BRICE, Fanny, actress-singer; born Fannie Borach, Forsyth St., N.Y.C., Oct. 29, 1891, died Hollywood, Califor., May 29, 1951; star of Ziegfield Follies, 1910-34, and many other Broadway shows; appeared in films My Man, The Great Ziegfeld, others; introduced song My Man, 1921; introduced radio character Baby Snooks, 1934; married Frank White, barbershop owner, 1909 (marriage immediately annulled); married Jules W. “Nicky” Arnstein, gambler, Oct. 19, 1918 (divorced 1927); married Billy Rose, showman, Feb. 8, 1929 (divorced Oct. 27, 1938; children Frances (Mrs. Raymond) Stark (born Aug. 12, 1919), William Brice (born April 23, 1921).
Frances Stark had arisen at 8, taken breakfast, driven herself downtown on an errand in her Rolls (“They’re just as common as Cadillacs in California”), returned, attended to family matters and gone out onto the court for a good game of tennis with her friend Ann Douglas, who is Mrs. Kirk Douglas.
Now, refreshed, relaxed, slim and poised, casually and immaculately clad, she sat in the living room of her Holmby Hills house. Frances Stark is the wife of Ray Stark, co-partner of Seven Arts Productions and producer of “The World of Suzie Wong” and many other motion pictures.
“Looking back at my childhood,” she said, “I feel it was all very exciting. I think of the nice, normal lives of my own children”—Peter, 19, a freshman at Claremont Men’s College; Wendy Ann, 16, an 11th-grader at Isabelle Buckley School, Los Angeles—“and I realize how extraordinary my own childhood was. One thing they lack out here is the chance to go to all the Broadway shows on Saturday matinees, which my brother William and I did and which was wonderful.
“Of course Bill and I were brought up strictly by Mother and by our French governess, but once a week on matinee day we’d come down to dine at either Dinty Moore’s or Lindy’s and then, from the wings, see Mother in her performance. Almost every summer we went to Europe with her, except for a few at Fire Island, long before Fire Island became famous. In the next house on the beach were the Gershwins, writing ‘Porgy and Bess.’ It was all marvelous. Or back in town, when Mother was married to Billy Rose, we’d get up to go to school in the mornings and the grown-ups would still be working on songs on which they’d started when we’d gone to bed.”
Their father was not Billy Rose. He was Jules W. “Nicky” Arnstein, the dapper and almost legendary con man to whom Fanny Brice remained loyal during the two years he spent in jail for conspiracy in a $5,000,000 bond theft.
Frances Stark, though she was very young when her parents broke up, has a clear memory of Arnstein.
“His manners were impeccable and he was impeccably dressed at all times; he was so very correct. I had had a baby nurse who was too lenient. He made Mother switch to the French governess. Mam’zelle simply adored him. He was very good-looking, very tall and sophisticated, and when Billy Rose came along Billy was not these things, so Mam’zelle was never very insane about him. We children never got really close to Billy Rose—who was so interesting and bright—until Mam’zelle left.
“I even remember my father’s parents. His father was German and his mother Scandinavian. They too were very correct—and very elderly. I guess you could say,” said Frances Stark, smiling, “that my father was the black sheep of a very fine family.”
None of the notoriety was known to her as a child. She recalls one day when she was 9: “I was walking along the street and saw a picture of something in a tabloid. That was my first awareness of any of it.”
She was to become aware of more—but she was never to come to a conclusion, a judgment. “My mother always, to the end, felt he was the patsy of that situation: that he could never have masterminded anything.”
And her mother always loved him.
To be the daughter of a Broadway star and of Nicky Arnstein was, Frances insists, no deprivation. “Actually, you see, we had a governess who was the heavy, who laid down the law. Our relationship with Mother was pleasant at all times.” She paused, “In my own house now, she said, “I am the policeman. Because I don’t work I feel I should be a housewife. I’ve never had a governess for my children. I’m the heavy.”
She and her husband bought a home with a tennis court and swimming pool about five years ago. “It’s a mistake ever to get these things for your children. They were going to play tennis and use the pool every day. As soon as we moved in, the kids started going to the beach. Luckily we make use of them ourselves.”
In her girlhood, she says, “The big thing was horses and riding until we moved to California.” They moved there in 1937, when her mother’s divorce from Billy Rose was slowly but surely in the making. “In New York I went to Dalton and had my own horse—its name was First Choice—at the Riding Club on West 66th St. I rode in the Madison Square Garden horse shows and the Long Island and Westchester circuit.”
She means that it was her own horse because she bought it. “Mother would give us money from time to time and Bill and I had small bank accounts. When I was 13 and he was about 11”—so she remembers—“we were allowed to use the money for what we wanted. I bought my horse and he bought a Picasso. It cost him about $900. Well, my horse is in the glue factory now and he’s got a very valuable painting.”
She met Ray Stark at a dinner party in Hollywood and married him in 1940, when she was 20. He is considered one of the real go-getters of producing. They are also considered way, way up in Hollywood aristocracy. Their parties—in a glassed-in lanai that can seat 100—are of the dinner-and-dance sort. Two bands, one Latin. Or everybody may go off to a projection room to see a new picture.
“I enjoy everything I do. I enjoy people. I love entertaining. I love clothes.” She is no stranger to the best-dressed lists. She made headlines in 1953 when robbed of $40,000 in jewelry at a New York City hotel. “I disagree with the attitude that Hollywood is slipping. There are going to be some changes in the way things are done, but there’ll always be an important entertainment business.”
WILLIAM BRICE HAD ARISEN AT 6:30, made himself some breakfast, driven 12-year-old John over to UCLA Elementary School. Now, eight minutes away by car from his sister, he sat in the studio he’d built across the lawn from his house—a 1936 experimental prefab designed by Richard Neutra.
The Picasso—a 1905 gouache of a young boy, “sort of between the rose period and the blue period”—hung on the opposite wall. “I remember exactly what it cost me,” said Brice. “I was 14, not 11. It cost $350, and my sister’s horse cost $750. I’ve never been without that Picasso since.”
He was steered into buying it by painter Henry Botkin, a friend with whom he first studied “when I was 13½ going on 14. It was pretty clear to me shortly after that that my career would be in art.” He’d been going to the museums even earlier, and his mother—who had done a lot of drawing as a child and who continued to do some painting—gave him every encouragment.
“Also there was that wonderful environment: the enthusiasm of her friends: Clifford Odets, the Gershwin’s, Ben Hecht. Hecht was enormously sympathetic and really helped me a good deal.
“My mother was not a doting parent in relation to one’s work, which was very good. She was sharply critical and had a good eye. Although, as you know, no mediums are interchangeable, there are certain principles of action that transcend the form. So from her I really understood the kind of dedication necessary in the sense of her own work in the theater.”
Brice chooses his words slowly and carefully. “She had absolute integrity,” he said, “and a great deal of—the word is fortitude, but simultaneously she depended a great deal upon her intuitive response. You felt things from the inside, you didn’t get them from the outside. She would use the phrase: ‘A little bird told me.’”
Her son, after they moved to California, came back to New York to live for a year with the Botkins and attend the Art Students League. He also went to art school in Los Angeles.
He had a short spell in the air force—and won a Yank magazine mural contest—before being discharged for asthma. By then he had married Shirley Ann Bardeen. ‘When I came out of the Air Force I felt the most important thing for me to do was as much painting as possible—not to be in art school but to be independent.”
In this his mother “was extremely helpful for a couple of years. The best way to describe it would be to say that she subsidized me.”
Today, apart from what he terms a small income, he is self-sustaining. For the past 10 years he has been an associate professor of art at UCLA. “At present it is a question of whether we could live as we do without my university salary.”
He had his first one-man show at the Santa Barbara Museum in 1947; his first New York City one-man show at the Downtown Gallery in 1948. He might be classified, loosely, as a figurative painter with degrees of abstraction. Brice’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Chicago Institute, the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem and many others; his present New York gallery is the Alan. Last year the Ford Foundation awarded him the Tamarind Fellowship in lithography. His wife Shirley works on the UCLA Arts Council. “Los Angeles is probably second to New York in numbers of artists and galleries.”
He has no childhood memory of his father, but he has something perhaps better than that. Nicky Arnstein and William Brice spent a couple of days together—two different ways—when the father was 65 and the son was 23.
“I must say he was very much as my mother had pictured him. Quite agile, very dapper, a man of considerable style. He was involved in a project of converting a reclaimed Canadian cruiser into a banana ship. I spent one day going down to the San Pedro shipyards to inspect it with him.
“He told me,” said William Brice, “that his original interest in life had been architecture. And he seemed very concerned with the esthetic aspects of the conversion. Or, the other day we had together, he told me some really intriguing stories of his early youth and travels. A fascinating reconteur.”