So, the fall list of coming books is out, and high up there is My Name Is Barbra. Yes, on November 7th, Barbra Streisand is ready to tell all. The book is 1,000 pages long. Oy, and yay.
I can only imagine what her editors have dealt with: Likely, hairs have turned gray and stress levels and patience challenged. It is no secret that the singer/actress/director/activist likes to have the final words: and they are rarely short.
It gave me an inside look at how tough she is on herself, perhaps more so than on others.
I got a taste of this many years ago, when I wrote a piece for USA Today on actors directing themselves. I had Paul Newman and Warren Beatty, among others, and figured I should include the lone female star doing this. I called Streisand’s publicist, who immediately said there was no way Barbra would offer anything, but promised he’d ask. He called back later, astonished that she wanted to be included, and promised that he would send me her thoughts.
I reiterated that this was for USA Today, so we were talking one or two quotes at most. I kid you not, he called me every day for a week: first to say she had five pages written, then to say she didn’t feel any of her words were good enough. I told him to pluck one or two sentences out before she had an anxiety attack. That finally happened. It was considered a journalistic coup, but it also gave me an inside look at how tough she is on herself, perhaps more so than on others.
Up Close and Incognito
I got a more personal look one day of what it’s like to be that recognizable. Years ago, my family was sitting in our beach house when the rental agent said a “Mrs. Gould” was coming to check it out. Here came this woman in a large scarf and sunglasses, almost looking scared. But, she took one look at my father—a major fundraiser for causes she believed in– and her whole body relaxed. “I’ve given enough!” she joked, and we all laughed. I told her Robert Redford had rented the house once and she said, “He is going to be my co-star!” I said maybe they could co-live together. “I wouldn’t mind,” she said.
Along with her book editors, James Brolin must be the most patient man in the world.
Speaking of those causes: in 1972. Streisand’s friend, Warren Beatty, asked for her endorsement for presidential candidate George McGovern. She said, “Yes, but don’t ask me to sing.” (It is well-known how petrified she was of live performing.) As the campaign was winding down, and in dire straits, Beatty called her again. She picked up the phone and said, “You want me to sing.” He did and she did. The hottest artists of the time, Carole King and James Taylor, performed the first half. Many wondered if Barbra Streisand was old hat and could hold her own. Just know that when it was over, it was Barbra people were talking about.
I have been a Streisand fan since seeing her on Broadway in Funny Girl when I was a teenager. I bought every album, watched every TV special, and the movies. I saw The Way We Were so many times that when it was televised, I noticed a new scene. I later told the director, Sidney Pollock, and he explained that it was cut because it would have been three scenes in a row where his leading lady was crying. Streisand fought for it, and finally made a deal that the scene would be put back in when the movie first went to television.
That film is still many people’s favorite love story. In Streisand’s own life, she has managed a great one too. Along with her book editors, James Brolin must be the most patient man in the world. They have been wed for twenty-five yeasr. (One thing Barbra and I have in common is our weddings were officiated by the same rabbi.) That’s a successful run, especially in Hollywood. Her son, Jason Gould, is a singer and actor and his mother immediately supported him when he came out as gay.
Get Ready for A Lot of Barbra Streisand
She has made no secret of her, shall we say, non-traditional looks. “If a girl isn’t pretty” goes the song in Funny Girl. And who can forget Katie reminding Hubbell, “I know I’m not attractive in the right way.” Most of us have not seen her in years. She is 80 now and will bravely be out there plugging this book.
The girl from Erasmus High School in Flatbush has always cared as much, if not more, about politics than entertainment.
Streisand has done few interviews over the years. (Famously, one with Mike Wallace that infuriated her.) Now, there will be heavy bidding. Rumor has it that her first choice may be Rachel Maddow. That makes sense: the girl from Erasmus High School in Flatbush has always cared as much, if not more, about politics than entertainment. She has put her name, voice, and money where it matters for decades.
I will make my way through those 1,000 pages, though I would rather just listen to that voice, one of a kind. I urge you to go to Youtube and watch her and Neil Diamond—another Erasmus High kid made good—surprise and overwhelm a Grammy audience. Or listen to “Somewhere” with Josh Groban. I dare you not to get goosebumps. As Fanny first boasted, “I’m the greatest star.” Barbra just may be.