1/11/13 - chewing gum and barbra streisand

In today's selection -- in 1960, eighteen-year-old Barbra Streisand made her first real mark when she sang at Bon Soir, a Greenwich Village supper club. Singing came easy to her -- her burning ambition was to act, and some of that acting spilled out at Bon Soir. Sophistication annoyed her, so for her debut, she wanted to do something completely out of place for a posh nightclub:

"At her audition, Barbra had wowed [Bon Soir club proprietor] Ernie Sgroi Sr. The Bon Soir was the closest the Village came to a posh supper club, the 'Greenwich Village version of uptown Blue Angel;' according to Variety. The New York World-Telegramcalled the venue 'one of the lead funspots' in the Village, a 'yock-laden place' given the number of comedy acts that alternated with the torch singers and jazz artists. Every night patrons would line up down the block from the Bon Soir's front door. Downstairs in the club's dark interior, regular joes rubbed shoulders with celebrities. Frequent headliner Kaye Ballard never knew who she might spot sitting in her audience. Sometimes it was Gregory Peck, other times it was Marlene Dietrich. Shows at the Bon Soir generated a real buzz, with patrons often returning two or three nights in a row. 

"For her audition, Barbra had brought along [friends] to provide support. Not surprisingly, she'd sung 'A Sleepin' Bee;' since all the arrangements had already been worked out. It was the first time [friend] Bob [Schulenberg] had ever heard Barbra sing. He was so impressed, so moved, that when they all decamped afterward to the Pam Pam for French fries and coleslaw, he'd been unable to speak. 

"Sgroi had been equally impressed, but he'd wanted to make sure this ambitious little tyro could actually work an audience. So he'd told Barbra to come back that night, where he'd slip her in as a 'surprise guest' on the bill. In between numbers by comedian Larry Storch and the jazz trio the Three Flames, Barbra came out on stage to sing 'A Sleepin' Bee' as well as one other song, a new orchestration that she and Barre had worked out. It was a strange, whimsical choice, and it was this song that she came out of the kitchen singing at her little concert in [friend] Barre [Dennen]'s apartment. [Friend] Carole Gister and the rest of the UCLA contingent were stunned. The song on Barbra's lips was 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?' from the Disney cartoon The Three Little Pigs

 "It had started as a joke. One day while rehearsing for the Bon Soir audition, Barbra had said she 'wanted to do something completely wrong' and out of place for the 'sophisticated, posh little nightclub.' Sophistication 'annoyed' her, she told Barre. She felt like going in there and singing 'a nursery rhyme or something:' 

 "A bell went off in Barre's head. He knew part of the reason Sgroi Jr. had recommended Barbra to his father was her irreverent style. So he located the sheet music for 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?' in an old record shop, brought it home, and was stunned by how 'double-entendre' the lyrics were. Barbra would sing them just as they were written, he decided, but with a little of her own razzmatazz. 

 "That razzmatazz was evident from the moment she stepped onto the stage the night of her surprise tryout at the Bon Soir. As soon as the spotlight was on her, Barbra removed the gum she'd been chewing and stuck it on the microphone. It was something she often did during practice, and both Barre and Bob had suggested she keep it in the act. As they predicted, the audience howled with laughter. Barbra would tell people she'd forgotten the gum was in her mouth, but that, too, was part of the act, part of the saucy, impert-inent stage persona they were developing. So when she capped her set with her sexy rendition of 'Big Bad Wolf;' the cheers went through the roof. 'Kid, you are going to be a very great star;' headliner Larry Storch told Barbra. Right on the spot, Sgroi hired her for a two-week run starting September 9 at $108 a week." 


William J. Mann


Hello, Gorgeous


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2012 by William J. Mann


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