After almost a year, Barbra and Bob were enjoying a happy reunion. This afternoon they were hunched down in a movie theater, popping handfuls of Raisinets, watching Dolores Hart jet around the world as a stewardess in Come Fly with Me. As Frankie Avalon crooned the title tune, panoramic shots of London, Paris, and the Mediterranean filled the screen, and Barbra let out a sigh. “Wouldn’t it be great to go there someday?” she mused.
“But, Barbra,” Bob said, “we’re already here.”
That was the odd thing. They were in Oxford, England, watching the film, not New York. A couple of weeks earlier, Bob, whose extended Paris vacation had turned into a residency when he started contributing to magazines there, had gotten a wire from Barbra. She was flying to London to see Elliott. But since Elliott had rehearsals during the day, could Bob pop over from Paris to keep her company? Barbra’s old pal had happily obliged, but now that he was there, he could barely get her out of her hotel room. Barbra preferred staying put, “steaming her clothes, folding and organizing them, then folding and organizing them again,” Bob observed. The movie theater was the farthest she’d strayed so far.
But Barbra hadn’t come to England for sightseeing. She’d come with one purpose and one purpose only: to reconnect with Elliott. The separation had been weighing heavily on her. If she hadn’t come now, she wouldn’t have had another chance to see him until maybe next fall, since she was booked solid through the summer. At the moment, she had a bit of a break before her next obligation, a two-week engagement at the New York nightclub Basin Street East that started on May 13. And besides, hadn’t she and Elliott made a vow to always be together on their birthdays? So, very soon after leaving San Francisco, Barbra, her new passport in hand, had boarded a flight for her first transcontinental trip. On April 24, she had turned twenty-one in England, Elliott at her side. Which was the way it was supposed to be.
Not that it had been all honey pie and happiness between them. Barbra found that Elliott had been gambling quite a bit, and he seemed to want to believe that she’d been cheating on him in New York or San Francisco. He was also consumed with rehearsals most of the time, which were being held at a small theater in the town of Oxford. The cast was lodged at a local hotel, where Barbra had settled in as well. As much as Oxford might be, in the words of the poet Matthew Arnold, the “sweet city with her dreaming spires,” and home to a magnificent medieval university, it was hardly swinging London. Barbra quickly grew bored with Elliott gone all day and often into the evenings. She’d been thrilled when Bob had showed up—though she still wouldn’t risk venturing too far afield with him just in case Elliott got out of rehearsals early.
Wandering the streets of Oxford with Bob, daffodils growing everywhere, Barbra wore a heavy fur coat, bell-bottomed jeans, and tennis shoes. In the United States, thanks to all her TV appearances, she was beginning to be recognized as she strolled through New York or other cities. But here she was still anonymous. She and Bob often ate at a Chinese restaurant near the hotel, where Barbra enjoyed paying with the colorful British money. In her head, however, she was always converting pounds into dollars, keeping track of how much she was spending on this trip.
Despite her frugality, money was no longer really an issue for her. Not only were there the increased revenues from nightclubs, but at last report, Barbra’s album was finally on the move. On April 18, the disk had made it on to Billboard’s chart of the Top 150 Albums (at number 118). This reflected sales from the week before, and Barbra could thank San Francisco record buyers for much of her surge, as well as her March 24 appearance on Ed Sullivan, on which she’d sung “Cry Me a River.” The following week the album had raced up the chart to number 83 and won Billboard’s coveted red star that indicated an album markedly on the rise. By the following week, April 27, The Barbra Streisand Album had reached number 41. The momentum was clear.
Barbra’s impressive rise on the charts was also fueled by a sudden explosion of reviews, which Solters had finally managed to secure a month and a half after the album’s release. No doubt he’d been working the phones and calling in as many favors as he could. Record critic Dick Van Patten admitted that he’d overlooked the album the previous month, rectifying the situation by calling Barbra “a potentially great new stylist [who] sounds like a veteran already.” Dick Kleiner, who’d already been an advocate for Barbra, now listed her ahead of Judy Garland in his syndicated roundup of the best new albums for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, saying that with this disk, Barbra “shows herself to be one of the greatest.” Walter Winchell also weighed in, raving about the album and especially the way Barbra put “the silk in ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’” The columnist added that she reminded him of “Judy, Lena, and Peggy.”
After they left the movie theater, or on a night very similar, Barbra brought Bob to dinner with Elliott and Elspeth March, who was playing Madam Dilly, the music teacher, in On the Town. March, once married to the movie actor Stewart Granger, had made a number of films in the past year—Playboy of the Western World and Dr. Crippen, among others—and was about to go into production on The Three Lives of Thomasina, in which she would provide the voice of the cat. Barbra peppered the older actress with questions about moviemaking. She seemed to like how March had been able to play so many different characters in the course of a year.
To the distinguished British actress, Barbra must have seemed like a wide-eyed young novice. Not to March was Barbra anything noteworthy. She didn’t know about the nightclub appearances, or the kooky guest spots with Carson and Sullivan, or the album that was climbing the charts. Elliott may have tried telling his castmates about Barbra, but since they were so far away from it all, none of it would have really sunk in. Here, in Oxford, Barbra was just the girlfriend of the star of the show. For the moment, the situation between her and Elliott had reverted to what it had been back in the very beginning. He was the star; she was his girlfriend. But they both must have known, deep down, that the moment was fleeting. Elliott, raising his pint of ale in a toast to the success of On the Town, made sure to enjoy it while he could.
That spring, Ray Stark was a busy man. He’d had to fly to Dublin, where problems had arisen on the set of Seven Arts’s remake of Of Human Bondage. Kim Novak was having trouble with the part of the Cockney waitress, Mildred, and the situation wasn’t helped when kidnap threats were made against her and costar Laurence Harvey. After dealing with all of that, Stark had needed to swoop down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to scout locations for Seven Arts’s upcoming production of The Night of the Iguana. Then it was back across the Atlantic to London, where he’d courted Elizabeth Taylor as a possible replacement for Novak in Bondage.
Now Stark was back in California, but his social calendar for May was already very full. All of this left precious little opportunity for him to get anything done on Funny Girl—which is what they were now calling the musical about his mother-in-law—but for a workaholic such as Stark, there was always time to be found. He was still burned up over Jerry Robbins and the monkey wrench he’d thrown into the project, but he was determined to get things moving again. And he’d found the ideal man to make that happen: Bob Fosse, the young, celebrated choreographer of ThePajama Game and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying who’d recently started directing as well (Redhead and Little Me). Sam Zolotow in the New York Times said Funny Girl was “almost definite” on Fosse’s agenda.
That still left them with the problem of the book, however. Stark had sent Fosse a copy of the last finished script and urged him to consider how they might strip it of Robbins’s imprint without losing the whole storyline.
It was, to say the least, a daunting task—made even more daunting by an ailing Broadway economy. This past season had been the worst in memory. Investors had lost more than five million dollars, according to an official study conducted by the New York Times; other estimates placed the losses at closer to seven million. The reasons were many: a slump on Wall Street the previous spring; the newspaper strike; the increasing popularity of art-house films taking people away from the theater; and an ill-timed increase in ticket prices. This was hardly a good time to try to get a show off the ground.
The only way to do it, Stark understood, was to hire a surefire crowd-pleaser. Kaye Ballard was knocking them dead at the Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel with her uncanny impersonations of Brice. Kaye Stevens was drawing raves after adding “My Man” to her act. But Stark had no doubt noticed that The Barbra Streisand Album had just passed Eydie Gormé’s Blame It on the Bossa Nova on Billboard’s chart. The music industry’s trade journal probably sat right beside Stark’s copies of Variety and the Hollywood Reporter on his poolside table. The producer would surely have taken note of the red star next to Barbra’s name, indicating that she was on a fast ride to the top. Stark had been right all along about her potential. None of the others had red stars next to their names.
Barbra was the one with the momentum. Columnists were regularly linking her name with the show anyway; some presumed she’d already been cast. When Barbra had performed in San Francisco, the local press reported she’d “been signed for the role.” Whether that was a journalist’s error or a strategic exaggeration on the part of Lee Solters, neither Barbra’s camp nor Ray Stark had seen the need to correct the claim.
The producer did act to fix something else, however. No doubt at her husband’s request, Fran Stark had diplomatically withdrawn from any public comment on Barbra. But there was still a lingering perception out there that she disapproved. So Stark placed a call to Mike Connolly at the Hollywood Reporter. A conversation with Ray Stark was the only explanation for the interesting little item that Connolly subsequently ran, quoting a reader asking what had happened to the Fanny Brice musical. “They’ve been having a tough time finding the right girl for this great part,” Connolly replied. “But ever since Mrs. Ray Stark, Fanny’s daughter, saw Barbra Streisand in I Can Get It for You Wholesale she’s been insisting on Barbra for it.”
That, of course, was a bit of Orwellian revision, but the spin was necessary if they were going to tamp down the stories of Fran’s disapproval. A few weeks later, Connolly was reporting even more definitively on the matter: “That funny Barbra Streisand is all set to star in the Broadway-bound Funny Girl, formerly The Fanny Brice Story.”
That’s what Stark had been communicating privately to Marty Erlichman as well. Now all he needed was Bob Fosse to come through, and they’d have a show.
Barbra sat in what she considered “an ordinary beauty shop” in London, getting her hair cut, “shorter in back than on the sides,” as she described it. The look was catching on among the swinging chicks in the capital, an asymmetrical bob popularized by celebrity hairstylist Vidal Sassoon that relied on the natural shine and shape of the hair for its effect. That meant no more curlers or hairpieces or lacquers or endless fussing in front of a mirror. With her hair cut this way, Barbra could just wash it, shake it, and voilà! She was done. That made her very happy indeed.
What was more, she now looked like a very contemporary, hip young woman, a more grown-up version of the cosmopolite look Bob had styled a couple of years back. Having finally made it out of her hotel room in Oxford to London, Barbra seemed to come alive amid the city’s cultural renaissance. It was an optimistic period that celebrated the new and the modern in fashion, art, and personal expression. Girls sashayed down the street in oversized sunglasses and knee-high vinyl boots; their boyfriends sported double-breasted blazers and patent-leather ankle shoes with zippers. And everywhere Barbra went, she would have heard the music of the Beatles—an exciting new rock-and-roll band consisting of four young men from Liverpool—soaring from radios and record players. The Beatles’ songs “Love Me Do” and “From Me to You,” as well as others from their debut album, Please Please Me, provided an exuberant soundtrack to life in London during the spring of 1963. They might not have been songs she’d sing, but Barbra was enchanted. She absolutely loved the city.
The move to London had come as rehearsals for On the Town were transferred to the show’s eventual venue, the Prince of Wales Theatre, on the corner of Coventry and Oxendon Street. The theater’s white artificial stone was a landmark on the walk from Piccadilly to Leicester Square. To Barbra, the West End seemed every bit as exciting as Broadway. With Bob, she’d seen Half a Sixpence at the Cambridge Theatre, a few blocks away from the Prince of Wales on the corner of Earlham and Mercer streets. The show starred Tommy Steele, one of Britain’s most popular teen idols.
During the day, Barbra wandered the city with Bob, who’d taken off time from his job to be with her, taking in antique shops and outdoor markets. Elliott sometimes accompanied them as well when he wasn’t rehearsing. But when Elliott was with them, there was always a bit of tension. Barbra’s boyfriend rarely spoke directly to her old friend, avoiding eye contact at all times. Such behavior grew out of Elliott’s self-described “insecurities with everyone,” but Bob thought it also had to do with the fact that Elliott was still “uncomfortable with anyone who knew Barbra from the old days.”
After Bob returned to Paris, however, Elliott livened up. Strolling through London with Barbra on his arm wasn’t so different from the days when they used to wander New York in complete anonymity. They’d poke through the shops along Carnaby Street, trying on clothes, eating fish and chips or Indian food, and buying tchotchkes that caught their eyes. Any suspicions or fears that had festered between them during their separation dissolved as they rediscovered the simple joys of being together. Barbra realized, “to her great relief,” one friend noticed, that she was “still in love with Elliott and he with her.” The trip to London had been worth it.
Sometimes on their tours of the city they were also joined by the director of On the Town, Joe Layton, a tall, dark man with sharp features, and his wife, the actress Evelyn Russell. Both Laytons possessed keen senses of humor that Barbra enjoyed. Like Peter Matz, Joe Layton had been boosted in his career by Noël Coward, who called him “the most sought-after and up-and-coming young choreographer on the scene.” Layton had choreographed Coward’s Sail Away, for which Matz had done the music arrangements. Now he turned his attentions to On the Town, and he had great hopes for the production. Leonard Bernstein had thrown his support behind the revival, and planned to be there on opening night, which was now just a few weeks away. Elliott, as ever, was bedeviled by self-doubt, fearful he wouldn’t be able to hold his own playing a part that had been immortalized by Gene Kelly in the film version. He didn’t voice such fears. But if one looked closely, the terror could be discerned in the way Elliott’s eyes darted from place to place whenever someone asked him about the show.
Meanwhile, Barbra was all confidence. Sitting at a Covent Garden café sipping Earl Grey tea with her fellow New Yorkers, Barbra told them that Funny Girl was finally moving again. By the time she got back to the States, Marty expected to have a contract waiting for her to sign.
Such an outcome would mean, of course, that she’d be starring on Broadway while Elliott was headlining in the West End, separated by more than three thousand miles of ocean for who knew how long. But this trip, for all its difficulties, had reestablished the connection between them. They’d find a way to make things work.
On a cool evening in the middle part of May, Kaye Ballard arrived at Basin Street East with composer Arthur Siegel. They were there to see Barbra Streisand’s new show. The “little girl with the big voice,” as Ballard called her, had just become the top solo female recording artist in America. The Barbra Streisand Album had reached number 15 on the Billboard chart, passing Joan Baez, who’d fallen to number 19.
Ballard was set to headline at Basin Street East when Barbra’s run ended, and Siegel had known the young star for years, supplying her with sheet music at a time when she was too poor to afford it. Both assumed Barbra would be pleased if they popped backstage before the show to congratulate her on her recent successes. With the assent of the house manager, they knocked on Barbra’s dressing room.
The door opened slightly. The face of a “flack,” as Ballard described him, peered out at them. They asked if they might see Barbra. No, they were told sharply. Miss Streisand wasn’t seeing anyone. She was “much too busy.” The flack closed the door in their faces.
It was standard practice for other “names” to stop by the dressing rooms of performers either before or after a show. To snub someone in this way was a major breach of protocol. Barbra, however, as always, didn’t make time for niceties, least of all when she was getting ready to go on stage. She was more concerned with quieting her own nerves than bruising other people’s feelings. She may also have felt awkward having a conversation with Ballard, since the older actress was still being mentioned occasionally for Funny Girl—and Barbra now knew the show was almost hers.
Any nerves about that evening’s performance were understandable, however, since her gig at Basin Street East was her highest-profile one yet. The club itself wasn’t all that special: a red-plush room on the ground floor of the Shelton Towers Hotel at Forty-eighth Street and Lexington Avenue. But it had showcased some impressive performers over the years: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. Originally called La Vie en Rose, the club had introduced Eartha Kitt to the world. More recently, it was one of Peggy Lee’s most frequent engagements.
Four hundred and fifty people could be seated for a show—the biggest room Barbra had ever played—and since the start of her run on May 13, she’d been selling out the house. On opening night, she’d actually had an overflow audience, filled with celebrities and “the town’s top agents,bookers, record people and scribes.” Up near the front had sat Truman Capote, Cecil Beaton, the singer Connie Francis, the producer George Abbott, and Georgia Brown, Barbra’s erstwhile rival for Fanny Brice. One of the songs Barbra sang that night was “Who Will Buy?” from Brown’s show Oliver!—and Brown led the cheers. Backstage, Barbra received congratulatory telegrams from Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Opening night had been a triumph. Columnist Louis Sobol, also in that first-night crowd, had noted how Capote and Beaton kept “shouting their enthusiasm” every time Barbra finished a number. “She’s fabulous,” Capote gushed in his high-pitched voice to the columnist after the show. George Abbott had made a beeline backstage—Barbra didn’t turn him away—and told her she’d be perfect for his upcoming show Love Is Just Around the Corner. That little tidbit made its way to both Earl Wilson and Dorothy Kilgallen, courtesy of Lee Solters, who hoped Ray Stark would read it.
Most important, the critics had loved her. “A potent belter with a load of style,” Variety had declared. Billboard opined that few entertainers had come along in the past decade “with the talent and ability of Barbra Streisand,” and echoed Solters’s talking point of comparing her comedy style to Beatrice Lillie. “Barbra,” the obviously smitten reviewer had concluded, “you’re quite a girl and all performer.”
This was what the audience had been coming back for every night. As Ballard and Siegel took their seats—miffed but not so much that they’d miss the show—there was a definite energy in the air, an expectation of big things. With the newspaper strike over, New Yorkers were once again reading about Barbra in their local papers, and they had turned out in droves to Basin Street East.
As Barbra stepped out on stage, there was a huge roar of applause. Barbra looked terrific in the new do she’d gotten in London. One reviewer called it a “Kenneth coif,” assuming that she, like so many fashion-conscious celebrities, had made a visit to Kenneth Battelle, Jacqueline Kennedy’s hairstylist, who was bestowing a similar, Sassoon-inspired look on his clients. But Barbra was a trendsetter, never a follower. She had made her dress herself out of pink-and-white checked gingham: V-necked, sleeveless, Empire-waisted, and darted at the bust. Around the bottom she’d sewn some frill. She was terribly proud that she’d designed the dress herself, even if the same reviewer who’d approved of her new hairdo thought that her penchant for Empire waists didn’t “suit her frame.”
Still, her look set her apart. In a widely syndicated article for the UPI, writer Rick DuBrow had called Barbra “a different kind of mama”—and some commentators were still resistant to that difference. Harriet Van Horne, for example, writing for the Scripps-Howard news service, wished Barbra would “attempt one of the great old show tunes,” something by Rodgers and Hart. But such old-guard lamentations were mostly drowned out by the groundswell of enthusiasm for this different kind of mama. The night Kaye Ballard was in the audience, the crowd at Basin Street East shouted themselves hoarse each time Barbra finished a number.
Not everyone had come to hear Barbra, however. The actual headliner was legendary jazzman Benny Goodman. In Barbra’s contract, it was plainly stated that her billing would be only seventy-five percent of Goodman’s. The contract had been signed in March before her album had taken off; if it had been signed now, Barbra’s agents probably could have gotten equal billing and more than her $2,500 salary for the three-week run. With Barbra’s sudden elevation to the big leagues, there was some assumption that she and Goodman were “costars,” which is the way a few newspapers billed them even if it wasn’t true.
There was a bit of resentment between the two camps, especially when some of Barbra’s audiences left after she was finished. Barbra had to be careful because she was using Goodman’s sextet as her backup musicians. At one point, she “playfully mocked” upstaging the jazzman with his own band, which Goodman trombonist Tyree Glenn did not find amusing in the slightest.
This pairing of Benny Goodman and Barbra Streisand was bound to produce a clash of generations. The “juxtaposition of the music/record biz’s old . . . and the new” might be “a happy event for the Basin Street buffs,” as Variety claimed, guaranteeing “plenty of action at the ropes.” But comparisons were still going to be drawn, even if they were between apples and oranges. Barbra “was an exciting young performer” whose “showbiz potential in all media” was “immense,” while Goodman, Billboard complained, was “turning himself into a period piece” with a repertoire that seemed “to date from the 1930s.” And while Barbra also had some old-time numbers in her act, she had shaken them up and brought a very modern sensibility to her interpretations.
Her set ran about thirty-five minutes. With the exception of “Big Bad Wolf,” she gave the Basin Street audience mostly ballads. There was also another long “involved story,” a variant of her African folktale, this one set up as a lead-in to an old Estonian folk song “which she never sang,” according to Billboard. It was a shtick that people seemed to like but that Barbra seemed to like even more, since she insisted there be one such monologue for every half hour of singing. (In other shows it might be “an Armenian folk song about an ill-starred butcher named Arnie.”) Clearly, Barbra still didn’t like singing one song after another.
After the monologue, Peter Daniels played the first few bars of “Cry Me a River,” and the audience, recognizing what had become another of their heroine’s signature songs, erupted into applause. Kaye Ballard might have been feeling hurt by Barbra’s snub earlier in the evening, but she couldn’t deny how gorgeously Barbra put the number across. Thankfully, it was toned down from the version she’d given on Dinah Shore’s show—which had finally aired just a few nights earlier. Now, in direct contrast to the elegant way she sang it at the Basin Street East, the entire country had gotten to see Barbra’s over-the-top television rendition.
And Fran Stark wasn’t the only one who’d recoiled from it. “The last act of Tosca couldn’t impose more strain on artist and audience than Miss S crying us a river,” Harriet Van Horne wrote after seeing the Shore show. “In truth, the number would be more effective were Miss S to cry us a mere gushing rill.” Columnist Alan Gill was even harsher, calling Barbra “a Flatbush gamine with the tonsils of a fish peddler.” He thought that maybe her left foot had been “caught in a badger trap.” But in the eyes of the diehards, Barbra could do no wrong. For Rick DuBrow, Barbra’s “Cry Me a River” on Dinah Shore was a cathartic experience. He felt like “crawling under a table for fear that she would hiss forth a forked and poisonous tongue at two-timing men everywhere.” (He meant this as a compliment.) DuBrow went on to hit every public-relations bullet point as if Lee Solters himself wrote the review. Barbra was “quickly becoming known as a torch singer who acts within her songs more extraordinarily since Lena Horne came up.” She was “a little bit of Fanny Brice and Alice Ghostley and Carol Burnett, with a dash of Mort Sahl.”
Even if Barbra’s performance had polarized viewers, the Shore show kept them talking about her—and buying her album. Television, Marty understood, was key to his client’s success, so he continued booking her on various programs to keep the exposure going. Barbra had just taped an appearance on the summer-replacement show for Garry Moore, a variety hour hosted by Keefe Brasselle, a frenetic song-and-dance man best known for playing the title role in The Eddie Cantor Story. There was also another Ed Sullivan to look forward to, and when the new season began in the fall, Marty expected there to be other shows as well.
But the biggest news was that Barbra was going to sing for the president. Marty had gotten a call from Murray Schwartz, Merv Griffin’s agent, after Griffin had been selected by Kennedy to host that year’s White House press correspondents dinner. As host, Griffin was also responsible for lining up the entertainment. Would Barbra join them in Washington on May 23? It didn’t take long for Marty to answer yes.
As the crowd at Basin Street East rose to its feet, cheering Barbra’s final number, they were saluting a star whose time had arrived, in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Kaye Ballard left Basin Street East that night in a state of astonishment. “This little girl,” she said, “who seemed to come from nowhere, who seemed to know no one, suddenly had the world at her fingertips.”
Barbra bid the last of her entourage good night and headed home. It had been a good show. She couldn’t help but be pleased with the way things were going. But after all the words of praise were over, Barbra returned to that little railroad flat over Oscar’s Salt of the Sea all alone.
Even with so much acclaim, Barbra still lived in that airless apartment. She could have afforded better. Friends and associates were urging her to find a place that suited her increasing stature. But she didn’t want to move quite yet. She didn’t want to “live in-between,” she explained to one interviewer, in some way station between poverty and wealth. She declared that she would “live in this rat hole” until she “could afford a duplex penthouse.”
Besides, this was the home she shared with Elliott. How could she abandon it when he wasn’t there? This apartment was the only tangible connection she had at the moment to the man she loved. His clothes, his things, his tchotchkes were here. This was their tree house, after all, where they’d cooked and played and made love. No, she couldn’t just box everything up and move someplace else.
On the Town was set to open on May 30, a little more than a week away. The show could be a big hit, keeping Elliott in London for months, maybe even a year.
Or it could flop.
Elliott would either be gone for a very long time, or he would soon be right back here with her.
Either way, for the time being, Barbra, the toast of the town, was alone as she slipped into her little twin bed and turned off the light—except for maybe Oscar the rat scuttling under the kitchen stove.
As a kid, Barbra had dreamed of seeing places beyond the grimy tenements of Brooklyn. In the last couple of years, she had fulfilled that dream. In the last few months alone, she had been to Miami, San Francisco, and London. Now it was Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. On a brief drive through the city, she and Peter Daniels gazed out at the gleaming white marble of the Washington Monument and the shining dome of the Capitol.
Their destination, however, was a bit removed from downtown. They were heading to the fir-and-oak-shaded Woodley Park neighborhood in the northwest part of the city, where the stately Sheraton Park Hotel rose above the trees. Here was where Barbra would sing for the president of the United States.
Before she’d left New York, she’d called her mother to tell her where she was going. These days, such calls were rare. Diana told friends that she didn’t often hear from her daughter because she was “very busy with her singing career.” She no longer pestered Barbra about getting out of showbiz and finding a steady job. But Barbra knew better than to ask her mother’s opinion on any performances. To her friends, Diana might express a degree of pride, however reserved (“she didn’t want to appear to be bragging,” said one), but she still seemed to hold firm to that old belief that too much praise would go to Barbra’s head. Her mother’s lack of enthusiasm was never going to change, Barbra knew. So they kept a certain, safe distance. It was better for everyone that way.
But when she was invited to sing for the president, Barbra couldn’t hold back. She’d picked up the phone and called her mother. She knew how much Diana loved the young, handsome, energetic president. To Barbra’s great surprise, her mother had, for the first time, bubbled over with excitement about something Barbra was involved in. Of course, there were no “congratulations,” no “you deserve this, Barbra.” That would be too much to hope for. But the enthusiasm was there nonetheless, and Barbra was happy for that.
Stepping out of the car, she headed into the horseshoe-shaped hotel. After rehearsals, Barbra hurried upstairs to change into her dress—short-sleeved white satin, scoop-necked, with buttons down the front—then grabbed her boa and made her way to the ballroom. There she took her seat with the other entertainers. Edie Adams had flown in from Los Angeles, and cabaret impresario Julius Monk had winged in from Chicago. Basin Street East had agreed to give Barbra the night off, but only if she dug “down in her own purse to pay for her one-night replacement.” Shrewd enough not to replace herself with another singer, Barbra had chosen comedian Jack E. Leonard instead.
The president, in a well-fitting tuxedo, sat at the head table. Barbra could hardly take her eyes off him. Celebrities didn’t impress her, but John F. Kennedy did. Merriman Smith, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, presented the commander in chief with an electric bread slicer, a wry comment on the fact that Kennedy had recently shown up at a press conference with a bandaged finger, a wound he blamed on slicing bread. Then master of ceremonies Merv Griffin took the podium. Speaking about the new home being built by President and Mrs. Kennedy near Rattlesnake Mountain, Virginia, a place that would be leased out for the summer, Griffin said, “I wouldn’t want the president of the United States to be my landlord. I’d be a little reluctant in the middle of the night to call the White House to complain that there’s no hot water.”
Laughter followed each speaker’s remarks, but when Barbra came on stage, she played it mostly straight. Peter Daniels took his seat at the piano as Barbra stood at the mike. If she was nervous—and with her history of opening-night jitters, she probably was—it wasn’t detectable. She sang five numbers, but it was the last one that carried the most relevance. “Happy Days Are Here Again” had been used in Franklin Roosevelt’s successful 1932 presidential campaign, and since then it had become an unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party. Singing the song for Kennedy wasn’t just entertainment; it was Barbra’s way of saying she was on board with his leadership of America. When she was done, Kennedy applauded heartily. Barbra dropped a curtsy, exposing a flash of cleavage.
Afterward, the entertainers stood in line waiting to meet the president. The protocol had been explained to them: Kennedy was not to be detained. He’d shake hands and exchange a few pleasantries, but that was all. Barbra, of course, never cared much for protocol, so when the president reached her, she told him that her mother was a great fan of his and asked him to sign her program. He smiled and complied.
“How long have you been singing?” he asked her.
“Just as long as you’ve been president,” she said. When he handed her the program, she said, “You’re a doll.”
She had just called the president of the United States a “doll.”
Meanwhile, a battery of newspaper photographers was snapping away. Merv Griffin, observing the moment, knew whose photo would make the papers the next day: the girl who’d dared to ask the president for his autograph. “Smart girl, that one,” Griffin thought. He was right on that score.
The woman just wouldn’t stop talking. Barbra was at the point in her act when she introduced her band, and this woman, seated near the front of the audience and quite possibly drunk, kept interrupting her, trying to make jokes of her own. So when Barbra introduced Peter Daniels, she mentioned that he was English and then turned to the obnoxious heckler. “He knows you well, madam,” Barbra said. “He’s an ex–cabinet minister.”
The audience broke up in laughter. After being effectively called a prostitute—Barbra was referencing the Profumo Affair, which was currently dominating British politics—the woman shut up for the rest of the show.
This month—June—it was Chicago’s turn to meet Barbra Streisand, and her chance to get to know the Windy City. She was performing a three-week run at Mister Kelly’s, a popular jazz-and-comedy club in the city’s North Rush Street café belt. Its name was spelled outside in giant neon letters. She’d been doing bang-up business. The reviewer for Chicago’s American thought that, based on the size of the crowds that had packed the club on her first few nights, Barbra’s “three-week showing [would be] a hefty winner.” Of course, television was critical. She’d arrived in Chicago after another Ed Sullivan Show, in which she’d sung “When the Sun Comes Out” wearing a raincoat and pearls. Then, a few days after her gig at Mister Kelly’s started, she’d appeared on The Irv Kupcinet Show, the Chicago-based program of the popular local columnist. Now the marquee out front under her name carried the tagline: “FANTASTIC”—KUP. A recommendation from Kup was all it took for many Chicagoans to take in a show.
After the bigness of Basin Street East, Mister Kelly’s offered Barbra a return to the intimate feel of her earlier clubs. About four tables deep and twenty tables wide, the club was like playing in “somebody’s living room,” thought the comedian Bob Newhart. Named after its first manager, Pat Kelly, the venue was run by the brothers Oscar and George Marienthal, who’d practically cornered the market on Chicago entertainment. In addition to Mister Kelly’s, they also ran the London House, a jazz joint on North Michigan, and the Happy Medium, a showplace at Rush and Delaware. But it was Mister Kelly’s that was, according to one observer, “the place to see and be seen on Chicago’s hippest strip.”
The one being seen now was Barbra—and Chicagoans seemed to like what they saw. “A cross between a sweet-voiced canary and a whooping crane, but she’s sparkling and fresh,” columnist Sam Lesner quipped in the Chicago Daily News. Before Barbra had arrived, Will Leonard in the Chicago Tribune had been leery of the advance praise from the likes of Truman Capote and David Merrick in her publicity material: “That’s almost enough to unsell a man who likes to wait and see,” Leonard wrote. But in the end, he agreed they were right. Charlie Dawn in Chicago’s American answered all of Barbra’s critics by saying her unorthodox versions of songs like “Happy Days” and “Cry Me a River” had made them “alive and thrilling all over again.” Plus—and this was a milestone—he’d actually called her “comely.” It wasn’t a typo for “homely.” A major critic had just called Barbra “comely”—as in attractive. Pretty, even.
Silencing that heckler showed that Barbra was in top form. She was confident, even a little cocky. Good news kept flowing in every week regarding her album. She’d held on to the title of best-selling female solo artist for three weeks. The Barbra Streisand Album had reached number 14 on Billboard’s chart on June 1. When, the following week, the album’s sales suddenly plummeted to number 31, allowing Joan Baez to retake the title, Columbia had responded by taking out a full-page ad in Billboard with a photo of Barbra’s album and the tagline: A fantastic first! They needn’t have worried. Barbra’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show had ensured that her drop would be no free fall, and by June 15, she was back to number 17 on the chart. As icing on the cake, the stereo version of her album, which had just been released, quickly made Billboard’s “breakout” column.
To a record company once dubious of her widespread commercial appeal, Barbra had proven herself. She’d done so by trekking around the country, by showing up on practically every television show and singing her heart out. So successfully had she proven herself that Columbia had given the green light for a second album to be released later that year. Before she’d left New York, Barbra had recorded more than a dozen tracks, including, for the first time, a new song written just for her by Peter Matz, “Gotta Move.” He’d composed the jazzy number with her speech patterns—and some autobiography—in mind: “Gotta move! Gotta get out! Gotta leave this place! Gotta find some place . . . where each face I see won’t be staring back at me, telling me what to be and how to be it.” It was the most modern song Barbra had sung yet.
Also recorded were some other favorites from the nightclub act that hadn’t made the first cut: “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Right as the Rain,” “I Stayed Too Long at the Fair.” This time, barging into Studio A, Barbra had been much more aggressive, sticking her fingers into every aspect of the session. Having soaked up the process the first time, she now acted as if she were an expert, suggesting that engineer Frank Laico “do this [and] do that.” It was her record, after all.
Surprised by her change in manner, Laico had leveled with her: “You didn’t know anything with that first album, and look how successful it’s become . . . I have the same ears. I’m not going to let you down.” But Barbra couldn’t be put off her ideas. Not only had she decided what to sing, but she would decide how to sing it, where to sing it, and how to record it. Laico and the others thought her ego had gotten puffed up by her success, but Barbra didn’t buy that argument. “If I have ideas about sets and the orchestrations and production, is that ego?” she asked. No, it was the pursuit of excellence. Barbra insisted that the “range of [her] talent” extended into all areas of record production. “To have ego means to believe in your own strengths,” she insisted.
But that didn’t make it any easier on the engineers. At one point, both Barbra and Marty latched on to Laico in the control booth, one talking into his left ear, the other into his right. The engineer threatened to quit, though he stuck around, and somehow—no doubt because of the calm precision and artistry of Peter Matz, again serving as arranger—the album got finished.
The success of Barbra’s first disk had empowered her to behave in such a way. Once reluctant to sign her, now Columbia was desperate not to lose her. When Laico had taken his complaints about Barbra’s controlling behavior to Mike Berniker, the album producer had told him to be careful. “We don’t want to upset them,” he said, meaning Barbra and Marty. There were other record labels that would be very happy to sign Barbra if she tried backing out of her contract, and Columbia knew this.
The success of The Barbra Streisand Album was a turning point in Barbra’s career. Marty felt it had given her “a national reputation.” It was a turning point for Marty as well. In the spring of 1963, it was clear that Barbra really was going to be as big as his publicity about her had always predicted. So that meant some changes were in order. Whether Barbra had given him an ultimatum like the one she’d given Ted Rozar or whether Marty had reached the decision on his own, he dropped the Clancy Brothers as clients so he could focus all his attention on Barbra. He broke the news to the brothers as they were riding in a car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The story making the rounds had the Clancys pulling over, telling Marty to get out of the car, and then leaving him stranded somewhere outside Pittsburgh.
If the story was true, the hike home was undoubtedly worth it. Marty could see the future. The strategy for building Barbra up had worked like a charm so far. There was every reason to think it would continue working, all the way to the very top—wherever and whatever that might be.
So that spring the media machine kicked into high gear. Lee Solters had been handed a PR bonanza with Barbra’s singing for the president. Suddenly Earl Wilson, bombarded with memos from the publicist, was writing that Kennedy had “demanded” a copy of “Happy Days Are Here Again” after Barbra had sung it to him. Another baloney story being spread by Wilson had Barbra—as ever in these tales, the unpredictable kook—taking one look at Kennedy when he started in “with the Bostonese” and saying, “Come on now, you can talk natural with me.” Column inch by column inch, a legend was taking shape.
Yet if she had asked to see something at the sales counter at Bergdorf Goodman—her acid test for fame—would the clerk have known who she was? Barbra had reason to doubt it. Just a few weeks before, when she’d shown up for The Ed Sullivan Show, the security guard at the Studio 50theater hadn’t recognized her. He’d refused to let her in until he checked with his bosses. Barbra was no doubt abashed.
The only answer was to get a show of her own. Notices in gossip columns, appearances on variety shows, even record albums could only do so much. More than ever, she needed Funny Girl. Barbra had started taking ballet lessons to learn poise and coordination in anticipation of the dancing she would need to do as the star of a show. She was so close to grabbing it she could practically smell the greasepaint, but the part remained just out of reach. Jule Styne told Billboard that he was still working on the Fanny Brice story—“which may star Barbra Streisand.” May star. May wasn’t good enough. Barbra wanted an answer.
And she wanted it even more now given that Elliott’s success seemed assured. On the Town had opened on May 30 to an “ovation,” according to the headline in the New York Times. Although reviews were mixed, even the negative ones were predicting long-lasting box-office success. The Daily Telegraph declared that the show’s “mad speed, noise and violence” would keep patrons coming back “for months and months.” Even though it would prolong the separation between them, Barbra wanted a show for herself with at least as much success as Elliott’s.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, sending ripples of pink and gold across the calm surface of the water. Barbra came skipping barefoot through the sand of Oak Street Beach, the morning sun reflecting off the majestic skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. She’d been up all night, having finished her last show at Mister Kelly’s in the wee hours of the morning and then kicked back at an all-night eatery with some pals, including the one she was with now, the photographer Don Bronstein, who had his camera in tow.
They’d come to the beach to take photos—maybe for Barbra’s album, maybe for something else. Bronstein just wanted to photograph her, which was quite the compliment. After all, he’d been the first staff photographer for Playboy magazine, and had snapped some of the world’s most beautiful women for covers and centerfolds over the last decade. Bronstein didn’t expect that Barbra would disrobe the way those models had done, but he did plan on getting some shots that revealed a very different side of the singer. He had a way of getting women to relax and open up to the camera—a prerequisite for photographing models who took off their clothes. But as Bronstein encouraged Barbra to scamper out into the surf, it was clear he could elicit a similar au naturel quality from his subjects even when they kept their clothes on.
Barbra was glowing. Marty had at last received confirmation from Stark that she would star in Funny Girl. True, it wasn’t absolutely official—no announcement had yet been made by Stark or Merrick—but Earl Wilson reported she was “practically at the contract-signing stage,” and he would have definitely confirmed that kind of information before going to the printer with it. Mike Connolly also seemed to know the inside scoop. He was a bit premature in saying that Barbra had already been signed, but he was clearly writing with Stark’s approval. Clearly, sometime in early June, a final decision had been made, and Barbra learned of it shortly thereafter. She would play Fanny Brice. She would get that show of her own.
Running through the surf and sand, Barbra smiled and tossed her hair while Bronstein kept snapping away with his camera. As the sun rose higher in the sky, Barbra tied the ends of her red-and-white-checked shirt together, exposing a hint of skin. She was as free and natural with the camera as if she’d been modeling all her life—and in some ways, she had been, starting back in the days when she’d try out different poses in the photo booths of the penny arcades of Brooklyn. Now she turned and faced Bronstein’s camera, her arms behind her head. She showed off her shapely legs in tight Capri pants. She turned and faced away from the camera, looking at the water. At one point she slipped a muumuu over herself and lifted her right leg behind her.
She was flirting with the camera, flirting with Bronstein. If he had a way with women, Barbra also had a way with men. At Mister Kelly’s, one fan thought she was “a saucy little coquette” after her shows, batting her eyelashes at the men, young and old, who came up to her. Now prancing across the sand, she threw her head back and placed a hand on her hip, pouting sexily. She was clearly having a ball.
Part of her good mood may also have come from some other recent news. On the phone with Elliott, she had learned that On the Town wasn’t doing as well as that piece in the Times had led many Americans to believe. They were playing to whole sections of empty seats every night. That didn’t bode well for a long run. So maybe Elliott would be coming home soon. Barbra probably didn’t suggest such a thing, since Elliott was clearly upset about the show’s prospects. But maybe things were working out just as she’d hoped. She’d gotten the show. Maybe now she’d get her boyfriend back, too.
It seemed like a good time to start looking for that penthouse.