Bar­bra Streisand:

In a poignant in­ter­view with Chrissy Iley, Bar­bra Streisand re­veals the vul­ner­a­ble side to a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer and her love for beau­ti­ful men.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

her love for beau­ti­ful men and why women can be many things

Mal­ibu. Not quite at Bar­bra Streisand’s house, but at a studio just down the road from it. She’s been do­ing TV in­ter­views. Lights are set up, so bright I have to peer to see her face. Her eyes stare out – pierce me even. She’s wear­ing a soft drapey black dress, mul­ti­ple long gold chains and strappy san­dals that have spikes across the straps. Dark red toe pol­ish. These are feet you don’t ar­gue with – dom­i­na­trix – while the rest of her is a con­trast­ing soft. But then Bar­bra has al­ways loved that kind of jux­ta­po­si­tion, mas­culism meets fem­i­nism, strong meets vul­ner­a­ble.

Truth is, I want to hug her hello. This is Bar­bra Streisand! Bar­bra, whose songs I’ve known all my life, whose voice has been a com­fort in its com­plete emo­tional em­pa­thy. What­ever I’ve felt or what­ever you’ve felt, we know Bar­bra’s felt it more and she’s showed us. That’s part of her charm, part of what makes her vul­ner­a­ble yet an icon.

In for the hug then, but I re­mem­ber her telling me be­fore, hug­ging doesn’t come nat­u­rally to her. Per­haps it stems from the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship she shared with her mother, who was so full of fear that her daugh­ter might fail, and al­ways dis­cour­ag­ing. She told Bar­bra her voice was too thin. And her mother def­i­nitely was not demon­stra­tive. “For a long time, touch­ing felt alien,” says Bar­bra.

“But I owe her my ca­reer. I was al­ways try­ing to prove to her that

I was wor­thy of be­ing some­body.”

Of course, there’s less angst about Bar­bra now, more com­po­sure, more pol­ish. I aban­don the hug and in its place I de­liver her a cake in­stead, one made from the same recipe used by her favourite bak­ery in Brook­lyn (Ebinger’s, which closed in 1972).

It’s a mocha al­mond cake and more pow­er­ful than a hug or a kiss! If Bar­bra was a lit­tle wary, a lit­tle sus­pi­cious, she’s over­come by that other emo­tion, the sense of taste – food is love.

She’s al­ways loved food a lit­tle too much, al­ways on a diet, although she’s never been fat. She once used a cake on stage to make her cry. “It was a cho­co­late cake and it was put on the stool where I could see it. It wasn’t that I had to cry,” she cor­rects. “I love de­tails about truth. It was that I was sup­posed to be in love with the ac­tor, but I couldn’t feel any­thing for him. I didn’t even like him, so I put the piece of cake in the wings so I could pine for the piece of cake.” We laugh.

A real, proper laugh, the com­po­sure gone.

Bar­bra is still think­ing about the piece of cake in the wings. “It was a piece of cho­co­late cake, a slice the per­fect size to fit in the mouth. I would have pre­ferred it with some vanilla ice-cream, but that would have melted on the set,” she gushes. “It was a good enough tool. Use some­thing that’s real for you.”

That’s the thing with Bar­bra Streisand – she al­ways seems real and not afraid to be herself. I re­mem­ber the story of when she was asked to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. The real-life Brice had had a nose job. “She cut off her nose to spite her race,” quipped Dorothy Parker. It al­most cost Bar­bra the part. They wor­ried that she looked too Jewish to play a Jewish star with a nose job.

You think of Bar­bra Streisand be­ing all about per­fec­tion, con­trol, but she’s more about not be­ing afraid of who she is. Vul­ner­a­bil­ity and fear­less­ness are al­ways an in­tox­i­cat­ing mix. She loves her Jewish­ness. She loves to eat like a Jew, even if she can’t cook like one, although she has told me that re­cently she stud­ies recipes.

The new al­bum, En­core, is ab­so­lute in its Bar­bra-ness. The songs are all re­dis­cov­ered clas­sics with re­dis­cov­ered artists. Any Mo­ment Now with Hugh Jack­man paints a scene of a re­la­tion­ship fall­ing apart; I’ll Be See­ing You, which she sings with Chris Pine, is sim­ply a rev­e­la­tion; and Jamie Foxx singing Climb Ev’ry Moun­tain is so soul­ful it’s prob­a­bly the best ver­sion of the song ever. “Good, be­cause I don’t re­ally love the song. I wanted to make it stand on its own rather than just some­thing from The Sound of Mu­sic,” says Bar­bra, ap­prov­ingly. “We im­pro­vised some of the new lines. Some of them weren’t in the orig­i­nal. I knew he had a good voice, but he sur­prised me with an even bet­ter voice and he sings from his heart.”

There’s also a duet with Anthony New­ley (prob­a­bly his most fa­mous song Who Can I Turn To?, which he wrote with Les­lie Bri­cusse) from the 1965 mu­si­cal The Roar of the Grease­paint – The Smell of the Crowd. It’s the one song where the other half of Bar­bra’s duet has a voice more dis­tinc­tive than hers.

“I’ve heard David Bowie was very in­flu­enced by Tony New­ley. I was do­ing Funny Girl and he was do­ing The Roar of the Grease­paint and I met him that year, and thought he was fan­tas­tic.

Then we be­came friends,” she says, ca­su­ally. Sacha New­ley, his son, once told me about a song his fa­ther wrote, Too Much Woman. It was about Bar­bra, who, ac­cord­ing to Sacha, his fa­ther was in love with. New­ley loved women. One can say they were his ad­dic­tion, but for him, Bar­bra stood alone, the un­con­quer­able “too much woman”.

Did she ever know about this song he wrote for her? “Tony New­ley sent it to me when he was dy­ing and I thought, ‘Wow’.” She sings it to me, “I heard you on the ra­dio to­day…” She sings it in a New­ley-style voice. It’s a won­der­ful song. Her voice is slightly shaky now. She smiles at the idea that, for all these years, Tony New­ley was deeply in love and she was too much woman for him.

“It has never been writ­ten about. I’m proud of that song. I’m proud that he wrote it for me,” she says. What does she think of the con­cept of be­ing too much woman?

“When I made Yentl as a first-time direc­tor, I made it in Eng­land. Mar­garet Thatcher was Prime Min­is­ter and Eng­land had a Queen, so pow­er­ful women were no big deal. I think, in this coun­try, we still think of pow­er­ful women as sus­pect, you know, like they’re too am­bi­tious or they’re con­trol freaks, which is such a shame.

“I pray that we will have Hil­lary as our Pres­i­dent and I think that in­formed, smart peo­ple are go­ing to vote for her, at least I hope. I’ve met a lot of peo­ple who are pow­er­ful and smart like Michelle Obama… I had a con­ver­sa­tion with Golda Meir when it was the 30th an­niver­sary of Is­rael. She could de­clare war on one hand and say, ‘Would you like a Dan­ish with the cof­fee?’ on the other. She was

“We still think of pow­er­ful women as sus­pect, like they’re too am­bi­tious.”

the grandma – a very warm, sweet lady, yet a pow­er­ful leader. Women can be many things, an­gry and for­giv­ing, have PhDs and man­i­cures.”

Bar­bra al­ways has beau­ti­ful nails; a lit­tle de­fi­ant touch­stone. Her mother told her to cut her nails and learn to be a typ­ist. In Bar­bra’s home, she has an an­nexe where she keeps doll houses, old-fash­ioned ones, be­cause she once told me she didn’t have a proper child­hood. Typ­i­cal of Bar­bra to be able to play like a lit­tle girl when she feels most wom­anly.

She is happy with James Brolin, to whom she’s been mar­ried for 18 years. Her man­ager, Marty Er­lich­man, she’s been with for more than 50 years and her as­sis­tant, Re­nata Buser, at 42 years, is in be­tween the two. Bar­bra is a striver, but clearly thrives on sta­bil­ity.

She started off singing in clubs at 17 or 18. For her first record, she agreed to less money as long as she could have artis­tic con­trol. “That’s right,” she says. “That’s called be­ing a con­trol freak, but why would any man or woman not want to be in con­trol of their own lives?” Now she be­longs to a small co­terie of lu­mi­nar­ies who have col­lected Os­cars, Em­mys, Globes, Gram­mys and Tonys.

Her white fluffy dog, Sa­man­tha, a Co­ton de Tulear, gives a yowl of ap­pre­ci­a­tion – or maybe it’s be­cause she’s just re­alised there’s a cake. Bar­bra brings the sub­ject back to Tony New­ley. “He had a fan­tas­tic voice and he was so lovely, and very hand­some, yes. I loved his looks. He looked like the Art­ful Dodger in Oliver Twist.”

Bar­bra has al­ways liked beau­ti­ful men. She told me once it was the one thing they all had in com­mon. War­ren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, Don John­son. “All at­trac­tive. I love beauty whether it’s fur­ni­ture or a man. My hus­band has the per­fect fore­head, per­fect jaw, per­fect teeth. Even if he makes me an­gry, I get a kick out of his sym­me­try.”

She’s re­fer­ring to James Brolin. Her first hus­band was El­liott Gould, whom she mar­ried in 1963. They have a son, Ja­son, now aged 49, and di­vorced in 1971. I won­der if she was too much woman for him, too. This was af­ter her iconic per­for­mances in Funny Girl and Hello Dolly.

Even now, she is not at ease with the in­ter­view process. “Peo­ple make up sto­ries about me,” she says. “Maybe it’s more in­ter­est­ing.” She is work­ing on an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and says her re­la­tion­ship to work has changed. She says she’s be­come lazy. Although she told me once that, over the years, the hap­pier she has be­come, the less she needed to work, she is still a worker. There’s the al­bum, a tour and soon she starts on Gypsy in which she plays Mama Rose, the ul­ti­mate stage mother.

I can’t un­der­stand why so much has been made about Bar­bra never look­ing the per­fect lead­ing lady. I don’t think it’s a ques­tion of she grew into her face, ei­ther. I think she car­ried around the sense that she was an odd­ball, a mis­fit and be­came a cham­pion for other mis­fits.

Bar­bra has used her star­dom well. These days, it means more to her to have her name on the Bar­bra Streisand Women’s Heart Cen­ter than in lights. More women die of heart at­tacks than breast cancer, yet more money is raised for breast cancer. Bar­bra is a lob­by­ist and aims to raise more funds.

She tells me, re­cently, she was given mice for a trial and de­manded all fe­male mice. It is, af­ter all, a women’s heart foun­da­tion. “It was a fight,” she says. Even in these days of fe­male world lead­ers, she still has to fight to get an all-women trial, the next step af­ter get­ting the all-fe­male mice.

Bar­bra doesn’t look ex­hausted by the thought, rather, ex­cited. The ic­ing on the cake maybe.

OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from bot­tom left): Bar­bra’s por­trayal of Fanny Brice in her 1968 film de­but, Funny Girl, won her an Os­car. In the 1970 film, The Owl and the Pussy­cat. With her mother, Diana, and half-sis­ter, Roslyn, in 1969. Hello Dolly! won three Os­cars. She di­rected, wrote and starred in Yentl in 1983.

Bar­bra’s lead­ing men (from left) El­liott Gould and Bar­bra were mar­ried for eight years and have a son. Bar­bra was also in­volved with What’s Up Doc? co-star, Ryan O’Neal, and War­ren Beatty. She claims the one thing the men in her life had in com­mon was their beauty.

Bar­bra and “per­fect” hus­band James Brolin have been mar­ried for 18 years.

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