Hollywood chronicler Mann (How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, 2010, etc.) divulges the blood, sweat and tears that propelled a diva’s rise to stardom.
Barbra Streisand is such a cultural institution that it sometimes seems as if she sprang fully grown from the head of the entertainment industry. Not so, argues the author in this surprisingly suspenseful and masterfully paced biography. Covering the fundamental years from 1960 to 1964, he shines the spotlight on an awkward yet ambitious teenage girl who aspired to play grand theatrical roles. To Streisand, singing came so easily that she didn’t regard it as work, and she practically had to be pushed into appearing at Greenwich Village nightclubs. When a friend suggested that she approach singing a song as if acting a part in a play, however, she made a creative breakthrough that led to appearances on TV talk shows, a Broadway role in I Can Get It for You Wholesale and a recording contract at Columbia Records. Streisand didn’t accomplish this alone, and Mann appropriately gives credit to the agents, accompanists, directors and mentors who brought her idiosyncratic style to a generation hungry for new idols. He also delves into her paradoxical mixture of self-confidence and -doubt, disclosing that she privately felt insecure about her looks despite publicly flaunting an outlandish flair for fashion and a loopy sense of humor. Mann structures the book by seasons, further dividing these into a series of vignettes that read like scenes from a novel peopled with extraordinary characters.
Even though we know the answers to most of the questions—Will our heroine win the coveted role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl? Will she live happily ever after with her Prince Charming, Elliott Gould?—this book makes getting to them a treat.