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Based on the rags-to-riches life of real-life comedienne Fanny Brice, Funny Girl follows Fanny's life as a young ugly duckling from New York's Lower East Side to a headlining star with the Ziegfeld Follies. Hired into the Follies as a singer, Fanny (Barbra Streisand) causes a sensation with her immense talent and becomes one of Broadway's brightest stars. She meets and marries the man of her dreams, the charming gambler Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif). As Fanny's star rises, however, Nicky has trouble dealing with her success. His shady business dealings begin catching up with him and Fanny must face the possibility of life without him.
Director: William Wyler
Musical Numbers Director: Herbert Ross
Assistant Director: Jack Roe, Ray Gosnell
Producer: Ray Stark
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart (Based on the stage musical Funny Girl, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart)
Art Direction: Gene Callahan (Production Designer), Robert Luthardt (Art Director)
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editing: Robert Swink, Maury Winetrobe, William Sands
Set Decoration: William Kiernan, Richard M. Rubin
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
Cast: Barbra Streisand (Fanny Brice), Omar Sharif (Nick Arnstein), Kay Medford (Rose Brice), Anne Francis (Georgia James), Walter Pidgeon (Florenz Ziegfeld), Lee Allen (Eddie Ryan), Mae Questel (Mrs. Strakosh), Gerald Mohr (Branca), Frank Faylen (Keeney), Mittie Lawrence (Emma), Gertrude Flynn (Mrs. O'Malley), Penny Santon (Mrs. Meeker), John Harmon (Company Manager).
C-154m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
Why FUNNY GIRL is Essential
It's hard to imagine a time when anyone didn't know who Barbra Streisand was, but Funny Girl introduced her to the world with her unforgettable first line, "Hello, gorgeous!" The film marked Streisand's big screen debut in a role that couldn't have been more perfectly suited to her. Funny Girl gave her a chance to showcase her immense talents as a singer, comedienne and a dramatic actress. It couldn't have been a more auspicious feature film debut. Streisand became an instant movie star and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her funny and heartbreaking performance.
Streisand managed to do what many Broadway greats like Ethel Merman and Mary Martin had not been able to: successfully transition from a career on the musical stage to a career as a leading lady in films. Even though Streisand had caused a sensation with her portrayal of Brice on Broadway, many didn't believe that she had the looks to be a movie star. Streisand, however, proved them all wrong and showed that a girl with an unconventional face could still be a box office draw and beautiful in her own way.
While Funny Girl established Barbra Streisand as a superstar, it also confirmed her reputation as "difficult" that has followed her to this day. As a perfectionist, Streisand often found herself locking horns with producer Ray Stark and other crew members during the making of Funny Girl despite the fact that she was a film neophyte. Love her or hate her, however, there is no denying Streisand's immense talent that comes through in every frame of Funny Girl.
Funny Girl marked the first and only musical ever made by the legendary director William Wyler. Wyler, who had won Academy Awards for directing such films as Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959), was 65 years old and hard of hearing when Funny Girl came his way. Not one to back down from a challenge, Wyler tackled the project head-on and Funny Girl wound up being one of the top grossing box office films of 1968 and garnering eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. "If Beethoven could write his Eroica Symphony stone deaf," Wyler said to producer Ray Stark, "then William Wyler can do a musical."
by Andrea Passafiume
Funny Girl (1968)
Funny Girl was followed by a sequel in 1975 called Funny Lady. It picked up with Fanny Brice's later life with second husband Billy Rose and starred Barbra Streisand and James Caan. It was directed by Herbert Ross, who staged the musical numbers in Funny Girl. While it was disappointing to most critics and moviegoers compared to Funny Girl, the sequel still did solid business.
The original Broadway show of Funny Girl opened March 26, 1964 and ran for 1348 performances. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards.
On September 23, 2002 a one-night-only concert performance of Funny Girl was given at New York's New Amsterdam Theatre as a benefit for the Actors' Fund. It featured performers such as Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Ana Gasteyer and Jane Krakowski singing various songs from the show.
In 1968 Diana Ross and the Supremes released an album of cover songs from Funny Girl called Diana Ross and the Supremes Sing and Perform Funny Girl. It was not a hit and turned out to be the lowest ranking album ever released by The Supremes. It is a hard to find recording and has never been released on CD.
Barbra Streisand released a single of the song "People" written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill in January 1964 and it peaked at number 5 on the Billboard charts. It was Streisand's first Top 40 hit.
The song "People" from both the Broadway show and movie version of Funny Girl has been recorded numerous times by artist such as Jack Jones and Perry Como.
Singer Bobby Darin recorded a version of the Funny Girl song "Don't Rain on My Parade" in 1966. This version was used in the trailer for Steven Spielberg's 2002 film Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
by Andrea Passafiume
Funny Girl (1968)
The producer of Funny Girl, Ray Stark, was married to the only daughter of Fanny Brice and Nick Arnstein, Frances.
Anne Bancroft and Carol Burnett were both considered to play Fanny Brice in the Broadway production of Funny Girl before Barbra Streisand came on board.
Barbra Streisand gave her famous concert in New York's Central Park while in preparations for Funny Girl. The concert was filmed in June 1967 and aired on television titled A Happening in Central Park a year later.
While director William Wyler and Barbra Streisand were shooting the scene in a train station where Fanny sings "Don't Rain on My Parade," Streisand tried to convince Wyler to let her make an entrance like Greta Garbo in the 1935 film Anna Karenina. According to the 1995 William Wyler biography A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director William Wyler, Streisand said, "Willie, I have this idea. Why don't we do a takeoff on Garbo's entrance in Anna Karenina. You know, because I had to appear in the train doorway...Let's put smoke in the shot and I'll appear at the top of the stairs and I'll cough through the smoke and come down the steps." Wyler, according to Streisand, said no.
Barbra Streisand tied with Katharine Hepburn for Best Actress - a first in the history of the Academy Awards.
Ingrid Bergman presented Barbra Streisand with the Academy Award for Best Actress on April 14, 1969.
Aretha Franklin sang the song "Funny Girl" at the Academy Awards ceremony, which was nominated for Best Original Song.
Assuming that Barbra Streisand, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, voted for herself as Best Actress, it would mean that her vote caused her to tie with Katharine Hepburn. The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse confirmed that they counted and re-counted the votes, and it was an exact tie.
Barbra Streisand wore a wig from her film On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) to the Academy Awards when she accepted the Best Actress Oscar® for Funny Girl.
While she was filming Funny Girl in California, Barbra Streisand along with husband Elliott Gould and 6-month-old son Jason rented a house once owned by Greta Garbo.
Sidney Lumet was the original director of Funny Girl, but he left the project due to "creative differences."
According to the 1985 book Barbra Streisand: The Woman, the Myth, the Music by Shaun Considine, composer Jule Styne was unhappy with the orchestrations in the film version of Funny Girl. "I was upset with the orchestrations for the entire movie," he is quoted as saying. "They were going for pop arrangements...They dropped eight songs from the Broadway show and we were asked to write some new ones. They didn't want to go with success. It was the old-fashioned MGM Hollywood way of doing a musical. They always change things to their way of vision, and they always do it wrong. But, of all my musicals they screwed up, Funny Girl came out the best."
Co-stars Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif had an affair during the making of Funny Girl which Sharif details in his 1976 autobiography The Eternal Male. Later he told Rex Reed, "She's a monster. I had nothing to do but stand around. But she's a fascinating monster. Sometimes I just stood on the sidelines and watched her. I think her biggest problem is that she wants to be a woman and she wants to be beautiful and she is neither."
Funny Girl had its first sneak preview in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The songs "My Man," "Second Hand Rose" and "I'd Rather Be Blue" from Funny Girl were all closely associated with the real Fanny Brice.
According to many sources, Barbra Streisand's reputation as a self-absorbed diva began partly as a result of a party thrown for her by producer Ray Stark. Stark wanted to introduce Streisand to his powerful Hollywood friends before shooting began on Funny Girl. She reportedly not only showed up very late, but she also spent the entire time at the party holed up in a single room forcing anyone who wanted to meet her to come to her. Stark's guests found her rude, aloof and arrogant for keeping them waiting. Streisand claimed that she was just shy about meeting them.
Barbra Streisand's third television special The Belle of 14th Street aired on October 11, 1967 while she was in the midst of filming Funny Girl.
Arnold Scaasi designed Barbra Streisand's infamous eyebrow-raising see-through outfit that she wore to the Academy Awards the night she won Best Actress for Funny Girl. "The outfit seemed see-through," he said, "but it wasn't really. It was underlined with nude-colored georgette crepe. There were pockets over the bosom with double and triple fabric if you look closely at the outfit there's nothing indecent about it at all. But none of us considered what would happen under glaring lights, or when the flashbulbs went off. The lights eliminated the black net covering [and] made it seem that you were seeing Barbra's skin."
When designer Arnold Scaasi tried to defend his design for Streisand's sexy Academy Awards outfit he explained, "What I tried to do was present Barbra as the modern young woman she was. Young girls were wearing things like that all over the world. Barbra had an older image because of Funny Girl, but this night she could be herself, her own person, youthful and current."
Herbert Ross, who staged the musical numbers in Funny Girl, went on to direct Barbra Streisand in two films: The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) and the sequel to Funny Girl, Funny Lady (1975).
Columbia restored the film negative of Funny Girl for the DVD release in 2001. The process took a painstaking three years.
Famous Quotes from FUNNY GIRL
FANNY BRICE (Barbra Streisand): (looking in the mirror) Hello, gorgeous.
FANNY: You think beautiful girls are going to stay stars forever? I should say not! Any minute now they're going to be out! Finished! Then it'll be my turn!
NICK ARNSTEIN (Omar Sharif): I'd be happy to wait while you change.
FANNY: I'd have to change too much, nobody could wait that long.
FANNY: Where I come from, when two people... well, sort of love each other... oh, never mind.
NICK: Well? What do they do when they "sort of love each other"?
FANNY: Well, one of them says, "Why don't we get married?"
FANNY: Yeah, and sometimes it's even the man.
FANNY: You could get lonesome being that free.
NICK: You could get lonesome being that busy.
FANNY: Now who'd think to look at you and me and see we got the same problem!
FANNY: He's a gentleman. A gentleman fits in anyplace.
ROSE BRICE (Kay Medford): A sponge fits in any place.
ROSE BRICE: When you look at him, you only see what you want to see.
FANNY: I see him as he is. I love him as he is!
ROSE BRICE: Fanny. Love him a little less. Help him a little more.
FANNY: I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls!
NICK: Goodbye, funny girl.
ROSE BRICE: What kind of mother would name a boy Florence?
EDDIE RYAN (Lee Allen): It's Florenz-zzz.
ROSE BRICE: What kind of mother would name a boy Florenz-zzzzzz?
FANNY: "No law against waiting," I said, "people do it all the time." For once, I didn't say too much, I didn't say too little, I said just what I said and then walked.
FLORENZ ZIEGFELD (Walter Pidgeon): Miss Brice, do I have to remind you this is my theatre?
FANNY: So, what, nobody argues with the landlord?
FANNY: Flo! Flo, quit yelling or your ulcer will flare up.
ZIEGFELD: That's funny coming from you, you gave me that ulcer!
FANNY: If I can't tell when you're ordering roast beef and potatoes, how will I know when you're making advances?
NICK: You'll know. I'll be much more direct.
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume
Funny Girl (1968)
Producer Ray Stark wanted to bring the story of comedienne Fanny Brice to the big screen since her death in 1951. He had always been fascinated by the story of the ordinary looking girl with the big talent who came from nothing to become one of show business' biggest stars. Stark had another unique interest in the project: he was married to Fanny Brice's only daughter, Frances.
Stark had commissioned an authorized biography to be written about his famous mother-in-law before she died in 1951. Brice was in the midst of dictating her memoirs to help with the book when she passed away. With her death, the rights to Brice's life story fell into Stark's hands. When he saw a draft of the biography that he had commissioned, however, he was not happy with it and reportedly bought the printers' plates for $50,000 in order to keep it from being published. Instead, he commissioned writer Ben Hecht to work on a screenplay depicting Brice's life. He also reportedly purchased the rights to other treatments and screenplays that other studios had in the works about Brice to ensure that his project reached the public first.
Not satisfied with Hecht's script, Stark had other writers take a stab at the Fanny Brice story. It reportedly went through at least 10 different versions before writer Isobel Lennart came up with a script she titled My Man, named after one of Brice's most famous signature songs.
Stark considered making the Fanny Brice project into a motion picture right away. Columbia even offered him $400,000 for the rights to My Man, but Stark turned them down. He knew that the project had great potential, but had come to believe that it stood a better chance for success if it began as a stage musical. "Books are the most personal form," said Stark at the time, "plays open up more, and films are worlds unto themselves. It seemed wise to open it halfway as a trial before going the whole way with a film and also to be able to view a 'dry run' for a film."
With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and a book by Isobel Lennart, the stage musical, re-titled Funny Girl, opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on March 26, 1964 starring a 22-year-old powerhouse talent from Brooklyn named Barbra Streisand. Streisand had already appeared on Broadway in a featured role as Miss Marmelstein in the 1962 production of I Can Get It for You Wholesale and had won two Grammy awards for her 1963 debut album The Barbra Streisand Album. Funny Girl had originally been slated for actress Anne Bancroft to star in, but composer Jule Styne had seen Streisand in I Can Get It For You Wholesale and was knocked out by her. Styne later admitted that after hearing Streisand, he wrote the score with her specifically in mind. While Streisand was singing a nightly gig at the Bon Soir, a Greenwich Village nightclub, Ray Stark went to see her and knew instantly that she was the perfect person to play Fanny Brice. The Funny Girl stage musical was a smash and made Barbra a Broadway star. She continued to appear in Funny Girl for over a year.
With the stage musical of Funny Girl a proven success, Ray Stark believed it was time to make the film version of it. The screenplay went through several revisions, with final credit going to original writer Isobel Lennart. Eight songs were dropped from the original Broadway score. Gone were "The Music That Makes Me Dance," "Cornet Man" and "I Want to Be Seen with You." In their place several new songs were added, including "Roller Skate Rag," "I'd Rather Be Blue Over You," and one of Fanny Brice's signature songs, "My Man."
For Ray Stark, it was a given that Barbra Streisand would reprise her role as Fanny Brice for the movie version of Funny Girl. "There was no question about who would do the movie," said Stark. "I just felt she was too much a part of Fanny, and Fanny was too much a part of Barbra to have it go to someone else." Some studio executives at Columbia, however, were not so sure. While it was clear that Streisand could command Broadway, movie audiences didn't know her. She had never acted in a feature film before, much less starred in one. Besides, she didn't have the traditionally beautiful looks of a movie star. Broadway was one thing, but how would Streisand look magnified forty feet wide? There was too much at stake. Columbia wanted Shirley MacLaine. Ray Stark balked. It would be Streisand, he said, or there would be no movie of Funny Girl. Finally, Columbia agreed.
Stark signed Barbra Streisand to a four picture deal with his company Rastar Productions. It was an unprecedented demonstration of faith in someone who had never made a single movie before. Streisand became the talk of Hollywood. Who was this girl? Could she really pull this off? Funny Girl would make or break Streisand's film career. Other Broadway greats like Ethel Merman and Mary Martin had tried to make the transition to the silver screen and failed. Streisand was determined to prove that she was a movie star. Her career had been slowly gaining momentum since she had appeared on Broadway by doing concerts, television specials and records. When her first film was finally released, Streisand didn't want it to be just good. She needed it to be great.
Stark had to find a director for Funny Girl. Streisand wanted someone strong who could command her respect and draw the best performance out of her. Mike Nichols, George Roy Hill, and Gene Kelly were all considered. Ultimately, however, Stark signed Sidney Lumet to direct Funny Girl. Lumet didn't last long on the production, however. Six months into preparations for the film, Lumet bowed out of the project, citing the ever vague "creative differences."
Stark next approached legendary director William Wyler about taking over. Wyler had directed some of the best films to come out of Hollywood and had earned three Academy Awards for Best Director for his work on Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Ben-Hur (1959). Wyler not only had a proven track record of making excellent films, he also had a knack for demanding and getting great performances from talented actresses who had been labeled "difficult" such as Bette Davis and Margaret Sullavan. Four women (Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Audrey Hepburn, and Greer Garson) had won the Academy Award for Best Actress under his direction. He would be perfect to direct someone like Barbra Streisand. When Stark told Streisand that he was considering Wyler, she had never heard of him. When he gave her a list of Wyler's films and told her that he had won the Academy Award recently for directing Ben-Hur, she reportedly said, "Chariots! How is he with people, like women? Is he any good with actresses?"
At first, Wyler said no. He was interested in the project, but had never directed a musical before and at the age of 65, Wyler wasn't sure he could do it. Wyler also suffered from significant hearing loss which he thought could affect his judgment on a musical. According to Wyler's wife Margaret "Talli" Tallichet, his brother Robert pushed him to take the job. "Bob thought it was a terrific property," said Talli according to the 1995 book A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director William Wyler. "He just smelled it was going to be really something. He was very high on Barbra and the whole project."
In the end it was Barbra Streisand that convinced Wyler to do Funny Girl along with the challenge of doing the kind of film that he had never done before. "What captivated me was of course, Barbra," Wyler is quoted in his 1973 authorized biography by Axel Madsen, "and my principal concern was to present her under the best possible conditions as a new star and a new personality. She was terribly eager, like Bette Davis used to be, to do different and new things. She wanted everything to be the very best. The same as I do." He was also interested in helping establish her as the movie star she wanted to be. "I wouldn't have done the picture without her," he said. "She's an interesting performer and represented a challenge for me because she's never been in films, and she's not the usual glamour girl."
As for William Wyler's hearing loss that he feared would be a problem on Funny Girl, he decided to face that challenge head on, too. "If Beethoven could write his Eroica Symphony stone deaf," he reportedly told producer Ray Stark, "then William Wyler can do a musical." Wyler moved into an office on the Columbia Studios lot to work on Funny Girl and announced to the press, "When I've completed this one, I will be a man who has done everything in the making of all kinds of motion pictures."
First rate choreographer Herbert Ross was hired to stage the musical numbers in Funny Girl. Ross had worked with Barbra Streisand once before in the Broadway production of I Can Get It for You Wholesale, for which he also staged the musical numbers.
It took quite awhile to find the right leading man to play Nick Arnstein opposite Streisand. Funny Girl was clearly Streisand's show, and it wasn't easy to convince an established star to play second fiddle to a newcomer. Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck both turned it down. Sean Connery and James Garner were considered. According to composer Jule Styne, Frank Sinatra was interested in playing Arnstein if the role was expanded and some new songs were added for him. "I wanted Frank," said Styne. "What a powerhouse bill that would be. Streisand and Sinatra together...I called Ray Stark. Ray said Sinatra was too old, that they needed someone with more class. So who do they pick? Omar Sharif, who couldn't sing and was an Arab. You figure it out. That's Hollywood."
Omar Sharif had made his mark in Hollywood in films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). The dashing Egyptian actor was certainly handsome enough to play Arnstein, but no one ever thought of Sharif until William Wyler noticed him having lunch in the Columbia Studios commissary. As Sharif describes in his 1976 autobiography The Eternal Male: My Own Story, "They were getting ready to do Funny Girl and...were looking for a co-star. That wasn't such an easy assignment. The screenplay was built around Barbra. What actor would agree to play her straight man? Fanny Brice sang, cracked jokes, fascinated the audiences; Nick Arnstein...had to content himself with giving her cues and looking good in a tuxedo...Apparently it was no cinch to find an actor who could look relaxed in a tuxedo. I just happened to be one of those rare individuals, something that started people in the studio canteen joking: 'Why not Omar Sharif?'"
Streisand, who had some say in who would be her leading man, was charmed by Sharif. According to writer Arthur Laurents, "Ray Stark told me that Sharif came in, oozing continental charm. Then Omar bowed elegantly, kissed Barbra's hand, and told her, 'In America you are the woman I have most wanted to meet.' Naturally, he got the part."
Rounding out the cast was Anne Francis in a small role as an aging Ziegfeld girl, Kay Medford in a reprisal of her Broadway role as Fanny's mother Rose, and movie veteran Walter Pidgeon as the great Florenz Ziegfeld.
With husband Elliott Gould and six month-old baby son Jason in tow, the New York-based Streisand flew to California on May 2, 1967 to begin preparations for Funny Girl. It would be the defining role of her career.
by Andrea Passafiume
Funny Girl (1968)
William Wyler, Herbert Ross and the cast of Funny Girl rehearsed for weeks during the summer of 1967 at Columbia Studios in Hollywood. Almost immediately Omar Sharif found himself at the center of a controversy that nearly got him replaced in the film. In June the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War broke out, which according to William Wyler, "sent jitters through Hollywood's Jewish community." As Omar Sharif elaborates in his 1976 autobiography, "All the investments in the production were Jewish. The atmosphere of the studio was pro-Israeli and my co-star was Jewish. Most of the newspapers backed Israel. And I was an Egyptian."
Panic gripped the studio over the politics of the situation. Some people wanted Sharif removed from Funny Girl. Others thought that Sharif should issue a public statement condemning Egypt. Even Barbra Streisand's mother made her feelings against Sharif known. "My daughter isn't going to work with any Egyptian!" she said according to Sharif. Producer Ray Stark was ready to break Sharif's contract when William Wyler, who was also Jewish, stepped in as the voice of reason. "We're in America, the land of freedom," he said according to Sharif, "and you're ready to make yourselves guilty of the same things we're against? Not hiring an actor because he's Egyptian is outrageous. If Omar doesn't make the film, I don't make it either!" Sharif kept his job.
Just prior to shooting, Barbra Streisand took a short break in June to fly back East to perform her famous concert in New York's Central Park. In July, Funny Girl was ready to roll.
Everything was going smoothly until a publicity photo of Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand kissing was released to the newspapers. With the emotions of the Six Day War still running high, the Egyptian press began a campaign to get Sharif's citizenship revoked over the kiss. The Egyptian headline read: "Omar Kisses Barbra, Egypt Angry." When asked to respond to the controversy, Barbra Streisand tried to make light of it. "Egypt angry!" she said. "You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!"
The controversy eventually died down, but the chemistry between Streisand and Sharif did not. Though both were married at the time, the two began an affair while making Funny Girl that lasted for the duration of the production. "Barbra Streisand, who struck me as being ugly at first," said Sharif, "gradually cast her spell over me. I fell madly in love with her talent and her personality. The feeling was mutual for four months - the time it took to shoot the picture." With Streisand's husband Elliott Gould back in New York to take an acting job, the two were free to share romantic evenings and weekends together. Though their relationship didn't last, the affair would ultimately contribute to the breakup of Streisand's already shaky marriage to Gould. William Wyler, who knew about the affair, tried to channel their real-life chemistry into their performances.
Barbra Streisand may have gotten along with Omar Sharif, but there were many others involved with Funny Girl that she alienated with behavior that was often described as "controlling," "rude" and "demanding." There were reports that Streisand was chronically late and that she constantly kept everyone waiting. Some said that she would ask to re-shoot scenes that were already done and try to control every aspect of the production from the lighting design to what sort of shot was needed to who did her hair. No one could believe the audacity of this film neophyte. "Here was this young whippersnapper," said Assistant Director Jack Roe, "telling a very noted director how to do his job." The majority of the extended cast and crew reportedly found her aloof, self-absorbed and inconsiderate. "I thought she was rude during the whole shoot," said Roe. "I didn't like the way she treated people, from Wyler and (cinematographer Harry) Stradling all the way to her personal maid, Gracie." According to some, Harry Stradling threatened to walk off the picture unless Streisand stopped trying to dictate how he should photograph her. Screenwriter Isobel Lennart famously described working with Streisand as "a deflating ego-crushing experience."
Actress Anne Francis, who had a supporting role as aging Ziegfeld girl Georgia, became convinced that Streisand was responsible for having her screen time in Funny Girl cut way down. "She told Harry Stradling how to [photograph] her and Wyler how to direct," Francis said. "It was all like an experience out of Gaslight. There was an unreality about it...I had only one unpleasant meeting with Barbra during the entire five months of rehearsals and production. But the way I was treated, it was a nightmare. And my scenes were whittled from the very good ones and a lot of other ones, to two minutes of voice-over in a New Jersey railroad station." In Streisand's defense, Supervising Editor Robert Swink denied the allegation. "I know the Anne Francis role was cut down terribly," said Swink. "But Willie only did it for the sake of the picture. He had final cut. Streisand didn't."
Gossip spread quickly around the show business world that there was trouble on the set of Funny Girl and that Streisand was butting heads with William Wyler. Some said that Wyler was so intimidated by Streisand that he was letting her push him around while she ran the show herself. It was a charge that Wyler vehemently denied. Yes, Barbra was difficult, he said, but she worked hard and took her work seriously. "I kept hearing reports that Barbra quarreled with me on the picture," said Wyler. "But there was never any evidence of it...With me she worked desperately hard on her part. She kept trying to improve herself; she worried about how she looked; she would come on the set in the morning and ask if we could do a scene over again. She was totally dedicated. She trusted me, and I trusted her." Adding to that Wyler later said, "I'd much rather work with someone like Barbra, a perfectionist insisting on giving her best at all times and expecting it of everyone else, than a star who doesn't give a hoot." Supervising Editor Robert Swink agreed. "I felt they got along well. Streisand was easy for Willie to work with. He had no problem with her. She wasn't what I would call trouble."
Barbra Streisand always had complimentary things to say about her experience working with Wyler. "At the beginning, I guess, before we started the picture, we had the usual differences most people have," she said. "At that point, I think I knew more about Funny Girl than Mr. Wyler. I had played it a thousand times and had read all the revisions of all the scripts...But once we started...well, it couldn't have been a more creative relation...We tried different things and experimented and so forth. It was stimulating and fun and good things came out." She added later, "He was never threatened by my ideas. After [Funny Girl], I was thrown by any director who ever was [threatened] because Willie used to get a kick out of them. He'd use them, not use them, laugh at me, not laugh at me. I mean, he was a wonderful person to collaborate with."
In fact, Wyler's professional relationship with Barbra Streisand was such that he allowed her unprecedented access to his directing process, often letting her watch dailies with him to see how her performance was shaping up. Co-star Anne Francis found this aspect of the director-star relationship threatening. "Every day, Barbra would see the rushes," said Francis, "and the next day my part was cut or something else was cut. Barbra ran the whole show...She had the Ziegfeld girls' scenes changed - one day she told Wyler to move a girl standing next to her because she was too pretty, and the girl wound up in the background. Eventually, the Ziegfeld girls' scenes were eliminated altogether."
Challenging as she was, several on the set also agreed that many of Streisand's instincts were good ones, and that she was often right about things. Her perfectionism, some believed, was merely the result of insecurity. If she was demanding of everyone around her, she was twice as demanding of herself. "She fusses over things," said Wyler, "she's terribly concerned about how she looks, with the photography, the camera, the makeup, the wardrobe, the way she moves, reads a line. She'd tell the cameraman that one of the lights was out way up on the scaffold. If the light that was supposed to be on her was out, she saw it. She's not easy, but she's difficult in the best sense of the word the same way I'm difficult." Herbert Ross, who staged the film's musical numbers, added to that. "We spent hours shooting her to test her in different lights, different makeups, different hairdos," he said. "I was with her the day she saw the first set of dailies. She was terrified it was the first time she'd ever seen herself on film. Well, onscreen she looked a miracle. How could anyone have known that her skin was going to have that brilliant reflective surface, that she was going to look radiant that was just a wonderful plus." Omar Sharif explained, "You have to understand, she's a kid from Brooklyn...She didn't just think she was plain she thought she was ugly. So no wonder that insecurity...Those weren't rumors that she caused trouble during the filming of Funny Girl. There was trouble in wardrobe, in makeup, and so on. But when the whole film sinks or swims on you, you're in trouble."
William Wyler always believed that most of the gossip about him not getting along with Streisand had been stirred up by producer Ray Stark in order to generate publicity for the film. In fact it was Stark himself who clashed more often with both Wyler and Streisand. "Ray Stark wanted to look over Willie's shoulder and find out what was going on," said Robert Swink. "He ordered this to be done and that to be done. Willie didn't work that way."
For the last scene in the film where Fanny sings "My Man" after she has been told goodbye by Nicky Arnstein, William Wyler did something unusual. Normally, actors in musicals lip-synched to pre-recorded music for their singing scenes. Streisand had tried to do that for "My Man", as she did with the other numbers in Funny Girl, but the scene, which was supposed to be emotional and heartbreaking, wasn't working. He and Streisand decided to have her sing live in order for her to truly be in the moment. During the scene, Wyler had Omar Sharif stand behind a nearby curtain and talk to Streisand between takes. Their affair was ending as the Funny Girl shoot came to an end, and Wyler knew that Sharif's presence would have an effect on her performance. "He wanted him around to help build up her sadness," said Robert Swink. "They must've done at least ten takes. Willie shot the thing live and recorded it live. It was pretty emotional for her."
Shooting wrapped on Funny Girl in the Fall of 1967. At the wrap party William Wyler gave Barbra Streisand a director's megaphone, according to William Wyler's 1973 authorized biography, "in mock recognition of her devotion to every aspect of filmmaking including directing." Streisand gave Wyler an 18th century gold watch inscribed "TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME." The two parted ways with a mutual respect. "I was very fortunate to have Willie as my first director," said Streisand. "What was amazing is that when he showed me the first cut of the movie, I would say ninety-five percent of the moments I had picked in my head was in there. It was extraordinary. He just knew when it was right. He used the right moments all the time."
Funny Girl premiered on September 19, 1968 at the Criterion Theater in New York. With everything that Barbra Streisand had riding on the film, she couldn't have asked for a more smashing debut. Funny Girl was a huge hit - the highest grossing film of 1968 - and the reviews were unanimous that Barbra Streisand was a superstar. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress. On April 14, 1969 Barbra Streisand took home the Oscar® for her performance, tying with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968). Taking the stage in her now infamously see-through black Arnold Scaasi outfit, Streisand looked at the Oscar® and said, "Hello, Gorgeous!" mimicking her famous first line in Funny Girl. Streisand was indeed a movie star.
by Andrea Passafiume
Funny Girl (1968)
"I'm the greatest star there is by far, but no one knows it."
Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
In 1968, everybody knew that Barbra Streisand was just about the greatest star in the world. Not only had she soared to the top with a series of smash TV specials, hit recordings and the popular stage musical Funny Girl, but when she made the transition from stage to screen in her first great vehicle, she changed the conception of what a screen queen could look like. Although always the epitome of glamour and a natural clothes horse, Streisand's unconventional features were far from the standard set by such early musical queens as Doris Day and Rita Hayworth. But when she first stepped on screen as Ziegfeld Follies star Fannie Brice, audiences couldn't take their eyes off her.
Funny Girl was the brainchild of producer Ray Stark, whose wife was Brice's daughter by first love Nicky Arnstein. He commissioned Isobel Lennart, a screenwriter noted for crafting strong female roles in films like Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), to create a suitably reverent script. Jule Styne, composer of such classics as "Small World" and "Just in Time," wrote the music, while Bob Merrill, who had done both words and music for the stage hit Carnival, provided the lyrics. With standards like "People" and "Don't Rain on my Parade" in the score and a star-making performance by Streisand, the show became a sensation when it opened in 1964. Streisand would go on to play Brice for two years on stages in New York and London.
Stark had always seen the stage version as a dry run for a film, and with her strong reviews and growing fan base, Streisand seemed the only choice for the lead. But her look was so unconventional that she was ordered to do a screen test to prove she could pull it off. From a combination of pride and fear, the star repeatedly refused Stark's entreaties to make the test until the studio gave in and cast her anyway.
Casting her leading man, Nick Arnstein, was much harder. With Streisand in the lead and taking a keen interest in all production elements, the film was shaping up as a vehicle to launch her film career, which meant that Arnstein would be less prominent in the film. Among those up for the role were TV star David Jannsen, Sean Connery, Gregory Peck and James Garner. Styne wanted Frank Sinatra and even offered to write new songs to expand his part, but Stark decided he was too old. They finally settled on Egyptian heartthrob Omar Sharif, still hot off the success of the David Lean epics Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), because he looked good in a tuxedo. The only problem was that he couldn't sing. They filmed one solo number for Arnstein but ended up cutting it.
At the time Stark hired him, nobody considered the irony of casting an Egyptian actor as the Jewish Arnstein. Then the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out. Studio executives wanted to drop Sharif before the film started shooting, but director William Wyler and Streisand, who had not even met him at the time, threatened to walk off the picture if they did. After production started, a new furor broke out when a shot from one of the stars' love scenes turned up in the Egyptian press. This triggered a movement in Sharif's native land to revoke his citizenship. When the reporters asked Streisand how she felt about the controversy, she quipped, "You really think the Egyptians are angry? You should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose."
Streisand had more than just a professional interest in keeping Sharif on the film by this time. Shortly after production started, the two became involved in an affair. Streisand's husband, Elliott Gould, had been by her side through pre-production and had helped soften her temperamental nature during the soundtrack recording. Then he was offered the chance to play his first major film role in The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), which would shoot in New York. He couldn't turn down the chance to establish an identity separate from his wife's, so he took off, over her objections. Streisand's affair with Sharif would last four months, the time it took to make the film. Then they went their separate ways. So did she and Gould, who would divorce in 1971.
Even on her first film, Streisand was building a reputation as a perfectionist who demanded control over every aspect of her films. During pre-recording, she demanded extensive retakes of her songs until she got them just right. On the set, she often disregarded veteran director William Wyler to express her opinions about costumes and photography. She also had most of her scenes with Anne Francis cut (the latter was a noted Hollywood beauty who played a Ziegfeld chorus girl and Brice's best friend). As a result, Francis sued to have her name removed from the credits.
With stories of her temperament and rumors about her affair with Sharif widely reported in the press, the critics had every reason to savage Funny Girl. But for the most part, they were ecstatic about Streisand's performance and her star presence. Some carped that the film was too obviously created as a vehicle. Writing in The New York Times, Renata Adler called the film "an elaborate, painstaking launching pad, with important talents of Hollywood treating Barbra rather fondly, improbably and even patronizingly, as though they were firing off a gilded broccoli." The film's publicist responded by taking Adler to lunch and having her served a gilded broccoli, just so she could tell the difference.
Streisand's success continued when awards season rolled around. She picked up a Golden Globe, Italy's David di Donatello Award and, in a headline-making tie, the Oscar® for Best Actress. She tied with Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter in the Academy's® only exact tie between actors to date. Funny Girl was one of the year's bigger hits, picking up an additional seven Oscar® nominations, including Best Picture, and a Writer's Guild Award. Streisand would return to the role seven years later for Funny Lady (1975), which dealt with Brice's marriage to producer Billy Rose (James Caan) and featured Sharif in a cameo. The film was directed by Herbert Ross, who had staged and filmed the musical numbers for Funny Girl.
Producer: Ray Stark
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart
Based on the Musical by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill and Lennart
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Art Direction: Robert Luthardt
Music: Jule Styne, Walter Scharf
Cast: Barbra Streisand (Fanny Brice), Omar Sharif (Nick Arnstein), Kay Medford (Rose Brice), Anne Francis (Georgia James), Walter Pidgeon (Florenz Ziegfeld), Lee Allen (Eddie Ryan), Mae Questel (Mrs. Strakosh), Tommy Rall (Prince in Swan Lake parody).
C-154m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Frank Miller
Funny Girl (1968)
AWARDS AND HONORS
Funny Girl was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Barbra Streisand), Best Supporting Actress (Kay Medford), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Song ("Funny Girl"), Best Musical Score, and Best Sound. Barbra Streisand won for Best Actress.
The film's editing team of William Sands, Robert Swink and Maury Winetrobe was nominated for an ACE (American Cinema Editors) Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film.
Funny Girl was nominated for three BAFTA Awards: Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.
William Wyler was nominated for a DGA (Directors Guild of America) Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.
Funny Girl was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, Best Director, and Best Original Song ("Funny Girl"). Barbra Streisand won for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
Isobel Lennart won a WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award for her Funny Girl screenplay. It was for Best Written American Musical.
In 2002 Funny Girl was ranked number forty-one on the American Film Institute's list "100 Years...100 Passions" which named the best love stories of all time.
In 2004 the song "People" from Funny Girl was ranked number thirteen on AFI's list of the greatest movie songs "100 Years...100 Songs." The song "Don't Rain on My Parade" was ranked number 46.
In 2005 Barbra Streisand's famous opening line from Funny Girl "Hello, gorgeous" was ranked number eighty-one on AFI's list of the greatest movie quotes "100 Years...100 Movie Quotes."
In 2006 the American Film Institute named Funny Girl the 16th best movie musical of all time.
The Critics' Corner: FUNNY GIRL
"Barbra Streisand's star qualities need no iteration and it is not surprising to have her emerge as a superstar in the Technicolor-Panavision milieu of the screen. By now no one even dares set foot in her parade, let alone drizzle thereon...What comes clearer on the big screen than on the stage or television is how good an actress she is...She creates, on screen, a person rather than merely a personality. She is a clown and a tragedienne, a combination of waif and nice-Jewish-girl, of gamine and galumpher; she is that contemporary enigma, the beautiful ugly who defies classic form. She is, in effect, a startling piece of pop art with a glitteringly evident potential for permanence, depending ultimately on her surroundings and her own propensity for development."
New York Magazine
"[Watching] Funny Girl is like suddenly immersing oneself in warm, melted marshmallow. The much-honored William Wyler has piloted this popular musical from stage to screen, and it has a way of making the calendar flip back some twenty years to the days of Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth, with one notable modernization-Barbra Streisand."
- Saturday Review
"[Streisand] may have omitted an a from her name, but Barbra leaves nothing out of Funny Girl. Gags, production numbers, vaudeville mugging and tearstained love scenes receive the same manic stress and fervor. As in the Broadway show, when the jokes are good, Barbra displays the best timing East of Mae West. When Jule Styne's numbers are deserving 'People,' 'Don't Rain on My Parade' she warms them with meticulous emotional phrasing until they glow like a marquee."
- Time Magazine
"When she is singing in a marvelous scene on roller skates when she throws a line away, or shrugs, or looks funny or sad, she has a power; gentleness and intensity that rather knocks all the props and sets and camera angles on their ear."
The New York Times
"It is not surprising that after almost two seasons on Broadway and a healthy run in London's West End, playing the Fanny Brice role she created, that Barbra Streisand in her Hollywood debut makes such a marked impact. The charismatic ingredients of the smash musical, the star's inspired song stylings, with the deliberately offbeat...casting of Omar Sharif in the Nick Arnstein role, combine into one of the more important roadshow filmusicals."
"It is impossible to praise Miss Streisand too highly...She turns out, curiously enough, to be a born movie star. It was her voice that made her famous, and that's fair enough. But it will be her face and her really splendid comic ability that make her a star. She has the best timing since Mae West, and is more fun to watch than anyone since the young Katharine Hepburn. She doesn't actually sing a song at all; she acts it. She does things with her hands and face that are simply individual; that's the only way to describe them. They haven't been done before. She sings, and you're really happy you're there."
"A bravura performance by Barbra Streisand. As Fanny Brice, she has the wittiest comic inflections since the comediennes of the 30s; she makes written dialogue sound like inspired improvisation. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, phlegmatic Omar Sharif appears to be some sort of visiting royalty, with a pained professional smile to put the common people at their ease. But Streisand's triumphant talent rides right over the film's weaknesses."
"The film's central irony is not the usual one of public success at the expense of private pain, but the complex one of success at the expense of personal knowledge. Streisand never looks into the mirrors that Wyler surrounds her with. Well worth watching, even if most later Streisand movies aren't."
- Phil Hardy, TimeOut Film Guide
"While the 1960s swung, this spirited, good-natured but creakily old-fashioned picture lived in a different zeitgeist. It had the semi- fantasized stage musical sequences of a previous age. It suggested a Jewish identity for Fanny, but not too emphatically. It had smiling, submissive "coloured help". Streisand's attempts at being "funny" are an embarrassing kind of cleaned up Mae West schtick. But songs like "Don't Rain on My Parade" live triumphantly on."
- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.co.uk
"Streisand is a great Funny Girl and there's something entertaining in every scene, but I always think of it as a watershed movie, from the time when the definitions of success and talent and getting ahead in show business were changing. Not Streisand - she's a doll with a remarkable voice, especially in the final number which is actually shot live and not to recorded playback. I'm talking about the swift rise of the fictional Fanny Brice seen here, who hopefully was not like the character in the movie."
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
"Bad as biography, but first rate as musical..."
- Leonard Maltin's Film & Video Guide
"Streisand is stunning, but the film is a trial, particularly when the music disappears somewhere around the 90-minute mark and all that's left is leaden melodrama."
- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"William Wyler's musical debut is less assured than one would have liked, but no matter...The oddly cast Sharif is better than usual, but Streisand, of course, is most of the show, belting out songs, pulling heartstrings, alternating between raucous slapstick and dramatic power, and generally demonstrating that she has arrived in a big way."
- TV Guide
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume