An Interview With Martin Erlichman

Home Viewer Magazine

October 1986

In 1960, Marty Erlichman heard Barbra Streisand sing for the first time. When she opened her mouth and sang, Erlichman was transfixed. He arranged to see her backstage in her dressing room. “Dressing room?” he reminisced with HOME VIEWER from Los Angeles. “That’s being polite. lt was a small closet right off the kitchen. l told Barbra, right there and then, that she would go on to win every major award there was in this business. That's how impressed l was.”

Erlichman was instrumental in helping Barbra get her recording contract with Columbia Records. Goddard Lieberson, the highly respected company president, was impressed with the voice, but he felt the sound was not commerical enough. Erlichman was disappointed but patient. His patience, and persistence paid off.

Erlichman never doubted Barbra’s talent or public appeal. He believed she only needed to be heard. He was right. The first album — a simply produced affair — was an enormous critical and commercial success, garnering two Grammy’s in 1964: Best Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance.

When it came time for Streisand to approach the television industry, Erlichman remembers a similar resistance on the part of the television executives. “She was always a very controversial figure. You either loved her or hated her — there was no in-between.”

But her list of kudos was growing, and soon both CBS and NBC were interested in Streisand. “Barbra’s career began as a cult phenomenon,” Erlichman admits, “but quickly developed into mass appeal ... she was very much in demand.” When CBS agreed to give manager and star full artistic control (something almost unheard of — especially for a newcomer to television. lt was a factor even established TV stars such as Lucille Ball didn’t have), Barbra signed a five-million dollar contract.

The executives were still apprehensive. To guarantee strong ratings they suggested co- stars. Frank Sinatra? Dean Martin? Erlichman and Streisand said no. Barbra wanted to do a one-woman show. lf she succeeded it would be her success; if she failed, it would be only her failure. Barbra wanted her television special to have the feel of a Broadway show, a theatrical production. She hired the best: as director Dwight Hemion, considered a wizard in the TV industry, and Joe Layton, whose Broadway work was highly respected. The special would combine the best of television and Broadway.

The first special, My Name is Barbra, was met with enormous critical acclaim. A year later the second special, Color Me Barbra, was broadcast. A colorful sequel to the black and white original, it featured similar Broadway style performances and together the two specials acted as bookends. “We felt that in terms of quality Color Me Barbra was even better than the first show,” Erlichman said, “and if it had been the first one shown, the acclaim would have been even greater.”

A few years ago Streisand phoned Erlichman and told him she had videotapes of the specials. Would he like to see them? “l said of course!” Erlichman enthused, “even though l didn’t own a VCR. l had to go over to a friend's house to watch them. l was so surprised to see how well they held up — they seemed completely fresh, as if they had been made yesterday.”

Erlichman is pleased that today, more than two decades later, Streisand has come full circle. “l’m glad she's back singing the kind of Broadway songs that were the backbone of her original repertoire,” he said. With the success of The Broadway Album and the video release about its production, Putting it Together: The Making of the Broadway Album, Erlichman feels that the time could not be better for the video release of the TV specials. lf his instincts are as sound today as they were 25 years ago, they should be blockbusters.