Las Vegas, Nevada
July 2—30, 1969
Showtimes: 8:15 and Midnight
On February 17, 1969, Barbra Streisand signed a contract with the Las Vegas International Hotel. The hotel’s executive vice president, Alex Shoofey, said Streisand’s salary would make her the highest-paid performer in night club history.
Financier Kirk Kerkorian developed the $60 million International Hotel and desperately wanted Elvis Presley to open the 2000-seat main showroom.
The hotel’s entertainment director was Bill Miller. “We finally got [Elvis] on one condition,” said Miller, “[Colonel] Parker didn't want him to open in that big 2,000-seat theater. He said that we would have to put someone else in to open, and Elvis would follow.
“So I went to work on Barbra Streisand,” Miller recalled. “She was leaving, on her way to Europe, when I got her to sign the contract. And she opened the International.” (Elvis was booked to follow Streisand in the Internationale theater).
Variety reported that Streisand signed a five-year contract with the hotel, earning in the neighborhood of $100,000 a week for four weeks, plus stock in the hotel. Streisand would be paid for future dates in cash. Ultimately, the entire engagement probably cost Kerkorian $1 million for Ms. Streisand’s singing services.
“She was nervous about going back to the stage,” Marty Erlichman told Billboard magazine. “Then we found out the hotel wasn't ready. There were no chairs, tables or booths in the theater. She was rehearsing in an empty room. I took her around to some of the shows so she could get a feel of things.”
Streisand told a reporter, “After the privacy of the motion picture camera, a live audience is quite frightening.”
Meanwhile, designer Arnold Scaasi began work on Streisand’s wardrobe for the engagement. “I began to search for fabrics that would be different from the usual glitz one saw on Las Vegas stages.” Scaasi discovered beaded saris from India. “The fabrics were gorgeous in the extreme … completely embroidered in gold tiny sequins and beads. Down the center of these marvels ran different designs, also heavily embroidered.”
Scaasi also designed a pillbox hat made of each fabric that Barbra could wear with her hair pulled back. “In profile she did look like Queen Nefertiti,” Scaasi gushed.
Marty Farrell wrote Barbra’s show at the International, and she did not use an opening act, which was customary in Las Vegas. She would share the stage only with the 40-piece Bobby Morris orchestra under the direction of Peter Matz. The audience, therefore, would eat dinner at 8:30 p.m. and Streisand would hit the stage at 10:30 p.m.
On July 2, 1969, Vegas was buzzing. The International’s four-story marquee said, “Bill Miller Presents,” then in her special typeface, “Barbra.”
Columnist Perry Phillips set the scene in his July 4, 1969 story:
Kirk Kerkorian opened the doors of his lavish International Hotel with the biggest grand opening I've ever seen here. Two thousand guests jammed the Showroom Internationale Wednesday night to see and hear Barbra Streisand sing up a storm and usher in what undoubtedly will be a new era for this desert spa.
... By most standards, a 2000 seat showroom would be cavernous. However, I didn't get this impression in the Showroom Internationale. The room has a balcony that seats, I would estimate, around six or seven hundred. The main floor is about the same in size as the High Sierra Theatre of the Sahara Tahoe. The balcony is reserved for those wishing cocktails only during the dinner show and the room is serviced by two huge kitchens. It is a beautiful room and should prove one of Las Vegas' biggest showcases. I can't recall ever seeing so many celebrities for an opening night here. I spotted Phyllis Diller, Dick Smothers, Cary Grant, Robert Culp, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Dale Robertson, Danny Thomas, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, Abbe Lane and Andy Williams just to name a few.
Celebrities spotted in the opening night audience: Phyllis Diller, Dick Smothers, Robert Culp, Richard Zanuck, Ernest Lehman, Danny Thomas, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, Anthony Newley and Joan Collins, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and Andy Williams. Cary Grant walked on stage and said some brief words about the hotel and Kirk Kerkorian, then he introduced Barbra.
After the Streisand overture played, Barbra sang her first song: “I've Got Plenty of Nothing”—an ironic joke about her $1 million payday for performing at the hotel.
Cue Magazine compared Streisand’s opening night to Peggy Lee —also performing at the International’s 500-seat Casino Theatre. “Within hours after the opening of the International Hotel here, word went racing through New York show-biz circles that Barbra Streisand—the inaugural performer in the main showroom—had bombed. The acclaim a glossy first-night audience withheld from her it lavished extravagantly on Peggy Lee in the smaller Casino Theatre, giving her a moist-eyed, table-pounding, triple-standing-ovation send-off she could never forget.”
Streisand's opening night at the International wasn't a success with the critics.
Marty Erlichman and Streisand spoke to columnist Earl Wilson about her original idea to open the show: Streisand wanted to enter wearing dungarees and say to the audience, with a shrug, “The hotel isn't ready yet, either.” Then she'd exit while the orchestra played the overture, and re-enter wearing her opening night chiffon gown.
“It's kind of tricky,” Erlichman said.
“I know, but I like to take a gamble on opening night,” Streisand explained
Cue Magazine compared Streisand to Peggy Lee —also playing the International in its 500-seat Casino Theatre: “Within hours after the opening of the International Hotel here, word went racing through New York show-biz circles that Barbra Streisand—the inaugural performer in the main showroom—had bombed. The acclaim a glossy first-night audience withheld from her it lavished extravagantly on Peggy Lee in the smaller Casino Theatre, giving her a moist-eyed, table-pounding, triple-standing-ovation send-off she could never forget.”
Singer Dionne Warwick wrote in her autobiography that Streisand's “actions onstage took away some of the positive perception and ‘glimmer’ I had given her. As usual, her voice was impeccable; her designer outfit was definitely made specifically for her. But she was brash and sang mostly to the orchestra, with her back to the audience.”
Although it's doubtful Streisand sang with her back to the audience, she did respond to the criticism by explaining,“I was aloof on opening night because I was in a state of shock. You could feel the hostility of that opening night audience, all the gamblers who were there because they're important to the hotel, all the actors who resent the fact that you're doing things they think they should be doing. It's total fear time up there.”
Barbra also stated, “Some performers get a thrill out of winning over a cold audience—I talked to Elvis about it last night; he does—I don't. It turns me off.”
She also rang up columnist Joyce Haber and complained that the hotel's decor “was mixed dumbo. Especially ugly were the stuffed, life-sized replicas of George and Martha Washington on either side of the stage. Someone said the room was so large that even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would have been swallowed up.”
Streisand may have had a set-back with the critics, but she went to work changing and honing her act. For instance, instead of opening the show with “I've Got Plenty of Nothing,” Streisand instead sang the up-tempo “Don't Rain on My Parade,” followed by “People.”
Columnist Joyce Haber noted during her backstage visit with Barbra after the show that there was a big calendar on the wall on which Streisand marked off the days with X’s. “Only 39 performances to go,” Barbra said.
Instead of opening the show with “I've Got Plenty of Nothing,” Streisand instead sang the uptempo “Don't Rain on My Parade.”
By closing night, her International Hotel set list looked like this:
- Don't Rain on My Parade
- My Honey's Lovin Arms
- My Funny Valentine
- Ask Yourself Why
- My Buddy/How About Me
- What About Today?
- My Man
- Jingle Bells?
- Punky's Dilemma
- My Melancholy Baby
- Second Hand Rose
- Happy Days Are Here Again
Additionally (and alternately), Barbra performed two medleys during her International Hotel shows...
- Hello, Dolly!
- Before The Parade Passes By
- So Long Dearie
- Hello, Dolly! / Before The Parade Passes By
- When You Gotta Go / In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
Clear Day Medley
- Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here
- He Isn't You
- What Did I Have That I Don't Have
- On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
- Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?
Ed Sullivan brought his cameras to Las Vegas to tape a special segment with Barbra for his CBS TV show. Sullivan interrupted a European trip in order to fly to Las Vegas and introduce the segment.
Under the supervision of Sullivan's executive producer Bob Precht, Barbra's entire Vegas show was taped for a possible one-hour television special. She performed for the cameras and an invited audience of Las Vegas entertainers at 2:15 a.m. on Monday, July 28th.
Sullivan taped his part in front of the live audience. He introduced Barbra; she sang a medley of songs from Hello, Dolly!; then Sullivan came back on stage and congratulated Streisand.
Precht told the press that he turned over the tapes to Barbra's manager, Marty Erlichman, who would seek a television deal for the footage.
Ed Sullivan and the Dolly medley were shown September 28, 1969 on the opening show of his 23rd season. A clip of Barbra singing “On A Clear Day” was shown on 1970's Entertainer of the Year Awards, and the audio of Barbra's closing number (“When You Gotta Go / Wee Small Hours of the Morning”) was included on Streisand's box set, Just For the Record.
The potential Streisand television special was shelved and never released.
Designed Arnold Scaasi described this creation in his book Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed):
I began to search for fabrics that would be different from the usual glitz one saw on Las Vegas stages. One day the Gil sisters arrived at my salon with the most beautiful and luxuriously beaded saris from their native India. The fabrics were gorgeous in the extreme—four-yard lengths of chiffon (the usual amount of fabric used in a classic sari costume) that had borders on three sides of contrasting color, completely embroidered in gold tiny sequins and beads. Down the center of these marvels ran different designs, also heavily embroidered.
[...] We had a tall pillbox made of each fabric that Barbra placed on the back of her head, with her hair swept up underneath. In profile she did look like Queen Nefertiti. The shapes of the gowns were always contemporary, nothing India about them—sleeveless small tops with full skirts that were sheer and moved gracefully across the stage. She felt comfortable in them and the dresses were perfect for what was becoming the “Streisand look.”
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