Funny Girl opens
In the fall of 1968, William Wyler’s film version of the musical Funny Girl presented American audiences with one of the most celebrated pairings of character and actor in film history: Barbra Streisand playing Fanny Brice. Producer Ray Stark saw the connection in 1964 when he was putting together a musical based on a memoir he’d written about his famous mother in law, Fanny Brice. In casting the lead, he considered nearly everyone––Mary Martin, Anne Bancroft, Eydie Gormé, Carol Burnett––before calling in a brash upstart, Barbra Streisand, for an audition. According to the composer Jule Styne, “she looked awful ... All her clothes were out of thrift shops. I saw Fran Stark [Ray’s wife] staring at her, obvious distaste on her face." But Stark knew she was the one. Four years later, when Columbia tried to replace her with Shirley MacLaine for the film version, Stark refused, exclaiming, "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." With Barbra in place, everything fit around her. For the director, Sidney Lumet dropped out to be replaced by William Wyler, a 68-year-old Hollywood veteran who’d never made a musical and was deaf in one ear. When told that Wyler would direct, Streisand, who only knew he’d made Ben Hur, snapped back, “Chariots! How is he with people, like women? Is he any good with actresses?" It turned out he was great, as Streisand went on to win a Best Actress Oscar and Funny Girl became the highest grossing film of 1968.