Barbra Streisand, New Star in Town, Traces Her Rise to 'Funny Girl'

NY Times

April 5, 1964

Miss Marmelstein came back to Broadway the other night, disguised as Fanny Brice. There was nothing frumpy about her appearance this time—in a black sequinned dress that clung to her thighs like a patch of lichen, she threw her head back, sang her heart out, and knocked New York on its ear.

When the curtain came down and someone had to step forward to acknowledge the ovation, the Brice of "Funny Girl" and the Marmelstein of "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" melded into one Barbra Streisand, who thereupon became—at the tremulously tender age of not quite 22 — Broadway's newest star.

There is a formidable amount of Marmelstein and Brice in the real-life Barbra. Like them she says "hadda" and "awta," and is a Plain Little Girl Who Made Good. The waifish quality that makes Fanny so appealing onstage is indubitably also present in Barbara—in varying degrees. Indeed, Miss Streisand may be the shrewdest waif of the year. Semi-legendary already are the facts she has provided for public consumption: the childhood in Brooklyn minus a father who died when she was fifteen months old, the purely maternal mother primarily interested in keeping her fed, clothed and warm, a degree at age 17 from Erasmus Hall High School, and the professional beginnings in a song contest at a Greenwich Village bar. Then there were the embellishments: the dropping of the middle "a" from her name, the careful non-conformity on several television interview shows, and the whimsical doctoring of the program biographies, "Reared in Aruba" is one phrase she chose, presumably for its lovely alliteration. "It amused me," she said later.

Streisand applies makeup


Whatever the paths, Miss Streisand arrived at the pinnacle on March 26th when "Funny Girl" opened. Five opening night postponements did not make it the calmest premiere of the year, but interviewed after a preview the week before, Miss Streisand either had been stunned into composure, or had seemingly developed nerves of steel. Surrounded backstage by a press agent, a personal manager, a photographer, a maid, a dressmaker, and two costume assistants waving swatches of fabrics, she dealt with each person and each problem quietly.

Well-wishers thronged the hall and oozed into the doorway and she went to greet them. Jule Styne, the composer, came in to talk about the length of the show: "we should cut at least twenty-eight minutes," and someone popped in to say that Jerome Robbins who was directing and Isobel Lennart, who had written the book, hoped she would "go over the new changes right away." Stoically, Miss Streisand plowed through most of it, then sat down on an army cot covered with pink sheets.

"We had three new scenes in the second act tonight, so I'm a little tired," she admitted. Having her name up in lights in front of the Winter Garden seems to impress her very slightly: "I never think of the show in terms of being the 'star' of it. I think of it as a job to do." When reminded that the audience that evening had practically climbed up on their seats to cheer, she smiled--wan but mischievous--and admitted, "Well, yeah. That was kinda nice."

Miss Streisand got up to have a dress fitted and stood in front of a full-length mirror, head back and Egyptian eyes tilted upward—a Flatbush Nefertiti. She mentioned casting directors ruefully, and their unquenchable demand for girls with Dolly Dimple faces, perfect occlusions and noses to match. "It was strange at first, and kinda terrible. They all turned me down. I knew I looked weird—that I wasn't anybody's idea of an ingĂ©nue. I knew then I had to be a star or nothing. I've told everyone I never had my nose done because I preferred it this way, but that's not all true. I really didn't have it done because of the pain. I'm afraid of the pain. Then there are people who tell me I'm beautiful this way. Well, they're wrong. Beautiful I'm not, and never will be."

The Party Opening night what Miss Streisand managed other convey—if not beauty—was a kind of paralyzed magnificence. With the show over, and the reviews already percolating, hundreds of distinguished citizens—including some named Radziwill, Bunche, Bacall and Javits—awaited her at the Rainbow Room. Miss Streisand arrived on the arm of her husband, actor Elliot Gould, her face stiff, her backbone stiffer. Her face contorted with relief for a moment, at the sight of a friend, then she walked into the onslaught of the television lights and cameras and the shouting people. Several ran ahead to clear a path, others formed behind her as she seemed to be swept and lifted into the ballroom.

The Reaction

The next day her reaction to this entrance—and the party—was something less than enthusiastic. "It was anti-climactic. I somehow feel, because of all the previews, that we've been open about two years. I found it scary, too. All those cameras and lights. I'm kinda uncomfortable at parties anyway."

Miss Streisand had slipped through the stage door about 7 P.M., alone, and in one of her favorite costumes: a pair of white wool pants, a knee-length cabled sweater and a brown velvet riding hat. In her dressing room waited another batch of photographers, these doing a cover story for a national magazine.

Alone for a moment, she confided, "Well, here I am with a big show, and I'll probably get bored doing it after awhile. Doing it again and again, the challenge wears off. Anyway it's nice while it lasts. I always knew I hadda be famous and rich—the best. I knew I couldn't live just being medium. I remember when I was breaking into the business, someone told me to do the rounds of the producers' offices. I tried for two days but it was too depressing, too disheartening. I just couldn't keep degrading myself. I knew it had to happen, but not that way.

"Now that I'm supposed to be a success, I'm worried about the responsibility. People will no longer be coming to see a new talent they've heard about. I now have to line up to their concept of a great success. I'm not the underdog, the homely kid from Brooklyn they can root for anymore. I'm fair game."


Related Links: Funny Girl, Broadway Show pages