The Hilton (Fan Review #1)
Ronnie Durrence, of Savannah, Georgia, was a super-Streisand fan who created and mailed a newsletter to Streisand fans for many years that he dubbed the Barbra News Sheet (or BNS). Compiled from magazine and newspaper clippings, Ronnie mailed them at his own expense, although many of the people on his mailing list sent stamps to him to cover the cost of the mailings. Also an expert quilter, Ronnie fashioned a quilt of Barbra's screen characters and managed to get it to her. He passed away shortly before Barbra's Millennium concerts.
Thanks to Ronnie's report on Streisand's show at the Hilton (below), it's possible to imagine yourself in Las Vegas in 1972. Enjoy!
SING A SONG By: Ronnie Durrence
Skies were sunny and the temperature hovered at fifty-seven degrees when I arrived in Las Vegas Saturday, January 8, 1972. Nice walking weather. Upon checking in at the Riviera Hotel for my six day stay, I walked to the Las Vegas-Hilton to confirm my BARBRA dinner show reservations. Remembering a florist in a nearby shopping center, I circled by. I sent BARBRA a dozen long stemmed yellow roses ("Funny Girl") in appreciation for the eight fantastic shows I saw at the Riviera in November and December 1970. Enclosed with the roses was a note expressing my excitement about the seven shows I planned to see. Also enclosed was a snapshot of a painting I brought, hoping for a chance to show it to her. The painting was special to me - much more than my questionable painting skill was put into this portrait. The risk of leaving it with the Bell Captain or the Maitre 'D was too great - and I planned at last to meet BARBRA in person.
My plans did not materialize. When she did not contact me during my stay I returned the painting home. I'm rather proud of it on my bedroom wall. My mind was made up not to be disappointed if we did not meet and talk. My feelings about meeting her are mixed. I would like very much to, but I would like it to be "right" with her. Making an issue - tricking security guards - being pushy and rude would only irritate her. Then too, I'm afraid if we really did meet, part of the magic - the illusion - would be destroyed. When I woke the next morning, it would be just part of the past. We will meet someday - when it is "right" with BARBRA.
Robert Klein (Barney in "The Owl and the Pussycat") does about a thirty minute comedy monologue before BARBRA comes on. To be followed by a star of BARBRA'S magnitude puts any performer at a disadvantage. The audience is keyed for the star and anxious to be rid of the preliminaries. Mr. Klein's material was ill chosen - a mish-mash of men's room type humor, completely tasteless as an opening for BARBRA and offensive to dinner show audiences. As an example - pet names parents give their children's sex organs - the "too-too poo-poo syndrome" he called it. The bit about buying prophylactics from the drug store as a teenager was a direct lift from "Summer of 42" and much funnier in the film. His impressions of Jacques Cousteau - Marlon Perkins of "Wild Kingdom" - a New York pigeon - and a Paris pigeon were amusing. Dog walking and the probable bullock monster fish caught off the pier at 125th Street in New York were less amusing. And, of course, he always came back to the "too-too poo-poo syndrome." In all fairness to Mr. Klein, an ex-school teacher, stand up comedians do not turn me on, especially when I have butterflies in my tummy waiting for BARBRA. Need I say that after seven shows he was really getting to me!
BARBRA walks on stage quietly, almost shyly, to roaring applause and music. The orchestra has started "Sing A Song." She sings slowly and sweetly and builds. "Sing A Song" becomes "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and this the lady does light years better than any of her peers. All the adjectives have been ill-used to describe her incredible talent. She simply stuns — chills — she is so good it is frightening. Once she sings a song it's like hearing it for the first time — it's hers — and you'll never associate it with another singer. My slight disappointment at the sameness of the shows in 1970 and the lack of glamour is soon erased. By the third show my excitement is higher than ever. The days drag between shows and the butterflies are ever present. The mouth, the lungs, and the hands are the whole show. Each time I see her, she has grown warmer, more at home with the audience. Her voice and range have never been better.
BARBRA dressed "down" in pants suits for the masses that poured in nightly. I only saw two pants suits and one rather conservative gown in seven shows. She always wore her hair pulled back in a coil that stood at least five or six inches high in back with long wispy curls near her face. One night someone yelled, "BARBRA, let your hair down!" She quipped in her best Brooklynese, "After it took me an hour to get it up?!!". She was glamorous. I think if she came out in coveralls and hair curlers, she would still be glamorous. She is also much thinner than when I saw her last.
"That is my son, Jason's favorite song from Sesame Street" she says at the conclusion of "Sing A Song." "Now a favorite of mine" — she sings "Starting Here, Starting Now." I hadn't heard her sing this since Color Me Barbra. Sunday night in this spot she sang ''I've Never Been A Woman Before." When she finished, she turned and applauded the orchestra, explaining this was the first time they had played the song. She was obviously very pleased with the results.
The applause overlaps the no-holds-barred-show-stopper "Don't Rain On My Parade," a crowd pleaser, and the applause and whistles give her a breather. The lights dim and, smiling, she sits on the stool. Joe Guercio brings her a table with teapot, and sits it by the stool.
"I must tell you the most amazing story. Last year when I was here I told the audience how thrilled I was that I was less nervous than the year before that, and, ah," she sips from a cup very loudly. Laughter from the audience. "It's tea!" she answers. "I said I had just seen Dean Martin and I was so impressed — he was so calm and everything — but, of course, he drinks. Then I told them about performers who rely on pills, but I can't even take an aspirin. I told the audience, you know, I believe that a performer should be very strong and not have any kind of crutch. Ya know what I mean? So, I said that I thought we should face our problems head on" All the while, she is lighting a cigarette and "head on" comes out very nasal. "Well, you should have seen what happened! Newspapers and magazines printed that I was a dope-fiend, ya know what I mean? What a dumb thing. How dopey. They would think I would be dope enough to smoke dope on the stage? I find that I need nothing at all to relieve my tensions. Excuse me for a minute." She turns her back to the audience and makes a large sniff from a spatula in her hand. There is laughter, applause, and whistles. In a much higher voice, she says, "I find that you just talk about these things and all your cares and woes go by-gone. Sensational chord you just played." Turning to Bo Ayars, "What was that a G Minus seventh with a demented sixth — just beautiful. Well, they can call me what they like, but they should not call me, in all fairness, a boozer, a pill head, or a pot holder."
The music has started. She sings [“Value” — the Harold Mengert song]. The first time I heard BARBRA do this was in A Happening in Central Park. I never knew what it was from. One night on stage, she said it was from Another Evening With Harry Stoones, her off-Broadway debut.
Walking back near the orchestra, she sings "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" and she seems to hold the final note forever. Moving back from the microphone, she slowly starts the show-stopper "Sweet Inspiration." Building, it turns into "Where You Lead." She is joined by the Eddie Kendricks singers. Returning to "Sweet Inspiration" they begin hand and body movements much like the Supremes.
At one point in the song every night BARBRA did something that gave me chills. On the line, "You know I gotta reach back in my mind" she would reach back with her right hand, bringing it to her face, fist clenched, opening her fingers, palm to the audience. She looked and sang between her beautiful, tapered fingers, moving her hand down slowly. This I loved and I looked forward to it more eagerly each night. The applause was deafening and one night there was a standing ovation. She introduces the Eddie Kendrick singers and they start one more time of "Sweet Inspiration."
The lights dim to a lone spotlight above and BARBRA sits by the piano with a candle on it. "This takes me back to my Liberace days." Laughter. She sings a very saloony "My Buddy" [or, alternately, "More Than You Know"].
Lights up, back front again, she says, "I'd like to dedicate this song to Harold Mengart. Also Arnie Flecher." She begins "My Man." There are moans, ahs, and applause from the audience.
She does "Second Hand Rose" so free and campy. I laughed so hard I couldn't listen. When she reaches the line, "I'm wearing second hand clothes," she injects, "Like Hell!" The night she wore the lace gown, at this point she said, "That's right!"
Walking to the right of the stage, mike in hand, she says, "I come to Las Vegas because it's so historical. Since the Mormons came here in 1837 this place has been a hot bed of history. You see, before I come to a city I always do research so I know what I can get out of it. This time I'm ahead about two thousand dollars. But, oh - here's an Indian Head arrow roach clip I found in the desert this morning. The Shoshone Indians came here in 1840, October, for a big pow-wow. You see, even then it was a big convention town. They were all sitting around, chewing the fat, getting high on peyote ... Ya know, it's strange how history repeats itself. It was crazy then and its crazy now" (cough). Laughter. Applause. “It’s very crazy now. I don’t know, for the first fifty-three hours I find it very amusing, but there are no clocks and after the fifty-third hour it gets a little buggy. Ya know, but I've discovered it's a plot to keep you at the tables in the casino. They don't want you up in your rooms . That's why your TV sets don't work, and there are no bibles in the rooms. I've looked. And those that have them only have five commandments."
Someone calls out, "I love you, BARBRA!"
"Thank you very much"
"Play more to this side, BARBRA."
She, "You're getting too familiar." Laughter and applause. "I guess if I had to sum up Las Vegas in twenty-five words or less, which I don' t have to, but if I did, I would say it's the only place in the world where a super star like Elvis Presley plays the main room and Jesus Christ plays the lounge."
Looking about on the floor for a special spot, the Brooklynese turns to Margaret Leighton English. "And now in this spot I would like very much like to introduce the orchestra."
One night she looked at the audience very seriously and said, "You know, I wonder when Julie Andrews wakes up at three in the morning if she still talks like Julie Andrews?"
Introducing the Joe Guercio Orchestra first, the entire orchestra stands and bows. "Sitting in back of the drums – no, he's not in back, he's behind the drums like a regular person – he’s a very fine drummist: Tommy Check."
"Ya know, 'Wheat's brother."
Laughter and applause. On one occasion here, she bent over laughing, saying, "Ya know, I just love bad jokes."
"Next to him on the Plexiglas podium platform is my friend the bass player. As a matter of fact he's the bassest bass player I know. He's fantastic. He does several things very well." Laughter here and she looks amused. "Like he works in stained glass, and he embroiders dungarees – which he wears – stand up and show ‘em."
He does. Laughter and applause.
"His name is also lovely because it has a gormeish quality about it: Ray Neopolitan. Seated at the piano is my friend. Pianist. Piano player. Acccooompaniessssst. He's sensational. He doesn't have what his name says: Bo Ayars."
"And last, but not least, my divine conductor … Italian. He makes great hero sandwiches: Joe Guercio.”
As the applause dies the music starts for her current hit Bacharach medley "One Less Bell/A House Is Not A Home." She starts center stage down front at the mike. When she reaches the line in the second number ("Now and then I call your name") she puts the mike into the stand. It's obvious she isn't singing (the voice is on tape). Walking to a higher level in the orchestra she picks up a mike and begins singing with the tape on the line "So darling, have a heart." It's eerie. Fantastic. Another Streisand classic. The applause, cheers, and whistles are long and loud.
Sitting on the stool back front again, the lights dimmed to a spot, she sings, "Sing A Song." This becomes her plaintive inimitable "Happy Days Are Here Again."
End of show. Usually she just walked off stage with one bow, but Sunday, and of course, closing night, the audience was so enthusiastic she returned to tear at your heart with "People" as an encore.
RUMOR - FACTS - ETC.
While standing in line for the show Sunday night I talked to three girls from New York. They had been standing around the halls backstage all day trying to see BARBRA. When a security guard came near they pretended to be on the phone. Finally BARBRA came along walking a rotund Sadie. BARBRA talked but she seemed ill-at-ease and anxious to be rid of them. And Sadie, whom they said must be the best fed dog in the world, snapped at them when they tried to pet her (him). I hadn't seen any pictures of the dog in ages - didn't know she was still around. One of the girls said she crocheted BARBRA'S name across a tennis racquet and she couldn't think of any way to get it to her so she threw it up on stage one night.
One night on stage, after singing "Second Hand Rose," BARBRA said, quite seriously, "I feel like I'm back at the Bon Soir. I don't know about you, but to me it's a nice feeling."
A waitress at the show told me while they were filming What's Up Doc? on the street in San Francisco her daughter approached BARBRA several times for an autograph. Finally BARBRA said, "What's the matter, kid, can't you see I'm working?" and went into her dressing room trailer. Ryan O' Neal, observing, went inside the trailer and came out with BARBRA'S autograph for the delighted youngster.
An L.A. BARBRA devotee was sitting in his office thinking how much he would like to be in Vegas for the shows. He had planned to go but was detained a week. He decided to call BARBRA. He put in the call saying he was Peter Bogdanovich. There was much buzzing and exchange by the operators. Finally, BARBRA was on the line: "Peter? Peter is that you??" The devotee told her who he was and he would see the shows next week. She said, "That is nice. I hope you enjoy them but I have to run now. I was eating."
The writers for BARBRA'S next film, Up the Sandbox, were in Vegas working with her on the script. They found it a pleasure but exasperating. She would argue about one word into the wee hours of the morning. On several occasions they were her companions at the bacarack tables in the wee hours of the morning. ‘Tis said she is a push-over for the game – and wins too.
During the three week run, the audience was sprinkled with celebrities each night: Ed Sullivan, James Cagney, Jack Benny, Peter Bogdanovich, Liberace, Red Skelton, Sammy Davis, George Hamilton, Jerry Lewis, David Hartman (He was at the last show. I saw him came in), Don Knotts, Elliott Gould, Roslyn Kind, Ryan O' Neal, and Juliet Prowse with a party of 20. The hotel picked up the Prowse tab, which is unheard of these days. I heard BARBRA introduced Peter Bogdanovich (the director of What's Up Doc?) from the stage. There was warmth and respect in her voice as she plugged his current hit, The Last Picture Show, and her pleasure working with him.
Juliet Prowse plugged BARBRA'S show from the stage the night I saw her. This was a nice thing to do and pleased me immensely. Near the end of BARBRA'S run, after playing to less than capacity crowds, Juliet was heard to say, "DAMN! I'll be glad when Streisand closes. "
Monday night I met Janet Dubin. Janet arrived Christmas Eve and she had seen every show, both dinner and midnight. So you can see she is a devotee in every sense of the word – a Super Devotee. She saw a total of forty-two shows. I was quite impressed with this petite, kind, gentle, soft spoken child-woman with the large doe blue-green eyes. She was so different from the usual loud-push-rude BARBRA follower. Tuesday I saw Janet again. We were both sitting down front. Tuesday was Janet's twenty-fourth birthday and the management gave her the shows as a present. She knew and talked with all the band and singers. When I asked if she had met BARBRA she replied, "No, but I will when it's right with BARBRA." I told her I would like to meet her very much but I had reservations. She agreed and understood. I only saw her briefly Wednesday and Thursday at the shows. Thursday she told me she was sitting at Marty Erlichman's table. Since I returned home I have had a letter from Janet. Marty took her backstage after the last show and she did indeed meet BARBRA. BARBRA gave her a "Second Hand Rose", which Janet is trying to preserve, and a bottle of champagne for her birthday – three days late. When introduced as the girl who saw all the shows, BARBRA exclaimed, "How could you stand to see the show forty-two times!?!"
Jason Gould attended several dinner shows. He sat at Marty Erlichman's table. When BARBRA came on stage, before she started to sing, she would put her hand up to cut the glare of the lights and wave to him. Always after the first or second song BARBRA would remove the ribbon from her neck and put it in her pocket.
The closing show was bedlam!! I went at ten o'clock to stand in line – about thirty minutes earlier than usual. When I arrived, the line, four deep, was already from the showroom around the slot machines, or almost to the front door. I didn't get a good seat, but I was lucky to get a seat. The balcony was opened (the first time I had seen this). Before show time a party from my table went into the casino. When he returned he said they were about to fight outside. People with reservations couldn't get in. Reservations were made for 2,000 – about 2,500 showed up.
BARBRA'S management gave her a tape recording of each of the shows. God! I would love to have one. Bo Ayars, the pianist, was a recipient of one. He placed it on top of the television set. When he tried to play it, the television set had erased it!!
I’m home less than two weeks and already I need a BARBRA fix. She owes the Las Vegas-Hilton two weeks on the existing contract. And there is talk of a Nassau Concert in May. I don't dare hope, but I'm saving my pennies. I leave you with this pleasant thought: There's a BARBRA concert in your future. So smile. Sing a Song. And Peace.
— Ronnie Durrence
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