Read “‘Hello, Gorgeous’: How Barbra Streisand Redefined Beauty, Femininity, and Power” in the November/December 2016 issue.
Excerpted from “Good-bye Brooklyn, Hello Fame” by Pete Hamill, July 27, 1963
On a recent Sunday afternoon in New York, an angular young girl with the nose of an eagle, slightly out-of-focus eyes, and a mouth engaged in battle with a wad of gum walked up to the stage entrance of the theater that houses The Ed Sullivan Show. A beefy young man in a guard’s gray uniform stopped her. “Whattaya want, girlie?” the guard said, looking for the inevitable autograph book. “I want to go in,” she said. “I’m in the show.” After a brief debate, the girl proved that she was not there to acquire the signatures of Sullivan, the McGuire Sisters, or the 27 members of the visiting Mexican soccer team scheduled for the TV program. She was there to rehearse, and her name was indeed plastered across the theater’s marquee.
“Barbra Streisand,” the guard said admiringly at the close of the show. “To tell you the truth, I never heard of her. But she’s really something, ain’t she? Really something.”
Such long, low expressions of approval are being echoed by an ever-widening circle of admirers whose members range from Truman Capote to a president named Kennedy. At 21, with only three and a half years of professional experience, Barbra Streisand is on her way to becoming one of the most glittering stars of the 1960s.
As a singer, Barbra Streisand cut her first album for Columbia Records this year, and four weeks after its release she was the best-selling female vocalist in the country. As a nightclub performer, she has graduated from the Greenwich Village coffee circuit to such opulent drinking emporiums as New York’s Persian Room. Her fee has jumped in three years from $108 a week to $7,500, and is climbing. As a television performer, she came across with such vigah on a Dinah Shore special that one viewer — President Kennedy — promptly had her invited to perform at a White House correspondents dinner. And although her Broadway credits consist only of a supporting role in the musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, she will star next winter in a musical comedy based on the life of the late comedienne Fanny Brice. “She will knock everyone dead,” predicts the musical’s producer, David Merrick.
To many observers her overnight success is bewildering. Show business, after all, is largely a bazaar for that tinselly commodity, glamour. To achieve stardom, unendowed young girls customarily acquire bobbed noses, capped teeth, and cantilevered underwear. Not Barbra Streisand. “I’m me,” she says with a disarming shrug. “And that’s all there is.”
What there is would hardly launch a thousand ships. Her blowzy, reddish-brown hair slops over a pair of blue eyes that appear crossed, and her nose would fit just as comfortably on Basil Rathbone. She is 5 feet 5, but looks taller because of the boniness of her 110-pound body.
But when she begins to sing, Barbra Streisand suddenly is transformed. Her eyes fixed on some distant point in space, her voice moony, her head cocked to the side, she somehow manages to combine the most engaging qualities of an Egyptian wall painting and a seductive spook. … She has a large voice, rich with nuance, and throbbing with so much feeling that some critics have accused her of laying it on too thick. But if the voice were all, it would not explain why watching her is such a moving experience.
“It takes a fantastic amount of ego and immaturity to stand on a stage and do absolutely nothing and yet be powerful,” she says. “Acting is really so ludicrous, so childish. But it’s something you must do. And yet it’s something you have to keep in perspective too.
“They tell me I’ll eventually win everything. The Emmy for TV, the Grammy for records, the Tony on Broadway, and the Oscar for movies. It would be beautiful to win all those awards, to be rich, to have my name on marquees all over the world. And I guess a lot of those things will happen to me. I kind of feel they will. It could be good or it could be bad, but I’m living my life one day at a time. And I don’t see why it shouldn’t always be fun. Do you?”
—Excerpted from “Good-bye Brooklyn, Hello Fame” by Pete Hamill, July 27, 1963