She Papered It in Paisley and Hung Up A Crystal Chandelier
April 18, 1965
Barbra Streisand was resting in her backstage dressing room before the evening performance of Funny Girl. Wearing a long black silk jersey dress with a high waist and long skinny sleeves, she was half stretched out on an antique French day bed. Light shone down on her Fanny Brice wig and black-beaded slippers from the prisms of an antique crystal chandelier, the kind you might expect to see in a ballroom instead of backstage at the Winter Garden Theater.
Her home away from home may well be unique in the history of backstage dressing rooms. The place is a mad explosion of one black background Paisley print that looks like an old-time shawl. Paisley wallpaper matches the upholstery of the carved day bed. Black patent leather chairs stan on a bright green rug.
Barbra found the chandelier at an important place. The period is Directoire-Empire-Napoleon, she thinks. It was beat up and dirty, but she had it mended and cleaned.
To hang from the black-painted ceiling, it had to be taken apart again. “People began getting very nervous around here when they saw me painting the ceiling black and bringing in a crystal chandelier,” Barbra says.
Outside in the corridor hang a couple of portraits. The big one of Barbra is by a girl named Tony Brown. “Her fans are always painting her portrait,” says her friend, Eileen Peterson. “The closets are full of them.”
Barbra has played Funny Girl more than 450 times now. “Sometimes I'm stimulated and sometimes not.” Just now, she's more stimulated by the TV spectacular she's doing for CBS, April 28th. But, actually, the two different kinds of performances stimulate each other. The Broadway show will be closed for a few days while she tapes the spectacular.
“The TV show isn't really about anything. Just me,” she says. “But don't get the idea that it's just a girl singing for an hour. It's a concept with a bit of satire, like a little Broadway production.”
Barbra Streisand, who's a one-woman entertainment world in herself, has had more than a finger in plotting the show and designing the clothes she'll wear. At least three of the outfits have been worked out with Bill Blass. “That's what's so great about Bill. He's not afraid to like my sketches. I can talk to Bill.”
In the first part of the show she's supposed to look covered-up and demure, Barbra says. “We did a variation of a thing I made for myself and sang in four years ago. It's a white blouse with a tweed vest and skirt. In this part I'm floating through surrealist hallways. I woke up one night and knew that costume had to be made of chiffon. So it's all pleated chiffon cut on the bias. It's so wrong that it's right. It's almost a take-off on the original dress.”
Bill Blass has made her a chiffon middy-blouse dress with a floor-length skirt, a sailor collar and long, red ribbons to the floor. “I become a child again in the first sequence.” In the finale, “when I come out and I'm a woman, the dress had to be black with a deep, narrow neckline, the cut Marlene Dietrich always likes. We kept trying it without sleeves and lace. It's absolutely plain, and I wear a piece of antique diamond jewelry.”
If there's one thing Barbra Streisand loves, it's an English riding habit worn with a top hat. She has a chance to wear them in the Bergdorf Goodman part of her TV show.
“Partos said he was making a riding habit. I said fantastic. I wore lace ruffles at my throat, a diamond stick pin and white boots. I think a high hat is the greatest look for a woman, but it has to have something soft trailing off. My husband once brought me a gray top hat from England.”
Barbra has an extraordinary feeling for fashion. It seems to waft from the long fingers with the pale pink nails. When she talks about clothes she can sound like a combination of fashion museum director James Laver and best-dressed Gloria Guinness.
“I don't like the ‘total look’ any more. A few beads are more elegant than a beaded ballgown. I like sable cuffs better than a whole coat ... A turtle-neck sweater and dungarees can be elegant in their own way. I've moved all my kooky clothes into one closet now ... Why are the columnists always saying, ‘Our Barbra bought everything in sight.’ I hardly ever buy what they say I do.”
Barbra isn't a bit breathless about the big year that has brought her fame, fortune and the gold record framed an hung on her black dressing room wall.
“I guess it was all right,” she says. “It was a lot of work.”
Related Links: Funny Girl, Broadway Show pages