Barbra Streisand: The showgirl and the prince

Click to follow
The Independent Online

He is no Laurence Olivier and she is a long way from Marilyn Monroe. But the rumoured romance between the Prince of Wales and Barbra Streisand, revealed in a new book, has created a stir.

Streisand is notorious for controlling her career from the casting of her films to her publicity, and has a reputation for ferocity. Walter Matthau said of Hello, Dolly!, "I found it a most unpleasant picture to work on and, since most of my scenes were with her, most distasteful."

Not so much a Jewish American princess as a Jewish American piranha.

Of all the talents for which she is rightly celebrated her sex appeal is pretty far down the list. She admits that her lack of self-esteem began at an early age when her parents described her as an ugly duckling.

Psychologists might make much of this in the light of the allegations that she has had affairs with many of the most powerful men on the planet - that she became a seductress in order to shore up the crumbling levees of her self-esteem. Nothing new there. More surprising is how successful her quest appears to have been.

According to the unauthorised biography, Barbra The Way She Is, conquests include Dodi Fayed, Warren Beatty, Liam Neeson, Kris Kristofferson, Omar Sharif, Steve McQueen, Richard Gere, Ryan O'Neal, Jon Voigt, Andre Agassi and Pierre Trudeau. It also claims that Bill Clinton was so obsessed with her that Hillary stopped her staying over at the White House for fear of what might transpire.

Prince Charles first met Streisand in 1974, turning up on the set of Funny Lady in the hope of meeting her. At the time he wrote that "she has great sex appeal" and was "devastatingly attractive". They met again in 1994, two years after his separation from Diana. A year later, he invited her to Highgrove where, the book claims, they were "very affectionate toward each other". The body language in pictures taken of them resembles closely that now iconic picture taken of Camilla and Charles in the 1970s.

The book is published to coincide with the news of her third farewell tour. While short of hard evidence, the author, Christopher Anderson, reveals a woman of immense sexual appetite. As always, she aimed high: most of her alleged lovers are A-list.

Not blessed with conventional beauty and inclined towards the robust with the public persona of a Jewish Brünhilde, Streisand is an unlikely candidate for sex kittenhood. "It's the energy that makes her sexy" says Miriam Margolyes, who starred with her in Yentl. "She is a very exciting, but also very vulnerable, slightly scared inside. Jewish girls weren't supposed to sleep around. It may be a rebellion."

The performer was born Barbara Joan Streisand in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York to Emanuel and Diana Rosen Streisand, on 24 April, 1942. Her father died soon after and she had a lifelong and very tempestuous relationship with her stepfather, Louis Kind. Her mother, a failed singer, discouraged her daughter's show career, telling her she wasn't attractive enough. Urged to type instead, Streisand deliberately grew her nails too long to use a keyboard.

At 16 she would slip into Manhattan to sing in small clubs. In a talent contest she won a support slot at the Greenwich Village gay club Bon Soir. Initially aspiring to act, she appeared in a number of off-off-Broadway productions, paying for acting lessons with babysitting money. But it was with her singing voice that she made her mark.

By 1960 she was a big hit in Greenwich Village. She shortened her name to Barbra, to make it more distinctive, and at 18 was spotted by Marty Erlichman, her manager ever since.

"I've never really done anything for Barbra but protect her," said Erlichman. "She had her vision of how things should be, and I saw it as my job to make sure no one messed that. From the get-go it was, 'Change her nose. Change her clothes. Stop those cockamamie songs'."

In 1962 she appeared in her first Broadway musical, I Can get it For You Wholesale, opposite Elliott Gould, whom she married. They had a son, Jason, but the marriage suffered as Streisand's fame increased and they divorced in 1971.

The debutBarbra Streisand Album was released in 1963 and won two Grammies. At a time when The Beatles and rock'n'roll dominated the charts, Streisand confounded expectations with her unfashionable style. In 1964, Funny Girl, based on the life of Fanny Brice, was written for her by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. Streisand was launched.

Now she sings, acts, writes, produces and directs her own films, some more successfully than others. She has won just about every award available to her including two Oscars, eight Golden Globes and an American Film Institute lifetime achievement honour. She helped Clinton to the White House with fundraising concerts, speaking out against George Bush. She has extensive charitable interests and has made a bit of a film comeback, notably with her comedy turn as a hippy sex therapist in Meet the Fokkers. She has also found a degree of personal happiness in her eight-year marriage to James Brolin who, while not a major star, has enough self-assurance not to feel threatened or overshadowed by his wife.

But she has also gained a reputation as a control freak and can treat the people round her shabbily. When Streisand and her then boyfriend, hairdresser Jon Peters, renovated their LA estate, workers threatened to sue to get paid. She bought up all the prints of her 1970 film The Owl and the Pussycat because it showed her topless, and had the scene deleted. When High Society published the original shots of her bare breasts, she sued.

She says that as a child she was never praised nor encouraged, never hugged or told that she was loved. "My mother didn't discipline me" she said. "We never had any kind of regimen. I'd eat standing up in the kitchen. I had no rules. It was always just me, on my own terms."

Many of her fellow actors adore her, however. Hollywood actress Anne Francis, star of Forbidden Planet and Bad Day at Black Rock, recalls working with her on Funny Girl: "Barbra started soon after giving birth to her son so she had the added task of getting her body back in shape for all the musical numbers. She was excited, like a little kid, about her first foray into film, and asked numerous questions about make-up, camera angles, lighting and direction, all of which she put to great use in the years following as she became a seasoned director herself.

"I don't think I ever met a more dedicated professional."

Margolyes too has nothing but praise for her as a director: "She was wonderful with actors. Make-up and wardrobe may find her a bit strict and demanding but I really enjoyed working with her. She is quite shy, and being in the public eye is quite painful for her. But when you are with her she is absolutely lovely."

Pussycat, princess or piranha, the woman whom Camille Paglia dubbed "The Brooklyn Nefertiti" remains "just her, on her own terms".