Detroit Tigers infielder Don Wert watches Mickey Mantle circle the bases after hitting his 535th career home run, September 19, 1968.
America was not in the best of moods in the fall of 1968. The country was still convulsing from events near and far that would mark the year as one of the most tumultuous in the history the 20th century. The Tet offensive in Vietnam came in January. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not run for re-election in late March. Martin Luther King was killed in April. Bobby Kennedy struck down in June. Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops crushed Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring” in August. The Democrats’ National Convention in Chicago that month became a spectacle of political ugliness, both inside the hall and on the streets, with clashes and confrontations over Vietnam and the nation’s future. But then, in the midst of all this, there was still baseball, the national pastime; the one constant thing; an oasis of predictable pace apart from the turmoil. Baseball was there in those dark days, in the background perhaps, but doing its thing; playing its games, day after day, from April thru October.
One of the game’s old lions at the time, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, was nearing the end of his storied career. On September 19th, as the regular season was winding down, the Yankees were playing the Detroit Tigers in Detroit. The Tigers had already won the American League pennant that year, propelled there in part by ace pitcher Denny McLain, and were headed to the World Series. But in this game, Mantle hit his 535th home run, then putting him on the all-time homer list at No. 3, behind only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Mantle hit this homer off Denny McLain, who still picked up his amazing 31st win that year, as Detroit beat the Yanks, 6-2. It was Mantle’s 17th home run of the 1968 season — not the 30 or more he would normally hit each year during his prime. Mantle’s final career homer — #536 — came the next day on September 20, 1968 off Boston’s Jim Lonborg. Mantle in those games, with his season-ending home runs, was in the last days of his career, though his official retirement announcement would not come until the following year, on March 1, 1969. These were his last games.
'Mickey Mantle: Born for The Majors,' cover story, Time, June 15, 1953.
In later years Mantle would joke half heartedly about his hobbled, late-career performance: “Hitting the ball was easy,” he’d say. “Running around the bases was the hard part.” Those who played with Mantle, however, knew it wasn’t funny. In the above photo, you can almost see him wincing as he ran the bases.
Mantle had been a baseball sensation when he first came up in the early 1950s, a player with a rare combination of speed and switch-hitting power the game had not seen in years. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, he became one of baseball’s most feared hitters, and his speed on the base paths and in the outfield made him an all-around player, especially in his early years. Mantle played his entire 18-year career with the Yankees, winning three American League MVP titles. He was also selected to play on 16 American League All-Star teams. With the Yankees, Mantle played on 12 pennant winners and 7 World Series champions. As of 2007, he still held the records for most World Series home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123).
“The Kid From Joplin” (From David Halberstam’s October 1964)
The Mantle legend, which began with his signing, grew during a special rookie camp the Yankees had…in 1950. There, some of the old-timers in the organization got a sense that they were seeing something rare; a true diamond in the rough. Mantle’s potential, his raw ability, his speed, his power from both sides of the plate, were almost eerie. If his talent were honed properly, they thought they were quite possibly looking at someone who might become the greatest player in the history of the game. There were some fast players in that camp, and one day someone decided that all the faster players should get together and have a race. Mantle, whose true speed had not yet been comprehended, simply ran away from the others. What had made some of the stories coming out of the camp so extraordinary was the messenger himself, Bill Dickey — the former Yankee catcher, a Hall of Fame player, and a tough, unsentimental old-timer who had played much of his career with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and [Tommy] Henrich. He was not lightly given to hyperbole. Dickey started talking about Mantle to Jerry Coleman, the veteran second baseman, with superlatives that were unknown for him: “Jerry, he can hit with power righty, he can hit with power lefty, and he can outrun everyone here.”. . .
“He’s going to be the greatest player I’ve ever seen,” Dickey added. A few days later Dickey grabbed his old teammate Tommy Henrich. “Tom, you should see this kid Mantle that played at Joplin. I’ve never seen power like that. He hits the ball and it stays hit. He’s really going to be something.” Even the sound of his home runs, Dickey said, were different, mirroring something Ted Williams would say years later: the crack of the bat against the ball when Mantle connected was like an explosion. Henrich simply shook his head — it was one thing to hear about a coming star from an excited journalist, but quite another to hear it from someone like Bill Dickey.
With Two Good Legs?
Some of Mantle’s teammates and competitors, as well as sports writers and fans, have often wondered what he would have been like had he not been plagued by injuries throughout his career — especially the leg injuries. Mantle had collected some of his injuries early in life, beginning with a leg infection as a high school football player that nearly resulted in an amputation. Still, when he reached the major leagues in 1951, his running speed was among the best in baseball and his power simply awesome. In his early career, some thought him a rare kind of baseball god, possessing both power and speed.
In 1951, when Mantle was first coming up with the Yankees, his prowess was fully apparent. In an exhibition game at the University of Southern California during his rookie spring training season that year, batting left-handed, he hit a home run ball that left Bovard Field and crossed an adjacent football field, traveling an estimated 656 feet. Some cite it as the longest home run in baseball history. Mantle, in fact, hit two home runs that game — a second, right-handed shot cleared the left-field wall and landed on top of a three-story house well over 500 feet away. Throughout his career, Mantle would hit other memorable shots — including a 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington in April 1953 (said to have coined the term “tape measure home run”); a 643-foot homer at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium in September1960; and one that almost left Yankee Stadium, which no hitter has ever done. But those who saw Mantle hit during his rookie spring training year of 1951, remember the distinctive crack of the bat when he tore into the baseball; they knew there was something special about this “hayseed from Oklahoma,” as some called him.
Mickey Mantle, 1950s. Photo by Bob Olen.
But leg injuries plagued him from nearly the beginning of his Yankee career. As a 19 year-old rookie in his first World Series game in 1951, Mantle tore the cartilage in his right knee while running for a fly ball when his cleats caught a drainage cover in the outfield grass. His knee twisted awkwardly and witnesses reported him going down “like he had been shot,” hitting the ground instantly. He was carried from the field on a stretcher. Mantle would never play pain-free after that, but play he did — and play well. In 1952, he took over center field duties from retiring Joe DiMaggio, and completed one of his best seasons at the plate. But as the years went by, he would have knee surgery four times, and would apply thick wraps to both of his knees in something of a pre-game ritual. By the end of his career, simply swinging a bat caused him to fall to one knee in pain.
Still, even with his injuries and impaired performance, Mantle managed to compile a record that most professional players can only dream about. During his career with the Yankees, he played more games as a Yankee than any other player (2,401), won three Most Valuable Player awards (’56, ’57 and ’62). In 1956, he won baseball’s Triple Crown with a .353 batting average, 52 homers and 130 RBIs. He led all of major league baseball that year in all three categories. His 536 career home runs was the third highest ever when he retired, behind only Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx, and the most ever by a switch-hitter.
Mickey Mantle with U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) on Sept 18, 1965, ‘Mickey Mantle Day,’ when Mantle played his 2,000th game. Photo by Martin Blumenthal of SPORT magazine.
Indeed, with two good legs, Mickey Mantle might have been a good bet to have broken Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs, and perhaps sooner than 1961 when Roger Maris did it. Mantle may have also compiled a career home run total closer to, if not exceeding 600. His career batting average would probably have bettered .300 as well; with more runs scored and RBIs up too, and perhaps a Gold Glove or two for fielding. All speculation, of course, and “what might have been.” Yet many of his admirers wish it could have been so; that the fair-haired kid from Oklahoma might have had a bit more luck with the health of his legs.
Jack Doyle, “Mickey Mantle’s 535th–September 19, 1968,” PopHistoryDig.com, June 18, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Mickey Mantle – here in his young “Greek god” body – captured by Life magazine during a celebratory locker room scene, October 1952.
Life magazine cover story, June 25, 1956: “The Remarkable Mickey Mantle,” with story inside: “Prodigy of Power: Mickey Mantle Comes of Age As a Slugger.”
Young Mickey Mantle shown here with wife Merlyn and their two young boys. They would have four sons.
1965 Life magazine photo of Mantle throwing batting helmet in frustration – but check out those forearms!
Mickey Mantle on the cover of Life magazine, July 30, 1965, then at age 33 and in his 15th season with the NY Yankees. “Mantle’s Misery,” read the cover tagline, “He faces physical pain and a fading career.”
Mickey Mantle winces in pain during batting practice at spring training, 1967.
Maury Allen, Memories of the Mick, Taylor Publishing: Dallas, Texas, 1997, 183 pp.
David Halberstam, October 1964, Villard Books, New York, 1994, 380 pp.
“The Remarkable Mickey Mantle,” cover photo, and story: “A Prodigy of Power: Mickey Mantle Comes of Age As a Slugger,”Life, June 25, 1956, pp. 99-102, 105-107.
Roger Kahn, “Remembering Mickey” (cover story), The Sporting News, August 21,1995.
Shirley Povich, “Mantle’s Critics Swing, Miss,” Washington Post, June 19, 1995.
Note: Many of the news stories below mention Mickey Mantle injuries in their headlines, underscoring his hard times with injuries that often took him out of play.
“Mantle to Miss Finale in Boston and Yanks’ Game Here Tomorrow,” New York Times, Monday, May 26, 1952, Sports, p. 28.
“Mantle Rejected for Draft Again; Yanks’ Outfielder Ruled Unfit Because of Injury to Knee Suffered in ’51 Series,” New York Times, Tuesday, November 4, 1952, Sports, p. 34.
Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle Is Lost for Final Drive; Skowron Also Sidelined by Injury Suffered Friday. . .,” New York Times, Sunday, September 18, 1955, Sports, p. 2.
John Drebinger, “Ford’s 5-hitter Halts Boston, 7-1; Mantle Clouts 3-Run Homer for Yanks Before Leaving Game With Leg Injury. . .,” New York Times, Saturday, April 21, 1956, Sports, p. 12.
Deans McGowen, “Mantle Injury Held Not Serious, But He’ll Be Out 2 or 3 Days; Sprained Knee Ligaments Troubling Yank Slugger; Physician Orders New Brace; Mickey’s All-Star Role in Doubt,” New York Times, Friday, July 6, 1956, p 24.
“Mantle Hospitalized Five Days For Treatment of Shin Splint,” New York Times, Saturday, September 7, 1957, Sports, p. 27.
John Drebinger, “Braves Have Health and Hitting; Yanks Face Series, With Doubts About Mantle, Skowron,” New York Times, Monday September 30, 1957, Sports, p. 49.
Louis Effrat, “Bombers Face Prospect of Losing Mantle for Fifth Series Contest; Shoulder Injury Handicap to Star; Mantle’s Inability to Throw with Usual Strength Leads to Removal in Tenth,” New York Times, Monday, October 7, 1957, p. 31.
Louis Effrat, “Mantle to Stay out of World Series Opener Unless His Condition Improves; Yankee Slugger Weak and in Pain; Club Doctor Says He Thinks Mantle Can Play, However; Houk Also Confident,”New York Times, Tuesday, October 3, 1961, p. 47.
“Mantle’s Thigh Injury Expected to Sideline Him 2 to 4 Weeks; Star Center Fielder Resting Comfortably but Bombers Are Uncomfortable; Injured Mantle Out 2 to 4 Weeks,” New York Times, Sunday, May 20, 1962, Sports, p.1.
“Mantle on Bench With Knee Injury; Yankee Star Doesn’t Know When He Can Play Again,” New York Times, Tuesday, July 31, 1962, Sports, p. 21.
Louis Effrat, “Mantle Is Forced to Quit in Third; Injury Still Hobbles Star; Bombers Get 14 Hits off 4 Hurlers; Lopez Excels,” New York Times, Saturday, August 4, 1962, Sports, P 13.
John Drebinger, “Mantle Is Hurt in 6-to-1 Victory; Yank Ace Reinjures Muscle in Side,”New York Times, Sunday, April 14, 1963, Sports, p. 167.
Gordon S. White Jr., “Mantle Fractures Left Foot in Yank Victory at Baltimore; 4-3 Game Marred by Star’s Injury Mantle Crashes into Fence Chasing Oriole Homer and Will Be out a Month,” New York Times, Thursday, June 6, 1963, Sports, P. 56.
Leonard Koppett, “Mantle Sidelined Indefinitely with Knee Injury; Yanks Bow to Angels, 5-0; Star Could Miss Rest of Season; Loose Cartilage in Mantle’s Knee Probable Aftermath of Foot Injury on June 5; Injuries Plague Career,” New York Times, Friday, July 26, 1963, Sports, P. 17.
Leonard Koppett, “New Role for Mantle?; Full Time as Pinch-Hitter Is Urged For Ailing Slugger of the Yankees,” New York Times, Sunday, January 23, 1966, Sports, p. 182.
Leonard Koppett, “Mantle Suffers Pulled Muscle after Hitting His 475th Homer; Yankees Bow, 4-2; Mantle Injured,” New York Times, Sunday, May 15, 1966, Sports, P.1.
Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle Suffers Injury to Left Leg as Yankees Are Beaten by Red Sox, 5-2; Bomber Slugger Is Hurt Sliding; Injury Termed Not Serious but First Baseman Will Miss Couple of Games,” New York Times, Thursday, March 23, 1967, Sports, p. 41.
“Mantle Ends 18-Year, Injury-Ridden Baseball Career,” New York Times, Sunday, March 2, 1969, p.1.
Barbra Streisand during rehearsal for 'Funny Girl' in New York City, January 1964. (AP photo)
Between 1963 and 1965, at a time when rock and roll music was overwhelming just about everything in sight, a little known singer named Barbra Streisand managed to put not just one, but seven albums of American standards on the Billboard top-selling music charts. How this came to be, and the story of Streisand’s rise to stardom in those years, is sometimes overlooked in her long and accomplished career.
Born in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Barbra Streisand had a tough start in childhood. Her father, a grammar school teacher, died when she was 15 months old. Her mother — left with young Barbra and an older son Sheldon — took a job as a bookkeeper and moved in with her parents. As a little girl growing up, Barbra sang in the hallways of her apartment building. “Barbra started to sing as early as she could talk,” her mother later recalled. Young Barbra set her sights on becoming an actress, framed in part by what she saw on television. In 1949, her mother remarried, to Louis Kind — a step-father of conflict for Barbra and not a happy time. A sister, Roslyn, was born in 1951.
Young Barbra, 1950s.
In school, Barbra sang in the choir, got good grades, but did not date or seek to be popular and was pretty much a loner. She worked part-time jobs — at a Chinese restaurant and as an usherette in a local theater, the latter to see the latest films. She kept to her dream of becoming an actress, attended local playhouses and summer acting camps. Barbra’s mother did not encourage her daughter to pursue a career in show business. In fact, she told Barbra she was not attractive enough to succeed. However, she did take her once to audition as a child, and also later to make acetate recordings in Manhattan.
In 1959, Barbra graduated high school, fourth in her class, but did not attend college. With her sights set on acting, she moved to Manhattan. She was 17 years old.
Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir nightclub, 1960.
During her early days in Manhattan, Streisand occasionally lived with friends, carrying a folding cot around. She was something of a vagabond and dressed in the latest thrift-store chic. She worked odd jobs and tried to enter the famous Actors Studio, but failed. She tried some off-Broadway acting, appearing in one play that ran only a few times. Although her heart was set on acting, in June 1960 she entered and won a singing competition at a local Greenwich Village bar, the Lion, with no singing experience. “They laughed when she stood up to the microphone,” Pete Hamill would later write of the audience’s reaction to her clothes and her first club appearance, “but when she sang there was no contest.” “They laughed when she stood up to the micro-phone, but when she sang there was no contest.” - Pete Hamill She then put together a night club act with the help of a friend and began performing in other Greenwich Village gay bars, such as The Bon Soir, where she was well received. By 1961, she began venturing beyond Manhattan, appearing in clubs such as the Caucus Club in Detroit, the Crystal Palace in St Louis, and the Town and Country Towers room in Winnipeg, Canada. Those who heard her sing were quite taken by her performances and her voice. But not everyone understood or appreciated her interpretations. A few early reviewers called her quirky, but one noted “a confidence beyond her years”and predicted that despite her unusual singing style and vintage clothes, she could go “right to the top.” Back in Manhattan she was attracting a growing following at clubs such as the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel, and in some corners of the music industry. While club performing, she met Jack Paar, the late-night TV talk show host, who asked her to appear on his show. She made her national TV debut on The Jack Paar Show April 5th, 1961 and made a second appearance on May 22, 1961.
Mike Wallace & Broadway
Streisand also began appearing on a late night New York-based TV talk show called PM East, a show that Group W and Westinghouse created to compete with Jack Parr. One of the hosts of that show was Mike Wallace, later of 60 Minutes fame, but with whom Streisand struck a chord. Her first show there was in July 1961, and she became something of regular, appearing more than a dozen times through 1961 and 1962. On the show, in addition to singing, she also became known as a talkative and sometimes zany guest, engaging Wallace and the others in lively exchanges. By December 1961, she had also prepared an audition tape of her club songs for RCA Records, but no contract was offered.
Barbra Streisand, 1962.
In 1961, after some Broadway auditions in the late fall, she landed a small acting and singing part as a secretary in the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a Depression-era story about a unscrupulous businessman in the garment district. When the show opened on Broadway on March 22, 1962, Streisand had the stage to herself in one scene doing a song and skit bemoaning her secretarial plight. She gave a spirited performance, which by one account brought audience attendee Leonard Bernstein to his feet applauding wildly. Bernstein was sitting in the VIP orchestra section that night, and the audience agreed with his reaction, giving Streisand a sustained ovation for her performance. “What we had witnessed, and what brought Bernstein’s enthusiasm,” wrote John Bush Jones also in the audience that night, “was the Broadway debut of an unknown nineteen-year-old performer named Barbra Streisand.” Streisand was later nominated for, but did not win, a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Barbra Streisand signing recording contract with Columbia's Goddard Lieberson, Oct 1962.
Streisand continued making TV appearances during 1962 — NBC’s Today Show in April 1962, CBS’s The Garry Moore Show in May 1962, and four times on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson between August and early December 1962. Her recording career was also taking a turn for the better. By the fall of 1962, three record labels were interested: Atlantic, Capitol, and Columbia. Capitol made an offer, but Streisand agreed to sign with Columbia on October 1st, negotiating creative control over her material and album covers. That fall she was also auditioning for new Broadway shows. But it was her appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show December 16, 1962 singing “My Coloring Book” and “Lover, Come Back To Me” that helped introduce Barbra Streisand to a larger, more mainstream national audience.
Barbra Streisand's 1st studio album, Feb 1963.
On February 25, 1963, her first studio album for Columbia Records was released, The Barbra Streisand Album, which included her interpretations of eleven pop standards. The album was very well received and first appeared on the Billboard albums chart the week of April 13, 1963. It would peak at #8 on that chart and 18 months later achieved “gold” sales status — i.e., 500,000 copies or more. It would also win 1963 Grammy Awards for Album of The Year and Best Female Vocalist. One of the album’s songs, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” wasn’t much more than a jingle before Streisand’s interpretation — “sung so slowly that suddenly all the hidden irony and banality of it come shaking out like loose nails,” wrote one reporter in Time magazine. The Barbra Streisand Album, meanwhile, remained in the Top 40 for 74 weeks.
Barbra Streisand meeting JFK at White House Press Correspondents dinner, May 1963.
Through the spring of 1963, she continued doing the night club circuit — Miami’s Eden Roc, The hungry i in San Francisco, and Basin Street East in New York where she opened for bandleader Benny Goodman. TV appearances continued as well — Johnny Carson in early March 1963, a repeat appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, March 24, 1963, and The Dinah Shore Show, May 12, 1963. Among those who saw Streisand’s performance on Dinah Shore was President John F. Kennedy, resulting in an invitation for her to sing at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner on May 24, 1963, when she met Kennedy. Columbia Records, meanwhile, in April, had re-released Streisand’s “Happy Days” song for radio play to gain her more public exposure. By July 1963, a young Pete Hamill was writing about Streisand’s rising star — “Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Fame” — in The Saturday Evening Post. That summer, she landed the role to play the famed comedienne Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, slated to open in early 1964.
Barbra Streisand's 2nd studio album, Aug 1963.
The Second Barbra Streisand Album was released in August 1963, surpassing the first, jumping into the Top Ten on the Billboard charts and peaking at #2. The record stayed at the #2 spot for three weeks and was certified gold after 13 months. By late September 1963, after completing a good month of performances at Hollywood’s Cocoanut Grove, Barbra Streisand was commanding a nightclub salary of $15,000 a week. Throughout 1963, she had played at clubs all across the country. Reported Look magazine that November: “From coast to coast, hypnotized patrons line up outside nightclubs to hear her almost overwhelming presentations of such items as ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ and ‘Cry Me a River’. She puts every nerve ending, muscle tendon and female oomph unit she has into a song; at the end of an evening, the audience is washed out.” Two major TV appearances came as well — one on NBC’s Bob Hope Comedy Special, broadcast September 27, 1963 and the other on October 6, 1963 on The Judy Garland Show (CBS). Her performance on Judy Garland’s show would earn Streisand an Emmy nomination for Best Variety Performance, the first time a guest star had ever received such an honor.
In mid-January 1964, Funny Girl had its first public showing in Boston, but it bombed, in part because of a snow storm, but also poor reviews. The play was reworked by Jerome Robbins, who gave Streisand more songs and comedy, placing more of the show’s success or failure on her performance. Meanwhile, her third album — simply titled The Third Album — was released in February 1964. The cover featured a photo of Streisand performing from The Judy Garland Show. This album was also a hit, reaching #5 on Billboard’s album chart. It also certified gold.
'Saturday Evening Post', 21 March 1964.
Rock ‘n Roll
Streisand was pumping out her repertoire of old standards at a time when the rock ‘n roll revolution was underway. The market for rock ‘n roll music was exploding, transforming the music industry and changing popular culture. In the early 1960s, “girl groups”such as the Shirelles and Crystals were prominent on the singles charts, and by 1963, the Angels, the Chiffons, and Martha and Vandellas were making their mark. Jan & Dean, the Four Seasons, Little Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes had hits too. In 1964, the Beatles took over much of the popular scene, following their February 9th appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show — the first of three. By early April 1964, Beatles singles held the top five spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 — among them, “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please, Please Me.” Other artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys, and various Motown groups, were also cranking out new songs and albums. But Streisand’s standards held their own, especially on the Billboard album chart. And there was more to come.
Funny Girl Fame
Barbra Streisand, star of 'Funny Girl,' Time cover story, 10 April 1964.
By late March 1964 Funny Girl had opened on Broadway and the play and Barbra Streisand received glowing notices. She was later nominated a second time for a Tony award — Best Actress in a Musical. In early April 1964, Capitol Records — not her label, Columbia — recorded the original cast album for Funny Girl in New York. Most of the songs on the 17-track album were those of Streisand’s from the play. Capitol rush-released the album in mid-April 1964 and it quicky sold 400,000 copies in one month, making it the fastest selling Capitol record up to that time. Then she appeared on the cover of Time’s April 10th edition, featured in a story simply titled “The Girl,” touting her acting and singing talents in Funny Girl. “Her impact was instant and stunning,” wrote Time of her performance, adding, however, that her looks were nothing special. But her on-stage moxie was. “People start to nudge one another and say, ‘This girl is beautiful,'” explained Time, describing how early audiences were discovering her. Streisand knew she didn’t have the knock-out good looks that might smooth her way to stardom. Some even suggested she have a surgeon attend to her nose, to which she replied: “That would be cheating. It wouldn’t be natural, know what I mean?” With Streisand it was the talent, the voice, and the energy that came through. The glamour came, too.
Barbra Streisand, Life magazine cover story, 22 May 1964.
In May 1964, she was on the cover of Life magazine, featured in a story with her then husband, actor Elliot Gould, whom she had met in I Can Get It For Your Wholesale. Wrote reporter Shana Alexander in her profile: “Today, Barbra Streisand is. . .Cinderella at the ball, every hopeless kid’s hopeless dream come true. . . Even more remarkable is the sudden nationwide frenzy to achieve the Streisand ‘look'” — from hair style to eye make-up. By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS. By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS to do as many as ten TV music specials. Meanwhile, her album People, released on September 1, 1964, knocked the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album out of the no.1 spot. The People album also won Streisand her 2nd consecutive Grammy for Best Female Vocalist. By October 31, 1964 — a time when the rock and roll genre was growing and getting stronger — there were five Barbra Streisand albums on the Billboard albums chart.
Barbra Streisand's 1964 single 'People' hits No. 5.
In addition to competing with Beatles’ albums such as A Hard Day’s Night which had been released in June, there were a number of other rising artists with new albums. Among these, for example, were the Beach Boys with their All Summer Long album released in mid-July. In August, both the Animals from the U.K. and Bob Dylan had new albums. October brought still others: The Kinks’ You Really Got Me, the Rolling Stones’ 12×5 album, and the debut album of Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News came out in December 1964. And there were others. Still, amid this, Streisand’s work rose in the popular arena. Her release of the single “People,” for example, climbed into the Top 40 in late May 1964, peaking at #5, but remaining on the Top 40 list for 12 weeks through August.
LBJ to Top-of-The-Charts
In 1965, Streisand began the year by entertaining newly elected President Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Inaugural Gala on January 18th in Washington, D.C. On April 4th she attended a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama where she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week later, at the Grammys she took home the Best Female Vocalist award for “People.”At a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week after that, on April 14th, she completed the taping for her first TV production, “My Name Is Barbra,” a one-woman musical special entirely her own show without any guest stars. Some people at CBS feared the program would be a disaster. When it aired on April 28th, the critics loved it and it earned high audience ratings (see video clip). The TV show was followed by the companion album, My Name Is Barbra, released in May 1965. A single from the this album, “My Man,” released in June 1965, made the Billboard Hot 100 in July, peaking at #79 and remained on the chart for six weeks. Her first TV show meanwhile, was nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning all five at the September ceremony, including two for Streisand herself.
Barbra Streisand's 1965 single makes Billboard in July.
Musically in 1965, the rock ‘n roll juggernaut was as strong as ever. Among artists with No.1 hits that year were: The Beatles, The Supremes, Petula Clark, The Righteous Brothers, The Temptations, The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, The Rolling Stones, and others. Many of these groups had top albums as well. In the midst of this, Streisand’s second album in 1965 – My Name is Barbra, Two – was released in October. It made the Billboard album chart in November, peaking at #2. It would also sell 500,000 copies and reach gold certification within three months and remain on the charts for 48 weeks.
On December 1st, 1965, Streisand’s career took a new turn, as she signed her first film contract — a four-picture deal beginning with the film adaptation of Funny Girl, which would not reach the big screen until 1968. Meanwhile, her albums were selling like crazy, and would continue to sell through the 1960s, boosted in part by her TV specials. In fact, during the decade, nine of her albums would each chart in the Top 10.
Barbra Streisand Albums: 1963-65
The Barbra Streisand Album February 1963
The Second Barbra Streisand Album August 1963
The Third Album February 1964
Funny Girl(Broadway cast album)
People September 1964
My Name is Barbra May 1965
My Name is Barbra, Two October 1965
Just Getting Started
In six short years Barbara Streisand had taken the world by storm. From the early vagabond days of carrying a folding cot around in 1960, to entertaining at the White House and launching her own TV specials in 1965, Barbara Streisand had rocketed to the top of popular music, Broadway, and prime-time television. She was now 23 years old, a millionaire, and one of the world’s most popular female recording artists. But there was still much more to come. There were 30 or more albums ahead, a career in film (acting, directing and producing), mega concerts, political activism, and a whole lot more. Barbra Streisand was just getting started.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Streisand Rising, 1961-1965,” PopHistoryDig.com, May 10, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
See Barbra Streisand’s official website, and any number of other sources, including books, videos, magazine & newspaper articles, websites, and other sources, including those cited below, to learn more about her career.
“Barbra Streisand, 29th AFI Life Achievement Award,” American Film Institute, 2001, AFI.com
John Bush Jones, Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of The American Musical Theater; Brandeis University Press, 2003.
Pete Hamill, “Good-Bye Brooklyn, Hello Fame,”Saturday Evening Post, July 27, 1963.
“Barbra Streisand: New Singing Sensation,” Look, November 19, 1963.
Shana Alexander, “A Born Loser’s Success and Precarious Love,” Life, May 22, 1964 (cover story with cover & inside photos by Milton H. Greene).
Earl Wilson, “Barbra Streisand’s Secret, Once a Chinese Waitress, Reno Evening Gazette, April 1, 1964, p. 16.
James Spada Barbra: The First Decade, the Films and Career of Barbra Streisand, Citadel Press, 1975.
James Spada, Streisand:The Woman and The Legend, Doubleday, 1981.
Randall Riese, Her Name Is Barbra, Birch Lane Press, 1993.
James Spada, Streisand: The Intimate Biography; Time Warner Paperbacks,1996.
Barry Dennen, My Life With Barbra: A Love Story, Prometheus Books, 1997.
Diana Karanikas Harvey and Jackson Harvey, Streisand: The Pictorial Biography, Running Press Book Publishers, 1997.
James Spada, Streisand: Her Life, Random House Value Publishing, 1997.