The Rosie O'Donnell Show (1997 & 1999)

photo of Rosie O'DonnellRosie O'Donnell grew up on Long Island, New York. After a career in stand-up comedy and films (A League of Her Own, Sleepless in Seattle, and The Flintstones) she began hosting a syndicated daytime talk show in 1996—The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

All along, she was a big fan of Barbra Streisand.

In her book, Celebrity Detox, O'Donnell wrote: “Streisand's voice filled the house on Rhonda Lane [Long Island], and it filled me as well, and became a substance that was soothing, a sound I could return to when the going got bad, when my mother died.”

O'Donnell also wrote about Streisand in her first book, Find Me. “I know two things she loved, show tunes and Streisand,” Rosie wrote about her mother. “[She] adored Barbra, and so did I. While other kindergartners were bringing in kaleidoscopes and turtles for show-and-tell, I was belting ‘Don't Rain on My Parade’ with gusto, off-key, complete with dance moves. I would memorize every Streisand record, and when my mother was cooking dinner, I would put on a show in my kitchen. ‘Second Hand Rose’ and ‘Marty the Martian.’ She would laugh, my mom. I loved it.”

O'Donnell's mother died of cancer when O'Donnell was 10.

“When my father removed my mother's things, [Barbra's] records were the one thing he left,” said O'Donnell. “So Streisand was a connection to my mom.”

November 21, 1997
Streisand Interview Show

Rosie, Barbra and Jim Brolin

It was very emotional for Rosie O'Donnell when she introduced Streisand as a guest on her talk show. “For every boy and girl out there watching, dreams do come true, please welcome Barbra Streisand ...”

Streisand, wearing an off-the-shoulder black sweater and slacks, walked through the curtain and she and O'Donnell hugged.

“She held my hand, she wiped my (tear-stained) face and said, ‘Are you OK?’” said Rosie O'Donnell to USA Today. “She was everything I ever dreamed she'd be and more, so warm and kind to me, all at once like a friend, a sister, a mother . . . I said to myself, I have to get a grip . . . I don't want it to be about me crying because she's here.”

As Streisand sat in the chair across from her, O'Donnell told her idol, “You were a constant source of light in an often dark childhood. You inspired me and gave me the courage to dream a life better than the one I knew. I am profoundly grateful to you in so many ways.”

Rosie ODonnell greets Streisand in 1997

O'Donnell—perhaps one of Streisand's biggest fans—conducted a very satisfying and knowledgeable interview with her idol. She asked Streisand about stage fright, and if she ever missed a show during the Broadway run of Funny Girl (“I did miss one,” Streisand confessed, after explaining that she performed despite having her wisdom teeth out and a scratched cornea on another occasion. “I must have had, like, 104 fever, total laryngitis, and missed that one ...”) Streisand told stories about finding out she was pregnant during the London run of Funny Girl; she also explained why she said “August 29th” was her birthday at the end of the song “I'm Five” on her My Name is Barbra TV show. “I was married to Elliott Gould at the time,” Streisand stated, “and I was being generous to him, and loving, so I said his birthday.” O'Donnell also surprised Streisand with the gift of an original Playbill from The Diary of Anne Frank—the first Broadway show Streisand ever saw when she was a girl.

Streisand then explained all about her own Playbill biography for I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which stated she was “Born in Madagascar, and reared in Rangoon.” She said, “The point was, in those days everybody said they were a member of the Actor's Studio and everything was so pompous and serious. I was playing a Jewish secretary. So to say in my bio that I was from Brooklyn and grew up in Flatbush meant nothing. If they thought that I came from Madagascar ... I changed it. The next Playbill said I was born in Aruba and went to the Yeshiva of Brooklyn. And my last line was ‘I am not a member of the Actor's Studio.’ Now what happened was the Playbill people came to us and said you can't do that. I was trying to be funny. And they said you can't do it, it has to be serious.”

Streisand and Rosie sing

Next, the two discussed eating and food. After a commercial break, Streisand told O'Donnell the story of a spiritual sign she received while visiting her father's grave and how that inspired her to commit to making her 1983 film, Yentl. Other topics discussed included the inaccuracies about Streisand in the press, followed by Streisand's explanation for why she recorded her new album, Higher Ground. When O'Donnell tried singing Streisand's hit song, “People,” to her face, Streisand offered the advice “Less is more.”

In the final segment of the show, O'Donnell brought out Streisand's boyfriend at the time, James Brolin.

The episode scored big ratings for Rosie O'Donnell — it averaged a 10.2 rating/26 share. In New York City alone, the show scored an amazing 14.9/47 share. (Higher Ground went to #1 certainly because of O'Donnell's high ratings as well as Streisand's superstar appeal.)

When asked if Streisand was demanding during her appearance on the show, O'Donnell replied, “There was no diva stuff going on, and I would tell you.” O'Donnell did rearrange her talk show set so that Streisand's left profile was favored by the cameras. “I knew she likes to be shot that way. The truth is that if she wanted me to do the interview in the nude, I would have done it in the nude.” O'Donnell further clarified, “She didn't even want to know what (film) clips we were doing. She said, ‘I know Rosie will be kind to me.’ And I would never in a million years say or ask anything that might offend her. But there was no area we were not allowed to go in.”

November 16, 1999
Streisand Interview Show

Note: This story was originally posted at The Barbra Streisand Music Guide website on November 24, 1999. It is reprinted here with the permission of its author, Mark Iskowitz.

After first guesting on The Rosie O'Donnell Show in New York's Rockefeller Center on November 19, 1997 (the show aired Nov. 21), Barbra Streisand reunited with Rosie O'Donnell in a special program called "The Barbra Interview" on November 16, 1999. The delightful, relaxed, and inspired hour was recorded on October 29 at Barbra and James Brolin's Malibu, California home. On Nov. 15 Rosie aired an entertaining video diary chronicling her extensive preparations in L.A. The night before visiting Barbra, a bundle of nervous energy, O'Donnell stayed up till five in the morning with a close friend, sharing "Barbra memories" and a film or two. Following only 4-5 hours of sleep, Rosie had her hair and make-up done while listening to Barbra's A Love Like Ours for the umpteenth pleasurable time. Her morning and afternoon featured some funny experiences, as she elicited warm reactions and encouragement from total strangers whom she informed about her impending visit with Streisand.

Arriving at Barbra's house an hour early, Rosie ventured around, noting its cozy and personal interior design. James Brolin was in San Diego with his TV series, and Barbra was first heard on a speaker phone. Rosie admitted experiencing deja vu, having often imagined making this visit. She photographed herself sitting in the bathroom and in Barbra's beautiful and unusual garden, especially noting the Barbra Streisand Roses. She took home a rose for freeze-drying and a couple of paper hand towels (with B monogram) from the bathroom. Rosie says she actually edited the segments for the shows, because it was so important to her. Outside, she also found some neat crafts, including a homemade scarecrow and wooden ducklings. Despite being allergic, Rosie held a calico cat named Halloween simply because it was Barbra's. Inside, she photographed some warm, personal touches, including an antique croquet set sitting next to an old metal milk can. She even photographed herself wide-eyed and joyous when advised that Barbra was ready to begin the interview. Rosie auctioned six autographed photographs on eBay to benefit The For All Kids Foundation.

Wrapped in a dark red or burgundy ensemble, including a sleeveless top (a familiar and flattering look for Barbra these days), Barbra Streisand reunited with one of her biggest fans, Rosie O'Donnell, certainly her biggest celebrity fan. In fact, "fans" came up often during a wonderfully casual conversation in which Rosie epitomized the curiosity and enthusiasm of countless devoted Streisand admirers who have, at least once, imagined themselves chatting with Barbra in her home. At the outset, while extremely welcoming and comforting to Rosie, Streisand said she still could not understand why so many people have such lifelong admiration for her, Rosie notwithstanding. Later during the conversation, on a similar topic, she said, “I'm not some goddess, I'm a human being,” again underscoring the difference between her own view of herself and that of the average person, especially the hardcore fan. Nothing wrong with that. And the fact that she views herself not first as a star entrenched in the Hollywood lifestyle but instead as a wife and mother makes this refreshing glimpse, from a true fan's perspective, into her private life at home and into her artistic projects all the more unique and memorable.

Not only is Barbra Streisand a wife and mother but she is still a daughter to mother Diana Streisand Kind, now in her 80s and coping with Alzheimer's.

Barbra: I went to visit my mother yesterday, and my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and I was trying to explain to her some of what I’m going to do in my concert, some of it has to do with me as a young girl and the first time I ever made a record. My mother took me there because she wanted to make a record. My mother had-has-a beautiful voice, an opera kind of voice. And so sitting around the table I said, “Ma do you remember the day?” — and by the way, do you believe in numbers, or certain kind of power in numbers?

Rosie: Yes.

Barbra: I was reminded recently that the day that I made this first record when I was a young girl, it was December 29, 1955. My son was born December 29, 1966. It’s an interesting date about the birth of something, and then the birth of my son, which was a magic, miraculous moment for me. My mother doesn’t remember that much, although she does remember me still, which is great. But I said, “Ma, do you remember the song you sang on this record?” And you know we’re talking forty years ago, more than that. And I said it was called “One Kiss” and she started to hum it note for note. And so I sang with her at the kitchen table. And it was just a wonderful moment for me and my mom.

Streisand on the Rosie Show in 1999

This is typical of how at ease Barbra appeared with Rosie, frequently making smooth segues into related topics following Rosie's reaction or her previous discussion. Not your average Q&A. At one point Rosie displayed her specially French-manicured nails for Barbra, which broke her up.

Rosie: How old were you were when you knew you’d do this?

Barbra: Seven. You know, fame to me was not, how do I say this, and I think I’ve said this before. Fame to me was not being the movie star, it was being the character in the movie I saw. The women who fell in love and had a happy marriage, the women who the mother held. I wasn’t Vivienne Leigh, I was, what’s her name? Scarlet O’Hara. When I was young, when I was fifteen, I played wonderful parts in Tennessee Williams plays, Medea, Joan of Arc, Hedda Gabler, A Dolls House.

Music found its way into the conversation often, from Barbra explaining the hard work involved and hinting at program specifics for her upcoming Millennium Concert to activating her Yamaha Disclavier piano, filling the room with Marvin Hamlisch's pre-programmed playing. First, Rosie sang a bit of "The Way We Were." Next, Barbra followed her with a few solo lines on "Evergreen," sounding soft as an easy chair. Finally, after pushing Rosie to sing "People," Barbra joined for a brief duet. Afterwards, hugs were in order at Rosie's invitation.

Rosie: Are you excited about the Millennium concert tour?

Barbra: Well excited is a funny word for me. It’s a lot of hard work

Rosie: Does it fill you with angst or anticipation?

Barbra: Both. It’s an interesting forum, being raised above everyone else. You have to have a real reason to be there. You have to have something to give, something to offer, something to contribute. So that’s a big burden, a big responsibility, but it’s a way I can say things or sing things, to the people.

Rosie: Will it be much different from the last tour?

Barbra: I don’t know how big a tour this is going to be. I think we’re going to do a second night because we have a lot of people asking for more tickets and we don’t have any more.

Rosie: Are you worried about Y2K?

Barbra: No, what could happen? All the lights go out. All the sound goes out. We’ll all light a candle and I’ll sing without a mic.

Streisand sits down with Rosie

Speaking of just one future project, Barbra did confirm that she plans to write her autobiography sometime after her Millennium Concerts, using journals she has kept for years and maybe even some career facts from Rosie. In the short term, and certainly by now, she has enjoyed the genuine Ebingers All Chocolate Blackout Cake, a surprise gift from Rosie, with a recipe available online.

Barbra: But you know when I did this One Voice concert, it was the first time I thought I could perform in many, many years, because they had Teleprompters. The funny thing happened that night was I forgot that when I’d sing “America the Beautiful,” the audience would stand up. They stood in front of the Teleprompters. The whole song, I’m moving the microphone trying to get a glimpse of these words.

Rosie: But you didn’t forget those?

Barbra: I did forget those, and we used the one from the night before, the dress rehearsal.

Rosie: How do you think you overcame it?

Barbra: As I got older, too many people said to me “How could you not sing in public? We as your fans really want to hear you and see you live.” And I thought “I owe this to them, and maybe I owe it to myself to build up the courage to try it again.” It’s not about perfection, as you know— this could happen, your voice could go flat, and there’s a certain excitement to that and a certain acceptance of imperfections.

Rosie: Were you pleased with the last tour?

Barbra: I liked doing that show for the people. I liked feeling them live. I liked interacting with them.

Barbra signed three 1995 California Cabernet Sauvignon Barbra Streisand collector's edition (gold-etched label) wine bottles for Rosie, one of which was auctioned on eBay. In addition, being auctioned separately are Rosie's own Funny Girl Broadway Playbill (signed “Happy Days - Barbra Streisand”) and her Hello, Dolly! movie program (signed “Warm Regards - Barbra Streisand“), each with the terrific new A Rosie Christmas CD.

Barbra telephoned Rosie the evening after "The Barbra Interview" aired, thanking her for a copy of the CD and complimenting her singing voice. Fellow Streisand fans may be forever thanking Rosie for the gift she has given with these two special hours of television.


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