AFI Life Achievement Award:
A Tribute to Barbra Streisand (2001)
Barbra Streisand became the 29th recipient of the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award in a star-studded gala tribute ceremony on February 22, 2001 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. She is the first female director among a handful of women in film who have been so honored since 1973 when AFI's Board of Trustees established the award to honor an "individual whose career in motion pictures or television has greatly contributed to the enrichment of American culture." Further, "the recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time." The 2000 AFI Life Achievement Award was presented to Harrison Ford. Previous recipients include, among others, Elizabeth Taylor, Sydney Poitier, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, James Cagney, John Ford, Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Gene Kelly, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Gregory Peck, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred Astaire, and William Wyler. AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Barbra Streisand, a two-hour TV special, premiered on FOX Thursday, May 31, 2001 at 8:00 pm (ET/PT).
Inside the hotel's International Ballroom, 1100 guests awaited Barbra's entrance at round tables covered with lace, roses, and a working Tiffany lamp. Each guest received a gift bag and a 96-page tribute program, featuring a black & white photo collection from Barbra's films and early years.
Among the gala guests in attendance: Anne Archer, Army Archerd, Sen. Barbara Boxer & Mr. Richard Boxer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Tracy Brennan, Dorothy Bridges, Pierce Brosnan & Keely Shaye-Smith, Mark Burnett, Renata Buser, John Calley, Mark Canton, Gil Cates, Martha Coolidge, Robert Daly, Marvin Davis, Noah Emmerich, Toby Emmerich, Diane English, Jean Firstenberg, David Foster, Kenny G, Sandy Gallin, Phyllis George, Kathie Lee Gifford, Todd Gold, Kathy Griffin, Dick Guttman, Julie Hagerty, Mel Harris, Amy Heckerling, Hugh Hefner, Marshall Herskovitz, Michael Kidd, Jay Landers, Ernest Lehman, Sherry Lansing, Les Moonves, Mo Ostin, Nancy Pelosi, Jon Peters, Christopher Radko, Bob Raphaelson, Bob Rehme, Jay Roach, Don Rickles, Richard Schickel, Terry Semel, Kim Skalecki, Ray Stark, Howard Stringer, Robert Sturm, Marge Tabankin, Bob Thomas, Mr. & Mrs. Jeff Wald, Robert Wise, Dwight Yoakam, Bud Yorkin, and Edward Zwick.
Gary Smith, who produced The Concert and Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments for television, did something different for this show. “For the first time in our lives—we’ve known [Barbra] a good time and are fairly friendly, our families are friendly, our kids are friendly,” Smith explained, “I was able to say to her, ‘This one, I think you should stay out of. Because in order for you to really have fun at this event, you should not know what’s going on. Let us surprise you. Let us do things.’ And I think, quite honestly, because of our relationship, she was able to say yes. Everybody thinks she had a lot to do with [the AFI special]. She had practically nothing to do with that award show. She did get involved afterwards when you’re deciding which clips you’re going to take out, which things you can use … She obviously has something to say about that because she should! This is a representation of her life’s work in film and some television. She had no idea that her son was going to speak. She had no idea that Joni James was going to come and sing for her, one of her childhood idols … So there was an element of This is Your Life that made it interesting to work with Barbra. There’s nobody like her.”
Receiving the AFI Life Achievement Award from previous honoree Sidney Poitier, whose eloquent words sum up an entire room, Barbra beamed, “Wow! Oh my God! I was not prepared for this. I didn’t think my life and career could fill a whole evening. I can’t tell you how deeply humbled I am to be in the company of the men and women who have come before me.” First thanking the evening's speakers (she sympathized regarding speaking or performing in public), Barbra explained what motivated her to become an actress and how she got “sidetracked,” becoming a singer when she couldn't get acting work. Employing dictionary definitions of “perfectionist” and “obsession,” she attempted to clarify how these terms applied to her life and career. About film, Barbra humbly said, “It's a privilege to work in an art form that gives you the chance to take chances and gives you a voice to express your sense of injustice, your dedication to the truth.” She also admitted having much more to do and learn before feeling worthy of this honor. Everyone she's ever worked with was thanked, especially Cis Corman, Marty Erlichman, the Bergmans, and Marvin Hamlisch. “It seems like we took our first steps together, and now look at the journey we've taken.” On her immediate future, she said, “To tell you the truth, I'd like to do nothing for a while. I'd like to take some time so that when inspiration knocks on my door, I'll be ready to be deliciously consumed and obsessed again.” Concluding, Barbra thanked AFI for the “incredible moving evening.”
When the show aired on Fox TV, it garnered 5.3 million viewers in the Nielsen ratings and was #69 for the week.
- Barbra's entrance
- “What is Your Name?”— Streisand film character montage
- “On the Way to Becoming Me” — sung by Lauren Frost [see below]
- Marvin Hamlisch Opening Remarks
- Phyllis Diller (“I am totally thrilled to be your opening act...”)
- Film montage: Cis Corman, Marty Erlichman remember Barbra's beginnings in Manhattan
- ‡ Dom DeLuise: He recalled working with Barbra in 1961 in Another Evening With Harry Stoones.
- Shirley MacLaine: numbers speech
- Elizabeth Taylor ... besides her lovely remarks to Streisand, ‡ Taylor also read a letter that Henry Fonda had sent to Barbra about Funny Girl.
- Funny Girl: Streisand's remembrances; cut Swan Lake number; filming “My Man”.
- Hello, Dolly!: Barbra's filmed comments.
- ‡ Michael Kidd's comments: “What was she like to work with? Well, I called a three-hour rehearsal one day. The first two hours Barbra and I discussed her favorite cookie recipe, the wonders of Abba Zabba candy bars and the difference between growing up in Williamsburg, and Bensonhurst. To a nervous unit manager it appeared nothing was getting done. Finally, I looked at my watch and said, 'Barbra, we have to show something to the orchestrator, set moves so that we can rehearse with Walter and fix camera positions.' At which point she got up and in a half-hour the number was set and performed brilliantly. It was commonly accepted that Barbra could sing — big discovery! — but she was not a trained dancer. That was a big surprise. She learned the movements in no time, added her own touches and style and what emerged was a graceful and slyly humorous rendition of her own personality. She had a quality that few professional dancers possess — and it can't be taught.”
- On A Clear Day You Can See Forever: Jack Nicholson's speech, “I didn't remember that I was in a Barbra Streisand film...”
- The Owl and the Pussycat: Buck Henry filmed comments
- ‡ Robert Klein (who costarred in The Owl and the Pussycat) reminisced at the podium about being the opening act for Barbra at the Las Vegas Hilton.
- Up the Sandbox: Barbra's filmed comments; director Irvin Kershner's comments from the audience.
- What's Up Doc?: Ryan O'Neal's comments from the podium; Buck Henry's filmed comments.
- Warren Beatty filmed speech.
- Dustin Hoffman: speech about the early days with Barbra at the Theater Studio of New York in Curt Conway's class.
- The Way We Were: scenes from the film; director Sydney Pollack's speech from the audience; Robert Redford's pre-recorded comments.
- ‡ Joni James sang “The Way We Were” on stage for Barbra, accompanied by Marvin Hamlisch.
- A Star is Born: Barbra's filmed comments; Kris Kristofferson speech from audience.
- Quincy Jones recalled meeting Barbra at the Grammy Awards in 1963, then praised Barbra's Oscar winning song, “Evergreen.”
- John Travolta (in a filmed segment) did a Streisand impersonation and wished her well.
- Clint Eastwood introduced Yentl; Streisand's filmed comments; Barbra's early costume and set films; Nehemiah Persoff (who played Papa) gave a speech from the audience; Alan & Marilyn Bergman's filmed comments; Amy Irving's speech from the audience.
- ‡ Michel Legrand played piano to a photo slideshow of Streisand’s deceased father, Emanuel Streisand.
- Angelica Houston introduced The Prince of Tides; Barbra's filmed comments.
- Jason Gould: speech about working with his mother in Tides.
- Jean Picker Firstenberg (Director/CEO, AFI)
- The Mirror Has Two Faces: Jeff Bridges speech from audience; Richard LaGravenese (screenwriter) filmed comments; Lauren Bacall.
- Bill Clinton
- ‡ William Friedkin (“Somewhere” music video director) introduced Barbra’s television production work (Rescuers, Serving in Silence, The Long Island Incident).
- Sidney Poitier presented Barbra with the Lifetime Achievement Award
- Barbra's acceptance speech.
‡ These segments were not included in the final air version of the television special.
The AFI produced a handsome keepsake program for the event. Some pages from the collectible program are reproduced below:
“On the Way to Becoming Me”
(Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman).
This song was sung by Lauren Frost, accompanied by Marvin Hamlisch. Frost told BarbraNews:
I met and rehearsed with the Bergmans and Marvin, and the director Gary Smith, about four times before the show, all the while keeping it a secret from Barbra. She had actually invited my parents and I to be her guests at the event but, in order to protect the surprise, I told Barbra that we would be out of town for a family reunion. Even up to the day of the event, Barbra told her assistant she couldn't understand why we couldn't come! Little did Barbra know that I was tucked away, literally hiding, in one of the Beverly Hilton Hotel rooms while she arrived. My little white lie paid off, because she was shocked (and delightfully surprised!) to see me on stage. After I sang she said "Honey, I thought you were in Chicago!" It was an honor for me to sing "On The Way To Becoming Me," the original song written about Barbra for the event, and to portray her as a young girl again, as she was being honored for this lifetime achievement award.
I don't know how I know
But somehow I know what waits for me
Something's whispering to me
You know what you have to do
I'm opening a door I've never seen before
And something tells me where it's leading to
There are signs on the way
And so many things I can't explain
It's as if there were someone
Taking me by the hand
It's all as if it's meant to be
On the way to becoming me
In a world full of evens, I'm an odd
In a tank full of salmon, I'm a cod
On a tray full of scotch, I'm a vodka
On a plate full of crepes, I'm a latka
I'm Brooklyn—but I'll be the Champs-Élysées
I'm a hot dog—but I'll be a chocolate souffle
I'm an egg cream—but I'll be a café au lait
The world may be from Column B, but I'm from Column A
From the beginning I always knew
That no one's ever gonna tell me what to do
I may be frightened but I'm not afraid
Cause nobody is gonna rain on my parade ...
In the dark of the Loews King
There on Flatbush Avenue
There are stars overhead
And stars on the silver screen
Gregory Peck—oy! I could cry
Marlon Brando (I could die!)
I'm there with them in every scene
I know just what I want
And I know just what I'll wear
And if they don't like then what do I care?
I wasn't born looking like everyone else
So why should I be like everyone else?
On the way to becoming me
I'll be going on my own
Will there be lumps in my throat
And bumps in the road—could be
But it's the laughter I will remember
And what's more I may
Drop an 'A'
On the way to becoming me ...
[Lauren harmonizes to film scene of Streisand singing “Don't Rain On My Parade”]
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