Barbra Streisand Lets It All Hang Out
by Judy Wieder
“I think it's perfect that I just finished filming Funny Lady at this particular time in my life,” Barbra Streisand says, picking at a loose thread on her faded patched jeans.
“See, Funny Lady is about really learning to accept yourself. It's about losing one’s fantasies and illusions and getting in touch with and appreciating reality. That's what I've started doing in my own personal life.”
Barbra is in love. Everything seems different to her today. Her life is alive, full of hope and promise. All her fears seem to have taken a back seat to the wonderful here and now of loving a handsome man named Jon Peters. Famous for his skills as a hairdresser, Jon owns three shops in Beverly Hills, Encino and Woodland Hills, which gross him $100,000 a week. As does Barbra, he finds his life changing since they've been together. And, rumor has it they'll be tying the knot officially around Eastertime.
“I started as one of the original beatniks,” Barbra continues, helping herself to half a hot dog in an all-wheat bun. “The all-wheat bun is my gesture toward eating healthier.” She smiles. “Unfortunately I sort of drifted into the establishment for a while. Now with Jon, who is very much a contemporary man, I'm picking up where I left off at the age of eighteen—back to my beaded bags and thrift shops. People want to put you in a mold. They want you to play the same part over and over again so that you can represent their idea of what they think you are. It's very dangerous.” Her green eyes flashed with a flood of anger from the past. “In the old-time movies they used to do that all the time. Certain stars could never step out of their molds. But that can be stifling and I refuse to be put into a mold. As I try to grow as a person, I must try to grow as an artist.”
The phone rang. Usually Barbra lets it ring until someone else gets it. This time though she glanced at her watch, murmured, “That's Jon,” and left the room in a flash. “Why don't you have something to eat or drink?” she asked, standing at the doorway, indicating she'd be a few minutes.
Barbra's elegant Holmby Hills home, located in Los Angeles, was worth studying while waiting for the star's return. It's lavishly decorated, with rich red velvet curtains and lush rugs, which feel best when you are barefoot. There were handsome gates surrounding everything, including Barbra's pride and joy—her spice and vegetable gardens. Downstairs is a red and gray art deco projector room, lined with pictures by Erte. Outside, a few feet away, is a luscious, Roman-style swimming pool. I couldn't see if there was a tennis court, though her friends say the game is one of Barbra’s big passions. “I have at lousy backhand though,” she's quick to admit.
In addition to her beautiful California home, the highest-paid female entertainer in the country—she earns close to $1 million for each film and something like $250,000 for a singing engagement—owns an expensive townhouse on Manhattan's elegant Upper East Side, which she's decorated with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of crystal chandeliers and French antiques.
Barbra pops back into the room, giving a long sigh. “I’m so-o-o ready to have a vacation,” she offers. “My object is to get rid of all my professional obligations, to conclude any contracts I have, to do whatever I must to be free of commitments. I've spent ten years in bondage, more or less,” she adds. “Now I want to work only when I want to work. If I want to go and live in Nepal for six months, fine, I can do it!”
And yet, there are all those exciting future projects Barbra can never stop planning. There are at least two more possible films, Freaky Friday and With Or Without Roller Skates for her own First Artists’ Production Company. In addition, there’s a possibility of doing a TV anthology series based on the files of syndicated Washington columnist, Jack Anderson.
“Oh, I‘ll always be doing something; I just don't need to work anymore to feed my ego. But I’m still me. I may change, but I’d never trade my life for anybody’s. I like my life. I like what I’ve done. I like what I’m going to do.”
It was really wonderful to hear such positive sounds from Barbra. Usually, in the past, her interviews were full of pain and, especially, anger—anger at the press for aiming so many of what she feels were unfair “attacks” at her. “Part of our society kills what it loves,” she once stated, practically in tears. “It despises what it’s created. It really hates success. It’s for the underdog. A successful person, like me, has to be destroyed, buried, pushed right back down again. They wait for you to make mistakes—then they strike!”
Barbra is reluctant to speak about the men in her past. Though she’ll say nothing definite about Ryan O’Neal, Pierre Trudeau or even ex-husband Elliott Gould, her voice softens when she says: “Once you have loved someone, they become a part of what you were, and therefore of what you are. After all, how many people does one love in a lifetime?”
Then, with an abrupt change in tone, she adds, “See, it’s hard to explain. It has to do with reality—all the changes that are going on in the world today. The youth movement in this country today—that stuff is for real! It’s fantastic. Things are changing. We're making progress and I want to involve myself with this progress. I want to involve myself with people that are real. I want to take chances, try things, help bring on the big changes that are coming, they are!” Her face beamed with confidence. “Look,” she said, pointing one of her famous long fingernails my way, “I’m thirty-one, but I ask you—is that old? Why, that’s two years younger than Bob Dylan!”
Then there's Barbra’s pride and joy, six-year-old Jason Emmanuel Gould, her son. “There’s a part of me that longs to stay home and be with my child,” she admits, “to discover the best butcher shops and bakeries, you know? But there’s another part of me that needs a form of expression other than bearing children. I tried to show all these feelings in a film I did called Up The Sandbox. The main character didn’t want to just be a housewife or just a career woman. She filled the gap with daydreaming because she had to do something. I think fantasies can make a rich inner life. They can lead you places. If I had never had a fantasy about being an actress, perhaps I wouldn’t have become one. “But. . .” Her voice drifts for a second. “I had a year off right before I made The Way We Were. I was doing nothing but running my home, caring for my son, meeting with friends, going to the theater and movies, running errands. The days literally flew by with things I enjoyed doing. I loved every minute of being a ‘non-star.’ I guess I want both and there’s just no getting around it. I love making movies because life is so tentative and short that I want something to remain as proof that I existed.”
That’s Barbra! Always a little torn, weighing all the pros and cons of being famous, of being talented, of being a mother, of being strong-willed in so many ways, and insecure in so many others. Broadway and Hollywood still ring with rumors of her controlling, high-strung personality. They call her a perfectionist and resent her undeniable power. But most, at least most of the smarter ones, have long since recognized that her taste is practically ﬂawless! If she’s in charge, then more power to her! She’s saved many a play and film with her talent.
“I'm accused of being a perfectionist,” she says slowly. “Well, maybe I am. The truth is, I still compromise at every turn. There is no such thing as perfection without at certain amount of sterility. But it’s true”—she stops to laugh—“a part of me is very assertive. In some ways it boils down to the old male-female stereotypes. If a female is self-assertive with a man in a working situation, she is said to be castrating! But in a professional situation where men and women come together as equals, often this term is used as a man’s excuse for his inability to accept equality. I think I’ve been abused a lot on this subject.
“I know, especially when I’ve being interviewed, a lot of what I say comes out hostile or negative or defensive. When I try to put things into words, somehow the whole meaning of what I feel is altered. Interviews stick, but I change.” Apparently Barbra ﬁrmly believes that people are constantly being reshaped by new experiences, and that, in a sense, one never stops growing emotionally. She is sensitive and passionate—oft times a fiery defender of her ideals—and this is what sometimes gives outsiders a mistaken impression. But, even if she does seem headstrong and demanding, it may be only because she is so afraid of being hurt. After all, letting it all hang out is like baring your entire soul to public scrutiny. And Barbra will always let you know exactly where she stands.
[ top of page ]