If Brice was particularly private about his work and his studio, he was especially social in every other sphere of his life. This split was nearly a ‘schizophrenic’ divide. Away from the studio, Brice moved remarkably easily among many different social circles in Los Angeles, Northern California, New York, and Europe. He spoke French fluently and his LA home was one of the way stations for New Yorkers and Europeans who visited the “coast.”
Those who knew Brice have described him as extremely intelligent, erudite, voluble, assured, respectful, generous, and very, very funny. Such a rare combination of qualities clearly describes a fascinating and unique man, but also explain the character and capabilities that enabled Brice to engage in such a broadly divergent social life while remaining absolutely dedicated to his art.
Brice was a much sought-after UCLA art professor for thirty-eight years who enjoyed his collegial relationships. He was also an inside force within the Art Department and worked to help build it into the world-renowned art school that it is today. Brice was so esteemed by UCLA’s administration that he was eventually offered the deanship of the Art Department, an honor he ultimately turned down as he preferred teaching and knew the position would severely limit his time in the studio.
“He was such an important factor for so many years at UCLA…When I was a graduate student in art history, he was a premier member of the painting department.
“Bill was a person who many students turned to as their guide…He was highly respected, and in his great role as a mentor, he worked closely with students such as Peter Alexander, Judy Chicago, Charles Garabedian, Ed Moses, and others.”
Henry Hopkins (Former Chair of the UCLA Art Department,
Director of the UCLA Hammer Museum,
Director of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,
Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)
UCLA News Room, March 19, 2008
Brice actively supported the greater Los Angeles art community as well. He frequently served on committees for various institutions and was adept at helping to bring factions together. He enjoyed enduring relationships with numerous LA artists and former art students of varying generations, regularly lunching and seeing exhibitions with them or visiting their studios and shows.
However, he was equally comfortable with the Hollywood community. Movie producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, and costume designers were close friends. Growing up with his mother in New York and then Beverly Hills meant growing up with composers like the Gershwins and Jerome Kern, comedians/humorists like Will Rogers, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, stars like John Barrymore, Judy Garland, Tracy and Hepburn, and directors like George Cukor. Throughout his adult life, Brice and his wife frequented the Beverly Hills home of Brice’s sister and brother-in-law, Ray Stark, one of Hollywood’s most successful agents and producers from the 1950’s to the 2000’s. The Brices regularly dined at the Starks’ and watched the latest movies with them and their industry friends or attended the Starks’ gala parties.
Yet other groups of friends included academics, novelists, doctors, psychologists, composers, architects, museum curators, and others.
However, at the center of Brice’s Los Angeles social world was a small group of constant intimates, who contributed greatly to the rise of Los Angeles as one of the world’s great art centers. They included:
Vincent Price, actor, gallerist, and art collector, who had studied art history at Yale and was a member of the Courtauld Institute, London. Price briefly had his own art gallery and throughout his life promoted the arts in Los Angeles including supporting what has become the Vincent Price Museum on the campus of East Los Angeles Community College. (For more on Vincent Price, please see: Library/Links/Colleagues and Friends/Price, Vincent)
Frank Perls, Beverly Hills art dealer of international renown, who represented Brice from 1950 to the late 1960’s.
Mr. Perls was German-born. His parents owned a famed collection of modern art in Berlin before World War I and successively managed two galleries: Kunsthandlung Hugo Perls in Berlin and, after his parents’ divorce in 1931, his mother opened Galerie Käte Perls in Paris. Perls met Picasso and Dora Maar in 1936 at the Café de Flore, while his mother was preparing an exhibition titled “Picasso 1900 à 1910” that took place in the summer of 1937. Perls became friends with Picasso, represented his work in Los Angeles and visited the artist numerous times throughout his life. He also became close to the Matisse family.
Due to the Great Depression and the fall of the Paris art market, Perls and his older brother, Klaus, opened the Perls Galleries at 32 East 58 Street in Manhattan in 1937. Just two years later, the brothers dissolved their business relationship. Klaus remained in New York and represented artists from the School of Paris, while Perls moved to Los Angeles and opened the Frank Perls Gallery on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood just prior to WWII. He represented arts such as Vlaminck, Utrillo, Dufy, Picasso, Rouault, and Man Ray
In 1942, Perls enlisted in the US Army. He became a Master Sergeant and interpreter, and eventually the Commanding Officer in the Arts and Monuments Section of the Allied Military Government in Germany. He was responsible for locating Hermann Goering’s 1,400 works of art the Nazis had stolen from Jewish collectors, which included paintings by Botticelli, Monet, and van Gogh. In 1944, Perls was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious conduct.
Perls returned to Los Angeles after the war and in 1950 opened a new gallery in the center of Beverly Hills on North Camden Drive. His was the first gallery to exhibit Giacometti and Matisse in California. He also showed Braque, Calder, Chagall, Dubuffet, Klee, Miro, Moore, and Picasso, in addition to the California artists William Brice, Rico Lebrun, James McGarrell, Channing Peake, James Strombotne, and Howard Warsaw. He organized two landmark exhibitions at the University of California Los Angeles Art Galleries: “‘Bonne fête’ Monsieur Picasso, from Southern California Collectors” in 1961 and “Henri Matisse: Retrospective” in 1966. Two years later, Perls set auction records when he bought Juan Gris’s Still Life with a Poem and Rouault’s The Chinese Man at Parke Bernet.
A self-appointed guardian angel of art, with a keen eye for forgeries and a unique, unvarnished personality, Perls became famous for, among many things, being the first to spot that Elmyr de Hory was a master forger as detailed in Clifford Irving’s book, FAKE! The book became the basis for the Orson Wells’ movie, F for Fake. Perls was also known to rise in auctions to shout “fake” when he felt so moved. In one such incident he was thrown out of the auction house by guards only to be summoned back the next day to receive an apology from the head the company as Mr. Perls had, indeed, spotted another fraudulent work of art (For more on Frank Perls, please see: Library/Links/William Brice/Galleries of/Frank Perls Gallery).
Ann (Perls) Rosener, photographer who became famous during WWII for photographing women on the home front. After the war she was married briefly to Frank Perls and remained good friends with him until his death. After WWII, she worked as a photographer for Time and Life magazines, and then a graphics designer on the 1950’s TV show, Death Valley Days. She also worked on the movie Around the World in 80 Days, which was written by Barbara Poe’s husband, James Poe (see Barbara Poe below) and which received one of its five Oscars for Best Screenplay. In the 1960’s, Rosener moved from Los Angeles to Menlo Park and worked at Stanford University as a graphic designer. There, she worked with Brice’s close friend, Richard Diebenkorn, on his Stanford catalogs in the early 1960’s. In 1991, she edited and designed for her publishing company, Occasional Works, a collection of eleven poems by C.P. Cavafy entitled, In Simple Clothes, which was illustrated by William Brice with original etchings. (For more on Ann (Perls) Rosener, please see: Photo Album/Diebenkorn and Brice, as well as Library/Links/Colleagues and Friends/Rosener, Ann (Perls)).
Barbara Poe also painted and actively supported the arts. Her father, Bernard Reis, was an art collector and at the center of the New York art world for many years. He advised Brice on Brice’s 1958 sabbatical trip to Europe that was dedicated to the study of French and Italian frescoes. (For more on Bernard Reis, please see: Library/Links/Colleagues and Friends/Reis, Bernard)
Frances (Lasker) and Sidney Brody were philanthropists who were particularly influential in the development of Los Angeles’ cultural life as founding benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. President Reagan appointed Mr. Brody to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Mrs. Brody became a guiding patron of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens.
The Brodys began collecting art in the 1950’s at the urging of Francie’s father and stepmother, Albert and Mary Lasker. Their collection eventually included Moore, Braque, Bonnard, Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, Degas, Dufy, Matisse, Renoir, and Rodin, as well as Calder mobiles, Etruscan artifacts, and Japanese prints.
Shirley Brice volunteered with Francie on the UCLA Arts Council as did Vincent Price and Barbara Poe and many mutual friends. Among the Council’s achievements was their collaboration with Chancellor Murphy to develop the UCLA sculpture garden, which is now named the Murphy Sculpture Garden and is part of the Hammer museum. (For more on the Brodys, please see: Library/Links/Colleagues and Friends/Brody, Sidney and Frances)
Peter Matisse, art dealer and the grandson of Henri Matisse. He was a close friend of all during the 1960’s when he lived in Los Angeles.