A 22-year-old’s first TV special: "My Name is Barbra"
Who else could command total creative control over a national hour-long television special at the age of 22? Barbra Streisand, of course, and the artistic and audience triumph that resulted from the broadcast on April 28, 1965 has become the stuff of legend ever since.
In 1963 she released her first two albums, won her first two Grammys, and began appearing live in prominent nightclubs across the country. By the following year, she earned further nominations from the Grammys and Tonys after her success with Broadway critics and audiences in her role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.
Streisand signed a $5 million, 10-year contract with CBS in June 1964. With creative control, she broke all the then-current rules as to what constituted a TV special: no guest stars, no production numbers with a chorus of singers and dancers, just one woman singing. She even ventured outside the studio to shoot a medley of songs in the exclusive fur department of Bergdorf Goodman.
"You can imagine how nervous that made the network," Streisand later remarked, "when they learned that there would be no major guest stars, not even any minor ones—just me and a bunch of great songs and some wonderful musicians."
My Name is Barbra won two Emmys and a Peabody Award and was followed by two other specials for CBS: Color Me Barbra (1966) and The Belle of 14th Street (1967). Streisand later directed two movies where she again had unprecedented creative control, the Oscar-winning Yentl (1983) and the Oscar-nominated The Prince of Tides (1991).
As she later said, “I was concerned with artistic control only. I wanted to produce my own shows and now I can and nobody—not sponsors or advertisers or anyone—can interfere.”
You can watch the finale of the special here, where Barbra sings excerpts from “Funny Girl.”
See also: “Barbra Streisand” and “Fanny Brice,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia; “The New York Times reports on Barbra Streisand’s Broadway debut,” This Week in History; “Meet Barbra Streisand – Mad About Barbra,” Jewesses With Attitude.