Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Powerby Neal Gabler
An enthralling appreciation of the monumentally gifted popular artist and cultural icon who challenged Hollywood’s standards of beauty and glamour Barbra Streisand has been called the “most successful...talented performer of her generation” by Vanity Fair, and her voice, said pianist Glenn Gould, is “one of the/i>/b>
An enthralling appreciation of the monumentally gifted popular artist and cultural icon who challenged Hollywood’s standards of beauty and glamour Barbra Streisand has been called the “most successful...talented performer of her generation” by Vanity Fair, and her voice, said pianist Glenn Gould, is “one of the natural wonders of the age.” Streisand scaled the heights of entertainment—from a popular vocalist to a first-rank Broadway star in Funny Girl to an Oscar-winning actress to a producer and director. But she has also become a cultural icon who has transcended show business. To achieve her success, Brooklyn-born Streisand had to overcome tremendous odds, not the least of which was her Jewishness. Dismissed, insulted, even reviled when she embarked on a show business career for acting too Jewish and looking too Jewish, she brilliantly converted her Jewishness into a metaphor for outsiderness that would eventually make her the avenger for anyone who felt marginalized and powerless. Neal Gabler examines Streisand’s life and career through this prism of otherness—a Jew in a gentile world, a self-proclaimed homely girl in a world of glamour, a kooky girl in a world of convention—and shows how central it was to Streisand’s triumph as one of the voices of her age.
"[A] trim, insightful Streisand meta-biography. . . . If Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Peabody, and the rest of the polished, postured gang haven’t already persuaded you that she’s had the enormous influence Gabler claims, his careful reading of her career will."—Alexander C. Kafka, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Superb . . . [Gabler] vitally anatomizes singer, actor, and director Streisand’s unique accomplishments and far-reaching influence . . . . With unabashed appreciation for her tenacious refusal to be bullied by the entertainment establishment or the media, Gabler maps the fecund artistic and social ground that the brilliant and outspoken Streisand has claimed by doing things her way, decade after decade."—Donna Seaman, Booklist, Starred Review
"In this fascinating and insightful exploration of what it means to be Barbra Streisand, and what it took to become her, Mr. Gabler writes with the heart of a fan and the mind of a Freudian. He delves into Ms. Streisand’s tragic childhood and her anguish at the hand of neighborhood bullies, who taunted her for her big nose and relative poverty, and shows how they engendered in her an implacable—and stupefyingly correct—belief in the singular power of her talent as a performer."—Rachel Shukert, Wall Street Journal
"No one is better equipped to ponder the Jewish origins of Streisand than Gabler . . . [A] superb book."—Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
"An enjoyable, unabashedly appreciative biography, one that, unlike most gossip-smattered showbiz lives, sends the reader skipping back to the records and (some of) the films."—Matthew Walther, Washington Free Beacon
"Impassioned. . . . Gabler, one of our leading historians of film and popular culture, offers a number of penetrating observations about Streisand’s technique as a performer."—Adam Kirsch, Tablet
"Gabler, the estimable journalist, pop-cultural historian and author . . . returns to his interest in the intersection of Jews, gentiles and Hollywood in BARBRA STREISAND: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power . . . The author does a neat job of weaving every thread he can pull into the cloth . . . This brief biography looks at a well-documented star in a new way."—Lisa Schwarzbaum, New York Times Book Review
“Gabler… argues that Streisand could never have triumphed as she did if she were a natural winner… a convincing account of how, once, Streisand really did bend the world to her will.”—Victoria Segal, Sunday Times
“[A] smart new book, a biography-cum-critical essay on the Brooklyn-born diva. It may be the best book about Streisand you will ever read, an acute and sympathetic rendering of a career forged from yearning and steel.”—Tom Shone, New Statesman
"A fascinating look at an icon who achieved her status with her Jewishness—and her Brooklynness—intact."—Chicago Jewish Star
Part of a series dedicated to the Jewish experience, this biography of Barbra Streisand (b. 1942) addresses her life through the lens of her Jewishness and how her faith and culture affected her career. Building on extensive research, Gabler (Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination) presents a highly focused view of Streisand's development as a woman and performer. She comes across as extremely driven and self-absorbed, with several anecdotes shared of the great lengths she went to in order to get ahead. This "pushiness" and fortitude is attributed to the singer/actress/director's heritage, the early loss of her father, her need to meet her mother's approval, her feelings of being an outsider, and more. Many theories are presented for her behavior and progress, but it is difficult to discern which, if any, of these factors really came into play. Owing to the author's more analytical concentration on Streisand's evolution, the personal and relatable details about her are often lacking. VERDICT Recommended for readers seeking an additional study of Streisand or who are interested in the lives of prominent Jewish men and women. For a more extensive account, see William Mann's Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand.—Katie Lawrence, Grand Rapids, MI
In the latest in the Jewish Lives series, an experienced biographer delves into Barbra Streisand's psyche. Early on, Gabler (Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, 2006, etc.), two-time winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, establishes that he is not producing a detailed account of the singer/actress' life. Rather, he constructs a book-length biographical essay, filled with context about Streisand's Jewish persona as a hindrance and, eventually, in unexpected ways, as an aid to her professional successes. The author uses his stated goal as a partial explanation of why he never tried to interview his subject; his full explanation comes across as a series of rationales that weaken an otherwise admirable book. Born in 1942, Streisand harbored an urge to achieve stardom that seems nearly inexplicable considering the obstacles she faced. Gabler examines her childhood and adolescence with remarkable depth and skill given the book's format as part of a limiting series theme. Streisand achieved many of her goals while still a teenager, making the author's attention to her childhood and adolescence especially vital. At times, the author concedes certain ironies, as when Fanny Brice's daughter originally opposed casting Streisand as Brice in Funny Girl. "The girl who was always called too Jewish to play anyone but Jews was herself too Jewish to play a Jew who sought to temper her Jewishness," writes Gabler. Because Streisand's Jewish-looking face—particularly her large nose—figured prominently in the obstacles she overcame, Gabler is forced to deal with surface appearances, which leads to judgments that feel repetitive at times. When the author moves away from psychologizing to narrative reporting, fascinating details abound, such as the choosing of actor Omar Sharif, an Egyptian non-Jew, to play opposite Streisand in Funny Girl. The outbreak of war between Egypt and Israel nearly torpedoed that casting choice. A worthy book, particularly for readers unfamiliar with any of the full-length Streisand biographies.
Meet the Author
Neal Gabler is the author of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood; Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination; Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity; and Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality.
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