Love is Lovelier the Second Time it Calls
Smart, funny, astute, awarded more accolades than any other female artist and five decades as a superstar, Barbra Streisand long ago earned the title of icon.
Barbra Archives Note: This article is a reprint of Richard Barber's 2004 interview with Barbra Streisand from The Independent. References to Barbra's 2003 CD, The Movie Album, were cut from this version.
She's been a global star for ﬁve decades. She's the ﬁrst person ever to receive a Grammy, an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar. For once, the word ‘icon’ seems entirely appropriate when applied to Barbra Streisand's professional persona. But then, so does the word ‘diva’. Or that, at least, is the received wisdom.
I shan't easily forget the day I met her in California. in what is known as Grandma's House, one of many buildings scattered across her Malibu estate. As wooden structures go, they don’t come much more down-home. There were real roses round the door of the single-storey building, its slats painted red and green.
Suddenly, she was at the front door. ‘Please call me Barbra,’ she said, ushering me in. lt was the ﬁrst of many surprises. She looked somehow softer than in all those meticulously air-brushed publicity shots. The hair was cut in a simple bob. The nails would have little trouble negotiating the average computer keyboard. The famous nose remained endearingly bumpy. The oversized lumberjack shirt was worn outside the plain, blue trousers.
But it was more than that. As she settled contentedly into the high-backed wicker chair, there might as well have been a neon sign attached to the top of her head. Mimicking one of her most enduring hits, it would repeatedly ﬂash: ‘l am a woman in love.’
For all her seamless success, personal happiness had been a bit more elusive for Barbra Streisand. She has a son, Jason, now 50, from her famously tempestuous marriage to actor Elliott Gould. And there have been many high-proﬁle love affairs along the way: Andre Agassi, Ryan O’Neal, and Don Johnson among them.
Then she met actor James Brolin in 1996 when she was mixing the music for The Mirror Has Two Faces, the ﬁlm she directed and in which she starred alongside Jeff Bridges and Lauren Bacall. ‘That movie,’ said Barbra, ‘was a deliberate attempt to break the pattern of all those others — The Way We Were, Funny Girl, The Prince of Tides — in which l never got the man.’
‘Well, you know what they say? Fake it till you make it. And, as it turned out, that movie was almost a rehearsal for life. Because it’s true: life can imitate art, something, deep inside, I truly believed. But who'd ever have thought it?’
She had been in the habit of consulting an astrologer. ‘I kept being told that I was going to get married the next year. I thought. “What do you mean? I haven't been married in years and years. And I haven't met anyone I've wanted to marry." But the astrologer turned out to be right because that's when I met Jim.’
Brolin started coming to watch Barbra at work in the studio. ‘He loved the whole experience and kept bringing me cups of tea. And that's how the relationship bloomed. So the ﬁlm laid the groundwork for my life. Now I feel that, in some strange way, my getting married again came out of playing the woman in the movie who got the guy.’
‘Anyone who's ever been through a failed relationship and then is lucky enough to ﬁnd love again in their life will appreciate the lyrics of The Second Time Around. Love is lovelier the second time it calls. I know because, from the time I ﬁrst met Jim, my life has been all about discovering the joy of ﬁnding love again — a real bonus at that stage, at that age.’
So, it takes little prompting to get her to admit that this is the best time ever. ‘I've worked hard since I was 11 yea rs old, making my own money to buy my own clothes and go to acting school.’ She remembers standing in the doorway of her tiny apartment in New York. ‘I hated making my bed. And I thought, “I've got to become successful in order to have someone else make my bed.“
What she originally wanted was to be an actress. ‘I was not having a happy childhood with my stepfather, so I'd escape by going to the movies. I'm still not sure whether I wanted to be the actress or the part she was playing; in other words, Vivien Leigh or Scarlett O'Hara. Probably a bit of both. These women, real or imagined, seemed to live such exciting lives.’
As it happens. she eventually broke into acting through winning a singing competition and gravitated, ﬁrst, to the Broadway stage where her ﬁrst-night performance in Funny Girl was rewarded with 23 curtain calls, and then to Hollywood. But by the time she reached LA, it is said, she had acquired that Big Star reputation.
‘All I’ve ever wanted is to be the best I could be. If a man is a perfectionist, he’s seen as commanding. In a woman, it's deemed demanding. He's assertive. She's a pain. It's not a level playing ﬁeld.’
So, what about 10 years from now, I asked? ‘It's a meaningless question. I can think about tomorrow but not much beyond that. One day at a time: that's what I believe. But have as good a time each day as you possibly can. And always try to do something positive.’
For example? ‘I have 1,200 species of rose on my estate. Gardening is another of my passions. I'm always on the lookout for a new species. Wednesday is the day I set aside each week for the garden,’ said the surprising Barbra Streisand, with a hint of that enigmatic smile.