September 22, 1986
AT A VERY PRIVATE SOIREE IN HER OWN BACKYARD, THE NIGHTINGALE OF MALIBU SINGS AT LAST
by A Mystery Guest
Five thousand big ones—that's what it cost per couple. But what was $5,000 for an evening with Barbra Streisand, for a chance to hear her air her pipes in public for the first time in six years, to join more than 500 others on a most exclusive guest list—and for a good cause, no less? The evening's booty of $1.5 million was to go toward electing a Democratic Congress, toward returning to Washington such well-known liberals as California's own Alan Cranston. We were agents, stars, directors, studio heads, producers, the creme de la creme of lefty Hollywood. As such, we eagerly stowed our Mercedeses and Jags at the Malibu Community Center and, much like common folk, boarded minivans to be bussed to Barbra's tightly guarded Malibu ranch. The press was rigorously excluded. We left such riffraff behind.
And then, suddenly, after a winding journey along a private road, we are there, walking up the well-lit path to Barbra's immaculate pleasure dome. Now, Streisand, as everyone knows, is from Brooklyn—an area where grass is something you smoke and a tree is the spot where you water your dog. But the lady has decided that she loves nature and, knowing no half measures, she loves it with a vengeance. She has subdued it, pruned it, made it as dramatic and heavily orchestrated as her music. The entire "ranch," which is too pretty to be left out of doors, feels as if it were inside an immense hothouse.
Down a path some of the more spectacular nocturnal plants are blooming on the lawn. Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Bette Midler, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, Sally Field, Sydney Pollack, Barry Diller. The guests have been told to dress in casual chic. In early September in Hollywood this means linen, cotton, leather and a little wool. Chevy Chase and Robin Williams are both wearing summer-weight jackets with thin vertical stripes that look to be contoured from old Yankee uniforms. There is also a couple dressed alike, Hugh Hefner and his latest inamorata, Carrie Leigh, twin visions in white. Leigh's dress is as tight as the casing on a Dodger hot dog. The front of this creation consists of two pieces of cloth crisscrossed over her breasts; she looks like a railroad-crossing guard in a Russ Meyer movie. At dinner, served on Barbra's tennis court, Ms. Leigh is the centerfold of conversation. "I sure wish I had a body like that," says Sheena Easton, between bites of mesquite-grilled veal loins with wild mushrooms by Wolfgang Puck of Spago. "I sure would know what to do with it."
The time for speeches is upon us. Barbara Jordan, the former Congress-woman and a considerable orator, is pushed in her wheelchair up to the podium, where she promptly eviscerates Mr. Reagan and other enemies of the common good. Eventually, the congregation moves back up the pathway to an outdoor amphitheater. Robin Williams takes to the stage. "I'd like to welcome you to Temple Beth Malibu," he says. Soon he is having at the Republicans too, imitating Chief Justice-designate William H. Rehnquist: "Do I have a hood on my new robe?"
As soon as the fog machine starts, everyone knows it is Streisand time. Barbra launches into a few tentative bars of Somewhere while still backstage, then, suddenly appears through the blue smoke, wearing a long, ivory- toned dress with sequins, the skirt split to show a magnificent leg. After her first song, she turns to her band and says, "I'm just a little nervous, boys. Could you give me a little more echo?" Soon, with moral support from her beau and musical producer, Richard Baskin, she is the Streisand of old, moving about the stage, dipping and flaring and annotating her songs with her politics. She pauses in the middle of People, and looking out on the great trees bathed in theatrical lighting, talks about the disaster at Chernobyl. "I am reminded of the awesome balance of nature," she says. It is hard to see just where Barbra perceives this balance. Are there dreadful attacks of crabgrass no one knows about? Do mosquitoes sometimes make their way into her boudoir?
But there is no time to contemplate these matters, for Barbra is now doing Send in the Clowns in a voice so rich and poignant that when she finishes, a silence hangs over the gathering. Next she sings the same song with new lyrics, attacking Guess Who Republicans:
Aren't they rich Aren't they queer... Send home the clowns.
For her final encore, Streisand sings America the Beautiful, asking her audience to join her. Then it is over, and Barbra hurries from the stage.
Lest we forget, even at $5,000 per couple, some are more equal than others. A select group of friends, including Bette Midler and Carole Bayer Sager, are invited to join Barbra for refreshments in the house. The rest make do with cookies on the lawn.
A chill has fallen over the evening. "I'm cold," Whoopi Goldberg says to Barry Josephson, her manager's associate. "Bar, you make a lot of money from me. Give me your jacket." Josephson obliges her, and the newly married Whoopi walks off toward the warm lights of Hollywood.
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