gone sad “Barbra Streisand’s performance in My Name Is Barbra is a humorous portrayal of a once cheerful girl turned melancholic – a review.”
It is a challenge to determine where to begin with My Name Is Barbra, the highly publicized 1,000-page autobiography that Barbra Streisand spent a decade writing. Many celebrity memoirs rely on existing admiration from readers to endure through the mundane sections. However, in Streisand’s case, this concept is pushed to the extreme, leaving readers in awe of the achievements of an American icon and the immense amount of detail shared. As I pictured the star in her various roles, I couldn’t help but envision an editor in a midtown Manhattan office, quietly overwhelmed and burying her head in her hands.
Your ability to appreciate this may depend on how much you admire Streisand herself. Personally, I am a fan. The first half of the book is filled with the charm and energy of its main character. Even those who know Streisand’s background may be surprised by her unlikely success. She was born in 1942 in a middle-class area of Brooklyn. However, her life changed dramatically when her father, a teacher and apparently a wonderful person, passed away from respiratory failure when she was just 15 months old. The family fell into poverty and moved to a low-income housing complex. Streisand’s mother remarried a cruel man named Louis Kind who mistreated her. Kind ignored and belittled Streisand, making fun of her appearance, while her mother was also abusive. It is often said that great stars are born out of challenging circumstances like these.
Streisand shares all of this with a lighthearted tone and a good sense of humor, while also giving the impression that she does not want to dwell on it. It is only towards the end of the book that the emotional climax is reached, and despite the absurdity of the wait, I would argue that it is worth it. In the meantime, there is a lot of enjoyment to be found in these pages, particularly in the first half of the book. As a teenage performer at the Bon Soir nightclub and later in her Broadway debut in the musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Streisand left critics baffled. With a cheerful tone and breezy delivery, she recounts how the press described her during this time as looking like a “Pharaoh,” a “hound,” and a “seasick ferret.” Streisand writes, “Yikes, was I really that peculiar-looking?”
The main character in this section of the book is portrayed as very similar to the young Streisand – talkative, humorous, unconventional – and it is through this persona that the adventures unfold. Despite early performances at popular New York City nightclubs, Streisand was consistently told that she was too wild, untrained, unknown, and physically unusual to secure an agent or significant acting roles. Eventually, her singing abilities would catapult her to stardom, first on Broadway and later in Hollywood, but in the meantime, she faced numerous closed doors. One of the highlights of the book is that Streisand still holds onto these memories and has not let them go. She shares a satisfying moment of revenge when she was able to give a small role to a former leading lady who had dismissed her in a theater company. “Take that, Emily Cobb!” she writes, with pride. Even the late writer and director Arthur Laurents, who was cruel to Streisand during their collaboration on I Can Get It for You Wholesale (“You’ll never make it,” he hissed at her one day. “Never!”) and only partially redeemed himself by writing The Way We Were for her, is not completely forgiven. In 2011, while negotiating a sequel to the movie, Streisand bluntly states “he died at the age of ninety-three, with the deal still uncertain.” No rest in peace for Arthur!
The book frequently discusses the negative experiences Streisand has had with men throughout her career, from Walter Matthau’s aggressive behavior on the set of Hello, Dolly! to crew members who undermined her when she became a director. Streisand has been praised for not shying away from exposing these men. For example, Mandy Patinkin’s sulking during the filming of Yentl because he believed they were going to have an affair, according to Streisand’s account. She was so annoyed and disgusted by his behavior that she changed the ending of the movie to avoid filming a love scene with him.
Or the icy misogyny of Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote the short story on which Yentl was based and made a bunch of snide comments about Streisand when the movie came out? Or Nick Nolte, my god. On the set of the movie The Prince of Tides, which she directed in the early 90s, Streisand writes that she found herself obstructed by a male cinematographer and crew who refused to do as she asked and with whom Nolte, her leading man, sided. (He later apologised.) Streisand backed down, because, she writes, “I didn’t have the chutzpah. I didn’t want to be disliked.” Wryly, she adds, “I doubt that this kind of thing happens to Martin Scorsese.”
Another thing that doesn’t happen to Martin Scorsese: Nick Nolte inviting him to sit on his lap, as he apparently did of Streisand multiple times during the shoot. “I didn’t always feel comfortable sitting on his lap,” she writes, “but if that was what he needed in order to feel safe and comfortable … then fine. I could do it.” And yet this is the person who asked Stephen Sondheim to rewrite some of his lyrics before she would condescend to sing them.
The paradoxes in this storyline are captivating and stem from the typical complexities of talented individuals who also struggle with insecurities. As the tale progresses and fame takes its toll, the tone of the narrative shifts. Streisand reflects, “In hindsight, it was more enjoyable to dream of being famous than actually being famous,” and the same can be said for the pleasure of reading about it. By the midpoint, the vigor of the earlier chapters has dwindled into something more fragile and frenzied, and Streisand, inevitably, has become more effusive. Pages upon pages are devoted to her interactions with other notable figures – the Clintons, Shimon Peres, Prince (now King Charles), who even sends her organic oat biscuits from his Duchy Originals collection – along with all the compliments they have given her. What saves this story from becoming tedious is the remarkable portrayal of Streisand herself – a woman who cannot let go of anything, ever. She recounts her crusade to restore three cut scenes in The Way We Were, even decades after its release, with the urgency of someone extinguishing a fire. “I am overjoyed that people can now see this film as it was originally intended. It may have taken fifty years, but my dream has finally come true!” Similarly, she continually re-edited her 1976 film A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson, working on it so close to the deadline that “Netflix practically had to pry it out of my hands.”
However, the statistics speak for themselves. Streisand’s record sales have reached 145 million globally and she has been recognized with prestigious awards such as Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, and Tonys. Despite her success, she still harbors the fear that no one will attend her live performances, a lingering echo from her childhood. This belief is rooted in the fact that for most of her life, she has never truly felt happy. In her later years, she comes to the realization that her mother’s behavior was not typical or healthy.
The time has come for a revealing and emotional moment. Streisand delves deep into Diana Kind’s most hurtful outbursts, recalling how she would scream at her daughter, miss important performances, belittle and sabotage her. In one particularly poignant anecdote, Streisand remembers how her mother would cut out negative articles about her and send them to her during the early days of her career. After finally confronting her mother and asking her to stop hurting her, her mother apologized and promised to stop. It may take over 800 pages, but Streisand eventually finds some closure in accepting that her flawed and abusive mother did love her in her own way.
You support her. You celebrate when she marries actor James Brolin at 56 years old. Despite the book’s length, you can sense untold stories within the lines – there is little mention of her son, Jason, for instance. However, at its core, this is a story brimming with vitality, passion, incredible ambition, and love for food (Streisand is a food lover). It leaves you feeling exhausted but with a smile on your face. “I’ve always been a bit of an outsider,” writes Streisand. “And I wanted to succeed on my own terms. I didn’t want to change or pretend to be someone else.” With her impressive accomplishments, Streisand hardly needs more praise, but let us applaud her nonetheless!