The season of the celebrity memoir is upon us. In just the past few months Britney Spears, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, and more have showered us with bombshells and revelations about their origin stories and private lives. Despite those heavy hitters and the crowded field they occupy, the celebrity memoir I’ve coveted most is that of the singular Ms. Barbra Streisand. Thanks to the opportunity to speak with her for this week’s edition of It’s Been A Minute, I was able to get my hands on a copy.
For me, the iconography of Streisand begins with her nails. More than the deeply parted bouffant of Streisand’s early stardom, or the sleek bob she adopted in the ’90s, or even the smoky chevrons of her signature cat eye, her elegant talons — all natural, by the way — are visual proof of Streisand’s trademark steadfastness.
As the old story goes, when Streisand was a fledgling actor, her mother suggested she take typing classes to become a secretary in the New York school system. Streisand grew out her nails in refusal, went all in on show business, and the rest is history — though Streisand now concedes that the ability to type might have made book writing a bit easier.
Streisand’s memoir, My Name Is Barbra, is nearly 1,000 pages of such gumption, her rhythmic Brooklyn cadence communicated via countless ellipses and more than a few pleasant divergences on her favorite kind of egg roll or a particularly good antique shopping trip. There was the time Streisand jumped in to offer a blocking cue to Robert Redford on the set of The Way We Were. And of course she informed the director of the best way to block herself for her Broadway debut at the tender age of 20.
Years later, when everyone from her agent to dozens of producers suggested Yentl was “too Jewish” to connect with mainstream audiences, she pressed on, eventually garnering five Academy Award nominations and one win for the film. The film took over 15 years to make, but ultimately Streisand’s resolve won out. “I became what I wanted to be … I don’t want somebody telling me what I can’t be,” she told me.