Barbra Streisand Film Projects: “In Development”

Barbra Streisand photo

by Matt Howe, Barbra-Archives.com

Over the years, Barbra Streisand's name has been attached to many film projects. This page at Barbra Archives attempts to round up all the rumors and timelines surrounding some of the significant projects Streisand is (or was—or rumored to be) involved with.

“I was offered They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” Streisand told Elle magazine in 2011, “but you had to dance through the whole movie—I got tired just reading the script. I was offered Klute, but I was seeing someone at the time and didn’t want to work. I was offered Julia, but I was editing A Star Is Born. As I say to Jane Fonda, ‘I’m responsible for your career.’ Because I turned down those movies and she got them and she was wonderful in them.”

Streisand developing films with gusto

As Barbra became a big movie star in the 1970s, she was offered more interesting film projects.

As early as 1969, Streisand wanted to play the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt. She told Look magazine that, “Yeah, I think it's inevitable that I'll play Sarah, but there's nothing in the works yet. I can wear my hair in the frizziest look, and you know Bernhardt acted Hamlet, not Ophelia, and so will I. It's little things like these that influence me to do a part.” Around 1971, director Ken Russell discussed making a bio film with Barbra Streisand called The Legend of Sarah. Russell worked on a screenplay and corresponded with Streisand about the project, who would co-produce the film through her First Artists company. The film never came together, although the prospect of melding Ken Russell's outrageous style with Streisand's was compelling.

1970s newspaper clipping about Bergman film

In December 1972, director Ingmar Bergman told the press he was in discussions with Barbra Streisand to appear as Hanna Glavari in a film adaptation of the operetta The Merry Widow. Svensk Filmindustri and Dino De Laurentiis announced they would produce the movie. Bergman approached Stephen Sondheim to rewrite the book and lyrics of the operetta. Streisand told Cosmopolitan magazine, “I was supposed to do The Merry Widow with Ingmar Bergman. He wrote the script. I read it and liked the first half. I asked him to rewrite. He refused, so I refused to do the film.” The project fell apart due to lack of funding and was never filmed. However, in 1987, the Merry Widow rumors resurfaced, with Placido Domingo named as Streisand's leading man by the press.

Blurb in column about Travolta in Fancy Hardware

In 1977, Streisand and John Travolta were attached to a film called Fancy Hardware in which she would have played a 1920s feminist.

For instance, Barbra was involved for a brief time in 1981 with The White Hotel, based on the novel by D.M. Thomas (about an opera singer who turns to Sigmund Freud for treatment of psychosomatic pain and visions that she would die during the Holocaust). According to Thomas (who wrote a book about Hollywood's stymied attempts to bring his novel to the screen called Bleak Hotel: The Hollywood Saga of The White Hotel):

Bernardo Bertolucci told me, years later, that Streisand had invited him to her Hollywood mansion to discuss the film over dinner. Gold dinner service, butler, the works. She said: “Bernardo, there’s just one thing bothering me: how are we going to deal with all the sex?” “Well, Barbra, I have this idea for glass fibre optics to enter the woman’s vagina.” A moment’s silence, then: “Let me show you the house.” And she never spoke of The White Hotel to him again.
Fonda and Streisand developing film

“Evita”

Streisand's name was mentioned for years as a frontrunner to portray Evita, based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical stage play. Alan Parker finally made that movie in 1996 with Madonna.

Article from the 80s about Streisand as Eva Peron in EVITA

Streisand told writer George Anderson in 1991: “That's what I hate about the press. These stories get out and they feed on themselves. I never wanted to do Evita. The producers took me to see it and I hated the show. Still those reports continued, that I was going to do the movie. Stop using me to sell the show, I told the producers. I don't even like the song ‘Don't Cry for Me, Argentina’ and I won't sing it.”

Newspaper clipping about Hawn and Streisand

In 1984, news circulated that Goldie Hawn and Barbra Streisand were working on a movie together about “sisters from different parents.” That movie never got made with Hawn/Streisand. It was filmed, however, with Bette Milder and Lily Tomlin in 1988—Big Business.

Streisand's interest in a biopic about Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White project goes back to 1986, when she developed the property with producer Linda Yellen as a starring vehicle for Streisand, which she would direct as well. Linda was the co-writer of Skinny and Cat based on the lives of Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell.

In 1988 Barbra told the St. Petersburg Times that “I don't know at this stage,” whether she would commit to the movie.

However, Yellen and Streisand worked on the property even after a TV movie with Farrah Faucet as Bourke-White aired in 1989 — “It wasn't well-reviewed and it wasn't the same story we will tell,” Yellen said. “Margaret will be better served in our story, which will show the broad dimensions of her life and illustrate the big leaps she took personally and professionally.” (Streisand mentioned directing the Bourke-White story in June 2012, but said she still needed to acquire financing for the film.)

Producer Polly Platt spent a year tailoring an adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women for Streisand.

In the mid-1980s, Streisand expressed interest in a film version of the play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Streisand would have played the lonely and feisty waitress, but Michelle Pfeiffer was ultimately cast in the role in the 1991 movie.

“Singing Out Loud” with Sondheim

Newspaper article about Streisand working with Sondheim on film musical

Singing Out Loud was a film musical project with a screenplay by Hollywood legend William Goldman and songs by Stephen Sondheim. Rob Reiner was connected to the project as director circa 1992. The film was described as “a movie musical about a movie musical that's in trouble.”

Sondheim's wonderful book, Look I Made A Hat, described the tantalizing plot:

The year is 1992. Charlie Lake, the superstar/actress/conglomerate, is in the throes of producing her first movie musical, starring herself. A short while into the shooting, the results of which satisfy nobody, the of production at the studio insists she replace the writer and director. Somewhat reluctantly, she hires Griffith Bean, a prestigious Hollywood filmmaker as well as her ex-lover and a man who needs a hit. Since he is to rewrite as well as direct it, he in turn hires Jed Lazenby to write the score, Lazenby being the hottest young singer/songwriter/conglomerate in the pop music world. As might be expected, Jed falls for Charlie at the same time her love affair with Griffith is reheating istelf. The story chronicles the making of the movie as it is being formed and reshaped by its emotionally tangled creators.

Streisand reportedly was slated to play Charlie Lake. Sondheim wrote several songs for the movie: “Dawn,” “Looks,” “Lunch,” “Sand,” “Singing Out Loud,” and “ Water Under the Bridge.” Goldman told writer Meryle Secrest, “We worked for something like three drafts and Steve wrote a fabulous score of six or eight songs.”

Script page with Sondheim song, "Sand"

The movie was never made. Castle Rock Productions still owns the songs. “These things never completely die,” Rob Reiner said, “and it may be resurrected. For a film that wasn't made it was one of the greatest creative experiences I ever had.”

Late 1980s to Current

The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety reported on June 22, 1999 that Barwood Films had acquired film rights to Romeo and Julie, a romantic novel by Jeanne Ray, published by Harmony Books about the romantic relationship of widower Romeo Cacciamani and divorcee Julie Roseman, two Boston florists in their sixties whose families have been rivals for many years.

Several movie musicals (yet to be filmed) have had Streisand's name attached to them:

“Gypsy”

In January 2011, news broke (more like leaked) that Warner Brothers and producer Joel Silver were developing a film version of the musical Gypsy for Barbra Streisand, who would star as Mama Rose. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for the original Broadway show told the press that “now things are serious and a movie is truly in the works.” Laurents even mentioned that Tom Hanks would be a great addition to the cast as Herbie.

More about Streisand's Gypsy project has been chronicled here.

“Sunset Boulevard”

Streisand as Norma Desmond?

The biggest rumor (and one that seems to never go away!) is that Streisand would play Norma Desmond in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical of Sunset Boulevard. Streisand fans seem to split down the middle about whether Streisand should play Norma. Of course, there's a whole contingency who believe Lloyd Webber's musical only has two or three good songs, and that it never transcended the exceptional, original film with Gloria Swanson.

Andrew Lloyd Webber spoke about the status of Sunset in 2008: “The film has been delayed entirely because Paramount, which owns the original film, is not keen on it being made,” he said. “Many people have wanted to play the role [of Norma] — the latest is Barbra Streisand.” Glenn Close? “Glenn has absolutely wanted to play it, Meryl [Streep] has wanted to play it and none of us can get past this wall. I don't think they get the idea of a musical at all.”

The most recent comment about Sunset was made by Streisand herself in 2009 while promoting Love is the Answer. “Well it [the SUNSET movie] actually was happening for a while, and I turned it down twice. And it's a hard one, because it was a great movie. I thought she was a little over-the-top, Gloria Swanson. He was very good, William Holden. It would need work for the film, a lot of work, I think, ya know...”

 

“Mame”

Streisand as Mame?

Mame was a 1966 Broadway musical starring Angela Lansbury with music by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!).  The musical was based on the 1956 Broadway hit and 1958 movie Auntie Mame, which starred Rosalind Russell.  All versions were adapted from Patrick Dennis’ original 1955 novel, Auntie Mame.  In 1974 Lucille Ball appeared in a movie version of the musical, which was mostly disliked.  About the 1974 musical, composer Jerry Herman said, “The movie was totally unsatisfying. Lucille Ball turned in a hard-working performance, but she couldn't sing, she couldn't dance. She was a clown. And Mame is an elegant sophisticate.”

Producing team Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, working for Disney, had a couple of network television ratings successes with their productions of the musicals Cinderella (1997) and Annie (1999).  At the time, producer Craig Zadan told the New York Times, “What's happened is that Disney and ABC have said to us: ‘You have the first Sunday in November every year,’” Mr. Zadan said. “That's our slot. It's our goal to get a new musical ready every summer.”

Meron and Zadan contemplated The Music Man, The Wiz or Mame as their next project. By November 1999, Disney, Storyline Entertainment (Meron & Zadan) and Barwood Films (Barbra Streisand’s production company) had partnered to develop Mame. “Barbra [Streisand] is a producer at this point,” Neil Meron said. “We haven't done casting yet. That will depend on the script.”

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Parenthood and City Slickers) were hired to write the Mame teleplay and delivered their draft on August 31, 1999.  Streisand reportedly read a February 2000 draft and asked for a rewrite with more of an emphasis on the original Auntie Mame.  Screenwriter Peter Tolan (Analyze This) took over writing Mame at this point.

Tolan’s screenplay cut out two of Jerry Herman’s songs.  The first to go was “Saint Bridgette”, sung by the character Agnes Gooch at the top of the show. “It’s a wonderful reveal on stage, but we didn’t need it in this version,” Tolan said.

Peter Tolan also excised “That’s How Young I Feel” – a big dance number sung by Mame and the chorus – and explained that since he was “writing this for Miss Streisand at the time, … I was guessing that she would probably say, ‘That’s not a sentiment that I want to express as the character,’” Tolan said.  “Also, in that scene you’ve already got, ‘If He Walked into My Life.’ I felt musically, that covered it.”

[Note:  “If He Walked into My Life” is the big ballad in Mame by Jerry Herman and would have been sung beautifully by Streisand.]

Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) was attached to the project as its director.  He thought Mame was “a role for Streisand – and how many roles are there for her? I know she has a reputation [for being difficult], but she was unbelievably relaxed and open.”

Streisand, however, decided not to star in the project.

“So then they went to Cher,” Rob Marshall explained.  “I met with her. She's lovely and wanted to do it.”

In August 2000, Jerry Herman was a Cher-as-Mame fan, too. “I think [Cher] is the best idea since sliced bread. I want her to play Mame so badly. I have never worked with Cher and I would love to. I pray every night that she'll say yes.”

Marshall dropped out of the project by 2001, however.

By 2004, Herman had inked stage deals on several of his musicals, including Mame. “That's sort of on hold, the TV movie,” Herman told Playbill. “I think we all want to do it legitimately one more time and then we'll worry about filming it. I want to see it on the stage again.”

In 2007, Herman said "I'd love to do one perfect Mame. I think the show deserves it. It's the most difficult thing in the world. It's a star vehicle and created as one. I'd use Catherine Zeta-Jones. She'd be sensational. She's a real dancer and a real singer. She's a lady. And Mame needs to be a lady, more than anything else.”

 

“The Normal Heart”

Produced by the Public Theater in 1985 and set between the years 1981 and 1984, The Normal Heart was Larry Kramer's explosive play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic.  The main character, Ned Weeks, was the gay, loud-mouthed, Jewish founder of an HIV advocacy group – an autobiographical stand-in for the play’s author and activist Larry Kramer.

Barbra Streisand acquired the film rights to Larry Kramer’s play in March 1986.  (Streisand pursued Dustin Hoffman to play the lead).

Streisand’s relationship to Larry Kramer “sort of got off to a bumpy start,” Kramer confessed.  Streisand wanted to hire other writers to pen the screenplay; Kramer wanted to write it himself.  “Everyone thought we’d be at each other’s throats,” Kramer said.  “Actually, we got along very well because I think we’re both perfectionists in a way, and we respect that in each other.”

Press release from 1986 about THE NORMAL HEART

By 1987, however, Streisand was filming the courtroom drama Nuts instead of The Normal Heart, which frustrated Kramer. “It was even more upsetting when I saw what a really rotten movie it was,” Kramer stated.

In 1991, Streisand’s movie of Kramer’s play had stalled.  Streisand told Vanity Fair, “I did have a passion to film The Normal Heart … I wanted to give back something through my work, which is the best way I know how. I still may do that film yet. I wanted to make it because it is about everyone's right to love and we could fight against the homophobia that sadly really does exist out there.”

Linda J. Laubenstein, a Manhattan physician who inspired the character of Dr. Emma Brookner in the play, died in 1992.  Larry Kramer told the NY Times “an agreement was near on the production of a movie version by Barbra Streisand.”

This time, Kramer declined to write the script for the film, “so [Barbra] had total control, which is what she wanted,” he said.

Larry Kramer and Barbra Streisand

Streisand delivered the opening remarks at a 1993 all-star reading of Kramer’s play at the Roundabout Theater.  That night, Kramer said, “[Barbra]'s so passionate about it. It's hard not to be moved by her passion. She's really, I don't know, she's just so much bigger than life. It's an exceptional experience to be working with her. Everyone predicted we would be at loggerheads. We're both obsessive people. But that's why we get along so well. She cares so much about the subject.”

At this point, Streisand had budgeted the film with Columbia Pictures and was determined to cast Ralph Fiennes as Ned Weeks.  Fiennes was scheduled to play Hamlet in London, though.  “So do I postpone this?” Barbra asked. “I think [Fiennes is] the best young actor of our time.”

Meanwhile, Larry Kramer told Vanity Fair what it was like working with Streisand on the project: “She'll challenge you on every word; she'll act out the words,” he said of Barbra. “That fine-tuning—as a writer, you either love it or hate it. It's the way I work myself, especially on my novel, so I love it.”

Streisand fought with Kramer:  “We did have a fight about a subject I refer to in my introduction to the song 'Somewhere' in the concert, about how boring life would be if we were all the same,” she said.  “To me, a perfect world would be a place in which we appreciate each other's differences. We're equal, but we're not the same. In the play, Larry has this scene with his brother in which he says, ‘I’m the same as you. Just say it.' I don't believe it! His brother is heterosexual, he's homosexual. They're equal in the eyes of God and the law, but they're not the same! So I can't put that in my movie, because I don't believe it.”

Kramer disagreed and felt neither eye color nor sexual preference should define people’s differences.  “If one is born with blue eyes and one with brown eyes, are the two the same as people?”  Kramer explained, “I could never make her understand, and after a while I just gave up.”

In 1994, some critics said Kramer’s play and Streisand’s film were already past their prime and dated.  Streisand said, “I see it as a movie about everybody's right to love, and therefore it is for me a love story set against the AIDS epidemic. Like The Way We Were was set against the McCarthy period.”

But Streisand angered Kramer again in 1994 when she committed to a national concert tour instead of filming The Normal Heart

In 1996, Columbia/Tri-Star Pictures had budgeted The Normal Heart at $32 million and Streisand wanted Kenneth Branagh to star as Ned Weeks.  “I had wanted certain actors to be in it,” Streisand said, “one said he would do it, but the schedule was off. It was at a time when I had just bought my new house and was trying to design it. I didn't want to be here for construction, so I thought, I'm going to do The Mirror Has Two Faces!"

“I really felt I was being ill-used,” Larry Kramer said.  “She was always telling me how much this project meant to her and how we’ve got to get it out there fast and how important it is for people with AIDS, but then she always seemed to have these other things that came in the way.”

Hoffman, Branagh and Fiennes

(NORMAL HEART Actors, above: Hoffman, Branagh, and Fiennes)

Streisand, however, showed sensitivity when she issued a statement to the press about no longer working with Kramer on The Normal Heart: “I am painfully aware of the ticking clock. Therefore, I am stepping aside.”

At this point, director John Schlesinger took over and various actors got involved, including Anthony Edwards (from TV’s E.R.), Annette Benning, and Sharon Stone.

Since no film materialized, in 2001 Streisand was still working on raising finances to direct the movie version of Kramer’s play.

In 2008, Streisand signed with Hollywood talent agency, Endeavor, signaling that she would still be active in her film career.  While being honored at The Kennedy Center, Streisand mentioned that she’d still like to direct The Normal Heart, but worried about balancing directing with her personal life. “I've never really been, you know, married during a directorial time in my life," she said. “How do you, you know, balance the personal?"

Streisand’s passion for The Normal Heart was rekindled by 2009.  In an interview about the Yentl DVD, Streisand said “I've been working on [The Normal Heart] since I saw the play in 1985 and then did a screenplay in 1995. I've been trying to get it made.”   Streisand said this time she would not act. “I look forward to not being in my next movie – just directing. I really care much more about the other actors' performance than I do my own.” 

She told the Associate Press that she hoped to obtain the rights to Larry Kramer's play and that she’d talked to some “interesting cast members” that she did not identify.

It was Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts that Streisand attracted to the project. But by August 2010, the whole thing unraveled, with Larry Kramer once again speaking badly about Streisand to the media.

Streisand set the record straight when she posted a Truth Alert on her official website in May 2011 that addressed the history of working with Kramer on The Normal Heart. In it she said:

When I saw the play in 1985 I was very moved and immediately contacted Larry to acquire the rights. I worked for ten years, without pay, trying to get it made. After going through several drafts with Larry, I hired a writer to develop a screenplay that was faithful to Larry’s play, adapting it to make it more cinematic. But Larry refused to accept any revisions and insisted we use his screenplay. I couldn’t get any studio to commit to his version. Many fine actors were ready to commit to our version, but Larry would not allow it.

When Larry now says I rewrote the script in order to make the woman doctor the star, marginalizing the gay characters, he is rewriting history. My objective was not to be in this movie. I only wanted to direct it and I was willing to play the doctor only if that would help get it made.

Eventually, when it became clear that we couldn’t raise the money to do it as a film, I thought, all right, we’ll do it on TV. At least it would reach a wide audience. But even HBO would only pay Larry $250,000 for the rights, and he would not let it go forward for anything less than $1,000,000. No studio was willing to move on it, considering the controversial subject matter and the burden of that cost.

After ten years, the rights reverted back to Larry. But even when I had no contractual involvement, I still persisted in pressing to get The Normal Heart made, purely because I believed in the project. As my producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron can confirm, I thought that if we could get a great cast together, maybe a studio would finally finance it and we could persuade Larry to let us do it. I offered the part of the doctor to Julia Roberts because I thought she would be terrific, and when she turned us down, we approached another actress. I also asked Mark Ruffalo and Bradley Cooper to be in it, and Bradley Cooper immediately said yes to my version of the screenplay. By the way, this is not to say that it wouldn’t have been rewritten again. The work is never done until the movie is released.

I think it’s unfair to blame me for the movie not getting made. After all, Larry has had the rights for the last 15 years and he couldn’t get it made, either. Those are the facts, and none of this is news to Larry.

More recently, he sent me a note before giving the project to another director, asking me again if I wanted to direct it—but only with his screenplay. As a filmmaker, I couldn’t have my hands tied like that. What if I needed to make changes? What if I needed to have something rewritten? Sadly, I turned his offer down and wished him well.

It’s been very hard for me to find a piece that I feel as passionate about. I will always believe in Larry’s play and its powerful theme about everyone’s right to love.

It should be noted that one Streisand fan managed to read Kramer's 2007 Normal Heart screenplay—this was probably Kramer's latest draft before Streisand had to turn him down. Reportedly, Kramer's screenplay was very un-cinematic. The fan says it was written “with long, preachy scenes presented in a static, overtly theatrical way... it's really nothing more than the play dressed up in screenplay form.”

What's ironic is that Streisand knows what she's talking about here: a good play does not necessarily make a good movie ... There are cinematic issues to worry about, especially with a play that features long monologues.

Kramer's screenplay ended the dramatic AIDs story by having the camera pan down to W.H. Auden's poem, “September 1, 1939”—about the outbreak of World War II. The audience, therefore, would have to read a poem before the credits rolled.

Perhaps Streisand was right to pass.

With a cast that includes Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, and Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart will be a 2014 HBO movie with Glee's Ryan Murphy directing.

“Mendel’s Dwarf”

In 2005, Barwood Films (with Streisand as executive producer) teamed with the Gary Smith Co. and filmmaker Sonny Murray to buy the rights to the novel Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer. Peter Dinklage was set to star in the project.  Streisand would most likely direct.

The story is about Dr. Benedict Lambert – descendent of Gregor Mendel and his genetic experiments with peas – who is a brilliant geneticist, and also a dwarf who is searching for the single gene that caused his condition.

Barbra said, “It uniquely combined elements of science, fantasy and the brave new world of genetic research. It explores the future of humanity.”

In 2008, author Simon Mawer wrote on his website:

“It does seem that the Mendel's Dwarf film project has received new impetus following the involvement of Jason Gould of Barwood Films and Endeavor, the front line talent agency.”

 

Currently ...

At the end of 2013, Streisand was still looking to direct a film that she did not star in. That movie looked to be Skinny and Cat—about American photographer Margaret Bourke-White's marriage to novelist Erskine Caldwell in the late 1930s. Summer 2012, Cate Blanchett and Colin Firth were reported as starring in a script that Barbra worked on back in the 1980s. Streisand, however, was having financing problems. "This is hard to raise money for?" Streisand said. "I'm just in shock. Hollywood has changed so much. It's about a woman ahead of her time. It's just a fascinating story that is very relevant to today. I may have to pick up the phone again."

In Spring 2013 behind-the-scenes details seemed to shift on this project. Deadline reported “casting is underway with an eye to shoot before the end of the year. Streisand is currently overseeing the screenplay for the project. She had previously sought to film the story, but that production did not come to fruition. This is a new take.”

Now it appears that Marcus Pelegrin and Edward Evans have written an entirely new script on the Bourke-White subject, with Streisand's Yentl producer Rusty Lemorande on board in a production role, too.

The project has not been green-lit to date.

End.

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