“I Can Get It For You Wholesale”
Shubert Theatre (March 22—September 29, 1962)
Broadway Theatre (October 1—December 8, 1962)
New York, New York
Barbra Streisand had a short career on the Broadway stage — only two shows. But I Can Get it For You Wholesale, a musical by Jerome Weidman with music and lyrics by Harold Rome, put her on the map.
Casting Barbra As Miss Marmelstein
Arthur Laurents, the director of Wholesale, wrote in his book Original Story By:
True, with her bird's nest of scraggly hair and her gawky, disorganized body, she was a poster girl for Spinster Incarnate. Equally true was the debit side: thrift shop clothes which proclaimed eccentricity, behavior which was calculated spontaneity.... When she sang, she was simple; when she sang, she was vulnerable; when she sang, she was moving, funny, mesmerizing, anything she wanted to be. The authors were beaming, the producer wasn't thrilled but if Barbra Streisand's agent could have read my mind, he would have asked a fortune for her to play Miss Marmelstein.
Laurents told Barbra Archives about that day in 1961 when Barbra auditioned for Wholesale. He called her audition “calculated spontaneity.” Barbra, he recounted, came on the stage with a stack of music, which she placed on the upright piano. She took out one piece of music and proceeded to cross the stage. Well, the music unraveled across the stage to comedic effect.
Barbra, a 19 year old neophyte, hardly a star at that point, got to center stage and summoned the stage hand to fetch her a chair! Laurents smiled at the memory of her audacity.
Then, he said, “she sat in the chair and interviewed us! It was like the Barbra Streisand talk show.” He asked her if she’d care to sing something for him, as it was an audition. When he heard her voice, Laurents said, “I kept her singing.”
Bob Schulenberg, Barbra's friend and an illustrator, told Barbra Archives his memory of her audition for Wholesale. Schulenberg said Barbra wore a 1927 caracul and fox coat to the audition.
“She left for the audition from my apartment on Gramercy Park the day after Thanksgiving,” he recalled, “which she'd celebrated with us there after performing at The Blue Angel. We ended the celebration so late that she stayed over and was still wearing the clothes that she'd worn the night before. Pretty startling, I suppose, for 9:00AM! Black silk, black satin evening pumps and The Fur!”
There was no part for Barbra in Wholesale. The only suitable role was written as a 50-year-old spinster. Laurents carefully explained that “at 19, Barbra was a spinster. Two years later her look became chic — Nefertiti. But at 19, she looked like a homely Jewish-girl spinster.” Laurents added, "She knew she would be a star, and so she is.”
- Read writer Jerome Weidman's 1963 article for Holiday Magazine about casting Streisand as Miss Marmelstein
In 1982, Barbra said: “Harold Rome was a whole other person, who never liked me and wrote an article about me saying that I was never grateful for — he wrote I Can Get It For You Wholesale. I was absolutely shocked by this article. He never even gave me the part. Arthur Laurents gave me the part. I never felt that I should be grateful. I felt that I give and they give, and we each get something out of it."
Laurents, who is famous for not mincing words, wrote: “'Trying to direct [Streisand] out of excesses wasn't easy. Her Miss Marmelstein was very funny, a bizarre collection of idiosyncrasies which came from instinct and were probably rehearsed at home. The trouble was overkill: too many twitches and collapses, giggles and gasps, too many take-ums.” Laurents didn't want to lose her originality, though. “What I did want was to edit, to cut out the extraneous contortions.”
Stopping the Show
I Can Get It For You Wholesale opened on March 22, 1962 in New York City at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. Harold Rome wrote the music and lyrics. Barbra played the put-upon secretary Miss Marmelstein. In the second act of the show she rolled onto the stage in an office chair and sang, "Oh, why is it always Miss Marmelstein?"
Barbra stopped the show with the song.
"From our perch in the ethereal reaches of the Shubert theatre's balcony, my friends and I had a clear if distant view of the stage and also of a good portion of the orchestra seats, many filled with luminaries of the American theatre. Conspicuous at the absolutely opposite ends of third or fourth row center were on the left, Leonard Bernstein, and on the right, Richard Rodgers.
As this workmanlike - and, for its time, almost relentlessly dark - musical progressed, Rodgers politely but perfunctorily applauded each song, while Bernstein, arms folded across his chest, sat motionless in an attitude of 'Okay, show me something' - until the middle of the second act. Then, in one of the show's few light moments, a secretary bemoans in song how her bosses and co-workers are on strictly formal terms with her while on a familiar first-name basis with each other.
When the 'Miss Marmelstein' number ended, Bernstein leapt to his feet and began clapping so wildly I feared for the person to his right. Following the maestro's cue, the entire audience rose to its feet for a prolonged ovation. What we had witnessed and what inspired Bernstein's enthusiasm was the Broadway debut of an unknown nineteen-year-old performer named Barbra Streisand. It was, as they say, worth the price of a ticket."
— From “Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theater” by John Bush Jones
Barbra's Playbill Bio + Out of Town Tryouts
I Can Get It For You Wholesale had tryouts at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia and the Colonial Theatre in Boston before opening March 22nd, 1962 at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre in New York City. The show then moved to the Broadway Theatre on October 1st, 1962, running a combined 300 performances.
Barbra had fun with her Playbill biography:
In 1997, Barbra Streisand told talk show host Rosie O’Donnell all about her infamous Playbill bio:
In those days everybody said they were a member of the Actor’s Studio. Everything was so pompous and serious. I was playing a Jewish secretary. So to say in my bio that I was from Brooklyn and I was brought up in Flatbush meant nothing. If they thought that I came from Madagascar ... I changed it. The next Playbill said I was born in Aruba and went to the Yeshiva of Brooklyn. And my last line was, ‘I am not a member of the Actor’s Studio.’
The Playbill people came to us and said you can’t do that. I was trying to be funny. They said you can’t do it. It has to be serious.”
(Above) Barbra's biography, with an early headshot, as it appeared in the collectible program for I Can Get It For You Wholesale. (Below) Two ads for the Philadelphia run at the Shubert.
Since the last time I Can Get It For You Wholesale was mounted as a production on Broadway was over 50 years ago, Barbra Archives has reprinted the plot synopsis which appeared on the original LP cast album (written by Curtis F. Brown):
To many who lived through them, the 1930's are the "realest" decade of this century. Those halcyon days before the First War are but picture-book memories, bound in velvet and packed away in grandmother's attic. The Twenties of bathtub gin, Charleston flappers and roller-coaster prosperity have vanished forever with the last bubbles of bootleg champagne. If they are but a dream, then Hitler's holocaust made the Forties a nightmare that lives uncomfortably in the memory. But the Thirties are still alive, for in their crucible of depression and recovery, idealism, crass opportunism and labor unrest was forged the world in which we live. I Can Get It for You Wholesale is a story of that age.
In New York, just south of Times Square, lies the teeming heart of the city, the Garment District, a hard, sweaty, get-rich-quick world of high fashion and low finagling. After the propulsive, pounding Overture the curtain rises on a snarled and snarling street scene clogged with boys pushing racks of dresses and furs, sweaters and skirts from one to the other of hundreds of dress firms that line the narrow byways. But this is 19 3 7, and so amidst the delivery boys, pickets carry signs reading "We Want $15 a Week," and labor organizers are signing up the shipping clerks. When some resist, a fistfight starts, dresses are destroyed and the non-union clerks who continue to work are denounced as "scabs." The riot soon brings the cops.
In the office of dress manufacturer Maurice Pulvermacher (Jack Kruschen), the bristling boss tries, between munching pills and calling his doctor, to cope with the chaos caused by the strike, jangling phone calls bring still more jangled nerves as important customers cancel orders that have remained too long undelivered. To his harried secretary, Miss Marmelstein (Barbra Streisand)—a combination office manager, confidante, nurse and general factotum—he proclaims in apoplectic frustration that I'm Not a Well Man. Midst pressures and paralysis, one of the striking shipping clerks, brash, young Harry Bogen (Elliott Gould), barges in. Distraught Pulvermacher is in no mood to arbitrate and is about to throw Bogen out, when Harry tells him lie only wants to do him a favor. Settle the strike? No, better than that; tell the strikers to go jump in the lake and hire Harry's company, The Needle Trades Delivery Service, to do his shipping for him. The reluctant Pulvermacher, over a barrel, signs the contract. Harry Bogen, ex-shipping clerk and betrayer of his co-workers, is on his way to parlaying his talents into a fortune.
In the street, Harry jubilantly shows the signed contract to his partner, Tootsie Maltz (James Hickman). Tootsie reminds him that there is no such company as The Needle Trades Delivery Service. "So," says Harry, "we'll form one!" But that takes money, and Harry is broke. Unfazed, he knows he can talk someone into lending him some. He is tired of being poor, and this is his chance to go places. In The Way Things Are he pours forth his bitter, cynical philosophy. In this dog-eat-dog business, either "you're the diner or the dinner." If you are rich everyone knuckles under to you and nobody asks you how you got your money.
Harry slithers tip to the Bronx to visit his one-time girl friend, pretty Ruthie Rivkin (Marilyn Cooper). To Harry, Ruthie is only a reminder of the drab, underdog world which be wants to escape, but she loves him deeply. She has always hoped he would go to law school, but Harry is in a hurry. In When Gemini Meets Capricorn Ruthie tells him that their meeting just now was written in the stars. Her warmth her love and faith in him are all the more touching, because she does not know that this meeting is not the result of astrology but of cold calculation. With wide-eyed seeming innocence, Harry has no trouble in conning Ruthie into lending him the money be needs.
In the simple but homey kitchen of an apartment on the other side of the Bronx, Mrs. Bogen (Lillian Roth) in housedress and apron prepares dinner for her Harry. When he bursts in with the news, she can hardly believe that in one day be has gone from twelve-dollar-a-day, shipping clerk to businessman. She is proud of her boy, and delighted with a new hat he has bought her. He sweeps her into a lilting dance and tells her there is nobody like his Momma, Momma, and he will not marry until he finds her equal.
As his delivery service rapidly becomes a monopoly, his gifts to his mother become more lavish. In a montage of passing time he gives her a dress, coat and finally a fur stole—delivered to her together with the announcement that he is starting his own dress business.
In the Club Riorhumba, Harry has made a date with Martha Mills (Sheree North), Broadway showgirl. Hotshot Harry bribes the bartender to page him and impress Martha. But she is not fooled by his ploy. Like Harry, she is on the make, harder than the diamonds that befriend her. He becomes ten thousand dollars richer when he sells out his share of the Delivery Service to the delighted Tootsie. Score one for Harry: he has sold Tootsie half of nothing since growing competitors in their once-monopolized field will soon make the business worthless. Martha's view of Harry takes on a new color, the color of greenbacks, as she sees in him a kindred heel. To The Sound of Money Harry celebrates his doll and dollars, as they do a dance while a crystal ball revolves above them casting silver-dollar reflections on stage and audience.
Bent on forming his own firm, Apex Modes, Inc., Harry capitalizes on Momma Bogen's gemütlichkeit and gefilte fish to win over two of the best men in the business, Meyer Bushkin (Ken Le Roy), Pulvermacher's chief dress designer, and Teddy Asch (Harold Lang), crackerjack salesman. In Family Way all is loving trust, with Harry, Teddy, Meyer and his wife Blanche (Bambi Linn), Harry's mother and the ever-faithful Ruthie (the latter invited to the Bogen flat for the evening as window-dressing to impress the partners). A Cossack-like kazatske, traditional dance of joy at European celebrations, solemnizes the new partnership. Although Harry remains single and Ruthless, his marriage to money is now complete. When the men leave, Ruthie tells Mrs. Bogen she is sure Harry will propose now. But Momma warns Ruthie not to count on Harry Too Soon.
Before Ruthie's house, Harry fends off the broad hints about marriage which she conveys in Who Knows?, a description of her Mr. Right. Taking the shortest route to his heart, she tells him of the ten-thousand-dollar dowry her future husband will get from her father. But Harry, with Tootsie's ten thousand safely in his hands, doesn't need her money now, and incapable of giving her the love she needs, turns her down.
The great day has arrived, the first showing of Apex Modes' line of dresses to the big wholesale buyers. All is wild confusion—hem pressings, fittings, lunch orders. In the midst of it all is Miss Marmelstein, who has also left Pulvermacher for Harry Bogen. Momma Bogen is amazed at all this activity and Harry assures her they will soon be rich. Asch is appalled at Harry's extravagance — quarts of expensive perfume to the buyers, cases of champagne. Every cent they own has been spent and they have yet to sell a dress! Harry calls Teddy and Meyer small-time penny-pinchers, afraid of money, while he, Harry, is having a romance with it. Underneath, however, he is as jittery as they. If the buyers are impressed, they are made; if not, they are ruined.
Meyer and his wife Blanche have a romance too—with each other, after all their years of marriage. Swept along though they are by Bogen's pursuit of the purse, within them is a calm center of love (Have I Told You Lately?). As the excitement and anticipation mount, the entire ensemble breaks into the Ballad of the Garment Trade. All hold their breath as the tournament of the poses starts in an elegant parade of models, while behind the scenes mayhem and suspense reign as the girls wriggle in and out of dresses. The star model is Harry's showgirl doxie, Martha, on the payroll at three hundred dollars per week. When the buyers buy, Harry Bogen is made. So is Martha — in exchange for a diamond bracelet, she tosses him the key to her apartment. At last, Harry has all that money can buy.
Harry has moved to the top of the world—a penthouse apartment. Hosting a lavish bar mitzvah for Blanche and Meyer's son, Sheldon (Steve Curry), Harry gives the boy a check to cover his first year's college tuition (A Gift Today). Teddy, however, soon discovers what we have known all along: that Harry is a crook. Not only has he used company funds for the party, but for the "generous" gift of money too. And there is also a little matter of Martha's diamond bracelet. Harry, brazen as ever, blames Miss Marmelstein for drawing the checks on the company's account instead of his own. His assurance that all will be corrected fails to impress Teddy, who tells Meyer that Harry is robbing them blind. Teddy resolves to check the books further.
At the office, Miss Marmelstein, overworked and undervalued, laments her anonymity. Why doesn't anyone call her Yetta or boobala or Passion Pie? Why must she always be merely Miss Marmelstein?
Teddy, ashen with anger, has uncovered the full extent of Harry's crookedness. "From now on," he says, "I sign all the checks!" When gullible Meyer stands by Harry, Teddy quits the firm. Once more, Harry hears The Sound of Money as he tells Meyer how they can milk the company and put the money in another bank account. With Bogen's usual calculation ("just to show my honesty"), he sees to it that the account will be in Meyer's name. Naive and not-very-bright Meyer agrees.
Things begin to close in. Miss Marmelstein warns Meyer that their accounts are in bad shape. Ruthie warns Harry that his creditors have hired the lawyer she now works for. She also tells him her boss has proposed to her (A Funny Thing Happened), but Harry is unmoved.
With Harry sheared of his golden fleece, Martha Mills takes it on the lam, and finds greener pastures with Teddy Asch. At the Club Oasis, in the hard-driving dance duet, What's in It for Me?, they drive a hard bargain: Martha gets more diamonds, and Teddy joins her private key club.
Bankruptcy! Apex Modes, Inc. is stripped to the walls, while Teddy contemplates Harry's worthless IOU's for his share of the business. Miss Marmelstein and the staff, still blinded by Harry's charm, watch in agony as the workmen lug off dummies, tape-measures and cloth, dresses and desks (What Are They Doing to Us Now?).
All injured innocence, Harry tells his mother about the bankruptcy and Meyer's bank account. He is unrepentant as Meyer faces prison, but while Momma Bogen urges him to Eat a Little Something, she realizes her own guilt in taking Harry's gifts.
With his usual gall, Harry puts the bite on Pulvermacher for the money to save Meyer from prison. Not in order to ease his own non-existent conscience, mind you, but to please his mother. In his sheckel-skin shell, Momma is his one Achilles' heel, but he remains a heel nonetheless. Pulvermacher does more than lend him the money, he gives him a job.
His present taken care of, tinhorn Harry plans for the future with a sour note. He accepts Ruthie's proposal—and her father's ten thousand dollars.
—CURTIS F. BROWN
I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE opened at the Shubert Theatre in New York City on March 22, 1962, after engagements in Philadelphia and Boston.
He Said / She Said
Barbra about David Merrick:
“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.”
Elliott Gould about Barbra:
“I offered her a cigar and we had a smoke together. She was always kind of a loner. And the more I got to know her, the more I was fascinated with her. She needs to be protected. She’s a very fragile little girl. She doesn’t commit easily. I found her absolutely exquisite. As conventional beatniks go, she’s different-looking. I had this desire to make her feel secure. A couple of weeks later, we were having a snowball fight at 2 o’clock in the morning at the Rockefeller Center skating rink. She threw pretty well, but I’m competitive and I have this hex on her. Anyway, I very delicately washed her face with snow and then kind of touched her lips. It wasn’t very demonstrative. She’s desperately insecure. She always thought of herself as an ugly duckling, and she made herself up to be weird as a defense. She liked me. I was the first person who liked her back.”
Barbra about Elliott Gould:
“He did crazy things, I liked him; he wasn’t normal. He saw me audition for I Can Get It for You Wholesale and I had just gotten my own phone. So when I auditioned, I said, ‘If anybody would like to call me, here’s my number.” When I got home, the phone rang and a voice said, ‘This is Elliott Gould. You were brilliant,’ and he hung up. I didn’t know who he was.”
David Merrick about Barbra:
“When we heard this kid, she just knocked us off our ears. (Composer) Harold Rome and I sat down and immediately expanded the role. You see, when you have a talent that large on the stage, you just can’t let her wander around. You have to give her something to do or she’ll kill you: she’ll steal scenes, make up business, throw people off cues.”
Click the button below to listen to a radio interview with Barbra about her role in Wholesale:
Barbra's image was captured by photographers as she left the Shubert Theatre via Shubert Alley.
“Wholesale” ... The Movie?
Jerome Weidman's novel, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, was turned into a movie in 1951 starring Susan Hayward.
It was not a musical.
The film version reworked the story for its star Susan Hayward. She played Harriet Boyd (the female Harry Bogen?), a ruthless fashion designer who stepped on everyone in her way in order to reach the top of her profession. The movie's love story had Harriet choosing between her ambition and the man she loved.
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