Her performance of the song “The Way We Were” is the stuff of legend, as is everything about the long career of Barbra Streisand. With Anthony Mason this morning, she goes back to where it all began:
Barbra Streisand first found Broadway stardom at the Shubert Theatre in 1962. She hasn’t been back here much since.
“Opening night in this theatre the director said to me, ‘You’re never gonna make it. You’re too undisciplined,’” she told Mason.
In 1962, in her first Broadway show, “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” Barbra Streisand had just one number. But on opening night it was the showstopper.
“The mythology is, it was a three-minute ovation,” Mason said.
“I wasn’t counting. All I know is that my salary was $175, and the next day it went up to $350!”
With her next musical, “Funny Girl,” and the movie that was made from it, Streisand would become a superstar. She would never go back to Broadway, except on her records.
Her latest, “Encore,” is an album of show tunes, with stars like Jamie Foxx who performs “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” from “The Sound of Music”:
When Streisand won the role of Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl,” Jewish girls with prominent noses weren’t seen as leading lady material.
But by the time she took her final curtain on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1965, the critic Pauline Kael would write: “The message of Barbra Streisand in ‘Funny Girl’ is that talent is beauty.”
Streisand said, “I don’t necessarily agree. You can’t be a leading lady unless you look a certain way.”
“You know, you changed things,” Mason said.
“Well, I’ve read about it! I couldn’t feel the power behind what you’re saying. I couldn’t feel, really, I did that? I couldn’t feel it for a long time.”
Streisand’s self confidence has long waged war with her self doubt: “It’s like there are two sides of me, just like there are two sides to my face. And on one side I can look really good. The other side is hit and miss.”
“Why do you worry about it so much?”
“Because it was an important part of my life at the beginning, I think.”
And it’s on her mind when she’s shown a new caricature of herself at Sardi’s, the legendary Broadway restaurant. (“Aha. Are those my lips?”)
At 74, Streisand did a brief tour (nine cities this summer) to support her new album. But the only artist to have number one records in six successive decades doesn’t really like performing in public.
By the completion of her tour, she will have done only about 100 concerts in her life. “That’s it,” she said.
“And you’re considered one of the greatest singers of your time.”
Streisand is most happy at home -- a compound of three houses on the Malibu coast she shares with her husband, James Brolin, that she built to look like Nantucket. “’Cause I love New England. I love the East Coast. But I don’t want to live there. So I just sort of brought it here.”
Mason asked, “Do you think about your legacy as an artist? Does it matter?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “It does because of my father, that his life was cut short at an early age.”
“So you’re keeping him alive?”
“I was in ‘Yentl.’ I sort of became my father. See, when my mother first saw ‘Yentl,’ I showed it to her alone. And the end said, ‘This film is dedicated to my father and to all our fathers.’ And my mother’s first reaction was, ‘Why didn’t you dedicate it to me? I’m alive!’
Her father, Emmanuel Streisand, a teacher, died when Barbra was just 18 months old:
Mason asked, “Do you feel at some point you filled whatever you felt missing from your Dad?”
“It’s a black hole,” she said. “It’s a void that cannot be filled.”
“Do you reach a point where you’re comfortable with that?”
“It is what it is. And who knows if that didn’t make me extra-sensitive to what I need as an actress or a singer or a director. That’s what makes me so sensitive to every little detail -- it’s not fun.”
“Was there a point at which you think you made peace with that?”
“Hmm. I think I made peace with my mother,” Streisand said, “because I understand her now.
“My book, I will probably dedicate it to my mother. Because without her telling me I would never make it and, you know, I can’t be a movie star and I was odd-looking and whatever, she gave me something to fight for. It was a kind of, ‘I’ll show you, Mom!’ Gave me a force, an energy that I appreciate now.”
The book that Streisand has been writing is, she says, an effort to correct misleading stories about her, like Mike Wallace’s infamous profile on “60 Minutes” in 1991.
Wallace: “How many years have you been in psychotherapy ...”
Streisand: “How about in the, in the, in the Bi... “
Wallace: “Off and on?”
Streisand: “In -- Why do you sound so accusatory?”
Wallace: “I’m not accusing you.”
Of her “60 Minutes” interview Streisand said, “I hated it. The feeling of, like, what a woman probably feels when she’s date-raped, only not as bad. I mean, that’s worse, of course. And he made me cry, I think asking me about my stepfather. And I don’t cry that easily.”
Wallace: “Were you just jealous of him that he took your mother away?”
Streisand: “Jealous! I don’t -- I don’t want to cry. I was at summer camp. Don’t -- I can’t do this.”
Streisand protested. “I called him up, and I said, ‘Why would you do that?’”
The next week, acknowledging some critical mail, Wallace added: “We also heard from Miss Streisand. She loved it.”
“That, that was the stab,” she told Mason. “He said I loved it when I said I hated it? It was a lie!”
Before his death Wallace publicly apologized, but the two never reconciled, and Streisand says she doesn’t like looking back.
“It’s hard to relive my life,” she said.
Why? “Been there, done that.”
Except for one nostalgic moment she shared with Mason at the Winter Garden Theatre, where her “Funny Girl” dressing room is now occupied by “School of Rock” star Sierra Boggess, who’s decorated the walls with Streisand album covers.
“This was my little room that was private,” Streisand said.
And on Boggess’ dressing table is a candle she burns to “St. Barbra.”
“That’s quite special,” Streisand said examining it. “She needs a new one.”
She left Sierra a note (“Just stopped by. With love, Barbra. PS Love the candle!”), which the actress found later that day. (“Oh my God! Thank you, Barbra Streisand, for existing! And not being creeped out by this dressing room!”)
For the star born on this Broadway stage half a century ago (“Was it really 50 years ago?” she exclaimed), the candle still burns.
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