She is by far. Here, though, not quite yet - and she's not quite 20. This was the great wide world's introduction to Barbra Joan, on Jack Paar's Tonight Show. It's 1961. She appears in her dowdy dress and impossible hair, altogether implausible, and sings Arlen - and Arlen in dialect, from a flop musical, yet. What?
But time stops. What must it have been like, night after night, in little clubs up and down the East Coast and elsewhere, to be among the first to experience that voice? You would, for a few months, have had a wonderful secret, and for years and ever after, a real right to boast - "Oh yes, we heard her at the Bon Soir, you know..."
Today, she's 70. We take her for granted, or lightly mock her for her undeniable pretensions, her immutable sense of self. But aren't we lucky to have her? And who has more of a right to take herself just a shade too seriously? Who else has sung with Garland, been romanced by Sharif and Redford (not to mention Matthau), held her own against Madeline Kahn in a comedy battle to the death, conquered Broadway and Hollywood, turned herself into a pop star and and a disco diva, turned TV specials into art (or was it vice versa), convinced the world that she was not only supremely talented but supremely beautiful, and never, ever made it look like anything other than what she was born to do?
I think she's swell. Any time I start to think, oh, dear - the nails, the dreary Donna Karan dresses (perhaps she should always have someone like Cecil Beaton around to dress her?), the solemnity, Yentl... well, I think of the voice, and all is forgiven, now and forever.