Streisand, Barbra


Streisand, Barbra

Born 24 April 1942, New York City, New York, USA. A celebrated actress, singer, and film producer, from childhood Streisand was eager to make a career in show business, happily singing and "playacting" for neighbours in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised. At the age of 15, she had a trial run with a theatrical company in upstate New York and by 1959, the year she graduated, was convinced that she could make a success of her chosen career. She still sang for fun, but was set on being a stage actress. The lack of opportunities in straight plays drove her to try singing instead and she entered and won a talent contest at The Lion, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The prize was a booking at the club and this was followed by more club work, including an engagement at the Bon Soir which was later extended and established her as a fast-rising new singer. Appearances in off-Broadway revues followed, in which she acted and sang.

Towards the end of 1961 she was cast in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a musical play with songs by Harold Rome. The show was only moderately successful but Streisand's notices were excellent (as were those of another newcomer, Elliott Gould), and she regularly stopped the show with "Miss Marmelstein". She was invited to appear on an "original cast" recording of the show, which was followed by another record session, to make an album of Rome's Pins And Needles, a show he had written 25 years earlier. The records and her Bon Soir appearances brought a television date, and in 1962, on the strength of these, she made her first album for Columbia Records. With arrangements by Peter Matz, who was also responsible for the charts used by Noel Coward at his 1955 Las Vegas appearance, the songs included "Cry Me A River", "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Wolf?". Within two weeks of its release in February 1963, Streisand was the top-selling female vocalist in the USA. Two Grammy Awards followed, for Best Album and Best Female Vocalist (for "Happy Days Are Here Again"). Streisand's career was now unstoppable.

She had more successful club appearances in 1963 and released another strong album, and then opened for Liberace at Las Vegas, and appeared at Los Angeles' Coconut Grove and the Hollywood Bowl. That same remarkable year she married Elliott Gould, and she was engaged to appear in the Broadway show Funny Girl. Based upon the life of Fanny Brice, Funny Girl had a troubled pre-production history, but once it opened it proved to have all the qualities its principal producer, Ray Stark, (who had nurtured the show for 10 years), believed it to have. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote the score, which included amongst which were "People" and "Don't Rain On My Parade", the show was a massive success, running for 1,348 performances and giving Streisand cover stories in Time and Life magazines. Early in 1966 Streisand opened Funny Girl in London but the show's run was curtailed when she became pregnant. During the mid-60s she starred in a succession of popular and award-winning television spectaculars. Albums of the music from these shows were big-sellers and one included her first composition, "Ma Premiere Chanson". In 1967, she went to Hollywood to make the film version of Funny Girl, the original Styne-Merrill score being extended by the addition of some of the songs Fanny Brice had performed during her own Broadway career. These included "Second-Hand Rose" and "My Man". In addition to Funny Girl, Streisand's film career included roles in Hello, Dolly! and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Funny Girl earned Streisand one of two Oscars awarded in 1968 for Best Actress (the other winner was Katharine Hepburn).

By the time she came to the set to make her second Hollywood film, Hello, Dolly! (1969), Streisand had developed an unenviable reputation as a meddlesome perfectionist who wanted, and usually succeeded in obtaining, control over every aspect of the films in which she appeared. Although in her later films, especially those which she produced, her demands seemed increasingly like self-indulgence, her perfectionism worked for her on the many albums and stage appearances which followed throughout the 70s. This next decade saw changes in Streisand's public persona and also in the films she worked on. Developing her childhood ambitions to act, she turned more and more to straight acting roles, leaving the songs for her record albums and television shows. Among her films of the 70s were The Owl And The Pussycat (1970), What's Up, Doc? (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Funny Lady (1975), a sequel to Funny Girl, and A Star Is Born (1976). For the latter she co-wrote (with Paul Williams) a song, "Evergreen", which won an Oscar as Best Song. Streisand continued to make well-conceived and perfectly executed albums, most of which sold in large numbers. She even recorded a set of the more popular songs written by classical composers such as Debussy and Schumann.

Although her albums continued to attract favourable reviews and sell well, her films became open season for critics and were markedly less popular with fans. The shift became most noticeable after A Star Is Born was released and its damaging self-indulgence was apparent to all. Nevertheless, the film won admirers and several Golden Globe Awards. She had an unexpected number 1 hit in 1978 with "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", a duet with Neil Diamond, and she also shared the microphone with Donna Summer on "Enough Is Enough", a disco number which reached Platinum, and with Barry Gibb on the album, Guilty. Her film career continued into the early 80s with All Night Long (1981) and Yentl, (1983) which she co-produced and directed.

By the mid-80s Streisand's career appeared to be on cruise. However, she starred in and wrote the music for Nuts (1987), a film which received mixed reviews. Growing concern for ecological matters revealed themselves in public statements and on such occasions as the recording of her 1986 video/album, One Voice. In 1991 she was criticized for another directorial assignment on Prince Of Tides, though the movie was nominated for seven Oscars. Two years later, she was being talked of as a close confidante and advisor to the newly elected US President Clinton, although she still found the time to return - on record at least - to where it all started, when she released Back To Broadway. In November 1993 it was reported that the singer had given away her 10 million Californian estate "in an attempt to save the earth". The 26 acres of landscaped gardens with six houses and three swimming pools would become the Barbra Streisand Centre For Conservancy Studies. She recouped the money early in January 1994, by giving two 90-minute concerts at MGM's new Grand Hotel and theme park in Las Vegas for a reported fee of 13 million. Later in the year she received mixed critical reviews for the four British concerts she gave at Wembley Arena in the course of a world tour. Her share of the box-office receipts - with tickets at an all-time high of 260 - and expensive merchandise is reported to have been in the region of 5 million. In 1997, she duelled with Celine Dion on the hit single "Tell Him" and released Higher Ground, her first studio album for four years. Three years later she announced that she would be retiring from live performance.

As a performer, Streisand is one of the greatest showbiz phenomenons of recent times. Her wide vocal range and a voice which unusually blends sweetness with strength, helps make her one of the outstanding dramatic singers in popular music. Her insistence upon perfection has meant that her many records are exemplars for other singers.

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