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Allen, Gracie (26 July 1895–27 August 1964), actress and comedienne, was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen in San Francisco, California, the daughter of George Allen, an Irish clog and minstrel dancer, and Margaret Darragh. The year of her birth has been cited as late as 1906, but the 1900 U.S. Census confirms the 1895 date. Gracie was the family’s fifth child and fourth daughter. Sometime after 1900 Allen’s father deserted the family, and her mother married Edward Pidgeon, a San Francisco police captain....

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Fanny Brice. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-101799).

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Brice, Fanny (29 October 1891–29 May 1951), comedienne and singer, was born Fania Borach in New York City, the daughter of Charles Borach, a bartender, and Rose Stern. The third of four children, all born on New York’s Lower East Side, she was raised in a Newark, New Jersey, middle-class home complete with household servants and material comforts. Her parents separated in 1902, and Rose moved the family to St. Marks Place in Brooklyn, New York, where Fanny got the remnants of her formal education at public schools....

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Radner, Gilda (28 June 1946–20 May 1989), comedian, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Herman Radner, the wealthy owner of a real estate business and a brewery, and Henrietta Dworkin Radner. She later recalled that her father, an amateur tap dancer and magician who “couldn't carry a tray to the table without tripping to make us kids laugh and make my mother nervous,” spurred her own interest in performing comedy (quoted in Saltman, p. 37). An obese child, she learned to poke fun at herself before others could make fun of her: “If you can decide to be funny, I decided it at the age of ten. When I was ten, I said to myself, ‘You're not going to make it on looks …' I just knew if people said I was fat, I'd laugh and make jokes about it and that would be my world” (quoted in ...