Barbra Streisand

For over 30 years, award-winning American performer Barbra Streisand (born 1942) has been performing and singing on the stage, television and in motion pictures, as well as recording popular music.

Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942 in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York to Emanuel and Diana (Rosen) Streisand. Her father, a high school English teacher, died when Streisand was only 15 months old leaving her mother to raise both her and her older brother, Sheldon. Her mother soon found work as a secretary in the New York public school system and re-married in the late 1940s. Streisand felt rebuffed by her mother and step-father, Lou Kind, a used-car salesman, and attributes many of her personality characteristics to those early experiences. She graduated at age 16 from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and moved to Manhattan where she shared an apartment with friends working various jobs hoping to perform on Broadway.


Broadway Debut

On October 21, 1961, Streisand, who had changed the spelling of her first name upon moving to Manhattan, made her off-Broadway debut in Another Evening with Harry Stoones, which opened and closed the same night. She then went on to other short-lived off-Broadway productions and became friends with Barry Dennen. Both shared an admiration for the Ziegfield Follies star Fannie Brice, and Streisand, with Dennen's help, crafted a nightclub show around many of Brice's musical numbers. She began performing her act in small nightclubs in Manhattan like the Bon Soir, shaping her act and her voice.

It was while she was performing at the Blue Angel, a showcase for young talent, that she was spotted by a Broadway producer who signed Streisand for the part of Miss Marmelstein in a production of I Can Get It For You Whole-sale. The production opened in March of 1962 and ran for nine months and produced a very well-received cast album. Streisand appeared on both I Can Get It For You Whole-sale-Original Broadway Cast Recording as well as Pins and Needles-25th Anniversary Edition of the Hit Musical Revue in 1962 and, with the popularity of her stage role, was an almost overnight success.

Buoyed by the popularity of her stage role, Streisand was signed by Columbia records and recorded The Barbra Streisand Album and The Barbra Streisand Second Album in 1963. Both albums were very successful, and The Barbra Streisand Album won Streisand a Grammy for both album of the year and best female vocal. She followed up with The Barbra Streisand Third Album and took the role of Fanny Brice in a production of Funny Girl in 1964, winning the role over more experienced stage actors like Anne Bancroft and Mary Martin. This production became one of the most successful stage productions in the history of Broadway and her performance in it would win her first of many Golden Globe Awards. The album Funny Girl-Original Broadway Cast Recording, was followed by People. People would become one of Streisand's highest-selling albums, and earn her a third Grammy Award.


Television Success

Not content to be successful in only two mediums, Streisand next took aim at television. My Name Is Barbra aired in 1965 and its follow-up Color Me Barbra followed in 1966. Her third of these one woman television shows, The Belle of 14th Street, aired in 1967 and was shown in Europe in addition to North America. In 1968, she performed live to an adoring audience. The performance, A Happening in Central Park, was shown on television and was as successful as the three specials that had gone before. She would win a Grammy Award for her performance in My Name Is Barbra and two Antoinette Perry Awards.

All of these specials would be re-released as albums and would establish her at the young age of 26 as the largest selling diva of popular standards since Judy Garland. Throughout this period she released Harold Sings Arlen and Je M'appelle Barbra in 1966. Simply Streisand and A Christmas Album were released in 1967 and in 1969, she released What About Today?

Streisand would appear in eight television specials between 1969 and 1986. Barbra Streisand … and Other Musical Instruments (1973), Funny Girl to Funny Lady (1975), Barbra Streisand: With One More Look At You (1977), Getting in Shape for The Main Event (1979), A Film Is Born: The Making of Yentl (1983), Putting It Together: The Making of The Broadway Album (1986), and One Voice (1986) were all very popular and endeared Streisand to fans around the world. Barbra: The Concert aired in 1994 and 1995 and earned her two more Emmy Awards for Best Individual Performance and Best Variety or Music Special.


Motion Picture Success

This seemingly overnight success continued throughout 1968 as she continued to release albums and perform her concerts. She reprised her role as Fanny Brice for the 1968 film version of Funny Girl and in 1969 appeared as Dolly Levi in the motion picture Hello, Dolly! These performances would earn her another Golden Globe Award and her performance in Funny Girl earned her an Academy Award as the best actress of 1968. On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Owl and the Pussycat were released in 1970 and she would win a Golden Globe Award for these performances as she was voted Best Female World Film Favorite.

Director and Producer

After the success of Funny Girl, Streisand began to concentrate more on motion pictures than on live performances. She would appear in What's Up, Doc? and Up the Sandbox in 1972 before garnering critical acclaim for her work in The Way We Were opposite Robert Redford in 1973. She won another Golden Globe Award for this role. Her portrayal could have been a case of art imitating life as she was divorced from her husband Elliot Gould in 1971 after eight years of marriage and one son, Jason. She starred in For Pete's Sake and Funny Lady before her 1976 movie A Star Is Born. The movie and her rendition of the theme song, "Evergreen, " earned her a second Academy Award, two Grammy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards. The film was one of the highest grossing of that year despite being panned by critics who believed Streisand was executing too much control as she was listed in the credits as not only the star, executive producer and co-songwriter, but also as the wardrobe consultant and the designer of 'musical concepts.'

Streisand would take yet another leap in her creative life when she decided to direct, produce, and star in Yentl in 1983. After The Main Event (1979) and All Night Long (1981) Streisand was eager to make the story that she had read in 1968 into a movie. Filmed in Eastern Europe, Yentl was the story of a female masquerading as a male to overcome traditional orthodox Jewish privileges. The film earned more than $35 million but it would be four years before she appeared in another film.

Streisand's role in Nuts (1987), opposite Richard Dreyfuss, is the story of a high-class prostitute who must go through a competency hearing to determine if she is sane enough to stand trial for manslaughter. Most critics disliked the film which Streisand produced, but some called it her best work ever. The more dramatic role prepared her for the tension and emotion that she displayed in her next role. In The Prince of Tides (1991) Streisand, opposite Nick Nolte, not only starred, but directed and co-produced the film. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards including the award for best picture. The New York Times commented that "Nothing about Barbra Streisand's previous acting or directing is preparation for her expert handling of The Prince of Tides." Streisand was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for directing, but not for an Academy Award, which angered many. She was seemingly unaffected, as she went on to star in The Mirror Has Two Faces, opposite Jeff Bridges in 1996. She earned Golden Globe Award nominations for "Best Original Song" and "Best Actress-Comedy or Musical" for this film.


Top of the Charts

Despite performing in motion pictures and on television throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Streisand never ceased releasing albums. After Funny Girl-Original Broadway Cast Recording, there would be almost 40 Streisand albums released. In 1981, she won a Grammy Award for best pop duo for "Guilty, " a duet with Barry Gibb, that became her sixth all-time highest selling single. Over the years she has recorded other duets with performers as diverse as Bryan Adams, Don Johnson, Neil Diamond, Kim Carnes, Johnny Mathis and Michael Crawford.

After receiving a death threat in 1967, Streisand developed stage fright and stopped doing public concerts. She commented to Susan Price of Ladies Home Journal, "You don't get over stage fright-you just don't perform." However, new friendships seemed to have a positive impact. In the early 1990s, she began to grow closer to her mother and became friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton. According to Kim Hubbard of People, "She forged a warm friendship with Virginia Kelley, President Clinton's mother, and conquered performance fear by taking the stage in Vegas on New Year's Eve '93." Hubbard added that "Kelley's death from breast cancer just days after attending the show forced Streisand to take stock." Streisand did a world tour in 1994, starting in London and ending in New York City. Her shows were some of the highest-grossing concerts of the year.

Streisand became engaged to actor James Brolin in early 1997. They divide their time between homes in Malibu and Beverly Hills, California. She has given concerts to help benefit political candidates and charities that benefit social causes such as AIDS research. Her "Streisand Foundation, " was established in 1992 to help advocate women's rights, civil liberties and environmental protection.

She released Higher Ground in November of 1997 and it immediately became number one on the Billboard chart. It set a record for the greatest span of time between a performer's first and most recent number one albums at 33 years. The first single released from the album, "Tell Him, " a duet with Celine Dion, was immediately a Top 40 hit and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Streisand has recorded 54 albums and has collected an overwhelming collection of 39 gold LP's, 25 platinum LP's and 12 multi-platinum LP's. She was the first person to win an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, and an Antoinette Perry Award. She is also the only person to have won an Academy Award for both acting and songwriting.


Further Reading on Barbra Streisand

American Film, January-February 1992.

Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1982.

Ladies Home Journal, February 1992; July 1994.

McCall's, September 1997.

National Review, March 20, 1995.

New Yorker, January 27, 1992.

New York Times, December 22, 1991; December 25, 1991.

People, November 17, 1997; November 24, 1997; December 8, 1997; March 9, 1998.

Washington Post, December 22, 1991.

"Barbra Streisand, " Internet Movie Databank, (May 11, 1998).