Barbra Streisand is a bit like the Rorschach-ink-blot test. Ugly or beautiful? Well, my sister, Jo, used to get told she looked like Barbra Streisand. In other words, she had a big hooter. This was the consolation prize you didn’t want to win. Streisand redefined what it meant to be beautiful. If you listen to her feminist fan Camille Paglia not only did she do that but redefined what it meant to be a woman, an outsider and all that jazz. The trouble with this is all the Barbie notions of femininity she so despises, blond hair, Farrah Fawcett features are pretty much my mindset of what female beauty looks like. What no one can argue about is Barbra Streisand had a voice like no other.
If we start at the beginning, she was born in Brooklyn and her dad died when she was a few months old and her mother didn’t really thing much of her daughter. Barbra (she took the a out of her name later) was so thin and anaemic her mum didn’t think she should take ballet lessons. She took ballet lessons. Her mum thought Barbra should go to college. She was a straight-A student. Barbra didn’t have time for college, she’d wanted to be a star since she was four of five and the first step was getting out of Brooklyn and crossing the bridge to the bright lights of Broadway, or thereabouts. I know it’s kind of daft, but I never thought about Streisand as being Jewish, even though the clues are all there for anybody that wants to look.
She was sixteen when she took acting lessons with Alan Miller, who became her acting mentor. Such was her dedication she took all his classes and followed him home on the bus and continually asked questions. She took a Socratic view of the world. And this continued throughout her career, where at every step she took charge of her destiny. She explained later in the programme that she’d be described as a perfectionist. And I’m sure she was, but she declared herself to ‘strive for excellence’ which was a lesser beast, which allowed compromise, but not with the ‘narrow-minded’ which is the kind of thing a perfectionist would say.
The funny thing about funny girl is no one took her seriously. She went for auditions some marked her talented but ugly, which was much the same thing. No acting roles. The mighty Lee Strasberg who gave us the iconic Marlon Brando, described Streisand as talentless and annoying. Her endless questions didn’t suit his style of learning. I guess he thought her ugly too. Everybody else did.
Sixteen to eighteen, here’s one of those crazy things, 1960-61, she asks Barry, one of her actor friends, if she could use his Ambex recording equipment and he agrees, even though he doesn’t know if she can sing. He talks about ‘cold shivers’ when he heard her. Yeh, voice of an angel. Her father had been a cantor in Russia and her mother Streisand said was a great singer.
Her voice, not her looks or acting talent is her passport to every kind of critical and successful awards Broadway and Hollywood can fling at her. She’s a world movie star with number one hits and a massive fan base. She directs and produces her own movies. Yentl based on a short story by Issac Bashevis Singer is a showcase of her talent and leverage. Streisand writes the screenplay (with help from Jack Rosenthal, but her name comes first and foremost). She directs the movie. She raises the money for the movie and is the producer. She stars in the movie. It’s her baby and it won awards and made money. Her voice is amazing, but really, the film is shit.
Streisand, of course, like any icon leaves the past behind and recreates herself. If I remember rightly she had a later affair with Andre Agassi, when he could play tennis and she kept Michael Jackson on speed-dial. Icons do that sort of thing. Her first husband Eliot Gould when he divorced her said he thought she’d come back to him. Icons don’t look back, they’re always looking forward. The next big thing. Streisand is a real star, but Yentl, get real. If I wasn’t already bald I’d be pulling my hair out. Beauty is in the eye of the moneyholder.