Barbra Streisand has opened up about her past encounters with gender discrimination. One particular encounter with Sydney Chaplin caused her to develop stage fright, leading to a 27-year hiatus from performing concerts before the publication of her memoir.
The performer and actress remembered her tense connection with the son of Charlie Chaplin during their time together in the Broadway production of Funny Girl in the 1960s.
“I prefer not to discuss it,” said 81-year-old Streisand in an interview with the BBC prior to the debut of My Name Is Barbra. “It was simply someone who had a romantic interest in me, which was uncommon, and when I rejected him, he reacted in a very cruel manner.”
While I was speaking on stage, he began muttering quietly to himself. His words were filled with negativity and curses. He refused to meet my gaze, which is crucial in acting as it allows for proper reactions to the other person.
Streisand revealed that the incident left her feeling overwhelmed and ultimately led to her decision to stop performing live. However, she also shared that she faced challenges with other male collaborators during her career.
Some notable individuals mentioned were Walter Matthau, who embarrassed her while filming Hello, Dolly! by yelling, “I am more gifted in my flatulence than you are in your entire body”; and Frank Pierson, who openly criticized the 1976 adaptation of A Star is Born (which he directed), accusing Streisand of being a controlling perfectionist who always wanted more close-up shots.
Streisand’s book also lists the men who became entranced by her, such as Omar Sharif, who wrote long, passionate letters begging her to leave her husband; King Charles (then Prince Charles), who described her as “devastatingly attractive” with “great sex appeal”; and Marlon Brando, who introduced himself by kissing the back of her neck, saying: “You can’t have a back like that and not have it kissed.”
Streisand, who spent nearly 25 years writing her memoir, also discussed criticisms of her appearance during the early days of her career. She admitted to still feeling hurt by the insults and finds it hard to believe the compliments, even after all this time, as she shared with the BBC.
Despite achieving significant accomplishments, such as selling 150 million records and winning nine Golden Globes, four Emmys, and two Oscars (for acting and songwriting), Streisand expressed that she did not feel much joy when reflecting on her life.
She expressed her desire to truly experience life by saying, “I want to go on adventures with my husband [actor James Brolin] in his truck and explore new places with our children nearby… I haven’t had much enjoyment in life, honestly, and I want to have more fun.”
Streisand spoke about losing her father to a cerebral hemorrhage at just 15 months old, which caused financial struggles for her family. Her mother’s second husband, who was a used car salesman, was distant and unkind.
She stated that he never spoke to her or inquired about anything. She was never acknowledged by him or her mother, who also did not recognize her desire to become an actress and instead discouraged it.
At the age of 16, Streisand moved away from home and became a clerk. She also worked weekend shifts as a theatre usher to stay updated on the latest Broadway productions.
“I received a payment of $4.50, if I recall correctly, but I would always hide my face because I believed that one day I would become famous,” she stated. “Isn’t it ironic? I didn’t want to be recognized on the screen and have people know that I used to show them to their seats.”
In 1960, her aspirations for fame started to become a reality. She participated in a talent competition with a $50 cash prize and dinner as the reward. On that particular evening, the girlfriend of comedian Tiger Haynes remarked, “I see potential for great success in you, young lady.”
As a result of winning the competition, Streisand was invited to perform in various venues in Greenwich Village in New York. She quickly gained popularity and was applauded by audiences in clubs and bars. However, her most significant breakthrough came with her role in the Broadway production and subsequent movie adaptation of Funny Girl, which resulted in Streisand winning her first Academy Award.
Following that, her path was impressive as she appeared in movies such as What’s Up, Doc?, The Owl and the Pussycat, and The Way We Were. She also had a successful music career, with popular songs like Woman in Love, Evergreen, and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). This led her to become the second highest-selling female artist in history.
In 1983, Streisand achieved her first directorial role in Yentl. This marked the first Hollywood film in which a woman held all four major roles of writer, producer, director, and star.
Upon arriving in England for the film shoot, she remarked that she found the country to be significantly less sexist compared to the US. She noted that the presence of a queen and a female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, showed a lack of intimidation towards her as a woman. In contrast, her experience in America was unfortunately quite different as she encountered cold and aloof people.
In her memoir, Streisand aims to debunk the notion of her being a diva, but she does mention instances of behaving like a star, like when she called Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to express her dissatisfaction with the iPhone mispronouncing her name.
“I spell my name without a ‘Z’,” she stated. “It’s Strei-sand, similar to the sand found on a beach. It’s quite straightforward, isn’t it? Tim Cook was incredibly kind. He had Siri alter the pronunciation… I suppose that’s one benefit of being famous!”