Barbra ... an explosion that shattered the Great White Way

Donald Zec Reports From Broadway

June 26, 1964

Streisand in Funny Girl rehearsal

You wonder at first how on earth this sensational female, whose face suggests an ant eater turned Queen Nefertiti, can look so beautiful.

The eyes are dark, expressive and conciliatory—I mean they have a genial tendency to meet each other half-way.

Yet this is the face behind the most shattering personal triumph to explode on Broadway for years.

The face belongs to Barbra Streisand, a 22-year-old Brooklyn-born sprite who has sung, leapt, wiggled and nozzled, I mean nuzzled, her way into a show-stopping success that is the jubilant talk of the Great White Way.

The show is Funny Girl, a lively tear-jerking musical based on the life of Broadway's Queen of the ballad-and-bump and the grind-belt, the late Fanny Brice.

To get tickets for what is virtually Streisand's one-woman spectacular it is helpful if you know a feller who knows a guy who knows the President of the United States.

She sings with the heart-touching passion of a young Judy Garland soaring over the rainbow. Or, when the mood is mischievously "blue," teeth bared, torso in the attack, she is Lena Horne with a light sensual touch of Miss Peggy Lee, throwing in a whole palette of exciting new shades of her own.


Frank Sinatra flew to New York to see her and sent this crisp verbal hug backstage: "You were magnificent. I love you."

One critic, roaring up the adulatory runway, took off with "magnificent, sublime, radiant, extraordinary, electric"—then, faltering in his own jet stream, added scornfully, “What puny adjectives to describe Barbra Streisand!”


Others, in a frenzy to get up with the cheerleaders, warble such praise as "stunning," "unique," "the girl carries her own buit-in spotlight," "a consummate performer."

Well, I have seen the show and met the girl, and if show biz's cut-price superlative "great" still has a meaning it sure can be pinned to this kooky ice-cream addict from the back streets of Brooklyn.

So, as her name and albums will soon be spinning their scintillating way around the globe from Hollywood to Housewives' Choice, come and have your own private preview.

She and her young husband, Elliott Gould—he's an actor, singer and dancer, too—live in a way-out apartment (I refer to the decor, not the distance), twenty-one storeys high over Manhattan.


The kitchen walls are covered with black patent leather. The bed is a canopied, three-hundred-year-old Jacobean wired for a built-in fridge so they can eventually savor their favorite coffee ice-cream with their canoodling.

Alongside a dentist's cabinet stacked with shoe buckles are cupboards full of antiques and junk shop bric-a-brac. Also in the Streisand collection are a couple of coats made from the skins of a young ape and some old skunks, and a chewing gum slot machine.

"I kinda like to have the gum and the ice cream on hand," said Broadway's million-dollar discovery. "We might run out of the stuff at night."

Streisand on stage in Funny Girl


But why the antiques?

"Well, I'll tell you," she said to me. "When you've had no toys as a kid and been raised on strictly nothing, small things like a walnut suddenly look like a work of art.

"Am I getting through to you?" she asked earnestly. "Loud and clear," I said. The full mouth widened into a broad smile.

The Cleopatra style eyes glowed, and long nose and all she made the room light up.

"Do you mind being compared to an ant eater?" I inquired focusing on the boldest proboscis on Broadway.


She frowned and I realized in a flash that her sensitivity on the subject stood out like, well, a sore thumb.

"Listen, the way I look at it if people think Shirley Jones and Sandra Dee are beautiful then they will find me a real ugly one. And if you think Sandra Dee is beautiful ... Okay, okay.

"Maybe to some guys my mouth is too big and my nose is too long. So what. I've had painters ay they're nuts about my beauty—that my eyes belong to an Egyptian Queen, my mouth is sensitive and sensuous and my nose—‘Don't ever change it.’"

"I'll buy all that," I said. "But I take it you had to knock on a few doors before you made the point?"


"Anyway, I never wanted success that bad. I lived. If people wanted me—fine. I didn't want to push it—wanted them to want it. And that's the way it has happened."

But it was not that easy for the girl whose eye style and hive piled hairdo has triggered off the Streisand look— like a female Babylonian Beatle.

The girl who now earns two thousand pounds a week, whose three albums are a sell-out, who could write her own Hollywood contract, once scrubbed the toilets in repertory.

When she came to Broadway from Brooklyn she carried her own camp bed, dossing down with kindly friends.

She still has it. I've sat on it.

During one brief hilarious period she glued on false eyelashes and gave herself the exotic name "Angelina Scarangella." "I thought it would work for me," she said with a thunderclap of a laugh. "It didn't."


But, though Broadway is now eating out of her soft white hand, Miss Streisand — she dropped the "a" out of Barbara for the kicks — is as uncertain of herself as she was when she lived over a Brooklyn fish shop.

"Am I great or am I just so-so?" she asks. "I don't know. I never know what pleases people only what pleases me.

"Honestly, all this success makes me sick to my stomach. When people come over and say, ‘Are you Barbra Streisand?’ I say no. ‘Funny, you look like her’ they say. ‘Yeah, I know,’ I tell them, ‘someone else told me that.’ That's fear for you."

That fear is as unnecessary as the tiny microphone she wears in her cleavage wired to little batteries taped to her bottom. The device is to help boost her voice to the back of the gallery.


But the magic of Barbra Streisand reaches out wherever you are. When she stands in the spotlight, head thrown back, her lithe body brazenly arched towards the audience, you sense that this Babylonian Queen from Brooklyn is in supreme command.

That is why Broadway—and Barbra Streisand—has never had it so good.


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