Life & Culture

Barbra Streisand at 75 by Maureen Lipman

'She has got up people’s noses and resolutely kept her own. She is a miracle.'


Aside from my brother, Geoff, in Brussels and a handful of cousins and schoolfriends, oh, and Cliff, of course… and Sue McGregor naturally… Barbra is the longest serving constant in my life.

“BARBRA STREISAND STOPS THE SHOW” screamed Geoff’s Time magazine. It was 1962 and I was in O-level year at Newland High School for girls, Hull City of Limited Culture.

I had played Dr Faustus on stage at school, but had scarcely ever seen a musical save Calamity Jane and Gigi on film. I was obsessed by Broadway/Hollywood and travelled home on two buses specifically to pick up Motion Picture and Modern Screen from the stall outside Paragon station. I scoured the vinyl shops for all the latest Broadway openings to mime to, played on my new Dansette record player.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale, with a book by Jerome Weidman and music and lyrics by Harold Rome was about an unscrupulous garment manufacturer. Barbra Streisand planned her “kooky” ’30s look for her audition and let her sheet music fall across the stage for comic effect. This girl thought ahead. Said one review “Quieter than Seventh Avenue on Yom Kippur.” It closed after 300 performances, but launched the 19-year-old Streisand, via her show-stopping number Miss Marmelstein into a recording contract with Columbia and a marriage of eight years to her co-star Elliott Gould.

Barbra knew exactly where she was going, to precisely above the top…

The extent of her ambition, talent and intelligence, in that order has kept her there for five-and-a-half decades. She has adapted her singing style to whatever was current, she has directed and starred in some birds of paradise and some turkeys. She has performed live throughout, even though it terrifies her, and kept her recordings fresh and vocally distinct.

She has stood up for her faith, for gay rights — embracing her son Jason’s sexuality — for women’s rights, for Democrats and against Aids prejudice. She has got up people’s noses and resolutely kept her own. She is a miracle.

I met her three times during the period my late husband Jack Rosenthal was working with her on the film Yentl, then, having sworn “never again”, on Prince of Tides. She was more petite, more beautiful and more ordinary than I had expected. As usual, I found it hard to be myself with someone I had admired for so long, and began to babble.

Jack found her generous and parsimonious, simple and complicated, irritating and fascinating. Convincing her that nobody said “cookie” in 19th-century Poland was laborious. He wrote 13 drafts. Cookie went back in. A nice, powerful Jewish girl who doesn’t always wield her power with equanimity. That struck a chord with me.

On one occasion, I stumbled into telling her the middle eight of Memory was perhaps too low for her voice. On the same occasion, my four-year-old son told her “Your voice really hurts my ears.” She took both with… equanimity. I told her a long story, which I wished I hadn’t started, in her dressing room after her live show, involving an actor who had to go on stage for a great star, after having been out of the business for seven years, working as a window cleaner. When I asked him how he’d got through it he said: “Mo, I just said to myself, ‘Mitch, in three hours’ time you’ll be in bed.’”

She grimaced, but later when I looked in my signed programme she had written: “In three hours time I’ll be in bed.”

Barbra is one of the first female entertainers to make it work for herself. On any given day, sitting by her pool, she probably makes upwards of thirty or forty thousand dollars in royalties. She doesn’t get duped by business managers. She strikes hard deals and makes profits. If the movie fails I guess she makes the money back in the soundtrack. We should all glory in her achievements.

She seems to have found a simple happiness with her silver fox husband and a good relationship with her son. She has grown into her unorthodox looks in a better way than her puffed-up contemporaries. And my dear, she’s still here.

We should take off our hats to Miss S. And don’t close the oyster — 
I bet you there’s more poils to come.


Maureen Lipman is in ‘Lettice and Lovage’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory from May 4

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