Israel at 30: When Streisand Sang for Golda

Barbra and Golda

I mentioned earlier that I had something up my sleeve for Israel’s 60th birthday celebration. It took more time than I wanted to put together. But here’s a piece for Nextbook that describes how America did it 30 years ago.

It’s hard even to believe now, but ABC put together a prime time variety show capped by an amazing Streisand performance. (This was, after all, the network that gave us “The Battle of the Network Stars.”)

I spoke to two great show business men to get the inside scoop — Buz Kohan and Charlie Fishman. Kohan is a veteran of scores of memorable t.v. shows, such as “Motown 25,” where Michael Jackson unveiled the moonwalk, to “Muhammed Ali’s 50th Birthday Celebration.” He is also the patriarch of a Hollywood family: his son, David, created “Will and Grace;” his daughter, Jenji, “Weeds.” For his part, Fishman is the head of Washington D.C.’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and a former manager of Dizzy Gillespie. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

“Fishman had brought Stan Getz to Israel in 1977, a trip filmed for the 1978 documentary Stan Getz: A Musical Odyssey. ‘How do you break away from the late night television?’ Fishman remembers asking himself. ‘I sat back and said, ‘What would be the hippest thing to do? What would be the biggest star-power thing to do?’ ‘

No other Jewish American performer of the time was as big as Streisand. This was little more than a year after the release of A Star Is Born, which had garnered her an Oscar for the song ‘Evergreen.’ Fishman enlisted producer James Lipton, now famous for Inside the Actors Studio, and director Marty Pasetta, another award-show veteran, and set to work getting Streisand. She was interested, but had her own conditions: She wanted to sing accompanied by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. So that’s exactly what she got. And with the strength of Streisand’s name, Fishman and company sold the show to ABC.

In the days before the show aired, Kohan and Mehta went to Streisand’s home to help her prepare. ‘She wanted to sing ‘Hatikvah,’ only she didn’t know’ the song, Kohan recalls. Kohan picked up the phone, called his wife, Rhea, and asked her to sing the song to Streisand. ‘I hope she’s not intimidated,’ Rhea quipped before launching into it.

Streisand’s preparation worked. For the organizers, the result was transcendent. ‘She was remarkable,’ says Kohan. ‘Everybody was impressed with the last twenty minutes of the show.’ ”

You can watch Streisand here.

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