A backstage Rogue interview with the new first lady of song, Miss Barbra Streisand...
THE MOUSE THAT WAILS
...From there it's cross-country to the stage of Chicago's Mister Kelly's and the unique—some even say alarming—vocal renditions of that wailing enfant terrible from the Bronx, Miss Barbra Streisand. Barely old enough to be a registered voter, this wild-eyed package of musical and comedic talent is playing to packed houses all over the country, has Columbia Records sitting on pins and needles waiting to cut her second album, and has just been signed by David Merrick (who?) to play the lead in the stage version of the Fanny Brice Story. She belts the lyric to each of her numbers with a style peculiarly her own, and the resultant audience reaction is invariably the same —flipsville! In the exclusive ROGUE interview on page 37, Barbra proves to be just as far out off stage as she is out in front of the house lights portraying her role as the "Mouse That Wails". . .
SHE'S NOT PRETTY. And when she sings her voice isn't the most lyrical or the purest—sometimes off-pitch, sometimes flat ...
But she delivers a lyric like few singers before her—and fewer today—giving the words a special magic, an inimitable fire and pathos, a dynamic passion that tells the listener that this "plain Jane" is holding up a vocal mirror to her own life.
Thus, when Barbra Streisand belts out "Cry Me a River," you know she's really been there—fighting upstream all the way.
Right now, Barbra, an anything-but-bashful belle from Brooklyn, is the hottest girl vocalist to come down the melodic pike since that paleolithic age when Judy Garland made her third of a dozen comebacks.
Success came as no surprise to this strong-willed 21-year-old. "It was just inevitable," she says, her speaking voice rich with the pure, Kosher goodness of the New York switchboard operator she used to be, not too many ballads ago.
"I can't explain it," she continued, "but it's just a feeling I had, ya know. I never thought about NOT making it!"
One time, she reportedly told Enrico Banducci, owner of San Francisco's Hungry i: "You're going to be down on your scabby knees, BEGGING me for a contract before the year is out, idiot!"
When asked if the story is true, she explains with a laugh: "Slob, I really said. Yeah, it was really like that. I was in my agent's office, and he walked in, and I wanted to get a job there, but he ... never heard of me, and I just walked in and I said, "Look, why don't you give me a job. I hear that you're supposed to give people—unknowns— jobs, and stuff, and I don't really wanna work for you in your dirty old nightclub, anyway. But actually I'm gonna be a big star, so you might as well grab me now, and get me cheaper, and stuff—ya know?"
Was she putting him on? "No, I was serious. But I knew what I was doing. It was like a bit. But I was serious about it. But it was almost like an acting problem—to go in and do it, ya know? I was very scared. I really was. But it worked." Banducci signed her 20 minutes later.
FIVE FOOT-FIVE, and 120 pounds of determination, she makes all her own decisions (material, gowns, hair style, etc.): "Nobody could pick anything I have. I do everything myself. I must! Because if it's wrong, then I have myself to blame. I could never rely on anybody else—ya know?"
Her independence does not stop there, either. Though she admits she likes a few vintage vocalists—Ethel Waters, Ruth Etting, Helen Morgan—she denies that she has any contemporary favorites.
She dislikes being compared to Garland, Merman, Lena, Ben Lillie, Billie Holiday, and Fanny Brice; and she denies that she has profited professionally listening to the records of, say, Sinatra.
"I don't learn from nothin'!" she snapped emphatically, "except myself. I can't learn from a record. Actually, it's true that I have learned from watching performers—what not to do!"
A rebel by nature, nothing awes her. For example, there's the story about the night New York columnist Earl Wilson supposedly stopped her at the stage door, and she told him to quit following her around. "You're a stage-door Johnny," she allegedly shouted.
Did it really happen that way? "That's untrue," she dead-pans. "It was Leonard Lyons."
Her far-out sense of humor also laps over into her nightclub act. An icon kicking cut-up, she decided to sing "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" because, as she phrases it: "We were kidding around, because it was my first engagement at the Bon Soir. And it was so silly; I didn't really want to be a singer or anything, and it's a sophisticated, posh little nightclub.
"So that annoys me, anything that's supposed to be posh and sophisticated— ya know? So I wanted to do something that was completely wrong! Ya know? And so it was like me talking about I would love to do a nursery rhyme or something, and 'Big Bad Wolf was Barry's (one of Barbra's arrangers) suggestion, and I looked at the lyrics, and I sing exactly the lyrics that are in the thing, which are very ambivalent—ya know? Double entendre" she said grandly, "lyrics. But they're the 1937 musical—Walt Disney. And ... it worked great. I used to close my act with that."
Her kookiness is genuine, not the papier-mache pap many press agents mold around their marshmallow clients. Her individualism is bona fide, the real McCoy. She dropped one letter from the conventional spelling of "Barbara" because, "I hated the name, but I refused to change it."
There's never been anything fake about the voluble vocalist. Even as a child, she had a strength of will, a knowledge of who she was, an awareness of her identity. Unusually candid about most things, she is surprisingly evasive about discussing that childhood—obviously an unhappy period. When first asked about her youth, she countered with a flip: "I don't remember it. I was born at six. Came out, a full set of teeth." But pressed on her home and school life, she began to give out some of the details.
"Yeah, I was very smart—90's, all 90's. But it was really weird because, ya see, I was ... I was very smart. Right? But I dressed weird, dressed crazy, and had bleached blonde hair. So anyway, I used to dress strange, I guess, in terms of the norm."
Did she mean wearing things like black leotards? "That was after. No, I just used to wear gingham, with lace. And I don't look the type—ya know?
Why did she dress that way? "I liked it!" she grinned enthusiastically. "I never thought about it. I thought everybody else looked terrible."
Did she still dress that way the first couple of years in Manhattan? "Yeah. I can't stand the cold—ya know? Like . . . the first thing I bought was a fur coat, with my money. Not mink, or anything. I hate mink.
"I have a great fur coat, though. But I cannot stand to be cold. And I'll do anything to be warm—ya know? Like ... I used to wear, ah, thick stockings, or these tights, to be warm. And when I used to go to offices and appointments, I used to wear them, too.
"And that wasn't understood. Ya know, you must look—wear hose and high heels when you go to appointments. But I'm more interested in being warm— ya know? So I was always sorta looked at funny, I guess.
"I'm gonna still wear the tights, only now they won't laugh at me anymore." A triumphant look came into her blue eyes now. "Now they're gonna wear the tights, too! They're wising up. Be warm, Schmoes! Be warm!"
THE GIFTED Miss Streisand has plenty to keep her warm. Physically, she has furs, something she always wanted. Sociologically, she is married (happily, by the way, to actor Elliott Gould, star of her first Broadway show, "I Can Get It For You Wholesale").
But it's her career that supplies the most warmth. It's sizzling (smash records, standing-room-only nightclub appearances, plus she recently signed to star in David Merrick's forthcoming Broadway musical based on the life of Fanny Brice).
In short, Barbra is as "hot" as a show biz personality can be. And judging from the devastating impact she has made on the adult public, she is going to stay "hot" for some time to come.
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