My Name Is Barbra, written by Streisand herself, will publish on November 7, 2023, and is now available for pre-order, I have already pre-ordered my copy. Have you? Many books have been written about Streisand, and now she tells her story in her own words. The title is a reference to the title of her album from 1965 and television special that same year.
In 2017, for Pride Week, Streisand issued this statement:
The first time I ever sang for a paying audience was at a gay club, The Lion, in Greenwich Village. I was 18 years old and had never been in a nightclub before. The gay community supported me from the start, and I will always be grateful.
Decades later, I remember sitting in a theater and watching Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, with tears running down my cheeks. It was 1985 and Ronald Reagan was president and it was heartbreaking to know people were dying while he refused to even say the word AIDS. I wanted more people to see this powerful story about everyone’s right to love, so I tried for 25 years to get it made as a movie. No one would touch it, but thank God times have changed.
Marriage equality is the law and that deserves a toast… to all of us, because we’re all unique and beautiful in our own way and entitled to love and be loved by whomever we choose.
When Streisand was a teenager, her friend Barry Dennen and his boyfriend, both Jewish, both gay, taught her how to dress, do her makeup and use proper table manners. She learned how to cover up her insecurity on stage by studying the fabulousness of drag queens. Dennen introduced Streisand to his record collection and the music of Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters and Édith Piaf. She began to realize that to achieve her dream of becoming an actor, she would first have to gain recognition as a singer, a formula Madonna would adopt 20 years later.
Streisand hit on the idea of creating different emotional characters when singing. She worked hard on her stage presence and started doing a little patter with the audience between songs and bringing more humor to her performances.
Dennen convinced her to enter a talent contest at The Lion, a gay club in Greenwich Village. She performed two songs. Afterwards there was a stunned silence from the audience, followed by thunderous applause when she was announced as the winner. She was invited back and sang at the club for several weeks. It was during this time that she dropped the second “a” from her first name, switching from “Barbara” to “Barbra”.
Her cabaret act became wildly popular at gay clubs where the audience understood what it was to be different and identified with her. She also dropped Dennen and never even acknowledged his help. Dennen later wrote:
”…she had a habit of cutting out of her life people who were not directly relevant to her success.”
With a new personal manager, Martin Erlichman, she had successful engagements at clubs in the Midwest. Next, Erlichman booked her at an upscale club, The Blue Angel, in Manhattan where she became an even bigger hit, working there from 1961 to 1962. 93-year-old Erlichman remains her longest relationship with a man; he is still her manager.
While appearing at The Blue Angel, director and gay playwright Arthur Laurents asked her to audition for a new musical he was directing, I Can Get It For You Wholesale. She was cast as the secretary to the lead charcter, played by then unknown Elliott Gould. They fell in love during rehearsals and eventually moved into a small apartment together. The show opened in spring 1962 and received good reviews. Streisand received a Tony Award nomination and a New York Drama Critic‘s prize for her work.
She became a Broadway star, and then The Barbra Streisand Album was released in 1963 and she became the bestselling female vocalist in the USA. The album received two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. At the time, she was the youngest artist to win that Grammy. Streisand:
”When I’m good, when I’m pleased with my performance, I feel powerful. I forget about being an ugly duckling.”
Streisand suffers from debilitating stage fright, which is why she avoided concerts and preferred Broadway performances. She starred in Funny Girl for more than two years (1964-65) on Broadway, and then a year (1966) in London.
She made her movie debut in the film version of the play, starring as Fanny Brice, with handsome Omar Sharif playing her gambler husband Nicky Arnstein.
Sharif later wrote that he did not find her attractive when he first met her, but he was soon overwhelmed by her:
”A week after the moment I met her, I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen in my life. I found her physically beautiful, and I started lusting after this woman.”
Streisand said the romance of their characters in the film went to her head:
”It is hard to stop loving someone when the director yells cut. Fact and fiction got mixed up, and I think we both lost our heads for a while.”
Their affair lasted for only four months, the time it took for the filming. Sharif:
”I realized that I couldn’t have been in love, because it didn’t hurt when the relationship finished.”
Their onscreen kissing was a scandal. Sharif was the quintessential playboy. Like Nicky Arnstein, he gambled and lost big in the world’s glamorous casinos. His striking good looks brought him many admirers and lovers, but towards the end of his life he lived alone with his gambling addiction. Of all his wives and lovers, it was his affair with Streisand that caused a global stir and a huge protest from both of their home countries.
In June 1967, the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War broke out and there was a huge political fall-out that came from a publicity still of the Egyptian Sharif kissing the Jewish Streisand. This incensed both governments, the public and worse of all, the wrath of Streisand’s Jewish mother. Despite the tense political atmosphere, the film was huge hit. Streisand won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for her performance and was named Star of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners. The highly charged sexual tension between the stars and the controversy only fueled ticket sales.
At Columbia Studios, where all the investors were Jewish, along with a production staff who were pro-Israeli and a media heavily biased towards Israel, I imagine that Sharif might have been a bit uncomfortable. But despite his own government banning his films, the producers stuck by him. When Sharif met Streisand, they were both married. The backlash and their affair caused such an uproar that Streisand blames it on her not performing on stage for 27 years because of the stress at the time caused her to forget the lyrics in three of her songs at a concert in front of 150,000 people in Central Park. She had been guaranteed a heavy police presence because of the scandal, but a surprise visit by Soviet politician Alexei Kosygin reduced the protection from three hundred officers to thirty making her feel extremely nervous.
For a self- proclaimed ugly kid, she has had affairs with some of the planet’s hottest men including pro quarterback Joe Namath, actors Ryan O’Neal, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Liam Neeson, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood and Don Johnson, film composer James Newton Howard, news anchor Peter Jennings, Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau (who wanted to make her Canada‘s First Lady). There were also the zany years (1973-1982) with hairdresser Jon Peters. From 1983 to 1987, Streisand lived with Baskin-Robbins ice cream heir Richard Baskin. She had a thing with tennis champion Andre Agassi. In his memoir Open (2009) Agassi writes:
”We agreed that we were good for each other, and so what if she is 28 years older? We were simpatico, and the public outcry only added spice to our connection. It makes our friendship feel forbidden, taboo – another piece of my overall rebellion. Dating Barbra Streisand is like wearing Hot Lava.’
Streisand has been happily married to Josh Brolin‘s daddy James Brolin since 1998.
Sharif and Streisand worked together again. He played Arnstein again in Funny Lady (1975) without creating sparks. He was always very complimentary about his time with Streisand, but he got over their breakup by jumping right into an affair his next co-star, Catherine Deneuve, and he is certainly the only man to have turned down Julie Christie because of her fondness for fried egg sandwich.