My Name Is Barbra, the long-awaited memoir from Barbra Streisand, 81, has arrived with a splash, as well as a tsunami of news coverage. It’s the first time that the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner has so fully opened up about, among other things, her early hopes to become an actress, famous friends (such as Marlon Brando), 25-year marriage with the actor James Brolin, 83, and spectacular career.
Streisand has lots of ground to cover in these 992 pages, as not only a legendary singer but also an actress with decades of iconic performances on stage and screen — including her roles as Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl (the 1964 theatrical production and 1968 movie); opposite Robert Redford in 1973’s cinematic love story The Way We Were; and starring in the 1983 film Yentl, a passion project that she also cowrote, directed and coproduced.
The memoir has been hotly anticipated, not only because of her stratospheric fame and impressive romantic history — her list of ex-boyfriends includes tennis player Andre Agassi, actor Don Johnson and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau — but also because she’s so famously private.
In the memoir, Streisand admits that “for 40 years publishers have been asking me to write my autobiography, but I kept turning them down because I prefer to live in the present rather than dwell on the past. And the fact is I’m scared that after six decades of people making up stories about me … I’m going to tell the truth and nobody’s going to believe it.”
But she has also suggested that she feels as though the book, written with the help of journals she’s kept throughout her life, is finally setting the record straight; she said in a prepublication interview with the BBC, “This is my legacy. I wrote my story. I don’t have to do any more interviews after this.”
Here’s some of what we learned from the book:
She had a cold childhood
She was raised in Brooklyn by her mother, Diana, with her older brother, Sheldon. Her father died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Streisand was just 15 months old, leaving her with a mom who, she writes, didn’t believe in affection. Streisand once asked her mother why she never said “I love you," and she said, “I didn’t have time.”
Her stepfather, who lived with the family for about five years, was worse: “Even though his name was Lou Kind, he was anything but,” she writes. “He never spoke to me,” she writes, adding that the affection she received from her grandfather “saved me”: He “gave me a taste of what a good man can be.”
She was a willful, talented kid
Streisand got good grades as a child but a D in conduct in school because “I was so impatient and I never learned manners.” If the teacher didn’t call on her and she had the answer, “I’d just blurt it out.” She was also known as the “girl on the block with a good voice” and would sing in the lobby of her building, whose high ceilings created an appealing echo. In her early 20s, an interviewer asked her, “How do you hold a note so long?” and she said, “Because I want to.”
She was mischievous
She and her friend would prank call strangers, pretending they were from a radio show and asking them to “name that tune.” And she’d shoplift — finding discarded receipts in stores, then taking the item with the receipt to return for cash, or just putting items, like a pair of socks, in her bag.
She has tinnitus
It started as a child, when she would hear clicking in her ears — then “pings” and “pongs” and sounds like “musical fireworks.” She later learned that the noises are caused by tinnitus, an incurable hearing disorder. “It’s enough to drive you crazy. And it used to make me very grumpy, but now I’ve learned to live with it.”