virginia and watch the sun set with the man I love and enjoy all the beauty of this world for as long as I can.