Photo courtesy of Sony Records
I have just spent a wonderful two hours listening to the new Barbra Streisand album, What Matters Most, in which she sings the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, 12 songs by them which she had not previously recorded, having already recorded 51 songs which they composed. This album yesterday opened at #4 on the Billboard best-seller list, her 31st album to open in the top ten of that industry index... passing The Beatles but not yet topping Sinatra. (The album is dedicated to our mutual friend, the late film director Sydney Pollack, who directed her in The Way We Were.) Again, I am simply stunned at this amazing artist, who phrases her songs in a way which captures the intent of the lyrics beyond belief.
Many years ago (1961, I believe), my best friend at the time, Marty Bregman, brought a slim 18-year-old girl to visit me at my apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan. He said she had just opened at a Greenwich village nightclub, the Bon Soir, and we were going to see her that evening. She was wearing a long knitted coat which she told me she had made herself, and we animatedly discussed our mutual upbringing in a Jewish family in Brooklyn. I recall her saying that she wanted to be an actress... but began singing when she couldn't get work acting. She later said, "I always approach each song as an actress first." She opened for Phyllis Diller, but the moment she opened her mouth and sang, "My Name Is Barbara," a song by Leonard Bernstein, I knew that her singing career would drive her into the pantheon of greatness.
Marilyn and Alan Bergman with Barbra in 1983. Photo courtesy of Sony Records.
Young lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman met her at the same time, at the same nightclub. They were there at the behest of composer Jule Styne, who later went on to write the music for Funny Girl, with lyrics by my close buddy, Bob Merrill (who in the late '70s then wrote the screenplay for my film, W.C. Fields and Me.) I almost worked once with the Bergmans... when I agreed to produce a film which composer Michel Legrande wanted to direct called Blind Love, with a screenplay written by the selfsame Bob Merrill and music composed by the Bergmans. It fell apart after scheduling difficulties.
Michel Legrand with Barbra and Bergmans. Photo courtesy of Sony Records.
And I almost worked once with Barbra, when I optioned the film rights to Frank Loesser's glorious Broadway musical, Most Happy Fella, from his widow, Jo Loesser. I signed film director Irv Kershner to do it, he having done the best of the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back, as well as a film with Barbra. Kersh had a brilliant casting coup lined up, probably the most spectacular I have ever heard. He got Frank Sinatra to agree to play Tony, the vineyard owner who sees and falls in love with the San Francisco hash-house waitress, with Barbra portraying her. Then Kersh convinced Col. Parker to let Elvis Presley play Joe, the foreman of the winery where Barbra comes to wed Tony. The triangle love affair, with that wonderful musical score, almost happened... until Frank refused to play it without his toupee and Kersh would not do it with him wearing it. True story.
I recently ran into Barbra at a screening, and I reminded her that I had produced a film that her husband, James Brolin, starred in called Night of the Juggler, a thriller with a remarkable chase sequence all over New York ending in the tunnels under Central Park. Barbra said, "That is the best movie that James has ever done." I told her about the incident during the filming, when Brolin was running in the park and hurt his foot on a tree stump. I took him to the sports injury doctor at Lennox Hill Hospital and we bandaged him up... but by then the original director called me from the airport to say that he was quitting the film since it would now be a different movie. Two days later I hired Bob Butler to finish the movie... and thanks to executive producers Arnold and Ann Kopelson, it was a huge success in Europe. (Incidentally, Barbra met Brolin at a dinner party given by the Bergmans, when Marilyn seated them together. Obviously something clicked.)
In the album notes for What Matters Most, the Bergmans write: "It was over 50 years ago that we met, 50 years of working together, playing together, sharing holidays, birthdays, quiet times. Some sad, mostly happy. The world has changed around us, but our love for each other is a constant. Clearly she is our muse. Sometimes daughter, sometimes sister. Always beloved friend. The three of us were born in the same Brooklyn hospital years apart. How fortunate we are to be alive at the same time."
And how fortunate we all are to be able to enjoy the stunning talent of this incredible singer. Just listen to her sing, "The Windmills of Your Mind" and you will know what I mean.