Winter 1963


Barbra had had it. All during rehearsals Ed Sullivan had been saying, “Now let’s hear it from the Columbia recording star Barbra Streis-land.” No matter how many times she tried to correct him, he still got her name wrong, and few things irritated her more. Now, during the live broadcast, furious with fear that he’d do it again, Barbra positioned herself right behind the curtain, waiting to pounce as soon as the commercial break was over and it was her turn to be introduced.

The light on the camera flashed, indicating they were about to go live. “Streisand!” Barbra hissed through the curtain. “Streisand! Like sand on the beach!”

Sullivan started to laugh, then realized he was on camera. “She’s breaking me up over here,” he said as way of explanation. Then, composing himself, he announced: “Here’s a young Columbia star, a very great talent, here’s Barbra Streisand”—he said it perfectly—“so let’s have a nice welcome.”

Clearly relieved, Barbra did a little jig as she hurried out onto stage. She wore a short white dress and her hair was flipped out at the ends, with a big bun on top. She sang two songs for Sullivan. Her rendition of “Lover, Come Back to Me” turned out to be very hubba-hubba, conjuring up red-hot-mama Sophie Tucker. “Lover” was the flipside of Barbra’s second single, which had just been released. As promised, Columbia had put more effort into this one, pressing twenty thousand copies and mailing demos to DJs all across the country. The front side of the single was the John Kander–Fred Ebb composition “My Coloring Book,” recorded just a few days before, and Barbra also performed it that night on the Sullivan show. Kander and Ebb had written the song for Kaye Ballard, but when she’d wanted to perform it on The Perry Como Show, she was denied permission, because it was too serious and she was the show’s comedienne. Enter Barbra, who recorded the song and made it her own, much to Ballard’s exasperation.

“My Coloring Book” was Barbra doing what she did best, bringing an almost unbearable poignancy to a simple song about heartbreak. Marty immediately sent a copy to Ray Stark in California, and the producer, reportedly, was “bowled over.” Whether his wife shared his opinion, no one was quite sure. Fran Stark had fallen utterly silent on the matter of Barbra Streisand. There were reports that she’d left the Bon Soir after Barbra’s performance still adamantly opposed to her; others said Barbra’s performance had won her over. What seems to have been the case is that, no matter her own personal feelings, Fran was simply deferring to her husband’s judgment. But her silence fostered stories that Mrs. Stark was waging a fierce, one-woman, behind-the-scenes campaign against Barbra.

It was hard, however, to imagine such a position in the wake of the release of “My Coloring Book.” The song might have been schmaltz, but Barbra’s heartbreak was beautifully convincing. If anyone had doubted her ability to convey the range of emotions needed to play Fanny Brice, all they needed to do was listen to this record.

The richness of the emotion apparent in Barbra’s voice may have arisen from a new, and unexpected, understanding of the lyrics. She sang of watching the man she loved drift away: “Color him gone.” As 1962 turned into 1963, Barbra and Elliott had suddenly found life in their little tree house was no longer quite so harmonious. Their hectic, yet sustaining, routine had been shattered by the closing of Wholesale. Barbra was still rushing hither and yon, but Elliott, never good at being idle, just moped around the apartment. He was developing “terrible anxieties” waiting in the unemployment line. He felt, he admitted, like “such a failure collecting that $50.”

For all his insistence that both men and women needed to “break tradition” in their relationships with each other, Elliott found himself hopelessly stuck in an earlier view: He was the man and he was out of work, dependent on the income of a woman, so, ergo, he must be a failure. The fact that Barbra’s success kept steamrolling along even after Wholesale closed—even if she herself was dissatisfied with its progress—was very difficult for Elliott. He had been the star—but Barbra had ended up making as much as he had in Wholesale, and now, while she got calls for nightclubs and television shows, he was schlepping down to the labor office.

One acquaintance thought it was “a bit of a self-pity party Elliott was throwing for himself.” Since, in fact, those unemployment checks were just temporary. Elliott had very quickly landed himself another job after Wholesale closed. Although he wouldn’t start until the following spring, Elliott had won the lead in the London revival of On the Town, to be staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre. But where the job should have made him feel more secure, it caused a whole new set of problems. Elliott wanted Barbra to go with him to London; if she didn’t, who knew how long they’d be apart and what would happen to their relationship then. The uncertainty of all that frightened Barbra, too, so she may have genuinely considered director Joe Layton’s offer of a part in the show. He proposed that she play Hildy, the man-hungry taxi driver who’d been brought to life on the Broadway stage by Nancy Walker—in a show, by the way, conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Taking a supporting role in another musical that starred Elliott would keep them together. It would also re-create the dynamic of the past half year.

But Barbra knew it would be a career misstep. Playing Hildy would have typed her as a character actress and conceivably prevented her from ever being considered for a leading role. Agreeing to On the Town would not only have meant losing out on Fanny Brice if that show made it to the stage, but also forfeiting, according to her agents, $100,000 worth of other offers—a year or more of television, nightclubs, and records—an estimate that Lee Solters made sure to supply Earl Wilson, who ran it in his column to explain why Barbra had turned the part down. The implication was clear: She had become too important to play a secondary part in Elliott’s show.

The reality of that fractured their home life. One photographer who came to take photos of Barbra for some interview was witness to a noisy argument between the couple, with some “pretty heavy shouting,” though the photographer couldn’t tell “what they were shouting about.” One day, Diana made a rare visit—every once in a while she still felt obliged to stop by with some soup—and found the atmosphere in her daughter’s apartment to be “so thick with tension it could be cut with a pair of scissors,” said a friend who was with her. Barbra was sulking in one corner and Elliott was in another, neither speaking to the other, which made things rather difficult, given how small the flat was.

One acquaintance thought their squabbling reflected more than just a case of clashing egos or a contest over who was more successful. Their rancor grew even more, their acquaintance said, from a sense of “fear—a deep-rooted fear that everything was changing, and that without the glue of Wholesale, their relationship was coming apart.”

For Barbra, it was a core dilemma. She wanted success and acclaim, everyone knew that; but she also wanted love. The decisions she’d be asked to make in the next few months would force her to make some hard choices between those two competing desires.


In just twelve hours, the temperature in New York had plunged thirty-three degrees, bottoming out at five above zero. Snow blew into Barbra’s face as she stepped out of the car, wrapped, almost certainly, in her caracul coat and wool hat. At least there was no one telling her that she should be wearing stockings and high heels.

Hurrying into the Columbia Records headquarters on Seventh Avenue, Barbra shook the snow from her coat and headed into the elevator. It was January 24, the second day of recording her album. This time it was Studio A, at the top of the building, where she was working her magic. Yesterday, she’d recorded “A Taste of Honey,” “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street,” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” but today the agenda was more ambitious, with “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms,” “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” all on the roster. And if they had time, she’d record even more, as “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Cry Me a River,” “A Sleepin’ Bee,” “Much More,” and, of course, “Happy Days Are Here Again” were set to be included on the album as well.

If Barbra was tired—she was, after all, back at the Blue Angel every night, her name above the club’s in newspaper advertisements—she didn’t sound it. On these tracks, her voice was absolutely exquisite. Part of the reason why she sounded so good was the man she greeted as she slipped off her snowy coat: Peter Matz, the arranger and conductor Harold Arlen had recommended she work with on the album. Right from the start, Barbra had adored the bespectacled, goateed thirty-four-year-old Matz, trusting his artistic instincts completely. He’d arranged for Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward, and just this past year had been nominated for a Tony for his musical direction of No Strings. Coward had called Matz “vital and imaginative,” and thought the young arranger knew “more about the range of various instruments and the potentialities of different combinations than anyone . . . very exciting and stimulating.”

Matz also had a sense of humor so dry that Coward’s secretary called it “dehydrated.” Delivering his droll observations with a straight face, Matz could make Barbra laugh, which wasn’t easy, and which always went a very long way with her.

They’d worked out most of the songs ahead of time in Matz’s West End Avenue apartment, just the two of them at the piano, while Matz’s wife and two young sons listened from the other room. Matz took Peter Daniels’s arrangements and expanded them for the orchestra, which Daniels considered “a big compliment.” Although Matz had taken over as accompanist, Daniels still felt part of the collaboration and was set to go on tour with Barbra the following month to promote the album after its release.

In a remarkably short time, Barbra had developed a working relationship with this new Peter that was nearly as smooth and fruitful as the one with Daniels. Janet Matz, sitting behind a glass partition the day of the recording, marveled at how fluidly her husband and Barbra worked together. She knew Pete could be a bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes two perfectionists clashed, but she saw “no conflict whatsoever” with Barbra. Pete “took cues from her,” Janet observed. If he saw Barbra struggling with a note, for example, he might say, “Let’s keep the strings out here,” knowing intuitively how to solve the problem. All Barbra needed to do was lift an eyebrow and Matz would understand he ought to consider slowing down the tempo or changing the color of the piece. In the control booth, engineer Frank Laico thought some of Barbra’s vocals were “very harsh at times,” but with Matz’s “colors she sounded so great.”

The collaboration with Matz worked so well, his wife believed, because he had “a strong personality” that matched Barbra’s own. “Pete wasn’t afraid of telling anyone off” if necessary, and so there were times when he bluntly told Barbra to just trust him and stop bellyaching. But neither was Matz someone who needed to have his way all the time. “Other people’s ideas didn’t threaten him,” his wife said—the way Barbra had seemed to suspect Laurents or Weidman or Rome had felt threatened when she’d suggested changing something in Wholesale. To her delight, Matz was open to hearing what she thought, and sometimes he actually used her ideas. He discovered that two and a half years of nightclubs and Broadway had taught this young woman with no formal training an awful lot. Barbra’s musical abilities, Matz concluded, were “monumental.”

Yet still the Columbia brass wasn’t sure of her. Mike Berniker was “walking a tightrope,” Matz observed, “between the upstairs guys” and those in the recording studio. The execs were still telling Berniker, “Look, we can’t spend a lot of money on this, we don’t know if this woman is going to sell records.” So the orchestra was doled out to Matz in small combinations in different sessions, rather than as one big band as he would have preferred. One session would have a small string section; another one, a rhythm section and four trombones. All because the guys in the suits still weren’t sure this eccentric kid with the big voice would make them any money.

Undeterred by their lack of faith in her, Barbra took her place beside the microphone. Outside, the wind and snow were raging, but Barbra stayed supremely focused on the task at hand. She put everything out of her mind—the winter storm, the moneymen’s doubts, the fear and anxiety she felt at home—and began to sing. Listening to her, the man conducting the orchestra was filled with far more faith in her potential than the record executives possessed. Before the year was out, Peter Matz believed, Barbra Streisand “would be a very big star.”


Lee Solters had his work cut out for him. Just as he was about to inaugurate a major publicity blitz for Barbra, all seven New York newspapers, plus two Long Island dailies, went on strike. That had happened on December 8; the strike was now approaching its second month. That meant no New York reviews for Barbra’s album, set to be released in a few weeks, nor any for her Blue Angel engagement. In fact, to get the word out that she was even at the club, Max Gordon had advertised in the Wall Street Journal,which wasn’t affected by the strike. But most significantly, the strike meant no New York coverage of Barbra herself—no profiles, no interviews—a critical loss at a very critical time. For, as Arthur Laurents had heard, Barbra was continually haranguing her publicists and agents, “Get me out there! Get me something new!”

Solters picked up the phone and started dialing. In his raspy Brooklyn accent, he pitched stories about this twenty-year-old sensation who’d stopped the show cold and was kooky as all get-out and possessed the voice of an angel—the standard talking points when pitching Barbra. With the strike on, Solters knew he’d have to rely on the syndicated columnists, even if most of the people who did the important hiring wouldn’t see items run in the Idaho Falls Post Reporter or the Corpus Christi Times.

Some columnists, however, such as Earl Wilson and Dorothy Kilgallen, had their columns clipped and mailed regularly to Broadway producers and managers, and Wilson, at least, could be counted on to give Barbra good press. He’d just declared her the “hottest young comedienne in the country.” Solters secured a number of such syndicated pieces during the strike and made sure to clip and mail them himself if necessary to get them into the hands of the city’s movers and shakers.

And if the articles Solters arranged lacked New York visibility, they made up for it in their enthusiasm toward Barbra. Robert Ruark, whose thrice-weekly column for the Scripps-Howard newspapers was further distributed through the United Features Syndicate, wrote about everything that made him “glad, sad or mad.” And Barbra Streisand made him glad. “She packs more personal dynamic power than anybody I can recall since Libby Holman or Helen Morgan,” Ruark wrote after seeing Barbra at the Blue Angel. “She is the hottest thing to hit the entertainment field since Lena Horne erupted, and she will be around fifty years from now if good songs are still written to be sung by good singers.”

Yet while the piece was a paean to Barbra’s talent, style, and personality—“the next musical she makes will see her name over the title,” Ruark wrote, which certainly went right into Barbra’s press kit, highlighted for any prospective employers to see—it also spent a considerable amount of ink on her appearance. In 1963, Barbra Streisand’s difference—her “otherness”—was so striking that people couldn’t help but comment on it. “Her nose is more evocative of moose than muse,” Ruark wrote, suggesting only the Blue Angel could have “established a girl with a bumpy nose and the unwieldy name of Streisand as a candidate for immortality.” As the night went on, Ruark concluded, Barbra became “beautiful in your ears.”

While Ruark’s point was that appearances shouldn’t matter, Solters decided a little counteroffensive was necessary when it came to Barbra’s looks. He seems to have gotten an early look at Ruark’s column, for nearly simultaneously, Earl Wilson’s column carried what seemed like a rebuttal: “A bump on a girl’s nose doesn’t make any difference,” Wilson quoted Barbra as saying. “After all, what is sex appeal but the bumps not only on a girl’s nose but elsewhere?”

This became the new meme. Rather than just sit back and wait for the next snide comment about Barbra’s “anteater nose,” Solters now presented her as the girl who would “never get her nose fixed.” She was defiant, proud of herself just as she was. No one need ever know she’d once considered a little reconstructive surgery.

Another piece orchestrated by Solters at this time was written by Mel Heimer, a Yonkers-based columnist for the King Features Syndicate, whose “My New York” column was a perfect venue for Barbra, especially during the strike. This one pushed that other recurring meme—Barbra the kook—and firmly established the term as being synonymous with the performer. “There is a full-blown, top-drawer kook in town,” Heimer reported. “Miss Streisand has a good part of New York in the air, wondering if she’s for real. Miss S. is a slim, slightly round-shouldered sort who, even when being interviewed, seems to have her eyes and ears fixed on the sight and sound of far-away flutes.” (Rarely has an interviewer described Barbra’s ambition better.) “She will do anything to arouse attention, the first requirement of a good kook.” (As examples, Heimer gave the “born in Madagascar” line and the bit about the nightgown being worn as a dress.) “These nights she’s doubling into places like the Bon Soir and Blue Angel to sing, and all I can only hope is that meeting normal people won’t standardize her.” (Barbra’s kookiness, then, was something to love.)

The most unusual publicity Solters was able to wrangle for his client that strike-hobbled winter was inclusion in a “Singing Valentines” spread in the February issue of Show magazine. Various celebrities were photographed in amusing situations accompanied by a Valentine’s verse. Barbra was shot from above hooked up to a cardiogram machine—how much kookier could one get?—while curled in a fetal position, her hair loose and her eyes closed. “Roses are red, cardiograms are blue,” her verse went. “I’m Barbra Streisand . . . so nu?” An asterisk led to a definition of nu as a “central European” word to describe a mix of assertion, weltschmerz (world weariness), and wonder. “Miss Streisand,” the magazine assured its readers, “uses it here to mean Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Finally, there was more of that old publicity trick of strategically placing questions in syndicated “TV Mailbag” columns. “I think Barbara Streisand is a very exciting performer,” wrote one correspondent, who, of course, was really Solters, misspelling her name purposely and making sure to mention her single “My Coloring Book,” which had just been released. “What else has she done?” he wanted to know. The answer, also written by Solters, pointed out the correct spelling was “Barbra,” and revealed that she was “packing them in every night at the Blue Angel”—a nice bit of publicity for that show since the local papers weren’t able to report on it.

This was extraordinary coverage for a young woman who no longer had a regular television or Broadway show to make her newsworthy. The flurry of publicity that Solters managed to rake up for Barbra during the winter of 1962–63 proved how valuable he could be to her. Not only was he attempting to drum up business for her at the Blue Angel, but he was also keeping her long-range goals in mind as well. To Mike Connolly, the gossip columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, Solters seems to have passed on a few juicy, if unsubstantiated, tidbits. Connolly had just announced that Barbra was set to fly out to the Coast to do an episode of the television show Stoney Burke, a Western series starring Jack Lord. “From there,” Connolly continued, it would “be just a step for Barbra to star in The Fanny Brice Story.” If there was ever talk about Barbra appearing on Stoney Burke, it was just that—talk—and certainly any announcement about starring in the Brice story was still just wishful thinking. But that hardly got in the way of a good press agent like Solters. Besides, he knew the Hollywood Reporter was read every day by Ray Stark, and of all the people he didn’t want forgetting Barbra during this interval, Stark was on the top of his list.


Backstage at the Shubert Theatre, where Barbra had dressed every night for Wholesale not so long ago, Barry Dennen was practicing the lead role for the national touring company of the Broadway smash, David Merrick’s Stop the World—I Want to Get Off. He wasn’t practicing the lead because he had the lead—that had gone to Joel Grey—but because he was the lead’s understudy. Still, after so much summer stock and off-Broadway, Barry was exultant that he was “in a Broadway theater at last.” It was his “first real, important job.” The company planned to open in Milwaukee, but for now they were rehearsing at the Shubert, where the Broadway version was still running. In the process they’d gotten to know some of the Broadway cast, including the director-star Anthony Newley. On this afternoon, Newley popped his head out of his dressing room and invited Barry and a few others to come in and hear a new album of a “really fabulous performer . . . [a] wonderful singer.”

For some reason, Barry felt uneasy. Inside the dressing room, he discovered the reason for his dread when Newley held up the album for them to see. On the cover was a photograph of Barbra, emerging from the shadows, standing in front of a microphone in a herringbone vest, her red lips pursed in song. Her eyes were heavy with the mascara and false eyelashes Barry had seen Bob give her dozens of times in his apartment. The Barbra Streisand Album was the simple yet effective title.

Newley dropped the disk onto the record player. “Cry Me a River” was the first track, a song Barry had never heard Barbra sing, but which, in its earliest renditions, had been all about him. Other tracks were more familiar. Barry had been the one to teach Barbra “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” Barbra had never heard these songs until Barry had played them for her. Now they were on her album. But the hardest of all to hear was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” Barry still remembered the day they’d dreamed it up, almost as a joke.

Looking around at his fellow actors as they enjoyed the album, Barry wondered how he might explain to them his “part in Barbra’s story.” He realized it would be impossible. He’d probably sound bitter, or jealous, or regretful for not treating her better—or, worse still, as if he were trying to name-drop. It was hard to believe that saying he knew Barbra Streisand—the skinny kid with the shopping bags—might now be considered name-dropping. Overcome with emotion, Barry slipped out of Newley’s dressing room, making his way out to the empty theater. There, slumping down into a seat, he buried his face in his hands.


Standing in front of a distracted crowd at the Café Pompeii at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, Barbra might have been forgiven for thinking that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Here she was, back on a nightclub tour, singing to rooms that were sometimes half empty and almost always noisy. But she was on tour to promote her album, which needed all the help it could get. Released on February 25, The Barbra Streisand Album—a title she’d settled on after Columbia had suggested Sweet and Saucy Streisand, which had made her nauseous—had gotten off to a lackluster start, despite a decent (albeit somewhat late) review from Billboard, which predicted it “should draw an enormous amount of play from the good radio stations.”

So far that hadn’t happened. Barbra’s album was overshadowed by blockbusters from, among others, Joan Baez, who’d released a live concert album, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, who were riding the wave of their number one hit, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Barbra, however, was doing her best to drive up sales. Her tour had been arranged by Marty and Joe Glaser, the president and founder of Associated Booking who had taken over as her nightclub agent, which showed how high Barbra had risen in the agency’s esteem. She’d kicked off things at the beginning of February at the Revere Frolic, a seaside theater outside Boston, where she performed two shows nightly. Although Billboard thought Barbra was “getting the kind of reception [at the Frolic] accorded artists on their way up,” the Boston Globe advertised her as “Miss Marmel Steisand,” clearly having no idea who she was.

The indignities only continued. From Boston it was on to Cleveland, where she cohosted The Mike Douglas Show for a week starting February 11. With the genial host, Barbra had spoofed Jeanette MacDonald–Nelson Eddy movies, played tiddlywinks on the floor, and participated in some calisthenics taught by a visiting exercise instructor—though not with much enthusiasm. By the end of the set, Barbra—never much of a “joiner”—had retreated to the back where she stood watching the rest of the cast bend and squat, a somewhat condescending smile fixed on her face. There were, apparently, some limits to what she would put herself through.

But the Douglas show also gave her the chance to sing every song from the upcoming album—fantastic publicity as far as it went, which actually wasn’t very far at all. The syndicated show, a Westinghouse production like PM East, reached only Midwest audiences ; the New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and West Coast markets had no idea as yet who Mike Douglas was. Going into the gig, Barbra and Marty would have understood that any boost the Douglas show might bring to her album sales would be confined to the Midwest. No doubt that was why they’d asked for a concurrent nightclub act, to maximize their time and effort. Douglas got them booked at the Chateau, located in Lakewood, a west-side suburb of Cleveland. Barbra was paid $2,500 for the week—decent money, but it turned out to be a dismal experience. A cold snap inhibited turnout, and Barbra played to half-empty houses for most of her run. Peter Daniels, who’d come along as her accompanist, could see that she was “a little depressed.”

A little depression turned into a whole lot by the time she faced the indifferent audiences at the Eden Roc in Miami. Soldiering on with her nightclub appearances, Barbra had been distressed to realize that for all her effort, the tour hadn’t seemed to help the album much at all. A few weeks after its release, The Barbra Streisand Album remained mired at the bottom of the charts.

Yet whenever she’d fret, Marty assured her that he believed the album would take off. She had, after all, the backing of some pretty important people in the world of music. Jule Styne was still out there rooting for her. Stephen Sondheim, once unsure of her, was now considering her for a musical he was writing, Anyone Can Whistle. Leonard Bernstein, impressed with how she sang “My Name Is Barbara,” was talking her up to colleagues. Sammy Cahn thought she was absolutely adorable after she’d told him that he looked like her dentist, so he gave her a little box inscribed TO THE SINGER FROM THE DENTIST and told everyone within earshot that he thought she was the best.

And, in the most public expression of support of all, Harold Arlen had written her album’s back-cover liner notes. “Did you ever hear Helen Morgan sing?” Arlen asked, with the album designer cleverly positioning a thumbnail photo of Morgan next to the question. “Or were you ever at the theatre when Fanny Brice clowned in her classic comedic way—or Beatrice Lillie deliciously poked fun at all sham and pomp?” (Thumbnails of Brice and Lillie accompanied the text.) “Have you heard our top vocalists ‘belt,’ ‘whisper,’ or sing with that steady and urgent beat behind them? Have you ever seen a painting by Modigliani?” (A little sketch of an odd-looking woman followed.) “If you have, do not think the above has been ballooned out of proportion. I advise you to watch Barbra Streisand’s career. This young lady (a mere twenty) has a stunning future.”

The old-guard musical-theater elite had lined up in solid support behind the enterprise of Barbra Streisand. Word up and down Broadway was that the album was a must; it was no surprise that a musical-theater type such as Anthony Newley had it in his hands soon after it was released. But what was missing from Barbra’s publicity was any sense of youth. Comparing her to Helen Morgan and Beatrice Lillie was hardly going to attract those who were buying the albums of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Still, the biggest-selling album at the moment was the soundtrack to West Side Story, so Broadway music was still profitable. The trouble was that The Barbra Streisand Album, for all Barbra’s Broadway provenance, wasn’t a show-tunes record. Just what it was remained something of mystery.

And that was a problem. Goddard Lieberson had said that Barbra couldn’t be categorized—and while he’d used that as a compliment when he’d introduced her at the Bon Soir, he had also worried about that fact right from the start. The question remained how to position Barbra and her album, which contained a mix of up- and down-tempo songs, offbeat standards, and performance pieces such as “Come to the Supermarket” and “Big Bad Wolf.” For the predominately youthful record-buying market, these weren’t draws, and no amount of accolades from Harold Arlen was going to persuade a young fan of Elvis Presley or Lesley Gore to give Barbra’s album a shot.

By the middle part of March, while Barbra was languishing in Miami, there was a terrible feeling among everyone involved that the album was sinking like a rock. It had now been out for a month, and it still hadn’t caught fire. Maybe Lieberson had been right: Barbra was simply too special for records. The lack of enthusiasm at the Chateau and the Eden Roc seemed to prove that her audience of gay men, urban hipsters, and theater aficionados was just too small for major commercial success. After all the trouble of the contract and the tour, it would be a terrible admission for Barbra and Marty to have to make.

As Barbra walked offstage and headed back to her room, the depression she was feeling was as much personal as it was professional. Elliott had been with her for the start of the tour in Boston and Cleveland. But during a brief interim in New York before she’d flown to Florida, Barbra had bid her boyfriend farewell as he headed off to London to start rehearsals for On the Town. Earl Wilson reported that Barbra had been “talked out of going to London” with Elliott by her managers, who “feared she would stop her career right when it [was] starting.” In return for Barbra’s agreement to stay in the U.S., Wilson revealed, her managers promised to get her three television shows in England “so she could visit three times” in the course of the next year.

Still, it was hard for some to believe that she ever truly considered going to London without a job just so she could cling to Elliott’s side. Barbra was hardly “the backstage kind of girlfriend,” Bob said. Besides, with the possibility of the Brice show still out there—or The Student Gypsy, or Anyone Can Whistle, or David Merrick’s musical revival of The Rainmaker, for which her name had also been mentioned—Barbra wasn’t likely to go anywhere that made it difficult for her to get in to audition.

And maybe a bit of a break from Elliott wasn’t all that terrible to contemplate. Barbra was still in love with him and still committed to making the relationship work. No one doubted that. In fact, as friends had heard, there had even been a brief consideration of marriage before he left, to seal the deal between them and provide a veneer of protection while they were apart. But Elliott had a dim view of the institution of marriage. He thought it imposed “something technical on an otherwise viable relationship,” and he worried it could change things “dramatically.” That Barbra didn’t push it suggested that she, too, wasn’t quite ready, and that maybe she saw some benefit in having a bit of a breather. They had been arguing more than ever after all, and Barbra had found herself increasingly impatient with Elliott’s career insecurities, especially as she was going through her own anxieties.

So she retreated alone to her room at the Eden Roc. After this, it was off to San Francisco to fulfill her long-ago contract with Enrico Banducci at the hungry i, then back to New York for a gig at Basin Street East at the Shelton Towers Hotel. There were more clubs after that if she could bear to look at the list. And after that—who knew? All Barbra could have known at that point was that the winter of 1963 looked an awful lot like the winter of 1961. Whatever had happened to going straight to the top?


The crowds had returned to hear her, but now the problem was something else. Barbra couldn’t sing. Or she didn’t think she could sing.

With Marty at her side, she found the little studio opposite the Safeway grocery store on Oakland’s busy College Avenue, about half an hour’s walk from the Berkeley campus. This was where she’d been told she could find the woman who might help her. Anxious and frightened, Barbra made her way inside a small room with all the curtains drawn to keep out the light.

A few nights earlier, she’d opened at the hungry i across the bay in San Francisco. Banducci had done a good job of talking her up: “This town will go crazy for her,” he quoted himself on the posters announcing her opening night. To the press, he also told the story of their first meeting back in New York, reframing it with the buzzwords of Barbra’s current publicity: “She was easily the kookiest, most arresting-looking kid I’d ever seen.” In building up her offbeat appeal, Banducci had Barbra calling him a “moron” and an “idiot” in Irvin Arthur’s office, and instead of being offended, he said he’d replied, “Sign that girl for me right away.” Certainly Barbra had been calculatingly direct in that first meeting, but she wasn’t the type to call someone names, especially someone she’d just met. But the theatrical Banducci knew how to plant the seeds of a legend.

Meanwhile, Columbia, responding to Marty’s calls to do more to promote the album, had sent out invitations to some of San Francisco’s better-known critics to a special preshow concert at six PM. That meant Barbra had to go on stage three times that first evening, since she performed two shows a night, at eight and eleven. (The two shows were distinct from each other, and some people from the first show stayed for the second.) But the preshow event proved to be a smart move because it created a real buzz about her, and the tough-to-please critics, feeling catered to, had responded enthusiastically, ensuring sizeable crowds every night since.

“Barbra Streisand is unquestionably one of the most successful performers ever to appear at the hungry i,” Ralph J. Gleason wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. “People went away talking about her and three hours later, I heard two couples on Broadway singing one of the songs she did. Barbra Streisand has that kind of impact.” The Chronicle ran photos of Barbra making all sorts of faces as she sang—pouting, serious, comical—next to the headline: A SPECIAL KIND OF MAGIC.

But all that singing was getting to her. Barbra was finding that she was having trouble holding her notes. When she had arrived in San Francisco, her voice had been somewhat hoarse. Certainly all the leapfrogging from climate to climate couldn’t have helped: mid-twenties in Cleveland; teens and icy rain in New York; eighties in Miami; forties and rainy when she’d made a quick flight back to New York to make another appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; then the low fifties, cloudy and damp, when she’d arrived in San Francisco. After all that, who wouldn’t catch a cold? But clearly Barbra worried that her voice troubles were the result of more than just a passing bug. That’s why Marty had asked Banducci if he might recommend a vocal coach with whom Barbra could do some work. The club owner had known exactly the woman to send them to. And so they made their way to this dark little studio on College Avenue.

Judy Davis called herself “a vocal plumber.” What she did was simple: “I fix pipes,” she said. She was a brassy, grandiloquent lady who dressed in colorful clothes and reminded at least one student of Auntie Mame. “Well, my dear,” she’d say, after listening to a prospective student sing and examining his or her throat and diaphragm, “I must tell you, this is exactly what you’re doing wrong. We’re going to have to rearrange some of these things, break this habit.” Singers had many bad habits, Davis believed, like improper breathing or insufficient projection. “Singers are not known to be bright,” she’d tell a pupil who didn’t regularly perform the exercises she’d prescribed, “but don’t prove it to the world.”

For all her expertise, Davis herself couldn’t sing a note. When she was nineteen, her vocal chords had been injured during a tonsillectomy, leaving her with a raspy voice that prevented a singing career of her own. To understand what had happened to her on the operating table, Davis turned to Gray’s Anatomy, thoroughly familiarizing herself with the physiology of the human voice. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of California at Berkeley, she headed to Los Angeles, where she taught movie actors how to lip-synch soundtracks. Now married to professional tennis player Frank Kovacs, Davis attracted a stellar clientele to her voice studio in Oakland. Frank Sinatra had been known to fly her to Las Vegas to help him practice before a show. Much of the talent that came through the hungry i or its sister club across the street, the Purple Onion, had spent time in Davis’s studio. She had pretty much taught the Kingston Trio how to sing. When people asked her to describe her methods, which they often did, Davis found she was unable to do so. She just knew when people were “obstructing the performance of their vocal chords,” she explained, and through exercises and breathing techniques, she could show them “how not to do that.”

The fear that had brought Barbra to Judy Davis was as much psychological as physical. It was, after all, an extremely low period for her. She felt Elliott’s absence keenly. That may have been why she’d allowed a story to spread that they had gotten married. Earl Wilson was reporting, “Funny singer Barbra Streisand wanted to keep it a secret that she married actor Elliott Gould just before he left for London, but forgot herself and wore her wedding ring to The Ed Sullivan Show.” Whatever ring Barbra had been wearing when she’d made that flying trip from Miami to New York hadn’t been a wedding band, but apparently she was okay with giving that impression. She knew that admitting she’d been living with a man outside of matrimony would have been completely unacceptable to a large swath of the public; surely Lee Solters had pointed out that the bluenoses still hadn’t forgiven Elizabeth Taylor for shacking up with Richard Burton. Unmarried cohabitation simply wasn’t tolerated in the public eye. Even couples clearly not ready to tie the knot, such as Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, had been forced to do so anyway to ward off impressions that they might be sleeping together.

Yet for Barbra, some friends believed, the lie about being married to Elliott went even deeper than that. She was lonely, feeling untethered to the man she loved. So Barbra may have liked imagining that something was holding her and Elliott together.

For the moment, all she had to sustain her was her voice. If her voice went, she had nothing. And suddenly, in the midst of her depression, she began questioning herself: How did she hold her notes so long? How was she able to sing without ever having been trained in voice?

In the past, Barbra had just shrugged off such questions. If she willed herself, she believed, she could do anything. But now her self-confidence had plummeted. One night she suspected she wasn’t holding her notes quite as long, and when she tried deliberately to hold them, she found she couldn’t. Her “consciousness of an unconscious thing,” she realized, had made her “impotent.”

Sitting there in Davis’s dimly lit studio, Barbra felt like, in her own words, “a person who was paralyzed in her legs having to relearn to walk.” She was being dramatic; it was hardly as bad as all that. She was performing two shows every night at the hungry i, and the applause was certainly greater there than it had been in Cleveland or Miami. But what mattered was how Barbra felt—and she felt she wasn’t at her best. No doubt she remembered off nights during Wholesale when she knew she was less than perfect and the way people had still applauded for her. She felt they’d been conditioned to do so; and she probably felt that way now. She didn’t deserve the applause, she believed, and Barbra could never enjoy acclaim that she hadn’t earned.

And this particular gig was crucial. In some ways, San Francisco was as important as New York to a singer’s career. The city by the bay was a cultural mecca of its own, fiercely independent, producing and nurturing talent like nowhere else—and the hungry i, at 599 Jackson Street in the North Beach neighborhood, was its chief breeding ground. Mort Sahl, the sharp-tongued political comedian, had gotten his start there; so had the Kingston Trio. Both Phyllis Diller and Orson Bean had played the club, and Bill Cosby, folk singer Glenn Yarbrough, jazzman Vince Guaraldi, comedian Shelley Berman, and musical satirist Tom Lehrer had all received career boosts from the i. For the first few nights of Barbra’s run, her opening act had been fellow game changer and rule breaker, comedian Woody Allen.

It was with justification that Howard Taubman of the New York Times called the i “the most influential nightclub west of the Mississippi.” If Barbra could make it there, winning over San Francisco sophisticates, then she’d prove she wasn’t just a New York phenomenon. She needed to generate the kind of buzz on the West Coast that she already enjoyed on the East if her career was ever going to go national.

So there was a great deal riding on the slender shoulders of the scared twenty-year-old who sat looking up at Judy Davis and asking for her help. Davis’s heart went out to the kid. She recognized that Barbra was “being catapulted into a position” most performers took many years to reach, “almost as if she were shot out of a cannon,” Davis thought. What this “sensitive girl” craved, Davis realized, was “a hand to hold and a pat on the back and somebody to tell her everything was all right.” Certainly that had never been the norm in Barbra’s life; it was precisely what she had given up expecting so many years ago from her mother. But when Davis offered her a hand to hold, Barbra took it eagerly. That day, in the forty-four-year-old nurturing Davis, Barbra found another mother substitute, a parental figure to fill that hole in the middle of herself.

Immediately the two of them got down to work. The little studio was a safe haven for Barbra; its simple piano and soft, diffused light—and the frolicking of Davis’s black poodle Poupette—made Barbra feel at home. Davis was under no illusions that she needed to teach Barbra to sing, even if that was what her client suddenly believed she needed to learn. “No singing teacher can teach anyone to sing,” she explained. A singer was born a singer, she said, and all she could do was teach “what tones are right and what techniques are best.” She found Barbra to be “a curious, searching girl” who wanted to understand how “this instrument of hers” worked. Davis produced photographs and diagrams of the lungs, esophagus, and diaphragm, explaining to Barbra the physical process of singing. That alone seemed to ease some of Barbra’s fears.

Yet no doubt what she responded to most were the tender, yet firm, ministrations of an empathetic older woman she respected. There was a similar patronage taking place at the hungry i, where Barbra flourished under the careful, compassionate care of Banducci. Three thousand miles from home, Barbra had found, even if just temporarily, the parents she never had. Banducci was as erudite and sophisticated—if a bit more florid and flamboyant—as she imagined her father would have been. Like Barbra, he had discarded an inadequate first name—Harry—for something more distinctive, taking “Enrico” as a tribute to Enrico Caruso. At the age of thirteen he’d left his provincial hometown of Bakersfield, California, for exciting San Francisco, where he’d studied under the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony. As proprietor of the hungry i—it meant “hungry intellectual”—since 1950, Banducci had been one of the first, along with Jay Landesman, another of Barbra’s patrons, to popularize the beatnik movement. To one reporter, Banducci “modestly disclaimed having everything to do with the beatnik craze that . . . spread across the country,” but he was also “careful to imply that it did not happen without his good offices.” Nowadays the heavy-set, pencil-mustachioed Banducci was never seen without his brown beret, white sneakers, tan chinos, and “the most expansive white and figured sweater ever to encumber a man’s neck, chest, waist, and arms.”

It didn’t take long for Barbra to regain her footing in this supportive environment. Although she had struggled with distracted audiences elsewhere on this tour, she didn’t need to worry about that at the i, thanks to Banducci. The three-hundred-person audience was seated in a semicircle around the stage. And while their canvas chairs had wide, flat arms ideal for setting down their drinks—which were served by a solicitous corps of Japanese waiters—once the lights dimmed, all drinking and eating in the auditorium ceased. Banducci insisted on a “quietude in the audience” when the performer stepped out onto the stage. All alone, lit by a battery of spotlights in front of a stark brick wall, the performer could command the attention of the audience without any competition. For this, especially so soon after the Eden Roc fiasco, Barbra was no doubt very grateful to her host.

She’d also become close with the club’s announcer. Alvah Bessie had been a novelist, journalist, and Hollywood screenwriter, nominated for an Academy Award for Objective Burma in 1945. He’d also been a member of the Hollywood Ten, imprisoned for ten months and blacklisted by the film industry for refusing to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The blacklisting had destroyed his career. Now he was running the lights and sound board at the hungry i and introducing the entertainers. Bessie’s story was the complete inverse of those of Jerry Robbins and Isobel Lennart, two others of Barbra’s acquaintance who had histories with HUAC. Barbra likely took notice of how very different Bessie’s life was—hunched down anonymously in the shadows, positioning the spotlight on other people—from the lives of informers such as Robbins and Lennart—making movies and Broadway shows and being publicly acclaimed for it. For someone as perceptive as Barbra, the injustice must have resonated.

Her interval in San Francisco was a turning point for her. As she had in Detroit, she found a home away from home, a place where new friends and new challenges provided her with just the balm she needed. Certainly no place she’d ever been had looked quite as magical as San Francisco: the hills and the steep, winding streets, the delicate Queen Anne houses and Spanish mission churches, the Golden Gate Bridge shining in the distance, the clanging of the cable cars, and everywhere breathtaking vistas of land, sea, and sky. For Barbra, the city was a place of healing and tranquility.


On a night well into her four-week run at the hungry i, after numerous sessions with Judy Davis had restored a measure of her self-confidence, Barbra waited backstage for Alvah Bessie to announce her. She was ready for her comeback. She was, as local critic Ralph Gleason described her, “a tawny, feline, long-haired girl with a mouth like a character from Oz” who was “a practiced performer . . . expert and effective.” Her ease onstage had returned, showing up in everything she did: the way she stood or sat, “her approach to the microphone, the tilt of her head, the spreading of her arms, the tossing of her hair, the raising of her eyebrows.”

Tonight the show would be recorded by a young engineer named Reese Hamel, who kept his equipment in the back of his Volkswagen bus and dragged his cables through the club’s back door. A little less sophisticated than Columbia’s elaborate recording session at the Bon Soir in the fall, but it would prove far more successful. Hamel had suggested to Barbra that she might someday want to add a live recording to her Columbia catalog. When she’d agreed, he’d hauled in his cables. Obviously Barbra felt that her voice was better if she consented to be recorded.

“Now ladies and gentlemen,” Bessie announced over the loudspeaker, “the hungry i takes great pride in presenting Miss Barbra Streisand.” No doubt he had been instructed carefully by the lady herself on how to pronounce her name correctly, and he did.

As the packed house gave her a warm welcome, Barbra sailed into “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.” As if to demonstrate that she was back in top form, she held the last note of the song for nine and a half seconds, an extraordinarily long time. If it seemed a bit show-offy, she didn’t care. All that mattered was that she could still do it. Next up was “Cry Me a River.” This night, Barbra’s rendition of the song was far superior to the manic howl she’d displayed on The Dinah Shore Show (though that program still hadn’t aired). She eschewed the theatrics that had so repelled Fran Stark and concentrated once again on the raw heartache of the song—which maybe, just maybe, reflected her own via dolorosa these past few months regarding Elliott. When she was finished, she clearly appreciated the applause. “Grazie, grazie,” she murmured.

She then launched into the kind of monologue that had been part of her act almost from the very start, but which in recent months had gained a more structured format. “I don’t like to sing all the time,” she said, and that much was certainly true. “I mean, one song right after another.” What she was doing was setting up a segment of her show that she’d rehearsed nearly as vigorously as the songs. “Let’s see,” she mused, “what should I talk about?” When someone shouted for her to talk about “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” she responded, “I sing that. I can’t talk about that.”

Of course, she needed no suggestions; she knew exactly what she was going to talk about. She commenced the story of a girl—“an African girl,” Barbra explained—whose sister had run off with her lover. Thinking this was the lead-in to a sad ballad, the audience sat in rapt, respectful silence. “She decided to kill herself,” Barbra said of the girl. “And she figured the best way to do this was to drown herself in the river.” Still the audience sat mute, hanging on every word. Could this be some old tribal morality tale? “So it was this one day,” Barbra went on, “and she was strolling down to the river to drown, and she tripped and scraped her knees.” A beat. “And also broke her glasses.”

Finally the audience tittered, starting to suspect that this all might be a joke. “Just at this moment,” Barbra continued, “the lover and the sister drove by in a taxi—they have them in Africa—and they started laughing at her.” By now the audience was laughing, too. The story went on from there—a long, ridiculous, rambling tale that ultimately ended with a feeble punch line that made little sense. But it didn’t matter that the story wasn’t really very funny or witty. By breaking out of the serious singer-by-the-piano mode, Barbra had shaken up tradition and thereby set herself apart—precisely what the “kooky” reputation was intended to do, whether in print or on television or on the stage. And the audience adored her for it.

She was, in fact, selling her personality as much as her voice. This came through again a short time later as she introduced the band. Slipping into her old Mae West impersonation, she gestured to drummer Benny Barth and cooed, “On the left side heah, weighin’ in at one-hundred-’n’-eighty-three in black trunks . . . is Benny.” There was another beat. “And he doesn’t.” Barbra waited for the audience to get her pun. When a handful of people started to laugh, she giggled. “Benny” was slang for Benzedrine tablets, which many in the nightclub scene took illegally as stimulants.

Barth and the rest of the band—which also included a bass and guitar—were hungry i employees. But the pianist, of course, was Peter Daniels, Barbra’s faithful companion on the road. She introduced him a little more intimately than she did the others, though she characteristically resisted sentimentality by affecting the air of a snooty society lady. “And now, for your pleasure, on the piano—he’s not on the piano, he’s sitting there in front of the piano—a very fine musician. He’s more than a pianist. He’s more than an arranger. He’s more than a friend. He’s—Petah!” She said his name as if she were Bette Davis, and this brought hoots from the audience right away. “Petah Daniels!”

The rest of the concert was more straightforward, though she did have some fun with the “Wolf” song, as she called it. “I’m going to do a standard,” she announced, playing on the old criticism that she rarely sang the kind of standards that encouraged people to “sing along, swing along, snap [their] fingers,” as Barbra put it. So, she announced, she would “compromise.” What she gave them, of course, was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” Some people did indeed sing along. Wrapping up the show was “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which Barbra put over gorgeously, and which earned sustained applause. “You’d be so nice to come home to,” she purred in gratitude to the audience.

Of course, at the moment, she had no one to come home to. She remained despondent without Elliott. But despondent did not mean desperate. What Hamel’s recording had documented for posterity was that, by the end of her run at the hungry i, Barbra had found herself again. Thanks to the solicitude of Judy Davis, the guardianship of Enrico Banducci, and the nightly outpouring of affection from San Franciscans, Barbra would leave that city on a wave of acclaim. She might not have a play, or a best-selling album, but the young woman on Hamel’s tape recording believed in herself again, and that was enough for now.


As Barbra and Chaplin pose for their Playbill photo, their body language provides evidence that their affair, once passionate, was over. © Bettmann / CORBIS


A rare glimpse of the Funny Girl company before their Boston preview, December 1963. Danny Meehan, Allyn Ann McLerie, Sydney Chaplin, and Barbra listen to director Garson Kanin. Within the month, Meehan's part would be marginalized and McLerie's would be cut entirely. Kanin would be fired after the show premiered in Boston. Photofest


Barbra with the men who wrote the songs that would provide the soundtrack to her legend: Jule Styne (at piano) and Bob Merrill. Styne was infatuated with her; Merrill was more wary. © Bettmann / CORBIS


The famous pregnant bride scene from Funny Girl. Barbra had proven that she was as much a "kook" as Fanny Brice ever was; by now, the two had been conflated into one image. Photofest


Fran Stark—Ray's wife and Fanny Brice's daughter—had been less enthusiastic about Barbra's casting, but by the time of the premiere, she was all smiles. Here she is presenting the star to her brother, William Brice.


With their marriage back on track (for the moment), Elliott kisses Barbra at the opening night party after the Funny Girl premiere. He knew how uncomfortable she was and wanted to protect her. © Bettmann / CORBIS


The man who'd guided Barbra's rise to the top, her manager, Marty Erlichman, continued to keep a close eye on his charge even as she tries to escape the theater in disguise. Barbra had come to fear the crush of fans every night outside the stage door. Collection of Matt Howe


For all her acclaim, Barbra still found it difficult to win praise from her mother, Diana Kind, who joined her backstage (top) with an uncle and aunt, and who insisted Barbra and Elliott be present for sister Rozzie's sweet-sixteen birthday party. The stress of performing every night was getting to Barbra, and if the photo (bottom) is any evidence, she had started smoking again. Collection of Stuart Lippner


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