Barbra Streisand has made it on her pipes, perfection and persona

December 24, 1991|By Frank Rizzo | Frank Rizzo,The Hartford Courant

NEW YORK -- After decades of being the quintessential private person, the reclusive diva, the reluctant star, Barbra Streisand is suddenly spilling her guts.

There's Streisand being playful on the cover of Vanity Fair. There's Streisand being grilled by Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes." And there's Streisand being interviewed by a platoon of journalists during a recent weekend in Manhattan.

The reason for this outpouring of personal detail has been to promote "The Prince of Tides," the new film that she produces, directs and stars in with Nick Nolte.

Streisand's public exposure also reflects the nature of the film (and the Pat Conroy book on which it is based) about a person's coming to terms with a painful past.

"I spend my life looking back," says Streisand, who confesses to decades of psychoanalysis examining her own life. "The only way to live in the present is by conquering the past, by healing the past. So this book ('The Prince of Tides') is very meaningful to me."

In the film she plays a New York psychiatrist, an outwardly kempt and controlled person but with her own family problems (Streisand calls her "a wounded healer"). She helps the character, played by Nolte, face a childhood trauma and come to grips with the relationships of his adult life.

Streisand says that coming to terms with the past is a lifelong process.

"There are places I haven't healed yet," she says. "But I'm at a point in my life now where I can live with the truth. ... It has helped me in my forgiveness of my parents and people in my life. I know that it has made me a better person."

As she approaches 50 next spring, Streisand looks well-healed, healthy and happy with her role as serious filmmaker.

What is most striking about meeting Streisand is that she is a relatively slight woman, not the towering presence imagined from the stage and screen. Even her famous fingernails seem to have modest proportions.

She looks sublime. Her hair, in a gentle swoop around her face, has the butterscotch glow of secret conditioners; her gold jewelry is subtle and splendid; her outfit a richly textured ankle-length skirt with a slit up the side, turtleneck, short black boots has the cool sumptuousness of classic taste.

Though she reflects a serene poise, her personal radar is constantly on alert. She listens attentively to a questioner and then breaks the moment by apologizing because she was actually trying to overhear what "The Prince of Tides" author Pat Conroy was saying at a nearby table.

The impression is that of a serious, intelligent, professional person trying her best to help her movie.

But celebrity is what Streisand eagerly sought in the beginning of her career.

She created a splash in the early '60s with her singing in nightclubs and in her scene-stealing supporting role of Miss Marmelstein in the 1962 Broadway musical, "I Can Get It for You Wholesale." But it was her role as Fanny Brice in the 1964 hit show "Funny Girl" that made her famous forever.

Her nearly 30-year recording career also has been spectacular. All of her 34 albums have been best sellers. (Her first album in 1963 won two Grammys, and she's won six more.)

She quickly conquered television as well. Her first special, the one-woman "My Name Is Barbra," earned five Emmys. Her subsequent shows, including "Color Me Barbra," were also critical and popular successes.

Her first film role in the movie version of "Funny Girl" copped her an Oscar in 1968 (which she shared with Katharine Hepburn in "The Lion in Winter").

During the '70s she proved that she was "an actress who could sing," first in comedies such as "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "What's Up, Doc?" Later she turned from kooky to cultured in the romantic films "The Way We Were" opposite Robert Redford and yet another remake of "A Star Is Born" with Kris Kristofferson (she won a best song Oscar for her composition, "Evergreen.")

In the '80s, her projects were fewer but her involvement was greater. She turned to producing, directing and starring, first with 1983's "Yentl," and now with "The Prince of Tides," which took nearly three years to get on screen. (She also played a straight dramatic part in 1987's "Nuts," a film she also produced and scored and which Martin Ritt directed.)

Streisand is currently working on a video of her career to parallel the release of her four-compact-disc retrospective released this fall.

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