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.

Streisand has always considered herself an actress first and a singer second. Why do you think she hasn't acted more?
Though she did prove the critics who said she could never be a leading lady wrong, she could've easily had a career as the leading ladies' wisecracking best friend and would've had more work that way. I would've been interested to see her try to play Juliet, which she always felt she could, or maybe Cleopatra. But I think her personally was so large and it was probably hard to imagine her playing a wide variety of parts even though she believed she could.

What do you consider the quintessential Streisand performance?
It's hard for me to say, since you know I wasn't a fan. I've seen just about everything, I only went back and re-listened and re-watched upon until the end of the '60s. Cause as I said in the beginning, this book is going to cover the television shows and everything. I've seen Color me Barbra and My Name is Barbra [two of Streisand's television specials] numbers of times. Color Me Barbra is so magnetic. In terms of film, Funny Girl really stands the test of time, since it is not about Fanny Brice, it is about a strange creature called Barbra Streisand. I just think that it's so iconic and so compelling, you can't look away. I like Up The Sandbox, and, I can't help it, I'm sappy, I love The Way We Were. I loved that movie so much, and I had a crush on Robert Redford. So I'm still very drawn to that too.

When people tell me they don't get Barbra Streisand, I force them to watch What's Up, Doc?
That's another one. She looks beautiful and she's fun. That period was such a great time in American filmmaking because the fact that someone like Barbra Streisand would be such a big box office draw was just phenomenal.

She’s said that she can look at the first page of a biography and tell if the writer has done his research. Has there been any response from her people?
No, nothing. The New York Daily New excerpted it, and of course it was the scene where she finds Barry with another man. They took the one sensational moment out of the book and did that. I have not heard nothing from her, but when a couple Barbra websites tried to promote the book, they got calls from Marty Erlichman, who said it’s not an authorized book and to take it down. Even though the websites aren't authorized, I can understand they might be frozen out from press releases and things like that. I didn't blame them for doing that. Though I think it was interesting that even though the book's generally sympathetic treatment of her, there was that kind of reaction. She didn't close any doors for me, but I’m not surprised by the fact that there is a “no finger will be lifted to help the book” either.

Tags: Art & Books