Ladies' Home Journal
What's next for Barbra?
After the disappointment of Yentl, Barbra Streisand is trying to find a new focus—on her career and on her ever-changing personal life.
By Cliff Jahr.
It could happen to anyone. While visiting Israel's Prime Minister Shamir earlier this year, Barbra Streisand excused herself at one point to find a restroom. Unable to read Hebrew, she entered a men's room by mistake, and when her error was pointed out she laughed. "It's all right," she said, recalling months spent portraying a man in her latest film. "I am used to it since Yentl."
Barbra has gotten used to a lot of things recently. Yentl, the movie that she battled to bring to the screen for sixteen years, turned out to be neither the triumph she'd longed for nor the box-office tragedy so many had predicted. When she made Yentl, she found out what it was like to be thwarted and criticized at every turn. Since the movie's release, she has learned how better to cope with disappointment. But she hasn't been beaten down. At forty-two, after thirteen movies and thirty-eight record albums, she still holds center stage as our top female entertainer. And today, more than ever, she seems to be searching for fulfillment in her personal life as well. "I've turned a page," she says. "I don't want to be considered or treated as a superstar anymore. I am a woman, a mother, a friend, a lover."
Recently, Barbra even hinted that she might like to adopt a little girl. It is a wish many women could understand, as Barbra's seventeen-year-old son, Jason Gould, is preparing to leave the nest. A tall, slim, currently short-haired young man, Jason may attend college this fall, probably the University of California at Berkeley, where he'll study film. But his mind is not made up. Having worked summer jobs at Warner Brothers, he's tempted to skip college and begin his career right away.
Through the years, Barbra has always tried to be a regular mom for Jason. In fact, he is her best-kept secret, attending private schools and a public school in Malibu and staying out of the lime light—though some love of show business has rubbed off. Since he was eight years old he has had movie cameras of his own and has made little films with friends, sometimes pressing his mother or father to appear in them, too. He is also a well-trained pianist who composed and performed the score of a videotape he sent two years ago as a fortieth birthday tribute to his mother, who was then working on Yentl in London. Jason chose to stay home when Barbra shot the movie overseas, and afterward, she found that their good relationship was better than ever. "Before," she remembers, "I felt guilty and hid things from him—all my fears, my flaws. I tried to play mother. But now I've stopped preaching. I tell him what I think or feel, and if he doesn't accept it, that's fine.... Now the love is just there. It's unconditional—and it's very strong."
Barbra's outlook is more relaxed in other ways as well. She still won't do live concerts for fear of being shot by someone in the audience. But during this period of new beginnings, she has spoken of finally tack ling that fear. And, now that the overprotective influence of her ex lover Jon Peters is behind her, she delights in regaining certain freedoms. She drives, shops, even some times walks urban streets alone, especially in London. While filming Yentl she lived for months in central London's Chelsea district in a rambling Georgian mansion owned by Billy Gaff, Rod Stewart's ex-manager. She found she could stroll the trendy streets unrecognized—or at least unbothered. She is now negotiating to buy a house in London and plans to spend more time there. It's easy to understand why. England's ailing movie industry smothers her with respect. She was a favorite of the British technicians who worked on Yentl. Also, European moviemakers and audiences tend to venerate longtime stars more than Americans do.
As for her love life, Barbra's taste in men carries a special requirement. Casual and plainspoken in her own manner, she likes a man who is not awed or overwhelmed by her. His accomplishments should give him the self-confidence to stand up to her and take charge when it's called for. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if he were also rich, handsome, charming and sexy.
Last year she was linked with Richard Gere and renewed a 1973 friendship with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau Rumors also flew about romances with directors George Lucas (Star Wars) and Steven Spielberg (E.T), but she has insisted these were friendships between directorial colleagues.
Most recently, the man to fill the bill has been Richard Cohen, a tall, boyish-looking sandy-haired millionaire businessman in his forties, who was recently divorced from Tina Sinatra (Frank's daughter). Barbra ran into him last January at the fortieth birthday party for Kenny Rogers's wife, Marianne. Cohen was escorting his then live-in girlfriend, Marjorie Wallace (a former Miss World), who soon moved out. Cohen and Barbra dated until her heavy travel schedule interrupted once too often, and they stopped seeing each other in late spring.
Lasting relationships don't come any easier to folks on the Hollywood merry- go-round than they do to a divorced and middle-aged working mother—which, in fact, is what Barbra is. Being in the public eye only makes casual dating harder, and any poor guy the press sees her dining out with suddenly becomes the new love of her life.
Barbra's friends believe she is unlikely to marry again soon—if ever—partly because of the pressures of stardom. For a woman whose life is so complicated, the comforts of marriage can be outweighed by the pains of making it legal. Even outside marriage; Barbra has found that relationships are complicated by such precautions.
In the beginning of their eight-year love affair, she and Jon signed elaborate prenuptial agreements against the day they married or parted. They did part when Yentl went into production, yet it is taking attorneys a long time to sort out all the property the couple accumulated together. For example, it seems Jon owns the twenty-four acres of their hidden ranch in Ramirez Canyon, while Barbra kicked in for the building and furnishing of its five structures. The whole place may now go to Jon, or up for sale, and last March, Barbra bid the ranch a final farewell with a very heavy heart.
Of her relationship with Jon she says, '"There were problems. One isn't able to live forever in the past. It was necessary to leave, to go forward. To be alone to make my film, totally open to the outside world, free of the protection that he had surrounded me with."
She is, however, still generous in her comments about him and appears to be upset at any suggestion that he used her to change careers from hairdresser to film producer. "Jon is brilliant. I am indebted to him for many reasons," she says. "He pushed me to write my first song, 'Evergreen,' the theme for A Star Is Born. It was he who had the idea for the duets that I taped with Neil Diamond, Barry Gibb and Donna Summer. And without me, he produced Missing and Flashdance."
Today, Barbra stays mostly at her fairly modest house —in Holmby Hills, hidden behind a ten-foot walled fence and cypress trees. She shares its white and pink art nouveau rooms with her son and her mother, Diana Kind, who moved in after suffering a mild stroke but is now fully recovered. Mother and daughter used to have a relationship that was politely strained. It seemed as if Mrs. Kind favored Barbra's younger sister, singer Roslyn Kind, while holding back unqualified appoval of her older daughter's stunning success. But in recent years, Barbra and her mother have grown closer. "I talk a lot with my mother and my son," explains Barbra. In fact, the star seems more at ease with her life generally. "I read. I go to college, where I take a course in the psychology of sex differences, and I look around me."
Barbra's changing attitudes about home, family, and just about everything else owe a lot to the saga of Yentl. Once the movie was made, selling it to the public proved to be fraught with joy and pain. The picture wasn't a block-buster, but it had a modest success, grossing some $40 million in the U.S. alone. Still, the critics were often cruel, with the most wounding remarks coming from Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose short story inspired the movie. He felt the adaptation was overdone. "As my Aunt Yentl used to say," he slyly recalled, "you cannot make from a borscht a chicken soup." Barbra replied, "Mr. Singer is a noted misogynist. I am not."
Then, too, Barbra was very disappointed at the movie's failure to garner more Academy Award nominations. Although the picture did win some prizes and pop up on a few best-ten lists, when the Oscar nominations were announced earlier this year, Yentl rated five, with only one in a major category. Barbra learned the news at home that morning. "She was very hurt and disappointed," says close friend Marilyn Bergman. "To exclude Yentl that way defies understanding."
With Oscar prospects dimming and business at the box office declining, it was clear she needed to push Yentl's overseas premieres in person. (Conveniently, this would take her away on Oscar night, too.) The trip during March grabbed headlines as she hopscotched to European openings and was toasted everywhere—from lunch in Rome with Fellini to dinner in Paris with Pierre Cardin at his glittering party for her. The French typically saw her as a prophet without honor and gave her their Officer of Arts and Letters award, together with a standing ovation that made her weep. (Quipped a Yankee onlooker, "Don't get too excited, Barbra; they gave one to Jerry Lewis, too.")
At the London premiere, she sat in the balcony with the Queen's first cousin, Princess Alexandra, who even waived a fine point of protocol for her. No one stands up to leave these affairs before the royal guest does, but the audience would not stop applauding until Barbra rose and came onstage to speak. Technically, by doing so she would end the event. So she hesitated. The crowd yelled "Speech!" The princess eyed the movie queen. Both grinned. Finally, Barbra invited Her Highness to rise, and the princess said, "No, no, they want you. You get up." And Barbra did.
Not all the trip's headlines were happy. Barbra went everywhere flanked by bodyguards, men built like Mr. T who snarled at fans and muscled the press, even in well-mannered England. Says one cameraman who faced the ire of one of Barbra's two six-foot-six companions: "He told me to get lost or he'd smash my camera. She has to be totally paranoid to surround herself with these thugs."
In Rome, the overzealous behavior of Barbra's guards was even worse. When one photographer snapped Barbra's picture as she was coming out of a store (she didn't have any makeup on), he was knocked to the ground, beaten, and later taken to the hospital with internal injuries.
The tour climaxed in Israel, where Barbra dedicated a $1.5-million building she had endowed and named for her father. Here her Israeli guards were placed under certain restrictions—but not ones you might expect. It seems that during Farrah Fawcett's visit to Israel a few years ago, the former Charlie's Angel had a highly publicized romance with one of her bodyguards, adding fuel to the breakup with Lee Majors. So, each of Barbra's guards was made to sign an unusual contract stating that if they made any advances toward her, they would be fined up to $10,000 (more than a year's pay for them). If Barbra made the advances, of course, no fines were to be levied.
These guards—and the protective wall that friends and employees set up around Barbra—are apparently necessary for her well-being. As anyone knows who tours with her, it's not easy being a superstar. The overwhelming attention that she receives is "dehumanizing," explain lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who accompanied her on this trip. "I began to identify with that African tribe that believes each time somebody takes your picture he takes away part of your soul," Marilyn told the Journal. "You always have to appear calm under the greatest pressure, but the experience leaves you exhausted."
Adds Rusty Lemorande, Streisand's coproducer on Yentl, "I used to think that you could remain a normal human being under such pressure. I don't believe that anymore."
Still, the orchestration surrounding Barbra's movements often tarnished her image needlessly. In Tel Aviv, for example, she came one hour late to a reception in her honor—and was greeted with boos from reporters. Barbra, visibly shaken, said, "I have directed, produced and starred in this film. I have not organized this reception. I came when I was told to."
She may very well have been right. One of Israel's top columnists placed the blame for this fiasco on Barbra's publicist. "He wanted us to treat her as if she were the Queen of England, visiting the Bedouins in the desert. He therefore gave Streisand and the press different time schedules, so as to make the press wait for her." He made just one mistake. In a country where so much happens every day, the press has better things to do than wait for visiting movie stars. (Lee Solters, Barbra's publicist, denies that her lateness was stage-managed.)
Her good and bad press sold tickets, and, cleverly, it stole a bit of thunder from the Academy Awards. "That trip was a triumph," sighs Marilyn Bergman. "It more than made up for Barbra's disappointment with the Oscars." And of course, it also offered her a chance to spend time in Israel and to explore what has come to be a very meaningful part of her heritage. With the press kept at bay, Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, showed her around the Old City, where she went shopping and bought some ancient coins for her son. Then, at midnight, she went to the Wailing Wall and put a note among its ancient stones.
Even during her tour, it is likely that Barbra was already looking toward the future. After all, as Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, one of her advisers on Yentl, says, "Barbra is a woman obsessed with doing the next perfect thing." Now that Jason is growing up, Jon Peters has left, and Yentl is behind her, Barbra is ready for a new challenge and is still eager to win approval as a serious artist. She dreams of playing in Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet, and she says she'd love to film The Merry Widow with Ingmar Bergman directing. She's even been talking about appearing on a cable television series playing great roles from the classics—"everything from Hedda Gabler to Medea. I want to do pictures that make a social point," Barbra told the Journal last winter, "from which people come out inspired to change, to grow, to move on."
In addition to her more intellectual projects, she is considering several movies that have commercial potential. One, Triangle, costarring Jane Fonda, is about union organizing after the infamous New York shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 that claimed so many lives. A second possible project is a comedy with Goldie Hawn that comments on the differing lifestyles of two New York City girlfriends, one a housewife, one a career woman. Another film would update her second-biggest box-office hit, The Way We Were, with its original leading man, Robert Redford.
She might direct a movie of the Broadway hit They're Playing Our Song and costar with (of all people) ex-husband Elliott Gould. Or she might direct the movie version of off-Broadway's Little Shop of horrors, co-producing it with friend Steven Spielberg.
In any case, insiders say that the pain and joy of birthing Yentl has changed Barbra, leaving her more understanding of others. "I used to wonder why people were so shy with me," she recalls. "Now I've realized that it's the isolating factor of fame. I have to give first to put people at ease.
"Before, I was driven," she admits. "Now I'm doing the driving. It's easier to be around me these days."
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