April 20, 1966

Funny Girl in London


BARBRA STREISAND asked, “Shall we go to the drawing room?” and led the way, one flight up from the elegant study on the ground floor of her flat in Belgravia.

“You will have tea, of course,” she murmured, and as though on cue the butler entered with a silver tea service, atop a trolley with little sandwiches and cakes.

“Personally, I'd rather have a Coke,” giggled Barbra when the butler left. “This morning I decided I'd have avocado sandwiches at tea time. Isn't it wild?”

IT'S EXPENSIVE, too. For her three floors in Ennismore Gardens Barbra from Brooklyn is paying $1500 a month. “And it doesn't even have a shower.” But the butler and the cook are included, and it is all terribly grand.

I called on Miss Streisand a few days before the London opening of “Funny Girl,” the New York hit in which she plays Fanny Brice. “l'm more nervous than if I were doing a new play. It's serious here,” she said. She had given no interviews — just a press conference and a chat on BBC — except or our tea. Being a worrier, she was concentrating on the imminent ordeal of the first night.

(She needn't have worried. Those in the first-night audience took Barbra to their hearts, and so did most of the London critics. Herbert Kretzmer in the Express said she “elevates and redeems the term star.” Peter Lewis in the Daily Mail: “She had to be good and she was.” The Sketch’s Fergus Cashin: “Never since the generation of Judy Garland has such a voice graced the stage.” David Nathan in the Sun: “You're great, girl.” Gerald Fay in the Guardian: “Although overrated, she seems bound to prove irresistible to the uncritical . . . I hated it with my ears, loved it with my eyes, but was obviously in a minority of doubters judging from the shouting and cheering at the end.”)

But when I talked to her she didn't know what was coming. London, after all, isn't New York, and many a Broadway hit has failed to negotiate the transatlantic crossing.

SPEAKING OF the interim between New York and London, she said: “I had a marvelous three and a half weeks touring Europe with Elliot (Elliott Gould, her husband) before we started rehearsals—Paris, Rome, Marseilles, Nice, Florence. I attended some of the fashion shows in Paris. Never again. They rush you too much. The only clothes I liked were from Dior. All that cut-out stuff is not for me.”

Her pale blue knitted dress and matching high-laced boots were from New York.

“You can't beat New York for clothes,” Barbra remarked. “They say I dress kookily. But you can be elegantly kookie. If you have generally good taste, it comes out. This dress started as a turtleneck. I told them to keep on knitting until it reached the floor.”

Then she cut it off above the knees. Kookie? Of course not.

The butler slithered in with a silver tray on which reposed tiny ham, watercress and chicken sandwiches. This delighted Miss Streisand, who said:

“I love London. I've always wanted to have tea and cakes. l've had jellied eels, and last Sunday l went to the East End for fish and chips. Wild. I've been here once before, to see my husband when he was starring in ‘On the Town.’ I like English food. I don't like French food, too rich.

“I love the English, they're so amused at money. Because someone said I was the highest-paid performer in the world, every time they write about me they call me that.”

“Are you?” I asked.

“Yes I am,” she admitted.

I mentioned Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis.

“No, I am paid more.”

“The Beatles?”

“No, I get as much for me, one person, as they do for the four. I was offered the same as they were paid for Shea Stadium. I refused, because my voice is not for Shea Stadium. I did a concert tour, 20 nights. For this I made $1,000,000, as much as Elizabeth Taylor receives. But she has to spend three to five months on a picture to make a million. I did it in less than three weeks.”

Barbra's “Funny Girl” engagement in London is for three months. She wiII finish in mid-June, then after filming another television show in color here, she goes to Hollywood to make the movie version.

“I have never made a film,” she said. "I might also do the movie of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat.’ But I'll have a problem in Hollywood with the hours. I don't get up before 12:30 in the afternoon, and I can't leave the house before 2.”

SHE FINDS things more sensible in Europe, where they film from noon until 7 or 8. Only Frank Sinatra has been able to do this in Hollywood.

Miss Streisand’s first television spectacular, “My Name is Barbra,” was acclaimed just as much in England as it was earlier in the season in America, where fans have now seen her second special, “Color Me Barbra.”

“I've been seeing plays,” she said. “I was really inspired by the National Theater — ‘Love for Love’ and ‘A Flea In Her Ear.’ It inspired me to act. Before I did ‘Funny Girl’ in New York, when I was 19 and doing ‘I Gan Get It For You Wholesale,’ Billy Rose came backstage and said, ‘lf they ever do the story of Fanny (he was one of her husbands), you are the girl to do it.’ But after he saw the show he said, ‘No one in the world can play Fanny Brice.”’

The reviews made it evident that Rose's was a minority opinion.

On the night that the BBC re-ran Barbra’s first television show in London, she and her husband were having dinner with friends, and the two went to the wrong apartment. “There was an old couple," Barbra said, “and guess what they were watching on television?”

l will let you guess.



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