Next Monday, April 24, marks a historic event for Hollywood, America, and the rest of the world—and no, it’s not because it’s the day the results of the Writers’ Guild Strike Authorization Vote will be announced, although I’m sure that’s on your mind. For on this momentous day, Barbra Joan Streisand, a woman so legendary she requires no facetiously pithy introduction to any of my readership, will be 75 years old. That’s right. We have, on this here Planet Earth, now experienced three quarters of a century of Streisand. At this point in the Amidah, I’ll allow you a few private moments of contemplative prayer.
Are you back? Good. It’s hard to know where even to begin in a brief appreciation of a performer, director, design guru, and undeniable icon who has loomed so large over the consciousness of both Americans and Jewish Americans (arguably, almost single-handedly, coalescing them into one coherent philosophy.) But I think it wouldn’t be incorrect to marvel at the wonder of Barbra’s enduring stardom by mentioning how unlikely it was to happen at all.
This, of course, is part of Streisand’s central mythology: The unloved, fatherless ugly duckling from Brooklyn, mistreated at home by her mother and evil stepfather, mocked for her accent and her nose, her only source of a show a little burgundy cardigan with wooden buttons knitted for her by the kindly upstairs neighbor. (It should also be noted that she wore said cardigan over her camp uniform in order to be different; it’s also the reason that even today burgundy is her favorite color and the unifying tonal scheme of the California Arts & Crafts-style library on the second floor of the “barn” on her sprawling Malibu compound.) Everybody who mattered told her she’d never amount to anything, and she began her career almost as a novelty act, performing in thrift store outfits for crowds of appreciative misfits in the gay nightclubs of Greenwich Village, making the rounds of casting agents where she was mocked and rejected because of her nose and her accent and her general inescapable Jewishness, and generally suffering for years until she had somehow gotten her big break in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, fallen in love with and married rising star Elliot Gould, landed a major record deal, and was starring on Broadway in Funny Girl by the age of 21. So the struggle wasn’t so long after all. But even that is part of the Streisand mystique too: That her ability was so transcendent, so undeniable, that the world could only protest for so long. The talent always wins out in the end.
That the talent is still winning is even more remarkable. Virtually alone among her peers (if she can be truly said to have any) Barbra Streisand remains vital and healthy and, in her triumphant live concert tour last year, still performs in voice that if deeper and richer than during her early years, is just as glorious and singular as ever. There are reasons for that of course—it helps when your only known vices, apart from buying antique furniture, are whitefish salad and Haagen Dazs (someday I’ll publish a brief collection of the Streisand stories I’ve collected over the years from those that have come into contact with her; without exception, the punchline always has to do with food.) Barbra was never tempted to destroy herself; she worked too hard and proved too much for anything like that. And thank God for the rest of us.
As for the big day, I wonder how she herself will mark it. Will she wake up early and have a big pancake breakfast, as she’s informed the public on her newly discovered of medium of Twitter that she’s been compelled to do every morning since the election of Donald Trump (emotional eating, oy)? Will she go for a walk in her rose garden with James Brolin, or play with her beloved Coton de Tulear dogs (who always seem to be named Sadie), or collect perfectly ripened heirloom vegetables in one of her many antique woven baskets? Will she celebrate with a frozen yogurt from the Snack Shoppe in her underground mall, or a recording session in the Lavender Room, or maybe a new duet with her beloved and talented son, Jason Emanuel Gould? I hope for all that and more, but however she chooses to spend the day, she deserves it. Happy birthday, Gorgeous. I don’t know what we’d do without you.