It was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who first recognised Barbra Streisand’s enormous influence. While an editor at Doubleday, the former first lady wanted to publish Streisand’s memoir, but the entertainer declined, feeling she was much too young at the tender age of 42 – she had so much more to achieve. And she was right.
But, the conversation did prompt her to start jotting down some notes. Streisand then started a journal in 1999.
The resulting memoir, My Name is Barbra, takes readers through her life, from growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s to making her first appearances in New York nightclubs and famously dropping the second “a” from her name to her breakout performance in Funny Girl and her numerous awards. She finishes the memoir with a call to arms for her readers.
Streisand writes, “We each have something very powerful … a voice … and a vote … and I implore you to use both. Each and every one of us counts, and if we raise our voices and work together, we could make this a more fair, just and compassionate world.”
Throughout her life, Streisand has released 117 singles, 36 studio albums, 12 compilations, 11 live albums and 15 soundtracks. She has won countless awards including a Tony, eight Grammys, five Emmys, four Peabodys, two Oscars, nine Golden Globes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There’s absolutely no doubting her extraordinary talent. In the US, she was only overtaken this year by Taylor Swift as the bestselling female album artist.
She is, in short, a trailblazer.
Of course, My Name is Barbra includes lesser-known stories about her struggles in becoming an actor. This is when she turned to singing to make a living.
Streisand was never quiet in her determination to be famous. As described by The New Yorker, she was “born impatient and convinced of her potential – the basic ingredient of celebrity, and of an exquisitely obnoxious child”.
But, it’s clear that these characteristics did wonders for the well-rounded entertainer. As did embracing her Judaism, and her distinctively Jewish appearance.
According to a biography written by Neal Gabler about the star, Streisand was mocked and dismissed for acting and looking “too Jewish”.
She was told she had no hope in Hollywood unless she fixed her nose. But, as written by The Times of Israel, “Streisand skilfully turned the stigma of her awkward looks and ‘Jewish’ appearance into a powerful message of acceptance, making her a voice for the marginalised that defined her career.”
Indeed, she has never shied away from her Judaism. And My Name is Barbra is no exception.
Throughout the book, her Judaism is woven into the stories. Whether that’s talking about Jewish summer camps that she attended (and wasn’t so fond of), of whether it’s that she can write backwards because she learnt to read Hebrew from right to left while attending a yeshivah. She also shares that she ate cinnamon cookies every Chanukah growing up.
Streisand’s story is so nuanced and detailed, it’s completely understandable that the memoir is 966 pages long. The audio-book, read by Streisand herself, takes listeners on a 48-hour journey.
It’s definitely a journey worth going on and the singer, actor, director, producer, philanthropist, activist, mother, wife, friend and author shares her full truth.
My Name is Barbra is published by Penguin, $75 rrp