American Legends: The Life of Barbra Streisand by Charles River Editors
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history’s most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors’ American Legends series, readers can get caught up to speed on the lives of America’s most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
It should come as no surprise that Barbra Streisand allegedly once declared that she never had any idols as a child, because given how unusual her career has been, it’s hard to determine who might have served as her inspiration (Mann). And as the star once put it herself, “I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way.” To be sure, strong-willed women had populated both cinema and popular culture before Streisand, like Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, but Streisand was unique in her ability to appeal to diverse groups in America. She also arrived at a time when acting roles for women were generally less flexible than they would become by the end of the century, and making her story all the more compelling is that Streisand never met conventional standards of American beauty or acting style, leading biographer William Mann to declare that “Barbra had to believe she was special since no one else did.”
Clearly, there is no denying that if Barbra Streisand possesses considerable talents as a singer and actress, both supported by unshakeable confidence, yet there are also ways in which Streisand has always been insecure, a quality that Stacy Wolf noted when she wrote, “Streisand is gossiped about…as an egomaniacal, control-freak perfectionist on the set (particularly when directing) and as a frail, anxious slip of a girl who solicits opinions from anyone and everyone and still longs for conventional beauty and the approval of a father who died when she was still a small child.” As a result, there is an apparent contradiction between Streisand’s unbounded confidence and her persistent need to receive praise from others. She may be bold enough to resist fashioning her image in ways that emulate her predecessors, but it’s just as necessary to acknowledge that she was prone to the stresses of anxiety. Any complete portrait of the famous star must reconcile the two poles of Streisand, with Streisand the fearless individualist and Streisand the nervous performer forever joined at the hip.
American Legends: The Life of Barbra Streisand explores her life and career, and the way in which her confidence and fragility shaped both. As a star who has succeeded in music and film, Streisand’s singing and film acting are discussed in detail, all with an eye toward explaining the cultural importance of a singer whose voice Glenn Gould referred to as “one of the natural wonders of the age.” Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Barbra Streisand like never before, in no time at all.