Barbra Streisand, the funny girl of Hollywood

Multi-hyphenate star Barbra Streisand’s life and career makes for an interesting study

By Author  |  Published: 8th Sep 2019  12:46 amUpdated: 7th Sep 2019  8:42 pm
Barbra Streisand

At a time, when the studio system of the movie industry was on the way out, a budding talent was just finding her footing in the entertainment industry in New York in the ’60s. Barbra Streisand didn’t let her unusual looks and background come in the way of her dreams.

Born in a poor Jewish family, Barbra first made her stage debut with a solo act during her time in the Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva of Brooklyn. She later attended the Erasmus Hall High School, where she met future collaborator Neil Diamond. Despite her mother’s reservations, she didn’t attend college and instead chose to take on different jobs in Manhattan and learn acting.

During her struggling days, she shared apartments with friends. She would go on to marry one such friend by the name of Elliot Gould, also an actor. The couple had one son, Jason in 1966.

Singing wasn’t something she had given any thought to, but a chance foray in a talent night at a local club proved that ‘boy she could sing!’ She dropped the ‘a’ from her name to stand out and became a cabaret singer earning a loyal audience at various nightclubs.

Known as the ‘queen of firsts’, Barbra would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most versatile entertainers. She debuted on TV in The Tonight Show, but it was her Broadway turn in the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale as Miss Marmelstein that had fame knocking on her door. More success came with her debut recording album, The Barbra Streisand Album which made her a household name in America.

Funny Girl

The movie that catapulted Barbra into stardom was Funny Girl in 1968. The biography was first made into a Broadway play and later adapted into a movie. It follows comedian Fanny Brice and her volatile relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nicky Arnstein played by Omar Sharif. The story of how the two met unfolds in an extended flashback.  Although a bit artificial in bits, director William Wyler’s work on the film made sure Barbra’s debut was a smashing success. It would fetch her the Oscar for Best Actress.

Director: William Wyler
Producer: Ray Stark
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford
Release date: September 18, 1968

The Way We Were

There was something electric in the pairing of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in Sydney Pollack’s romantic drama about political opposites and the Blacklist. Movie-goers flocked to the theatres to watch the pair light up the screen. Also told in flashback, Barbra’s performance as Katie who is hopelessly drawn to the rakish Redford fascinated the audience. Despite their differing political opinions, the two cross paths at different points in their lives, get married and then separate. There is no denying the spark between them. The movie won an Oscar for Best Dramatic Score and Original Song.

Director: Sydney Pollack
Producer: Ray Stark
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Lois Chiles and Bradford Dillman
Release date: October 19, 1973

A Star is Born

A musical romantic drama, Barbra played a young singer who falls in love with a famous rock and roll star played by Kris Kristofferson. Things go awry when her career begins to rise, while his takes a downward turn. Despite getting mixed reviews, the film became the third highest-grossing film of that year and won many awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor for Streisand and Best Original Score and an Oscar for Best Original Song for Evergreen.

Director: Frank Pierson
Producer: Jon Peters
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson
Release Date: December 19, 1976


Perhaps her most personal work yet, the movie would combine her passion for her Jewish heritage, feminism, coming-of-age and music. Barbra plays Yentl Mendel, a girl who dresses as a man in order to enter a Jewish religious school. Things get complicated when she falls in love with fellow student Avigdor, while his fiancée Hadass falls for Yentl. The film received the Academy award for Best original Score and landed Streisand the Golden Globe for Best Director, making her the first woman to get the honour at the Golden Globes.

Director: Barbra Streisand
Producer: Barbra Streisand, Larry DeWaay, Rusty Lemorande
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin, Amy Irving
Release Date: November 18, 1983

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