Life Magazine

September 20, 1967

Life 1967 cover

* Note: The U.S. version of Life featured an "Anti Ballistic Missile" cover; whereas the October 1967 foreign version featured Barbra on the cover, in the Swan costume.

MOVIES / Barbra switches from stage to studio and starts at the top

Funny Girl Goes West

Streisand in ballet costume

Her familiar face, seen here in an instant of repose, still shimmers between great beauty and a parody of it, and her bearing — as always — is ever so slightly askew. What's new is that Barbra Streisand is now being her unique self in the movies. Not unexpectedly — after all, in the past 18 months she has knocked off four million-seller albums, enchanted 70 million TV viewers and lured 135, 000 New Yorkers into Central Park for a concert — Barbra's plunge into films had some extravagant statistics. For the Funny Girl role she created on Broadway, Columbia will pay her $1 million — the fattest fee ever for a motion picture debut. The budget for this film and her next two (Hello Dolly! for 20th Century-Fox and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever for Paramount) will come to $30 million, an almost unbelievable amount to risk on any novice except perhaps Barbra. The Hollywood jungle apparently has not destroyed her seemingly fragile aura, as some thought it might, and a whole new set of Streisand legends is coming into being. Not that she has completely escaped Brooklyn. In one of her first film sequences in Funny Girl, the villainous Von Rothbart envelops her in his cape. Barbra explains her ballet pose comes quite naturally. In Brooklyn, when she was 7, she was enrolled in Miss Marsh's Dance School, "fantasizing about being a ballerina, just walking around the house in toe shoes."

Like I'm not a person anymore," she remarks. "I mean I was driving to work the other day and I nearly hit someone. Well, if I hit someone, imagine! He'd sue me for $10 million — and probably collect!"

No one in Hollywood will love you if you talk about money in public. It isn't nice. And in a world so busy being nice nice nice night and day, a star who will say "Who needs niceness?" in front of an entire set exasperates all the producers, press agents, extras and head waiters who make stars run. Still, if you want to make Hollywood really love you, try walking the other way. Hollywood lives by parties: Streisand hates them. When she did drag herself to a welcome-Barbra affair thrown by her producer, Ray Stark, with all the old big names in attendance, the new star came late and went into her shell.

She has become the cat who walks alone. And as in Kipling's story, the more she walks alone the more all the other animals simply have to talk about her. "They're even saying I had my nose fixed," she says. Stories don't usually fuss her, but Streisand gets mad at that one. "If I was gonna have my nose fixed, I'd have done it when I was 7!"

Swan spoof that ends up looking ducky

One place to find out if Hollywood loves the girl from Brooklyn is up and away on a high seat back of the camera that records Funny Girl. What do all the professional people down on that set think of their superstar? "I just got off a Julie Andrews picture," says a tired dancer, collapsing on his hard wooden bench. (Only VIPs get chairs; Barbra's poodle Sadie has one.) "Julie was just one of us, one of the kids. Nice, professional, but not my idea of a movie star. But Streisand! The moment she walks on — like it's the way Joan Crawford must have walked on!" He looks down at his feet, "I think I hate her."

"Places!" shouts the choreographer. Streisand bites her lip, glares, frees herself from all the make-up, wig and costume people and takes her place on the $250,000 stage for her parody of Swan Lake. Broadway choreographer Herb Ross is directing the musical numbers, assisted by his ballet-dancer wife, Nora Kaye.

Swan Lake photos

Where is the director of the picture? Shouldn't he be right there bellowing through a megaphone? He has been staying off the set most of the time. "I'm no choreographer, that's not my business," he said. Here is a crucial exception to all the passions Miss Streisand is stirring up. The director doesn't seem to care. Yet he haunts Barbra Streisand most because he is William Wyler. After all, Streisand hasn't made a single picture yet. Wyler is Hollywood in its golden age; three Academy Awards for best direction; Greer Garson, Olivia de Havilland, Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis won Oscars under him. Mr. Wyler stays in his office with the script he made them rewrite and rewrite before he agreed to direct the film. Around the camera you see Wyler's field marshal and director of photography Harry Stradling, a two-time Oscar winner himself, famous for making women look beautiful on film.

How does she look on camera, Harry? She tops the ratings on TV, but that's a small screen — you don't have a face 10 times bigger than life looking down on you. And the nose ... "I like the nose," says Harry Stradling. "No, you can't make Barbra look like Marilyn Monroe. But she does have a beautiful face —because she's got something back of it."

From a set next door where he's making a western, Streisand's co-star, Omar Sharif, ambles over to watch her work. He has done some rehearsing with her. "The first impression," Sharif recalls, adjusting his chaps uncomfortably, "is that she's not very pretty." His Egyptian eyes light up. "But after three days, I am honest, I found her physically beautiful, and I start lusting after this woman!"

On a set, she suddenly spots a stain on her gorgeous Irene Sharaff costume. "Stain person!" she shouts. No one knows whether or not to laugh. "Well, I mean there's somebody around here for everything — my nails got yellow from the lacquer on that arrow I get killed with an' I can just see some guy painting my nails pink on 4,000 frames — so there's got to be a stain person!"

She half-skips, half-sails back into her great green trailer. She parks her chewing gum on the slate numbering the film take and sits down to lunch. She gobbles lamb chops, holds her poodle and calls for A-1 sauce, talking and looking at you with the same absolute sanity Alice had about Wonderland.

"No, Hollywood and all this, they don't relate to real life. I was so depressed when I saw my first western set. Nothing's real. But the work! It's very difficult, not what imagine. And yet you can get something magical, like having a baby. All the pain you go through and suddenly there it is, life! I've come to respect movie actors. Because the movie actor has to bring the picture to life. But the world out here — they worry about getting fat. There's so many more important things in the world.

Barbra as Fanny Brice calls Florenz Ziegfeld to tell him she is leaving the Follies show

You see the headline that China will have their atomic bomb all ready for action in 1970? We could be destroyed in a second. The end. What else? And so I ask myself sometimes what am I doing in Hollywood?" She stops to touch her boyishly cropped hair as if she were setting her thoughts. "There's a terrible gap in the human soul. Maybe that's why I like what I'm doing now. I've always loved fantasy." She shakes her head.

All those people out there want her again and she gets that last bit of lamb chop in her mouth. "No, no matter what happens I can't lose me."

One afternoon the crucial exception, the only other cat on the lot who walks alone, padded softly into a rehearsal room where Streisand was playing the Swan Queen and took the chair someone immediately gave "Mr. Wyler." He is deaf in one ear, so Herb Ross was talking loudly to explain the number. Streisand began and there was a lot of laughter, even applause. Wyler said nothing. Perhaps he couldn't hear. Streisand came over to him and started to explain what she was doing. Her hands were going everywhere, like an Italian woman explaining a traffic accident to a cop. Here I was doing this, there I was that — wanting things to be all right with this man, wanting his approval very much. To hell with all the others who say they love me, she seemed to be saying, Wyler will determine my first picture.

Stark and Streisand

Sunk down in his chair, the director didn't seem to hear. Streisand started explaining again. All of a sudden, Wyler held up one hand: "Just tone it down." They looked at one another. Everyone waited for her to explode and say the hell with your love, who needs it? Streisand nodded and walked back out on the cold rehearsal floor. This time when she did the number, it was so funny she cracked herself up. And you knew that only these two people and the picture they make will determine whether the love affair is real.



Outtakes of Swan Cover

Outtake from Swan session

Steve Schapiro outtakes of Swan

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