Posts Tagged ‘Funny Girl’

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In the summer of 2016, Barbra Streisand hit the road with her latest tour, The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. In early June, I sat uncomfortably on the fence with a spike up my ass when it came to buying tickets. Her prices are nowhere near affordable for those of us hanging on to our careers in publishing; the venue was a two-hour drive (or nine, with Bay Area traffic); and as much as I loved both the young, fun, silly “Fanny Brice” Barbra and the ‘70s Barbra who went in for that hair perm every other day, the duets of her recent years never made it to the top of my playlists.

On June 12, 2016, an unimaginable thing happened in an Orlando nightclub. Actually I’d give anything to call it “unimaginable,” but of course we could imagine it; we’ve seen it too many times and hoped for too many years that our leaders will try something other than prayer to make us feel safe. With more shooting tragedies that we can count or name or cry over, this was the first time when I ran to the bathroom because I thought I was going to be sick. As I paced around the toilet unsure of my stomach’s plans for me that morning, ten words that someone had said to me years ago brought my pacing to a halt – if they didn’t do something after Newtown, they never will. For a moment I simply existed in my bathroom, mentally disassociated from the world and staring at a framed picture of Bert and Ernie that, for the first time, failed in its attempts to brighten up the place. On my phone were texts of love or loving thoughts, invitations to lunches and drinks, dinners and movie nights, all of which I declined. I’ve been there before, and I knew what could happen if I joined the hundreds who were drowning their grief and sorrows. When raw emotion drastically assumes power, no amount of alcohol will produce the desired intoxicating results. Even if I could drink a bar out of business, in that state, I knew that my body would refuse the embrace of a red wine hug or allow itself to be wrapped in the warm blanket of a good Manhattan – nope, no wine hugs and whiskey blankets that day, but like a phone bill, a hangover is much more reliable; no matter how much fun I had the night before, a hangover is guaranteed to show up and ruin the day.

I said no to drinks, no to dinner, and no to movie night, but sitting around the house and consuming all the news coming out of Orlando was not an option. I had just started volunteering at a cat café around the corner from my house, and although I hadn’t signed up for shift on that particular Sunday, I took a chance and popped in to see if I could help out that day. Half café, half cat shelter (with health codes well intact), KitTea was exactly where I needed to be that afternoon, and I spent about five hours cooped up with a mama and her three kittens who were still in acclamation, because the poor dears still needed to be fixed and were in desperate need of attention. The world outside throbbed with its news cycle, but in that tiny acclamation room it fell away for those few hours, and I left with maybe not a full smile, but perhaps half of a grin, which was the best that we all could do that day.

That evening, high on kitten love but low with a helpless sorrow, I struggled for balance. Even on our safest of days, life is short, and only one thing would restore harmony – I bought my Barbra tickets.

Okay, enough of the therapy session. Watch Gilda, and then we’ll talk some more.

Barbra walked out in a dazzling little black number and started the show with “The Way We Were.” Yes indeed, my friends, she started her show with that classic of a classic, knowing full well that, with those first few hums, she had us sitting in the palm of her impeccably manicured hand. Girlfriend is 74 years old, so if perhaps she didn’t hit every single note of “Evergreen” or hold it for ten minutes like she did 30 years ago, we all know that I was still buying a T-shirt before I left. At the top of my “she probably won’t sing it” wish list was the song “Woman in Love” which has a note that Barbra and I practice in the car to and from work at least three times a week. With all her classics, not to mention a new album on the way, it was such an undeniable long shot that I didn’t even recognize it when she started to sing the first few words. That night, she gave us all of ‘em – “Evergreen,” “Stoney End,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” “People,” “Children Will Listen,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and after a costume change to a lovely gray evening gown, she twirled, swirled, and totally nailed “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

You’ll allow me the bragging rights for a moment: After I see Dolly in a few weeks, my own Divas Live set list will be complete – Madonna sang “Like A Prayer” on two of the three tours that I’ve attended. I was about 14 years old when Mom took me to see Bette Midler sing “The Rose,” a night to remember. In Seattle, Cher performed “If I Could Turn Back Time” in the same outfit that she wore in the music video 25 years ago (not a single stitch has been altered; don’t even think such things!), and before Cher came on, Cyndi Lauper closed the opening act with “True Colors.” Perhaps my crowning achievement was sitting in the second row when Liza sang “Cabaret” and tried to hit the final note a second time after our first standing ovation. All dramatically different diva experiences, each performance comprised of magic from a different spell book, but on August 4, 2016, you could color me only one color, and that color was “Barbra.”

At the beginning of Act II, Barbra paraded back out, and although I was hoping for her to begin with “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” (which, l learned only recently, is from the Sunset Boulevard musical, tripling my love for the tune!), she started with a little a speech about changing the world before she hit us with, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination.” Not to be dramatic, but the light shining off of the 19,000 tears that ran down everyone’s cheeks was greater than any light show that the arena could have designed. I never look up set lists before I go to concerts, and since her new album hadn’t been released yet, the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and I call it a film, NOT a movie!), truly came out of nowhere. We sang along through the tears as commanded, and the show continued with another set of both the old and the new. Through all the cloudy gray times, ongoing work frustrations, a new scratch on my car, and a very long wait on Netflix for A Star Is Born (1976), Barbra’s tour has been my mental happy place for weeks, and, if only for a second or two, who didn’t retreat to a mental happy place when Gene Wilder died last week?

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Thousands of words in hundreds of obituaries memorialized the magic of Mr. Wilder not only as Willy Wonka but also as a permanent resident of Mel Brooks’s universe. When I hear the name “Gene Wilder” I think first not of Willy Wonka but of another magician, the late comic Gilda Radner (if you didn’t watch the entire video above, scroll back up. I can wait). Admittedly I glamorize any Hollywood relationship and cannot imagine it as anything less than perfect: Bogie and Bacall; Hepburn and Tracy; Lucy and Desi; Brooks and Bancroft; Bert and Ernie . . . in my head, even the marriages that ended in divorce were flawless, and every moment of every day was filled with nothing but love and laughter. Biographies and memoirs try to tell me otherwise, but until I sit down with these couples and hear true stories of heartache directly from their lips, well, you can’t believe everything that you read. Hardly what Hollywood would consider a photogenic couple with enough material for a glossy coffee table book (um, but I would totally buy it), Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner each had so much magic in one little finger, that combining all 20 of those fingers in marriage should have allowed them more time together before Gilda’s cancer forced them to part ways.

With each and every news cycle more tragic, outrageous, or disgusting than the one that preceded it, I start to doubt Wonka’s message in “Pure Imagination” that if we want to change the world, there’s nothing to it. Sure, buddy! You live a secluded life in a candy factory, completely closed off from the world with its revolting spoiled children and their irresponsibly vile parents. Seriously, what kind of father says “Alright, sweetheart” when his daughter demands that he buy her a golden goose and pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and . . . hmmm, okay, I’m beginning to understand Wonka’s doctrine of seclusion. If you want to change the heinous world, simply leave it and create one of your own. At times I find this idea perfectly reasonable and very appealing for a moment, but even with a chocolate river, lickable wallpaper, and dozens of little orange men from Loompaland running around the factory, Willy Wonka’s existence is nothing if not lonely. His musical, magical, and memorable life can exist only in the pure imagination of his guests, so I’m starting to wonder what kind of fantasy life exists in the pure imagination of Willy Wonka?

I guess it depends on who’s singing. The sound of only a few lyrics brings together the forces of Barbra, Gene, and Gilda like a trio of superheroes, and it’s with their help that I can exist in the world that seems to go out of its way to terrify us these days.

Those three teaming up to change the world . . . can you imagine?

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The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .

 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):

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A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.

 

The three sailors in On the Town (1949):

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Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.

 

Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):

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Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.

 

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):

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Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.

 

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):

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You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.

 

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):

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Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.

 

Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):

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Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.

 

Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):

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Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.

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It cost me a lot, but I happen to have four versions of “My Man” at my disposal. I could slide down the wall and weep in the corner for days when a heartbroken Billie Holiday asks, “What can I do?” Years later Ella Fitzgerald peps it up slightly, and trust me, if Peggy Lee comes back on her knee someday, her man is sure to get a foot-stompin’ earful about how he’s treated her . . . cold and wet tired, you bet, but all that she won’t soon forget.

At the age of 83, Omar Sharif died today. When Barbra closes out Funny Girl (1968) with “My Man,” tears streaming all the way down to her pantyhose, my skin tingles with the desire both to punch and kiss Sharif’s Nick Arnstein. Although well known for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), to me Omar Sharif will always be Nicky Arnstein (he’s got polish on his nails!), the gorgeous man who leads Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice gently into womanhood, only to leave her singing and crying and finger-nailing her way through the grand finale of Funny Girl.

Today Barbra Streisand called Omar Sharif “handsome, sophisticated, and charming. He was a proud Egyptian, and in some people’s eyes, the idea of casting him in Funny Girl was considered controversial. Yet somehow, under the direction of William Wyler, the romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice.”

We lost Mr. Sharif at a ripe old age, sure, but after I heard the news, I wanted to hop on a tugboat and scream, “Hey Mr. Arrrrrrnstein!” until I felt enough respect had been paid, or an arrest was made . . . either way, he’d get a kick out of it.

Remembering Omar Sharif (1932–2015)

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I was raised by a group of fugitives. As a family, we have been on the run from the authorities since I was young enough to bring my Bette Midler records to preschool for show-and-tell. When I was around seven years old, we took a trip to Yosemite and shared one of those large tent cabins with other families . . . looking back on that experience now, we’re all a bit baffled by my parents’ decision to go against our “excuse me, you’re in my space” personalities. As it has been since the dawn of time and plumbing, the line for the men’s showers in Yosemite was much shorter than that for the women’s, and after a few days, a small group of female campers, my mother included, decided to get in the men’s line.

While I stood innocently in line with Mom, my fellow men, and five or six disobedient women in need of a shower, the good-hearted Yosemite security guards came rolling up, determined to kick these evil ladies out of line. Despite arguments from the equally good-hearted men who stood in line with us (none of them objected to the situation or its possibilities), eventually all of the women gave in and returned to wait in their assigned shower line . . . well, almost all of them. As the security guards strolled through the men’s showers, they belted out every few seconds, “Any women in here?” Deciding for once in my life to act like “one of the guys” and do what everybody else is doing, I looked one of those guards right in the face and answered with a firm, “No!” On other side of the stall door behind me, Mom quietly showered under the protection of her son and her fellow male campers. Not that she needed us.

A few years after Yosemite had given us a taste for crime and defying of authority, we spent a long summer afternoon at our favorite vacation spot in San Diego, just 20 minutes from our house. It was there that we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for a lunch check that was never to arrive. In those days, when Dad got that look on his face and said, “That’s it,” it really was. He and my sister snuck out of the restaurant first, while Mom and I waited a few minutes before making our final dine-and-dash. The two of us were already experienced criminals, so the exit order made sense to all involved parties. Mom and I learned after the fact that my father and sister spotted a police car on their way out but left us to fend for ourselves. Not that we needed them.

It didn’t take long for us to graduate to movie-theatre-hopping on those scorching summer days before air conditioning. Under the large and anonymous cover of a chilled movie theatre, one could, oh, hypothetically, buy a ticket for one film and casually stroll into a second or third. Our mug shots could very well be taped up behind a couple of restaurant counters or shower stalls, and perhaps we haven’t always behaved as model citizens . . . but what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?

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The Lion in Winter . . . saying enough is saying too much about this marvel of a film. I have given copies as birthday gifts; I have forced friends to stay in on their Saturday nights for wine and a viewing; I have recited quotes both in my head and aloud when I needed a boost of confidence . . . this one is not to be missed! James Goldman’s Academy Award-winning script based on his own play is the perfect tool for talents such as Katharine Hepburn and her king, played with relish by Peter O’Toole. As Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the two giants feed off of one another, both as characters and as actors. The story of a king in a fierce battle with his queen over which son will inherit the throne sets the stage for what I have crowned as my favorite Hepburn performance. In a rare tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968), it is with this delectable role that Hepburn became the first and only woman (as of 2013) to win three Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

On Thanksgiving we convinced Mom to watch The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Although I can’t seem to find a written or digital record of it, I remember hearing that Anthony Hopkins considered his depiction of Hannibal Lecter to be a combination of Charles Manson and Katharine Hepburn. Even if I’m creating this fact entirely in my head, it is absolutely an accurate description of the man who beats the Wicked Witch of the West on those frivolous “All-Time Greatest Movie Villains” lists. Anthony Hopkins makes one of his first appearances in The Lion in Winter as the son for whom Hepburn’s character is determined to win the throne. Praising his skills, she informed him that he didn’t need to act; he could let the camera do all the work. “Leave the acting to me,” she said. “I act all over the place.” Years later when Hopkins walked up on to the stage and accepted an Academy Award for Lambs, somewhere there must have been a grateful little Lion in him.

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“Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.” As alliances within the royal family change at the blink of a sly eye, The Lion in Winter reminds its audience that no one can press emotional buttons like the members of one’s family. While oftentimes they can love us in the ways we need to be loved, this also gives them the power of knowing precisely which sword can cause the greatest amount of pain. Henry’s fear of death is well known by his wife and three sons, providing Eleanor (to our delight) with numerous opportunities to slay her man. When he asks her for a little peace after all the years of brawling, Eleanor replies in the most Hepburn of voices, “A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace . . . now there’s a thought.” When I first saw the beautiful mountains of Switzerland, I was so mesmerized, that I had to remind myself to breathe. The same is true for a climactic scene during which Henry and Eleanor, in mere seconds, dart back and forth between loving and despising one another. Switzerland and Hepburn . . . the two experiences for which I need an inhaler.

“Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.”

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Academy Awards for The Lion in Winter (1969): Best Actress in a Leading Role (tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl), Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Best Music (Original Score)

Add The Lion in Winter to your queue.

Today is Mom’s birthday, a perfect opportunity to say a brief word about one of her favorite films. Funny Girl follows the rise of comedienne Fanny Brice and her early career in as a Ziegfeld girl in New York City. The film adaptation is a merry roller coaster through Barbraland, yet another one of our beloved oh-that’s-where-that-song-is-from musicals. You’ll find “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on practically every mixed CD in Mom’s car (okay yes, that’s partially my doing), and the remaining lively soundtrack is scattered throughout the labyrinth of her glove box.

To those of you who have developed an aversion to Barbra and shy away from films like Funny Girl (I’ve met more of you than I expected), here is the strongest piece of evidence I can offer in its defense. At the 1969 Academy Awards, Ingrid Bergman was stunned to find not one but two names in the envelope for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In this incredibly rare but warranted tie, Barbra Streisand was humbled to be in the regal company of Katharine Hepburn, who also won for her phenomenal performance in The Lion in Winter. Now I ask you, with a Hepburn Oscar staring you in the face, how can you resist comparing these two incomparable performances?

For once in my life, just once, I didn’t say too much, I didn’t say too little; I said just enough, then I walked . . . Happy birthday, Mom!

Add Funny Girl to your queue.