Las Vegas Playground Jan 1964 cover

Las Vegas Playground

January 1964

By David Farmer

The perceptive Riviera Hotel recently featured this bright, new vocal star to SRO audiences. We were so impressed, we wanted you to meet ...


- Barbra, just about everybody agrees that you're the greatest young singer to come along in years. And just about everybody agrees that you're a kook. Are you?

- No, I'm not. Being a kook means putting on things that aren't real. I study Italian all the time, for example. People compare that with a 9 to 5 day, and think I'm kooky. That's just a pity for those people.

- What about those strange costumes you wear? The other night here in Las Vegas, you came out in a sort-of low-cut Mother Hubbard dress made of gingham. Some people thought that was weird.

- I designed that dress. To me, the epitome of elegance is to wear a long gown, but have it made of kitchen curtain material. I'd call it casual elegance. I would never spend $1,000 on a beaded gown. I'd wear cotton and spend the money on furniture.

- Even your first name promotes your reputation as a kook. Did your parents give it to you?

- I hated the name Barbara. But I could never bring myself to make up a new name. I don't like those terrible stage names. But by drop-ping the "a" I became the only Barbra in the world.

- Nobody seems to be squawking about it, but did you really agree with a writer that you'll win an Oscar for movies, an Emmy for television, a Tony for stage acting and a Grammy for records?

- I'll win them all. I never think about it. I knew I had to be a star, famous, wealthy.

- You were born April 24, 1942, in Brooklyn. A Saturday Evening Post writer has indicated that you hated it there. He quotes "a friend" as saying, "To Barbra, Brooklyn meant baseball, boredom and bad breath." Is that true?

- I never said I didn't like being born in Brooklyn. I'm happy about the way I was brought up, on the streets. It has to do with the way I am, the way I sing, my talent.

- How long have you been singing?

- Three years. I was an actress, but I couldn't get work. So I learned two songs.

- You won a talent contest at a bar with them, according to stories. You were soon singing in New York night clubs like the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel. Then one night David Merrick, producer of "I Can Get It for You Wholesale," walked in. He heard you and arranged for an audition, right?

- That's a real beef of mine, these overnight success stories. You always read: "She was discovered by etc." But it never really happened. David Merrick didn't discover me. I auditioned like everybody else. I hadn't had much experience. I sang a few songs, and they asked me to come back in the afternoon. I said I couldn't, I had to go to the beauty parlor. They weren't used to that. They liked it. When I did come back, I was wearing a coat. They asked me to take it off. I said I liked it, and kept it on. I learned the song that I had to sing. Then I did it sitting down. I think that's why I got the part. That's the way I sang the song in the show. I have another beef. I'm tired of writers saying "She's an ugly girl. But oh! she can sing."

- I've read that Truman Capote, the author, and President Kennedy are among your fans. Where does Capote come in?

- He used to come to Basin Street East when I was singing there. I never saw him.

- How about the President? I understand that he saw you on television and had you invited to sing at a White House correspondents' dinner.

- After the dinner I met him. He said, "You have a beautiful voice. How long have you been singing?" I said, "As long as you've been President" I never get autographs for myself, but my mother had asked me to get his. He signed a card for me and I said, "You're a doll."

- You had a kind of gem of a part in "Wholesale." In fact, some critics said you were responsible for its nine-month run. How did you like working in the play?

- It was okay. I didn't like it that much. I was the comedy relief. I had a small part, so I had a lot of time between scenes. I didn't even know what the play was about. It wasn't much of a play, but it was a great book.

- You married Elliott Gould, the leading man in "Wholesale," last March. Do you think you can combine your two careers and make a successful marriage?

- I don't know if we can combine them. We'll soon find out. It's a very tough thing. I'm looking for-ward to seeing my husband when I leave here. He's found us a new apartment. I lived in a dump for a long time, even though I was making a reasonable salary in the play. This place I lived in had a bath-tub in the kitchen. I didn't want to move until I could get some-thing great. Now, we've got a duplex penthouse.

- Your record album became the top seller for female vocalists after four weeks. What's it called?

- The Barbra Streisand Album. I can't stand those other made-up titles. I told them: "That's the title." My second album is called, naturally, the Second Barbra Streisand Album.

- Clubs and television have been beckoning you since "Wholesale" closed. What's in the future?

- From Las Vegas, I go to New York to sing at the Concord. After that, I open at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. Then I do a Bob Hope show, go to Lake Tahoe, do a Bing Crosby show, and appear at a Hollywood concert. I start rehearsal in November for a musical based on the life of Fanny Brice. It's a great part. It's about the love affair between her and Nicky Arnstein. He later be-came her husband, but they courted a while. I like the script. What will I do in the play? I'll be the star. I'll be singing, dancing, and roller skating. There's one number that goes, "I Did It on Roller Skates and I Can't Wait to Do It on Skis." Gee, I haven't roller skated in years. I wonder why I said that. Only old people say they haven't done something in years.

- What, no movie offers?

- I have no time to do a movie.

- I understand that you enrolled in three acting schools while you were going to high school. Then you had a few weeks of summer stock and worked as a switchboard operator before you got fired, and finally got the part in "Wholesale." Do you consider yourself to be an actress or a singer?

- I'm an actress who sings. I'm glad to be going back to the stage soon. The timing is just right. I've enjoyed working in clubs and on television. But I also like the stage, and one field inspires the other.

- To me, you are one of the two or three best girl singers. You have a voice that can pipe softly or rattle the room. In fact, some people say you're the first real challenge to Ella Fitzgerald in 20 years. Have you given much thought to your style?

- At this point, I just sing. I'll work on it some other time. I'm very lazy. I control a lot of things just with my will power.

- What do you hope your life will hold?

- I don't know. I haven't thought 'way ahead. I'd like to go on safaris and expeditions, study languages and anthropology, live in different countries.

- What do you do for fun?

- I go to dance classes, study Italian, read about Zen Buddhism. No, it's not difficult. It's simple. There's nothing to understand. That's the secret. It makes me think that our Western civilization is a terrible way of living. I hardly have time to read. So when I do, I like simple books. But I'll get a chance later. I'm very young. Sometimes I think, "Everything is so important." And yet other times I think, "It isn't important at all."

- Who are your favorite singers?

- They're all dead. They're people like Bessie Smith.

- How'd you like Las Vegas?

- I love it. It's incredible, wonderful, not real. All the fake money—it's not really fake, but to me it seems like playing monopoly.


[ top of page ]