Becoming Barbra Streisand
By William J. Mann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , 566 pages, $34
Finally, after 50 years, we get Barbra Streisand's side of her legendary tiff with a Winnipeg impresario.
In his entertaining and exceptionally well-written unauthorized biography of the Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Oscar-winning U.S. singer, actress, composer and director's early years, New York City author William J. Mann provides documented proof that Streisand was not fired by Winnipegger Auby Galpern, owner of the famed Town & Country nightclub. Giving the incident a good two pages, from 140-142, Mann calls the termination story a "myth."
Mann writes that Streisand "proclaimed" the T&C "beautiful and very posh" when she performed there at the age of 19 from July 3-15, 1961. She received her highest wages to date: $350 a week, "but that was quickly whittled down when she figured in travel, food, and lodging. (She had to pay for her own accommodations at the local YWCA.)"
Her biggest complaint, however, claims Mann, was the noisy audiences for Streisand's three shows a night. Winnipeggers kept talking while Streisand was singing.
Streisand, writes Mann, suffers from tinnitus, or ringing in her ears, when she's in a stressful situation. He theorizes that the noisy audiences exacerbated the tinnitus and led to her abruptly walk off the stage in the middle of one of her numbers.
Galpern, Free Press reviewer Gene Telpner and the musicians in the band, were all impressed with Streisand's talent.
Galpern, however, told Streisand that it was unacceptable for her to walk off the stage. Streisand and Galpern, alleges Mann, argued, and Streisand feared that she'd been fired.
She wasn't, though. Galpern forgave her. "Winnipeggers," recalled Streisand fondly in a TV interview in 1962 with Johnny Carson, "listened to me."
In the book's extensive end notes, Free Press Books editor Morley Walker's 2006 column, in which he interviewed a former T&C waitress, is cited as substantiating some of this story. Mann also found an ad in the Free Press from July 15, 1961: "Last time tonight, Barbra Streisand."
Mann writes: "Final proof [that Streisand was not fired], if any is needed given the irrefutable evidence of the July 15 newspaper ad, comes from an interview Streisand gave Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show a year later, when Streisand spoke about appearing in Winnipeg. She wouldn't have been so fond in her recollections if she had been fired."
In addition to giving Winnipeggers closure on the Streisand firing rumour, Mann offers a perceptive and beautifully researched and reasoned account of Streisand's very early life and career. The bio ends with her dealing with extraordinary success and fame at the age of 22 in 1964.
We hear how Streisand's mother's lack of confidence in her daughter's ability to become a star galvanized Streisand to prove her über-critical mother wrong. Streisand's father died when she was a baby. Her 45-year-old son, Jason Gould, and her 63-year-old sister, Roslyn Kind, both perform with Streisand, now 70, on her latest concert tour which has been earning well-deserved raves.
This is Mann's sixth book. Among his others are biographies of Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn.
His portrait of young Streisand is compelling and a page turner. Throughout, Mann's prose is both lovely and lively.
"If Streisand has ever been afraid of anything," he writes, "I suspect that it's been the burden of living up to that sexy, vulnerable sensational younger self who gate-crashed her way to fame during the turbulent 1960s, defying old definitions of talent, beauty, and success by harnessing an extraordinary confluence of talent, hard work, and shrewd salesmanship."
The Streisand of today, at age 70, has nothing to fear.
Brenlee Carrington, a Winnipeg lawyer and mediator, is the Law Society of Manitoba's equity ombudsperson. She saw Streisand in concert Oct. 23 in Toronto.