Opened September 18, 1968
Work on the film version of Funny Girl began with the screenplay adaptation of the stage play.
Producer Ray Stark approached Sidney Buchman (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) to write the first Funny Girl screenplay. Anne Edwards revealed in her 1997 book Streisand: A Biography, that she was hired as an uncredited co-writer of that script. Buchman and Edwards wrote their screenplay using several sources: the playscript; Isobel Lennart's very first screenplay (My Man)—written before the Broadway show; and Fanny Brice's reel-to-reel autobiography tapes.
Director William Wyler's personal papers show that there was a Buchman draft screenplay dated September 25, 1966, and then another revised draft dated November 7, 1966.
Buchman and Edwards’ early drafts began with Fanny visiting Nicky in jail. The flashback motif was used. They inserted the Georgia James character, added the roller-skate number, and included a scene showing racism with Bert Williams, the black Follies performer.
Then, Buchman and Edwards were off the picture. In the Spring of 1967, Isobel Lennart (who wrote the Broadway book) began writing the Funny Girl film.
Ray Stark started looking for directors as well. Stark and Streisand were spotted, in October 1967, discussing the film with prospective director Sidney Lumet (1978's The Wiz). Lumet left the project in January 1967, though.
By the time Barbra Streisand arrived in Hollywood in May, 1967, William Wyler was helming the film, which was still being written and developed after director Sidney Lumet was fired following six months of work in pre-production.
In his revered career, William Wyler directed Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Charlton Heston, and Laurence Olivier.
Since William Wyler had never directed a musical, though, Herbert Ross was added to the team as the director of the film's musical numbers.
There was never a question who would play Fanny Brice in the film. There is a history of Broadway actresses who have lost the roles they created on stage to another actress in the movie versions. Julie Andrews originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady but Audrey Hepburn won the movie role; and even Carol Channing lost the movie version of Hello, Dolly! to Streisand.
Streisand was already attached to the Funny Girl movie—she signed a four-picture deal with Ray Stark in 1965 to ensure that she'd play Fanny on the big screen. “I only wanted to do Funny Girl and Ray refused to give it to me unless I signed a four-picture deal,” Streisand told Playboy. “I remember my agent saying to me, ‘Look, if you're prepared to lose it, then we can say, sorry, we'll sign only one picture at a time.’ I was not prepared to lose it.”
Wyler was convinced Streisand should repeat her stage performance in the movies when he saw her play Fanny Brice on stage in London. “I hadn’t decided to do the picture until I saw Barbra,” he said. “She had a lot to do with my decision. I wouldn’t have made the picture without her.”
As for the casting of Nick Arnstein, Jule Styne expounded on that process to Focus on Film magazine in 1975:
What I really wanted Frank Sinatra for was Funny Girl. Sinatra as Nicky Arnstein opposite Streisand, that would have been the collector's item of all time. Imagine having four songs in that score sung by Sinatra, imagine a duet by these two great people. He wanted to do it, but Ray Stark said he was too old [Sinatra was 52 in 1967]. He would have been sensational! I had a song for him in the second half, an amazing thing that we'd had to cut out of the stage version because Sydney Chaplin couldn't sing it. It didn't need a great singer but someone who could make a pleasant sound—Tony Newley could have done it well. Omar Sharif is a very attractive man and a fine actor, but he's not that big an actor, he can't deliver a song and make you forget that he is not a musical entity [...] The scene in Funny Girl was where Nicky was really low, betting on horses though he'd supposedly given it up for Fanny [...] So now he's sitting at home with their baby, alone in their huge apartment while Fanny's at the theater, and he's reading the racing form figuring what to bet on because he needs money desperately, and he uses all the horse terms as he sings to the child: “Sleep baby bunting, daddy's gone a-hunting, looking for a horse to win a stake . . .” —it just broke your heart. Chaplin couldn't manage it.
An April 1967 script of the Funny Girl movie had a roller skate number called “Tomboy” in place of “The Roller Skate Rag.”
17. INT. KEENEY´S - NIGHT - "TOMBOY TOMBOY" - FANNY AND CHORUS, in costume, SINGING AS THEY SKATE:
FANNY AND CHORUS
I´LL ALWAYS BE A TOMBOY!
DON´T DRESS ME IN SPARKLEY SPANGLES,
RIBBONS, BOWS, AND JUNK THAT JANGLES.
IF THERE´S LOTS OF KNOTS AND TANGLES
IN MY HAIR, I DON´T CARE!
YOU WON´T SEE ME
GO ROUND ALL DEWY-EYED
IF SOME BOY SAYS "HEY, SIS!
MEETCHA ROUND THE CORNER
FOR A LITTLE KISS!"
I´D RATHER BE A TOMBOY!
Fanny´s unreliable skating finally breaks down - she goofs. The resultant roar of laughter is like catnip to a cat. She starts playing on her ineptness, working for laughs. As the NUMBER gets wilder, we INTERCUT WITH SHOTS OF EDDIE, frightened, then delighted - and of KEENEY - first furious, then thoughtful. AS THE NUMBER ENDS:
18. INT. BACK CORRIDOR - girdling the main room, with dressing-rooms and gambling-rooms leading off it, as FANNY AND THE GIRLS COME SKATING OFF, stop grabbing each other for support, and APPLAUSE CONTINUES O. S. Excitedly:
Hey - they liked us! We´re a hit!
Also in the April 1967 script was the Broadway song “Music That Makes Me Dance” in the place where “Funny Girl” now resides.
As late as September 14, 1967, Funny Girl composer Jule Styne sent a telegram to Barbra Streisand: “Dear Barbra,” he wrote, “Please consider Who Are You Now for Music That Makes Me Dance before you settle on reprise of You Are Woman for that spot.”
Styne was trying to influence the film by enlisting Streisand's aid because he added a post script in the telegram: “Do not say I said so.”
From the telegram, it sounds as if Styne still hoped two of the songs he wrote for the Broadway show would make it into the movie.
They did not.
Not only did Ray Stark request that the Fanny Brice standard, “My Man,” be added to the film version, but he also toyed with adding “Rose of Washington Square” (introduced by Brice in Ziegfeld's 1920 show, Midnight Frolic).
Composer Jule Styne did not want “My Man” in the Broadway score, or the film. He told the New York Times in 1987, “‘My Man’ ruined the movie.”
Funny Girl, the movie, began rehearsals in July 1967.
Publicity photographs of Streisand and Omar Sharif (cast as Nicky Arnstein) were released to the press in June 1967.
In Earl Wilson's column, he wrote about the Streisand/Sharif rehearsal:
Barbra Streisand was rehearsing for the "Funny Girl" movie with Omar Sharif who ... was biting her neck. He pulled her down on a divan and bit her neck some more. While he was still biting her neck, she snapped her fingers to choreographer Herb Ross. No more neck-biting just now, anyway. Omar Sharif quit biting her neck. Barbra and Herb Ross talked, earnestly in low voices about how a girl reacts to having her neck bitten. Then Herb took her in his arms and bit her neck a while. Honest to God [...] They were rehearsing for recording "You Are Woman" ...
For several weeks before filming began, Barbra danced ballet for the new “Swan Lake” number, and practiced her roller-skating skills for “Roller Skate Rag.”
All the time, Streisand pre-recorded the Funny Girl songs with music director Walter Scharf (photo below).
“We probably spent $200,000 pre-recording everything,” Jack Solomon—who did the sound on Funny Girl—said. When Streisand was filming a musical number on set, she “would come to me and say, ‘There are certain parts of this song I want to sing live,’” Solomon explained. “So I would cut forty bars out of the playback, and she would sing live at that particular portion of the song.”
Herbert Ross directed Streisand's test footage. “We spent hours shooting her to test her in different lights, different makeups, different hairdos,” Ross explained. “Well, on screen she looked a miracle. How could anyone have known that her skin was going to have that brilliant reflective surface, that she was going to look radiant—that was just a wonderful plus.”
Streisand was even tested on set for the Ziegfeld wedding number wearing a bonnet and flowered gown. This costume was nixed for the final film.
Harry Stradling photographed the Funny Girl tests. “I trusted him because we did these tests,” Barbra told Clive James in 1999. “In one test they made me up; one test I made myself up. I looked much better making myself up, and I've always made myself up. I've never had somebody make me up in all these years.”
William Wyler said of the new film star, “Barbra was insecure and nervous about the new medium at first. She was a bit obstreperous in the beginning but things were ironed out when she discovered some of us knew what we are doing. She seems happy in her work.”
Funny Girl began filming in August 1967 at an abandoned rail depot in New Jersey. This was the location for “Don't Rain On My Parade.” Streisand's first scene on film: Climbing down from the train car and posing for photographers.
Jerry Grayson—film director and helicopter pilot—praised aerial photographer Nelson Tyler, who developed a special helicopter camera rig called the Tyler Major Mount. Grayson told The Operating Cameraman in 1996 that one very famous film helicopter shot was “a sequence for the movie Funny Girl featuring Barbra Streisand. There's a very long continuous move that starts wide on New York, that finds a tugboat on the river, that goes down to the tugboat, that finds Barbra Streisand on the bridge of the boat, that goes in tight on her head and shoulders, that hits the end of the lens as she hits the high note in the middle of the song, and then goes out and up and back. It doesn't matter how much expensive gear you've got, you need to have not a little luck, a great deal of skill, and a telepathic relationship between pilot and cameraman to pull that off. And Nelson Tyler pulled all that off right back in the mid-sixties.”
In 1967, Streisand said the following to columnist Harold Heffeman:
To me, being a star is being a movie star. I remember a long time ago when I was a kid. I had to be somebody and I decided I didn’t want to be just the best of one thing. I would be the best singer, best actress, best recording star, best Broadway star—and now best movie star. That was my challenge to myself and I hope to see it fulfilled!
Army Archerd wrote a story about Barbra's first film in his 1967 syndicated column:
The film version of Funny Girl is more difficult than the stage [Streisand] admitted. It wasn't easy for her to adjust to doing musical numbers over and over for different camera angles ... When we first visited her at the film's pre-recording session, Barbra was dressed in a severe black dress. She looked like a Manhattan version of France's Edith Piaf as she recorded the “Funny Girl” title tune, backed by a Hollywood symphony orchestra under the baton of Walter Scharf who has worked on over 200 films. This was Barbra's first. Scharf came over to tell us what a great talent Barbra Streisand is. And as we watched and listened, we understood. She asked for take after take, insisting she could do it better each time. At the finale, the orchestra of veteran musicians in this business, stood to applaud her.
Filming “My Man”
Streisand spent the rest of 1967 filming Funny Girl. Principle photography finished in December with the re-filming of Barbra’s final number—“My Man”—which she sang live. (The second half of the song, after the master shot, is dubbed). Jack Solomon helped technically make the number work. “We can use the playback, but the master shot has got to be with a tight lens so I can get the microphone right there. [Streisand] was hearing the orchestra [playback] real low. I fed her with a little tiny speaker—that's why we had a tight lens on, so that I could put the speaker there. Later, we put the full track over it.”
Emotionally, director William Wyler helped Streisand as well. “It was the last day of the shoot,” editor Robert Swink told writer Jan Herman,“everybody was going home. He got Omar Sharif to stand behind these black curtains—the whole scene was black—and he told him to talk to Streisand between takes. He wanted him around to help build up her sadness. They must've done at least ten takes.”
Columnist Joyce Haber visited the Funny Girl set during the filming of the “My Man” number and reported it:
... But the other day I spent five hours at Columbia's Studio 4, and somehow never ever met Barbra Streisand. I spent two hours watching them light the set, two hours talking to [Ray] Stark and others, and an hour admiring Barbra during actual takes for the final scene —the "My Man" number, which the original Fanny Brice made famous. "My Man" was not in the show, because Stark couldn't get the rights—but it will be substituted for its Broadway substitute, "His Is the Only Music That Makes Me Dance," in the movie.
In all fairness, it was a very tricky—and important—scene for the star. Miss Streisand wears a striking black velvet gown, as she did in the show, against a black stage—and black on black is almost impossible to light. Also, Barbra sings “My Man" in the picture immediately after a final leavetaking of her husband, Nick Arnstein.
Barbra had insisted on a "live" take of the song, which is unusual, because she thought her pre-recording too "theatrical," not sufficiently emotion-charged, for the moment.
This afternoon Herbert Ross, who is responsible for the musical numbers, was directing. William Wyler was not present.
Barbra discussed camera angles in detail with old pro Harry Stradling. She discussed the key of the song with Ross. She discussed lighting with the head electrician. Elliott Gould, Barbra's husband, was on the sound stage.
"Everyone sit down behind the divider," boomed the assistant director over a microphone system. "I mean sit. No standing." Then Streisand began to sing, and you could hear a pin drop.
"It cost me a lot, but there's one thing I've got, my man," she said, moving lithely, like a tiger, expressively, like the greatest star.
She interrupted herself to start over.
"It cost me a lot but look what I've got," producer Stark parodied, teasing Barbra between takes.
"Barbra's a perfectionist," he explained. "She knows all about the lights and cameras."
"She has an instinct for what's right for her," echoed a man from Stark's office. "This talk about her and Wyler is nonsense. They love each other."
"She's the only dame who ever asked Willie Wylcr to do another shot," said Stark, alluding to Wyler‘s multiple-takes as a director.
This time the female pianist ruined the shot, saying angrily, "I got it wrong." Miss Streisand, who clearly had something going, took the interruption with creditable grace.
“This movie will cost half as much as any other big musical," said Stark, "$8 million—and it will be twice as big."
"Streisand is a perfectionist," the man from Stark's office kept repeating.
I left around 5 o'clock as Barbra was getting ready for another take. Maybe I don't blame her for being a perfectionist. She is after all a young pro. And for $250,000 and a percentage of the gross, anyone has a right to be particular.
Working With Stradling
Harry Stradling, the cinematographer of Funny Girl (and Barbra's next three films) was a legend in the film business. He photographed such film classics as A Streetcar Named Desire, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as well as the big screen musical versions of Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady.
Stradling employed expert lighting and lens diffusion to make Streisand appealing for her first appearance on the big screen.
Other cinematographers that Streisand worked with in her career were always compared to Stradling. Gordon Willis, who photographed Streisand in Up the Sandbox said, “Harry Stradling put cross hairs in front of a woman's face and bang, that's where the light went. Barbra would prefer the key lighting right between her eyes ...”
Mario Tosi, who photographed The Main Event with more diffused, bounced lighting, said that Stradling “was using hard light and enormous scoop lights” on Streisand in her early films.
Streisand spoke openly about her working relationship with the Funny Girl behind-the-scenes team in 1999. “The truth is that Willy [Wyler] and I and Harry Stradling had this great relationship. These stories would come out how I was telling the lighting director what to do—Harry did my first four films. We adored each other. He had photographed Garbo in Camille! In the thirties and the forties the great stars knew about their lighting. I didn't know about lighting. I could feel the lights. I could feel when it was good and I could feel when it was not flattering.”
She went on to explain, “If I would say, Harry it feels like maybe the camera could go up a couple of inches, what do you think? He would either say, Boys, raise the camera two inches; or he would say, No, it's okay, it'll be fine. And I'd listen to him, because he was the expert.”
Producer Ray Stark previewed the movie in Milwaukee and Dallas. “In Milwaukee, the applause was so tremendous when the curtain went up I got goose pimples. Same at intermission. When the curtain went down at the end of the film, there was dead silence for a moment. And I was sweating. Then came a standing ovation that went on and on. In Dallas, a very sophisticated city, it was as well received as in Milwaukee.”