Five Interesting Facts About Barbra Streisand That You Probably Didn't Know
She's been compared to Ethel Merman and to Judy Garland. She's also been accused of being a diva. Love her or hate her, Barbra Streisand has a voice that has made her one of the greatest singers -- and personalities -- of her generation.
We know about her unique look, about her fundraising abilities, and about people who need people being the luckiest people in the world. Here are some interesting and fun facts about Barbra Streisand that you probably didn't know.
1. She Didn't Want to Be a Singer Originally
Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York. As she went through her teens, she came to realize that she had vocal abilities. She didn't really want to be a singer, though. What she wanted to be was an actress, and toward that end, by the time she was 18, she had landed a few parts with summer stock companies in New York and Connecticut and was pursuing roles on Broadway. The whole nightclub scene, she said, just wasn't for her.
Nevertheless, on June 6, 1960, at the urging of a friend, Barbara entered the weekly talent contest at the Lion, a bar in Greenwich Village, where the top prize was $50 plus a one-week booking at the club. Appearing last among four contenders, she gave a soulful rendition of "A Sleeping Bee," from the short-lived 1954 Harold Arlen musical House of Flowers. The crowd went nuts, and Barbara won the contest. It was the first time she had been paid to sing.
Accounts differ as to what happened next -- some say it was that night; others suggest it may have been a little longer -- but sometime shortly after her first appearance at the Lion, Streisand announced that she was changing her name. From that point on, she would be Barbra Streisand, with two a's in her first name instead of three, and soon she began introducing herself as such. On résumés which she'd already prepared -- she had very little money at the time -- she made sure she blotted out the second a in Barbara before handing them out.
2. She Once Opened for Phyllis Diller
After her success at the Lion, Barbra landed a gig around the corner at another Greenwich Village club known as the Bon Soir where, at $125 a week, she had a three-month stint opening for comedienne Phyllis Diller. The two women shared a dressing room which Diller has described as being "about the size of a pea pod."
Whether it was due to being thrown together in such cramped quarters or whether Diller's maternal instincts had kicked in (she had raised five children before embarking on a career in stand-up), she and Barbra became fast friends. She spent a week helping Barbra pick out a gown for her performances instead of the vintage clothing Streisand usually wore -- a gown which, unbeknownst to Diller, Streisand later returned. Diller also claims to be the first person to admonish Barbra never, ever to get her nose fixed -- advice Barbra took to heart, since she was worried about what a rhinoplasty would do to her voice.
The Bon Soir turned out to be a good gig for her -- and she was getting noticed. Below is a clip from those days, when she appeared on the Jack Paar Show. And yes, that's Orson Bean hosting.
That's Barbra with Two A's
3. She Used to Eat Lunch with Bobby Fischer
Barbra has described herself as having been a bit of a misfit when she was attending Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in the late 50's. She was a straight-A student, but her only real extracurricular activity was the school chorus, where one of the other singers was a boy by the name of Neil Diamond.
One student who captured her attention was another boy named Bobby Fischer, who at the time was already well on his way to becoming a chess grandmaster. He was in the Class of 1960, a year behind Barbra, and would ultimately drop out of school to pursue other goals. Barbra kind of liked him, though -- perhaps because he, too, seemed a bit of a misfit. Though Barbra has said she thought he was peculiar, she also found him kind of sexy and the two of them would often eat lunch together.
4. She Almost Became the First Lady of Canada
Barbra Streisand has been married twice -- from 1963 to 1971 to Elliott Gould and since 1998 to actor James Brolin -- but she's been linked romantically with other men as well, most notably co-stars like Omar Sharif and Ryan O'Neal, but also such figures as Richard Baskin, heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune. She was also in a relationship with hairstylist-turned-producer Jon Peters for many years.
One of her more unusual pairings was with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whom she started seeing in 1969. The affair was quite public -- they dined together in New York; she flew up to Ottawa and sat in the visitors' gallery when Parliament was in session -- and became serious enough, according to biographer Christopher Andersen, that Trudeau proposed to her. After giving the matter some consideration, which included, Streisand said, planning to learn French and preparing herself to make all her future movies in Canada, she ultimately rejected the offer. No doubt one issue was the fact that to marry Trudeau she'd have to become a Catholic. Also, her divorce from Gould was not yet final. The Prime Minister seemed to get over her rejection easily enough, though, and went on to marry 19-year-old Margaret Sinclair.
5. She Made Nixon's Enemies List
Beginning in 1971, the Nixon White House began compiling a list of political enemies, the purpose of which, according to compiler John Dean, was to use any available Federal machinery to get back at people who disliked Nixon -- through IRS audits, denying them Federal funds and so forth.
Originally the list contained only twenty names but was eventually expanded to over 200. Mostly it was a list of politicians, with some labor leaders and a bunch of media people thrown in, as well as some organizations perceived as threatening, such as the Black Panthers. But there were about a dozen celebrities who also made the list, presumably because of their political leanings. The famous names included Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Carol Channing, Tom Smothers -- and Barbra Streisand.
While many people such as Newman and Channing considered being on the list a badge of honor, Streisand was reportedly terrified. It was a far cry from May 1963, when she sang "Happy Days Are Here Again" for President John F. Kennedy at a White House correspondents' dinner.
One of the nice things about the American system of governance, though, is that its political winds change frequently -- the Ins go out and the Outs come in. When Arkansas' Bill Clinton got elected, Streisand not only was no longer an enemy of the President of the United States; she also became a frequent guest at the White House.