The hungry i

599 Jackson at Kearny

San Francisco, California

March 27—April 20, 1963

Recreated exterior of hungry i

(Above: The exterior of the hungry i was faithfully recreated in detail for the 2014 movie, “Big Eyes.”)

The hungry i was a night club in San Francisco located in the basement of the International Hotel at Kearny and Jackson streets in the North Beach district. The “eye” (as it was nicknamed) was described as a “cavernous entertainment room” that sat approximately 300 people around a three-sided stage. The comedians and singers who played there—Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen (he was on the same bill with Streisand)—performed in front of a red brick wall, now reproduced in many comedy clubs around America.

Enrico Banducci

The hungry i was run by Enrico Banducci, who had an entertainment policy for the venue: He maintained a “quietude in the audience. I managed it really strict for the artist,” Banducci said. He wanted a safe environment for the acts he booked. “We didn't serve drinks while the acts were on,” he elaborated. Banducci believed it disturbed the show.

(Below: Comedian Dick Gregory on the hungry i stage ... Photos of Barbra Streisand singing at the "i" are above him.)Performing live

Barbra Streisand met Enrico Banducci in early 1962 in New York. Barbra told a Las Vegas magazine how she got the job:

I was in my agent’s office, and [Banducci] 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?’ 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 told his own version of the story: “Barbra Streisand I met through Irwin Arthur in New York—he’s an agent. She wanted to sing for me, so she kept singing. She'd be singing for me while I was interviewing other talent.”

However, due to her commitment to I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Barbra was unable to perform at the hungry i until 1963. Her four-week gig at the hungry i (which stood for “hungry intellectual”) was timed to correspond with the release of her first album. Columbia Records sent some promoters to San Francisco before Barbra arrived to publicize the album and create a “buzz”.

Hungry i press invitation

Banducci and Columbia Records invited press to attend a special set that Streisand performed opening night (March 27, 1963) from 6 PM to 8 PM prior to the public performance later that evening.

Barbra filled the hungry i every night. She performed two shows — 8pm and 11pm.

Mr. Alvah Bessie, who ran the hungry i lighting board and announced the performers, introduced Streisand: “And now, Ladies and Gentlmen, the hungry i takes great pride in presenting Miss Barbra Streisand...”

It was during her stint at the San Francisco hotspot that Barbra first encountered vocal problems. The rigors of live performance on her first album tour had affected her voice.

Barbra visited San Francisco vocal coach Judy Davis, who helped Barbra understand and take care of her vocal instrument. Barbra told Playboy magazine: “People [had been] asking me, ‘How do you hold your notes so long?’ I told them it was my will—that I just wanted to hold them. Subsequently I started to consciously think, How do I hold these notes so long? And voila! One night I just couldn’t hold them anymore. My consciousness of an unconscious thing had made me impotent. Judy showed me pictures of the area, showed me physiologically what the process was. I will always remain grateful to her.”

When she left San Francisco, Streisand reportedly presented the hungry i announcer, Alvah Bessie, with an antique necktie box, and a note which said, “Alvah, without you I am a myth.”

Exterior shot of the hungry i nightclub

 

Barbra Streisand Shatters Audience

March 30, 1963

As a last encore, answering calls from the audience for “Coloring Book,“ the slim, tall girl comes back into the spotlight. Her special magic takes over again until a final despairing “color him gone” and the spot blacks out.

The impact is so shattering, so completely devastating that for a second the world has ended, if indeed there ever was a world. You feel the anguish you have tried not to remember: are numb in final recognition of vulnerability.

The girl is Barbra Streisand, recognized by critics everywhere as the best pop singer to come along since the days when Helen Morgan sat on a piano and held the hearts of her hushed audience in her small fluttering hands.

She doesn't answer any description you have ever heard or read for what a great star should have. She's only a few years out of a Brooklyn high school and was described by Enrico Banducci, prexy at the hungry i, as “the kookiest and most arresting looking kid” he'd ever seen.

But even before he heard her sing he signed her up for the engagement which started at the Jackson Street cellar this week.

What's kookie? I don t know. She doesn't bother with the glamour stuff; her hair hangs straight and l guess maybe her features don't, in any way, resemble the carefully assembled perfection of a Liz Taylor. She wears a black dress which you can't remember and she is hopelessly and completely in love with the sound of her own voice and the audience. lt is a reciprocated love.

Fortunately for me there was someone else to drive me there. But rain or shine l think l would have had to go anyway, because for at least a year now, l have been writing about this Streisand kid who, fate permitting, will bring back to the word "star" the kind of luster it used to have in the entertainment world.

On the way down to San Francisco l mulled over in my mind the fact that I didn't want to talk to her. When you have seen something very special in the way of a great talent you can't help thinking of all the things that may affect it. For one, she has rocketed to the top almost too fast since her role in “l Can Get lt for You Wholesale” on Broadway. Maybe she would have bought the press releases or the numerous vultures who hang around a young talent . . . That kind of thing. But it was all right.

When she comes on at the hungry i and the crowd goes crazy, she finally stops them with a quiet “don't. . . . you'll spoil me.” And she means it. She'll hold the balance, she'll never lose the ability and the humility to keep her sense of how things really are [...]

 

End.

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