1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Legendary singer-actor Barbra Streisand publishes memoirs

Suzanne Cords
November 7, 2023

Now in her 80s, the superstar has wowed audiences for decades, receiving accolades from Grammys and Emmys to Oscars. As she releases "My Name is Barbra," she still sees herself as the girl next door.

A black-and-white close-up of legendary singer and actress Barbra Streisand.
Forever a diva: Cover the memoir of 'My Name is Barbra'Image: picture alliance/AP

Living legend Barbra Streisand has been celebrated for over 60 years for her acting, singing and stagecraft, winning a swag of Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony awards along the way.

According to Sony Music UK, she has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, and accumulated a massive global audience.

The superstar is now looking back at her success in her memoir, "My Name is Barbra" — titled after her eponymous 1965 album — which comes out on November 7. It is a long-awaited project that Streisand had been putting off for almost 40 years.

As she told TV presenter Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" in 2021, former First Lady Jackie Kennedy gave her the idea of writing a book in the mid-1980s.

Open-hearted, funny, headstrong and charming, she talks in her memoir about her career, her friendships with personalities ranging from fellow actor Marlon Brando to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to her social commitment. And, sometimes, the girl who grew up in poor circumstances in Brooklyn comes to light.

Her celebrity has led her to donating large sums of money to charity.

Black-and-white image of Barbra Streisand singing in Central Park in 1967, with a policeman standing in the foreground.
A concert in Central Park in 1967 attracted 135,000 peopleImage: picture-alliance/Express Newspapers

Anything but an 'ugly duckling'

The New Yorker is not an unapproachable diva. Her unique nose and silvery eyes led to her being dubbed an "ugly duckling" in her youth — but she never considered plastic surgery: "I was afraid of the pain. And how could I trust a doctor's aesthetic taste? How would I know he wouldn't cut away too much?"

Her supposed flaws make her all the more endearing to her audience. As does the fact that she has suffered from stage fright all her life, and only manages her anxiety with pills and avoids red carpet galas.

Streisand says of herself that she is "pretty normal, ordinary in many ways." Yet, she's not quite so ordinary after all, as she catapulted from a poor background to becoming a top artist — with a lot of commitment and even more talent.

On the outskirts?

While she has lived for decades among the stars in Hollywood and Malibu Beach, one may take the girl out of Brooklyn, it is difficult to take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Born on April 24, 1942 into an impoverished Polish-Russian Orthodox Jewish family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, Streisand hasn't forgotten her roots.

"There's something about growing up in Brooklyn and living in New York so many years. It's a very realistic point of view, earthy," she told Variety magazine in 2021.

'Funny Girl' instead of Shakespeare

Streisand's father died when she was just 15 months old. Her mother, a singer, set aside her own dreams to support the family by taking on a job as a school secretary.

Barbra continued to dream, however, signing up for acting classes at the age of 14. At the same time, she sang in the school choir and, later, in small nightclubs.

"Because I was known as 'the kid on the block with a good voice,' I entered a talent competition, which I thought might at least help pay for my meals until I could do Shakespeare or Ibsen," she told British newspaper The Telegraph.

Barbra Streisand with Oscar
Her first Oscar in 1969 was for her role in "Funny Girl"Image: picture-alliance/AP/dpa

She won first place in the competition and her star began to rise. Her career began not on the theater stage, but in big-name nightclubs, where Streisand worked as a singer.

At 19, she made her Broadway debut and just two years later, she won the critic's prize for best actress in a musical for her role in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale."

Nearly simultaneously, her "Barbra Streisand" album was released and won two Grammy awards.

In 1968, she made her big breakthrough in the film musical "Funny Girl." It tells the story of the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, who overcame the naysayers who'd labeled her an ugly duckling and ended up becoming a Broadway star in 1910. The role seemed to be perfectly suited to Barbra.

Star-studded Hollywood career

Awarded an Oscar for her performance in the film, the then-25-year-old continued to appear on the silver screen in movies like "What's Up, Doc?" (1972) and "The Way We Were" (1973) and carried her fame with her to cameo roles in television series, including "Glee" and "Dancing with the Stars."

Appearing in comedies and dramas alike, she has starred alongside A-list legends Omar Sharif, Yves Montand, Sidney Poitier, Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro. 

Her favorite leading man, however, was Robert Redford in the 1973 romance "The Way We Were." "We never quite knew what the other one was going to do. I think the audience felt that," she said about the movie.

A wide variety of talents

In 1983, Streisand was the combined producer, director, lead actress and singer in the film "Yentl."

The movie centers around a young Jewish woman who dresses as a boy in order to attend Yeshiva, a Jewish school, to study the Talmud.

"I don't want to brag," Streisand told the press at the time, "But Steven Spielberg said that he would have liked to have criticized 'Yentl' [yet] in his eyes, besides 'Citizen Kane,' there was no better film."

"Yentl" went on to win an Oscar for best soundtrack. Her later directorial success, "The Prince of Tides" (1991), was nominated for seven Oscars. She plays the main character opposite Nick Nolte; her son Jason Gould, from her first marriage to actor Elliot Gould, likewise appears in the film.

'A voice like diamonds'

Streisand sings in most of her movies. "I thank God for giving me this great voice," she once said.

When she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, the highest honor for US civilians, then-US President Barack Obama lauded her, saying she had a voice like diamonds.

Many of her songs, like "Woman In Love," "The Way We Were," "A Star Is Born" and "Guilty," are evergreen hits.

Yet, Streisand is not only a world star, she is also very politically active, supporting environmental activism and tweeting her liberal opinions.

Barack Obama placing medal over Barbra Streisand's head
Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Reynolds

Proud of Jewish heritage

As a Jew, Barbra Streisand feels particularly connected to Israel. The country is "a shining beacon of hope in the world" and a place of survival for Jews all over the world, she told the press in 2013 when she performed in Tel Aviv at the 90th birthday gala of then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

In May of this year, she was honored with the Genesis Prize. It is awarded to Jewish personalities who make a significant contribution to humanity and inspire the next generation of the Jewish people.

Streisand expressed her gratitude with the words: "I have always been moved by the Jewish tradition of 'tikkun olam,' to repair the world. I hope to join and inspire others in their own commitment to build a better world," she posted on X, formerly Twitter. She donated the prize money of $1 million (around €935,000) to charitable organizations, including one that provides humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine.

After all, as she wrote in a tweet the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, her paternal grandparents are from Ukraine. Putin's propaganda about the "denazification" of Ukraine is the biggest lie of the century, according to Streisand.

With the war now also raging in the Middle East, she commented: "My heart is broken for all the suffering of innocent civilians."

Now in her 80s, Barbra Streisand is still as active as ever. When she has time between all her activities, she retreats to California, where she lives with her second husband, actor James Brolin, on the Malibu coast.

Penguin Random House is releasing "My Name is Barbra" on November 7, 2023.

This is an updated version of a profile originally written in German and published on April 24, 2022.