Born Barbara Joan Streisand on April 24, 1942, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Emanuel (a literature teacher) and Diana (Rosen) Streisand; married Elliott Gould (an actor), March 1963; divorced; married James Brolin (an actor), 1998; children: (with Gould) Jason Emmanuel. Education: Graduated from Erasmus Hall High School (with honors), 1959; attended Yeshiva of Brooklyn. Addresses: Addresses: Agent--Martin Erlichman Associates Inc., 5670 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2400, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Website--Barbra Streisand Official Website:

The multitalented Barbra Streisand has made her mark as an actress, a singer, and a comedienne in a career spanning five decades. Streisand landed her first job as a nightclub singer in 1961 and just four years later was headlining on Broadway in the award-winning musical Funny Girl. Since then she has cut numerous albums, starred in motion pictures, and even directed and produced her own films, including Yentl in 1983 and The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996. Harper's Bazaar contributor J. Curtis Sanburn claims that Streisand has that special "star quality" that eludes all but the best entertainers. In her case, writes Sanburn, "star quality makes for a driven, creative dynamo; the biggest, most powerful performer in Hollywood. She's big because she keeps building on her talent, and we respond with surprise and recognition each time she gives us something new, yet distinctly Barbra."

Barbara Joan Streisand was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 24, 1942. By any standards, her childhood was unhappy--her father, a high-school literature teacher, died of an epileptic seizure when she was less than two, leaving the family without any income. Streisand grew up in her grandparents' home, a lonely, resentful child, whose only doll was a hot-water bottle with a sweater wrapped around it. At 14 she determined that she wanted to be an actress, and she began to cultivate a bohemian appearance and eccentric mannerisms to enhance her individuality. Streisand's mother begged her to take typing classes, "just in case" acting would not support her, but the youngster refused to consider the possibility of failure in her chosen profession. After graduating with honors from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, Streisand moved to Manhattan, where she bunked with friends and literally sang for her supper in nightclubs and bistros. When someone suggested that her last name sounded "too Jewish," she changed the spelling of her first name instead.

Debuted on Broadway

In 1961 Streisand won a talent contest at a Greenwich Village bar. That exposure led to her first regular engagement--at the Bon Soir, another Village club. There her innovative performances of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" and "Happy Days Are Here Again" gained the attention of discriminating New York audiences. Soon she was appearing on local television shows and within a year she had a substantial part in a Broadway musical, I Can Get It for You Wholesale. The show ran nine months with Streisand as an unattractive secretary named Miss Marmelstein, and when it closed, the 21-year-old singer found herself in great demand. She signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, and her first release, The Barbra Streisand Album, became 1963's top-selling album by a female performer. She followed that success with The Second Barbra Streisand Album and The Third Barbra Streisand Album, both of which sold very well. Also in 1963 Streisand married actor Elliott Gould; they divorced during a period of deep withdrawal. She has one child by Gould, a son: Jason Emanuel.

The lead role in the musical comedy Funny Girl assured Streisand's ascent to superstardom. The Broadway show, produced in 1964, profiled the life of vaudeville comedienne Fanny Brice. In many respects it was the perfect vehicle for Streisand, combining comedy, drama, and several melodic songs. Streisand also appeared in the film version of Funny Girl, earning her first Academy Award for her work. A Newsweek reviewer calls Streisand's portrayal of Brice "the most accomplished, original and enjoyable musical comedy performance ever put on film." Capitol Records released the Funny Girl album in 1964; it was one of the few Broadway albums to be recorded live rather than in a studio.

As the 1970s progressed, Streisand moved more and more into film work and recording. Eventually, the encroachments on her privacy and a growing stage fright caused her to quit performing live shows. She managed to retain her superstar status, however, because many of her films did well at the box office and her records continued to make the charts. In 1971 she had her first pop hit, "Stoney End," a rousing song that marked a departure from her classic Broadway and torch-song repertory. Two years later she had her first hit-movie-hit-song combination with "The Way We Were," a wistful ballad about parted lovers. The dual success was repeated in 1976 when she earned an Academy Award for the song "Evergreen," (which she co-wrote with lyricist Paul Williams) from the film A Star Is Born, in which she played the lead. Both "Evergreen" and "The Way We Were" revealed a softer and more winsome Streisand sound, with an appeal that crossed generational lines.

Yentl Producer, Director, and Star

Streisand was one of the few mainstream stars to have a hit disco song. Hers was "The Main Event, " released in 1979. The song fared better than the film of the same title, starring Streisand and Ryan O'Neal. By the late 1970s, when "The Main Event" made the charts, Streisand was a near-recluse, protected by attack dogs and bodyguards from the many prying fans who annoyed her. She was beginning her research for Yentl, a film project that consumed her for a number of years. Before she began work on Yentl in earnest, she recorded an album with artist Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. That record, Guilty, was one of her biggest sellers, and the title song reached number one on the top 40 charts.

Yentl, released in 1983, tells the story of a young Jewish girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to study the Talmud in a school. Not only did Streisand play the lead in the musical film, she also produced and directed the work. After spending so much time on the project--and after being rewarded with a good box-office draw--Streisand was greatly disappointed to be passed over for Academy Award nominations. In People, Jeff Jarvis contends that a reputation for temperamental behavior on Streisand's part has alienated the Hollywood establishment, while her accomplishments spark jealousy. Streisand answered her critics in a Ladies' Home Journal profile: "I used to apologize for being a perfectionist," she said. "Now I don't. I do care about every detail. That's the way I operate.... People who like working for me want to be pushed, want to be stretched. And people who don't like working for me, I guess, don't."

As Streisand continued her dual acting and singing careers, she persisted in her refusal to perform live and hardly needed to. As she entered her forties she was reportedly one of the highest-paid women performers in history, with lifetime earnings in excess of $100 million. Nuts, her 1987 film with Richard Dreyfuss, was a critical and commercial success, and her 1986 Columbia release, The Broadway Album, brought a poignant West Side Story song to the charts. Her second directorial effort, Prince of Tides, was released in 1988, and The Mirror Has Two Faces, also directed by Streisand, appeared in 1996.

Millennium Farewell Concert

Streisand meanwhile returned to live performance in 1994 with a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A subsequent release of the live concert recording became a million selling album, charting in the top ten. At the turn of the millennium, she appeared to a sold-out crowd of 12,477 spectators at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. With tickets priced over $1,000, it was the highest single concert box-office take ever, grossing $14,694,750. A follow-up concert video, Timeless: Live in Concert, was televised in 2001. This event, billed officially as a farewell concert, earned an Emmy Award for the singer, although she made subsequent appearances, continued to release new albums, and sang in an unscheduled performance at the Emmy Awards in November of 2001. She also performed several benefit concerts for the Democratic party, including one in June 2004 that raised $5 million for presidential candidate John Kerry. Streisand married actor James Brolin on July 1, 1998.

Streisand has admitted that she never wanted to be a singer--she preferred serious roles in straight drama. It was as a singer that she first attracted attention, however, and she remains one of the best-selling recording artists on the Columbia label. Her untrained but spectacular voice is instantly recognizable in a wide variety of musical styles, from old Broadway standards to pop and disco, to plaintive ballads like "Evergreen." According to Burt Korall in the Saturday Review, it is Streisand's manner--not her vocal prowess--that has distinguished her from other female singers. Korall claims that Streisand is not "musically motivated" or "inspired by the melodic line," but rather an artist who "shapes songs by heeding the guidelines established in the lyrics. She works as an actress would." Korall continues: "She responds naturally to the emotions and thoughts elicited. Moving inward, alone with her feelings, she unfolds them in a touching, well-shaded, progressive way, as if savoring close contact with them. The show business flashiness recedes and the sensitive, warm person emerges."

by Anne Janette Johnson

Barbra Streisand's Career

Worked as nightclub singer at the Bon Soir, New York, NY, 1960-61; had professional theatrical debut in An Evening with Henry Stoones, off-Broadway, 1961; made Broadway debut in musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, 1962; recording artist with Columbia Records, 1962-. Star of numerous television specials, including "My Name Is Barbra," 1964. Film actress, producer, and director, 1968-, movies include: Funny Girl, 1968; Hello, Dolly, 1969; The Owl and the Pussycat, 1970; What's Up, Doc? 1972; Up the Sandbox, 1972; The Way We Were, 1973; For Pete's Sake, 1974; Funny Lady, 1975; A Star Is Born (also producer), 1976; The Main Event, 1979; All Night Long, 1981; Yentl (also director and producer), 1983; Nuts, 1987; Prince of Tides (also director and producer), 1991; The Mirror Has Two Faces (also director and producer), 1996; Meet the Fockers, 2004; live performance at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas billed as farewell concert, 2000.

Barbra Streisand's Awards

New York Film Critics Award, Best Actress for Funny Girl, 1968; Academy Award, Best Actress for Funny Girl, 1969; recipient of special Tony Award, 1970; Academy Award, Best Song of the Year (with Paul Williams) for "Evergreen," 1977; Grammy Awards, Best Female Pop Vocalist, 1963-65, 1967, 1977, and 1986; Emmy Award, Outstanding Music Special and Outstanding Individual Performance in a Music Program, both for Barbra Streisand: The Concert, 1995; Emmy Award, Outstanding Individual Performance in a Music Program for Timeless: Live in Concert, 2000 Cecil B. DeMille Award, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 2000; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 2001; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Liberty and Justice Award, 2001; Humanitarian Award, Human Rights Campaign, 2004.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…