Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/9/2012
Early careers of precocious artists have an endearing and enduring charm for fans of their work. An accurate narrative will chronicle an ambitious career launch and an intriguing story will magnify an artist’s secret doubts and downfalls.
Historian William J. Mann navigates both with only minor conjecture in a new biography about Barbra Streisand from her earliest days on Broadway to her first major triumph, the musical Funny Girl. Her early career from 1960 to 1964 is the subject of Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand to be released this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“I embarked on a quest to discover everything I could about her first years in showbiz: her nightclub performances, her television appearances, her singles, her albums,” writes Mann, who has also penned biographies on Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.
Mann relied on the personal papers of collaborators, interviews with reliable sources as well as columns written by Walter Winchell, Dorothy Kilgallen and Hedda Hopper. He also read extensively about the early career of Streisand from other biographers including James Spada (Streisand: Her Life), Anne Edwards (Streisand: A Biography) and Shaun Considine (Barbra Streisand: The Woman, the Myth, the Music).
Streisand is among the few artists who have garnered an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award and her achievements can be traced directly back to the beginnings of her professional career, writes Mann.
“In these all-important formative years, Streisand first learned how to dazzle, how to connect and how to get what she wanted.”
A turning point in the spring of 1963 would be the success of The Barbra Streisand Album. From a Saturday Evening Post headline reading GOODBYE BROOKLYN, HELLO FAME, Streisand would emerge as a real-life Cinderella from Flatbush. The article written by Pete Hamill was pitched to editors by Lee Solters with a timely hook announcing Streisand would be named the star of Funny Girl, a musical based on the life of the comedienne Fanny Brice.
The Hamill piece was the culmination of three years of publicity that mobilized the Streisand legend. The voice sensation also became known for a kooky shtick her publicity team encouraged for its memorable and “fabulous stream-of-consciousness.”
“It was shtick that bordered on being disrespectful—the well-executed slip of her music, for example, or her demand for a chair—but it never quite crossed that line. Instead, it was funny. Different. It got the men in power to sit up and pay attention. Now all that was left for Barbra to do was sing. And that, of course, was the easy part.”
Mann writes about Streisand’s Broadway debut with Elliott Gould in I Can Get It for You Wholesale as well as performances at Bon Soir and Blue Angel nightclubs earning $175 a week. Her audience of gays, hipsters and theater fans were small compared to the audiences she would soon command with appearances on the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show.
“Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home”, “Cry Me a River” and the kooky “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” earned substantial applause wherever she performed.
At the time, the Beatles were storming America, while folk music and rock-n-roll were what young people were buying. Streisand sang what she wanted to sing and her albums would climb the Billboards charts despite the lack of a category. Who wouldn’t be moved by her rendition of “Moon River”? If her prolific album output at Columbia Records were any indication, Streisand would be a success on her own terms.
With success came detractors. Mann was struck by how many legends and myths about Streisand turned out to be inaccurate. In Hello, Gorgeous, he manages to replace a “demanding,” “inauthentic” and “overhyped” image that circulates around Streisand with the single-minded dedication of an artist who believed intensely in her own talent.
On March 26, 1964, Funny Girl would open on Broadway. The radio reporter Fred Robbins would ask Streisand if in her wildest dreams she had prepared for this expectation of stardom. She would brandish an unapologetic, “Of course.”
Hello, Gorgeous by William J. Mann is a worthwhile read for an intriguing and authoritative look at the early career of Barbra Streisand.
Category: Nonfiction, Biography, Performing Arts