On November 7, Barbra Streisand's long-anticipated memoir, My Name Is Barbra was finally released. It offered Broadway and Babs fans alike a whopping 992 pages of surprises, untold secrets, and stories about one of the American theatre's greatest stars.
We put on our Professional Theatre Nerd glasses to pick through the pages for some of the most interesting anecdotes and highlights. From how "People" was almost cut from Funny Girl to the time Streisand asked Stephen Sondheim to change "Send in the Clowns" for her, here's the most surprising discoveries from My Name Is Barbra. If these tidbits aren't enough for you, My Name is Barbra is out now from Penguin Random House.
1. Streisand had a shoplifting phase as a teenager.
In the second chapter of her memoir, Streisand recounts her brief engagement with shoplifting, which she notes was "not as simple as random shoplifting," considering that Streisand operated much more cleverly than your average teenage thief. "I was a very logical girl and I had my own system," she describes.
Streisand writes that she would pick up discarded store receipts off the floor, then find an item in the store that was the same price as one of the items on the receipt. She'd go to the refund window with the un-purchased item and a stranger's receipt and use the cash to get something else she wanted.
Her tactics began to escalate, though, and once when she was trying on a pair of shorts in a fitting room, she realized she could just wear them under her skirt out of the store.
Finally, her stealing streak ended when she stole a pair of socks by dropping them into a bag of other purchases. A woman nearby said to her, "I saw you put those socks in your bag." With that, she set the bag down and walked out of the store, and never stole again. "I liked testing boundaries but I couldn’t stand the humiliation and shame that I felt at that moment," she writes.
2. Streisand came up with the staging for her big scene in I Can Get It For You Wholesale.
At just 19 years old, Streisand's calling as a director was evident. During initial rehearsals for her first-ever Broadway musical, I Can Get It For You Wholesale in 1962, she assumed she would perform her character's solo song "Miss Marmelstein" sitting in an office chair, just as she did during her audition for the role.
"I thought my idea made perfect sense...Wouldn’t it be funny to push myself around in the chair with my feet while I sang the song?" she writes. But director Arthur Laurents had never intended for the character to be seated during the scene, and dismissed Streisand's concept.
Streisand wouldn't back down, though, repeatedly telling Laurents the staging felt wrong to her. Eventually, he "lit into her" in front of the whole cast, which humiliated Streisand. And though embarrassment is a frequently mentioned sore spot for Streisand, this still was not enough to dissuade her.
On the night of the first pre-Broadway dress rehearsal in Philadelphia, Streisand once more asked Laurents to let her try the scene in a chair, and he finally relented. The next morning, as the cast received notes, Laurents was "in a rage," spitting pure venom at Streisand with insults "so painful" that Streisand says she had completely blocked them out. Meanwhile, the reviews praised the number as being the highlight of the entire show, and a picture of Streisand sitting in the chair was put up outside of the theatre. The production even doubled her salary on account of the sparkling reviews of her performance (though the consensus on the production itself was murky at best.)
After the opening night in Philadelphia, the scene was left as Streisand had performed it, though not without Laurents continually displayed disdain. Since then, the scene has continued to be performed as Streisand conceived it.
"Apparently most young women, given their first part in a Broadway show, do not challenge the director. They feel lucky enough just to be there. That was not me," she writes.
3. "People" was almost cut from Funny Girl.
When Funny Girl was in tryouts for Broadway, director Garson Kanin felt that the song "People” wasn't right for Fanny Brice's character, stating (according to Streisand) that "she's just met this man," so why is she getting "all philosophical"?
The show's composer, Jule Styne told Kanin the song would be "number one on the Hit Parade." The show's lyricist, Bob Merrill said, "When you put a spotlight on Barbra and she sings this song, she'll bring the house down!" They were not wrong.
Thankfully, it turned out that Kanin's largest issue with the song was the way it was staged. Once choreographer Jerome Robbins stepped in during previews in Philadelphia and shaped up the scene to be a tender moment between Fanny and Nick, “People” stayed in.
Of course, "People" became one of Streisand's most well-known songs. By the time the show was running, the radio single had become so popular that audiences would applaud as soon as they heard the instrumental excerpt of it during the overture.
4. Streisand's mother didn't attend the opening night of Funny Girl.
Throughout her memoir, Streisand continually processes the effect her family's dynamics had on her. Her father died before she could ever meet him, and her mother's pessimistic disposition always lacked the warmth that Streisand craved. She described her mother as coming from "a different school of thought": a generation that, throughout their hardships, sacrificed softness for strength. "I don’t remember her ever giving me a compliment. Once, when I asked her why, she said, 'I didn’t want you to get a swelled head.'"
When Streisand searched the Funny Girl opening night audience for her mother, she was nowhere to be found. "Later, when I asked her why she wasn’t in her seat, she said, 'I was too nervous. I had to walk around.'"
Streisand went on to describe her longtime difficulty with accepting applause which, she notes, is a result of her difficulty accepting compliments and praise due to the lack of kind words in her childhood. "Now, in Funny Girl, people were clapping as soon as I walked onstage. It was actually disconcerting. I felt like saying, Wait, I haven’t even done anything yet! And if you could get applause for nothing, then how much was it worth?" she writes.
5. Sydney Chaplin harassed Streisand onstage in Funny Girl.
While in Funny Girl, Streisand says she and her co-star Sydney Chaplin were "falling" for each other. But not long after, Streisand put her foot down on the beginnings of a fling between Chaplin and herself, as she was still married to Elliott Gould at the time. In response, Chaplin began to act out against her onstage during the show. According to Streisand, he would mumble curse words under his breath during scenes, hurling insults at Streisand while she performed.
"While the audience assumed he was whispering sweet nothings in my ear, he would actually be jeering, 'You really fucked up that scene.'" Streisand wrote that he did everything he possibly could to upset her onstage, so she decided to confront him off stage, saying: "Please let it go. We're both married." But Chaplin, says Streisand, continued to act out in resentment.
"Sydney made me physically ill. Sometimes I threw up. I went to a doctor who gave me opium drops...But my stomach still wobbled like jelly," she describes, writing that Chaplin's emotional abuse against her was the beginning of her stage fright which, over the years, worsened until she had a 27-year-long gap in performing live.
Streisand stayed strong until Chaplin was finally let go from the show in July of 1965. "I was having panic attacks. I was petrified to go onstage every night. I wanted to quit, for reasons of health, but I’m not a quitter," she wrote. And thus, she stayed, and Chaplin went.
6. She may have slept with Warren Beatty. She can't remember.
It's no secret that Streisand had a powerful magnetism about her, both from her singing, her star power, and her refreshingly honest personality. This not only drew audiences in, but countless suitors onstage, on set, at parties, and everywhere in between. Throughout her memoir, she described being the receiver of admiration from some of the world's best-known politicians, movie stars, and more.
Former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau once asked her to dance at a party (which she turned down, stating "I don't dance in public") and she described feeling "dazzled" by him. Later on, he took her out to dinner at a restaurant in an Upper East Side brownstone which she recalled had "no printed menu and only two seatings each evening, so you had to reserve in advance." When it was her turn to take him out on the town, they ventured to her favorite Chinese restaurant, which she describes as "a little dive on the corner of Bayard Street and the Bowery.” According to Streisand, the former Prime Minister loved the restaurant, noting that although he was "so elegant," he was nonetheless "totally unpretentious and perpetually curious."
Her childhood crush, Marlon Brando, came up behind her once with quite the greeting: "Suddenly I felt someone kissing my back. Who would dare do that? I turned around and it was him. My idol." When Streisand quipped back at the sudden gesture, he responded: "You can’t have a back like that and not have it kissed.”
Streisand even confesses that during a short flirtation with film star Warren Beatty, she may have spent the night with him, writing: "Did I sleep with Warren? I kind of remember. I guess I did. Probably once."
7. Mandy Patinkin tried to have an affair with her.
When Streisand made her feature film directorial debut with her 1983 musical drama Yentl, 29-year-old Mandy Patinkin brought Streisand back to one of the most challenging and triggering moments of her career (the aforementioned Sydney Chaplin incident).
Streisand was co-starring alongside Patinkin in her film, where Patinkin's character served as her love interest. But Patinkin had a temper on set. "I thought, Oh, God. This can't be happening again," she writes, detailing how she pulled Patinkin aside after noticing unusually volatile behavior from him. "When you’re screaming at people for a tissue or a line instead of just asking them nicely, it’s very unnerving. Why are you so angry?” she asked Patinkin.
According to Streisand, he expressed his disappointment that he had "thought they were going to have an affair," with tears rolling down his cheeks. Streisand recalls that she "looked at him as if he were crazy," because Patinkin was married, Streisand wasn't at all attracted to him, and "I would never have an affair with an actor I was directing...I don't operate that way."
Putting her foot down further, Streisand told Patinkin: “Mandy, this kind of behavior can’t continue. I’m prepared to replace you. We’re only two weeks in. I can reshoot all your scenes if you can’t be more professional. I’ve waited 15 years to realize my dream and I will not let you destroy it.”
As a result of this, Streisand removed a sexual scene between her and Patinkin's character from the film, feeling understandably uncomfortable and unsafe. But looking back as both the director and star of the film, she expresses her artistic regret for leaving out the scene: "By this point Mandy had been making my life miserable for months...So I changed it. I rewrote the scene. And now that I look back on it, I wonder if I allowed my frustration with Mandy to overrule my instincts. Maybe I should have let Yentl...and the audience...have that moment."
8. Streisand asked Stephen Sondheim to change "Send in the Clowns."
When recording The Broadway Album, Streisand studied the song "Send in the Clowns" before she recorded it, approaching it "as an actress, analyzing the lyrics as I would a script." She writes that something about the emotion of the song’s arc felt "odd" to her. Without any hesitation, she called Sondheim to air out her thoughts.
“I thought the line, 'Don’t bother, they’re here' was brilliant...such a dramatic moment. But it came in the middle of the song, and I wished it were at the end, since it felt like the climax of the piece. So, being me, I asked, 'Would you object to my changing the position of the line?'" she recalls.
According to Streisand, Sondheim immediately shut it down, saying, "You can't do that." But just a few hours later, he called back to tell Streisand...she was right.
Streisand then brought up one final concern. "Send In the Clown" is from A Little Night Music, and is sung but its central character Desiree Armfeldt. But without seeing the pivotal moment that Desiree is experiencing, those listening to Streisand's album wouldn't get the full picture of what the song is expressed. Streisand asked Sondheim to add in a few more lyrics describing what happened onstage in that moment, and he did.
“What a surprise, who could foresee? / I’d come to feel about you what you felt about me / Why only now when I see that you’ve drifted away / What a surprise, what a cliché.”
To say the least, this was a highly unusual event for Sondheim. But clearly, he had the utmost respect for Streisand's thoughts and ideas.
9. Streisand is quite the foodie.
Throughout the memoir, Streisand frequently immerses readers in her memories through her descriptions of food, which she recounts in perfect detail...even meals that she had over 50 years ago. Here are just a few of her descriptions of dishes that she's had, whether they were at opening night parties or on dates.
During the filming of Funny Girl in England, she writes: “Thank God I had tea and scones to console me, and I went down to the East End to get fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper. Most people were dismissive of English food, but I actually loved it. It was simple...roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with horseradish sauce. What could be better?”
On Jule Styne's wife, Margaret making her a chicken sandwich, Streisand writes: "Margaret (whom everyone called Maggie), was not only lovely. She was also intuitive, and she read my mind. 'Barbra, can I make you a sandwich? I’ll bet you’re hungry.' Hungry? In those days, I was always hungry. Matter of fact, I still am. 'Do you have any chicken?' I asked. Maggie disappeared into the kitchen and came out with a chicken sandwich on white bread, with mayonnaise. It was delicious.”
On her date with Pierre Trudeau, she writes: "I remember an appetizer of hearts of palm, then roast duckling, and when he said there was tapioca for dessert, I was taken straight back to my childhood. I hate Jell-O, and couldn’t eat junk (ugh!), but every so often my mother made tapioca, which I loved. But when this tapioca arrived, I was aghast. The normally pearly white beads were bright red, because they had been cooked in red wine. I prefer my tapioca the traditional way, straight from the box. And it should take only a minute to cook (it’s not called Minute Tapioca for nothing!)."
On her home cooking, she writes: "My idea of a homemade meal was to open a can of corn, dump it into a pot, add milk and heat, and that became corn soup. I’d also add corn to Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and fry it in Crisco, to make corn fritters...for dessert, we’d have a slab of Sara Lee chocolate cake. (I didn’t like the tiny square of apple cobbler that came with the TV dinner...too sweet.) Before serving the cake (which also came out of the freezer bin), I had a particular technique. I would put it under the broiler until the icing fizzled and you could see little bubbles in it. And it got darker and slightly crystallized, which made it taste even more chocolatey. I thought it was the closest thing to a homemade cake."
10. Omar Sharif pined after Streisand.
Streisand admits throughout her memoir that she did enjoy some flirting between herself and Omar Sharif during the filming of the Funny Girl movie. Though she eventually stepped away— due to still being married, having a newborn, and overall not seeing a future with Sharif. But Sharif's feelings did not fade, and he continued writing letters to Streisand once filming had wrapped.
"I actually forgot about those letters until I began writing this book and found them in a stash of personal mementos...probably because I didn't quite know how to react at the time. There are lines like: 'The thing I want most in my life is to have you with me, to go everywhere together, to hold you in my arms...'" she writes in the meoir. She also notes that Sharif confessed to buying all her albums and playing them constantly, pretending the lyrics were addressing him.
Eventually, things fizzled out after Streisand turned down an invitation to spend New Year's Eve with Sharif in Paris. But all these decades later, Streisand writes that Sharif's love still lingers, according to his grandson: "Recently I had the chance to meet his grandson, who said Omar told him: 'Aside from your grandmother, Barbra is the only woman who ever captured my heart. If things had turned out differently, she could have been your bubbie!'"
Bonus: Streisand mentions Playbill in her memoir.
As the opening of I Can Get It For You Wholesale approached, Streisand was tasked with penning her first-ever biography for a Playbill. She was insecure about how slim her bio would be compared to the rest of the cast. So, she writes, she wanted to get "a little creative" with hers, and she came up with a few fibs to make it funny. It read: "Barbra Streisand is nineteen, was born in Madagascar and reared in Rangoon, educated at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and appeared off-Broadway in a one-nighter called Another Evening with Harry Stoones.”
Streisand writes that she wanted to make it interesting because she never felt particularly interesting on her own. She also added to the end of the biography: "She is not a member of the Actors Studio," to tease at the fact that most actor's biographies at the time seemed to conclude with their Actors Studio membership status.
"In any event, the Playbill people didn't get the joke. Eventually they made me change it," she writes. Though, that original bio did end up making it into the I Can Get It For You Wholesale Playbills for a short period. See Streisand first-ever Playbill bio below.
And here is the modified bio that Streisand later submitted, which was published in later Playbills for I Can Get It For You Wholesale: "Barbra Streisand is twenty, was born and reared in Brooklyn, New York, educated at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and appeared off Broadway in a one-nighter called Another Evening with Harry Stoones. Wholesale is her first Broadway show al- though she has appeared at New York's two best known supper clubs, the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel. She also has appeared fifteen times on Mike Wallace's PM, twice on the Paar show and recently on the Garry Moore Show."
See the bio as it appeared in the Playbill, from August 1962 onwards, below.
Thank you for obliging us, Ms Streisand!