Daniel Ellsberg ACLU Fundraiser
Beverly Hills, Calif.
April 7, 1973
On Saturday, April 7, 1973, Barbra Streisand contributed her talents to an important political cause.
Under a tent at Universal Pictures exec Jennings and Monica Lang's home, Streisand sang at a party to raise money for the legal defense fund of Daniel Ellsberg. It also happened to be Ellsberg's 42nd birthday that evening.
According to The Most Dangerous Man in America, a new documentary about Daniel Ellsberg: “One man, at the center of power, armed with a safe full of secret documents, leaks the truth about the Vietnam war to the New York Times. He risks life in prison to end the war he helped plan. His act of conscience and desperation triggers a Constitutional crisis, Watergate, the only Presidential resignation in history and finally helps end the war.”
About 200 people attended, at $250 per couple.
Speakers that evening were journalist David Halberstam, Stanley Sheinbaum (chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California), and Daniel Ellsberg.
Barbra, according to columnist Joyce Haber, wore "a beige silk halterneck jersey gown, her hair pied up and caught with a diamond clip."
Streisand joked to the audience, "I feel as though I'm at the Concord, except they have knockers up there."
Streisand's part of the evening was taking requests for songs over the telephone and from the audience for specific amounts. For instance, "People" netted $1,000. Barbra was accompanied on piano by Marvin Hamlisch.
The audience was filled with celebrities, including Joni Mitchell, David Geffen, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono, and agent Freddie Fields. Also Peter Bogdanovich, Dihann Carrol, Hugh Hefner, Burt Lancaster, and Sally Kellerman. The event raised $50,000 for Ellsberg's defense.
Barbra, sometimes looking over Hamlisch's shoulder to read the lyrics off the lead sheets, sang many wonderful songs. Confirmed songs which were sung that evening:
- People (sung to "David" on the telephone, for his barmitzvah)
- You're The Top ($1000 by Bogdanovich, "—and get it right this time.")
- In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
- Long Ago & Far Away
- Time After Time
- I'll Get By (Dedicated to Ellsberg, $1000 by Lang)
- Someone To Watch Over Me (sung to "Margie" on the telephone)
- I Don't Know Where I Stand (Requested in the audience by David Geffen. When Barbra hears Joni Mitchell is in the audience she says, "I love your music and I also love the way you sing...")
- What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life? ("Dedicated to my dear friends, the Bergmans, who wrote it...")
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (on the phone for Carl Reiner for $1,000)
- A Little Help From My Friends
Also reportedly sung: “My Melancholy Baby”, and “The Very Thought of You”. Barbra also sang a "rain medley" [Soon its Gonna Rain/Come Rain or Come Shine/Singin' in the Rain]. You can hear Barbra, on a bootleg recording of the evening, tell the audience "we will do our rain medley, our show business rain medley..."
Listen to Barbra's gorgeous version of "I'll Get By":
Columbia Records recorded Barbra's fundraiser for presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972 and Columbia Records released it as an LP, Live Concert at the Forum. Streisand also recorded her performance at the Ellsberg fundraiser but Columbia did not release it as an album. It would be amazing to hear this evening officially released! Barbra, supported by what sounds like a small combo with Hamlisch on the piano, is charming and relaxed and sounds beautiful. She also sang a few songs that she has never released or covered before.
Below is a story that ran in the newspapers about the fundraiser:
Ellsberg Party Earns $$
LOS ANGELES — Barbra Streisand picked up the phone and sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Comedian Carl Reiner, on the other end of the line, promised her a thousand dollars.
“I can’t ever remember having a birthday party like this,” said Daniel Ellsberg.
Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, defendants in the Pentagon papers trial now winding up here, say they have needed $70,000 a month to conduct their defense. The money comes from contributions, and the Streisand-Reiner exchange at Ellsberg’s recent 42nd birthday party typifies the all-out approach of the fund raisers.
At $250 per couple, the guests included Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, author David Halberstam and a slew of entertainers headed by former Beatles John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
They were invited to bid for Miss Streisand’s vocal talents, proceeds – said to be around $60,000 – going to the defense. Jennings Lang, a Universal Studios executive who hosted the party at his home, contributed $1,000 to hear “I’ll Get By.” Another bid brought “A Little Help from My Friends.” Reiner phoned his $1,000 request.
Throwing a party is just one way the defense fund gets money. Other methods range from nationwide mailings to organic sandwich sales.
Stanley Scheinbaum, who is in charge of the fund raising, says the defense case has cost $750,000 from the time of the first indictment almost two years ago. In the trial, the defense spent eight weeks presenting its case before resting last Thursday. The government is now presenting rebuttal witnesses.“We’ve had a handful of people, maybe five or 10, who have given in the area of $3,000,” Scheinbaum says. “One or two others have given sizably more. Mostly they’ve been nickel and dime gifts. About 20,000 people have given us money.” Despite the contributions, Scheinbaum says the defense team is $75,000 in debt. The defense claims monthly expenses of $10,000 for trial transcript, $5,000 for copying and $1,500 for a downtown office.
In 2013, Daniel Ellsberg sat down with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! for an interview which touched on this concert, briefly:
AMY GOODMAN: And you talked about how Barbra Streisand may well have saved America.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, Barbra Streisand offered to do a fundraiser for us in the last month of our trial, at a time when we had no money left. And we were practically—
AMY GOODMAN: You were being charged with treason for releasing the Pentagon Papers.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: —being charged with 115 years, possibly life sentence—pretty much a life sentence [...] And she—we were really prepared to stop calling witnesses and to basically go into final argument, just essentially for economic reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: Because you had run out of money.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: We had run out of money [...] And she offered a fundraiser, which raised a lot of money for that time, by auctioning off songs, actually, for The Beatles, appeared for. Had she not done that, and had the trial ended [...] So that initiative of people giving support, to a man that the administration was trying to make a pariah, just as they are making that effort with Julian Assange and Bradley Manning right now, and the willingness of American citizens to stand up and say, "We stand with him," [...] without that demonstration, you have a kind of isolation that makes it very difficult for anyone else to do anything—anything that possibly supports the constitutional principles here.
Page credits: Thanks to Rafe Chase for his contributions.
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