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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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Edward L. Lach, Jr.

Lewis, Shari (17 January 1934–02 August 1998), entertainer, was born Shari Hurwitz in New York City, the daughter of Abraham Hurwitz, college professor, and Ann Ritz Hurwitz, a public school music supervisor. She grew up in a household that encouraged artistic expression; after beginning piano lessons at the age of two, she also studied singing, acting, and dancing. Her father was also a professional magician, and Hurwitz accompanied him on USO tours during World War II. While convalescing from an injury, she also learned ventriloquism, which would later serve her well. After graduating from New York's Music and Art High School in 1950, she is said to have briefly attended nearby Columbia University, where she studied drama, although this cannot be confirmed. Her professional “break” came in 1951, when she appeared on the “Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts” television program and won a prize for a puppetry act....

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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 ...