Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand

Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand

by William J. Mann

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544104464
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 292,571
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

WILLIAM J. MANN  is the author of Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, which was named a New York Times Notable Book, as well as several other acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. He divides his time between Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York City.

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CHAPTER 1

Winter 1960

1.

For sixty-five cents you could get a piece of fish, a heaping helping of French fries, a tub of coleslaw, and some tartar sauce at the smoky little diner on Broadway just south of Times Square. But since they only had ninety-three cents and some pocket lint between them, they decided to order one meal and split it, throwing in an additional dime apiece for a couple of glasses of birch beer.

It hadn't escaped Barbara's attention — few things ever did — that today, February 5, was her father's birthday. He would have been fifty-two if he hadn't died when she was fifteen months old, and quite possibly, instead of eating greasy fried fish with her friend Carl, she'd have spent this unseasonably warm winter day wandering through the city discussing Chekhov with the man she had come to idolize, a devotee of the Russian playwright, as well as of Shaw and Shakespeare. It was, after all, Chekhov's centennial, and as serious students of the theater, both Barbara and Emanuel Streisand would have been well aware of that fact. She and her father might even have taken in Three Sisters that night at the Fourth Street Theater in the East Village — a production Barbara had been dying to see, but for which she'd been unable to afford a ticket.

Looking up at Carl over their French fries with a sudden, surprising passion, Barbara insisted that everything would have been very different if her father had lived. Certainly she wouldn't have had to spend her nights at the Lunt-Fontanne, ushering giddy housewives from New Jersey to their seats to see Mary Martin warble her way through The Sound of Music, hiding her face "so nobody would remember" her after she became famous.

Barbara Joan Streisand was seventeen years old. She had been living in Manhattan now for almost exactly a year, and she was getting impatient with the pace of her acting career. So far her résumé consisted of summer stock and one play in somebody's attic. But she wasn't anywhere near to giving up. Her grandmother had called her "farbrent" — Yiddish for "on fire" — because even as a child Barbara had never been able to accept "no" for an answer. Growing up in Brooklyn in near poverty, she'd existed in a world of her own imagination of "what life should be like." She was driven by "a need to be great," she said, a need that burned in her like the passion of a "preacher" and necessitated getting out of Brooklyn as soon as she could. And so it was that, in January 1959, just weeks after graduating (six months early) from Erasmus Hall High School, Barbara had hopped on the subway and, several stops later, emerged into her new life amid the lights of Times Square. Manhattan, she believed, was "where people really lived."

With the childlike enthusiasm that could, in an instant, melt her usual steely resolve, Barbara looked over at Carl with her wide blue eyes, telling him about her father, the intellectual, the man of culture. Her hands in frenetic motion, her outrageously long fingernails drawing considerable attention, she insisted that her father would have understood her. She missed him "in her bones." All her life, she'd felt she was "missing something," and she had to fill up the empty place he had left.

But, asked about her mother, Barbara fell silent. Crumpling her napkin and tossing it onto her plate, she slid out of the booth, plopped her share of coins onto the table, and trudged out of the restaurant. Carl had to gulp down the last of his birch beer before hurrying after her. Barbara was already out the door and striding down the sidewalk, the fringe of her antique lace shawl swinging as she walked.

Carl Esser knew very little about this strange urchin he'd met just a few weeks before in a Theatre Studio workshop, except that she fascinated him. Sex and romance had nothing to do with the attraction, at least not for him. At twenty-four, Carl was seven years Barbara's senior, and besides, the small girl who was already half a block ahead of him wasn't exactly what most people would call pretty. A layer of heavy pancake makeup covered an angry blush of teenage acne. Her eyes, no matter how cornflower blue, had a tendency to look crossed. Most of all, she had a nose that was likened by some in their acting class to an anteater's snout — behind Barbara's back, of course. But her breasts were full, her waist was small, and her hips were nicely rounded, making for an odd and rather contradictory package.

Carl knew — everyone in their acting class knew — how intensely Barbara wanted to be great. She wanted to be Duse, she said, though she'd never seen Duse act, only read about her in books on theater in her acting teacher's library. That didn't matter. Duse had been a great artist, perhaps the greatest, and that's what Barbara wanted. There were others in the class who claimed they wanted to be great, but what they really wanted was fame and applause. That wasn't what fired Barbara up. She didn't sit around idolizing movie stars or the latest Broadway sensation du jour. She wanted to be remembered for being great, for making art.

Taxicabs bleated their horns as Barbara and Carl crossed Times Square. Policemen blew high-pitched whistles as tiny brand-new Ford Falcons scooted past sleek Chevrolet Impalas with their sweeping tail fins. Steam from the Seventh Avenue subway rose through the grates like fog from an underground river. On every block hung the fragrance of roasting chestnuts, while tourists in fur coats gaped up at the news ticker on the New York Times Building, its 14,800 bulbs spelling out the latest in the U.S.- Soviet space race.

Barbara and Carl headed west on Forty-eighth Street. At Barbara's apartment, number 339, the friends bid each other good-bye, and if Barbara was hoping there might be a kiss, she didn't wait for it. It was clear that Carl, like all the others, wasn't interested in her that way. If anyone had asked, she would've insisted it didn't matter. With all her big dreams, she would've said that she didn't have time for romance.

That day, or one very much like it, Barbara walked up the stairs to her apartment to the smell of boiled chicken. On the stove bubbled a pot of her mother's chicken soup. Barbara's roommate, Marilyn, told her that her mother had just walked in, dropped off the soup, and left. No message, no note. But the chicken soup, as always, was welcome because that fried fish and coleslaw would last only so long.

2.

Striding into her acting class, Barbara was boiling with all the ferocity of her mother's soup. Who did this Susskind guy think he was?

Word around the Theatre Studio had been that the producer David Susskind was always looking for new talent. It might be only for television, not the stage, but Susskind's production of Lullaby for Channel 13's Play of the Week had recently won approving notices for Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, and next up was The Devil and Daniel Webster for NBC Sunday Showcase. The guy was making something worthwhile out of the boob tube. And since Susskind had been an agent, Barbara no doubt figured stopping by his office on Columbus Circle couldn't hurt, to drop off some headshots if nothing else.

But rarely had she encountered such rudeness. Carl, who'd gotten an earful on the way to class, was trying to calm her down, but Barbara was on a roll. Susskind had agreed to see her, but then Barbara had sat in his office for hours to no avail. Finally she'd stormed out, and the storm had yet to subside. People such as Susskind, she raged, were refusing to let new talent emerge, almost as if they had a "duty to squelch" it. That was the problem with this business, Barbara carped. Whenever she tried to sign up with agents, she was told they only represented people who were working. But you couldn't get work without an agent! Talk about double binds! Barbara took it all very personally.

The others in her class looked on with a mixture of amusement and weariness. To them, Barbara was that nutty kid who was always stumbling in late eating yogurt and wearing "a coat of some immense plaid," as one of them described. When she spoke, Barbara reminded some people of a Jules Feiffer cartoon from the Village Voice — cynical, ironic, sometimes angry, and always quintessentially New York. When asked why she talked so much, often to the point where other students closed their eyes in exhaustion, she was apt to blame it on her tinnitus, a condition that had plagued her since she was eight. "I never hearthe silence," she said. Neither, her classmates might have replied, did they.

The Theatre Studio was located at 353 West Forty-eighth Street, just a few doors from Barbara's apartment, precisely the reason she'd chosen to live there. The school was one of about a hundred such institutions in a twenty-block radius of Times Square. In the previous decade acting schools had proliferated in New York. With the elite "big three"— the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the American Theatre Wing, and the Neighborhood Playhouse — only being able to accommodate about six hundred aspiring actors, newer schools quickly formed to fill the need. Celebrated coaches like Herbert Berghof and Stella Adler established their own ateliers. The Theatre Studio was part of this same tradition, having been founded in 1952 by Curt Conway, a member of the groundbreaking Group Theatre and a major proponent of Method acting. In addition to the classrooms on Forty-eighth Street, Conway had acquired the Cecilwood Playhouse in Fishkill, New York, for summer productions, and a weekly radio program on station WEVD where his students interpreted new and classical work. The school offered three levels of courses, from fundamental to advanced acting, and special workshops conducted by some of the greats Conway had worked with, including Joseph Anthony, Howard Da Silva, Paddy Chayefsky, and Harold Clurman.

Not that Barbara, a neophyte, had gotten to study with any of them. Her primary teacher was Allan Miller, a young up-and-comer who'd studied under Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen and who was best known for playing the second lead (behind Warren Beatty) in a summer tour of A Hatful of Rain. Under Miller's tutelage, Barbara was beginning to blossom. Finally she was in an environment where people believed in her potential as much as she did. Any student with enough "appetite," Miller believed, could be trained to act. With such a philosophy, it was no surprise that Barbara responded well to Miller's instruction. "We all have deep, secret feelings," he told his students — and that was certainly true enough of Barbara. With enough craft and discipline, Miller said, she could use those feelings to hone and express her acting talent.

Barbara had enrolled at the Theatre Studio when she was not quite sixteen, younger than most people who were admitted. Her only real acting experience came from a summer internship with the Malden Bridge Playhouse in upstate New York between her sophomore and junior years, where she'd gotten to act in Picnic and won a nice review in the local newspaper. Her acceptance into the Theatre Studio had come about only through the intercession of Miller's wife, Anita, whom Barbara had met at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, where she'd secured herself yet another internship. As soon as Barbara had realized that her new friend's husband taught at the Theatre Studio, she'd bombarded her with questions, coming across to Anita "like someone who had been starved." Impressed by her passion, Anita had prevailed upon her husband to accept Barbara into his class. Instead of paying tuition ($180 for a fifteen-week course), Barbara babysat the Millers' two young sons. It wasn't unheard of for students to barter their tuition in this way; another young hopeful, an enterprising kid from California named Dustin Hoffman, swept the floors and emptied the trash at night. Barbara told her mother she'd received a "scholarship."

Although she took classes with other teachers, it was Allan Miller who became Barbara's mentor. Handsome, intelligent, passionate, Miller offered Barbara a glimpse of what her life might have been like if her father had still been around. In the days before she got her apartment, Barbara would sometimes sleep on the Millers' couch instead of schlepping back to Brooklyn. She'd fall asleep with books about theater, art, or literature resting on her chest. These were the kind of treatises she believed her father would have kept around the house: Socrates, Euripides, French farces, and Russian literature. Anna Karenina "changed her life," she said. During this same period Barbara also heard her first classical music: Respighi's Pines of Rome and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. "Can you imaginewhat that's like?" she asked, looking back. "To hear that music for the first time?"

At the Millers' house, Barbara soaked up more culture than she "ever did in high school." She viewed the Millers' life with a sort of wonder. They were happy; their kids were happy; they were smart and curious and engaged with the world. It was as if she were peering through a looking glass into another world.

During Barbara's first semester at the Theatre Studio, she took Miller's Fundamentals course, which met twice weekly and included an hour of body training and seventy-five minutes of voice and speech instruction. "Acting is the only art in which the actor is both the piano and the pianist," Miller wrote. Her teacher found Barbara "very awkward, emotionally and physically, in her expression of herself," so in the beginning he insisted she perform her scenes in class using sounds instead of words.

Gradually, Barbara shed some of her awkwardness and developed some effective techniques, though she seemed, to some at least, to be surprisingly ungrateful to those who helped her. To her, it was as if her new skills were her accomplishments and hers alone. One teacher, Eli Rill, thought Barbara eschewed "the political niceties ... the brownnosing" that most students practiced. There was no "thank you very much," Rill said — no card, no phone call, even after he took a chance on her and cast her in a production he was directing. Rill didn't mind,though he found Barbara's behavior different enough to comment on it.

Barbara then advanced to Miller's Intermediate Acting class. Here a "sensory approach" was taught to perfect "concentration, relaxation, and emotion." Barbara was fascinated by this forceful man who taught her how to breathe, how to move, how to delve deeply into a whole range of emotions. She was a girl who knew very little about men. She'd never known her father, and her mother's second husband, a crass used-car salesman who'd barely ever spoken to her, had been gone by the time she was thirteen. Her brother, Sheldon, seven years older than she was, had left when Barbara was ten to study at the Pratt Institute. By the time Barbara moved out of the apartment, the household consisted of her, her mother, and her younger sister, Rosalind, who was now an overweight child of nine.

Her encounters with the opposite sex had been fleeting — though intense enough to leave her extremely curious. The longest lasting one had been her fling with her fellow student Roy Scott the previous year. Roy was Barbara's brother's age, twenty-four, a grown man — even if he still poured ketchup on his macaroni and drank cheap wine. She had spent many late nights at Roy's place, the two of them talking about acting, the theater, and life. Barbara thought Roy was the best-looking guy in Miller's class, and she couldn't fathom why he paid so much attention to a girl like her.

That such a brash, outspoken girl harbored such self- doubt surprised many people. When she wasn't striving to become the great Method actor who could believe herself to be anything, including beautiful, Barbara would inevitably remember the "real ugly kid" she'd been in Brooklyn, "the kind who looks ridiculous with a ribbon in her hair," as she described herself. When someone avoided her eyes, she felt certain they "couldn't bear to look" at her. But Roy assured her that all this was nonsense. She was "very pretty and attractive." It may have been the first time Barbara had ever heard those words.

Barbara's mother, however, hadn't been pleased with the relationship. Barbara rarely spoke of her mother; her roommate, Marilyn, only knew she existed from the chicken soup she'd drop off at the apartment. To her daughter's friends, Diana Streisand Kind seemed "somebody far removed from Barbara, somebody she preferred not to even think about." But she would be heard. "My daughter's too young to be involved with your son," Diana told Roy's mother after tracking her down through the school. Barbara's mother was adamant about such things. Even holding hands was frowned upon in Barbara's household. "You'll get a disease," Diana warned. Thereafter, Roy kept his distance.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Hello, Gorgeous"
by .
Copyright © 2012 William J. Mann.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Contents,
Copyright,
Dedication,
Why Streisand Now,
Winter 1960,
Spring 1960,
Summer 1960,
Fall 1960,
Winter–Spring 1961,
Photo Section I,
Summer 1961,
Fall 1961,
Winter 1962,
Spring 1962,
Summer 1962,
Fall 1962,
Winter 1963,
Photo Section II,
Spring 1963,
Summer 1963,
Fall 1963,
Winter 1964,
Spring 1964,
Acknowledgments,
Index,
About the Author,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Trying to figure out the Barbra Streisand mystique is no easy task, but Mann expertly captures the launch of her remarkable career in the early 1960s when a unique 'star was born.'  Mann's meticulous research and insightful analysis go deeper than any previous biography ..."
-USA Today   "Mann, who has written bios of Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, has found another great subject here, and he offers up many new tidbits about Streisand's early life: details of her first affair, with a bisexual actor; her rejecting moth's reaction to seeing her onstage for the first time; and some ruminations about those 3-inch nails."—People Magazine   "[An] excellent new work ...One can only put down HELLO, GORGEOUS with renewed appreciation for Barbra’s single-mindedness, and with some glimpse of her inner struggle."
-Liz Smith, syndicated columnist   "Notable for its breadth of detail and fair-mindedness . . . Mann vividly evokes the atmosphere of Streisand's New York." —The New York Times Book Review   "Mann depicts not just her ferocious ambition and equally fierce insecurities, but also the people and strategies that enabled her rise. With many of those acolytes and assistants as sources, Mann provides an intimate, gossipy and sympathetic accounts of early Streisand." —The Forward   "In his masterful book, Mann captures one of the most fully realized pictures of the multi-hyphenate superstar to date. . . . Many books have been written about Streisand but few, if any, put readers as close to the subject as Mann does."—The Miami Herald   "[A] surprisingly suspenseful and masterfully paced biography."
—Kirkus   "Streisand fans will come away feeling they’ve had a ringside seat at her early career, and they will leave the show applauding ."
—Booklist   "A compelling, detailed look at the rise of the multitalented Streisand from 17-year-old unknown to chart-topping singer and Broadway star . Highly recommended for fans of Streisand, biographies, and theater."
-Library Journal   "Combining extensive interviews (some anonymous) and exhaustive archival research, Mann balances intimate personal details with audience reactions and critical acclaim to etch an indelible portrait of the artist as a young woman ."
-Publishers Weekly

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Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every "biography" of Barbra Streisand in print - and it seems most of those are included in the exhaustive notes quoted in this book. William J. Mann's work is enlightening and meticulous; the research alone is incredible. Unless Barbra herself decides to set "pen to paper" this may be the definitive diary of those early years. Thank you, Mr. Mann, for an incredible and delightful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got the sample and it hooked me, once i got about half way through it drug a bit. But if you love Barbra you will love this
drbcabarete More than 1 year ago
Have been a Streisand fan since the beginning. I was disappointed that the book stopped where it did and would have enjoyed continuing with her life story as well as this author wrote the early years. But it was detailed and specific and certainly an interesting piece to read.
Sicilian More than 1 year ago
I was left confused as why this author stopped this otherwise well written book just as Streisand broke out in Funny Girl. I was sometimes turned off by unnamed quotes...especially if they were negative. Ms. Streisand worked hard for what she has achieved. It always seems like sour grapes when someone puts her down. To the author's credit he mainly put down the facts of her achievements...which are many. I found that the book portrayed her as a human being with high goals. She, and this book, give us examples of how this was achieved. I enjoyed the book but still wonder why it was based on just a few years. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author obviously hates Barbra. He wrote everything from a very negative standpoint. I can't believe she is as self-absorbed as he made her out to be. His information came from previously written books and commentators. Why write a book about someone you can't stand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't finished reading the entire book but if you are a Barbra fan you will enjoy reading this account of her early years. Well written and easy to read.
ennis More than 1 year ago
It's always good to finb something new about Barbra!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much information about Barbra, but too many specific details about her relationships were repetitive, non essential facts, and seemed to be an effort to make the book longer. The info about her early life was well done, but after that it was just a will she be Fanny Brice in Funny Girl or not, and we already know that without reading this book. I really would not recommend this book unless you love minutae and are crazy about Barbara
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
%&*&4%&&5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He walked in, hands shoved in his pockets.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What drives anyone to entertain/perform is very much the same untill you get into the family tradition where it is a business/craft handed down in various forms. That is what i find interesting
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Hence the title.'m not a big fan of hers,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cant rate a book no one has any desire to read. Who cares
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Single he sits down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im a curvy mexican i have a six pack carmel colored skin (thats very soft) hazel green eyes long thuck dark brown hair i have nice soft tasty big thick lips i have a bunny nose (witch i hate but everyone thinks its cute) ive been told i have a bubble butt but idk :P i can sing play electric guitar and i can play drums P.S im single and my name is ariana go to bubble first result if u wanna chat
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know it might not be very christian like but god still forgives us for every thing she chooses how she wants to act and she is choosing to be very mean