Saturday, December 8, 2012
BARBRA'S FIRST NUDE SCENE
Barbra squiggled her bare toes into the deep white carpeting, pulled the collar of the plush terry-cloth robe up around her neck, and shivered as she stared anxiously at her reflection in the full-length mirror. She turned and sank into a vinyl beanbag chair that along with a melange of chrome-and-glass furnishings made up the modish decor of her small dressing room. A few steps away was the bedroom set where her The Owl and the Pussycat co-star, George Segal, her director, Herb Ross, and a minimal crew waited impatiently for her to shoot the one scene in the film that she had been dreading: a sexual tumble with Segal that she had agreed to film topless.
Just days earlier she had told a reporter that her non-singing, contemporary role as Doris, a “hopeless, hapless hustler” who fancies herself “a model and an actress,” would allow her to shed the elaborate trappings of her first three films and appear on screen for the first time as “the me that’s natural and very today.” Now she was faced with just how natural the script demanded that she be. When she finally emerged from her dressing room, bundled up in her robe, Barbra took Herb Ross aside and admitted that she had cold feet, among other things, about shooting the scene.
“Herbie, I can’t.” she whispered, “I’ve got goose bumps and they’ll show. What will my mother think of this.”
Ross responded patiently, “But, Barbra, it is a story about sexual passion.”
“Yeah,” Barbra said, “but I don’t think I have that great a body. My mother will be unhappy. I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
Buck Henry, the film’s scenarist, recalled that “Ross told her not to worry, she had a great body. They went into a closet and she showed him why she thought she didn’t have what it takes. Well, it happens that Barbra has a great figure. And Ross laughed and said, ‘Well, you’re nuts. You’ve got to trust me.’” For nearly an hour, while George Segal catnapped, Ross pleaded with Barbra to go through with the brief scene as planned. He assured her that the nudity was appropriate for the uninhibited Doris. Besides, he cajoled, didn’t she want to make a dramatic break from her current screen image as queen of the old-fashioned musicals? Wasn’t she serious about moving into the new decade as a hip, daring young actress?
Worn down by the wheedling and reassured by Ross’s promise that he would delete the scene in the editing room if she wasn’t happy with it, Barbra finally muttered, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll try it once.” As Harry Stradling’s camera rolled, Streisand dropped her robe to reveal her pert breasts, crossed the room, and climbed into bed alongside a now completely alert George Segal.
“It was perfect,” Ross recalled. “I yelled, ‘Cut and print. Beautiful!’ But Barbra is the perfectionist. She wanted a retake! I think we were all shocked, because everybody burst into laughter, including Barbra. We did the retake.”