Legendary singer-actor Barbra Streisand's memoir out today
Now in her 80s, the superstar has wowed audiences for decades, receiving accolades from the Grammys and Emmys to the Oscars. But in 'My Name is Barbra', she still sees herself as the girl next door
Living legend Barbra Streisand has been celebrated for over 60 years for her acting, singing and stagecraft, winning a swag of Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony awards along the way.
According to Sony Music UK, she has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, and of course enjoys a massive global audience.
The superstar is now looking back at her success in her memoir My Name is Barbra, titled after her eponymous 1965 album, which comes out today, November 7.
It is a long-awaited project that Streisand has been putting off for almost 40 years. As she told TV presenter Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in 2021, former First Lady Jackie Kennedy gave her the idea of writing a book in the mid-1980s.
Open-hearted, funny, headstrong and charming, Streisand talks in her memoir about her career, her friendships with personalities ranging from fellow actor Marlon Brando to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to her social commitment.
And, sometimes, the girl who grew up in poor circumstances in Brooklyn comes to light.
Her celebrity has led her to donating large sums of money to charity.
Anything but an 'ugly duckling'
The New Yorker is not an unapproachable diva. Her unique nose and silvery eyes led to her being dubbed an 'ugly duckling' in her youth — but she never considered plastic surgery:
I was afraid of the pain. And how could I trust a doctor's aesthetic taste? How would I know he wouldn't cut away too much?Barbra Streisand
Her supposed flaws make her all the more endearing to her audience. As does the fact that she has suffered from stage fright all her life, and only manages her anxiety with pills and still avoids red carpet galas.
Streisand says of herself that she is 'pretty normal, ordinary in many ways'.
Yet she's not quite so ordinary after all, as she catapulted from an economically disprivileged background to become a top artist — with a lot of commitment and even more talent.
On the outskirts?
While she has lived for decades among the stars in Hollywood and Malibu Beach, it is clearly impossible to take Brooklyn out of the girl even if one takes Streisand out of Brooklyn, New York.
Born on 24 April 1942 into an impoverished Polish–Russian Orthodox Jewish family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it is obvious Streisand hasn't forgotten her roots.
"There's something about growing up in Brooklyn and living in New York so many years. It's a very realistic point of view, earthy," she told Variety magazine in 2021.
'Funny Girl' instead of Shakespeare
Streisand's father died when she was just 15 months old. Her mother, a singer, set aside her own dreams to support the family by taking on a job as a school secretary.
Barbra continued to dream, however, signing up for acting classes at the age of 14. At the same time, she sang in the school choir and, later, in small nightclubs.
"Because I was known as 'the kid on the block with a good voice', I entered a talent competition, which I thought might at least help pay for my meals until I could do Shakespeare or Ibsen," she told British newspaper The Telegraph.
She won first place in the competition and her star began to rise. Her career began not on the theatre stage, but in big-name nightclubs, as a singer.
At 19, she made her Broadway debut and just two years later, she won the critic's prize for best actress in a musical for her role in I Can Get It for You Wholesale.
Nearly simultaneously, her eponymous album Barbra Streisand was released and won two Grammy awards.
In 1968, Streisand made her big breakthrough in the film musical Funny Girl. It tells the story of Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, who overcame the naysayers who'd labeled her an ugly duckling and ended up becoming a Broadway star in 1910.
The role seemed to be perfectly suited to Barbra.
Star-studded Hollywood career
Awarded an Oscar for her performance in the film, the then-25-year-old continued to appear on the silver screen in movies like What's Up, Doc? (1972) and The Way We Were (1973), and carried her fame with her to cameo roles in television series, including Glee and Dancing with the Stars.
Appearing in comedies and dramas alike, Streisand has starred alongside A-list legends — Omar Sharif, Yves Montand, Sidney Poitier, Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro.
Also Read: Robert De Niro: Dirty grandpa sobers up
Her favourite leading man, however, was Robert Redford in the 1973 romance The Way We Were. "We never quite knew what the other one was going to do. I think the audience felt that," she said about the movie.
A wide variety of talents
In 1983, Streisand was the combined producer, director, lead actress and singer in the film Yentl.
The movie centres on a young Jewish woman who dresses as a boy in order to attend Yeshiva, a Jewish school, to study the Talmud.
"I don't want to brag," Streisand told the press at the time, "But Steven Spielberg said that he would have liked to have criticised Yentl [yet] in his eyes, besides Citizen Kane, there was no better film."
Yentl went on to win an Oscar for best soundtrack.
Streisand's later directorial success, The Prince of Tides (1991), was nominated for seven Oscars. She played the main character opposite Nick Nolte; her son Jason Gould, from her first marriage to actor Elliot Gould, likewise appears in the film.
"A voice like diamonds"
Streisand sings in most of her movies. "I thank God for giving me this great voice," she once said.
When she was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, the highest honour for US civilians, then-US president Barack Obama lauded her saying she had a voice like diamonds.
Many of her songs, like 'Woman in Love', 'The Way We Were', 'A Star Is Born' and 'Guilty', are evergreen hits.
Yet Streisand is not only a world star — she is also very politically active, supporting environmental activism and tweeting her liberal opinions.
Proud of Jewish heritage
As a Jew, Barbra Streisand felt particularly connected to Israel. She called the country "a shining beacon of hope in the world" and a place of survival for Jews while speaking to the press in 2013, when she performed in Tel Aviv at the 90th birthday gala of then-prime minister Shimon Peres.
In May of this year, she was honoured with the Genesis Prize. It is awarded to Jewish personalities who make a significant contribution to humanity and inspire the next generation of Jewish people.
Streisand expressed her gratitude on Twitter, now X, saying:
I have always been moved by the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, to repair the world. I hope to join and inspire others in their own commitment to build a better world.Barbra Streisand
She donated the prize money of $1 million (around €935,000) to charitable organisations, including one that provides humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine.
After all, as she wrote in a tweet the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, her paternal grandparents are from Ukraine. Putin's propaganda about the 'denazification' of Ukraine is the biggest lie of the century, according to Streisand.
With war now also raging in West Asia, Streisand has since commented: "My heart is broken for all the suffering of innocent civilians."
Now in her 80s, Barbra Streisand is still as active as ever.
When she has time between all her activities, she retreats to California, where she lives with her second husband, actor James Brolin, on the Malibu coast.
My Name is Barbra was released by Penguin Random House on 7 November 2023. This is an updated version of a profile originally written in German and published on April 24, 2022.