He was born Julius Wilford Arndstein in Norway on July 1, 1879, the son of a German Jew named Moses Arndstein and his Dutch wife, Thekla Van Shaw¹. They came to the United States when he was an infant and received a good education and worked as a contractor for a time. But Nick was like French Charlie; he quickly became bored. Only certain women called him “Jules,” an Anglicization that he much preferred to “Julius.” Friends, acquaintances, and “business” partners, called him, Nick, a diminutive of “Nickel-plate,” the nickname he had gotten in his teens because the wheels of his bicycle had nickel-plated spokes.
Bicycle racing was a major sport in the 1898, its “professionalism” stemming, mostly, from the gambling that then ran every sport from boxing to horse racing. Throwing bike races drew Nick into a permanent alliance with professional gamblers, confidence men, and various parts of the sports underworld. He was at home in their world, and the Gondorf brothers quickly saw how this well-educated, polished young man could be valuable in many operations. — Herbert Goldman, Fanny Brice the Original Funny Girl.
Nicky Arnstein and the Gondorf specialized in fleecing the rich in elegant settings particularly trans-atlantic liners that cris-crossed from New York harbor to Europe in the days before airlines. From there Arnstein followed his pigeons to the big casinos, sweet talking them with his rich baritone voice only to get arrested because his six foot six inch height made his easy to spot.
In 1912 he met his partner Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928), the famous gangster best known for throwing the 1919 White Sox world series and Nicky admitted
“I knew him not only as the king of the gamblers, but as the whitest [most honorable] of them all! . . .”He was interested in everything involving chance, to the point of a passion. Racing thrilled him . . . He never gave one a wrong tip in his life.”
He remained true to those words all his life.
Nicky tied the knot the first time to Carrie Greenthal, a Jersey City, New Jersey girl in May 1906, but a few years later abandoned her having gotten bored. Fanny Brice met him in 1912 and immediately fell head over heels for the handsome, tall man with a mustache, elegant manners and rich clothing — he embroidered his shirts with his initials J.W.A. Despite his Jewish father and name, his parents raised him and his brother Louis and sister Gesina Episcopalian and he attended those schools and clubs.
When Fanny Brice met Nicky, he mentioned his one incarceration in the States, none of those aboard and not his marriage. She found out though and it took six years for Arnstein to get a divorce and marry her.
In 1915, the US States government convicted Arnstein of swindling. He went to Sing Sing Federal penitentiary in Ossining New York to serve out his term. Fanny Brice visited him weekly and then Carrie Greenthal Arnstein’s wife sued Brice for alienation of affection. Money was exchanged and a divorce decreed, as for Carrie Arnstein, she disappeared into the swamps of Jersey.
As for Arnstein and Brice, they married later that same day. Two months later daughter Frances (1919-1992) was born. Son William, named for Arnstein and Rothstein’s lawyer, William Fallon, (1921-2008) followed.
Then on May 16, 1926, Arnstein again ran foul of the Feds. This time on conspiracy charge for stealing $5M worth of Edward M. Fuller and William F. McKee bonds, bucket shot operators. The story broke in William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers as Hearst had made a name exposing the bucket-shop operations trying to force them out of business.
The Bucket Shop Operation
Bucket ships were a small time legal brokerage firm. Many were honest but there were just as many that were corrupt. Today they often operate on the Penny Stock pages or Pink Sheets. Arnold Rothstein acted as a fence for the illegal buckets, taking valuable securities off their hands they had gotten from their clients and exchanging them with clean money. When they needed legal advice, Rothstein supplied that too, via his friend Fallon.
In the Fuller and McKee bond business, there had been several robberies in the security firms in the past few years. The scenario was that they would dispatch a messenger with an envelope containing thousands of dollars in securities. On his way to the brokerage house or bank, the messenger would be held up, beaten up, attacked and robbed. The houses provided no guards for the messengers even after the thefts became pandemic. Obviously, everyone was cut in on this deal, and the police said the person who engineered it was a “Mastermind,” and they put out bounties to capture him.
Originally Arnold Rothstein was thought to be the Mastermind but after the police arrested several men who held up the messengers they discovered that it was Arnstein.² Convicted, Arnstein served three years in Leavenworth, Fort Leavenworth Kansas and was once again the prison librarian. While in prison, his best friend Arnold Rothstein was murdered. To add salt to the wound, soon after his release, Fanny divorced him.
Arnstein is a locomotive temperament type. His open area is at the bottom third of the map suggesting that he was an extroverted person and motivated by self-interests. His empty fourth house suggests that he had little personal/family life that plagued him.
Nicky’s ascendant at 21 Leo ‘Hurdlers stretching before a race” highlight his ability to focus on future gains by foregoing present enjoyment. It is noticeable that he has no major oppositions in his chart much like FDR. This aspect suggests he was a strong individual who shaped his life more according to his dreams than his circumstances, which like being a prison librarian, he adapted to gracefully.
the Later Years
After his divorce from Fanny, Nicky married Isabelle McCullough. They remained married until her death, twenty years later, in Palm Springs, California on New Year’s day. After her death Nick tried to reconnect with Fanny and the children but that proved unsuccessful.
QUEBEC, Jan. 6 (AP).–Jules W. Arnold, widely known under the name of Nicky Arnstein, was married to Mrs. Isabelle McCullough, divorced wife of Charles McCullough, millionaire resident of Chicago, on Oct., 18, 1929, records here show.
Arnstein died October 1, 1965 in Los Angeles, having live long enough to see himself portrayed in his son-in-law’s film adaptation as Omar Sharif, the card gambler.
- The latest research says Arnstein was not born in Norway as he claimed but in Berlin, Germany.
- Katcher, Leo. The big Bankroll, the life and times of Arnold Rothstein. c. 1958, Pickle Publishing.