2 March 2009 | bkoganbing
A Lot Of Fanny, But All Barbra
There are two important things to remember about Funny Girl when writing about it or discussing it. The first is Nicky Arnstein was still alive in 1964 when it debuted on Broadway, he died the following year. The second is that Ray Stark, the producer of Funny Girl on stage and on the screen is the son-in-law of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein. So off the bat you know you're going to get a sanitized version.
Not that what they created was bad, how could it be for giving Barbra Streisand the role that made her a star on both stage and screen. Fanny Brice didn't do too bad out of it either, unlike a lot of her contemporaries she lives on through the artistry and interpretation of an icon in a future age.
But was Fanny's story ever given the literary dry process cleaning. Eliminated was her brief marriage to a first husband. Changed is the fact that she knew exactly who at what Arnstein was before she married him. Arnstein was a big time con artist who had no shame whatsoever in using his famous wife's name as a come on. Fanny herself though was never involved in any of his schemes. Arnstein did in fact take the fall and never squealed on any of the ones behind him who certainly were more than capable of reprisals against him and possibly against Fanny Brice.
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote the original songs for the Broadway score and added one song, Funny Girl, for the film. But still the two standouts are Barbra Streisand's classic People and Don't Rain On My Parade, a couple of standards she's made almost exclusively her own. I don't think anyone else would attempt to sing them.
Added to the film are a couple of contemporary songs that Fanny Brice made famous that Barbra reinterpreted, the classic My Man, a song she sang before Nicky Arnstein went to the joint, but still is identified as her lament for her husband in stir. She also sang Second Hand Rose, a really great comedy song, emphasizing Brice's Jewish heritage. I wish a couple of others had gotten in there. I've got Brice recordings of Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love and I'm An Indian. That last one is especially hysterical, Brice did it one of the Ziegfeld Follies dressed as an indigenous person to this continent with the last line being "I'm a Yiddishe Squaw". It's great to hear and must have been fabulous to see.
Funny Girl got seven nominations which included Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Song, Best Musical Scoring, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Kay Medford, the only other player from Broadway besides Streisand to be in the film. But the only Oscar it got was a shared one when Barbra Streisand tied for Best Actress with Katharine Hepburn. One of the very few times someone got an Oscar for their very first big screen effort.
Of course two things helped Barbra greatly. One was a role she had made her own and the second was direction by William Wyler who has won Best Director three times in his career and directed more players to Academy Awards than any other. Barbra was his last. Oddly enough he wasn't nominated for Best Director.
Those who are interested in seeing Fanny Brice as she really was can see her in The Great Ziegfeld, The Ziegfeld Follies, and Everybody Sing all of which are out on DVD and/or VHS. I think Barbra channeled more of Fanny into Funny Girl than the sequel Funny Lady, but I'll let you the viewer be the judge of that.
You can't go wrong seeing and hearing Barbra Streisand do some of the best material ever written for her in both films.