She won over both Hollywood and Broadway, amassing a loyal following among fans as she did so. Even at 75, Barbra Streisand still sees herself as the girl next door.Barbra Streisand has achieved what most people can only dream of. She has celebrated worldwide success and recognition for more than 50 years – winning all the awards imaginable along the way, including Oscars, Emmy, Golden Globes and Tonys. She has sold more than 140 million albums – more than The Beatles.
Yet sometimes the girl she once was appears. Born into an impoverished Polish-Russian Orthodox Jewish family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Streisand still has problems with spending money on frivolous things. As she told Oprah Winfrey, the Brooklyn part of her still has her wondering if a tile really is worth its $10.95 price tage.
Everything but the ‘ugly duckling’
The native New Yorker appears friendly, even with fans, breaking with the cliché of the distant diva. She achieved her fame in spite of being labeled an “ugly duckling” in her youth due to a large nose and squint. But she never considered plastic surgery to alter her appearance, claiming she was afraid of the pain. “And how could I trust the doctor’s aesthetic taste? How would I know that he wouldn’t take away too much?”
The “flaws” in her appearance seemed to make her all the more attractive to fans. She also won them over with her confession that she suffered from stage fright and had to control it with medication. In this regard, Streisand says, she gives off the appearance of being just like everyone else.
‘Funny Girl’ instead of Shakespeare
When she was just 15 months old, Streisand’s father died. Her mother, a singer, set aside her 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 chorus 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 the British newspaper, “Telegraph.”
She won first place in the competition and her star began to rise. Her career began not on the theater stage but in big-name nightclubs, where Streisand worked as a singer. At 19, she made her Broadway debut and just two years later, she won the critic’s prize for the best actress in a musical for her role in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.”
Nearly simultaneously, her eponymous album was released and won two Grammy awards. In 1968, she made her big breakthrough in the musical, “Funny Girl.” It tells the story of the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice who overcame the naysayers who’d labeled her an ugly duckling and became a Broadway star in 1910. The role seemed to be perfectly suited to Barbra.
Awarded an Oscar for her performance in the musical, the then-25-year-old continued to appear on the silver screen in films like “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) and “The Way We Were” (1973) and carried her fame with her to cameo roles on television series, including “Glee” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Her repertoire shows the wide spectrum of her talent, as she appears in comedies and dramas alike. She has appeared opposite Omar Sharif, Yves Montand, Sidney Poitier, Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro.
Her favorite leading man, however, was Robert Redford in the romance “The Way We Were.” “We never quite knew what the other one was going to do so we were watching each other carefully, interested in each other, and I think the audience felt that.”
In 1983, Streisand took on her first role as producer, director, main actress and singer all at once in the film “Yentl.” The movie centers 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 criticized ‘Yentl’ but in his eyes, besides ‘Citizen Kane,’ there was no better film.”
“Yentl” went on to win an Oscar for best soundtrack. Her later directorial success, “The Prince of Tides” (1991), was nominated for seven Oscars. She plays the main character opposite Nick Nolte; her son Jason Gould, from her first marriage to Elliot Gould, likewise appears in the film.
‘A voice like diamonds’
Streisand sings in most of her movies – and boy can she sing! “I thank God for giving me this great voice,” she once said. When she was honored with the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” in 2015, the highest honor 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.
Although she has turned 75 years old, Streisand is a long way off from quitting show business. She just released two new albums and will give two concerts in New York next month. She’s also set to head the new Cultural Center at the World Trade Center in New York beginning in 2020.
Streisand is also very politically active, blogging for “Huffington Post,” supporting environmental activism and tweeting her uncompromisingly liberal opinions. She has spoken out against Donald Trump and took part in the Women’s March in January of this year.
When Barbra has time among all these other activities, she returns to Malibu, California, where she lives with her second husband, actor James Brolin. Happy Birthday, Babs!