Despite Playing Love Interests, Streisand And Matthau Feuded Bitterly During Hello, Dolly!

It was 1968. Barbra Streisand was one of Hollywood's fastest-rising stars, while Walter Matthau was an acting veteran already. Behind the scenes at the 40th Academy Awards, he insulted her hairdo, and she called him "cruel" and "hostile," according to The Telegraph. Unfortunately, they were scheduled to begin filming a movie together only days later: "Hello, Dolly!"

On set, the two fought frequently. Both had strong opinions. Both tried to outshine each other in the film. Matthau considered Streisand unpredictable and hated how often she asked for scene retakes. Christopher Andersen, Streisand's biographer, said Matthau was upset because Streisand so often told director Gene Kelly what he should be doing (via CBS News). Future director Nora Ephron, however, thought Matthau picked fights with Streisand because he was jealous of her growing fame. Ephron quoted a friend who had worked on the movie as saying, "She's 26 years old and she's the biggest star in town. Can you imagine how a big spoiled cry-baby like Matthau reacts to playing second fiddle to that?" (via The Telegraph).

The film's stars weren't the only two sparring on set. According to Vanyaland, Kelly fought with scriptwriter and producer Ernest Lehman. Kelly was often in the middle of his stars' spats and understood Streisand's frustration with the situation, per The Telegraph, but Streisand didn't like him. Matthau fell out with co star Michael Crawford, and Lehman stopped speaking to Michael Kidd, the choreographer. This was in addition to the film's budget problems and delayed release (via Vanyaland).

The feud intensifies

The Matthau-Streisand feud came to a head on June 7, 1968, the day after Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, which had the cast and crew upset. Matthau admitted later, "I was in a mean, foul mood — so, took it all out on Barbra, the poor girl" (via The Telegraph). Vanyaland says Streisand's suggestions for blocking a scene set Matthau off. The Telegraph says it was her calling for retakes. Either way, it led to Matthau telling her to stop trying to be the director. He also said, "You might be the singer in this picture, but I'm the actor. You haven't got the talent of a butterfly's fart." Streisand was reduced to tears, but she wasn't cowed for long. She brought Matthau a bar of soap the next day: "for your old sewer mouth" (via The Telegraph).

Per The Telegraph, Matthau began to leave any room Streisand was in unless they were filming a scene together. He called Fox President Richard Zanuck claiming that the movie was negatively impacting his health, to which Zanuck said, "I'd like to help you out, but the film is not called 'Hello, Walter!'" Finally, Matthau refused to kiss Streisand during their wedding scene, leaving the cinematographers to fake it with various camera angles.

The feud resolves

Matthau later called Streisand "a freak attraction" and said, "The trouble with Barbra is that she became a star long before she became an actress." However, given that he eventually admitted his fault in their big fight, it seems the bitterness of the feud didn't last forever. In 1986, he paid $5,000 to go to an invitation-only charity concert at her home. The invitation suggests Streisand had forgiven him by then (via The Telegraph).

Lehman later summed up the making of "Hello, Dolly!": "The intrigues, the bitterness, the backbiting, the deceits, the misery, the gloom. Most unpleasant." The box office was a disappointment, too; even though it was the fifth-highest-grossing film of the year (behind "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Midnight Cowboy," among others), "Dolly" barely broke even. At the time, it was the most expensive movie musical ever made, with a final cost of $28 million (via Vanyaland). Despite that, and many other setbacks, it was critically acclaimed, per The Telegraph. It won three Oscars (Best Art Direction, Best Score and Best Sound) and was nominated for four more.