Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Ryan Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Frost
Funny Girl, The Way We Were, A Star Is Born, and Yentl
Currently Known For:
Singer, Songwriter, Actress, and Filmmaker
April 24, 1942
Funny Girl, The Way We Were, A Star Is Born, and Yentl
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“I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.” As one of the best-selling recording artists of all time and only one of a handful of entertainers honored with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony Award, Barbra Streisand launched her career in the 1960s and has achieved incredible success decade after decade as a singer, songwriter, actress, and filmmaker. Shortly after getting her start as a singer and songwriter, she proved her talents in film with award-winning performances in Funny Girl, A Star Is Born, and The Way We Were. In 1983, she made history as the first woman to write, produce, direct, and start in a major studio film with Yentl, which also made her the first and only woman to win a Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Today, the 76-year-old is still going strong as one of entertainment’s greatest legends known for her impeccable excellence and knee-rattling stage fright. So, how has she managed her career over the last five decades? Let’s find out!
A Star Is Born
Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942 in New York City, New York where her mother briefly considered a career as a singer before becoming a school secretary where she met and fell in love with a handsome high school teacher named Emanuel Streisand. Eventually marrying in 1930, they spent the next 12 years together before welcoming their daughter, Barbara, into the world; however, they would barely get a year together as a family of three before tragedy struck. Just months after Barbara’s first birthday, her 34-year-old father died suddenly from complications caused by an epileptic seizure. The once prosperous and happy Streisand family soon fell into poverty as Barbara felt more and more like an outcast both at school and at home. “Everybody else’s father came home from work at the end of the day. Mine didn’t,” Streisand recalled. “And when I wanted love from my mother, she gave me food.”
At only 15 months old when her father died, Streisand knew very little of her father because her mother refused to speak of him, especially after she quietly married Louis Kind in 1949 without Barbara knowing. “When I was 7 or 8, my mother sent me away to a camp where I couldn’t stand the food. I was throwing potatoes down to the other end of the table,” Streisand recalled. “She came to visit, and I said, ‘You’re not leaving without me.’ I was a very powerful kid. I had no reins on me. I said, ‘I’m packing my bags and going home with you.’ Little did I know, the guy with her in the car was my new stepfather. My mother never actually told me she had remarried… I’m convinced this is why I cannot stand to be lied to. I can take any truth; just don’t lie to me.”
As her relationship with her mother grew more and more strained, Streisand pursued her interests in performing and dreamed of becoming famous and getting out of Brooklyn. Before long, she was known throughout the neighborhood for her iconic voice, a talent that earned her the attention she didn’t get at home. “When I was maybe five or six years old, the neighborhood girls would sit on the stoop and sing,” Streisand recalled. “I was known as the kid who had a good voice and no father.” Streisand made her singing debut at a PTA assembly and went on to sing at various weddings and summer camps before auditioning at MGM records when she was nine. Over the next few years, her mother continued to be her harshest critic before she finally supported her daughter’s dreams and helped her record her first demo tape.
“I’m sure she loved me in the way she knew how,” Streisand said of her mother. “For her, love was food… She didn’t encourage me to become an actress—maybe she didn’t want me to experience rejection. She never thought I would make it. She would say it in other ways. When she first saw me act, her comment was, ‘Your arms are too skinny.’ She wanted me to forget acting and become a school secretary like she was. ‘You’ll get paid vacations and summers of,’ my mother would tell me. ‘It’s a steady job.’ But I knew I had some other destiny. I have a picture of myself singing at P.S. 25—skinny legs, pigeon-toed. I remember people saying I had a good voice.”
Launching Her Career
In 1957, Streisand made her stage debut as a walk-on at the Playhouse in Malden Bridge, New York and later took a night job at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. She graduated early from high school in 1959 and immediately launched her career in show business by renting a small apartment on 48th street in the heart of the theater district where she accepted any theatrical job she could find. Over the next few months, she honed her talents and auditioned for the role of a singer in a production of The Sound of Music. Although her voice was incredible, the casting director felt she was wrong for the part and encouraged her to pursue singing full time.
Streisand recorded a second demo tape, this time with the help of her boyfriend, Barry Dennen, who was enamored by his girlfriend’s secret talent. “We spent the afternoon taping and the moment I heard the first playback, I went insane,” Dennen recalled. “This nutty little kook had one of the most breathtaking voices I’d ever heard… when she was finished, and I turned off the machine, I needed a long moment before I dared look up at her.”
Dennen encouraged Streisand to enter her first talent show at the Lion, a gay nightclub in Greenwich Village, which she won. She returned for several performances and, shortly after, decided to drop the “a” from her first name becoming “Barbra” Streisand. Before long, she was making the rounds at various nightclubs and even opened for comedian Phyllis Diller as audiences and music critics compared her to the likes of Lena Horne and Judy Garland. “Her name is Barbra Streisand. She is 20 years old, and has a three-octave promiscuity of range, she packs more personal dynamic power than anybody I can recall…” one columnist wrote of her 1963 performance at the Blue Angel.
With her growing success as a singer, Streisand slowly ventured back into acting and won a part opposite a young actor named Elliott Gould in I Can Get It for You Wholesale. While Streisand and Gould fell in love behind the scenes, the show itself received rave reviews as Streisand was praised as Broadway’s youngest new star. She then ventured to television with appearances on The Tonight Show and wowed listeners with her debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album, in 1963, which earned three Grammy Awards. The following year, she earned even more critical acclaim with her performance in Funny Girl.
1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and Into the New Millennium
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Streisand released album after album and became a mainstay on the pop charts with singles like “The Way We Were,” “Evergreen,” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Amid her growing success as a singer and songwriter, she continued pushing the envelope as an actress with credits in What’s Up, Doc?, The Way We Were, and A Star is Born before turning heads in 1983 when she became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in Yentl, a film with a $14 million budget that was intended to put Streisand on the map in Hollywood but failed when she was passed over for five Academy Awards.
“It was strange,” she recalled. “I didn’t mind it for one reason: it really showed the sexism. I thought by not being nominated, I put a spotlight on the issue. I thought, ‘Wow, this is so transparent.’ I remember looking at the Directors Guild list. I think there were only 11 women, and I thought to myself, ‘There is no way they’re going to vote for me.’ I didn’t even think the women would nominate me.” In fact, some of Streisand’s harshest reviews came from female critics like Janet Maslin of The New York Times. “It devastated me. She didn’t like the light on my father coming through a window,” Streisand said. “It was a beautiful light. I wanted to show him in a natural way.”
Despite being passed over for Yentl, Streisand refused to give up and stepped behind the scenes once again for The Prince of Tides in 1991 and The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996. She briefly put her music career on hold and became politically involved as she supported Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign before surprising her fans with her first public concert appearance in 27 years in 1993. Beginning with a New Year’s event at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Streisand launched a multi-city tour in 1994 that sold out in under an hour and rekindled her incredible stardom as she became the highest paid concert performer in history and earned five Emmy Awards as well as a Peabody Award for her work on the road.
Battling her incredible stage fright night after night, Streisand wrapped up the tour and released her next studio album, Higher Ground, in 1997. Over the next few years, she returned to the stage a handful of times and continued to set new box office records as many criticized her for her stage fright and use of teleprompters. “I might go blank. I’ll think, ‘What am I doing on this stage? Holy mackerel!’” Streisand said of what would happen if she didn’t have the teleprompter. “But, then I realize that fear has an energy behind it. The whole point is to go beyond the fear and do it anyway, because I know I’m singing for a good cause.”
Releasing over 50 chart-topping albums and appearing in films like Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers as well as working on projects like Gypsy and Catherine the Great, Streisand may not have any plans to return to Broadway anytime soon, but she has plenty of things to keep her busy outside of her stellar career. At the top of that list is her husband of 20 years, actor James Brolin, whom she met on a blind date at a dinner party. “I walked in and saw him with a buzz cut. No hair! It wasn’t pretty,” Streisand said of their first meeting. “We started talking about architecture, because I was building things and his father was a contractor. Then I touched his head, which I’d normally never do, but because I was in director mode—I was working on The Mirror Has Two Faces—and dealing with male actors all day, I was much freer. So, I said, ‘Who f—ked up your hair?’ He now says that’s when he fell in love with me—because I told him the truth.”
Marrying on July 1, 1998, Streisand and Brolin blended their families together with her son, Jason, from her first marriage to actor Elliott Gould, and Brolin’s two children, including actor Josh Brolin. Over the last two decades, they’ve extended their family to include their beloved dogs, all of whom live with Streisand and Brolin in their dream home, which Streisand designed herself as a three-acre coastal enclave with three houses including a main residence, The Barn, and Grandma’s House, all of which are home to Streisand’s impressive art collection.
As for what’s next, the 76-year-old Streisand says she has a lot of ideas for future albums and is anxious to get back in the studio. “Time goes by so fast that I’ve never gotten to make all the albums that I had in my head,” She’s also working on her memoir, which inspired her latest show: Barbra: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. “It so difficult because I don’t want to relive my life,” she admits. “Once is enough.” As long as she continues making music, her fans certainly won’t mind waiting a little longer on the memoirs of a living legend.