Making Bread With Barbra Streisand

Caan and Streisand at press reception

To be invited to a reception with Barbra Streisand must be a lot like being invited to a reception with a queen. Barbra, according to one informant, demands and gets reporter approval. If she is not familiar with his work, she asks for samples. She also demands copy, photo and slant approval.

This was hardly workable when a group of us were invited to meet her and her co-star James Caan at a luncheon get-together just before the opening of “Funny Lady,” the film in which he continues the adventures of Fanny Brice.

The room at an elegant hotel was small and contained only seven tables, each decorated with one long-stemmed yellow rose in a vase. (In the film, Nicky Arnstein sends Fanny a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses with divorce papers.) A soundtrack album of "Funny Lady” was on every seat.

Caan and Streisand at Hotel Pierre

Grand Entrance

Streisand and Stark

A slender, simply-dressed Barbra walked in like a queen and placed her hand on producer Ray Stark’s shoulder. Bulbs began popping as more than a dozen photographers behaving like hungry paparazzi crowded around. They were granted a five-minute session, but couldn't quit. A public relations man eventually rescued Barbra and brought her to the table. The plan was that she would table-hop, answering a few questions here and there.

(Photo, right: Streisand and Ray Stark)

The first thing that popped out of Barbra’s mouth after an introduction to one critic, was “Why don’t you like me?" Before he could answer, she said, “The New York City press has always been hardest on me.” (“Funny Lady” opened to warm reviews here.)

After discussing her approach to the Fanny Brice character, Barbra lamented that the press still thinks of her as Miss Marmelstein, the unnoticed and unloved comical secretary in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” her first role of importance on Broadway. The role led to her film debut as Fanny in “Funny Girl,” an Academy Award, superstardom and continued recognition for her work.

“People said I wasn’t photogenic,” she said. “They said I wouldn’t make it in films. I get very hurt by what I read sometimes. They write about me in the past. They make fun of the way I look . . . a homely girl who has made good." Actually, she looked pretty with her long blonde hair. She has a glowing complexion and her eyes are her best feature.

Someone asked, “Do blondes have more fun?” to which she shot back with a mischievous grin, “Yes!”

Caan and Streisand in pose for photographers

Nails Starring Role

The long nails she affects on screen were of uneven length. She explained they got that way because she is learning to play piano and guitar for her next film, a remake of “A Star ls Born.” “You can’t play piano with long nails," she said. Barbra will play a songwriter-musician rather than an actress in the film.

"l’m basically an interpreter. That’s my role as an actress. I feel I can't write my own songs. I’ve had ideas for songs, but I can’t write them. I'm really learning music now,” said the actress whose career started as a singer.

She sees herself as a good editor. “I can look at a song or a script and detect falsities and can add psychological twists,” she said.

As for future roles, she plans to play people in all walks of life. She said she is through with self-deprecating waifs like Miss Marmelstein. A publicist interrupted to whisk her to the next table.

Caan had only words of praise for Barbra. “You hear so many funny stories about Barbra. It’s all a lot of garbage,” he said. “I like Barbra.”

So do I.

Photo of Caan and Streisand


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