My Name is Barbra – Streisand, Of Course

Barbra Streisand is a phenomenon: Hollywood (Best Actress 1969 ), Broadway (Special Award 1970), and television star (eight Emmys); movie director, producer, composer (Best Original Song 1977, 1997), recording artist (10 Grammy Awards), live performer (despite acute stage fright), writer, and political activist (Democratic) are some of her identifiers. She kept journals. The tome is DETAILED.

Raised in working class Brooklyn by a mother whose bitter negativity can only be compared to that of Stephen Sondheim’s (on her death bed, his mom told Stephen she regretted giving birth to him) and a bad tempered stepfather, Streisand’s confidence was nonetheless apparent from the start. She would never be bullied into fixing her nose or changing her last name. “I was a personality before I became a person.”

Even as a fledgling, the young artist stuck up for performance instincts at risk of being fired. We’d never have seen Miss Marmelstein zooming around the stage in a wheeled desk chair (stopping the show) had she not stuck to her guns against the formidable Arthur Laurents (I Can Get It for You Wholesale). His major offense besides lack of imagination was to instruct her to “freeze” something she improvised. That direction has always been anathema to her in-the-moment approach.  A constant state of tinnitus (ringing in her ears) might’ve sidelined a performer of lesser will.

Streisand was raised poor. She had, she says, no dolls, only a hot water bottle dressed in a burgundy sweater knit by a neighbor/caregiver. Today she owns a valuable antique doll collection. Burgundy features in environment and apparel.

Her parents divorced, her father passed. She admits to spending her entire life looking for a man who would emotionally support and paternally handle things – this from someone who told directors how to direct, arrangers how to arrange, cameramen where to focus…etc. One wonders whether her father had great teeth as that’s been a major criteria for her attraction to men. Certainly a need for approval was established. ”Many times I need instant gratification because I’m never quite sure the person or the thing I crave won’t disappear,” she muses. Sexism also features prominently over the years.

During a two week booking at The Bon Soir in Greenwich Village, Streisand  changed  the spelling of her first name. The world beat a path downtown. She shares fan letters from the famous. Funny Girl put her on the map. “We were so alike, It was almost scary,” the writer says of Fanny Brice. Sidney Chaplin, who played love interest Nicky Arnstein, came on strong. When she backed up, he sabotaged her onstage. Streisand developed panic attacks and finally went to Actors Equity. Years later, she learned Walter Matthau’s unfathomable animosity on the set of “Hello, Dolly!,” (playing Horace Vandergelder) was attributed to revenge for his friend, Chaplin.

Streisand admits to affairs with Anthony Newly freshly married to Joan Collins, Pierre Trudeau, Andre Agassi, and Don Johnson “not a communicator,” without a hint of kiss-and-tell. Marlon Brando, who became a friend, opened with “I’d like to fuck you.” When Streisand demurred, he added, “Ok, then I’d like to go to a museum with you.” She swears they were never physically intimate, “but boy was he seductive.”

There were relationships with “kind, smart, independent” Richard Baskin (Baskin Robbins ice cream); hairdresser, Jon “You have a nice ass”  Peters whom she handed a producing career on a platter; Kris Kristofferson (they dated years before A Star is Born); and her first husband Elliott Gould, father of light-of-her-life son Jason.

We hear about leading men: Mandy Patinkin – who gave her a rough time during Yentel (100 pages worth of recollection) apparently expecting an affair; Robert Redford, whom she had to talk into accepting the iconic role in The Way We Were, on whom she heaps personal and professional praise; Jeff Bridges “because of his relationship with his mom” (The Mirror Had Two Faces, “something with a happy ending!”), Nick Nolte (Prince of Tides – accompanied by free association analysis), a complicated person.

She writes about the establishment of First Artists with Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman; her long, deep friendship and acrimonious break up with pal, agent Sue Mengers; consulting a Long Island medium- yes, Barbra believes; supporting Bella Abzug and the Clintons; collecting; philanthropy. Every frame of every important film seems to be examined as are pivotal record albums and her television specials. Artistic contributions driven by perfectionism always turn out right. Self aware and then obtuse, she makes it all sound like fact rather than bragging.

Streisand’s biggest disappointment is not having had the opportunity to direct and play Mama Rose in Gypsy, a project she pursued for years finally giving up performing entirely. Her greatest joy (excepting Jason) is husband of 25 years, James Brolin. Reluctantly set up at a dinner party, she expected the bearded, thick, grey-haired star of the television series Hotel only to encounter a shaved face – albeit with good teeth – below a two tone crew cut. “Who fucked up your hair?” she asked in passing, running her hand over it. Brolin says he was attracted to her honesty.

Barbra Streisand was contracted to deliver this book in two years, It took ten. She has a helluva life to remember. It’s exhausting.

Headshot credit Russell James – Courtesy of Viking

My Name is Barbra – Viking Press

About Alix Cohen (1686 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.