By JACK MAJOR
It may shock Carol Burnett fans, but some Broadway bigwigs think the popular TV comedienne has met her match in kookie newcomer Barbra Streisand.
Burnett undoubtedly has a bigger following than Streisand. When Streisand was in Cleveland recently to co-host TV’s “The Mike Douglas Show,” it was obvious most folks in the studio had never seen her before. Had Carol Burnett been the co-host she would have been swamped by fans.
But nonconformist Streisand has a decided edge on one important matter. Both women are eager to headline a Broadway show. Burnett has already done it in “Once Upon a Mattress,” a hit during the the 1958-59 season. But she’d like another conquest.
Streisand has had only a featured role in one Broadway show, and that was last season in David Merrick’s “I Can Get It For You Wholesale.”
Both Burnett and Streisand went after the lead in Merrick’s “Fanny Brice Story” (later changed to “Funny Girl”), which is expected to open later this year.
BURNETT READ for Merrick three times, while Streisand was called back six times. The winner? Barbra Streisand.
Merrick’s enthusiasm for Streisand is such that he has lined up two other Broadway shows for her just in case the “Brice” show doesn’t materialize.
Which brings us to an important question: Just who the heck is Barbra Streisand?
You may have seen her – twice – on Jack Paar’s old “Tonight Show.” She also had semi-regular status as a babbling, scatter-brained comedienne on Mike Wallace’s “PM.” She appeared recently with Garry Moore and Ed Sullivan on their network shows and has an upcoming TV date with Dinah Shore.
Streisand also acquired some sort of distinction when she cut her first record for Columbia. She has the version of “My Coloring Book” that DIDN’T become a hit. (Sandy Stewart and Kitty Kallen were the lucky ones.) Streisand hopes to fare better with her first album, due for release soon.
STRANGE as it may be, Streisand’s rise to stardom – and it is assumed the rise will continue – was caused by her impatience with her acting career, which seemed to be going nowhere. Only 17, she thought it was time to shift gears.
“So I entered a Greenwich Village talent contest as a singer,” she told me. “And I won.”
She was offered the chance to sing at the Bon Soir nightclub. The way she put it, she went along with the gag and accepted the offering, appearing on the bill with comedienne Phyllis Diller.
“I was really a sight,” she said. “I showed up in slacks and sandals. Luckily Phyllis bought me a dress and some shoes for opening night. She was very nice to me.”
Streisand was held over 11 weeks and later returned as a headliner. She has been climbing ever since, but doing it her way. For example, she says she hates colors and purposely dresses in muted, even drab outfits. Even her lipstick shade, Indian curry, is a dull brown.
“After all,” she barked, “I’m not a model.”
SHE STILL considers herself an actress or comedienne-actress, not a singer.
“I’ve never taken voice lessons and never will. I act out my songs more than I sing them. To tell you the truth, I don’t like singing. I think I’m awful. I don’t like other singers, either. What’s singing? Acting is the thing. I think it’s a waste of time to sit around and listen to music.”
Streisand was born in Brooklyn and didn’t leave that borough for 14 years, when, at long last, she went into Manhattan to see a play.
“My mother still lives in Brooklyn. I don’t know if she’s ever seen the rest of New York.”
Streisand made her stage debut as the ugly duckling sister in “Picnic” at the Malden Bridge Summer Theater near Albany, N.Y. She had two more whirls at summer stock, then moved into Greenwich Village.
SHE OPENS her act standing almost stiffy center stage, looking like a little girl lost. Her arms dangle at her side. It sometimes takes her 20 minutes to warm up, to get with the mood of her songs. But when she arrives at the mood, she begins to move and her arms become as expressive as her voice.
Involvement in a Barbara Streisand performance is more emotional than musical. Her fans liken Streisand’s effect on her audience to the one Judy Garland has on hers.
At 20, Streisand looks younger. Her often messy hair reaches her shoulders. She has a little girl’s figure.
IN CONVERSATION she has more questions than answers and often ends her sentences with her favorite expression, “Know what I mean?” She may not know where she’s heading, but she’s darn certain she’s moving.
And that remark she made about her singing? Don’t you believe it. She doesn’t know how she got her singing voice, but she believes it’s a good one. Her occasional attempts at humility don’t ring true, though she tries to be realistic about her future.
“You take that ‘Fanny Brice’ show,” she said. “With Carol Burnett as the star, the producers would be guaranteed an advance sale of $12,000. With me they’ll be lucky to get $1.36.”
But she is positive of this: Once people see her on stage, they won’t be sorry.