barbra montage
Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Beauty of Barbra

As Barbra Streisand celebrates her 70th birthday, Melonie Clarke celebrates the life of a truly timeless legend. (Just don’t call her ‘Barbara’)

Written by Melonie Clarke
I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.' Barbra Streisand dropped the 'a' from Barbara as an 18-year-old keen on being a little more unique, and so began a career spanning five decades.

She was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn New York; her academic father died when she was barely two years old, plunging the family into near poverty. 'We were poor, but not poor, poor. We just never had anything,' she was to say later in life.

Her mother took a job as a bookkeeper, working as hard as she could to look after Barbra and her elder brother Sheldon. With her father gone and her mother working, Barbra learnt self drive and determination, which was to stand her in good stead. To date, she has sold over 140 million albums and her concerts are sold out as soon as they are announced. She has had a record 31 Top 10s since 1963, when her rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again was voted Record of the Year: the same year the Beatles released Please Please Me. And she's still the only singer to have topped the album charts over five consecutive decades.

Barbra-03-590Barbra in 1965 with Sadie, the first of her many small dogs and Barbra on the set of The Way We Were, 1973

Despite these amazing achievements, singing was never her first love. 'I hated singing. I wanted to be an actress. But I don't think I'd have made it any other way,' she once said. Her first film, the 1968 version of her Broadway hit show Funny Girl, won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, sharing it with Katharine Hepburn, the only time there had been a tie. She is still one of the few artists to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and a Grammy.

As if this were not enough, she also produced a number of her own movies, setting up Barwood Films in 1972. For the 1983 hit, Yentl, she was producer, director, star and writer – a fact that she is rarely given credit for.

Barbra has always been an impassioned supporter of serious liberal causes, once earning herself a place on President Nixon's 1971 Enemies List, but has never lost her sense of humour.

Her role as the kooky bohemian Jewish mother opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 2004 hit Meet The Fockers, brought her to the attention of a whole new generation of fans. Her timing as the over-anxious mother keen to embrace her son's girlfriend is faultless. Barbra's own son, Jason Gould, from her early marriage to the actor Elliott Gould, once appeared as her son in her film The Prince Of Tides. She is now married to the actor James Brolin.

Barbra-02-590Barbra and Dustin Hoffman in Little Fockers, 2010

Despite the pressures of an image-conscious industry, she never tried to change her look. When it was suggested that she might 'fix' her nose, she refused. Refusing to change or compromise herself to help her career has won her a special place in our hearts. It is a trait best encapsulated by her character, the earnest Katie Morosky, opposite Robert Redford's Waspish Hubbell Gardiner in the 1974 hit, The Way We Were.

Her rendition of the film's title song stayed in the charts for 23 weeks, giving Barbra her first American No1 one hit and Katie a devoted following of fans who have always known one thing: Hubbell, you chose the wrong girl! Happy birthday, Barbra.

Barbra: A Retrospective by Allegra Rossi is published by Sterling, priced £25. Readers of The Lady can buy the book at the special price of £18.50, plus £2.95 p&p. To order, please call 01273-488005 and quote code R3625. Closing date: 20 July 2012.

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