The aroma of chlorine on her skin and in her hair, Barbra leaped onto Elliott’s back, producing a great splash of water. Around them enormous palm trees shot up against a startlingly blue sky, ringing the sun-dappled swimming pool nestled inside the pink walls of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Barbra, in a bikini, her hair tied up on top of her head, was clinging to Elliott’s torso as he hoisted her onto his right shoulder. They were standing in the shallow end of the pool.
On the deck, photographer Bob Willoughby was focusing his camera. Willoughby had made a name for himself photographing Judy Garland, and Begelman and Fields had arranged a shoot for him with their newest client. At some point, Willoughby suggested that Barbra climb up on Elliott’s shoulders. But once she was up there, surely it was her idea to do what she did next.
Just as Willoughby snapped the picture, Barbra reached her left hand around to cover Elliott’s face. The resulting photo revealed a small Mona Lisa smile on Barbra’s face.
It was all in jest, of course. They were having fun. Lots of photos were taken that day. Lots of splashing went on in the pool, lots of lounging was enjoyed poolside. At least for now, it was the closest to a honeymoon that Barbra and Elliott were going to get. They told reporters they hoped to escape to Italy before Barbra started rehearsals for Funny Girl—but at the moment the big question was if those rehearsals would happen at all. Yet again, there had been a major setback for the show, and Funny Girl faced the possibility of being postponed once more. As everyone knew, whenever a show was postponed, there was a chance it would never start up again.
Bob Fosse had resigned from the show. The press called it an “unexpected change,” but Barbra likely saw it coming since Fosse had confided in her his continuing distrust of Stark. When Feuer and Martin, his producers on How to Succeed, asked him to direct their forthcoming musical, I Picked a Daisy, with a score by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, Fosse bolted. Stark, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, supervising the start of filming on The Night of the Iguana, was furious. “Cannot believe that [a] professional like you would attempt to quit show at this late date,” he wired Fosse, demanding that the director fulfill his agreement or face an injunction. Stark warned of “losses running into the thousands of dollars” for which he insisted Fosse would be held liable.
The erstwhile director was not intimidated. Writing to Barbra, Lennart, Styne, and Merrill, Fosse expressed his desire to “just withdraw and leave to you any and all ideas” he had contributed so far. But the threatened lawsuit from Stark, he explained, precluded him from being “so generous at the moment.” That left them exactly where they’d been when Robbins left: potentially starting over from scratch.
The restrictions placed on the script by Robbins had exacerbated Fosse’s problems at the helm of Funny Girl. Shortly before he resigned, an itemized list of contributions made by his predecessor had been received from Robbins’s lawyer, who was finally parrying Stark’s legal maneuvers. Since Stark hadn’t attended creative meetings, Robbins’s lawyer had insisted, not only could he not say what Robbins’s creative contributions were, he could also not say for sure that he “didn’t make contributions.” An “upset and angry” Robbins had tape-recorded an hour-long recitation of every single scene, line of dialogue, song change, and character suggestion he’d ever made during his time with the project. The “only practical resolution,” Robbins’s lawyer said, would be to pay his client royalties if even one word or one idea of his was used in the show.
With such an exhaustive catalog of contributions, it was clear that nearly every page of the script owed something to Robbins—an idea Isobel Lennart couldn’t honestly challenge. Fosse may have felt the show was doomed, since the book was now in such drastic need of overhaul, though he couldn’t admit that as a reason for wanting out. It was more strategic to pin the blame on Stark’s backstabbing. “Mr. Stark imposed an atmosphere of distrust that I found too difficult to overcome,” Fosse wrote to Barbra and his other collaborators, never mentioning that the contract he left unsigned contained precisely the kind of language he’d insisted upon as self-protection.
The show was once again without a director, and for all intents and purposes, given Robbins’s threats, without a book. Just how rehearsals could begin in a matter of months was anybody’s guess.
Barbra knew that her contract with David Merrick meant they’d have to pay her a pretty penny if they postponed the show. Not for nothing did Barbra’s camp keep reminding the columnists—and through them, Stark and Merrick—that she was forfeiting a hundred grand in club dates by signing on for Funny Girl. But as much as she enjoyed having it, money was secondary to Barbra; it was the possibility of seeing this—her best and quite possibly only chance to star in a Broadway show—slip through her fingers that no doubt truly distressed her. Finishing her Lake Tahoe gig, Barbra likely found the few days of lounging around the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel very welcome indeed.
She still planned to head back to New York, however; no one had yet called off rehearsals. In fact, Carol Haney was still on the job as choreographer, already auditioning dancers. The deal that Fosse eventually struck with Stark had allowed them to use his ideas and contributions if the threat of a lawsuit was dropped and if they kept Haney on board. So, at least to the outside world, the show was proceeding apace. The columns continued to buzz over who might be Barbra’s costar. Hedda Hopper reported that Hugh O’Brian was “ready to sign,” then reversed herself and said Tony Martin was in as Nick. Mike Connolly claimed Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., was in the running; Walter Winchell declared Nick was going to be played by Richard Kiley.
The one name no one ever mentioned was Elliott. He was clearly not viewed as a big enough name. But Elliott wasn’t likely all that eager to play second fiddle to his wife, either. Indeed, he’d recognized that he needed to establish himself independent of Barbra, and so he had decided to stick around on the West Coast even after Barbra went back East, staying “long enough to make one serious Hollywood bid,” he told columnist Barney Glazer. It would mean another separation from Barbra, but Elliott had to find a way to start bringing in some money to their household. Besides, Barbra wasn’t leaving California for a while: she had the Garland show to do in a couple of weeks, plus the concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Hansel and Gretel could frolic in the pool a while longer—even if Gretel did tend to cover Hansel’s face in photographs.
Meanwhile, Diana had sent them a wedding gift. She’d been saving for this day, a little bit from her paycheck over the years whenever she could afford it. She’d managed to accumulate $750. To Diana, that was a substantial sum with which to start married life. If her own mother had given her that much money when she married Emanuel, she would have been overjoyed and overwhelmed. Barbra expressed her thanks, of course, but her mother’s gift hardly registered among the multiple savings and investment accounts now being managed by Marty Bregman. The truth was, Barbra didn’t need any money from Diana. What she needed from her mother was something else entirely, but she had long ago stopped hoping to get it.
As she’d been doing for the last few weeks, Judy Garland was playing The Barbra Streisand Album, becoming familiar with the young singer—twenty years her junior—who’d be appearing on her show. It was the first day of rehearsals, and Barbra would be arriving at the CBS Television City studios at Fairfax and Beverly within moments, if she wasn’t already there. When musical director Mel Tormé walked into Garland’s dressing room, he found the star singing along to “Happy Days Are Here Again”—except that she was singing her own song “Get Happy” from the movie Summer Stock. Tormé thought the combination sounded “electrifying” and decided on the spot that Judy and Barbra should sing the two songs in counterpoint on the show. Garland smiled. That had been her plan all along. She had just wanted it to be somebody else’s idea, in case Barbra didn’t like it.
At forty-one, Garland looked a decade older. Pills, alcohol, heartache, illness, roller-coaster dieting—and the recent ongoing battles with her husband over their children—had all taken their toll. This television show, for which she’d now taped eight episodes, was supposed to make her rich. That was what Begelman and Fields had promised. Garland was always broke, due to bad financial management and overspending. She envied male contemporaries such as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who were rolling in the dough, much of it earned in television. This show, she hoped, would change all that. Her agents had never been wrong before.
But problems had arisen almost from the start. Garland’s first producer was fired after six weeks, and another crew was brought in. The format of the show went through several changes before it made it on the air. CBS President James T. Aubrey, Jr.—known as “the Smiling Cobra”—never liked the program. The network was spending a great deal of money on Garland: $100,000 to refurbish the stage alone. In addition, Garland’s dressing room was an elaborate one-hundred-ten-foot-long trailer decorated to resemble the star’s Brentwood home, and the hallway leading from the dressing room to the stage was a replica of the Yellow Brick Road from The Wizard of Oz. Only if the show turned out to be a huge ratings hit would Aubrey feel the expense had been worth it.
The first episode had just aired on September 29. Although the official ratings weren’t in, overnight projections had showed Garland coming in second to NBC’s western drama, Bonanza. Still, supporters pointed out that in certain markets, such as Philadelphia, Garland had been number one, and nearly everywhere she’d left all other rivals in the dust, including the crime drama Arrest and Trial on ABC. That wasn’t a bad start at all. The reviews, however, had been decidedly mixed. Most seemed to feel Garland herself was “in fine fettle,” but no one seemed to like her comic foil, Jerry Van Dyke. The writing and pacing of the show came under fire.
Perhaps there were those at Television City who recalled the reviews for The Keefe Brasselle Show that had described Barbra as “a one-woman recovery operation.” Certainly Barbra had always been a standout guest on all her previous television spots. So it was with tremendous enthusiasm that Tormé and Norman Jewison, Garland’s producer, welcomed Barbra to the show. With the possible exception of Lena Horne, with whom they’d taped an episode in July, Barbra was the most exciting, most talked-about guest they’d had on their brand-new revolving stage since they’d started production. Everyone was hoping Barbra could bring a little of the razzle-dazzle she’d bestowed upon Brasselle and Garry Moore and Dinah Shore—and the ratings and the reviews as well.
In her trailer at the end of the mock Yellow Brick Road, Garland wasn’t unaware of the excitement being generated by the arrival of this Streisand kid. She was “nervous and anxious and jealous,” one friend, Tucker Fleming, observed. Looking at her face in the mirror, Garland ran her fingers down the wrinkles and creases she saw there, clearly aware of the youthful features of the singer she would soon be rehearsing with. It was one thing to perform alongside her own seventeen-year-old daughter, Liza Minnelli, as Garland had done on a previous show, taped and waiting to be broadcast. But the only other female guests she’d had on the show so far had been Horne and June Allyson. Garland was “very aware of how she looked” as compared to the twenty-one-year-old Streisand, and “it made her very insecure and anxious,” Fleming said.
To Garland, Barbra wasn’t ugly or funny-looking. She was young, fresh-faced, her eyes undamaged by the battle between insomnia and sleeping pills. David Begelman had introduced his two clients in Lake Tahoe, where he’d brought Garland to see Barbra perform at Harrah’s. So the old pro had witnessed firsthand the confident, youthful energy Barbra exuded onstage. No wonder she was insecure. While Garland still conjured an exquisite alchemy in front of an audience, youth and confidence were two attributes she definitely did not possess.
Barbra also had a voice that everyone was raving about, in ways Garland “could only remember people raving about her,” said Fleming. That was why she’d come up with the idea of singing in counterpoint. Her “competitive nature had been fired up,” Fleming observed; she wasn’t going to just passively hand the show over to this young whippersnapper. She’d arrived on the set sharp and sober and ready to roll, her makeup done perfectly, her hair coiffed expertly, even if her hands did tremble as she lifted Barbra’s album from the turntable, pleased that Tormé had taken her hint.
The truth was that the unanimous chorus of voices that were shouting brava! for the Streisand kid was “daunting” to Judy, as Fleming could plainly see. Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, and Jule Styne adored Garland, but even in all her years of glory, never had such a group of heavyweights ever coalesced behind her to deliberately boost her career in the way they were doing now for Barbra. There were “plenty of times when Judy could have used” such support, observed Fleming, “but she didn’t always have the backing of the musical-theater ‘establishment,’ so to speak, the way Streisand did.” Garland held no personal animosity toward the youngster. She was just anxious to prove she could hold her own against her.
By the fall of 1963, the patronage Barbra enjoyed from that “musical-theater establishment” made her a force to be reckoned with. Where she’d once been a popular, even best-selling recording artist and nightclub chanteuse, her casting in Funny Girl had turned her into a powerhouse. Wags had started referring to the “cult of Barbra Streisand,” which referenced the cabal of influential tastemakers who had decided that Barbra was “it” and who were determined to use their leverage to carry her to the top. Columnist Jack Gaver may have been the first to use the term: “A sort of Streisand cult,” he wrote, “has been mushrooming to the point where non-cultists soon might find themselves in danger of being picketed by the pros.” Then had come Lloyd Shearer’s article in Parade, which had bannered THE CULT OF BARBRA STREISAND in big black letters on its first page. That was what millions of Americans had seen on their Sunday kitchen tables, right beside their cups of coffee and bacon and eggs.
“In today’s show business world,” Shearer wrote, “thousands of girl singers are offered at eight cents a dozen. In the face of such tremendous imbalance, what is the magic ingredient that jets one girl to the top while others fall by the wayside?” Although he’d credited Barbra’s talent—“born of nature and practically no training”—Shearer had ascribed the lion’s share of her success to the influence of “a growing army of followers who insist that Barbra is in the great tradition of Helen Morgan, Judy Garland, Lena Horne.” Pageant magazine had gone a step further, naming names in that army: Arlen, of course, and Truman Capote and George Abbott. This kind of talk was what made some of Barbra’s contemporaries so envious.
No wonder Judy Garland’s hands were shaking as she headed down the Yellow Brick Road to meet Barbra Streisand, who was waiting for her on the soundstage.
By rights, it should have been the other way around.
It should have been the twenty-one-year-old kid, the neophyte singer who’d been performing for barely three years, who was trembling to meet Judy Garland. But Barbra’s nerves were steady, her manner calm, as the cameras began rolling on Friday, October 4, for the final taping of the show. They’d had two days of run-throughs, plus a final dress rehearsal from five thirty to seven o’clock; now, at nine, Barbra felt confident she knew all her marks and dialogue. If the presence in the audience that night of the Smiling Cobra and other CBS brass unsettled Garland, it seemed to have no discernible effect on her young guest star.
Garland emerged to the applause of the audience wearing a light-colored, sparkly gown. “We have a very exciting show for”—her voice caught, and for a split second she lost her way, but she made a quick recovery—“planned for you tonight. We’ve got marvelous people.” This was part of her standard opening segment, called “Be My Guest,” in which Garland talked-sang the introductions. Her voice lifting uneasily, her nerves impossible to fully disguise, she trilled, “We’ve got Barbra Streisand—I think she’s nice and she has such poise and she’s got such elegance—It’s a joy to have her on my show—Darling!” As Garland beamed and reached out her arm, Barbra joined her on the stage. They kissed as the audience applauded.
The two made a striking contrast. Barbra stood a head taller than her hostess, and her dark velvet suit offset Garland’s lighter hues. As they’d practiced, they kept up the musical introduction sketch, Judy frequently reaching over to grab Barbra’s arm, as if to steady herself.
“Judy,” Barbra trilled, “it’s great to be with you . . .”
“Be my guest, be my guest . . .”
“You know I’ve been a fan of yours since I was two,” Barbra continued. It was a dig Garland’s writers had thrown in to exploit the age difference. But the bigger irony was the fact that Barbra hadn’t been a fan since she was two. She’d barely been a fan for a year, and even then, “fan” might have been pushing it since Barbra wasn’t a fan of many people, no matter how good they were, and she’d claimed not to have even heard of Garland not so long ago. Still, she understood that it was politic to give the impression that she’d been one of the millions who’d loved Judy all these years.
Yet if she had once been indifferent toward the lady, the last couple of days had changed Barbra’s take on Judy Garland. She had walked onto that soundstage feeling very “secure,” she admitted, unafraid “of failure or anything.” And then she met her hostess. The veteran star kept taking Barbra’s hands, touching her, putting her arm around her. She was trembling. Barbra was flabbergasted. Garland was older, successful, venerated. Why should she be shaking when meeting a girl who was just starting out? Barbra didn’t get it.
Her heart went out to Garland. An “instant soul connection” was how Barbra described her encounter with the older woman. She probably didn’t know the full story of what was going on behind the scenes, or the sense of trepidation that Garland lived with nearly every moment on the show. If the fragile star made one false step, she feared that they’d give her the ax. Aubrey was pursuing a strategy of “deglamorizing” Garland, bringing her down to the level of mortals. He thought it was the only way for the show to succeed. So the show’s writers were always poking fun at Judy. Digs about her weight issues, her tardiness, her nerves, her age—all were fair game according to CBS. So scripting a line for Barbra to say in that opening number—“Can I replace you?”—was par for the course, and no doubt it sent shivers down Judy’s spine.
But Judy didn’t give them the satisfaction of any oversized mugging. Whether it was her choice to do so or the advice of director Bill Hobin, Garland deflected the jab and moved without comment to introduce her next guests, the Smothers Brothers. Barbra smiled as her one-time lover walked out onto the stage, looking spiffy in a tuxedo. If the banter with Barbra had been banal, the lines between Judy and Tommy and Dick were even worse. The writers were scraping the barrel.
Then Garland turned back to Barbra and asked her what she wanted to do on the show that night. Barbra launched into their rehearsed skit. “I tawt I’d like ta do a lil numbah, ya know whud I mean?” she said in a bad imitation of old James Cagney gangster movies. Garland replied in kind, then Barbra switched to a slightly more successful English accent, saying she’d like “veddy much to do the ‘Song of India.’” Here the script called for a bit of business with Barbra insisting on having the actual Taj Mahal used for her number, but either the dialogue was scratched at the last minute or Garland got confused, because she turned back at that point to the Smothers Brothers. Certainly her halting manner suggested that she might have been confused or nervous or both. At times Barbra looked over at Garland in the midst of their scripted dialogue, and the sympathy in her eyes was impossible to miss.
As they were taping, Roddy McDowall, child star turned character actor and photographer to the stars, was running around the set, snapping pictures. A huge fan and friend of Garland’s, McDowall had become an ardent admirer of Barbra’s as well after seeing her at the Cocoanut Grove. McDowall had been snapping away throughout the dress rehearsal, documenting what he felt certain was someday going to be considered a “historic meeting of two great icons.” He was also aware of the special surprise the show had planned for the audience later on, and he’d be on hand to capture that moment as well.
Barbra sang two solo numbers that night. On “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” having changed into her white satin sailor’s blouse from the Grove, she was sublime. Shot in medium close-up, she looked absolutely stunning, and her confident, assured articulation of the lyrics displayed an exquisite rhythm and pacing of the song that was all her own (and Peter Matz’s). When she held the notes, the sheer power of her voice inspired shivers, her lower lip quivering every now and again with the intensity of her performance. It was a beautifully measured interpretation.
Barbra was just as good on “Down with Love,” but in a whole different way. Striding toward the camera, her shapely leg making an appearance from her black slit skirt, she was sexy and aggressive and like nothing that had ever appeared on a television variety show before. She turned the tune into a jazzy, stylized repudiation of romance: “Down with eyes, romantic and stupid, down with sighs and down with Cupid—Brother, let’s stuff that dove, down with love!” She was completely and utterly in control, especially when the pace picked up and she sang faster and faster, every word perfectly articulated as it rolled off her lips, every note hit expertly.
Yet as good as her solo numbers were, it was the duets with Garland that everyone was waiting for. Once Barbra had finished “Down with Love,” she walked over to join the hostess, who was clapping enthusiastically for her. “We’ve got all your albums at home,” Judy gushed, whereupon they were forced to endure more of the hackneyed banter the writers kept imposing on them, some nonsense about who hated the other more for being so talented. “Don’t stop hatin’ me,” Barbra said. “I need the confidence”—probably the most ironic line of the night for those who knew the real dynamics backstage. Giving each other a little air kiss, they sat down to sing.
The familiar piano introduction for “Happy Days” began. “Happy days are here again,” Barbra sang, as Judy matched her with “Forget your troubles, come on, get happy.” The older woman seemed to be holding on to the younger one for dear life; Barbra felt, once again, the trembling of Garland’s body. During rehearsals, the two had developed a tender chemistry that emerged now in front of the cameras, real and vivid and palpable. It may have been borne of sympathy on Barbra’s part and competition on Judy’s, but it was genuine, and it made for fascinating television. Masterfully arranged, the counterpoint of “Happy Days” and “Get Happy” riveted the audience, including those hard-to-please network execs.
But in some ways, as transcendent as the counterpoint had been, it was their next duet that showed them to best advantage. The “Howdy, Neighbor” production number kicked off in silliness, offering another chance for some inside commentary on the state of affairs at the Garland show. Judy came out singing with a bunch of dancers, only to be thwarted by Jerry Van Dyke, who rushed out and shooed the dancers offstage, complaining of costs. As the props were taken away, Van Dyke placed two stools on the stage and barked, “There’s your set!” Garland then brought Barbra out to sing with her. As they took their seats, Garland declared, “There’s one thing they can’t cut out of the budget and that’s our voices.” Barbra laughed in agreement.
What followed was pure magic. Dressed in matching red-checkered shirts and white slacks, the two singers ran through a medley of various songs including “How About You?,” “After You’ve Gone,” “Hooray for Love,” and “Lover, Come Back to Me.” Garland started out a bit slow, her voice a little crackly with air pockets. But then she got it together, turned on the sass, and showed the kid she still had what it took. On “How About You?,” she started to sing the line, “I love a Gershwin tune,” but then switched midway to “an Arlen tune”—a tribute to one of Barbra’s biggest boosters and the composer of Judy’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow.” By now any feelings of fear, pity, or rivalry seemed to have dissipated: Barbra and Judy were just two pros at the very top of their games, singing their hearts out. “We have found when we’re singing together,” they trilled, “the state of the weather turns from gray to blue.” They demonstrated the sheer mastery of their craft at the very end of the number, when each took the medley in completely different places, cross-singing and hitting incongruous notes, but without ever losing the elegance of the duet or their connection with each other. With astonishing precision, they ended triumphantly, then fell into each other’s arms, smiling and laughing.
At the top half of the second half hour, there had been another bit with Barbra, a regular feature of the show called “Tea Time,” in which Garland supposedly enjoyed some informal chitchat with her guest in front of a tea table. Thankfully, what could have been another badly scripted tête-à-tête—or an opportunity for Barbra to ramble on like a kook the way she did on talk shows—was planned as something very different. Barbra was now dressed in a burgundy version of the midshipman’s blouse, and Garland was asking her how long she’d been singing. They were clearly waiting for something to happen. And happen it did. All at once their conversation was interrupted by a voice from the audience singing a couple of lines from “You’re Just in Love.” And not just any voice: It was the voice of Ethel Merman, who’d originated the song in Call Me Madam. “You don’t need analyzin’,” Merman sang. “It’s not so surprisin’.”
The premise was that Merman had been down the hall in another studio shooting The Red Skelton Show when she’d heard all the “beltin’” coming from the Garland stage, and naturally she just had to see what all the fuss was about. The awkwardness of the premise meant that the ladies were awkward presenting it as well; at one point, Garland almost tripped backward over the set, prompting Merman to bellow, “Watch the tea!” Barbra, wisely, remained quiet through most of the ad-libbed dialogue. “Isn’t this great?” Merman said, looking at the youngster. “The new belter.” She was delighted to hear that Jule Styne and David Merrick were the composer and producer of Funny Girl (as if she didn’t know). “You’re in good hands,” she told Barbra.
She sure was. Barbra had been a national celebrity for less than a year, and here she was, on the same stage with Judy Garland and Ethel Merman. The message to the world was clear: She was in their league. Barbra, however, seemed to take it all in stride. She gave the impression of finding it all just a trifle silly, which it was. When Garland asked Merman if she’d “belt” with them, the Merm countered that she wasn’t “beltin’” unless the two of them belted with her. So they all burst out with “There’s No Business like Show Business,” Merman drowning out the others by sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Looking uncomfortable in their three-woman conga line, Barbra made crazy eyes. She had to do something if no one could hear her voice.
The entire experience left her more bemused than impressed. Garland noticed Barbra’s rather entitled attitude, telling friends, “The kid felt it was her due.” Not that she begrudged Barbra’s confidence. The younger woman remained amiable enough that Garland—and Merman, too—seemed absolutely delighted to give her this initiation.
Once the cameras had stopped rolling, and the cast was all hugging one another good-bye, the Smiling Cobra made a beeline over to Bill Hobin. Aubrey told the director that the show he’d just seen was so good that it should replace the one they had in the can waiting for the next broadcast. Aubrey decreed that the show should be edited over the weekend and gotten on the air by Monday night.
Barbra Streisand had just scored some points in Judy Garland’s favor with the network brass.
On a crisp early November day, Barbra spent the morning buying furniture for her new home, paying cash for an antique captain’s desk and a set of Portuguese chairs. It was good to be back in New York, even if Elliott had remained in Los Angeles to try to find a job. It was even better to be able to buy things without worrying about what they cost—except that, after she bought them, Barbra did worry. To one friend she wondered if she’d “ever get used to having money” or ever stop fearing she’d “be poor again.”
Barbra had left the Coast on October 5, right after her concert at the Hollywood Bowl. That night had seemed to be a pinnacle for her, a benchmark of her success. Sharing the bill with Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, she’d looked out at the eighteen thousand people filling the amphitheater. Brubeck had observed her “trembling like a leaf” before she went on. In front of the television cameras, it had been Judy Garland who had trembled while Barbra had remained cool and collected. But at the Bowl Barbra’s sense of calm had evaporated, at least temporarily. She’d had first-night jitters before, but this was different. So many people were out there, more than ever before, and all of them expected her to be as great as Harold Arlen and Sammy Cahn said she was. Swallowing her nerves, Barbra had taken the stage and “killed that crowd,” Brubeck noted with awe. She sang eleven songs, all the usual suspects, ending with “Bewitched” and “Happy Days.” “Dynamic, sensitive,” the Los Angeles Times had judged her performance, “transcending the category of a mere vocalist.” No doubt gratifying words to read, but the experience had left Barbra unsure if her stage fright had been merely an aberration.
The next day, the Garland show had aired to great acclaim. Barbra’s old adversary Dorothy Kilgallen was now squarely in her corner: “Barbra Streisand came on like gangbusters,” the columnist wrote. There was more good news as well. At the beginning of October, Barbra’s second album had overtaken the first and was now at number 2 on the Billboard chart. In fact, both albums were in the Top Ten at the moment, with Barbra holding steady as the nation’s top female recording artist. “The hottest of the past year’s newcomers,” one record reviewer declared, “and fast solidifying herself in the top bracket of entertainers.” Yet while Barbra might be the queen of the charts, she really wanted that number one position. Just one little burst of sales could nudge The Second Barbra Streisand Album into the top spot. It seemed there was always something more to strive for.
Since returning to New York, she’d given one small concert at the private Harmonie Club on East Sixtieth Street, at a tribute to Leonard Goldenson, president of the ABC television network and the Paramount theater chain, and she still had a few big playdates—including a return to Washington to sing at the White House at the president’s invitation—scheduled for the rest of the fall. But Barbra was increasingly turning her attention to Funny Girl.
No matter the game of musical chairs being played by his directors, Ray Stark wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way of realizing his long-held dream. With Fosse allowing the use of his working scripts in exchange for not being sued, Stark grudgingly accepted the idea of paying Robbins royalties, if necessary, and so the show was back on track. As Funny Girl’s third director in a year, Garson Kanin had come on board in early October. “Gar,” as he was known, was a successful playwright (Born Yesterday) and director (he’d helmed The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway, which Barbra had seen as a teenager). But he was probably best known as the screenwriter of the Katharine Hepburn–Spencer Tracy films Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike, credits he shared with his wife, the actress Ruth Gordon.
With a director in place, Funny Girl could at last set an opening date of February 27, 1964, at the Winter Garden Theatre, with previews (in Boston and Philadelphia) starting on January 13. Since this was practically around the corner, the rest of the company was quickly assembled. Song-and-dance man Danny Meehan was chosen as the love-struck stage manager who enables Fanny’s first break, called “Dave” in early scripts but now renamed Eddie Ryan. Kay Medford, the original “Mama” in Bye Bye Birdie,would play Fanny’s mother. For the small part of Vera, a showgirl, Stark had cast the voluptuous Lainie Kazan, who, as Lainie Levine, had graduated from Erasmus Hall High School just a few years before Barbra, though their paths never crossed.
Finally there was Allyn Ann McLerie for the part of Nora, the glamorous showgirl who’s particularly close to Ziegfeld. In the production notes, Nora was described as “quite beautiful [with] the quality of a lady,” to make her the opposite of Fanny. McLerie’s contract guaranteed billing as the first featured performer just below Barbra and her leading man. It was a showy part. Nora got to call Fanny out on her narcissism at the end of Act One and again in Act Two, the second time while drunk. McLerie was ideal for Nora. A classy, consummate theater professional, she’d danced for Agnes de Mille, taken direction from Moss Hart, sung the music of Irving Berlin, and won the Theatre World Award for Where’s Charley? in 1948, later re-creating her part in the film version. When her career started to fade, McLerie managed a brilliant comeback as Anita in the 1960 revival of West Side Story. She might have been as “Latin as Yorkshire pudding,” one critic wrote, but she proved “stunning” in the part, her “mop of red hair like an oil burner being turned on.” At thirty-six years old, McLerie still cut a trim and sexy figure. She would make an exquisite Ziegfeld Girl and, according to Garson Kanin, brought a certain balance to the book, which was otherwise dominated by the character of Fanny.
Indeed, Fanny—Barbra—was now set to sing nine solos. “That doesn’t happen very often on the Main Stem,” Kilgallen wrote, “until a girl is in the Merman-Mary Martin class.” Plus there were at least three more numbers where Barbra would sing with other members of the cast. Clearly everyone was now depending on the sheer force of Barbra’s voice and personality to make up for the defects of the book. The conflation of Barbra and Fanny had continued. After reading Isobel Lennart’s latest script, Barbra had told one reporter approvingly, “Everything seems like me.”That was, she said, “except the second act.” Unlike Fanny, Barbra didn’t have two children. Apparently a few concessions to historical reality were necessary.
But on nearly every other score, there was a deliberate attempt that fall to meld the two women—and not just in the script. A major new publicity blitz showed this stratagem quite clearly. During this November, three magazines had hit the stands with profiles of Barbra: the digest-sized Pageant, the men’s magazine (and Playboy competitor) Rogue, and the travel journal Holiday. And while in other interviews Barbra was trying to tamp down the kookiness, in these pieces she came across full of Fanny-like eccentricities. The Pageant reporter described Barbra at one hotel, declaring she needed to go on a diet. So she phoned room service to ask them about their “physical fitness special” meal. “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” she said, listening over the phone, mugging for the reporter’s benefit. “Well, send me instead a stack of pancakes, half a dozen strips of crisp bacon, and lots of butter, syrup and milk.” It was a line that could have easily been slipped into the script for Funny Girl. For that matter, so could Barbra’s plucky defense of her looks in the Pageant article: “I know I’m not beautiful, but many people in the art world think I have marvelous features.” It was easy to imagine Fanny Brice saying the same thing.
Over at Rogue, the writer went a step further. In rehashing the tale of Barbra confronting Enrico Banducci about hiring her for the hungry i, he was drawing a direct parallel with Fanny’s own experiences. Barbra was quoted as telling Banducci: “You’re going to be down on your scabby knees begging me for a contract before the year is out!” That was awfully close to an early scene in the book for Funny Girl, where Fanny confronts theater manager Spiegel for refusing her a job. When the stage manager says he’s sorry, Fanny replies: “So am I. And so’s Spiegel going to be. Any minute now . . . it’ll be my turn!”
In some ways it was chickens and eggs: Which came first? The Banducci anecdote had clearly happened; the club owner had spoken of it himself during Barbra’s appearance in San Francisco. And the Fanny-Spiegel scene had existed in the script, in various permutations, even before Barbra had been cast. But the fact that Banducci was brought up again now suggested that life and art were influencing each other. Was the Rogue writer responding to publicity given to him by Barbra’s team—a press release that may have included the Banducci anecdote? Or did the reporter dig up the story on his own, having read about Banducci in a San Francisco paper, and in so doing, provide one more gem for the writer and producer of Funny Girl to use in furthering their goal of turning Barbra into Fanny and vice versa?
Jerry Weidman, who unlike his partner, Harold Rome, had retained some affection for Barbra, authored the third big magazine piece that November. For Holiday, Weidman wrote about Barbra’s audition for her first Broadway show in such a way that it was impossible not to think of Fanny in her early audition scenes. Even if Weidman hadn’t seen a copy of Lennart’s book, he knew the general story. A piece like the one he wrote for Holiday would have been received as a great big present by Merrick and Stark—at a time, not incidentally, when Weidman was between projects and currying favor with Broadway power brokers was a smart thing to do. In fact, might Merrick or one of the show’s publicists specifically have asked Weidman to write something about Barbra and send it out?
In his piece, Weidman wrote about an unattractive, misfit girl who talked back to, even insulted, the director and producers—something Arthur Laurents would never have tolerated and insisted never happened. But it sure fit the character of Fanny Brice. Part of Weidman’s Barbra was authentic—the self-confidence and determination—but the impertinence, though certainly part of Barbra’s DNA, was mostly invention, the work of a talented playwright to make the piece as entertaining as possible. And, almost certainly, to promote Barbra as Fanny and Fanny as Barbra.
With such an oversized star, it was vitally important that Barbra’s leading man have enough charisma and stage presence to hold his own. That month, a decision was finally made. After some prolonged consideration of Tommy Leonetti, the American pop singer who’d made it big in Australia, Stark and Merrick had settled on Sydney Chaplin, the flamboyantly handsome actor who’d won a Tony for Bells Are Ringing and starred in Merrick’s Subways Are for Sleeping.
Clearly the producers had gone with charisma—so important to staying visible beside a performer like Barbra—over acting ability. “Sydney was a man of inordinate charm,” said his best friend, Orson Bean, “and very limited abilities as an actor. He was so funny at parties that directors would always say that if they could only bring out those qualities on stage, he could be a great star.” But they never seemed to make that happen. Bean believed that Sydney’s Tony had come because his leading lady, Judy Holliday, had been such a fine actress that, by looking at Sydney “with such great love in her eyes,” she had convinced everybody he was brilliant. All of Sydney’s leading ladies, Bean said, fell head over heels in love with him.
In some ways, he was perfect casting for the charming, lady-killing con man Nick Arnstein. Right from the start, Barbra adored him. Any man who could make her laugh won points right away. And she sensed some vulnerability in Sydney as well, which was just as important. She knew that, despite his Broadway success, Sydney still lived in the shadow of his father, Charlie Chaplin. Rare was the interview that the younger Chaplin wasn’t asked about the elder. The pressure to prove himself sometimes made Sydney anxious: At his audition for Bells Are Ringing, he liked to joke that he had “sounded like Minnie Mouse” when he attempted to sing “On the Street Where You Live.” Such stories had a way of connecting with Barbra, who, though she adored “maleness,” also preferred a little vulnerability in men, a more “sensitive, feminine side.” Sydney Chaplin seemed to fit the bill on all counts.
And he seemed as drawn to Barbra as she was to him. Chaplin’s first meetings with his leading lady had left him convinced that she “didn’t find herself attractive and was compensating with this enormous drive to succeed.” Sitting beside her as they read through the script, listening to her impassioned ideas, Chaplin found “those qualities . . . rather attractive.” One friend saw the way Sydney looked at Barbra, as if she were this “rare exotic flower”—and Sydney, his friend knew, “loved collecting exotic things.”
Sydney was married to the ballerina Noelle Adam, and they had a three-year-old son, Stephan. But marriage hadn’t necessarily tamed his roving eye in the past. Dorothy Kilgallen had reported that during Subways, David Merrick had been forced to write a letter to Actors’ Equity protesting his star’s “misbehaving,” although Equity claimed no knowledge of it. Sydney’s friend suspected the misbehavior may have had something to do with “chasing women and not concentrating on his role.” Yet whatever the issue may have been, Merrick hadn’t been opposed to hiring Sydney again.
At the moment, Sydney’s wife and child were in New York. But soon they’d be returning to Paris, which they called home and where Sydney owned a restaurant, Chez Moustache, the fashionable place to be seen when in the French capital. Now that he was cast in Funny Girl, however, Sydney expected to be away from his business for long stretches of time—and away from his wife, too. Once Noelle and his little boy headed back across the pond, Sydney realized that both he and Barbra would find themselves spouseless just as rehearsals got underway.
Under blue skies and palm trees, Elliott drove his rental car along Sunset Boulevard, hurrying to yet another meeting with some Hollywood honcho. By now, he knew how it would go. There would be backslapping and bear hugs, and lots of promises would be made. But so far, nothing had come from any of his meetings. Four months after the closing of On the Town, Elliott still had no job offers.
Except one, if Walter Winchell was to be believed.
Elliott was considering taking a “bit role” in Funny Girl.
Whether Winchell’s legmen were wrong on that one or whether Barbra had prevailed upon Ray Stark to offer her husband a role in the show no one was quite sure. Whether the role was offered and Elliott refused, or whether he offered and they refused—no one was sure about that either. And if it was just a rumor, no one knew how hearing it must have made Elliott feel, as he drove along those wide boulevards of the movie capital, looking up at billboards for the latest films about to be released and wondering if his name would ever be up there.
In fact, no one knew much about what was going on that fall for Elliott Gould. “Everybody knows Barbra Streisand, star of stage, nightclubs and concerts,” wrote columnist Barney Glazer, “but few have heard about her husband, Elliott Gould. At one time, the reverse was true. Gould was the singing-dancing-acting star of the Broadway musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Barbra was his supporting comedienne.” Not a few gossips began comparing Elliott’s story to that of Norman Maine in A Star Is Born, the actor who is eclipsed in fame by his wife.
Elliott insisted it was “no big thing” for him that “reporters were constantly around, asking [Barbra] questions.” What were they going to ask him—how he did in his “three-man basketball games”? He didn’t want to be asked anything about himself, he said. The problem arose when he and Barbra were out in public together, which, thankfully, was “seldom.” But when Elliott did accompany Barbra to shows or restaurants, it was “devastating” for him. Reporters, cameramen, and fans paid no attention to him. And yet Elliott felt an obligation to attend with his wife—“no matter who the fuck people thought I was, Prince Philip or Mr. Streisand or whatever.” It was the “consistent discouragement” that put him in the doldrums, he said, and consequently, there was more pot and more gambling. He was trying his “damnedest not to take seriously” the fact that Barbra had become “an enormous celebrity” and he had not. But the depression only got worse, increasing his dependence on analysis—and marijuana.
That fall, a rumor had sprung up that Barbra was pregnant, or “babying,” as Walter Winchell put it. Few knew how unlikely that was given how little time she and Elliott had spent together. It was theoretically possible—there’d been the interval at the Beverly Hills Hotel, after all—so Barbra had called Winchell to put a stop to the story. “I get worried about such false reports,” she said, in typical Streisand fashion. “Maybe they know something I don’t.”
Barney Glazer tried to put a positive spin on the Goulds’ marital situation. “The public throws brickbats at celebrities when they change mates frequently on their mad merry-go-round,” he wrote in his column. “Barbra and Elliott present another side of the picture and deserve praise for staying together while apart. Two traveling careers in one family never was the proper mixture to cement a marital foundation.”
That was true. No surprise, then, that after his latest Hollywood meeting went nowhere, Elliott decided to throw in the towel and return to New York. Maybe there was still time to take that Italian honeymoon before Barbra got too wrapped up in rehearsals and started spending all her time with the Funny Girl company—a company that now included, as Elliott was surely aware, the very handsome, very debonair Sydney Chaplin.
Barbra was taking advantage of the sunny, unseasonably warm November afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-sixties, to indulge herself a bit, wandering among the city’s antique shops. She still had an apartment to furnish, and in just a matter of days she’d be off on the road again. It was her final tour before settling into Funny Girl. And, as she’d admit to friends, it was a tour that she felt vaguely anxious about. These were all big-venue gigs, she explained, designed to establish her as a concert artist in league with Sinatra. Yet the sheer size of the audiences she was to face left Barbra nervous as she remembered her unexpected stage fright at the Hollywood Bowl.
That evening, she was planning to meet Peter Daniels at the St. Regis Hotel on Fifty-fifth Street to rehearse some of the material they’d be performing at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, the first stop on the tour. But for now, Barbra had a little time, and she spent it doing what she loved to do, inspecting vintage scarves and boots and knickknacks, even if these days she had to wear oversized sunglasses to keep from being recognized when she did so.
She was getting used to this part of fame, but that didn’t mean she liked it. When people came up to her and asked her for an autograph, she felt frightened. Who could feel easy about a stranger coming up and demanding something from you, even if the stranger was telling you he loved you? That in itself could be a little unnerving.
The increased notoriety was a byproduct of the publicity machine, which continued to grind on Barbra’s behalf that fall. Her wardrobe, once dismissed as kooky, was now being sold as “fashion,” and given the number of fans who showed up at concerts dressed in their own thrift-shop wear or in self-designed, iconoclastic outfits, Barbra’s style was indeed having an impact. Gay Pauley, women’s editor for United Press International, met Barbra at a benefit showing of fashions by Pauline Trigère and Maurice Rentner at the Hilton Hotel, and commented that her style was the same as “the younger-looking buyers.” Pauley particularly homed in on Barbra’s brown crocodile boots that reached to just below the knee, as well as her fur coat and hat. When Pauley asked what kind of fur it was, Barbra replied, “Why should I tell you when everyone thinks it’s sable?” Whatever it was, Pauley liked it, and she ended up pronouncing, “Boots are in. Curly hair is out. The fur hat is in”—which described Barbra’s look that day to a T. Pauley’s widely syndicated piece was a far cry from previous coverage that had used Barbra’s fashion choices as punch lines.
That came as a great relief to Barbra, who was growing seriously weary of the kook narrative. “A kook is a person who puts on things that aren’t real,” she insisted to an Associated Press reporter, who went on to headline his piece YOUNG SINGER CONFIDENT OF ABILITIES BUT MAINTAINS SHE IS NOT A KOOK. Whenever a factual inaccuracy popped up in her press, making her appear “too out there” in her words, Barbra took great umbrage—no matter all those stories about Madagascar in her program bios. But what she mostly objected to were stories that claimed she was an “overnight success.” How could anyone consider “overnight” three years of traipsing around the continent singing in nightclubs and resorts, often to obnoxious drunks? Those who’d been traipsing for considerably longer than three years, that was who.
Still it had taken a lot of time and effort to get where she was, and Barbra insisted on telling her origin story the way she wanted it told. For all her annoyance at reporters who got facts wrong, she herself was invariably free and loose with details. “Anyway, here I was in an old long black dress,” she said in one interview, describing her Bon Soir debut. “I decided the first song I’d do was one I’d never done before. It was ‘Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,’ by Fats Waller, and the club pianist had never even played it before. When we were getting ready to begin, I’d keep saying, ‘What’s the first note? Where do I come in?’ Things like that. They loved me, I don’t know why.”
Of course, that wasn’t the way it happened at all. She and Barry had worked the song out in painstaking detail weeks ahead of time, and then she’d rehearsed it with Peter Daniels—the very club pianist she claimed had never played it before. A similar misremembering of facts occurred when she related the origins of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Barbra had come to feel that she’d been the one to slow it down. She said she could hear “the changes of the chords” and thought “maybe it would sound nice slow.” Of course, the idea had been Ken Welch’s, and Peter Daniels had been the one to suggest it as a regular number in her act.
At least for “Big Bad Wolf,” Barbra did give credit where it was due. That song was “Barry’s suggestion,” she told Rogue, describing “Barry” as one of her “arrangers.” To Pageant, she provided a little more background: “I knew a guy who had a big collection of old 78 rpm records.” Of course, there was so much more behind the words “I knew a guy,” but Barbra, understandably, wasn’t about to get into all of that.
If Barbra was casually rewriting her origins, Marty, always there behind the scenes, was much more conscious of carving her stone tablets. To Pageant, Barbra’s indefatigable manager articulated the position he had been advancing since day one. “Barbra’s stardom was not artificially created,” he told the magazine, “but had to happen.” He spoke of “well-meaning advisers” who were constantly advising her to change her nose or her act. “But Barbra and I merely stood our ground and waited for her talent to speak for itself.”
Her talent had, of course, spoken for itself loudly and successfully—but Marty’s statement left out the considerable backstory that had been orchestrated so brilliantly by himself and others: the first annual “Fanny Brice Award,” the marketing of the kook, the birthday party at the Lichee Tree, the well-placed items in Earl Wilson’s columns, the well-timed letters about Barbra in TV Mailbags. His goal was to render invisible all the backstage deals, all the negotiations with club managers, all the schmoozing of Columbia execs at the Ho-Ho lounge, all the hundreds of press releases that flew out of mimeograph machines every time Barbra appeared on television. But that, of course, was what a good manager should do.
And now Barbra was so famous she had to wear sunglasses as she browsed through antique shops and so rich she could afford anything she liked.
It was a brooch that caught her eye this day. She carried it to the front desk. As she finished paying for it, the radio behind the counter crackled with a breaking news story. Barbra wasn’t sure she heard it correctly.
She listened again.
President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
“A hoax,” Barbra thought, remembering Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of a Martian invasion. She staggered outside and told her driver to take her home. Heading back uptown, Barbra spotted Elliott inside a taxi on his way to a singing lesson. They both jumped out into the street and embraced each other in the middle of traffic. How could the president be dead? She was supposed to sing for him again in just a couple of weeks!
That night, rehearsing with Peter Daniels, Barbra broke down when she tried to sing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the song Kennedy had loved so much.
Living in the public eye just got more precarious, more dangerous, and more untenable.
“Controlled hysteria.” That was how Ralph Gleason, the columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, described backstage at the San Jose Civic Auditorium on the night of December 4, as Barbra and her musicians and engineers prepared for her concert that night. Wisecracking stage manager Jerry Frank was rehearsing the lighting crew, who stood in a semicircle around him. “At the end of ‘Quiet Time,’” Frank said, “she holds the note longer than the Bank of America.” He told the guys to hold the spot on Barbra until she was finished. Then it was “Cue orchestra, then out!” Looking down the list of songs, the stage manager added, “At ‘Down with Love,’ you go up, hold it a minute, then out!” Their instructions in place, the crew scurried off to their places.
Outside, the fans were lining up, waiting for the three-thousand-seat arena to open its doors. Gleason stood in the shadows watching it all, taking notes as he spoke with Marty Erlichman. “It takes her a year to work into a song,” Marty told the reporter. “That song, ‘Quiet Time,’ is the first time she’s done it in public. She’s had it for a year and taped it and listened to it and changed it around. That’s why there’s no arrangement. She has to work it out like that until she’s satisfied. Then there’ll be an arrangement.”
“Spotlight out, out!” Frank yelled into his phone.
“She got ‘Happy Days’ from The Garry Moore Show,” Marty continued, as Gleason scribbled copious notes. “She was supposed to go on and do a quick bit . . . and when the piano player started it, ta ta ta, da da do do, she said, ‘I don’t sing songs like that, can we try it as a ballad?’ Everybody thought it wouldn’t work, but she sang it as a ballad and Joe Hamilton, the director, ran up and said, ‘Keep it in, keep it in!’”
Gleason took down the legend just as Erlichman described it, even if it wasn’t the way it had happened at all.
Conductor Jerry Gray passed them, heading out into the audience to check on how the music sounded from far away. Peter Daniels was up on the stage, warming up the orchestra for him.
Suddenly Gleason realized that Barbra had inched up behind Marty in her white midshipman’s outfit. “How many people outside?” she whispered.
That was the worry they all had. Leaving behind the intimate niteries, as Variety called nightclubs, Barbra was embarking on a whole new phase of her career. She’d passed the test with flying colors a few nights earlier in Chicago, where she’d performed for two nights at the five-thousand-seat Arie Crown Theater. Billboard called it her first “one-girl concert.” The second show had been added when the first sold out. “It would be laboring a cliché to say that Barbra Streisand’s first Chicago concert . . . was a smash success,” Billboard reviewed, “but in all honesty, what else is there to say?”
From there, it was on to Indianapolis for a concert at Clowes Memorial Hall, which seated 2,200, and then here, to San Jose, where advance ticket sales hadn’t quite kept up with the other venues. An unusually chilly night added to the jitters in the box office. That was why Barbra had ventured out of her dressing room to check with Marty. That was also why Marty was taking the time to speak with Ralph Gleason. Next up after this was a concert at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, and Marty was taking no chances. He hoped that a good write-up from Gleason would ensure a rush on tickets.
There hadn’t been a lot of publicity for this tour, none of the usual television spots that had helped so much in the past. There simply hadn’t been time. All they had to rely on to get her name out there were her albums: “There is only one Barbra Streisand,” the ads in newspapers read, almost daily, “but now there are two Barbra Streisand Columbia albums!” It was a symbiotic thing, since the tour was designed to sell the albums as well. And yet, The Second Barbra Streisand Album had remained stuck at number 2 all month, unable to dislodge, of all rivals, The Singing Nun—Jeanine Deckers, or Sister Smile—who now claimed Barbra’s crown as top female recording star in the country. Some observers thought Deckers’s soft, spiritual sound would never have climbed so high on the charts if it hadn’t been for John Kennedy’s assassination. There was still time to hit number 1, Marty assured Barbra, and everyone hoped this tour would help the album do just that.
“She does it herself,” Marty continued telling Gleason, as final preparations were made to open the doors and let in the crowd. “She listens to people. Peter Daniels, her accompanist, will make a suggestion. Harold Arlen. She adores Harold Arlen. But it’s her.” Gleason took it all down. That was the bottom-line message of all the publicity about Barbra: It was her.
Finally the stagehands and the lighting crew were ready. The doors were opened. As it turned out, the house wasn’t full. The audience was small but “highly enthusiastic,” braving “the cold night air to hear her.” If she was disappointed by the turnout, Barbra didn’t show it. She gave them an hour of her songs and patter—“a lot for your money,” Gleason wrote, “from a girl whose stage confidence belies her twenty-one years.”
With Lainie Kazan on one side of her and Allyn Ann McLerie on the other, Barbra had at last begun rehearsing the role of Fanny Brice. Garson Kanin was putting them through their paces as they worked out the details of a scene. On the unusually wide stage of the Winter Garden Theatre, under its lower-than-average proscenium arch, Barbra was treading where Mistinguett had once sung, where Josephine Baker, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gaby Deslys, and Marilyn Miller had all performed. But among these ghosts none was quite as welcome as that of Fanny Brice herself, whose last performance in the Ziegfeld Follies had taken place on that very same stage in 1936.
Although Barbra, Kazan, and McLerie might have been dressed in street clothes and flat shoes this day, they were pretending to be outfitted in elaborate Ziegfeldian costumes—hats, boas, bustles, the works. They were imagining themselves in a backstage corridor of a Baltimore theater, where, as Fanny listened, her two beautiful showgirl companions—Kazan as Vera, McLerie as Nora—lamented that someday their looks would be gone.
“Not me,” Barbra as Fanny interjected. “For my public, I can stop being gorgeous whenever I want.” A beat. “I could even start being gorgeous if I weren’t always standing next to one of you.”
Suddenly she threw down the script. “I don’t like this scene,” Barbra declared. “We need to work on this.”
Lainie Kazan watched in wonder. Ever since rehearsals had started on December 10, Barbra had been running the show, and producer Stark and director Kanin, to everyone’s amazement, had been letting her. Kazan, who’d played small parts in The Happiest Girl in the World, with Cyril Ritchard and Janice Rule, and Bravo Giovanni, with Michele Lee, had never seen anything like this before. Barbra looked out into the audience where Ray Stark was sitting, his leg in a cast propped up in the aisle. He’d fractured it skiing, but that didn’t stop him from hobbling on his crutches and following Barbra to her dressing room when she stalked off the stage, Isobel Lennart close behind. Garson Kanin, however, remained seated where he was, fifth row center in the empty auditorium, whispering urgently with his wife, Ruth Gordon, who was present at every rehearsal.
Lainie Kazan presumed this was “the modus operandi of all musical stars,” until she realized that Janice Rule and Michele Lee had never behaved this way. Kazan could only assume that once a star got to Barbra’s rank, they “had that kind of power to stop rehearsals and throw off schedules, that they could be difficult and that was okay.” But then it hit her that Funny Girl was Barbra’s first starring role. Kazan was left awestruck by Barbra’s “moxie”—for want of a better word.
When she’d first heard that a show was being staged about Fanny Brice, Kazan had wanted the lead herself. She’d been making a name for herself as a lusty, busty torch singer at such clubs as the Living Room and the Colonial Tavern, and she’d studied dancing with Carol Haney. Like her fellow Erasmus Hall graduate, Kazan “wanted to make it big, be really successful.” But that was where her similarities with Barbra ended. Kazan had been voted most popular girl in her class. She’d also been a star of the glee club, incredibly outgoing and social, and, in the biggest difference from Barbra, pretty. All the boys liked Lainie. “A totally different ball of wax,” Kazan said, comparing her high school experience with Barbra’s.
Was that why Barbra refused to warm to her? Kazan had tried joking with her, the way she’d done with the leading ladies on other shows, but Barbra would have none of it. She was “too intent on what she was doing,” Kazan observed, and uninterested in becoming “part of the team.” Kazan suspected that the different routes each had taken to get to this point colored their approaches to the show. Barbra had come from nightclubs, where the spotlight had centered solely on her. Kazan had been in the chorus of several shows, and in the chorus “everyone learned to work together, to be good to each other, to help each other.” That kind of camaraderie Barbra had never known in any part of her life.
Her distance from the company reflected her own anxieties about not fitting in, which, of course, ran very deep. Barbra was also painfully aware that success or failure largely rested on her own slim shoulders, and as she’d done on her second album, she was willing to take control if she deemed it necessary—and she’d quickly decided it was. As rehearsals had gotten underway, Barbra found a company lacking the kind of military precision she remembered under Arthur Laurents. Everyone seemed to like Garson Kanin, but not one person was afraid of him—which was no way to run a show.
Meanwhile, adding yet more confusion in another of those upheavals that had so far characterized Funny Girl, David Merrick quit, leaving Stark as sole producer. No wonder Barbra cracked to Earl Wilson soon after the first rehearsal, “This is worse than opening night.” She’d had more fun, she said, when she was “sharing the bill and could take the play away from the star.” Not exactly the most politic admission, since that same star was now her husband, but at least it was honest.
Merrick’s departure had left everyone uneasy. The clash between the mercurial Merrick and the manipulative Stark had been inevitable, especially as their business entanglements multiplied. Merrick was currently in partnership with Seven Arts on the production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and was also in talks to coproduce a dramatization of Rumer Godden’s novel A Candle for St. Jude. Stark had been frustrated by Merrick’s greater attention to his other shows, primarily Hello, Dolly!, while Merrick had become increasingly leery of Stark’s gerrymandering of movie-rights deals, since all of their productions were destined for big-screen development. Saying “life is too short to deal with Ray Stark,” Merrick withdrew as producer of Funny Girl,selling his shares to his former partner for a sum reported to be in excess of $100,000.
While Stark had produced The World of Suzie Wong, he’d done so in conjunction with Seven Arts. Now, for the first time, he was the sole pilot steering a major Broadway show. Everyone knew that Stark was an expert at making movies. But could he bring those same skills to the theater?
Making matters more complicated, Barbra’s contract had been with Merrick; at the time of signing, Stark hadn’t possessed an Actors’ Equity agreement. That was why having Merrick as a partner had been so advantageous. But now that Barbra’s contract was suddenly moot, Funny Girl, in effect, no longer had a star. From Barbra’s point of view, she was starting rehearsals without a contract.
A new agreement was needed with Stark, and Barbra drew up a list of demands. It was only right, her agents argued. Since signing with Merrick last summer, Barbra had become the most successful woman in the recording industry, regularly selling out huge arena-sized venues. No longer was she just Liberace’s warm-up act, as she’d been when she’d signed with Merrick. So Barbra told Begelman and Fields that she wanted a raise from $3,500 to $7,500 a week. She could make that much in club dates, as the columnists were pointing out. In addition to asking for a raise, Barbra wanted a private hairstylist, free meals every day, and a chauffeured limousine to take her between her apartment and the theater. Finally, she was hoping, her long-ago dream of being driven around the city might come true.
Watching as Barbra huffed off to her dressing room, the rest of the company was aware that their leading lady was demanding a great deal. Kazan wondered if Stark, shouting after her on his crutches, would give in. He hadn’t yet acceded to all of Barbra’s demands for a new contract, but everyone—Barbra included—understood that she was in the driver’s seat. There was no show without her. That was why Stark had hobbled after her so solicitously. Kazan thought that Barbra had him right where she wanted him. And if there was anyone in the cast with insights into Ray Stark, it was Lainie Kazan.
After Barbra had won the part of Fanny, Kazan had put the show out of her mind until the night Carol Haney had brought Stark to the Living Room to hear her sing. After the show, a very enthusiastic Stark had come up to Kazan and asked her to audition for the part of Vera. Kazan didn’t think she wanted it—she could make more money, $350 a week, singing in clubs —but Stark wouldn’t take no for an answer. He pestered her for days until she finally agreed to a meeting with him. He told her he’d send a car right over to pick her up. No one was surprised that Stark would pursue Kazan so aggressively. At twenty-three, she was absolutely gorgeous—she’d turned down a stint at the Playboy Club—and everyone knew Stark’s eye for the ladies.
At the scheduled time, Kazan looked out the window of her room at the Whitby, a theatrical boarding house on Forty-fifth Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, and saw a Bentley waiting. A uniformed chauffeur was there to open the door for her. She wasn’t being taken to the theater, Kazan discovered, but to Stark’s private suite at the Hotel Navarro. Ushered into his room, she found the producer lying in bed, his left leg suspended in traction. He’d fractured it, Stark explained, in a skiing accident in Sun Valley, Idaho. Underneath his specially tailored trousers was a white plaster cast, autographed by famous people.
Stark encouraged Kazan to sit on the side of the bed as they spoke. “You are fabulous, terrific,” he told her. He wanted to sign her not just for the show, he told her, but also to a seven-year movie contract. Kazan was smart enough to know that he was “coming on” to her. She was also smart enough to take advantage of it. Stark arranged for a contract promising “vocal and dramatic coaching and instruction for the purpose of enhancing [her] talent as a singer and actress in the various fields of entertainment.” In addition to her Funny Girl salary, Kazan would also collect a weekly paycheck of $300 as a Seven Arts employee, with a promise of increases up to $2,000 a week if she remained in exclusive contract with the production company. The one part of the deal she wasn’t sure about was the offer to be Barbra’s understudy. But when Stark promised to pay her $50 more a week to do so, the struggling young actress agreed.
How much Barbra knew about this private meeting with Stark, Kazan wasn’t sure. But secrets were hard to keep backstage. Was that one more reason Barbra cold-shouldered her? On a show where she was finally the star—where, at long last, Barbra was supposed to be the center of attention—one of the pretty, popular girls—and from Erasmus Hall yet!—had waltzed in and stolen the producer’s eye away from her.
No wonder she was demanding her own package of favors from Stark. Whether Barbra knew the exact details of Kazan’s contract or not, she probably knew that her understudy was getting a pretty sweet deal from Stark. Which, of course, only made her more determined to secure a deal that was even sweeter.
In her dressing room, complaining about the script to Stark and Lennart, Barbra was demanding a great deal. This wasn’t ego: This was survival. Garson Kanin, she complained, was far too easygoing in his direction. He “said very little, and his directions were always very laid back,” said another member of the company. Kanin pretty much stayed in his fifth row center seat, listening to the cast read through their parts and “nodding a lot.” Most of his time was spent conferring privately with his wife. For Barbra, the fact that Kanin was “reportedly getting the biggest percentage ever given to a director” was no doubt galling, given how ineffectual he was proving to be. Without a strong director, Barbra had decided to fill the power vacuum herself.
In her dressing room, she went over the script, circling scenes that needed to be worked on and crossing out scenes she felt should be cut. If people called her controlling, then so be it. It was the only way she could work. It wasn’t about having control, she told one interviewer, explaining her tendency to seize authority on a project. It was about assuming “artistic responsibility.” She was the star of the show, after all; she was the one people were coming to see. So she’d rather have her “taste on the line,” Barbra argued, than anyone else’s.
To Marv Schwartz, she had admitted she was “affected by things.” If she didn’t like “the color of the rug,” for example, she’d become “affected,” and so the color had to be changed. She couldn’t help that; she was “a sensory kind of person.” And she truly believed that what affected her also affected her ability to work, and that, in turn, affected the show. If she seemed demanding, it was only in the interest of the project at hand. “I’m the easiest person to work with and the hardest to work with,” she said. She never demanded retakes when appearing on television, for example. Since she believed there was “no such thing as making a mistake,” she accepted it when she sang a little differently than she intended. It wasn’t wrong; it was just different. She insisted that she would never walk off in the middle of a performance, as she’d seen some pretty big names do. Instead, she’d stick around and figure out what the problem was and then correct it. “So if the musicians are lousy,” she said, “I’ve got to . . . work harder.”
That was what she was doing with Funny Girl. The director, in her opinion, was lousy. The script wasn’t all that terrific either. So Barbra was working harder. Sometimes it was hard to explain her reasons, but she knew, in her gut, that she was right. That made things difficult sometimes. “It’s hard to argue with me,” she conceded.
Heading back out onto the stage with Stark and Lennart and a revised script, Barbra was very pleased with the authority she’d been given. If she was honest with herself, which she could sometimes be, she’d admit that occasionally simply winning an argument was as important as achieving the desired change in the script, or the costume, or the music. Just a few months ago, Marv Schwartz had asked her if she demanded certain things because she really believed in them or because she just wanted to have her own way. It hadn’t taken long for Barbra to answer. “Both,” she had said.
The one person who didn’t think Barbra knew better than everyone else was Bob Merrill. Sitting with her at the piano, he was ready to tell her, quite frankly, to go to hell, but he let the more diplomatic Jule Styne take the lead, as he usually did in these matters.
What had them up in arms was a note they’d received from Marty Erlichman telling them that, upon consideration, Barbra “didn’t think she wanted to sing” either “People” or “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
Styne had immediately gotten her on the phone. “Barbra,” he told her, “you don’t sing ‘People,’ you don’t sing my score.”
For Styne to have been so firm with her was unusual and emphasized the passion he felt about the issue. Right from the start, those two songs had defined the score. Merrill’s notebooks documented how much time he had spent composing the lyrics, especially on “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” He’d experimented with various couplets—“Don’t tell me not to fly, I’ve started soarin’, The stars are flyin’ by, The wind is roarin’”—before crossing them out and settling on the final lyrics. He and Styne had spent two years on these songs, and now Barbra didn’t want to sing them.
Styne was devastated; Merrill was furious. Why she suddenly, inexplicably, wanted the two songs excised—or “given to someone else,” as Merrill understood—they didn’t know. Perhaps Barbra, like others, thought “People,” as lovely as it was, made little sense in the show, or at least where it was placed in the show. Fanny, at that early stage, isn’t thinking about needing other people: She just wants to be famous. Or perhaps Barbra didn’t like how difficult the songs were to sing, each in their own way, as Merrill’s wife, Suzanne, wondered. Whatever Barbra’s reasons, the composers weren’t backing down. With great patience, Styne had explained to their leading lady that those two songs were “going to be the ones everyone remembered.” Maybe that would make a difference to her, he told Merrill.
And it seemed it had. Standing beside the piano, Barbra blithely told the composers that she’d come around and now shared their viewpoint. Both Styne and Merrill breathed long sighs of relief. A serious crisis had been averted. Yet Barbra’s easy capitulation raised the question of how serious she had been. Merrill wondered if she had been playing them.
He still hadn’t entirely warmed to her. He still felt Barbra was “a know-it-all.” And it seemed as soon as one issue was resolved, another one arose. Now it was Barbra’s first song in the show, “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty.” She was to sing a reprise of it after it was introduced by Mrs. Brice and her friend, Mrs. Strakosh. Barbra hated it. Talk about autobiography. The song was all about people telling an ugly duckling she can never be a swan. “Is a nose with deviation such a crime against the nation?” went one line. Maybe, instead of ditching the other two, she could ditch this one?
That was a question for Kanin, the composers told her. They’d written these songs with certain characters in mind, but shuffling numbers among the cast was par for the course in musicals. The problem that really hung Merrill up was the liberties Barbra took in interpreting the words he’d written. He believed it was “very important to a lyricist to have the singer pronounce the words the way he intended them.” Inflections, accents, emphasis could all change meanings, throw off rhymes. As Barbra sang the sad ballad “Who Are You Now?”—one of the last numbers in the show—Merrill jumped up and complained that she held the word “someone” too long in the line “Are you someone better?” It changed his intent, he argued. “This is my song,” he said, “and I want you to do it this way.” Barbra was equally adamant she knew how to sing a lyric.
Merrill didn’t view it as an artistic interpretation. He saw it as “fiddling” with his composition. In some ways, he was an awful lot like Barbra. Merrill felt he knew the best way to sing something, and he didn’t want anyone telling him otherwise. His wife thought “Don’t Rain on My Parade” could have been Merrill’s theme song: “Don’t bug me, get out of my way” was exactly the message he sent to those around him.
As always, it was Styne who played the good cop to his partner’s bad cop. “Everyone loved Jule,” Merrill’s wife observed. “Not everyone loved Bob.” It would be Styne who approached Barbra to ask her tactfully if she might try to sing a song differently; failing that, he might try adjusting the music to appease them both. The “teeny tiny” Styne would get up out of his seat and bustle from person to person, Lainie Kazan observed, always followed by two assistants who matched him in diminutive size. Kazan couldn’t help but smile when she saw “these three little people moving across the room in unison,” putting out fires, carrying ideas, trying new arrangements, and trying to keep the peace. Styne was always talking, Kazan noted—always chirping away giddily, anxiously, expressively. Merrill sat there silently.
Perhaps some of Styne’s energy came from his belief, as he put it, that he was “in a desperate race with the calendar.” Despite all his great movie compositions, he felt his career hadn’t really gotten moving until 1952, when he’d coproduced a revival of Pal Joeywith Richard Rodgers. It was Broadway where Styne’s heart resided, and at the age of fifty-seven, even with Gypsy and other shows under his belt, there was still “so much [he wanted] to say musically.” He longed to be a singular artist, to have his work easily identifiable as being his. “Don’t be a minor Cole Porter,” Rodgers had told him. “Be yourself and the critics will gradually have respect for you.” This was Styne’s greatest hope.
And so it was a good thing that Barbra was singing “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Funny Girl, Styne sensed, might be a very important part of his legacy.
The Christmas season arrived in New York that year in sheets of snow and gloom. Still in mourning for their slain president, most Americans headed into the holiday celebrations more muted than usual, trying to come to grips with the murder and its grisly aftermath, in which the president’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had himself been murdered, giving rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories. Frigid temperatures had gripped the northeast in a stranglehold, plunging New York into a kind of perpetual shudder. That year, few smiles cracked the cold, red faces of those who shopped along Fifth Avenue.
Heading to rehearsals in a cab, Barbra wasn’t smiling either. Stark hadn’t met her terms. He’d offered $5,000 instead of $7,500 and had nixed the other perks, including the chauffeured limousine. Barbra felt the producer was being stingy; Stark felt she had tried to take advantage of Merrick’s departure by setting her high-powered agents on him. What had been a largely cordial relationship suddenly turned antagonistic. Fosse’s complaints about Stark’s devious nature may suddenly have resonated with Barbra. Stark had called her bluff. He knew she wasn’t any more willing to walk away from the show than he was to lose her.
The aggravation over contract negotiations couldn’t have helped the mood at rehearsals, which every day was becoming bleaker. As Barbra arrived at the Winter Garden on a frosty morning in mid- December, she knew that something had to change. Garson Kanin just sat there, giving her hardly any feedback, while the scenes went “on and on with no sense of cohesion,” one member of the company observed. The show was too long, Barbra believed.
Any cuts couldn’t affect the main storyline, however, which concerned Fanny’s rise to the top while falling in love with, and then losing, Nick. So while there were some bits with Fanny that could be deleted—a roller-skating scene Barbra had been practicing for weeks, for example—the majority of cuts would affect the supporting characters. Eddie Ryan had a solo, “Take Something for Nothing,” that seemed destined for the chopping block, even though it fleshed out his character by showing his love for Fanny. The chorus girls, all compellingly individual in early scripts, would have to be blended together.
But it was the part of the beautiful Nora that Barbra objected to most. She seemed “uncomfortable with how significant that part was,” one company member thought, watching the number of changes in the scenes between Fanny and Nora. From Stark and the show’s composers, Lainie Kazan observed a growing sense that “the entire focus of Funny Girl needed to be Fanny.” As a consequence, she said, “everyone else became incidental.” When Nora came into a scene, for example, she “took away from Fanny,” and that was a problem that needed to be addressed.
McLerie had a solo number, “Baltimore Sun,” that she sung toward the end of Act One, at the point where she and Vera lament their fading looks. “Enter the star, wearing pearls to save insurance and brown paper bags to save tips,” Nora was scripted to say as Fanny made her entrance. That led to the line where Fanny declared she didn’t worry about losing her looks. To which Nora was to reply, in one of the several astute confrontations the script gave her: “But you like standing next to us. And proving that what you have is so much better. That there isn’t a man you couldn’t get away from any one of us—if you really wanted to.”
That was one of the underlying themes of Funny Girl: Fanny’s desirability wasn’t dependent on looks. But what Nora was doing was actually pointing out Fanny’s narcissism, a fact that was made even clearer later on when, drunk and depressed, Nora laments that she won’t be in next year’s Follies. Fanny tells her to fight back. Nora replies, “Don’t you ever look at the people you care about? Don’t you ever see them?” Fanny tells her that she cares about people. Nora waits a beat before answering. “Very depressing, how big you are,” she says at last. “Makes smaller people feel—too small.”
Her message was plain: Not everyone—not Nora, not Nick—was as strong as Fanny. Fanny was superhuman in her strength, and those high standards—that perfectionism—kept her separated from those who might be a little less mighty, but perhaps more human, than she was. Fanny, according to Ray Stark, “very probably made it difficult for the man she married to live up to her, or with her.” The autobiography was perhaps getting a little too close for Barbra. Whispers had already begun that Elliott, another gambler living in the shadow of a famous wife, was not so different from Nick. How long would the scene stay in the show? That was the question some were asking.
But autobiography was what Funny Girl had become. It had, in fact, become a selling point. “This play is really about me,” Barbra told the Associated Press. “It simply happened to happen before to Fanny Brice.”
There was one moment that carried particular resonance. In an early scene, before Fanny has become famous, she makes the case that she ought to be given a chance. “Look,” she says. “Suppose all you ever had for breakfast was onion rolls. All of a sudden one morning in walks a bagel. You’d say, ‘Ugh! What’s that?’ Until you tried it. That’s my problem. I’m a bagel on a plateful of onion rolls!” That about summed up what Barbra had been dealing with ever since she’d started out on her quest for fame.
To another reporter, Barbra mused on how long it had taken Stark to get this show produced. “Ten years ago they started on this idea,” she said, “when I was only eleven years old.” When the reporter asked why it had taken so long, Barbra replied, “I wasn’t old enough then. They were waiting for me.” She was only half joking. While she and Fanny had become in many ways interchangeable, Barbra insisted that she was not Fanny, even if Fanny had become her. “I don’t want to imitate anybody,” Barbra admitted to one reporter. “My ego’s too big.”
Without that healthy ego, Barbra would never have made it to the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre—but for some people, that superhuman confidence was as grating as it was to Nora in the script. Sheilah Graham, who’d been so complimentary ahead of Barbra’s performance at the Cocoanut Grove, had subsequently been turned off by the young singer-actress’s boast that she’d win every award there was. “Little girl,” Graham wrote now. “This is too much, too soon.”
But that little girl was the show’s best chance for success. Her voice and personality and yes, her ego, were intended to carry Funny Girl despite the substandard script. That was why Ray Stark was letting Barbra take the director’s reins away from Kanin. Most of the company agreed that their director wasn’t up to fixing the problems inherent in the book, and they looked to Barbra to make things right. She seemed “to know exactly what she was doing,” said one company member, “to instinctively know what was best for the show.” So everyone put their faith in their twenty-one-year-old leading lady.
Including the leading man.
“We hate each other,” Barbra teased, looking across the table at Sydney Chaplin at the Italian restaurant where they were having supper together.
But the reporter interviewing them knew that was just an “inverted way of expressing mutual admiration.” Barbra and Sydney, he observed, were “two of a kind.”
In fact, they were more like complementary opposites. Sydney was the perfect follower to Barbra’s leader. Barbra had heard stories of Sydney’s temper, but to her he had never been less than flattering or accommodating. Playing love scenes with Sydney proved to be very pleasant indeed. Once Barbra had asked why a girl like her couldn’t play love scenes. Now she was in the hero’s arms, and the company noticed just how much she seemed to enjoy being kissed by Sydney in front of everyone. “She glowed,” said dancer Sharon Vaughn. “She loved it,” said a member of the chorus. Wardrobe lady Ceil Mack detected sparks flying between the show’s two leads. Kanin, too, became aware of how “very chummy” Barbra and Sydney had suddenly become.
But while much of their chemistry was personal, there was also a professional reason for it. Sydney shared Barbra’s belief that Funny Girl “needed to be their story” and proved to be a powerful ally in her determination to streamline the production. At the moment, the show ran more than four hours. There was no question that it needed to be cut.
Consequently, over Kanin’s objections, a decision was made to fire Allyn Ann McLerie. Kanin argued that Nora had brought “a note to the show which it needed”—a note of balance, since otherwise it was all Fanny, all the time. But clearly Kanin was overruled on the matter. The only people with enough clout to do that would have been Stark and Barbra. The official reason given for McLerie’s ouster, and it was partly true, was “the length of the musical.” Funny Girl was indeed too long. But without her, the script tipped precariously close to becoming a one-woman show.
The bigger problem, at least according to Barbra, was Kanin himself. The director was never going to be someone she held in high regard. The thin, gray-haired Kanin affected a certain simplicity, wearing wool shirts and knitted ties, but he could be very showy in other ways. He had a reedy little voice that he used to pontificate on various subjects, whether it be socialism or Hollywood art direction. He covered his wife in so much jewelry that Cecil Beaton thought she resembled “a little Burmese idol.” Kanin’s marriage to the much-older Gordon had not only produced an extremely successful professional partnership, but had also provided cover for his deeply conflicted and circumspect homosexuality. “Gar” could be warm and friendly, but also sly and manipulative, and he invariably chose passive aggression over direct action. In that way, Kanin resembled Ray Stark, and Barbra already had one Stark to deal with.
It was Kanin’s reticence to take a stand on what she was doing with the role that really unsettled her. He just sat there, with his ubiquitous wife, watching her. Once, during a run-through of “People,” Barbra had done everything opposite from the way they’d originally rehearsed it, and Kanin had remained immobile, never saying a word. Jule Styne, meanwhile, had thought Barbra was “on fire” and told the musical director to let her go and have the orchestra follow her lead. Styne thought Barbra’s interpretation had been brilliant, far better than what Kanin had tried to set up. But Kanin said not a word, either in protest or in praise. His method of directing Barbra, he said, “was to attempt to get her to realize all those important facets of her own personality.” It was his job as director, he said, to simply “create an atmosphere in which her personality could flower.” In other words, it was all up to her.
While it was very true that Barbra didn’t like being told what to do, she also resented the supposed top guy just sitting there and letting her do all the work. Arthur Laurents hadn’t abdicated his authority in this way; neither had Barbra when she walked into the studio to make her second album. She was willing to do the same here. But unlike her album, where she’d been through the process before, this was her first time starring in a Broadway show. A little help, a little direction, was going to be necessary.
A director, in her opinion, couldn’t be neutral. “The actor has to have some feedback, some mirror, some opinion, even if it’s wrong,” she said. She was going to have her own ideas, that was a given—but she needed to bounce them off someone she respected. A director needed “to talk to the actors, give them a sense of their own importance.” She also needed to feel that her director “loved [her] ... wanted to make [her] beautiful.” Laurents had done both. Kanin seemed to do neither.
Just a few days earlier, she had asked him a question, and Kanin had replied by asking what she thought. “Fuck you,” Barbra had said to him, and walked away, leaving Lainie Kazan and others in the company with mouths agape.
“I have a problem with tact,” Barbra admitted. “I only know how to be direct.” She didn’t know how to shmeykhl somebody, she said, how to beat around the bush, to get something she wanted—especially not with a director who was supposed to be ensuring her show would be a hit.
Sitting with Sydney in that Italian restaurant, Barbra didn’t raise such concerns, not with a reporter from the Boston Globe present. But she knew Sydney shared her worries. In her quarrels with Kanin, he had supported her one hundred percent. Sydney had even started looking to Barbra for advice on how he should play the part of Nick. He agreed that the show wasn’t in anywhere near the shape it should be this close to their first previews. They were working from a deeply flawed book, and both of them knew it. The trick was not letting anyone outside the show know they knew it. “Whatever happens to the show,” Barbra told the reporter, putting the best face on things, “it will have been fun.”
When word came that they were needed back at rehearsals, the two costars stood to leave. Sydney, silent for so much of the interview, turned to the reporter. “It’ll be a hit,” he said. No doubt he believed that, too, as he followed his fiery, determined, tactless leading lady back into the theater.
The Gotham Hotel was one of New York’s great old luxury lodgings. On the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street, the granite Beaux Arts structure shot up twenty-four stories. Barbra had arrived at the hotel on the cold and snowy evening of December 27 to accept the Entertainer of the Year Award from Cue magazine, an honor that had previously gone to Diahann Carroll and Zero Mostel. Not only was she getting the award, but her face also graced the cover of Cue, “the entertainment guide to New York and suburbs,” with a circulation of more than 200,000 for its five different editions. As she walked into the jam-packed Grand Ballroom, filled with hundreds of showmen, pressmen, and performers, all of them applauding for her, Barbra was on the threshold of achieving everything she’d once dreamed about, of claiming the future she’d often been unable to visualize as a kid back in Brooklyn.
At the moment, an Associated Press story about her, running in hundreds of papers all across the country, was calling her the “world’s hottest young star.” She’d just finished recording the tracks for her third album, which Columbia wanted out early next year before Funny Girl opened. Mademoiselle magazine had recently presented her with one of their ten annual Merit Awards given to young women of achievement, honoring her alongside Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, fashion designer Deanna Littell, French-Indian actress Leela Naidu, and writer Susan Sontag. More heady company came in Louis Sobol’s column featuring the most exciting New Yorkers of 1963. Here Barbra was included with British transplant Albert Finney, Senator Jacob Javits, and playwright Edward Albee. Not bad for a kid from the corner of Newkirk and Nostrand.
Outside of showbiz, though, things were a little different. Barbra no longer had any real friends except for Cis and Harvey Corman, the only people she spent time with when she wasn’t working. Rarely did Barbra accept social invitations from professional colleagues; she almost never asked people to her home. She could have, of course: the duplex was gradually coming together, with antique spool cabinets and beautifully mismatched china sets and glowing theater exit signs over the doors. The place was built for entertaining. Around the enormous bar, Larry Hart had once played host to hundreds. But since Barbra had moved in, the bar remained unadorned and unused.
Instead, the heart of the house for Barbra had become the kitchen, where she’d covered the walls with red patent leather and added antique stools. She might not cook big dinners for friends, but here Elliott whipped up her chicken soup, waiting for her to come home from the theater. In the mornings he called Barbra on the intercom to come down and eat. Most nights, it was just the two of them.
In some ways, as one journalist put it, Barbra and Elliott were “encamped there like a pair of gypsies in a half-wrecked enchanted castle, leading a grandiose, accelerated version of the same raggle- taggle life they led over the fish restaurant.” Beside their bed in the tower suite they’d installed a refrigerator so they wouldn’t have to trudge all the way downstairs if they wanted a dish of Breyer’s coffee or cherry-vanilla ice cream late at night. Elliott liked to believe he and Barbra remained very simple people. One of their “conjugal delights,” he said, was still a Nathan’s hot dog.
But their seclusion from the social whirl of New York also grew out of Barbra’s shyness, her fear of discovering that among these sophisticated socialites, she wouldn’t fit in. A part of her scorned them for their pretenses. Deep down, Barbra knew that even her move to the apartment at the Ardsley had been a concession to a pretentious, affected way of thinking: “I am now a mature, successful woman,” she said to one writer, explaining the move. “Hah! So I should move out of my tiny third-floor walk-up. And I did, into a large duplex, because the more successful you get, the less secure you get. It’s the nature of the business.”
If there was one thing Barbra understood after her extraordinary year, it was the nature of the business she was in. Image mattered. Not for nothing did Barbra donate five hundred dollars’ worth of her old clothes to a local thrift shop and allow her publicists to leak word of it to the columnists. Metaphorically, she was shedding the old, kooky, thrift-shop Barbra. She was now a self-proclaimed couturiere, designing her own clothes and being written up in fashion columns. Earl Wilson pointed out that Barbra had once shopped in thrift stores because that was all she could afford; now she was handing over her surplus to them. “And that’s what one year can do for you in show business,” Wilson wrote.
As people stepped aside to let her pass, Barbra took the stage at the Gotham, accepting the award from Cue publisher Edward Loeb. If she had looked out into the crowd, she would have seen her face everywhere, as copies of the current issue were held in nearly every hand. Inside, a piece by editor Emory Lewis explained why they had chosen this twenty-one-year-old over so many others. “Streisand is an original,” Lewis wrote, “and originals are rare in our industrial, homogenized society.” But how far could an original go? Barbra might be the entertainer of the year, but what about next year? What happened if Funny Girl flopped, doomed by its deficient book and ineffectual director? How long could an original like Barbra last?