They called her Bub­bly Stri­dent. She oozed a lack of deco­rum

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

WBOLD, BRASH AND BRAINY HAT IS it about Barbra Streisand that has made her such an icon? Not just for Jews but for oth­ers, too. Gays, nice South­ern Bap­tist girls, and many oth­ers have all em­braced her, see­ing in her a role model.

There aren’t many other Jewish ac­tors, ac­tresses or singers who evoke such ado­ra­tion. Only Barbra is known by her given name. Not even her co-star in Meet the Fock­ers (2004) is known as “Dustin”.

If we Jews like to tell our­selves “we are like ev­ery­body else, only more so,” then we need look no fur­ther than Barbra for a guid­ing star. She was louder, bolder, brasher, and Jewier at a time when many Jews avoided be­ing so ex­ces­sive. The satir­i­cal (and Jewish) comic, Mad magazine, nailed it when they dubbed her “Bub­bly Stri­dent”.

She em­braced her fa­mously Semitic looks. She re­fused to have a nose job, to be­come more “gen­tile”. She oozed a lack of deco­rum. She con­fessed she never un­der­stood the bound­ary be­tween proper con­duct and what she de­sired to do.

She was un­trained as a singer. She sang as only she knew how, in strong, melodic, Yid­dish-in­flected She was called bossy, bitchy, loud and cheap. Brook­ly­nese. She re­fused to change her style. And she was called bossy, bitchy, con­trol­ling, tyran­ni­cal, ego­ma­ni­a­cal, loud, cheap, and mon­strous. She bat­ted off the in­sults.

Her lack of shame over be­ing Jewish, her fla­grant dis­play of her Jewish­ness, and her wom­an­hood were em­pow­er­ing. And she is more than that. She has brains, too.

She never gave up on her be­lief that she would be a star de­spite the many dis­parag­ing re­marks. It was th­ese very idio­syn­cra­sies and her re­fusal to change them that led peo­ple to adore her.

Her break­through film was Funny Girl in 1968. After decades of be­ing in the fig­u­ra­tive closet, dur­ing which Jews ei­ther changed their names or didn’t play Jews — think of Lau­ren Ba­call, Kirk Dou­glas or Tony Cur­tis, she helped Jews to “come out”. She, along with other Jewish icons like Woody Allen and Dustin Hoff­man, helped to make them be­come sexy.

It is fit­ting to end on her own words here. The key turn­ing point came when Barbra — who had re­fused to change her sur­name or her looks — con­fi­dently strode on screen, and as­serted “Hello, Gor­geous!”

NATHAN ABRAMS

Pro­fes­sor of Film Stud­ies, Ban­gor Univer­sity

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