1968 Roadshow Feature
Funny Show: Ray Stark was producing a new stage musical about the life of Fanny Brice when he signed a fairly unknown and uniquely original performer named Barbra Streisand. The fact that Stark was married to Brice's daughter most likely ensured that the show painted a rosy picture of his mother-in-law. The musical in fact bears very little resemblance to Brice's actual life. Charlie Chaplin's son Sydney Chaplin was cast as Nicky Arnstein, Kay Medford played Mrs. Brice, Mrs. Strakosh was played by Jean Stapleton, and Streisand's understudy was Lainie Kazan.
Years later, Garson Kanin, who was the director for at least part of the rocky production process, wrote a novel called SMASH. (The rights to this book were bought by the producers of the 2012 NBC TV series, but the series plot is almost entirely different) The book traces the production of a Broadway bound musical, based on the showbiz life of the producer's famous mother-in-law. In the book, the producer and director clash, the director is replaced, and the producer resorts to blackmail to force inclusion of a song the real leading character is famous for. (for anyone interested in Musical Theatre, this book is a lot of fun. While the story is presented as fiction, it's assumed that at least some real life situations from Kanin's FUNNY GIRL experience probably found their way into the book). There is an interesting account of the show's development on Wikipedia, and another on an excellent Streisand fan site.
Funny Movie: The film version, again produced by Ray Stark, retained three very familiar elements from the hit Broadway show: the iconic logo, the leading lady, and Kay Medford as Mrs. Brice. The film was shot from August to December 1967, on soundstages at Columbia Pictures, now called Sunset-Gower Studios, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Avenue in Hollywood, and at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank. Locations included the Santa Monica Pier, a rail station in New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty and various parts of New York City.
The interior of Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre was shot in a real theatre on Broadway - in Los Angeles. Built for Alexander Pantages and later owned by Warners, the huge corner marquee entrance of that theatre is now home to a jewelry store. The exterior of the New Amsterdam in FUNNY GIRL was built into a cluster of facades on the Columbia Ranch.
Funny Business: Stories of Streisand's strong will, and desire for control, began with her first film. An oft-repeated, but unconfirmed account has someone consoling veteran Director William Wyler, in which one of them reportedly said something like, "after all, this is the first movie Barbra's ever directed." Other accounts have them getting along very well after an initial period of conflict. It helps to keep in mind how long Streisand had done the show onstage in NY and London, and that she was signed to the film before anyone else, including the director, however accomplished he may be. It's not hard to imagine someone in this position feeling at lease somewhat protective or proprietary about the show's transition to film.
The script featured a character named Georgia James, who was to become Fanny's best friend. Vivacious Anne Francis, already a seasoned pro of stage, screen and television, was more than able to hold her own in scenes with Streisand. It's been said that Francis put a great deal of work into a scene where Georgia gets drunk and tells Fanny bad news about Nick. This story goes that a few days later Francis ran into Kay Medford at a store, where Medford told her that the scene had been re-shot without her. However, quotes from a shooting script indicate one long scene - that had both Francis and Medford - was simply shortened. Miss Francis has said it was her agents who began the story that Barbra had her scenes cut, while she, though disappointed, realized that it was a story decision. A detailed list of cuts made to the film can be found on an exceptionally informative fan site.
Funny Scenes: FUNNY GIRL was not the only 1968 roadshow musical to feature the star as a chorus girl who wrecks a number, but wins over the audience.* The idea of a bride "in the family way" was still considered outrageous when the film was first released, and that scene garnered much word of mouth.
Streisand had her vocal of "My Man" recorded live, so she could delivering a more emotional performance.
Funny Ending: This is not the only Streisand vehicle that ends with her missing a lost husband, while singing an emotional song on a dark stage and throwing her head back into a blackout.*
Roadshow Elements: The overture of a movie roadshow signals to the audience that the show is about to begin and sets the mood, bridging the transition from sitting in the theatre to experiencing the film. This was a very theatrical and effective presentation if done right. In the theatre the house lights would go down at some point during the overture, while the lights on the curtain (all professional theatres had them) remained on, heightening anticipation, drawing attention and focus toward the screen.
FUNNY GiRL has one of the most exciting overtures of any roadshow film. The curtain lights, and any remaining house lights would go out at the end of the overture, after which there is only a slight pause before the Columbia logo comes on intruducing the opening credits. The curtains would NOT open to reveal the screen until the Columbia logo hit them. The end of Act One is well placed - right after "Don't Rain On My Parade" where a memorable shot fades to the Intermission title, which remained onscreen long enough for the curtains to close over it. There is also a good Entr'Acte, which worked nearly as well as the overture, with lighting and curtain handled just like the overture. The dramatic finale "My Man" is followed by brief end credits with subdued music. The curtains would close before the end credits faded, and the film had exit music, which originally played through the closed curtains, but now accompanies the restoration credits. Todays' films have such long end credits that few people would be around to hear exit music if there were any.
The original roadshow version runs 155 minutes, plus intermission. After a successful run as a roadshow, FUNNY GIRL was sent out as a regular feature, but was cut. The overture was reduced to just a fanfare, and the Swan Lake Ballet was gone.
These ads ran in the New York Times in the spring of 1968, announcing the opening of the boxoffice for the World Premiere engagement at the Criterion Theatre, just a few blocks from the three theatres where the stage show played.
CRITERION THEATRE - Broadway at 45th Street, New York, New York - All Seats Reserved
Sunday through Thursday Evenings at 8:30 - Orchestra & Balcony $4.50, Loge $5.50
Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8:30 - Orchestra & Balcony $5.00, Loge $6.00
Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Matinees at 2:30 - Orchestra & Balcony $4.00, Loge $5.00
Wednesday Matinees at 2:30 - Orchestra & Balcony $3.50, Loge $4.50
New Year's Eve at 8:00 PM and 12 Midnight - All Seats $7.50
Funny Line: Reported in the souvenir book from the film, sounding so perfect that a publicist could have written it - some controversy erupted from photos depicting a kiss between a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn and an Islamic native Egyptian...
...Streisand replied: "You think Cairo was upset? You should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!"
Columbia Pictures' film of FUNNY GIRL premiered on September 18th, 1968 at the Criterion Theatre in New York. The opening night party was held in a large tent on the grounds of the former Astor Hotel, just prior to construction of the new Astor Plaza building, which would eventually showcase live theatre in the Minskoff one level up, and movies, at the Loew's Astor Plaza (Now Nokia Live) one flight down.
The Hollywood Premiere of FUNNY GIRL was at the Egyptian Theatre.
Funny Luck: Streisand won an Academy Award for Best Actress, tied with Katharine Hepburn for THE LION IN WINTER. Interestingly, Streisand was already a member of the Academy, and voted for herself. If she hadn't, only Hepburn would have won.
Funny Kid: When FUNNY GIRL premiered as a roadshow in Syracuse, NY, it opened at a brand-new prestige twin theatre, right next to STAR! On a Sunday matinee at intermission, a kid bought the ($1) souvenir book, and struck up a conversation with the ticket-taker, who offered the kid a look at the projection booth. The time came to begin showing the second act. During the entr'acte, the projectionist pointed out which switches to flip, and let the kid dim all the curtain warmers and house lights. The kid was thrilled to have played a little part in the movie's roadshow presentation, but who could he share that excitement with? ...Until now.
Funny Sequel: Ray Stark had required Streisand to sign a multi-picture contract before making her movie debut, presumably at a substantially lower rate than she would be offered after FUNNY GIRL was released. Streisand was committed to do another picture for Stark, but reportedly refused to do a sequel to FUNNY GIRL, until Stark filed a lawsuit against her. When filming was completed, Streisand is said to have sent Stark a mirror with "Paid in Full" written on it in lipstick. Apparently filmed with a similar length as the original in mind, FUNNY LADY, was released in 1975 as a regular (non-roadshow) feature, after the studio demanded a lot of cuts. FUNNY LADY borrowed a couple things from STAR!, the movie that went head-to-head with FUNNY GIRL: Talented performer Garrett Lewis, (in a similar role) and at least one of Julie Andrews' costumes, (worn by a singer in Billy Rose's nightclub).
This same theatre facade seen in the opening shot of FUNNY GIRL - with the marquee looking almost identical, shows up in FUNNY LADY as the Casino Theatre - hosting the ill fated opening of Billy Rose's "Crazy Quilt." So in the sequel Barbra returns to the same alley where she filmed her screen debut, but instead of wearing leopard, she is threatening a buffalo. Later in the sequel, the New Amsterdam is represented by a familiar theatre facade on Warners' main backlot, which you can also see in THE ARTIST.
The premiere of FUNNY LADY at the new Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was covered in a TV special called FROM FUNNY GIRL TO FUNNY LADY. Host Dick Cavett joked that after FUNNY GIRL, and FUNNY LADY, the next one might be called "Funny Old Crock." When Streisand was introduced, she shot back "Funny Grandma, Dick!" Asked if she missed the stage, Streisand said she liked that she could entertain people with movies, "while I'm home in the tub."
While it is an entertaining movie with some nice performances and production values, FUNNY LADY has been much maligned, especially in the 1997 comedy film IN & OUT. The protagonist is Howard, a closeted high school teacher played by Kevin Kline, who has made his friends and fiancee watch various Streisand movies numerous times. Instead of saying "I Do" on the alter, Howard finally says "I'm gay." His fiancee Emily, played by Joan Cusack breaks down and howls: "Does anybody here know how many times I had to watch Funny Lady?" Howard says "It was a sequel. She was under contract!" Emily yells "Fuck Barbra Streisand! - and You!"
Funny Name: Years later, when YENTL was released, some people were jokingly calling it FUNNY GIRL ON THE ROOF, drawing parallels (among other things) between Funny Girl's act one finale on the tugboat past the Statue of Liberty, and Yentl's climactic moment on a ship emigrating to America where (after the fade out) she would have seen Lady Liberty again.
Funny Coincidence: While working in a studio store, circa 2000, a former laserdisc producer, and future webmaster was chatting about DVDs with a customer from Columbia Tri-Star Home Video. He didn't like the way most roadshow movies are presented like software on DVD, and said that he would make the DVD menu for FUNNY GIRL look like a theatre marquee...
Funny Makeover: The movie was treated to a restoration by Sony Pictures, done over three years, and given limited theatrical release in 2001. This new release featured a much improved soundtrack, and was printed in real Technicolor. A new poster was created (in an inexplicable pink, silver and white) that ended up on the first DVD and subsequent Blu Ray cover.
Funny Disc: Despite it being one of the studios most celebrated and lucrative films, the FUNNY GIRL DVD and Blu Ray have not been given the special edition treatment. (Rumor has it that is due to the star having been exhaustively particular over details of previous home video releases, resulting in numerous costly delays and changes). The original trailer, and the very impressive new one created for the 2001 theatrical reissue, are not included, but there are a couple nice production shorts, the movie looks and sounds good on DVD and excellent on Blu Ray. At current prices, it's a good value, but this is the kind of title they should really have dressed up with extras as a special edition box or digibook.
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Additional Image Research by Greg Michael Pasqua
Film Images © Columbia Pictures