Barbra Streisand On The Couch
Daily Express 3rd November 1991
SHE'S a multi-millionairess and a mystery, but for a supposed eccentric recluse and our present day Garbo the always intriguing Barbra Streisand has been following the wrong script. She's talking on television. She's flickering through routines and songs with Judy Garland on black and white nostalgia trips on the Disney cable channel.
The CD boxed set biography of her career — it begins in 1955 with the 13-year-old Streisand offering a wistful You'll Never Know — is a best-selling anthology. The collection, Just For The Record, is packed with new material and is already a classic.
Oh, and she directed, produced and stars in The Prince Of Tides, which will open in cinemas across America in 10 days to an inevitable fanfare of Oscar talk and will be released in Britain on February 21.
Which rather explains why, at present, she no longer wants to be alone. Streisand is just following the code of her New Yawfe roots — she's out selling the goods. But she's not some sly charmer; not for her the easy quote to meet all occasions and sound bites, the blissfully lucky photo opportunity. And there are always the detractors who hope she'll end up with ego all over her face.
Streisand has spent three years making Prince Of Tides, based on Pat Conroy's 1987 best-seller. It is all about co-star Nick Nolte's character Tom Wingo finding himself. It's about secrets from the past and dealing with them. Wingo's twin sister Savannah has tried to kill herself. Streisand is the sister's neurotic Jewish psychiatrist who quizzes Tom Wingo to try to discover the source of his sister's .emotional problems. She finds his as well.
And in the process of the film — be it subliminal or intentional — Streisand puts
herself on the couch. It's another search for what she calls 'the essence of the truth'.
Streisand said: "The film is about grieving and crying, a man's catharsis, getting to the point where he can feel again. To feel joy you have to feel pain.
"It's a film about forgiveness, about saying, 'I need to love my mother and my father in all their flawed outrageous humanity'. I chose to put that line at the end because I felt this is the lesson of the movie."
Streisand is 50 next April ("I can't believe it — I don't feel it") and it seems to have arrived quickly for the Brooklyn girl with the big nose and the even bigger voice who was suddenly the most talented person around.
Her looks didn't matter. The just retired doyen of American film critics Pauline Kael argues that the 'message' of Streisand is that talent is beauty.
BUT Streisand's mother never told her she was beautiful. "She never paid me a compliment. She said she didn't want me to get a swelled head." Her stepfather told her she was too ugly to be a singer or actress. She should be a typist. The family tension goes on. This week her mother said she was proud of her daughter but added: "She hasn't got time to be close to anyone." And that sort of comment still matters.
This formidable woman whose talent is doubted by no one but herself is still a remarkable, complex emotional mess. On screen, on stage and most certainly on disc, she sounds nothing but confident and controlled.
But in person she's awkward in a crowd, a handsome duckling out of water. Face to face the eyes are piercing and she'll answer questions frankly but even a small crowd of people can give her a panicked look.
Much stems from her childhood. She was 15-months-old when her father Emmanuel Streisand, the son of an immigrant fishmonger who taught English literature at Brooklyn High School, died of respiratory failure following an epileptic fit. He was 35.
In 1983 she became the first woman to direct, produce, write and star in a title
role with Yentl.
Isaac Singer's novel on which the film was based begins: "After her father died ..." Streisand was hooked by that.
Diana Streisand had told her daughter her father died from a cerebral haemorrhage brought on by overwork. The lie concerned Streisand for three decades: "I thought I might die from overwork too. My mother never talked to me about him because she thought it would upset me. The more I knew of him, the more it would upset me. It was crazy, I felt I came from an immaculate conception, you know.
"Eventually in 1979 I went to my father's grave. I had never been before. I had my picture taken at the tombstone. At last I had a picture with my father.
"I always felt different from other little girls on the block because I was the girl with no father. I wanted to have a father."
She says that film allowed her to exorcise the ghost of her father.
In 1950, her mother married used-car salesman Lou Kind, whom Streisand says did riot live up to his name: "He was not a nice man. He never talked to me. He was mean to my mother," she says today with venom.
Five years after Yentl she starred in Nuts, playing high-class call girl Claudia Draper who is charged with murdering one of her clients. Conflict arises when her mother and her stepfather want her to plead insanity.
It was a Streisand showcase but she says: "It was about the mystery of appearances. The mother and the father appear as wonderful, loving parents — on the surface.
"I had a miserable relationship with my stepfather. I don't think I had a conversation with this man. "I don't think this man asked me how I was in the seven years we lived together.
"When I was in Funny Girl on Broadway he finally came' to see me. And that morning I woke up with a scratched cornea so I almost couldn't go on. But this was the day my stepfather was coming to see me in this play. So I had a doctor anaesthetise my eye so I could go on. And he sent me the only thing he ever sent me — a basket of candies."
She was 22 then. She was 45 when Nuts was released and she threw out the basket of candies.
"I took a long time but I got rid of him. I find these films are kind of cathartic. One is given a chance to express certain feelings and they get easier. They get easier to live with."
Streisand the director of Prince Of Tides uses flashbacks to tell her story, or rather to plant the roots of the tale. You see the childhood Tom and Savannah Wingo at the dinner table, the dysfunctional Wingo family impersonating life.
"This is the story of all our lives — we've all had those traumas. You become who you are from those moments in your life," she says.
It was Pat Conroy who helped her in honing the script and suggested she cast her actor son Jason Gould (from her eight-year marriage to Elliot Gould) as her son Bernard in the film.
She worried about controversy. She doubted the wisdom of that choice.
Wouldn't it be a trauma if she was accused of nepotism? She said 'to the hell with it' and so far the reaction to her son's performance has been positive. Just as well.
She was putting in 18-hour days on Prince Of Tides until days before it opened. A word here, a note on the sound score there; she says if she was a man this perfection and care would be applauded but because she's a woman she's 'difficult'.
"My kid's a perfectionist like me," she says. If he didn't deliver, Id fire him."
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