The Cocoanut Grove

Ambassador Hotel

Los Angeles, California

August 21—September 8, 1963

Shot of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub

Located at the Ambassador Hotel, the Cocoanut Grove was a lavish and legendary Los Angeles nightspot (now demolished). Its very chic interior was straight out of a Hollywood movie: tables were situated among a literal grove of cocoanut trees. Many Academy Awards ceremonies were held there in its day. The Grove was also seen in Judy Garland's 1954 film, A Star is Born.

The Cocoanut Grove was a very important milestone for Streisand. It was her West Coast debut. Thankfully, her entire three-week run was sold out. Streisand sang at 10:15 during the week and then performed two shows on Fridays and Saturdays—the first at 9:30 PM and a second show at midnight.

“Just think,” Streisand told Variety, “one year ago this month I was earning $400 weekly, and making $108 per week a few months before that. Today, I am turning down offers up to $15,000 a week for nightclubs because they conflict with [Funny Girl], which I start rehearsing Nov. 15 for Broadway opening at the Winter Garden.”

For her opening night, Streisand wore a sailor top she designed herself.

Streisand on stage

(Above: photos of the iconic sailor outfit Streisand designed herself and wore at Hollywood's Cocoanut Grove in 1963.)

( Below: Streisand designed the sailor top, but Donfeld executed it. Below is his costume sketch of Ms. Streisand's outfit for her Cocoanut Grove engagement. Below right: the Barbie Barbra Streisand doll, created by Mattel in 2009, and wearing Barbra's Grove dress. You can order the Barbra Barbie by clicking here.)

Donfeld sketch

(Below: Streisand, in her dressing room, holds up two costume sketches by Donfeld for a variation of the sailor gown—this one with a blue top and cream skirt.)

Streisand with Donfeld sketches

Donfeld ad

Columnist Hedder Hopper wrote about Streisand's opening night:

Hedda Hopper review

Many Hollywood stars attended Barbra's opening night at the Grove. Following her sensational debut, celebrities joined Barbra at a reception. Streisand changed into a red gingham dress (which she also designed) to greet them.

Streisand gingham dress

(Above: Streisand auctioned her gingham dress in 2004 and it sold for $2,400. On the right, above, she performs onstage at the Grove.)

After the show, Hollywood's brightest stars hobnobbed with Barbra ... Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and many others ...

Streisand and star fans

Newsreel footage from the evening shows Streisand taking bows on stage in her midi blouse, then (accompanied by manager Marty Erlichman) making her way to the after-party and hiding her face several times from the cameras.

Newsreel captures of Streisand on opening night

Another columnist wrote about Streisand's debut:

Brightest and biggest new talent I've heard in years is singer Barbra Streisand, who had a fantastic opening at the Cocoanut Grove, with the largest start turnout in a long time.

When Barbra really let go with a song, some compared her to Judy Garland, but to me, she is completely individual. She has an amazing change of pace and a terrific flair for wacky comedy. She's not pretty. Her nose just won't stop. In fact, she told the audience:

“This is a strange room. So wide. If I had known you were going to be on two sides of me, I would have had my nose fixed.”

Barbra already has been signed to play the Fannie Brice story on Broadway. She'll be perfect for it.

Review of Streisand's show

During Barbra's run at the Cocoanut Grove, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (Sinatra's go-to songwriting team) “tried out” their song “Love Is A Bore” for Barbra one night after her show. She loved it and recorded it for her People album. Also, Barbra's future boyfriend and creative partner Jon Peters actually attended one of Streisand's Grove shows with his then-wife Marie Zampitella. “When Barbra sang,” Peters recalled, “whatever it was, the power she had—the magic in her fingers and face—controlled the entire room.”

(Right: Did Columbia record Streisand live at the Grove, as this Billboard news bit claims?)

Liza Minnelli brought mother Judy Garland to see Streisand at the Grove, too. “I said to my mom, 'You've gotta hear this singer, she's just great; she sings in a key nobody's ever sung in.' Liza recalled. “I took my mom to the Coconut Grove to hear Streisand and there were all kinds of people at the table saying, 'Well, we don't know if she's any good or not; she's funny looking.'

“She (Streisand) walked on the stage, she sang the first eight bars of her opening song and my mother turned to the people around the table and said, 'You're all crazy, and I want her on my show.' I felt so great because my mom knew talent.”

A month later (October 4, 1963), Streisand was singing with Judy Garland on her television show.

When her successful run at the Grove ended, Streisand quickly relocated to Nevada where she was due to begin a two-week engagement at Harrah's.

End.

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