Hollywood biographical films are some of the most entertaining and inspirational kinds of movies to watch, they are also mostly incorrect...and that's OK! For those of you bitching about Feud not being historically accurate, how can you consider yourself a true classic film lover if you insist that citations are more important than a great story line? This is Hollywood, NOT the History Channel, damn!
Funny Girl is no exception to this trend. Apparently, Fanny Brice had someone put together a biography before she passed away unexpectedly from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1951. Her daughter, Fran and son in law, Ray Stark hated the end product so much that they paid $50k to buy it back from the publisher. That is how the play came to be, which was a hot mess and took years to actually come to fruition.
Fran wanted Fanny to come off as a "lady", not the kooky comedienne that made her famous. An additional problem was that Fran's father, Fanny's ex-husband, Nicky Arnstein was still alive when the musical was getting put together and he was....not like the version we know him as through hot ass Omar Sharif. Since the main storyline in Funny Girl is the love story, that is where the majority of the untruths are told. (Don't get it twisted, her pre-fame life wasn't as hard as they made it seem either. Nobody was living anywhere near Henry Street!)
Omar Sharif playing Nicky Arnstein (right) is like Leonardo DiCaprio playing Winston Churchill. Basically, you're welcome Nick.
The real Fanny Brice (left) and Barbra didn't have as many similarities as the publicity men wanted us to think they did.
Here's what really went down in the Arnstein/Brice love affair. Honestly, this would be a great Real Housewives storyline, it's that messy.
- Fanny and Nicky first met in Baltimore in 1912 where he was betting on horses, but under a different name because he was a shady ass criminal (He had already been arrested in three different countries. He was a catch, really.) She was there touring with the Shubert Brothers. So, NOT at Keeney's Vaudeville Theather like in the musical.
- Nick followed Fanny around while she toured, spending her money and when they got back to NYC, moved in with her. Mama Brice (really named Rose Borach, that was Fanny's real surname) didn't like Nick from the word go and Fanny had Nick investigated and guess who was still married? Yep.
- The still married Nick ended up in Sing Sing for wiretapping and Fanny visited every week. Seriously, what did this guy have, a platinum prick? His first wife finally divorced him and named Fanny as the reason in court documents.
- Six years after living together, Fanny and Nick got married in 1919, two months before Fran was born. Yeahhhhhh, Fanny was definitely ahead of her time on that one.
- In 1920 Nick went into hiding because he had stolen FIVE MILLION dollars in Wall Street securities. Yeah, 5 mill in 1920! Holly crap. So, he's in hiding and the press is hounding Fanny, who's pregnant with their son, William. (Who did not want to be mentioned in Funny Girl. He was a college professor and artist.) Putting your family first, what a sweet guy, that Nicky Arnstein! Douche.
- After four months Nick finally gave himself up and spent 3 years in prison. The warden's wife cooked his meals for him...1920s Wolf of Wall Street, right? Of course, Fanny paid for all of this legal bills. Again....why?
- In 1927 it was Fanny who divorced Nick. He was cheating on her with an older, richer and clearly dumber woman. Not surprising, Nick wasn't a very present father in his children's lives and had threatened to sue his son in law if Funny Girl wasn't up to his liking. What an ass.
- Just like in Funny Lady, Nick tried to reconcile with Fanny in 1940. By then she had married and divorced Billy Rose. So that part, was accurate.
I think a really great "biographical" film should be so interesting that it makes you want to investigate what really happened. Hollywood execs are not known for being very bright, why would you expect them to insist on the truth in their movies? A biographer, with citations and bibliographies, is a different story.
There was a TON of other things I'm leaving out of Fanny's story that are equally as interesting and NOT in the movie, but if Fanny Brice doesn't turn your fancy, there's a good website that loves to debunk musicals. It's run by John Kenrick and I have been reading his site for years. I used it as a reference for this post (as well as other books and websites, but his site is really fab.) So go find out how off Yankee Doodle Dandy or the Great Ziegfeld was and maybe look up a good biography afterwards!!
Check out Barbra and Fanny singing the same song, below.