Springtime was an important time for Barbra Streisand's early career as her first TV appearance (Jack Paar, 1961); two Broadway shows; two TV specials; and her Oscar for Best Actress (Funny Girl) all occurred in March or April. The first of her TV specials aired on April 28, 1965. Titled "My Name is Barbra", it coincided with the release of her album by the same name.
The special was shot in black & white and featured no guests, just Barbra. Amazingly, the hour-long telecast was jam-packed with 27 songs (actually, less than an hour when taking commericals into account). The special was critically acclaimed, won three Emmy Awards, and was followed in 1966 by her next special "Color Me Barbra" , which would be another tour de force.
Forgive some of our gay elders if they look askance when the younger generation gushes about seeing the likes of Cher, Barbra or Madonna in concert. This may be because, in their minds, they saw the concert, i.e., Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. This wildly acclaimed performance took place on Sunday, April 23, 1961. And although she was a showbiz veteran, at the time of the concert Judy was still only 38 years old (just four years older than Marilyn Monroe).
Judy's career had been somewhat fallow since the mid-1950s when she appeared in A Star is Born in 1954. She and her managers decided 1961 would be the year for a comeback. After all, she still had quite a reservoir of goodwill from fans to tap into - and she was saddled with debt. Her Carnegie Hall concert was part of a larger tour that went on during April and May. (In addition to the concert tour, she also landed a small, but pivotal, role in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.) In May she returned to Carnegie Hall for another sold-out performance, and then in July she performed at the Forest Hills Tennis Club in Queens.
Judy's live concert album won five Grammy Awards and was the nation's #1 album for 13 weeks. The following year she starred with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in an acclaimed TV special. Due to its ratings success CBS decided to give Judy her own variety show the following year. Unfortunately, it lasted just one season, largely because it had the misfortune of being scheduled opposite Bonanza. Still, Judy was back!
45 years later out singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, who wasn't even born until 1973, gave the very same concert at Carnegie Hall on two nights. He seemed to have much fun as Judy did - and the audience was almost as adoring - but the reviews weren't nearly as glowing. Here, below, is his version of Judy's San Francisco.
Just three months after opening off-Broadway, Mart Crowley'sThe Boys in the Band came to Broadway, opening on Easter Sunday. It offered an unvarnished glimpse of eight homosexuals at a birthday party and was the first play to openly portray the lives of gay men. It ran for three years and was made into a movie in 1970. I first saw the movie in January 1981 when it was showing at the Eighth St. Playhouse in the Village. I found it depressing and dripping in cloying stereotypes. However, I did enjoy the opening credits in which Cole Porter's Anything Goes was playing.
The 2011 documentary Making the Boys tells the story behind the creation of the play. It may also be of interest to fans of Natalie Wood, who is mentioned repeatedly since she was a dear friend of Crowley's (who is now 78, pictured far left). It was directed by Crayton Robey (near left), who also directed the documentary When Ocean Meets Sky, which tells the story of Fire Island Pines.
Unfortunately, like most documentaries that delve into gay history, Making the Boys played in just a few theaters nationwide. In New York it played at Quad Cinema last year for only two weeks. (Luckily, I saw it the last night it was there). It's a sad commentary on the lack of interest in our history. However, it did play at the Tribeca Film Festival and at a number of gay film festivals. Perhaps it will get picked up by LOGO (like When Ocean Meets Sky).
1964 was an outstanding year on Broadway. It began with the opening of Hello, Dolly! and at the end of the year, Fiddler on the Roof got the 1964-65 theater season off to a rousing start. And in between the two was Funny Girl, which opened on March 26, 1964. 21-year-old Barbra Streisand starred, but it had taken a while for her name to come up during casting discussions. Before she was approached, one singer whose name was tossed around was Eydie Gorme; however, she would consider the role only if her husband, Steve Lawrence, was cast in the role of Nicky Arnstein!
Despite receiving eight Tony nominations, Funny Girl went home empty-handed as Hello, Dolly!was the big winner, with ten. However, Barbra would win an Oscar as Best Actress for the movie version, which was released in 1968. (It was the top grossing film of the year.) And when Hello Dolly! was made into a feature film in 1969, it was Streisand who was cast in the title role, not Broadway Dolly's!Carol Channing. (This was also Channing's fate when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was made into a movie in 1953 and Marilyn Monroe was chosen over her, despite Channing's acclaimed performance in Blondes on Broadway.)
I've also published posts about other Broadway openings:
Cher was 22 years old when she gave birth to daughter Chastity on March 4, 1969. Very few children who weren't actors (like Shirley Temple) or the offspring of presidents (e.g., Caroline and John-John Kennedy) received the amount of media attention as did Chastity Bono. As a toddler she was carried out on stage by her parents to say good night at the end of every telecast of their CBS variety show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (which began as a summer replacement series in 1971 when Chastity was 2-1/2 years old.)
Once the show went off the air in the mid-70s Chastity was able to grow up without the glare of cameras. However, attention returned when she was a young adult. First, she started a band named Ceremony and then she came out in the Advocate in 1995. Her visibility took off upon becoming a guest columnist for the magazine, took a high profile positon with GLAAD and became a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign.
And then in 2009 Chastity captured more headlines by announcing that she was transitioning to a male and had her name legally changed to Chaz Bono. A documentary about this transition, titled Becoming Chaz, premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival and in May 2011 had its TV premiere on Oprah Winfrey's new OWN cable network. Then in the fall of 2011 Chaz was chosen to compete on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. More recently, Chaz went on a weight loss program and slimmed down, losing nearly 50 pounds by February 2013.
Chaz's story about coming out to his parents (about five years before his public announcement) is told in the 1998 book Family Outing while a second book The End of Innocence: A Memoir, published in 2003, talks about his band and some trying relationships.
The acclaimed Judy Garland special, "Once in a Lifetime", aired on February 25, 1962. Her guests were Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. (What a sight to see Sinatra sing while puffing away on a cigarette!) The show was a prelude to Judy's regularly scheduled Sunday variety show on CBS that began in the fall of 1963. (However, it had the misfortune of being scheduled opposite Bonanza on NBC and would last just one season.)
The off-Broadway play Fortune and Men's Eyes opened at Actor's Playhouse in the West Village the evening of February 23, 1967. (The play's name was taken from the first line of Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet). It offered up a chilling portrayal of prison life, touching upon subjects such as male-on-male rape and sexual slavery and was very risque for its time. It opened a year before Boys in the Band and more than two years before the Stonewall riots (and 30 years before HBO's Oz).
The play ran for nearly a year and then was released as a movie in 1971. (Although Fortune's stage version opened a year before Boys in the Band, the movie version came out a year after Band's theatrical release - pictured, left). As a teenager I remember seeing small ads for the movie in the Pittsburgh paper, and although I didn't quite know the movie's premise I was very intrigued by the title and the ad's suggestive photo.
When the play opened in Los Angeles a few years later it starred Sal Mineo (who was trying to change his image) and co-starred 23-year old Don "Miami Vice" Johnson (pictured).
There have been three muscial productions of Cinderella that have aired in primetime. The first was in 1957 and starred Julie Andrews (with Kay Ballard and Alice Ghostley as her stepsisters). Forty years later singer Brandy played Cinderella with Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother (Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber also had roles). And in between those two telecasts a production in 1965 starred 18-year old Lesley Ann Warren. Celeste Holm was her fairy godmother, Ginger Rogers was the Queen and Pat Carrol was one of the evil stepsisters. Its 42.2 household rating made it the highest rated TV telecast of 1965.
Probably many boys between the ages of 4-14, who later blossomed into full-fledged homos, gave this telecast their undivided attention. I know I did. I was 7 at the time.
There was so much about this production to captivate, e.g., Cinderella's bitchy stepmother and stepsisters; Cinderella's coach and gown; her fairy godmother; wonderful musical numbers (e.g., Possible;In My Own Little Corner) - and, of course, the prince! He was played by 28-year-old Stuart Damon, who was a cross between Rock Hudson and Max Baer (Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies). Damon later rose to fame for his 30-year role as Doctor Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital.
And despite watching it in black and white (my household didn't get a color TV until 1968) it was still an enchanting experience. And 48 years later this production of Cinderella came to Broadway, albeit with somewhat of a feminist slant.
Frank Sinatra's daughter Nancy had one of the biggest hits of 1966 with Boots, an early song about female empowerment. (Two years earlier Lesley Gore had come out with a similarly-themed song, You Don't Own Me.) It went to #1 the week of February 20. However, it wasn't until twenty years later that the song became part of the "Camp Hall of Fame" when cable network VH-1 uncovered a primitive video for the song that had been produced for video jukeboxes.
I was 8 years old at the time the song was popular and remember thinking that the song was pretty dreadful. Now I've grown to like it, thanks largely to the video with Nancy and her bevy of young vixens with their teased That Girl flips and go-go boots. And who can forget the call to action at the song's end - "Are you ready boots? ... start walkin!".
A year later Nancy and her dad had an even bigger hit with the song Something Stupid, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. It was very popular despite the creepiness factor of father and daughter singing about romantic love.
On Valentine's Day 1962, 32-year-old First Lady Jackie Kennedy gave a televised tour of the White House. It aired on CBS and NBC (and on ABC a number of days later). In addition to discussing the renovations and redecorating she was overseeing, the program also served as a lesson in U.S. history as Jackie told anecdotes about a number of the presidents. This broadcast marked the first time a First Lady had been given TV airtime. Not surprisingly, the special was very popular and drew an audience of 56 million (back when the US had 140 million fewer people than it does today).
My first exposure to the special was in college in 1976 when it was shown on Friday "movie night". I was so surprised by Jackie's soft voice, peculiar accent and her almost childlike demeanor. However, there was charm in her youth and the simplicity of her presentation. And her outfit resembled something First Lady Michelle Obama might wear today (especially the flats).
This special was incorporated into the storyline of an episode of Mad Men during its second season (in 2008). It amused me because it showed the show's various female characters entranced by the broadcast - as well as closeted gay character Sal (played by out actor Bryan Batt) who seemed more excited about watching it than his girlfriend!