My Name is Barbra (1965)
Above: The marquee outside of CBS Studio 50 (later called The Ed Sullivan Theater) — located at 1697–1699 Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th — where Barbra Streisand's first television show was taped.
“I can't believe it's done!” Barbra Streisand exclaimed to the press days before her first television special aired. “It's on tape. I mean, forever. I don't have to do it again.”
After being the guest star on several variety and talk shows, Barbra Streisand was ready for her own network television special. Barbra made news in 1964 when CBS Television announced a ten-year, $5 million deal with the singer to star in several television specials.
(See article, below left; below, center: CBS on-air adverts for the re-airing of the show; bottom: A “My Name is Barbra” slide, advertising the show.)
With Barbra the only talent in front of the cameras, her manager Marty Erlichman hired a top-notch team to support her behind the scenes. “I was concerned with artistic control only,” Barbra told the press. “I wanted to produce my own shows and now I can and nobody—not sponsors or advertisers or anyone—can interfere. The people like Dick Lewine, Joe Layton, Dwight Hemion and Marty Erlichman—they are on my team. They're for me and what I want to do.”
Streisand further explained: “Joe Layton, who supervised the television show, is a Broadway director, so we prepared for this the way we're both used to preparing for the stage. I hope we've brought a bit of theatre to television. We rehearsed long and hard on staging and choreography, even including the sequence that we taped on location in the Bergdorf Goodman Fifth Avenue store.”
She was working concurrently on Broadway, doing eight shows a week of Funny Girl. Barbra also planned to deliver an album (later, two) to Columbia Records to coincide with the broadcast of the special.
Taping “My Name is Barbra”
Above: Streisand rehearses for the Bergdorf Goodman segment of her television show at the Hotel Edison's Sun Room with production numbers supervisor Joe Layton (in white sweater) and an unidentified man, adjusting her paisley garment.
The first segment to be taped for My Name is Barbra was on location at the Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue in Midtown, Manhattan.
“It's funny,” Barbra expressed, “I used to browse through that store before I could afford to buy even a shoe buckle there. Then they turned over the whole store to me.”
Streisand and her team rehearsed for the remote shoot March 8, 9, 11, 12, 15-16 at the Hotel Edison on West 47th Street. They moved to Bergdorf's from March 17th-19th, where camera shots were blocked and choreography was adjusted for the actual department store space. A dress rehearsal took place at Bergdorf Goodman from 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 19th through Saturday morning.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965 (her day off from Funny Girl) Barbra taped the Bergdorf Goodman scenes. Director Dwight Hemion recalled that “because the first floor was lined with mirrors, the segment was a nightmare to light.”
William Klages, who lighted Streisand's locations for the television special, agreed about how hard Bergdorf's was to light. As for lighting Ms. Streisand herself, Klages said she had “absolute breathtaking skin. It lit so easily. ”
Below: A Feb. 11, 1965 newspaper story about the production; a photo of Streisand in Bergdorf's taping the show's “on location” segment.
American fashion designer Halston was retained to create the hats that Streisand wore in the fashion sequences at Bergdorf's department store.
Bergdorf’s resident designer, a Hungarian named Emeric Partos, created several furs for use in the fantasy shopping sequence. He wrapped Barbra in a $15,000 Somali leopard coat with a black leather belt. For “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” Partos fitted her with white mink knickers. When Barbra stomps on her coat during the finale, she is stomping on Canadian wild mink. “I used to hate mink,” she told the press. “But now I appreciate it for its solidity. I really didn’t like boa scarves as much as they say I did. I like simple elegance, neat.”
CBS Studios 41 & 50
After pre-recording the orchestra at Capitol Records Studio A on March 28, 1965, My Name is Barbra continued videotaping segments at two CBS soundstages in New York the week of April 11th.
Director Dwight Hemion remembered that the segments which were videotaped in the studio were “done without an audience. We rehearsed a little bit, as I recall, in the rehearsal hall. But only rehearsed the music and a little bit of the staging. Then we went into a studio, with the scenery and everything, no audience, and started to tape. [Barbra] sang to tracks. That is, we recorded everything so there was no orchestra there much of the time. She sang to tracks and we taped. We taped each [segment] until we were all enthused about it. Each number — we did each number on tape, never done as a full show. We had as close to perfection as you can get and Barbra, being a perfectionist — even at that time — she wasn’t a director yet, that came later …”
Taping the Concert
The concert portion of My Name Is Barbra was taped on April 14, 1965 in front of a small audience at the old Ed Sullivan Theater, now used by David Letterman.
Eric, a Streisand fan who attended the concert taping told “The Barbra Archives”:
“I got the tickets through the fan club I had joined. Since I was such an early member, and it had to be one of the first, if not still the only, Barbra Fan Club at the time, they seemed to have an inside track on lots of things.
“The taping for My Name is Barbra was at least 2 hours. It was a smallish TV studio, so I don't think there could have been more than 200 people, if that much. It certainly was a very enthusiastic audience: literally everyone there could have only been there through a keen interest in Barbra (or their date!) I remember an announcer telling us what we could expect, like telling us what we were about to see on the monitors, and that we should applaud and otherwise react like a good audience.
“The only thing that wasn't pre-taped for the Bergdorf sequence was the VERY end, where you see her at a kettle drum, singing ‘...because the Best Things In Life Are Free!’ They taped that bit live in front of the audience. I do believe it took more than one take, and she lip-synched.
Christopher, another Streisand fan who was at the taping, recalled: “Synchronizing the kettle drum roll and those few lines of song required take after take after take, and was very frustrating, though it does not show in the finished segment.”
Eric, again, recalled: “There was an elation that we had not only been part of our idol's historic first TV special, but that she delivered such a tour de force it was clear we had witnessed something truly sensational.”
Christopher also remembered the hard work Streisand and crew put into the show, especially the last, tricky shot:
“‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ was sung live,” he said. “Unfortunately, the placement of the closing credits and breakaway shot required some reworking due to technical reasons. So, the number was sung live over and over and over again, until it was decided that Barbra would be on the far right of the screen, and the triple break-away shot was finally decided upon, etc. By the time the final version of the song was complete—there are some people who will never admit it—but they walked out on Barbra Streisand singing live. I can't be sure, but I'm thinking the song was done perhaps seven times or more, with wait time for playbacks. Here the frustration does show in the final product. Look at her face after the last note!”
Above: Emmy Award-winning Set designer Tom John's rendering of the set for the childhood segment of the show, and a photo of Streisand, dressed as a girl, on the actual set.
The Soundtrack Albums
The My Name is Barbra soundtrack album was released May 1965.
My Name Is Barbra, Two..., its sequel, was released October 1965 to coincide with the rebroadcast of the special on CBS.
The Chemstrand Commercial
Barbra filmed a commercial for her first television show.
In the 1960s, it was common practice for a corporation to sponsor a television show. Barbra’s sponsor was Chemstrand, who manufactured fibers which were used in rugs and action-wear. They paid for Barbra’s special and received on-air mention (which was edited out of the home video versions of Barbra’s specials but was included during the actual airings in the 1960’s.)
The commercial was not shown on network TV. Instead, it was a promotional piece meant to be shown internally at Chemstrand. It was probably shown at a Chemstrand convention.
In it, Barbra addressed the camera directly. She was on a set meant to suggest her Funny Girl dressing room. She spoke about her upcoming television special, “The Barbra Streisand Show” then told viewers about how she and husband Elliott Gould had been choosing carpet for their new home. She even rattled off some Chemstrand carpet brand names. They had to re-record some of the dialogue at this point. The tongue-twisting chemical names appeared to have challenged even the nimble-tongued Streisand — “nacrylic fibers” !
At the end of the promo, the camera focused on Barbra’s dressing room door and she declared, “Roll out the carpets.”
Barbra Streisand's first television special garnered several awards and nominations.
1965 Emmys Awarded:
- Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment – Musicians: Peter Matz, Music Director
- Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Actors and Performers: Barbra Streisand
- Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Art Directors and Set Decorator:s Bill Harp (set decorator) Tom H. John (art director)
- Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Choreographers: Joe Layton (choreographer)
- Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment: Richard Lewine (producer)
1965 Emmy Nominations:
- Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Directors: Dwight Hemion
1966 Directors Guild of America Award:
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television: My Name Is Barbra, Dwight Hemion
MNIB On Home Video
My Name is Barbra was first released on home video in 1981 by Reel Images. The VHS contained a kinescope of the 1965 television special, complete with commercials. Around the same time, All Star Video also compiled My Name is Barbra onto a VHS tape entitled “The Barbra Streisand Story”—Streisand sued them for $11 million in damages.
It wasn't until 1986 that CBS/Fox officially released the TV special on VHS and laser disc (pictured below).
Ed Green—the original audio engineer for the special—remastered the home video version. Billboard reported that “there were four of five versions of audio for each show” that Green had to work with. Streisand's manager Marty Erlichman coordinated the release of Color Me Barbra and My Name is Barbra to VHS.
As a bonus on the VHS tape, Streisand filmed an introduction (pictured, above left) to her first television special in which she briefly recalled making it.
It wasn't until almost 20 years later that My Name is Barbra was released on DVD. This time, Rhino Home Video produced a 5-DVD set called Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials which included all five of Streisand's CBS programs. A year later, Rhino released each special as an individual DVD. The Rhino version of My Name is Barbra contained an animated menu and several audio mixes of the sound, as well as Streisand's 1986 filmed introduction.
It should be noted that the 2005 DVD version of My Name is Barbra has been altered. “Lover, Come Back to Me” is an alternate take of the song that was not included on previous VHS and laserdisc versions.
‘My Name is Barbra’ Trivia
- Barbra watched the show air in her dressing room at the Winter Garden Theatre. After finishing her Funny Girl performance that evening, Barbra attended a buffet supper and telecast party thrown by Andrew and Nena Goodman, (Bergdorf's owners) in their penthouse apartment over the Fifth Avenue store. (Pictured above: Elliott Gould, Streisand, and Totie Fields)
- Barbra promoted the show April 25 as the mystery guest on What’s My Line?
- Barbra's manager Marty Erlichman played the footman outside Bergdorf’s.
- Choreographer Joe Layton played the drum player in “How Does the Wine Taste?”
- The TV show was presented by Ellbar Productions, Inc., a production company Barbra formed with Elliott Gould. Ell[iott] + Bar[bra] = Ellbar. (You know what I mean?)
- The title tune, “My Name is Barbara” was written in 1943 by Leonard Bernstein as part of “A Cycle of Five Kid Songs for Soprano” —it was not a special piece for Barbra. Barbra also sang another song from Bernstein’s cycle (“I Hate Music”) in her early club dates.
- Barney Glazer's column reported that songwriters Roger Perry and Johnny Melfi wrote a Broadway musical called “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” and that “A Kid Again” was one of the hit tunes which James Darren sang in his Cocoanut Grove act. Glazer said Streisand was in the audience that night, which is how she came to like the tune and use it in her television show.
- The blue sailor dress that Barbra wore in the first act of My Name is Barbra (pictured above and below) was auctioned in 2004. The final bid for the dress was $14,400.00. The auction description of the dress said: “Custom blue wool and silk sailor dress, having blue wool shell with blue silk chiffon over-lay, white linen cuffs and collar trimmed in blue ribbon and red bow under the collar, tied at bodice which streams down the front of the dress, no labels.”
Sources Used On This Page:
- The Archive of American Television — 2008 interview with Dwight Hemion
- “Fantasy Aisles” By William Norwich, NY Times Magazine, February 24, 2002
- The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Joe Layton papers, Billy Rose Theatre Division.
- Her Name is Barbra, UPI, April 25, 1965.