I Was Happier as a Beatnik cover

July 4, 1965


Inside story

“I miss my good old beatnik days,” said the voice behind the dressing screen. Though I couldn’t see her, singer Barbra Streisand’s voice was unmistakable. “Sure I was unknown and broke,” she said, poking her head above the screen. “But life was simple and beautiful.”

The face disappeared again, but the voice went on: “People didn’t care about my looks or manners — and I didn’t worry.

“But now that I am a star, I worry all the time.

“I worry about money, my looks, my nose, my clothes, my manners, my singing — just about everything.

“That’s why I long to be a beatnik again.”

Barbra suddenly stepped from behind the screen in the dressing room of her hit Broadway musical, “Funny Girl.” And if she was worried, she didn’t show it.

Clad in black slacks and a black, floppy sweater, the slender, 23-year-old hook-nosed star plunked down at her dressing table and began eating a steaming plate of spaghetti and meat balls.

She made an intriguing picture: the star with spaghetti sauce on her chin, the kook with class.

I couldn’t help thinking she was still part of two worlds. For even though Barbra is now one of Broadway’s brightest stars, it wasn’t hard to detect signs of the girl who used to look over at the glittering lights of Manhattan from the rooftop of her Brooklyn home.

She made her Broadway debut with a small role in the 1962 musical, “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.”

She said: “Just a few years before that I was a beatnik making 50 cents an hour baby-sitting.

“I also worked in a Chinese restaurant and licked envelopes for a printing firm. So I know what it means to earn peanuts in New York.

“It was tough. But I was very free and happy.

“Now I’m in the big time and I miss the past. I’ve got a TV contract for $5 million over the next 10 years, plus income from the stage and record sales.

“But I'm scared to death I’ll wake up some morning and find myself without a voice.

“If I were still a beatnik, it wouldn’t bother me. I was happier when I was a beatnik.”

Barbra paused to roll up some long strands of spaghetti with her fork and spoon.

I asked: “Do you think you’ve really changed since those days?”

“Well, yes, in a way,” she said.

Smiling broadly, she went on: “I still have a long nose and I’m no candidate for a beauty contest. I have a boyish haircut sometimes and that seems to make my nose look even longer.

“I still wear slacks and sweaters as often as I can. They aren’t at all glamorous, are they?

“And I’ve always been gawky. I mean, I couldn’t even get a modeling job.

“I’m probably the least appealing woman in show business. But years ago, I didn’t worry about my appearance because nobody cared if I looked ugly or gorgeous.

“Now I have to maintain a wardrobe of great clothes and turn out perfectly all the time. It gets to be a pain in the neck.

“Some people have even suggested that I get a nose job. I may change my wardrobe, but I’m not changing my nose for anybody.”

I asked: “What about money — surely you don’t have to worry about that?”

“Oh, I’ve got money all right,” she said. “But I still only allow myself $25 a week — and I never even spend it all.”

“For heaven’s sake,” I said. “Why?”

Barbra smiled and said: “To tell you the truth, I get by on 25 bucks because I want to stay happy.

“Beatniks don’t have money problems. So why should I?

“People nowadays are always advising me to do this or do that. Years ago, nobody told me what to do.

“So in a way, I miss those days.”

Pushing away her empty plate, Barbra turned to face me and said: “I’m still very impatient. I see many things wrong with me and I’m always criticizing myself.

“In fact, I worry so much sometimes that I forget to say hello and good-bye to people.

“I certainly don’t want people to think I’ve got a big head. And I keep telling myself I’ve got to watch my manners.

“But it’s tough. I guess deep down in my heart, I’m still a beatnik.

“The only difference now is I’m not allowed to look or act like one.”


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