Funny Girl Audition for Choreographer Bob Fosse
Several months after we completed the [Combat!] pilot, Ray Stark called me. Id known him as an agent when Id been with Charlie Feldman. He was high up on the corporate ladder, a confidant of Feldmans.
"Whatve you been up to, Rick?" he asked.
"Not too much," I said, "shot a pilot for a war series. The script was lousy, but the show might sell, who knows. I understand ABC commissioned Warner Brothers to make a pilot about the war, too. Guess they cant make a corporate decision. No way theyre going to compete on the air with themselves."
"Id like you to come to my office to meet Bob Fosse," he said.
"Bob Fosse the choreographer?"
"Yes. Im producing a musical on Broadway and hes going to direct it. I want him to see you for the leading man."
"But, Ray, I dont sing," I said.
"Thats okay, you dont really have to have a great voice for this part. Its just got to be acted well."
"You mean like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, where he sort of spoke the lines in the songs?"
"Id go to the ends of the earth to meet Fosse. Im a big fan of his. Whats the show?"
Ray told me it was about his late mother-in-law, the fabulous comedienne, Fanny Brice. The show was called, Funny Girl and my leading lady would be a new face, some girl called Barbra Streisand. We set an appointment and I went to his offices the next day.
We were sitting at a long table in his board room, he at the head of the table, I just a seat away facing an office door. While we chatted, the door opened and Bob Fosse bounced in. As I stood up he smiled broadly. We shook hands across the table and he said, "Dammit Ray! Youre absolutely right! Hes the spitting image of Nicky Arnstein!" I had no idea what he was talking about.
We all sat down. Fosse was tickled pink
"So what have you been doing," Fosse asked.
"He did a pilot for a TV series," Ray said.
"Couple of months ago," I said. "Theyve a hold on me until the end of May, but, you know, its been three months and I havent heard anything yet, so it may not happen."
"Great," Fosse said, "We dont start rehearsals until the end of June, beginning of July." He sat back and shook his head slowly and happily in disbelief. "How long you been singing?" he finally asked.
"I said "
"I heard what you said." I looked at Ray, then back at Fosse. "I dont sing. Ray told me this was like My Fair Lady, where all I do is say the words and carry a little tune."
Fosses face fell. "Jesus, no. You need a trained voice for the part."
I stood up and reached across the shiny long table. As he lifted his hand I shook it and said, "It was a pleasure meeting you, Bob. It was worth the trip."
"Thanks, Rick," he answered and I could see he was more crushed than I.
"Ray," I said as I waved my way out of the room, "please, dont ever do this to me again."
As it turned out, of course, Combat! was picked up and ran for five years, one in the top ten, so I couldnt have done the play. An old acquaintance and bridge-playing buddy of mine got the part: Sidney Chaplin, Charlies oldest son. He did a great job with it. And everyone knows what happened to Barbra Streisand.