Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Legendary Babs firing tale just may be early urban myth

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GIVEN that it's Remembrance Day, let's return to a war story almost as legendary to Winnipeggers as Vimy Ridge and Dieppe.

The time Barbra Streisand supposedly got fired from the Town & Country nightclub.

On Oct. 15, as the great songbird prepared for her much-hyped concert appearances in Montreal and Toronto, I trotted out the story for another go-round.

In a nutshell, it went this way: In July 1961, when Babs was an unknown 19-year-old, a Chicago booking agent got her a two-week gig in The Towers room of Winnipeg's Town & Country, one of the city's few posh supper clubs at the time.

It was her Canadian début, something notable only in retrospect. And although her vocal talents were evident to many who heard them, she did not cut the mustard with T&C owner Auby Galpern.

After about three night she was gone. Shipped back to Brooklyn. Fired.

At least that's the version that has been told and retold over the succeeding 45 years. It's even repeated in the brand new history of Portage Avenue, Going Downtown, by historian Russ Gourluck. While researching my Oct. 15 piece, I heard the story from several sources, two of them men in their 70s who got it from Galpern himself.

Now, however, I feel compelled to cast doubt on this account, which I reported as gospel truth, because a couple of conflicting sources have come forward.

One of them is Ted Zapp, the T&C's general manager in those days.

"Streisand was NOT fired," he insisted over the phone from Victoria, where he lives in retirement. "I would take a lie detector test to prove it."

Zapp, 73, claims he was in Galpern's office when Galpern took a call from Hal Munro, the Chicago agent who booked Streisand.

Munro had secured a big gig for her in the U.S. Would Galpern do him a favour by releasing her early from her two-week contract?

Munro promised to make it up to Galpern by sending him other quality performers. He even said he'd give him Streisand again.

This proved an idle promise. The following March, Babs became the toast of Broadway in I Can Get it For You Wholesale.

"I have no idea how the firing story got started," Zapp says. "Auby would never lie about something like that."

Another person who disputes the firing story is Helen Chandler, 86, a widow in the West End. She was the club's "head girl" in those years.

"Auby might have said he fired her, but he didn't," Chandler said. "He was always saying he fired people he didn't get along with."

Chandler, however, insists that Streisand played out her whole two weeks, a detail nobody else I've spoken to recalls happening.

I received a call from a gentleman named Dow Fraser. In 1985, he said, he dated a woman named Leona Mann, who had been a cocktail waitress at the T&C when Streisand appeared.

Mann told him that after Babs was fired, she let her stay on the couch in her apartment in Winnipeg for a few nights until she could arrange to return to New York.

Mann, sadly, died last January.

Jazz pianist George Reznik, a member of the Towers house band, has always believed Streisand was canned. He even knows who replaced her when she suddenly disappeared.

It was Mary Nelson, a respected local singer at the time.

Reznik, 76, supplied me with a hand-made photo album Nelson sent him from her home in B.C.

It includes a photocopy of Nelson's professional publicity photo from that era. Beside it, she has hand-printed:

"A blast from the past... replacing the fired B. Streisand in the Towers. Got to love that old memory!"

It is likely that everyone is telling the truth here as they remember it. Here's one possible scenario:

Streisand and Galpern are not getting along. She contacts Munro to say, "Get me out of here."

Munro obliges. Because Galpern hates her, and she's not drawing customers, he lets her go. Then, to stoke his own bravado, he begins telling people he fired her. The story takes on a life of its own.

If this mythical Munro were still alive (which is doubtful), he would know the truth. And Streisand likely does, too.

Mind you, within a few years of the incident, she got so famous she forgot she played here. This later chapter in the Streisand story was well documented by entertainment journalist Gene Telpner, who died in 2005.

Maybe some war stories are better left in the land of memories, whether they're true or false.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 11, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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