TRY AS SHE might, Barbra couldn’t persuade Mike Wallace not to eat smoked foods. It was December 1, 1961, and she was making her fifth appearance on P. M. East, Wallace’s late-night East Coast talk-variety show. Since her first guest stint on the show in June, Barbra had become its resident eccentric, spouting off amusingly on everything from the evils of milk to the benefits of Zen Buddhism. That she could also stagger the audience with the purity and power of her voice quickly made her one of Wallace’s most popular guests. In New York, gay bars offered two-for-one drink nights whenever she appeared on the show, and Wallace’s ratings swelled nationwide as well. Between June 1961 and June 1962 she appeared on the show thirteen times—five times in one five-week period. On various shows she sang a duet with Mickey Rooney (“I Wish I Were in Love Again”); confronted David Susskind, who had been an agent, over the fact that he had kept her waiting in his office and never granted her an interview; debated the merits of fallout shelters; sang “Ding-Dong, the Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz; and kibbitzed with Eartha Kitt and Katharine Anne Porter.
The smoked foods controversy erupted during a party-themed show on which Woody Allen, the actor Paul Dooley, and the trombone-playing nightclub singer Lillian Briggs were also guests. Wallace’s co-host, Joyce Davidson, had prepared an elaborate spread of food, most of which, Barbra protested, could kill you. She knew the health food pioneer Robert Rodale and sometimes slept in his office. She had taken to heart many of his warnings about the health risks posed by much of the food Americans ate. One Streisand fan’s audiotape of the show preserves the dialogue for posterity:
BARBRA: I’ll tell you, I’m very hungry.... Oh, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Don’t you understand? They’re all smoked foods. You’re not allowed to eat that stuff! [Laughter from the others.] Don’t eat it, I’m telling you!
MIKE WALLACE: Aw, c’mon, you used to buy it all the time. It looks wonderful.
BARBRA: No, you wanna hear something? The highest cancer rate is in Iceland. [More laughs] No, wait a minute. People think there’s nothing doing up in Iceland. Did you know there was a big medical university in Iceland?
JOYCE DAVIDSON: Eat the sandwich.
BARBRA: It’s a fact. Up in Iceland there’s a big medical university, and they made tests on these things.... A lot of people in Iceland don’t have refrigerators, so they have to smoke the food. They can’t eat raw meat. They gotta smoke—
PAUL DOOLEY: No cigarettes?
BARBRA: Cut it out! Don’t you care if you die or not?
WOODY ALLEN: Streisand’s a little sick, folks.
BARBRA: You know what happens? They get a lot of cancer up there in Iceland.
LILLIAN BRIGGS: From what?
BARBRA: Smoked foods!
WALLACE: Barbra, why don’t you sing?