Bar­bra bares her soul

In a rare and can­did in­ter­view, Bar­bra Streisand tells Chrissy Iley how she over­came her ugly duck­ling tag, and why she owes her ca­reer to her jeal­ous mother My mother never told me she loved me

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -


Bar­bra Streisand’s hair still falls in blonde sheets be­low her shoul­ders. The eyes are the same pale, pow­er­ful blue, small but pierc­ing. She looks im­pos­si­bly young for a woman of 72. There’s almost a child­like ea­ger­ness about her. And on her head she’s wear­ing a grey beret rem­i­nis­cent of her A Star Is Born pe­riod.

She has an in­ter­est­ing tale to tell about the Os­car-win­ning film in which she starred op­po­site Kris Kristof­fer­son in 1976, the clas­sic story of a fa­mous rock star who fell for an un­known singer who then eclipsed him. ‘Elvis was the first per­son we ap­proached to play op­po­site me in A Star Is Born. He was go­ing through hard times then. He’d gained weight and was los­ing es­teem. We thought, “Why not go for him? He’s re­ally go­ing through this time in re­al­ity and to tap into that might be mag­nif­i­cent.” I flew to Las Ve­gas to talk to him. He wanted to do it but the Colonel [Tom Parker, his man­ager] wouldn’t let him. It was some strange rea­son which I can’t re­mem­ber, but I fi­nally got to sing with him.’

There’s a track with Elvis on her new duets al­bum, Part­ners, us­ing an old record­ing of Love Me Ten­der, where she says she felt their souls touched. They first met in 1969. ‘I was giv­ing my­self a man­i­cure when he came back­stage. I was so shy I didn’t know what to do. I just found my­self pol­ish­ing my nails while he was talk­ing to me. I re­mem­ber he had this big sil­ver belt with jew­els.’ She couldn’t look into his eyes. ‘He was very sweet. I didn’t get Elvis when he first be­came popular, then as the years went by I found my­self lis­ten­ing to his records and ap­pre­ci­at­ing him.’

Bar­bra has al­ways had a rather ex­cit­ing choice of boyfriend. Dom­i­nant char­ac­ters – War­ren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, Don John­son, An­dre Agassi and her hus­band of 16 years, ac­tor James Brolin. ‘All my men are re­ally at­trac­tive. All of them. I love beauty whether it’s in a vase, a piece of fur­ni­ture or a de­sign. There are some peo­ple who are very for­tu­nate to be beau­ti­ful. My hus­band has a per­fect fore­head, a per­fect jaw, per­fect teeth, per­fect nose. So even if he makes me angry some­times, I still get a kick out of his sym­me­try.’

Does she think that her men have any­thing else in common other than their beauty? You can’t help won­der­ing if she was look­ing to find a piece of her fa­ther, who died when she was only 15 months old, in them. She pauses to think about this. ‘No, although Pierre Trudeau [who was Prime Min­is­ter of Canada when they dated] had the most fa­ther-like qual­ity be­cause he was much older than me and I

‘I love food. I eat when I’m sad. I eat when

I’m happy’

ad­mired him. I was only 29. I was very young but he was ready for mar­riage and I didn’t want to give up my movie ca­reer and move to Canada.’

Her fa­ther Emanuel was only six years older than that when he died. He’d had a car crash and was blighted by headaches. One day he went to hos­pi­tal with a par­tic­u­larly bad one and they gave him a dose of mor­phine that turned out to be fa­tal. Bar­bra’s mother, Diana, a singer who died in 2002, was fa­mously crit­i­cal and unlov­ing. ‘I think some­times there are par­ents who don’t re­ally like them­selves. They don’t like their off­spring ei­ther. My mother meant well. She loved me as best she could. She had dreams of her own and she wanted to be a singer.’ Was she jeal­ous? ‘Yes. And that was stag­ger­ing for me to learn. She never praised me to my face but I have a feel­ing she praised me to other peo­ple. And she wasn’t a toucher. She never hugged me or said words like, “I love you”.’

Has that af­fected her – is she a toucher? ‘More than my mother. Now I’m older I can do it, but for a long time touch­ing felt alien.

‘I al­ways felt, “Why are you hug­ging me, what is this about?” I didn’t un­der­stand it and it felt un­com­fort­able. A crit­i­cal mother...’ She shakes her head a lit­tle. ‘I just couldn’t please her. But I owe her my ca­reer. It was painful on the way up. I was al­ways try­ing to prove to her that I was wor­thy of be­ing somebody.

‘When she first saw me sing I didn’t have money so I went to thrift shops for my out­fits. I was wear­ing a Vic­to­rian lace jacket that looked beau­ti­ful with a pink rib­bon in it, a white cot­ton skirt I’d made and shoes from the 1920s in pink satin. I thought it was a great out­fit. My mother said, “Why are you singing in your un­der­wear? And your voice needs strength­en­ing. Put an egg in milk and whip it up.” She called this a “gug­gle mug­gle”. It was dis­gust­ing. Other peo­ple were prais­ing my voice but my mother would say, “It’s not good enough, it’s not strong.”’

On Bar­bra’s last tour in 2012, as if she wanted to close a chap­ter on some fa­mil­ial demons, she played her mother’s record to the au­di­ence. ‘She had a beau­ti­ful voice. And we played her so that I could fi­nally say, “Ma, you fi­nally made it. You’re singing in front of thou­sands of peo­ple.”

‘She al­ways said she was too shy. When I was 13 we used to have a week’s va­ca­tion ev­ery year in the Catskill Moun­tains and that’s when my mother hired a pi­anist so she could make this record. I had a good voice too. On the block I was known as the girl with the good voice and no fa­ther. That was my iden­tity tag. We made th­ese funny record­ings when I was 13. I sup­pose you have to go through th­ese tur­bu­lent times. She mo­ti­vated me to prove I was worth it.’

The record­ing, which she de­scribes as ‘my mother’s record which I was al­lowed to sing on’, does not fea­ture on her new al­bum, but as well as singing with Michael Bublé, Ste­vie Won­der, Billy Joel, An­drea Bo­celli and John Legend, Bar­bra also sings with her son Ja­son Gould, who’s 47. She’s al­ways been very close to her only son (from her mar­riage to ac­tor El­liott Gould be­tween 1963 and 1971), an artist, writer and film di­rec­tor. It was as if she wanted to give him a child­hood with all the love and ap­proval she never had.

This is the first time they have united on record, singing How Deep Is The Ocean to­gether. It’s one of the high­lights of

the al­bum, but his singing tal­ent was a re­cent sur­prise to her. ‘We sang to­gether ev­ery night when I put him to sleep, so he knew lots of songs as a baby. I never heard him sing again un­til he was 15. I heard him hum through a closed door and I said, “Ja­son, that is the most beau­ti­ful hum.”’

Ja­son was self- con­scious about his hum­ming and was silent again for many years. ‘So what a sur­prise it was a few years ago when he said, “I think I feel like singing.” I said, “Fan­tas­tic. Why didn’t you do this ear­lier?” He was afraid to be com­pared to me, he said, “Un­til my need to ex­press my­self was greater than my fear of it.” No mat­ter what he does, whether it’s writ­ing or pot­tery or paint­ing, he’s in­cred­i­ble. We’ve both started paint­ing at the same time now. It was a co­in­ci­dence. It’s like we’re at­tached by os­mo­sis, it’s such a bond.’

She brims with ex­cite­ment – paint­ing and singing with her only son is clearly thrilling for her. ‘When he brought me his record­ing of How Deep Is The Ocean, hon­estly my jaw dropped. I thought what an amaz­ing voice. He just floored me.’ Bar­bra took him on her last con­cert tour to per­form that one song. ‘Now he’s try­ing out lit­tle clubs. He sang three songs last night. He’s still do­ing pot­tery and he’s still do­ing paint­ing.’ Are they sim­i­lar as painters? ‘No, I don’t think so. He has his own style and I have my own style. I haven’t done enough work yet to have an ex­hi­bi­tion, but it would be fun, mother and son. I’m very proud of him.’

She’s also very proud of her new al­bum. It’s very emo­tional. Michael Bublé said she had ‘a throat that God kissed’, an un­canny abil­ity to tell a story. And that’s one of the things that makes Bar­bra Bar­bra. She gets to you be­cause what­ever love she’s singing about, un­re­quited, pas­sion­ate, for­giv­ing, unswerving, you feel she’s felt it. Each song is de­liv­ered as its own emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, a story of a re­la­tion­ship with a be­gin­ning, a mid­dle, an end. ‘Yes, that’s be­cause I started when I was 18, 17 even, in a club. I only wanted to be an ac­tress. I didn’t want to be a singer. I just took a job. I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced half of what I sang about, but I ex­pe­ri­enced it in my imag­i­na­tion. I ex­pe­ri­enced what I’d like to feel in my own life. I used to go to act­ing classes, I never went to singing classes.’

For much of her ca­reer, Bar­bra at­tracted as much crit­i­cism as she did glory. The movies she di­rected, The Prince Of Tides in 1991 and The Mir­ror Has Two Faces in 1996, were not crit­i­cally well re­ceived. When she starred in and di­rected Yentl in 1983, the re­ac­tion was hos­tile, although Bar­bra be­came the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Di­rec­tor. She played Pol­ish girl Yentl, as well as Yentl pre­tend­ing to be her late brother, as only males were al­lowed to study un­der Tal­mu­dic law.

She’s al­ways liked to embrace ex­tremes of mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine, and sees them in her­self. She thinks it may be part of the legacy of los­ing her fa­ther. ‘I did find him, dur­ing Yentl, I cre­ated him. I was the di­rec­tor, I was the one in con­trol. I was the male fig­ure. All of that was very cathar­tic.

At what point did she re­alise she was beau­ti­ful? She looks self- con­scious and baf­fled. ‘I have two dif­fer­ent sides of my face. At first I didn’t know which side was good. I have got to know my face and I can hon­estly say I am both. From cer­tain an­gles, maybe I am beau­ti­ful. From oth­ers I am hor­ri­ble. So that’s the truth. That’s my truth any­way. I don’t think it will ever change be­cause that’s what I see.

‘When I did Yentl I shot my­self as a boy on the side I don’t like. I shot Yentl as a girl on my good side. The bad side I used be­cause I wanted to look more mas­cu­line. The story of The Way We Were [in 1973] is about an ugly duck­ling who finds Robert Red­ford. But if you look back I don’t look too bad. Maybe I’ve stood the test of time. Over 50 years. Or maybe at some point it just went out of my mind. I stopped think­ing about it. Although one of the rea­sons to write my book is that I want to tell the truth.’

She has started on her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and the drive be­hind it is to cor­rect the un­truths writ­ten about her. ‘I’m try­ing to write it. I have chap­ters in my note­book from years ago. I lose in­ter­est in telling the story of my life. I’ve lived it, it’s bor­ing to me. But when peo­ple write about me and it’s not the truth it up­sets me. If they say some­thing about me that’s true I don’t mind. It’s only when they lie that I can’t un­der­stand it. Maybe it’s more in­ter­est­ing to do that. Es­pe­cially women writ­ers. My reviews on Yentl from women writ­ers were so bitchy.

I’d heard that ev­ery Satur­day she and James like to stay in bed all day. ‘We do that more days a week. TV is so good th­ese days. We’ve got so much to catch up on. When you travel you don’t see them so we’ve recorded lots. I love Home­land, Masters Of Sex, and all my po­lit­i­cal shows. I’ve got­ten lazier. I used to work when I was not con­tent. As I got hap­pier I had less need to work, which is ter­ri­ble in a way. I have a per­sonal trainer who has been with me for 34 years. Three times a week is all I can do be­cause I hate ex­er­cise and I love to eat. I love food too much.’

I have brought Bar­bra a cake for our meet­ing in the pent­house of a chintzy New York ho­tel. Not just any cake, but a cake from her favourite child­hood bak­ery in Brook­lyn which closed in 1974. My friend had been able to get the recipe be­cause his grand­mother was the man­ager there and he had another bak­ery bake it for her. Bar­bra gets so ex­cited when she sees it, her long French man­i­cured nails scram­ble to open it. Mocha cake with shaved al­monds. She lets out a sigh. ‘It takes me back,’ she says. ‘We lived in the projects [sub­sidised ten­e­ment blocks]. Around the cor­ner they had built new stores, and Ebinger’s was the bak­ery with all the great choco­late and mocha cakes. It tells you a lot about a neigh­bour­hood, a cake. When you lived in Brook­lyn in the 1950s you just lived on your block with your friends. I never ven­tured to Man­hat­tan un­til I was 14. Go­ing for a cake was the high point of my day.’

She says she’s re­cently taken cook­ery classes. ‘I’m fas­ci­nated by how, with lit­tle more than two eggs and a cup of sugar, you get a cake. I’m not in­ven­tive, I have to follow recipes. And I’m not or­gan­ised in the kitchen, so it’s a mess. I’ve never had a pro­fes­sional cook, but my house­keeper has been with me 40 years and I like her sim­ple cook­ing. Food is so im­por­tant to me. I eat when I’m sad, I eat when I’m happy. I’ve just been on va­ca­tion to Italy and I ate my brains out for two weeks. We had pasta five times a day.’ She and her hus­band were on hol­i­day with one of her past boyfriends, Don John­son, and his wife. ‘We just got to know each other again.’

There have been ru­mours that another old flame might have been for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Bar­bra is a staunch sup­porter. ‘He loves peo­ple, he loves ideas and he can talk about ev­ery sub­ject. I don’t know where he finds the time to read all this stuff. He is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary,’ she says, so warmly that it seems pretty ob­vi­ous to me she wouldn’t be so open if they re­ally had had an af­fair. Does she know Hil­lary? ‘Yes and I like her. I think she would make a good pres­i­dent and I think that will change a lot of things. Think of all the coun­tries that have fe­male lead­ers. We would also get Bill Clin­ton back in the White House as an ad­vi­sor. He’s pretty fan­tas­tic. So let’s root for Hil­lary!’

Bar­bra’s new al­bum Part­ners is out now.

‘I was al­ways try­ing to prove to her that I was wor­thy’

Bar­bra to­day and (above) with her mother Diana. Far left: With hus­band James Brolin Left: With Robert Red­ford in The The­Way Way WeWereWe Were in 1973.1973 ‘If you look back I don’t look too bad,’ she says. Above: With the Clin­tons last year

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.