When the teenage Barbra Streisand auditioned for her first Broadway show, I Can Get It for You Wholesale, she was bold enough to ask for a chair with casters. “That way I could always be rolling around the stage,” the 41-year-old superstar reflected impishly. The star, producer, cowriter and director of Yentl has never been a wallflower: after directing her Oscar-winning performance in Funny Girl, William Wyler was moved to present her with a microphone for unsolicited contributions. But there was another reason Streisand wanted that chair: she was too afraid to stand up. The most powerful woman in show business, whose movies include The Owl and the Pussycat, Hello Dolly and The Way We Were, and who remains one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, is terrified of live audiences. “I have this fear that I will forget the words,” she explains, “that I won’t live up to expectations.”
Streisand—by her own admission “just a girl from Brooklyn”—has travelled a distance nobody could have anticipated. From the beginning, she had one undeniable treasure—her voice. With one singing lesson behind her, she followed her Broadway triumph in Funny Girl with legendary television performances and concerts in Central Park in the 1960s. But after a string of film successes, the media frequently described her as pushy and megalomaniacal—particularly during the filming of A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson. While she lived with Jon Peters, a hairdresser who has since become a successful producer (Missing, Flashdance), ridicule greeted her in the columns. “I read things from time to time,” she said, “and I don’t know who they are talking about. I am made fun of and lied about.”
The most recent—and dramaticcase occurred last week when syndicated U.S. gossip columnist Marilyn Beck wrote that Streisand had never paid Yentls original author, Isaac Bashevis Singer, for a film treatment that he had written. Said Singer’s publisher, Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus and Giroux: “The report is totally inaccurate. Isaac has been critical of her in the past, and it is true he was not happy about his story being turned into a musical. But now everyone wishes everybody else well.”
It took 15 years for Yentl to reach the screen. Although Streisand’s name on a movie marquee works box office magic, financing a picture with her as the director was difficult. At the eleventh
hour before the movie’s release last week, she was a ball of nerves, pondering the fate of her effort. “I want to get good reviews. I want to be accepted,” she said. “I will probably be devastated if Yentl is a failure. But my real joy was in making it. My joy has been here already.” She dedicated the movie to her father, who died when she was 13 months old. “Yentl,” she said, “gave me the chance to create the father I never had.”
Streisand’s adult years have brought other losses, especially in her private life: she lives in a kind of self-imposed incarceration. A self-confessed hermit,
she has a highly cultivated fear of crowds. When she does venture out, most recently on the arm of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she is instantly recognized. Even while she shot Yentl in Czechoslovakia, autograph hounds mobbed her with requests to scribble “Barbra Streiszandova” on album covers. “It’s like these noises I have, quite literally, in my ears,” she said. “I long to hear silence. But this is something I will never have.” For Barbra Streisand, “having it all” does not necessarily mean having everything.
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