Barbra Streisand - Actress/Singer
Created | Updated Jan 11, 2015
Barbra Streisand - the best-selling female singer of the 20th Century - is well regarded as a versatile performer and movie-maker.
Barbra is an Oscar-winning actress, director, producer and writer, but is most well-known for her powerful singing voice and her distinctive looks. Once her voice and singing talent were noticed she was propelled towards superstardom in musical films where she was able to utilise her acting skills and quirky personality to create a unique persona.
Barbra's vocal range is phenomenal. She can sing country, the blues, opera, pop and jazz. Her first album, The Barbra Streisand Album, released in 1963 when she was just 21 years old, won her a Grammy Award for 'Album of the Year', making her the award's youngest ever recipient. She has had number one albums in every decade since the 1960s, and her ability to sell records continues well into the 21st Century. Her achievement of 49 gold1, 30 platinum2 and 18 multi-platinum3 albums (to 2005) surpasses that of all other female singers.
Barbra was born Barbara Joan Streisand on 24 April, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, USA, to Diana Rosen and Emmanuel Streisand. She has a brother, Sheldon Jay (born 1935). Her father died on 4 August, 1943, when Barbra was just 15 months old. Her mother married Louis Kind in 1951, and they had a daughter, the singer Rosalind Kind, in 1952.
Barbra went to Bais Yakov School in Brooklyn, which was also attended by Neil Diamond4, and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1959.
As she was growing up, Barbra wanted to be an actress, but was continually rejected due to her 'strange' looks. People thought of her as either an ugly duckling or an exotic beauty. Disappointed not to find an outlet in acting, she tried singing and won a talent contest at a gay bar called 'The Lion'.
Her first musical was I Can Get It For You Wholesale in 1961, which also starred a young Elliot Gould, whom she later married. Such was her popularity that by February, 1963, Barbra was the top-selling female vocalist in the USA. Following this early pinnacle, Barbra appeared at Liberace's concert in Las Vegas and played the Hollywood Bowl. Finally that year Barbra was given the lead in the Broadway show Funny Girl, starring as Fanny Brice. This production moved to London but was postponed due to Barbra's pregnancy.
Television specials proved popular and the albums which followed were best sellers. Now a well-known personality and established star, she was first choice to play the lead in the movie Funny Girl opposite Omar Sharif. His initial reluctance to star opposite a woman he thought 'not attractive enough' to attract cinema audiences soon gave way to spell-binding love as he was bowled over by her charms and the pair embarked on an affair5. This caused a diplomatic incident in Sharif's home country, not only because he was Egypt's number one star and a married man, but also because his extra-marital affair with a Jewess insulted their Islamic morals.
During the 1970s Barbra indulged her passion for acting, gaining a reputation for perfectionism and eventually moving into directing. Her 1970s films were The Owl And The Pussycat, What's Up, Doc? (a screwball comedy), The Way We Were, Funny Lady (the sequel to Funny Girl), and A Star Is Born, for which she was accused of self-indulgence by critics, but eventually won an Oscar.
The following decade saw more films, one of which, Yentl, she co-produced and directed. Barbra's music changed direction and she used her considerable power as a star to further the causes close to her heart; her mounting worries about the state of the planet were reflected in her 1986 album One Voice.
In 1985 Barbra confessed to interviewer Barbara Walters that she longs for silence, having suffered with tinnitus, (a distressing condition where the sufferer has the perception of ringing, hissing or buzzing in their ears when there is no external sound present), since she was a little girl.
In the 1990s she moved into the political arena, becoming a campaigner for and a trusted advisor to the newly-elected US President Bill Clinton, and eventually a close friend. In January 1994 Barbra reportedly earned £13 million by giving two 90-minute concerts at MGM's Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Barbra thinks listening to her own songs is boring. She gave up concerts in 2000 because she suffers from severe stage fright and hates singing live. However, if the cause moves her enough, she can be persuaded to sing; she sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at the 2001 Emmy Awards as a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Barbra is a staunch Democrat and sang at a concert in support of John Kerry's campaign in 2004. It is fair to say that she is politically driven; she doesn't hesitate to use her power as a celebrity to further her causes. Barbra does not support George W Bush's Iraq stance and used speech-breaks between songs during concerts to make anti-war statements. These were deemed too political to be broadcast by TV companies, so they knew exactly when to cut to a commercial break.
By those who know her well, Barbra is affectionately known as a 'coupon queen'; she likes to engineer discounts and loves freebies. She has been criticised for charging high prices for her concert tickets, which were costlier than the 'last ever' retirement concerts of Frank Sinatra.
Her sense of humour is as legendary as her reputation for frugality. She once helped play a practical joke on Harrison Ford: while he was chained to a rock during filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Barbra, wearing a leather dominatrix outfit, appeared and pretended to whip him while cursing him for making terrible films. Then 'Princess Leia' - the actress Carrie Fisher (Ford's character Han Solo's love-interest in Star Wars) - threw herself on him to protect him.
I've considered having my nose fixed, but I didn't trust anyone enough.
Rumours persist that she has had rhinoplasty but she denies this. She has had plastic surgery on her jawline even though she insisted for years that she would never go 'under the knife'.
Barbra has one son, Jason Emmanuel Gould (born 29 December, 1966) from her first marriage to Elliot Gould whom she divorced in 1971. Barbra is now married to Gould's Capricorn One co-star James Brolin.
Since she married Brolin, Barbra has been happy in her private life. She was much more relaxed and less controlling when acting in the hit Meet The Fockers, the comedy sequel to the smash-hit Meet The Family. Barbra played the ageing-hippy mother of Ben Stiller's character, opposite old friend Dustin Hoffman (her character's husband) and Robert de Niro, whose uptight character she taught to relax.
Like many Hollywood stars, Barbra was highly critical of American President Ronald Reagan for his lack of action regarding AIDS and HIV research in the 1980s; Barbra continues to campaign and fundraise for HIV charities.
In 1993 Barbra donated a 26-acre estate in California to conservationists. Her former home became the Barbra Streisand Centre For Conservancy Studies.
Barbra's charity The Streisand Foundation supports the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) climate change programme.
It is very rare in philanthropy that a foundation is able to start with something from the beginning stages and get to see it accomplished. How rewarding to see this go from a scientific theory to a concern of every government in the world. The whole planet has a vital stake in the Environmental Defense Fund's accomplishing its objectives in Kyoto.
- Margery Tabankin
Executive Director of The Streisand Foundation
Over $25,000,000 has been raised for charitable causes by The Streisand Foundation since its creation, including money from an eBay auction of Barbra's movie memorabilia in 2003. Recipients included National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign.
Barbra designed an intricate platinum heart-shaped pendant in 2003 for Platinum's 'Women With Heart' celebrity pendant design and auction, to raise funds for The Alzheimer's Association. Barbra's mother, who died in 2002, suffered from the disease.
There are so many causes that appeal to me, but a very personal sadness drew me to address Alzheimer's disease, my mother's affliction. I saw the terrible confusion it imposes on its victims, and I know the special pain of caring about someone who is still alive but is forever beyond any meaningful contact.
- Barbra Streisand, January 2003
Barbra supports Grand Slam for Children which benefits underprivileged, abused or at-risk children in the Las Vegas community. Over $10,000,000 was raised in 2005, when Barbra was the last performer of the gala evening's entertainment.
Barbra donated a song to a compilation album which was released to raise funds for Save the Children in 2003.
The moral immune system of this country has been weakened and attacked, and the AIDS virus is the perfect metaphor for it. The malignant neglect of the last twelve years has led to breakdown of our country's immune system, environmentally, culturally, politically, spiritually and physically.
I just don't like the idea of her [Diana Ross] singing my songs. Who the hell does she thinks she is? The world doesn't need another Streisand!
We have a president who stole the presidency through family ties, arrogance and intimidation, employing Republican operatives to exercise the tactics of voter fraud by disenfranchising thousands of blacks, elderly Jews and other minorities.
I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me.
What They Say About Her
[The interview with] Barbra Streisand was out of control from the start. It was five hours late starting because she was re-arranging her own lighting and it got very, very, tricky. But on the other hand that's what made her Barbra Streisand. She didn't become Barbra Streisand by being easy on the nerves or saying yes to everybody. She became Barbra Streisand by getting her own way. So I sympathise with that and I actually asked questions about it.
- Interviewer Clive James
I'm very close with everyone [old co-stars] but Barbra. You can't be close to Barbra 'cos of that nose! How close can you get? With those breasts? Can't put your arms around her. The first off-Broadway show I did was 'Barbra Streisand and Joan Rivers', and we were lesbian lovers, Barbra was really thrilled. She's a good kisser.
- Comedienne Joan Rivers
Barbra says she is 'an actress who sings' and contradictorily describes herself as: simple and complex; generous and selfish; unattractive yet beautiful; and lazy but driven.
- Funny Girl (1968)6
- Hello, Dolly! (1969)
- On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
- The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
- What's Up, Doc? (1972)
- Up The Sandbox (1972)
- The Way We Were (1973)
- For Pete's Sake (1974)
- Funny Lady (1975)
- The Main Event (1979)
- All Night Long (1981)
- Yentl (1983)
- Nuts (1987)
- The Prince of Tides (1991)
- The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)
- Meet the Fockers (2004)
Barbra is one of only a tiny handful of women directors in Hollywood, but it's significant that she wasn't nominated for a 'Best Director' Oscar when her film The Prince of Tides was nominated for Best Film.
Barbra is the first person ever to receive an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy.
- 1968 Best Actress: Funny Girl
- 1976 Best Song: 'Evergreen' from the film A Star Is Born7
Golden Globe Awards
- 1968 Best Actress - Musical or Comedy: Funny Girl
- 1970 World Film Favourite - Female
- 1971 World Film Favourite - Female
- 1975 World Film Favourite - Female
- 1977 Best Actress - Musical or Comedy: A Star Is Born
- 1977 Best Original Song: 'Evergreen' from the film A Star Is Born
- 1978 World Film Favourite - Female
- 1984 Best Director: Yentl8
- 1963 (2)
- 1977 (2)
- 1992 - Grammy Legend Award
- 1995 - Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1995 (2)
- 2001 (3)
People's Choice Awards
- 1975 - Favourite Motion Picture Actress
- 1977 - Favourite Motion Picture Actress
- 1988 - All-time Favourite Musical Performer Award
- Peabody (1965)
- Golden Apple - Female Star of the Year (1968)
- David di Donatello - 1969, 1974
- Tony - Star of the Decade 1970
- Laurel - 1970
- Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Special Silver Ribbon - Best New Director of a foreign film: Yentl (1984)
- Women in Film Crystal - 1984, 1992
- Cecil B DeMille - 2000
- ASCAP Film and Television Music - 1988, 1998
- American Film Institute - Lifetime Achievement Award: 2001
- Human Rights Campaign Award in March 20049
Apart from the already mentioned hit duet with Neil Diamond, Barbra has recorded duets with a galaxy of stars. Barbra's 2002 album Duets features a wide range dating from the 1960s through the 1970s disco-era to date. A high point is the duet 'Get Happy' with Judy Garland which was recorded live in 1963.
Other artists that Barbra has duetted with include: Bryan Adams, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Michael Crawford, Celine Dion, Barry Gibb, Vince Gill, Josh Groban, Don Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Summer.
- Barbra is 5'5" (1.65m) tall.
- Loves Chinese food.
- Favourite actor: Marlon Brando.
- Favourite ice-cream: coffee.
- Favourite colour: white.