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Barbra Streisand article on "Hello Gorgeous" book

Sun Sep 30, 2012 5:38 pm ... -1.1168967

Barbra Streisand book tells how Brooklyn-born superstar's heart was broken by Barry Dennen

'Hello Gorgeous' takes you from 'Barré and I are talking about getting married' to her shocking discovery that ended their love affair

By William J. Mann / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012, 12:20 AM

Updated: Sunday, September 30, 2012, 12:20 AM

Sidney Fields/New York Daily News

Actress and singer Barbra Streisand, from the Daily News photo archives.

Excerpted from HELLO, GORGEOUS: Becoming Barbra Streisand by William J. Mann to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in October 2012. Copyright © 2012 by William J. Mann. Reprinted by permission.

In “Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand,” esteemed biographer William J. Mann illuminates in rich detail Barbra Streisand’s early years on her way to becoming an international star. Here, he writes about her first love affair. Barbra was a teenager consumed by ambition when she met Barré Dennen, an aspiring actor of promise. He was also bisexual. It didn’t end happily.


Barré was a rich kid — a “Beverly Hills brat,” in his own words. He grew up in a luxurious modern glass house in Coldwater Canyon, with a pool and a yard and housekeepers and gardeners. When Barré announced he wanted to be an actor, his father hadn’t tried to talk him out of it, but happily enrolled him in UCLA’s theater department. After graduation, he had generously paid for Barré’s move to New York. Since that time, Barré had understudied the role of Bub in the revival of “Leave It to Jane” at the Sheridan Square Playhouse and had landed a rather exquisite apartment in a brand-new building on Ninth Street in Greenwich Village, all paid for by Dad. Friends predicted that golden boy Barré Dennen was on his way to big things.

He was twenty-two. Barbra had just turned eighteen. Their first time out together, sharing a baked potato with sour cream and chives at a midtown diner, she drilled him like an investigative journalist. What was it like to have a live-in maid? What did his pool look like? What kinds of cars did his parents drive? What kinds of furs did his mother own? Barré found her questions captivating. There’d been no one like her in California.

Barré was pleasantly surprised. The kid could really sing.

They were at his apartment at 69 West Ninth Street. The windows were closed tightly to seal off the noise from the traffic below. No longer would Barbra have to wait weeks or pay big bucks to have a record made of her singing. Barré possessed the latest technology right here in his apartment to give her a tape this very afternoon.

She had arrived, as usual, lugging her crumpled paper shopping bags. Feathers and sequined clothes tumbled over the top of one bag; another seemed ready to burst from her collection of buttons and scraps of cloth. A third bag held costume jewelry and shoes. Barbra told anyone who asked that she never knew when she might be called upon to whip up a costume. But a fourth bag was a relatively new addition to Barbra’s luggage. Barré noticed that she was toting around crackers, fruit, and bottles of juice. He was aware she was leading a rather nomadic existence at the moment, having been forced to give up her apartment due to a lack of funds. She was staying at various places, including her brother’s office on West Forty-fifth Street, and sometimes housesitting for friends Barré had never met who lived on West Fifty-fourth Street. He knew better than to offer any sympathy or express any concern about her living situation. Barbra would have just brushed him off by insisting she was fine.

Barré watched and listened. She was good. No doubt about that. Very good. He wondered why Barbra had never told him she could sing. Certainly she knew about his love of music. He found it very odd. Certainly Barbra was never shy when it came to announcing or demonstrating her talents.

Barré told her she needed to do something with her voice. It was a gift he hadn’t known about. Her ability to sing opened up a whole new range of options for her.

Barbra said she would consider it. But nothing, she said, could get in the way of her becoming an actress.

“The Boy Friend” had enjoyed a good run and Barbra had fun playing Hortense — she was an actress, after all, and needed to act — but Barbra was glad to be back in the city, gladder still to be back with Barré, hunkered down in their intimate little practice sessions. Barbra loved Barré’s apartment, loved calling it home even more. Even if she could have decorated it herself, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The summer was rapidly drawing to a close. Less than a week stretched between them and Barbra’s opening at the Bon Soir. As they settled down in their living room for some last-minute polishing, they both hoped Barbra hadn’t forgotten too much during her two-week sojourn in Fishkill. Setting the needle down on the phonograph, Barré began singing the words to a song they’d been practicing almost nonstop since Barbra had returned, “Lover Come Back to Me.” The words were simple, but one line had continually given Barbra trouble, leaving her tongue-tied: “When I remember every little thing you used to do. . .”

Barry Dennen (bottom, center) in production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Dennen broke young Barbra Streisand's heart when she found him having sex with a man.

Maybe it was the idea of remembering things that tripped her up. Barbra rarely looked back and kept her eyes securely on the future. Whatever it was, the line always stopped her cold, and she developed what Barré called a “psychological block.” She insisted that she wanted to scrap the song from the act, but Barré argued it was too good to cut. They’d given it a faster beat, and when she got going on it, Barbra could drive the song “like a freight train,” Barré told her.

So he’d suggested that she not worry so much about the words. When she started to sing, he advised, she should think about his wet socks hanging in the bathroom, one of his habits that had driven her crazy since moving in. Smiling, Barbra agreed to give the technique a try. Now, as she sang along with Barré, she nailed it. They both let out whoops of triumph when they were finished.

By the middle part of the summer of 1960, all of their friends knew that Barbra had fallen deeply in love with Barré. And not a few of them wondered if that was really such a good thing.

Barré and Barbra had taken a break from their rehearsals and were sharing a BLT when the intercom buzzed. It was Bob Schulenberg, and Barré told him to come up. When Bob entered the apartment, he saw Barbra nibbling on the sandwich while Barré still held it in his hands. Walking into this happy little love nest, Bob was unprepared for what he was about to discover. “Hey, Bob,” Barbra purred. “Guess what?”

“What?” he asked.

“Barré and I are talking about getting married.”

Bob was stunned. Barré and Barbra as a married couple was a concept he had a hard time “getting his head around.” Carole Gister, when she heard the news a short time later, had a similar reaction. For all his claims of bisexuality, Barré was essentially attracted to men, and both Bob and Carole knew it. They thought Barbra did as well. “They’re both going to have to work very, very hard to make a marriage between them succeed,” Bob thought to himself.

Barré knew that he had been wrong to stay so long in California. Part of his behavior, he admitted, was an attempt “to stick it” to Barbra. After all, he’d spent the last nine months completely in her service. Everything they did — everything they talked about — was somehow related to her career, her ambition, her life. It was never about him. But surely his reluctance to return to New York and the apartment he shared with his girlfriend also had to do with the question Barbra had asked him: “What are we gonna do about sex?” It hung over Barré’s head like the sword of Damocles.

Now he was back. And Barbra was having her revenge.

It was New Year’s Eve. She’d left him alone in their apartment without telling him where she was going or when she’d be back. Finally Barré decided he was not going to sit home by himself on New Year’s Eve.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Barbra Streisand takes her seat at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting in New York last week.

Fifteen miles southwest, Barbra was feeling the same way. At a club in Staten Island with a girlfriend, Barbra offered to sing a few songs if the manager paid her 50 dollars. The crowd liked her, but a few of them didn’t much care for her friend, who was black. So, while Barbra was singing, the manager made a “cutting gesture” across his throat — “eight bars and off.” Taking the cash, Barbra and her friend beat it out of there, no doubt glad to leave such a racist place behind.

It was in such a mood that Barbra returned to the apartment.

She walked into the apartment to find Barré having sex with a man, a light-skinned black man she didn’t recognize. In that moment, the shocking truth of their nine months together suddenly came crashing down on her — a truth she had known, of course, but had done her best to block out of her mind.

When Barbra had fallen in love with Barré, she had just turned eighteen. He was her first love. She was young, innocent, and inexperienced. She had given Barré her body. When asked later if she remembered much about the night she’d lost her virginity, she’d say, “A lot, yeah.” That was because she had given Barré more than her body; she’d given him her heart. She thought he had changed, that she had changed him, going so far as to speak of marriage. Now her illusions were shattering around her like glass. The image of Barré and his lover seared itself into her brain. She would live with it, she’d admit, for the rest of her life.

Re: Barbra Streisand article on "Hello Gorgeous" book

Sun Oct 28, 2012 5:21 pm

Here's another review from the 10/26 NY Newsday & an excerpt from the book: ... -1.4153796

'Hello, Gorgeous' review: Barbra Streisand bio

Originally published: October 25, 2012 4:37 PM
Updated: October 25, 2012 6:40 PM
By GENE SEYMOUR. Special to Newsday

Photo credit: AP Photo | Barbra Streisand poses with birthday cake at a party marking the first anniversary of her hit Broadway musical "Funny Girl" in 1965.

HELLO, GORGEOUS: Becoming Barbra Streisand, by William J. Mann. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 566 pp., $30

Among the more startling revelations in William J. Mann's engrossing chronicle of Barbra Streisand's ascent to superstardom emerges in one of the book's photos. It's a childhood picture showing Streisand, as its caption notes, "with friends outside their Brooklyn tenements." It doesn't say how old she is, but it doesn't matter. She's already carrying the face that millions would soon recognize as belonging to no one but her. And her expression, as she leans on a bicycle, is a mesmerizing blend of self-possession and pugnacity that all but says aloud, "Whether you like me or not, I am going to rule your world. So why don't you just save us both some time and get out of my way already."

What startles about this photo isn't just Streisand's precocious magnetism, but how much at odds it seems with Mann's portrait of a smart, sensitive young girl who was anything but completely self-assured, even in the years to come, when her conquests were within her grasp. And yet, as made clear throughout "Hello, Gorgeous," Streisand managed to use all the things that made her seem nervous, ungainly, abrasive and unconventional as assets in her meteoric rise to the top. It was a willful act of self-invention, as unlikely as any in show-business history.

The title of "Hello, Gorgeous" is taken from Streisand's opening line in "Funny Girl," the 1964 Broadway musical whose tumultuous production and galvanic success make up the book's climax. Its narrative begins four years earlier as a 17-year-old Barbara Joan Streisand -- it'll be a little while before she drops that second "a" in her first name -- is taking acting lessons in Manhattan, which, despite its relative proximity to Brooklyn, seems to her light years from her mother Diana's apartment where, "even when nothing was cooking on the stove, the place reeked of kale," Mann writes. Diana, carrying thwarted dreams of singing opera, had a strained, somewhat distant relationship with her eldest daughter, who "never wanted advice, Diana felt, only approval." She was the first of many skeptics who doubted that slender, brash Barbara Joan had what it took to become a successful actress.

And it was as an actress, not a singer, that Streisand wanted to be taken seriously, despite her prodigal gifts as a vocalist. ("She could speak at length about Chekhov and Shakespeare and Euripides," Mann writes. "But about music she was largely ignorant, except for some classical works and pop singer Joni James.") A young actor named Barry Dennen, who became her first lover despite his preference for men, encouraged her to see the art of singing as yet another means of dramatic storytelling. She starts collecting prizes in singing contests, club gigs and, by the summer of 1960, has dropped that aforementioned "a" to become "the only Barbra in the world."

Through interviews with Dennen and such friends of Streisand's from those early 1960s years as the late comedian Phyllis Diller, vocalist (and "Funny Girl" understudy) Lainie Kazan and actress Kaye Ballard, Mann assembles an origin story that is vividly detailed, yet judicious in tone, even when he recounts the rapture audiences felt upon first contact with that "euphonious voice." (Streisand herself didn't cooperate with Mann, but he thanks her "for not throwing up any roadblocks.")

Mann's reporting adds much to what's already known about her early appearances on television, including her rambling, sometimes acrimonious run-ins with Mike Wallace on his local New York talk show as well as her noteworthy guest shots on the Judy Garland and Garry Moore variety shows (where she first reinvented the old New Deal rouser, "Happy Days Are Here Again" as a bittersweet mood piece).

The other high spots are thoroughly covered: Her showstopping turn in 1962's "I Can Get It for You Wholesale," whose star Elliott Gould would become her first husband; her groundbreaking Columbia albums; and the rocky road to "Funny Girl," where she faced down the skeptics (at times, herself included) who doubted she could triumph.

It helped to have a team of publicists and marketers willing to sell Streisand as "uniquely self-made" -- in other words, by letting Barbra be Barbra, unfurling her carefully calculated eccentricities and self-deprecating bravado. ("If I'd known the place was going to be so crowded," she told a glittering Hollywood nightclub audience, "I'd have had my nose fixed.") All of which could have only happened in the 1960s, when everything seemed possible, and even a kid from Brooklyn could rise to rule her world before she'd turned 23. ... -1.4157143

'Hello, Gorgeous': excerpt from Barbra Streisand bio

Originally published: October 26, 2012 1:10 PM
Updated: October 26, 2012 2:04 PM

Photo credit: Handout | "Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand" by William Mann (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2012)

"Hello, Gorgeous" by William J. Mann


Winter 1960

For 65 cents you could get a piece of fish, a heaping helping of French fries, a tub of coleslaw and some tartar sauce at the smoky little diner on Broadway just south of Times Square. But since they only had 93 cents and some pocket lint between them, they decided to order one meal and split it, throwing in an additional dime apiece for a couple of glasses of birch beer.

It hadn't escaped Barbara's attention -- few things ever did -- that today, Feb. 5, was her father's birthday. He would have been 52 if he hadn't died when she was 15 months old, and quite possibly, instead of eating greasy fried fish with her friend Carl, she'd have spent this unseasonably warm winter day wandering through the city discussing Chekhov with the man she had come to idolize, a devotee of the Russian playwright, as well as of Shaw and Shakespeare. It was, after all, Chekhov's centennial, and as serious students of the theater, both Barbara and Emanuel Streisand would have been well aware of that fact. She and her father might even have taken in "Three Sisters" that night at the Fourth Street Theater in the East Village -- a production Barbara had been dying to see, but for which she'd been unable to afford a ticket.

Looking up at Carl over their French fries with a sudden, surprising passion, Barbara insisted that everything would have been very different if her father had lived. Certainly she wouldn't have had to spend her nights at the Lunt-Fontanne, ushering giddy housewives from New Jersey to their seats to see Mary Martin warble her way through "The Sound of Music," hiding her face "so nobody would remember" her after she became famous.

Barbara Joan Streisand was 17 years old. She had been living in Manhattan now for almost exactly a year, and she was getting impatient with the pace of her acting career. So far her resumé consisted of summer stock and one play in somebody's attic. But she wasn't anywhere near to giving up. Her grandmother had called her "farbrent" -- Yiddish for "on fire" -- because even as a child Barbara had never been able to accept "no" for an answer. Growing up in Brooklyn in near poverty, she'd existed in a world of her own imagination of "what life should be like." She was driven by "a need to be great," she said, a need that burned in her like the passion of a "preacher" and necessitated getting out of Brooklyn as soon as she could. And so it was that, in January 1959, just weeks after graduating (six months early) from Erasmus Hall High School, Barbara had hopped on the subway and, several stops later, emerged into her new life amid the lights of Times Square. Manhattan, she believed, was "where people really lived."

With the childlike enthusiasm that could, in an instant, melt her usual steely resolve, Barbara looked over at Carl with her wide blue eyes, telling him about her father, the intellectual, the man of culture. Her hands in frenetic motion, her outrageously long fingernails drawing considerable attention, she insisted that her father would have understood her. She missed him "in her bones." All her life, she'd felt she was "missing something," and she had to fill up the empty place he had left.

But, asked about her mother, Barbara fell silent. Crumpling her napkin and tossing it onto her plate, she slid out of the booth, plopped her share of coins onto the table, and trudged out of the restaurant. Carl had to gulp down the last of his birch beer before hurrying after her. Barbara was already out the door and striding down the sidewalk, the fringe of her antique lace shawl swinging as she walked.

Carl Esser knew very little about this strange urchin he'd met just a few weeks before in a Theatre Studio workshop, except that she fascinated him. Sex and romance had nothing to do with the attraction, at least not for him. At 24, Carl was seven years Barbara's senior, and besides, the small girl who was already half a block ahead of him wasn't exactly what most people would call pretty. A layer of heavy pancake makeup covered an angry blush of teenage acne. Her eyes, no matter how cornflower blue, had a tendency to look crossed. Most of all, she had a nose that was likened by some in their acting class to an anteater's snout -- behind Barbara's back, of course. But her breasts were full, her waist was small, and her hips were nicely rounded, making for an odd and rather contradictory package.

Carl knew -- everyone in their acting class knew -- how intensely Barbara wanted to be great. She wanted to be Duse, she said, though she'd never seen Duse act, only read about her in books on theater in her acting teacher's library. That didn't matter. Duse had been a great artist, perhaps the greatest, and that's what Barbara wanted. There were others in the class who claimed they wanted to be great, but what they really wanted was fame and applause. That wasn't what fired Barbara up. She didn't sit around idolizing movie stars or the latest Broadway sensation du jour. She wanted to be remembered for being great, for making art.

Taxicabs bleated their horns as Barbara and Carl crossed Times Square. Policemen blew high-pitched whistles as tiny brand-new Ford Falcons scooted past sleek Chevrolet Impalas with their sweeping tail fins. Steam from the Seventh Avenue subway rose through the grates like fog from an underground river. On every block hung the fragrance of roasting chestnuts, while tourists in fur coats gaped up at the news ticker on The New York Times Building, its 14,800 bulbs spelling out the latest in the U.S.-Soviet space race.

Barbara and Carl headed west on 48th Street. At Barbara's apartment, number 339, the friends bid each other goodbye, and if Barbara was hoping there might be a kiss, she didn't wait for it. It was clear that Carl, like all the others, wasn't interested in her that way. If anyone had asked, she would've insisted it didn't matter. With all her big dreams, she would've said that she didn't have time for romance.

That day, or one very much like it, Barbara walked up the stairs to her apartment to the smell of boiled chicken. On the stove bubbled a pot of her mother's chicken soup. Barbara's roommate, Marilyn, told her that her mother had just walked in, dropped off the soup and left. No message, no note. But the chicken soup, as always, was welcome because that fried fish and coleslaw would last only so long.

Excerpted from "Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand" by William J. Mann. Copyright © 2012 by William J. Mann. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. All rights reserved.