Becoming Barbra Streisand


By Jeremy Kinser

Biographer William J. Mann discusses the early years of a young girl from Brooklyn who would become the world’s greatest star.

It’s a banner year for Barbra Streisand fans with a new album, Release Me, a rare concert tour, and with the upcoming comedy The Guilt Trip (due Christmas day) her first starring role in a movie in 16 years. Another reason for the fabled entertainer’s acolytes to rejoice is Hello, Gorgeous ($30, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), William J. Mann’s deliriously fascinating and intensively researched chronicle of Streisand’s first four years in show business.

Mann, who has written definitive books about other LGBT icons including Katharine Hepburn and William Haines, secured access to previously-sealed private collections and rare interviews with many people close to Streisand during her meteoric, but well-orchestrated, rise to superstardom with the Broadway premiere of Funny Girl.   Mann's book creates an indelible portrait of a vulnerable, but headstrong young woman with an unshakable belief in her own talent who within four years of pursuing her unlikely dream of a career in show business would have the world at her feet.

Out: Why did you decide to focus on just the first four years of Streisand’s career?
William J. Mann: Because that is what interested me. To be honest, when we first started to put it together, we were going to go up to the Funny Girl film with her winning the Academy Award for best actress and saying, “Hello Gorgeous” to the Oscar. We were going to open with that moment, and then I just began getting so much material that I realized we’d have a 900 page book. I decided this book should just be the unknown girl becoming the famous girl.

In the acknowledgments you thank Barbra for not putting up any road blocks to prevent your writing the book. Who were some of the people who spoke to you who you didn’t expect to agree to an interview?
There were a couple people who I didn't expect to talk to at all, but who were very forthcoming. They said they couldn't be on the record as they talked. So I was really surprised at those people who were willing to be as open and as thoughtful about some my questions as they were. I got Cis Corman [Streisand’s longtime friend and business partner] on the phone and she was just so surprised I was calling. She said, "No, no, no, I never talk about this," which is fine. I totally understand that. I tried a couple of other people. I tried Marty [Erlichman, Streisand’s longtime manager] and wrote him several times [saying] we could help each other here, that I'd be happy to share whatever I found.

Tags: Art & Books