'My Name is Barbra' — long-awaited Streisand memoir tells all

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday November 28, 2023
Share this Post:
Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand

At age 81, after more than 60 years in show business, superstar Barbra Streisand's long-awaited memoir is finally out. In interviews, Streisand has said that she worked on the book for the better part of ten years. It was a massive undertaking.

"My Name is Barbra" clocks in at 970 pages, and no wonder. Streisand has lived an extraordinary life. She has starred in blockbuster films, directing three of them. She has released dozens of albums and sold millions of records. She has been on Broadway. She has performed concerts in sold out stadiums. And she has broken bread with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, as well as with major political figures. She has a lot to tell, and she tells it beautifully.

Streisand begins at the beginning, recalling her unhappy childhood in Brooklyn. Her father died when she was 15 months old, and the family, consisting of Streisand, her brother and mother, were forced to move in with her grandparents.

All five of them were crowded into a one-bedroom apartment. Her mother was emotionally distant, never telling her about her father ("I didn't want you to miss him," Mom said years later), and never showing Barbra any affection or offering her approval ("I didn't want you to get a swelled head" was the excuse).

Her mother remarried and her stepfather treated her horribly, going so far as to tell Streisand that she was "ugly." Streisand escaped by going to the movies, dreaming of becoming a famous actress.

That dream came true beyond her wildest dreams. Streisand began her career by singing in clubs, quickly amassing a following and getting good reviews in the press. By the time she was in her early twenties she was starring on Broadway, playing real-life show business icon from the past Fannie Brice in the musical "Funny Girl." In 1968, at age 26, she starred in the film version of the play and won an Oscar. There were best-selling albums, TV specials and one movie after another.

Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl'  

A magical life
Her later life became truly magical. She recalled getting a fan letter from legendary movie star Henry Fonda and being told by crooner Frank Sinatra that if anyone ever gave her a hard time "I'll take care of it."

Practically everything Streisand touched turned to gold. Yet through it all she remained a shy girl from Brooklyn. Eventually she ventured into territory where women in Hollywood were not allowed and became a film director. Her 1983 film "Yentl," the story of a young girl in 1904 Eastern Europe who disguises herself as a man in order to study the Torah, became a tribute to the father she lost. She directed two more films. All three of her directorial efforts were hits, yet she was never nominated for a directing Oscar and struggled to be taken seriously by her male crews.

Streisand writes about all of this, and much more, with grace and aplomb. Her prose glides across the page with ease. She recalled her involvement in politics, becoming close friends with President Bill Clinton and getting, from Clinton's mother Virginia, the affection she never got from her own mother.

Streisand is a strong supporter of gay rights. She writes about her failed attempts at making a film of gay writer Larry Kramer's AIDS play "The Normal Heart," a film she never got to make because the egotistical Kramer became so impossible to deal with. When the film was finally made for HBO without her involvement, she rejoiced nonetheless, glad that this important story got to be seen by a wider audience. In the chapter on "The Normal Heart," Streisand expresses support for her son Jason, who is gay.

She became appalled by the fact that gays were not allowed to serve in the military and produced "Serving in Silence," a TV movie in which Glenn Close played real life army nurse Margarethe Cammermeyer, who sued the federal government when she is discharged from the military for being a lesbian. The film was well received, and she went on to produce "What Makes a Family," another TV movie. This time she told the story of a lesbian couple who had a child. When the partner who carried the child dies, the survivor found that she had no legal claim on the child. Streisand expressed great satisfaction in telling these stories, which mean so much to her, even though she herself is not a lesbian.

"My Name is Barbra" ultimately stands as a self-portrait of a life well lived. Streisand accomplished everything she set out to do with almost surreal levels of success. Her book, so easy to read in spite of its massive size, is a must-read for fans who have followed her career across the years. Streisand leaves quite a legacy, and this book documents it all.

'My Name is Barbra' by Barbra Streisand, Viking Press, 970 pages, $47.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.