clockwise from top:
Jules “Nicky” Arnstein;
Lew Brice and James Cagney;
Frances, Fanny, and William Brice;
Frances and William
William Jules Brice was born on April 23, in New York City, the second child of the Broadway star Fanny Brice and Jules “Nicky” Arnstein – his sister Frances was born in 1919. His mother was a tough, driven perfectionist, while his father was a gambler and con artist with extravagant tastes. Nicky was essentially absent, first incarcerated for securities fraud when Brice was an infant, then estranged after he and Fanny divorced in 1927. The demands of stardom kept Fanny late at the theater and on the road touring, leaving Brice and his sister largely to the charge of French governesses, who looked after the children in the Brices’ luxurious brownstone on New York’s East Side, and on summer holidays in Europe.
Still living in New York City, his mother married Billy Rose in a ceremony officiated by Mayor James Walker in New York. They had met much earlier, when he was a stenographic clerk to her friend, financier and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch.