Life & Culture

My Name is Barbra review: Streisand’s 1,000-page love letter to herself

The superstar’s mother of all memoirs is hilariously replete with self-congratulation


HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: (L-R) Spike Lee, winner of Adapted Screenplay for ''BlacKkKlansman,' and Barbra Streisand attend the 91st Annual Academy Awards Governors Ball at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

My Name is Barbra
by Barbra Streisand
Century, £35

Before anyone had heard of Barbra Streisand, she was just another wannabe actress, trying and failing miserably to break into Broadway. Then she was offered a weekly stint at the famous New York nightclub the Bon Soir.

In just a few short weeks, she became a sensation.

“I was starting to develop a following,” she writes in this much-anticipated warts-and-all memoir. “I heard that the people were coming to the club just to see me.”

Don’t go expecting false modesty from Streisand in this 1,000-page love letter to herself.

And, one might ask, why would you?

After all, she is one of the last remaining bona fide Hollywood stars – an EGOT winner (the achievement of having won all four of the major American entertainment awards) who has not only made roles in musicals such as Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! her own but who, when not starring in films such as Yentl and The Way We
Were, can also be found behind the camera.

Blowing her own trumpet is something that comes very easily to Streisand in this book; and she does so with characteristic nonchalance.

My Name is Barbra begins with a thankfully brief account of her childhood in Brooklyn. She lost her father at a very young age, and when years later she asked her mother Diana why she refused to talk about her deceased husband, her mother replied, “I didn’t want you to be sad.” Streisand’s relationship with her mother — a former soprano who failed to break it in the business — would remain fraught throughout her life.

Diana, she tells us, was never complimentary about her daughter’s achievement and rarely missed a moment to belittle them. “Why would they pay you so much to sing?” she once asked her. It doesn’t take a shrink to understand what role this might have played in Streisand’s hunger for stardom.

Elsewhere, My Name is Barbra attempts to settle a few scores. Streisand regularly berates those who have made a career out of her name by peddling lies in numerous unauthorised biographies.

But the book is most juicy on the subject of Streisand’s various affairs and friendships. Barely out of her teens, Barbra met and fell madly in love with actor Elliott Gould, a man whose career she never tires of telling us never managed to match her own.

The pair lived in a small apartment in New York and later had a son, Jason — Streisand’s one and only child, before the relationship fizzled out. We learn she once had a brief dalliance with Andre Agassi.

Her Yentl co-star Mandy Patinkin reportedly cried when she refused to have an affair with him. The former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau (father of current Canadian PM Justin), with whom she had a brief affair, “made [her] feel like Jackie Kennedy”.

Even the then Prince Charles, a lifelong friend and confident, had a youthful crush on her, at one point confessing to having a poster of her on the wall of his student digs at Cambridge University.

Most significant is her “will they, won’t they” enduring friendship with screen icon Marlon Brando (they don’t) whom she calls “the most gorgeous, the most brilliant and the most talented human being on Earth”.

Brando, she writes, told her: “I don’t think you’re going to be with Elliott much longer […] he’s not good-looking enough for you.” After watching The Way We Were — Sydney Pollack’s timeless love story starring Streisand and Robert Redford — Brando rang Barbra to tell her: “You’re a wonderful actress.”

Streisand never fails to quote all the times he paid her a compliment. Of all the men she has ever known or been with, Marlon, it’s clear, was the one who got away.

Elsewhere Streisand writes candidly about her lasting friendship with Virginia, the mother of former US president Bill Clinton, whom she says once told her, “Bill is like you, he was born with this great, great ability.”

That famous Streisand frankness about her own greatness rears its head once again. Barbra became one of Bill’s biggest supporters, even defending him during the Lewinski scandal. In contrast, Hillary Clinton barely warrants a mention.

My Name is Barbra, which is peppered with Yiddish phrases throughout, mixes a winning candour with hilariously outlandish self-congratulatory pronouncements.

Despite her insistence that she never reads any reviews, Streisand never misses a chance to share the accolades bestowed upon her by all and sundry — even Nelson Mandela, we learn, once called her formidable.

As for her mother, she apparently kept every newspaper and magazine cutting. Streisand is certainly not backwards about coming forwards.

Throughout this exhaustive, exhausting book, one cannot help but admire her chutzpah.

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