Barbra Streisand

by Louis Kind

As told to Ethel Barron [Movieland magazine, Feb. 1969]

For six years I was Barbra Streisand’s step-father. I came into her life in 1949 when I met and married her widowed mother. Diana Streisand was then secretary to the late Judge Jacob Panken and had just taken and passed a teacher’s examination, when I came along and married her. She and her two children, Sheldon and Barbara, (that’s the way her name was spelled then) were living at that time with her parents in a house on Heart Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. I remember how worried Diana was about my reaction to having her children live with us. She suggested that they continue to live with her parents until she and I became adjusted to each other. “No,” I said, “I’m very fond of children and I want them to live with us.” We took an apartment in a house on Newkirk Avenue, near Empire Boulevard, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

They proved to be very nice children. I liked Sheldon who was then fourteen years old and I liked his little seven-year-old sister. She wasn’t a pretty child, nor a particularly warm, affectionate or outgoing one. She was very shy but after one got to know her better, she could be very lovable.

I’ve read many stories about Barbra in which she’s described as “kooky.” We all should be so kooky. If there’s any sign of kookiness in her now, it is, I’m convinced, all part of a carefully prepared act, probably to maintain her already established reputation for eccentricity. As a matter of fact, I’ve never met a smarter, more intelligent or saner child, nor one with more common sense. In school, she was very smart, although she never did any homework. “How can she be promoted if she doesn’t do her lessons?” family and friends asked in consternation. She was promoted, all right, with an average mark that was over ninety.

Far from being kooky, she was extraordinarily mature for her age. Here was a child who never went into tantrums or rages when she was crossed, nor did she get into scrapes. She wasn’t a cry-baby either. She was hot-tempered, but her anger lasted only a few minutes, then cooled off. I can say that all-in-all, she was a very good child. However, there were times when it was difficult to reach her; She could be very depressed and very moody for such a little girl.

Why? She had good reasons. I’ve analyzed the situation and have come up with the conclusion that Barbra’s ill-founded reputation for kookiness, stems from the fact that she was a very misunderstood child. First of all, she had been left fatherless at the age of fifteen months and had been brought up by elderly grandparents because her mother had to go to work. That by itself, must have been a traumatic experience for a small child. Then having made an adjustment to these unhappy circumstances, she was forced to move away from her grandparents’ home and begin a new life with a stranger—a man who had married her mother, but wasn’t her father. It’s probably difficult for some people to realize what an unfortunate effect a situation like this can have on a sensitive child. Barbra, I truly believe, was starved for the kind of love that kids brought up with two parents, take for granted.

This facet of her nature was revealed to me at the time I was courting her mother. I would call for Diana, wait for her in the living room, and then when she was ready to go out with me, I would take her arm and lead her to the door. Barbra, sensing that her life was to undergo some terrifying change, invariably would grab a hold of her mother’s skirts, pulling her back, fearful that this strange man was taking her mother away from her. “Don’t go, Mommy, stay with me,” she’d plead. I think this tells a great deal about Barbra.

A second reason why l think Barbra was so misunderstood was because of her innate understanding of herself. Even at the age of seven, she knew what she wanted to be and where she wanted to go. Again—it is often hard for an adult to understand that even a small child can know instinctively what is right for her—know it better than supposedly older and wiser heads. Barbra’s talent for singing was never encouraged at home. This, too, can have an unhappy effect on a child’s personality. I can see her now, sitting on the stoop of the apartment house where we lived, singing songs she had heard on the radio—all kinds of songs, arias from operas, ballads, popular music—in her little girl voice which even then was remarkably true and delivered with great feeling. The neighbors would stick their heads out of the window, clap loudly and yell, “More, Barbra, give us more. ’ She was only too happy to oblige and then as a final encore (double-jointed as she is) she would lie down on the pavement, take both of her feet, wrap them around her neck and roll like a humanball.

She was always play-acting, even when she was being chastised. Each time her mother or brother disciplined her by giving her a whack whenever and wherever they thought she needed it, she would pretend she was badly hurt, bawl her eyes out—then laugh loudly at the somewhat contrite expression on their faces. She hadn’t been hurt at all—she was trying to tell them—but she had made them feel badly and had put on a good show.

She took her playacting with her, even when we went away for a vacation. We spent part of each summer in the Catskill Mountains. Here Barbra had a perfectly wonderful time at the boarding house we stayed at, by singing for the guests. They were delighted with her, called her “Baby Barbra.” “Baby Barbra’s voice should be trained,” they told her mother. But Diana, a highly respectable, conservative woman had always been cold to the idea, had always discouraged it. To her the stage was a precarious, slip-shod way of making a living. She wanted her daughter to become a nice, sensible secretary who would earn a nice, sensible salary and lead a nice, sensible life.

Though Diana didn’t approve of her daughter’s ambition to become a singer, she was a very good mother. Barbra was always as thin as a rail, and Diana worried constantly about her. “That child’s not eating enough,” she always said. One day, Diana, out of sheer desperation took Barbra by the arm, put her to bed, propped her up on pillows and forcibly fed her with a spoon, as one does with an infant. I’ve never seen a happier look on a child’s face. Not only did she lap up the food, but also the attention she was getting.

Did Barbra like me? I don’t know. I never knew what the child was thinking. At times she seemed very close to me—at other times she was impossible to reach. She never called me “Daddy”—she never called me anything for that matter except “Louis” and that on rare occasions. I tried very hard to be a good father. I supported both children, took them with us wherever we went, never interfered with their up-bringing and carefully refrained from disciplining them. Though her life was more normal now since her mother could stay at home, I don’t think Barbra ever accepted me as a father; To her, I was the man who had married her mother. A very playful child, she liked to play games with me, especially a game called “patty-cake.” That’s the game where one keeps clapping one’s hands together in a sort of rhythm. Once, I remember, I in- advertently slapped her little hand so hard, it was red for hours. That didn’t faze her. She came back for more.

When Barbra was nine, my own child Roslyn was born. A lonely child, Barbra had few friends except for a little Chinese girl whose father owned a nice little Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood, and one or two children younger than herself, whom she liked to boss around. Neither her mother nor I knew what kind of reaction the birth of this new little sister would evoke from Barbra. We needn’t have worried. Barbra was delighted with the baby. She played with her, watched her mother bathe her, loved to hold her and always sang to her.

Once she gave us a terrible scare. One of her great pleasures was to take the baby to the park near our home. When Roslyn was a year-and-a-half old, Barbra took her to the playground in the park and put her on a swing. Unfortunately, something went wrong; the child fell from the swing and hurt her head. I shall never forget how frightened Barbra was. She didn’t cry—she never did—but her face went deathly white and her whole body trembled. The thought that she herself had been responsible for Roslyn’s accident, was almost too much for her to bear. She hovered around the baby, asking constantly, “Will she be all right?” After that, she went out of her way to be careful of her little sister.

As the children grew older, they got along famously. The only times they tiffed was over ice cream; which both children still love. If either thought the other’s portion was larger than her own, there was the devil to pay—really.

Barbra was graduated from public school No. 89 and then entered Erasmus Hall High was still very thin but she was beginning to shape up a bit and was developing into a very nice young girl. She had never been interested in boys and wasn’t interested in them now. Her pleasures consisted of listening to Barry Gray, Mike Wallace, and any and all singers on the radio, and to Jack Paar, and any and all singers on TV. Her big “treat” was to go to a movie in New York on either Saturday or Sunday afternoons with a girl friend. Though she supposedly wears odd, far-out clothes now, she dressed very stylishly and conservatively then, thanks to her mother who helped her buy her wardrobe. They would go off on shopping expeditions together, buying scads of clothes and costume jewelry (Barbra was mad for it in those days), charge them, then assort them in my bedroom, keeping me from falling asleep as they decided what to keep and what to send back. Though she’s considered penurious now, I understand, I saw no evidence of penury in Barbra. Give her a dollar's pocket money and she’d hot-foot it over to the drugstore and spend it in one happy swoop on ice cream.

It was just after she started high school that her mother and I found ourselves incompatible and decided to separate legally. This had nothing to do with Barbra. I don’t know what effect the separation had on her, but I do know that once, while visiting the neighborhood, I met her and Sheldon quite by accident on the street near their home. Neither one of them was particularly glad to see me.

Though I no longer saw them, I heard a great deal about them. I had remained friendly with the neighbors who told me about the two Streisand children, in whom I was still very interested. And Roslyn, whom I saw and still see frequently, liked to talk about her half-sister and half-brother, both of whom she loves very much. Sheldon, who had great talent as an artist, and had attended Pratt Institute (a famous art school) had been graduated from there, had met a lovely girl and had married her. Now he had become a well-known commercial artist and was living in Great Neck, L.I., with his two small children. But Barbra, who at this point was about sixteen or seventeen years old, was not, I was told, a very happy girl. She still wanted to be a singer but her mother, who still wanted her to become a secretary, had bought a typewriter to teach Barbra how to type. Barbra finally learned to type, I understood, but hated it, even though later, as it turned out, it was to be the means to keep her from complete starvation.

Nothing, however, could sway Barbra from her original course. She had begun to take singing and dancing lessons while she was going to high school. To pay for them, she worked as a part-time waitress and cashier in her Chinese friend’s father’s restaurant. As a result there was dissension and disharmony at home, and soon after her graduation from Erasmus Hall High School, she decided to make the break and leave home.

The story of her struggles—of her moving from one cheap boarding house to another—of her taking poor-paying, part-time typing jobs in search of fame and fortune, has been told many times before. Never a good eater, she ate practically nothing and almost literally starved to death. She wore make-shift, ridiculous, impractical clothes bought in thrift shops, not because she was eccentric in her tastes, but because they were cheap. Don’t think she wasn’t conscious of her weird appearance. Once, while walking on the street with Sheldon, she made him walk in front of her, so no one would see how odd she looked, and how torn her stockings were. Always of an independent, no cry-baby nature, she never asked favors of anyone. I’d have been glad to help her, and so would her mother and brother, but she refused all offers of help.

It took five years for her to attain the success for which she had struggled so hard. I’ve seen her since only after she became a star. While she was playing in “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” I went to see the show and visited her backstage. This time she was genuinely glad to see me. She had a roomful of well-wishers hovering over her, and she introduced me to every one of them.

I knew too, that she had met a young man in they cast named Elliot Gould—whose name was really Goldstein—and that she was going out with him. I never met him. Once I spoke to him over the telephone only because I called Roslyn while she was visiting the Goulds at the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., and he happened to be near the telephone and answered it. I was told he was a very nice young man from an excellent, religious, well-to-do family who lived not far from the neighborhood where Barbra was brought up. I also heard that her mother had planned a lovely wedding for them, but instead they chose to be married quietly in Miami Beach, Florida, with neither of their families present.

I’m happy for Barbra. She deserves success. What pleases me most about her, is that it has not gone to her head. Knowing how sensible she always was, I’m not surprised. Incidentally, she’s very good to her family. Roslyn visits her often. She’s always buying pretty clothes for her little sister, sending her to her hairdresser to have her hair set, and giving her tickets for her shows. Recently, when Barbra’s husband was in Jamaica, B.W.I., making a picture, Barbra invited her mother and Roslyn to stay with her in her new terraced apartment. Roslyn is very fond of her brother- in-law because he’s very good to her.

Does Roslyn want to go on the stage too? The answer is No. For one thing, Roslyn likes to eat. Secondly, Roslyn’s talents lie in an altogether different direction. She wants to go to college, study to be a lawyer and then hopes to become a judge. Though the two girls don’t look alike and aren’t alike in most ways, I hope with all my heart that Roslyn shares two qualities with her older sister—her great determination and her great belief in herself. If she does, there’s no doubt she’ll attain her ambition to become a judge, just as Barbra realized hers to become a star.


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