Rose's Ex Sees 'Lady' As Untrue

"Fanny Brice no more caught us in the kip than the man in the moon," laughed Eleanor Holm Whelan about the film, "Funny Lady" in which Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice catches Miss Holm and Billy Rose in bed in a Cleveland hotel room.

Was Miss Holm paid for allowing her name to be used and for permitting an actress to portray her on the screen in "Funny Lady?"

"Yes, I got money for it, but I won't discuss how much." Miss Holm, who is now Mrs. Tommy Whelan and lives here in Miami Beach, would neither confirm nor deny the rumor that the amount was $50,000.

(Below: Billy Rose's 1937 Great Lakes Exposition Aquacade in Cleveland, Ohio.)

Eleanor Holm in the day

"They told me," she said, "that the girl who was going to play me would have no lines—and she didn't. They also told me there were going to be no scenes between Fanny and me, except the one water scene. What they didn't tell me up front were those conversations about me between Fanny and Billy. In my contract it says that nothing derogatory would be said about me ... and so forth.

"What did bother me was toward the end of the movie when Fanny asked Billy, ‘How much did that bitch,’ meaning me, ‘peg you for?’

"Ask anyone who knew us then. I just wanted out so I walked with no money. It took me two and one-half years of marriage to do it. Billy was worth $15 million when I left him. I eventually got a settlement of $250,000, pieced out bit by bit over 10 years.

"The story of ‘Funny Lady’ is just ridiculous, but I think Barbra Streisand is simply fantastic in it. I was told, when they came to see me about the movie, that Al Pacino would play Billy. I compared pictures I had of Billy to the Pacino boy and he really looked just like Billy when I first met him. I guess they couldn't get Pacino. James Caan is nothing at all like Billy. He's a good actor, but he wasn't Billy."

(Photo, right: Heidi O'Rourke plays Holms in Funny Lady, seen here with James Caan and Barbra Streisand in a scene from the film.)

In the film, Fanny Brice has only one child, Frances, who is now the wife of "Funny Lady" producer Ray Stark. Miss Holm wondered why Miss Brice's son Billy Brice is not mentioned, nor does he appear in the film.

"He probably didn't give permission," said Miss Holm. "I know that Billy Rose was terribly fond of Billy Brice. They remained real good friends. I remember that Billy Rose later was so proud of Billy Brice and the fact he has become a fine painter. He bought Billy Brice's paintings and hung them in his home along with all of his other great art works.

And that that whole business with her taking the plane: it never happened. I guess they put it in so Barbra could get to sing that song as she flew. Maybe Fanny did fly a plane but I know damn well she didn't fly it from California and catch me in that kip."

Heidi's in the Swim with Funny Lady

“Esther Williams is NOT my inspiration,” says Heidi O’Rourke, trying hard to look bemused. In fact, the swimming champion adds on behalf of her aqua peers, Esther Williams isn’t exactly popular in the realm of synchronized swimming. “I recently saw ‘That’s Entertainment’ and those swimming scenes for the first time,” the 21- year-old co-star of “Funny Lady” (which will feature the first major water ballet footage in years), explains coolly. “Most synchronized swimmers resent Esther Williams. What she does is 25 years out of date, it's nothing like the real sport, and she wasn't that good.”

Heidi and Vereen

O'Rourke, a Stanford University student of Germanic languages, shoots a glace at a tall, stern Columbia chaperone, then continues: "Williams never even got her leg in the air. The techniques of synchronized swimming today have improved so much, it has very little to do with what you see in those movies. What was behind Williams was the concept of the beautiful woman—and all that intense, lavish production. Jumping from towers into fire; Falling off a trapeze. Unfortunately, most people still think of synchronized swimming that way."

Heidi O’Rourke, a bright, plain-spoken young lady—if a bit cynical when it comes to movie-making—is entitled to speak. At 10 she won her first prize, at 12 she began working six days a week, six hours a day, and at 15 she won her first national championship. The personal choice of producer Ray Stark, out of more than 50 swimming candidates, the coed appears in scenes with Barbra Streisand and James Caan—but did not leave “Funny Lady” anxious to return to pictures.

The swimming scenes with Streisand were downright uncomfortable, she says, especially after the star demanded the water be heated to 92 degrees. But wasn't Ms. O'Rourke impressed with Caan, one of the more virile of Hollywood superstars? A slight, ironic smile appears at the corner of her mouth. “Impressed is not quite the word I would use,” O'Rourke says, adding that Caan was nice enough, loose and playful. But a lady must maintain her poise no matter what the subject. “Somebody came up to me and said breathlessly, would I like to meet James Caan? My reply was: Would James Caan like to meet me?”


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