From 'Funny Girl' to One of the 'Luckiest People'

Cover of Streisand

Barbra Streisand, now in a relationship she cherishes and didn't expect, has a new outlook on her career.

November 20, 1997


"I just don't feel very ambitious. . . . Maybe I'm sort of going toward retirement." Barbra Streisand says the words so effortlessly that it takes a moment for them to sink in.

Those remarks might sound right in a movie when spoken by Streisand the actress, but they're not what you'd expect from Streisand about her own mood as she sits in the living room of one of her three adjacent Malibu homes.

Since becoming a pop superstar at age 21 with her Grammy-winning debut album in 1963, and then parlaying that success onstage and on-screen with "Funny Girl," Streisand has been widely seen as a career-driven perfectionist who finds her happiness in her work. Her body of work includes some four dozen albums (nearly all gold or platinum) and, as actress or director, nearly 20 films. Her one only marriage (to actor Elliott Gould) ended in divorce in 1971.

So, what's all this talk about taking things easier?

It shows what love can do.

After virtually giving up on a permanent relationship, Streisand met actor James Brolin on a blind date in the summer of 1996, and they soon fell in love. They are planning to be married next year. She's also thinking of doing a few concerts in Europe in 1998 or 1999, but that's about all that's definitely on her agenda.

Streisand, 55, carries the glow of someone in love as she talks about her relationship with Brolin, 57, in the living room of a house she uses as an office. It's equipped with a fiber-optics system that enables her to hear music live from a recording studio in New York or elsewhere with studio quality.

That system allowed her to do post-production work on her new album, "Higher Ground," without leaving home. The collection--dedicated to President Clinton's late mother, Virginia Kelley--entered the sales charts Wednesday at No. 1. Streisand lives in a neighboring house, which is connected to the office by a short walkway. The main house's living room is decorated in a warm New England style rather than in a formal way. The room is filled with about a dozen antique dolls--a passion of Streisand's, whose only doll when she was growing up poor in Brooklyn was a water bottle with a sweater on it. ('I suppose it is because I never had any as a kid," she explains. "My life is filled with a lot of things now that I never had.")

During the late-afternoon interview, Streisand spoke about her music, her future and an old nemesis: the press.

Question: What effect did falling in love have on you as an artist? Did it inspire you to want to do more or less work?

Answer: When I met Jim, I didn't want to work at all. I met him while I was dubbing my film ["The Mirror Has Two Faces"] . . . and the idea of that story was in a way a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wanted to make a movie with a happy ending because my characters in movies never got the guy, whether it was "Prince of Tides," "Yentl," "Funny Girl," "The Way We Were." . . .

Q: Did it scare you after all these years to suddenly not feel the need to work on some project?

A: No, no. I was in bliss, in heaven. I still am, by the way.

Q: How did you meet?

A: A friend had met Jim and thought I'd like him, so she said come to a dinner party. . . . I was nervous. I went down and played with the children until I had to sit down [at dinner]. Dating is the worst, the worst. . . . It's so awkward.

But one great thing about maturing is I don't have time to play games or be someone I'm not. In other words, if I can't be accepted for who I am, then screw it. I don't need it. I have lots of wonderful friends and their children. So, it was very surprising that we just instantly hit it off, talking about everything ...

Q: Was there a time when you felt you would never find a relationship again and want to get married?

A: Oh, yes. . . . I thought maybe I was given enough blessings. I was so successful that I thought maybe you can't have everything. I was kind of resigned to that for several years. And I enjoyed my solitude. I got to be comfortable with my situation. I loved reading and all my political life, reading the Economist and the Nation and the New Republic and all my publications. I couldn't wait to get into bed with my nonfat chocolate yogurt sundaes. I was OK being alone and I think for Jim that it was the same thing. If I ever did go to meet someone, it was always a disappointment, so I hardly ever went.

Jim and I met in July and he had to leave for Ireland in September to direct his first movie ["My Brother's War"] and as soon as I finished my work in November, I went to be with him. I know what it's like to be in a tunnel-visioned project directing a film, so I wanted to be supportive. I wanted to have dinner for him. I got up in the morning and made breakfast for him. . . . I wanted to make his life easier. . . . Now he does the same for me, by the way. He would come to me when I was recording and be totally supportive.

Q: So what about the impact on your work again? You're supposed to be this ambitious person.

A: I know, but it's not true. I think a lot of my work was a substitute for not having love.

Q: But you're not saying you are definitely stopping everything, are you?

A: I would never say never, but I just don't feel very ambitious ... Maybe I'm sort of moving toward retirement ... I'd like to have my own recording studio . . . and really stay at home. I think I'll always sing ... To tell you the truth, I'd like to write a book. I would like to set the record straight. I like that because I can do it anywhere. I can be with him and do that.

Q: What about another tour?

A: I can't picture any more U.S. dates, but I could sort of see performing in Europe . . . a few cities.

Q: Though there are some love songs on the album, you started it before you met Brolin, didn't you?

A: Yes, the album came out of a very passionate moment. . . . My love for Virginia [Kelley] and my appreciation of this [gospel and inspirational] music. ... The idea for the album started at Virginia's funeral [in 1994]. It was purely being struck by the power of the music and the unity that was channeled through all the people in that room . . . a direct link to God in some way. I heard this song, "On Holy Ground," and I thought it was so beautiful and so poignant and so full of praise and gratitude toward this higher presence, I said I want to sing that song and other songs like it.

Q: The album has a lot of the character and intimacy of your tour. How did you approach it?

A: I wanted to go back to the way I recorded in the 1960s. With my first few albums, I made an album in four days. I did three songs at a session. But now they do all this stuff with synthesizers and layers and stuff and then you sing again. So, I just wanted to be spontaneous with an orchestra. My goal was to do three songs that first day and we did it.

Q: There is one song, "Leading With Your Heart," that sounds very autobiographical . . . the one by the Bergmans and Marvin Hamlisch. There's the line about being caught by surprise by love. Isn't that about you?

A: Marvin, Alan and Marilyn are my friends and when they heard I was doing the album, they wrote a song for me and they titled it after Virginia's autobiography, "Leading With My Heart." But that line, about being caught by surprise, was added. The original lyric doesn't say that. The original line was something about a rose, very pretty alliteration, but it didn't relate to what I knew inside of me. You have to have that turning point [in your life] to take you from being afraid to a place where you can feel this love . . . and it's usually another person who does it.

Q: These are pretty cynical times. Do you feel at all strange about putting out such positive, uplifting music?

A: I feel sad about [all the cynicism]. To me, the album is like putting positive thoughts out into the universe. . . . Better positive ones than negative ones, as I said in my liner notes. The notes will probably be attacked even, but I can't worry about that. All I can do is what is true to me. The American public is very, very smart. The news is all about scandals. I guess it's more interesting than campaign reform, but the public knows the difference between Whitewater and Watergate. . . . There seems to be a need to denigrate the office of the president and celebrities and women and. . . .

Q: Is that why you do so few interviews?

A: Yes, I've been in this business 30-some years and I could count on one hand the good interviews, where I feel I wasn't misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, mis-something. So eventually I decided I would try to avoid doing them.

Q: A lot of performers just look at interviews as part of their job. They don't matter to them. But they do matter to you.

A: That's because I'm shocked by what is written. I'm shocked by these unauthorized biographies that come out and have just reckless disregard for the truth. They are often by sloppy journalists who do no reporting and they don't check any facts. . . . They don't call because they want to print a malicious story. I'm constantly struck by the negativity and the cynicism in the world today and how it's reflected in the press and how there's this need to diminish people who accomplish things.

Q: Do you think that this is any different than it was 20 or 30 years ago?

A: I do because there was a wall of privacy. . . . We weren't interested in the president's private life. Just think about Roosevelt's life or Kennedy's life. If the great presidents were investigated, they'd never be in office. It's like going back to Puritanism. But it trickles down to the other things.

Let's say a story happens with me and Celine Dion. I miss her [singing Streisand's nominated song "I Finally Found Someone"] at the Academy Awards totally by accident because it wasn't listed in the program when she was going to sing. And, without ever asking me, the press assumes I did it on purpose . . . that it was a snub or something. [The truth is] I came there to hear her sing . . . and I go to the bathroom at the wrong time, miss the song. . . . I wanted the camera to show me at that moment. . . . Celine singing, me listening with Jim to a song I wrote called "I Finally Found Someone." I thought it would be great.

Q: Going back to your relationship. You seem so happy. Is there part of you that says you shouldn't be talking about how much it means to you because, what if something goes wrong?

A: You know, that's interesting. Because I lost my father [who died when Streisand was a year old], I probably always had this thing about loss. . . . Probably better not to love anybody too much because what if I lose them again? . . .

But then you come to a point in your life where you think that old saying is very true: It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I mean, just the idea that I could feel these feelings and feel this reciprocity of being loved as I love. It just gives me so much strength. My attitude is not "Oh, what if I lose it?" but that I have it at all is a miracle. . . .

Q: So, this must be a wonderful holiday season for you.

A: One of the reasons I started my concert tour on New Year's Eve was that I always hated New Year's Eve. I never quite knew what to do on New Year's Eve those last few years. So, I did the concert [in Las Vegas] on that weekend so I could work through it and have all my friends come be with me. Now I look forward to New Year's Eve again.


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