Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did Fanny Brice Ever Really Live in Great Neck?

Over the years, claims have been made that many famous people lived in Great Neck.  At the library, we give claims that can be substantiated credence, but if we cannot find hard evidence to support a contention, we tend to qualify it by saying "Maybe," or "Yes, a lot of people say that, but no one seems to know for sure."
Fanny Brice: a gifted comedienne, for sure, but did she ever live in Great Neck?
We often hear that Fanny Brice was one of the famous actors who lived in Great Neck, back when our community was a “place to be” for actors, Vaudevillians, producers, and writers of note. Though it’s always hard to prove a negative, it would seem that Ms. Brice (nee Fania Borach) never really lived in Great Neck.

A biography in the Library’s collection, Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl, by Herbert G. Goldman, lists many residences for Brice, but not one of them is in Great Neck.  Nor does The Fabulous Fanny, by Norman Katkov mention Great Neck.  The 1920 census locates Ms. Brice in Manhattan.

Fanny was married three times – briefly, to a barber named Frank White, to Nicky Arnstein (a.k.a. Julius Arndstein and Jules Arnold), and to Billy Rose.  During their marriage, Arnstein spent time in Leavenworth prison where Fanny visited him frequently.  After Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice divorced in 1927, Nicky married one Isabelle Matlack.  That marriage, in Quebec, was recorded in the New York Times on January 7, 1930.  This announcement listed the bride as the daughter of J. C. Matlack of Beverly Road in Great Neck.  The obituary for Isabelle Matlack’s mother, also in the New York Times, lists her residence as 4 Beverly Road.  An essay about Kensington in the files of our local history collection mentions that Arnstein lived briefly on Beverly Road.  Could this Arnstein-Matlack connection, tenuous as it is, be the basis of the idea that Fanny Brice lived in Great Neck?
Do you have any evidence that Fanny Brice lived in Great Neck? If so, we’d sure like to know about it.
Postcard of the Bel Air, CA residence of Fanny Brice

1 comment:

  1. why not check the local tax records...if they go that far back...I grew up in Great Neck in the 1950s and all locals I spoke to at the time (I was 15 when I left in 1956) said that the abandoned mansion (large house) just to the left of and behind the Kensington Gates was owned by Fanny Brice who had abandoned it sometime earlier but left funds for tax payments. I wonder if those payments would be in her name?