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October 29: Baby Snooks

October 28, 2015

fanny_brice_0Fanny Brice (Borach), star of stage, screen, recordings and radio airwaves, was born in New York on this date in 1891. She headlined the Ziegfield Follies from 1910-1911 and again in the ’20s and ’30s, and had hit songs there with “Second Hand Rose” and “My Man.” “Her lampoon of sultry Theda Bara,” wrote the New York Times upon her death at 59 in 1951, “her take-off of ‘Camille,’ with W. C. Fields as the maid, and her travesty on fan dancers and the modern dance, were part of the repertoire of the actress whom Brooks Atkinson... described as ‘a burlesque comic of the rarest vintage.’ ” In the 1930s and ’40s, she was one of America’s favorite radio stars as “Baby Snooks,” a bratty toddler. “Whether spoofing ballerinas, opera singers, movie vamps, child stars, or nudists,” writes Barbara Wallace Grossman at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “her zany comedy made her special, and her lunatic creations inspired endless delight. A brilliant clown and a consummate professional, Brice was a genuinely funny woman who turned to show business, like so many other children of immigrants, and fulfilled the American dream.”

“Dissatisfied with being ‘just a comic,’ Brice still sought acceptance as a serious actor in a starring vehicle. In 1923, tired of being a sight gag, she decided to have cosmetic surgery on her nose. Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker quipped that Brice had ‘cut off her nose to spite her race,’ and there was probably far more truth to that acerbic statement than Brice ever acknowledged. However legitimate her dramatic aspirations, she was motivated in part by her wish to escape from the ethnicity of her comedy. She seems to have decided that her Yiddish-accented routines had become too limiting, particularly in the xenophobic and racist climate of the 1920s when prejudice against ethnic groups was very real.” —Barbara Wallace Grossman