Color Me Barbra (1966)
In January 1966 Barbra Streisand started working on her second television show, to be taped in color and titled, appropriately, Color Me Barbra.
“The first show [My Name is Barbra] was something of a gamble,” Marty Erlichman told the press. “We decided to go for broke on the first CBS special under her long-term contract with the network. We presented Barbra—alone.
“When it came time to do the second special with Barbra,” Erlichman continued, “we felt identified and warmly accepted by the viewers as a solo performer, we could make it work again. It was sort of like putting up the second bookend.”
Climbing Into The Paintings
The first stop for filming was Philadelphia’s Museum of Art with three brand new Marconi color cameras. (New York’s Metropolitan Museum denied permission to tape Color Me Barbra in their facility, but Philadelphia’s Museum of Art allowed the television crew to tape the show in their space.)
Streisand pre-recorded the songs for the museum segment on January 20, 1966 at Columbia Studios East 30th Street location. Barbra and music director Peter Matz picked the takes she thought were best, all in preparation for the on-location shooting in Philadelphia.
Streisand and crew captured the video they needed on January 22-23, 1966 at the museum. Barbra wrote about the taping: “As soon as the museum taping began, two of our new Marconi cameras gave out. There were no replacements. That left us with only one for the whole opening section.”
“It's a great museum,” Streisand said about Philadelphia Museum of Art in March 1966. “The rooms are beautifully laid out and I go from exhibit to exhibit with my costume changing to match the period on display. It's not easy to do a musical show in a museum but I got a kick out of asking them to move a million dollars worth of paintings simply to provide an appropriate backdrop for a song. It was fun, but it took so much time technicians were falling asleep at the cameras.”
Pat McBride—who in 1966 was CBS's longest working cameraman—told The Herald Mail: “I never knew anyone like Barbra. She reminds me of those pioneer women you see in the movies, always heading west in a covered wagon. She's physically strong and is always pleasant without being depressingly cheerful, if you know what I mean. She never gets ruffled and can work longer at a stretch than almost anyone I ever saw. If she lived in the old days, you just know she's a girl who wouldn't be afraid of an Indian attack.”
For the second segment of Color Me Barbra, Streisand and crew ensconced themselves in CBS Studio 41 in New York with an array of circus animals. The production spent $350 for a tiger, $200 for an anteater, and $1200 on penguins—eight at $150 each! “Chaos threatened again,” Streisand recalled. “The lights were hell on the penguins, a lion broke out of its cage, and a baby elephant roared so loud that a nearby llama nearly suffered a heart attack.”
A New York Times reporter described the “more than 30 hours” spent getting the circus segment “in the can”—the production crew taped the circus segment on January 25, 1966:
...part two was achieved through sheer tenacity. Barbra danced out onto a three-ring circus set. A baby elephant named Champagne roared so loudly that a baby llama nearby did a somersault. Barbra sang "Funny Face" in an orange ringmaster's costume. The horse reared, the penguins got sick under the hot lights and had to be carted off to a refrigerated area behind the set. The leopard refused to pose.
Barbra had to worry not about being trampled to death but when to come in on cue. The show was behind schedule and the overtime was costing the star money. Four electricians chased a pig across the set and damaged part of the backdrop. The only light moment came when Barbra sang to an anteater named Izzy. "He must be Jewish," she said, as they touched noses.
After striking the circus set at CBS Studio 41, the crew had all of January 26th to build the set (and erect the audience bleachers) for the concert segment of Color Me Barbra.
For the January 27th taping, Streisand fan club members were recruited to be in the audience. Streisand arrived at the studio at 10:00 a.m. and ran through songs with the orchestra — at one point her song selection completely differed from the final show. Streisand was to sing:
- Where Am I Going?
- A Sleepin' Bee
- Down With Love
- The Schloon Song
- It Had To Be You
- Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home
Instead, her final set list was: Any Place, Had To Be You, C'est Si Bon, Where Am I Going?, and Starting Here, Starting Now.
Barbra taped her live songs from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Unsatisfied with the concert segment, Barbra asked to perform some of the songs without the audience. However, minus the audience, the audio “ambiance” did not match, so a screening was arranged at the old Ed Sullivan Theater, where fan club members were recorded applauding and reacting to the segment in order to capture the live element of the sound.
Eric, a Streisand fan club member at the time, shared his memories:
When she made her only appearance at the audience taping for Color Me Barbra, the audience went a little nuts. We were told by the announcer that she would not be performing, so people were shouting out ‘We love you!’ and the like. I shouted out ‘Recite a poem!’ (don’t ask me why, but that’s what I shouted out), and she just said, in her inimitable style (of the time), ‘Mary had a little lamb...’ and that was all for the poem. We all went crazy!”
Above: Hemion, Marty Erlichman (in glasses) in the studio control booth with Streisand, watching playback of the concert sequence. Barbra doesn't like what she sees.
“I think it's a better show than [My Name is Barbra],” Dwight Hemion said. “But that's hard for me to tell, because I've been so close to both of them. I know we all worked a lot harder on Color Me Barbra. The fact that this show is in color and My Name is Barbra wasn't accounts in part for the extra effort, but only in part. I think we worked much harder on this show because the first one turned out so well. We were on the spot. We really had something to shoot at.”
In late March, right before the special aired, Streisand told journalist Harvey Pack: “The TV show was a lot of work and now I have to finish the album of the show. In between there's fittings for the London opening of Funny Girl and preparing to go to England for the run takes a lot of time. A lot of [critics] said last year's [TV special] was overproduced. Wow! Wait until they get a peak at this one. Even I think it's overproduced ... but I love it. One thing I love about doing a TV show is that with a few snips of the tape we can do tricks and on screen it looks like magic.”
Color Me Barbra was nominated (but did not win) for the following Emmy Awards:
- Outstanding Musical Program
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety or Music: Dwight Hemion
- Individual Achievements in Art Direction and Allied Crafts - Art Direction: Tom H. John (art director)
- Individual Achievements in Art Direction and Allied Crafts - Set Direction: Bill Harp (set decorator)
- Individual Achievements in Electronic Production - Lighting: Robert Barry (lighting)
Advance Photo Session
For Color Me Barbra, Streisand posed for an advance photo session that was shot at Studio 41 at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, NY on December 29, 1965.
The ‘Dress Rehearsal’
The Paley Center for Media in New York has what is labeled on the clapperboard at the very top of the videotape as a “Dress Rehearsal”. This copy of Color Me Barbra has the complete Chemstrand opening (which was edited out of the 1986 home video version) and does not have the video insert edits of the guillotine during “Minute Waltz” (instead, in this version you see Barbra in one camera shot the whole way through with no cut-aways.) During the opening monologue of the circus segment, the studio audience sounds more “natural” and not like a clap-track.
Most importantly, at the end of the concert when Barbra hits the last note of “Starting Here, Starting Now,” her note is not audio compressed and pushed to the background. Instead, the note is above the music and it is complete and powerful.
Dennis Fotia, who contributed this information to The Barbra Archives website, believes this “dress rehearsal” version of the special was most likely a first edit, probably for CBS or Chemstrand to see before they did the minor changes that were in the final broadcast version edit.
“Color Me Barbra” Promotional Items
The Color Me Barbra record album contained a fold-out, color insert with many fabulous photos [see album page]
Chemstrand, the sponsor of Streisand's special, produced a handsome program with a red-tinted cover featuring Streisand's face:
Sources Used On This Page:
- The Archive of American Television — 2008 interview with Dwight Hemion
- The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Joe Layton papers, Billy Rose Theatre Division.