Funny Fanny's Ziegfield Debut
Ah, Fanny Brice. The name alone evokes the image of a Jewish woman on-stage in glamorous costume, making fun of herself. Well, that and, of course, Barbra Streisand singing “People.” This week marks the 98th anniversary of Ms. Brice’s iconic debut in Ziegfield’s Follies as “Sadie Salome,” her breakthrough role.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of watching Making Trouble, the documentary portrait of six funny Jewish ladies, including Fanny Brice. I’m fascinated by the push-pull of Fanny’s Jewishness as a performer. While Fanny was a native English speaker, she adopted a stereotypically Yiddish accent for performance. But she was also one of the first women to publicly have a nose job in order to make herself look less ethnic. What is so interesting to me is that Ms. Brice felt that she needed to be both more and less identifiably Jewish in order to ensure the success of her career.
I wonder if that same push-pull is something many American Jewish women do as we negotiate our multiple identities. Maybe not so overtly as taking on false accents or undergoing plastic surgery, but sometimes I notice how we do or don’t talk about Jewishness in the workplace, or how much fun we are willing to poke at ourselves, about what, and in front of whom. Certainly Fanny Brice provides one interesting example of how to navigate that blurry space between Jewish and American.