The Belle of 14th Street: Taping The Show (1967)
The Belle of 14th Street was taped April 26—29, 1967. Cast and crew worked fast and hard to get the special “in the can” in one week.
The cast received three days of rehearsals before VTR (video tape recording) began.
Sunday, April 23rd: The Beef Trust girls worked with choreographer Ted Simons on The Tempest until 2:00 p.m. (their roles in the Shakespeare segment were ultimately cut from the show). Streisand, Jason Robards, Lee Allen, and Susan Alpern then assembled to work on “We're Four Americans” from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The rest of Sunday was spent rehearsing and blocking various components of The Tempest scene.
On Monday, April 24th (Barbra's birthday!) John Bubbles rehearsed with choreographer Ted Simons first; from noon to 1:00 p.m., the Beef Trust girls, Jason Robards, and Simons rehearsed “Apple of My Eye.” Streisand arrived at 1:00 p.m. to practice “We're Four Americans”—lyricist Lan O'Kun was in the hall observing. The majority of the afternoon (till 6:00 p.m.) was spent choreographing the Beef Trust girls. Meanwhile at Columbia Records studios, Bubbles pre-recorded his song from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Streisand and Robards recorded music for The Tempest at another Columbia Records studio until 6:00 p.m.. Streisand returned to the rehearsal studio from 9:00 p.m. to midnight to do more rehearsing for The Tempest with Jason Robards.
The morning of Tuesday, April 25th was reserved for a technical meeting till 11:00 am. John Bubbles rehearsed/blocked his number at 11:00 am, followed by Jason Robards and the Beef Trust Girls. More pre-recording was done back at Columbia Records in the afternoon: “Apple of My Eye” at 2:30 p.m. and “Four Americans” at 3:30 p.m. The entire cast was “on call” at noon—with a special note on the call sheet: “EVERYONE ON CALL UNTIL MIDNIGHT.”
Barbra Streisand worked with vocal coach Maurice Jampol during The Belle of 14th Street. Almost ten years later he told The Pittsburgh Press, “Streisand lost her voice when she had her baby. So her manager dug me up to help get her voice back into shape quickly. She had lost the top and bottom parts of her voice. I don't know exactly how it happened. But I figured she might have lost some of the tension in her belly. We had to rebuild that part of her voice that she lost, and I thought she did the job for CBS beautifully.”
Tom John: Designing Streisand's Sets
Tom John designed his first set for Fletcher Rabbit on the 1950s children's show Kukla, Fran & Ollie. He designed sets for Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, and the Broadway shows George M! and The Wiz. Tom John designed all the sets for Streisand's 1960s television specials (My Name is Barbra, Color Me Barbra, The Belle of 14th Street, and A Happening in Central Park). In 1965, John won an Art Directors and Set Decorators Emmy Award for his work on My Name is Barbra. He went on to do set design for Barbra's segment on the Earth Day Special in 1990, and he was production designer for Streisand's 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
For The Belle of 14th Street, John designed period sets (his renderings were gouache and black marker on vellum), and replicated a Vaudeville stage.
Below: John's set design for The Tempest segment; this painting was in watercolor and gouache on architectural layout paper.
John's art nouveau theater was built at CBS’s Studio #41 at 57th Street in New York, and it was on this set that the entirety of The Belle of 14th Street was videotaped. Below are the call sheets for VTR days. “Call sheets” are used in the film and television industry as tools for letting cast and crew members know what they will be shooting.
Getting the “Alice Blue Gown” sequence “in the can” was difficult—Barbra wore a breakaway costume in which pieces of it were pulled off by nylon wires. She had to keep her energy up as they tried to get a usable take by pulling off the costume pieces.
There was no live orchestra; Barbra sang live to pre-recorded music tracks, with musicians sometimes in the pit to provide realism. David Shire (he wrote “Starting Here, Starting Now”) played piano for Barbra during the concert segment.
Streisand wore a blue-colored gown while rehearsing the final concert sequence. For the actual taping she wore a form-fitting black velvet dress.
Streisand's best friend, Cis Corman, made a cameo in the audience (below, left) as did director Joe Layton, as the prompter (below, right).
It was on Saturday, April 29, 1967 that an audience was assembled, dressed in period clothes. The extras for the audience reaction shots were comprised of Monsanto employees and customers. They each were given a special program that day, which included the lyrics to “Four Americans” so they could be taped singing along:
A newspaper article of the time described the taping of the audience reactions that day:
The mass acting job was so real, so breathtakingly believable that they may have to add a new category to the Emmy Awards: Best Performance by an audience.
The men were standing, whistling, cheering and waving their arms. Their eyes were forming a leer jet stream to the stage. The ladies in the audience, in a manner suitable to the circa 1900 attire they were wearing, were frowning, looking embarrassed or hiding behind a fan.
The cause celebre was Barbra Streisand’s strip to the tune of "Alice Blue Gown.”
What really made the audience’s performance superb was the fact that none of them had seen Barbra’s strip. It was done earlier, just before the camera.
How far she goes will be revealed, if it isn’t too revealing, in October when her CBS-TV special, The Belle of 14th Street, is aired.
Meanwhile, Barbra taped portions of the show (prior to going to Hollywood for her first movie, “Funny Girl”) before an invited audience of 200 people, customers of Monsanto, the sponsor.
Each and every one of them, plus a stray newspaper woman, was costumed in frills, feathers, dog collars, trains, vests, frock coats and top hats.
[ ...] The audience will be a vital part of Barbra's show—at least that's what director Joe Layton kept telling us. The show is a vaudeville review of the turn of the century. Besides Barbra’s strip, she and Jason Robards Jr., Lee Allen and little Susan Alpern do a flag-waving George M. Cohan-type number with the audience singing along.
“Don’t worry, we won’t single any of you out,” Layton said, adding that a chorus singing had already been recorded. In other words, we were lip syncing. But in order that we wouldn't feel slighted by this, Streisand herself did a lip sync.
"I'm not very good at it,” she said.
Actually, the audience did not see much of what will actually go on the air. All the songs (including Robards’ number “You’re the Apple of My Eye,” done with six very beefy beauties) had previously been recorded. Close-ups had been filmed. In order to get the audience reaction, Barbra sang a couple of songs, in a magnificent black velvet costume with a white ostrich boa and huge hat of black velvet trimmed in ostrich, while the camera ﬁlmed over her shoulder, and picked up audience reactions.
While cameras were being set up for different numbers, Joe Layton showed the audience pieces of the show that had already been filmed: Barbra as an arrogant German opera star; Barbra and Jason as Shakespearean players.
Occasionally modern living forced its lets-make-every-thing-easy face into the picture.
After Barbra finished a series of songs on the elegantly decorated stage, an usher in uniform comes out and hands her an armful of roses.
Barbra took a deep bow to the audience’s applause. The usher made his entrance, handing the coral roses to Barbra. She took one look at them and shrieked. “Plastic!”
Cut From “Belle”
Although many hours of footage were captured by the Belle of 14th Street crew, a few scenes were edited from the 1967 Streisand television special...
(Photo right: Joe Layton takes a break on set)
In putting the final show together, veteran performer John Bubbles worked on several songs.
In the original script, Bubbles sang two songs: “Make My Cot Where The Cot Cot Cotton Grows” (Jack LeSoir, Ray Doll, Robert Klein), and then a short “Nobody” (Bert Williams and Alex Rogers).
During pre-recording sessions, he also worked on “Mammy O' Mine” (Pinkard and Tracey).
In the final show, Bubbles—billed as Mr. Chanticleer—sings “I'm Going South,” a song made famous by entertainer Al Jolson.
The jokes between song stanzas were rewritten for the final show.
Barbra: Did you hear about the squirrel who grew a sixteen foot tail?
Jason: Sounds like a conundrum.
Barbra: No it's a tall tail.
Final TV Version:
Barbra: What do you call a fella who picks a four leaf clover and expires the very next minute?
Jason: I don't know, what do you call him?
Barbra: A lucky stiff.
Cut from the show, meant to come right after “Four Americans,” was “The Greatest Battle Song Of All,” a 1916 World War I song with music and lyrics by Harry Ruby, Al Friend, and Sam Downing. It is unclear who was to perform it.
The Temptest scene did not end after Miranda and Prospero decided to wed. There was a whole section that followed with Streisand playing Juno, with the Beef Trust Girls as Nyphs.
(Photo, below: A cut scene from the Tempest segment! Streisand is costumed as Juno, with the Beef Trust Girls costumed behind her. Photo from the collection of Jorge Rodriguez in Spain.)
More Cut Scenes
This interesting item ran in the columns of the day, although Smith & Dale did not appear in the shooting script. It's possible they were initially considered for the show, then dropped before VTR.
Wrap Party & CBS
When taping for The Belle of 14th Street wrapped, a lavish party was thrown for cast and crew by Monsanto downtown at Luchow’s ... on 14th Street! Luchow’s was a favorite eating place of the old-time Vaudeville stars.
An April 20, 1967 memo said:
Monsanto Company's Textile Division, sponsors of the fall Barbra Streisand CBS-TV Special, Belle of 14th Street, will hold an end-of-taping celebration, Saturday, April 29, at the famed 14th Street restaurant, Luchow's.
A re-creation of the vaudevillian era, Belle of 14th Street will be taped on four consecutive days, April 26-29. For the final taping session, the audience will be comprised of 150 specially invited guests of Monsanto, all of whom will be attired in Gay Nineties costume in order to simulate the atmosphere of an authentic vaudeville theater and to permit on-camera pick-ups.
Immediately following the session, Barbra, her guest stars Jason Robards and John Bubbles, and the audience will be transported, in costume, from the CBS-TV studio to Luchow's for the after-theater buffet.
[...] The party will also serve as a farewell gathering for Barbra Streisand, who leaves May 1 for Hollywood to begin filming the screen version of her Broadway hit, Funny Girl, a Ray Stark production for Columbia Pictures.
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