Barbra Streisand, the best-selling female recording artist in the United States and winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, celebrates her 70th birthday today. Born in Brooklyn in 1942, she commuted into Manhattan to study acting in her early teens. After fellow actors discovered her tremendous singing voice, she began performing in cabarets. She soon became an international superstar in theater, film, and music. To celebrate her big 70th, we took a look at six fun facts about Babs and her over 50 years in show business:
Barbra Lost an "A"
Born Barbara Joan Streisand, she was pressured to come up with a stage name at the advent of her career. Though she hated her first name, she didn't want to succomb to the industry pressure to change it altogether. Instead, she removed the second "a" and became "Barbra." Initially compared to singers such as Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, and Billie Holiday, Barbra insisted on being her own star. Her unique name spelling is just one of the things that helped to set her apart from the rest. Now, Barbra is on a short list of performers such as Frank, Judy, and Aretha that are instantly recognizable by only one name.
Forever Funny Girl
The role of Ziegfeld Follies comedienne and actress Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl was passed around to many actresses in the early 1960s. At the recommendation of actress Carol Burnett, original director Jerome Robbins went to a club in Greenwich Village to watch Barbra Streisand perform. Barbra was consistently working at the time and had already appeared on television and on Broadway. She auditioned and won the role of Fanny Brice. The original Broadway production of Funny Girl opened on Broadway on March 26, 1964, and was an instant hit. Barbra earned rave reviews for her performance.
Because many worried she wasn't glamourous enough for the movies, a number of actresses were considered for the film version of Funny Girl. Ultimately, the producers and creative team refused to grant permission for the film version unless Streisand was cast in the lead. Upon the film's release, she became a worldwide star and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (tying with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter).
In the almost 50 years since Funny Girl opened on Broadway, Barbra has moved on to have an enormous amount of success in film and music. However, she's still synonymous with Funny Girl and its memorable songs, namely "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade." Barbra's shadow looms over these songs, and though other artists such as Bobby Darin and Glee's Lea Michele have covered them, they don't erase the memory of Barbra's voice. Last year, actress Lauren Ambrose was announced the star of a Broadway Revival of Funny Girl, but almost immediately, she was compared to Barbra and her casting questioned. Ultimately, the revival was canceled, and Barbra remains the only actress to originate Funny Girl on Broadway.
An Actress (Who Also Sings)
Barbra first left Brooklyn to see The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway. She wanted to become a star and first and foremost, wanted to be an actress. Although she began taking acting lessons, she had never trained as a singer during her youth. However, her unusual singing style set her apart from the rest. Though she considers herself an actress who just happens to be able to sing, she's the best-selling female artist of all time in the United States. She's won eight Grammys and sold 75 million albums in the U.S. alone, with 140 million albums worldwide. She's the only artist to have a number one album on the Billboard chart in five different decades. Her film work in the 1970s also bolstered record sales, as the title song from The Way We Were and "Evergreen" from A Star is Born were #1 hits. Though she's always suffered from a fear of performing in concert, her concerts frequently break box office records.
A Woman in the Director's Chair
After a decade working on the movie version of Yentl, Barbra wrote, directed, and starred in the 1983 film as a Jewish girl disguising herself as a boy in order to study The Talmud. Playing a girl challenging gender norms, Barbra Streisand also broke barriers when she became the first female director to win a Golden Globe. The next film which she produced and directed, The Prince of Tides, also opened to strong reviews. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, though Streisand failed to earn a nomination for Best Director. Many immediately claimed that this was a result of sexism within the Academy, considering that only one female director had previously been nominated in the category at the time. Streisand didn't make herself the victim of sexism but attempted to speak out about the issue and helped to raise awareness and support for other female filmmakers. In 2010, she presented the Academy Award for Best Director to Kathryn Bigelow, the first female filmmaker to win the category. Before Streisand announced Bigelow's name, she simply stated that "the time has come."
The Streisand Effect
Barbra has been one of the most famous celebrities in the world for five decades and has never fully escaped the public eye. In 2003, a photographer took photos of the California coastline and captured images of Streisand's home. Protective of her privacy, she threatened the photographer with legal action in order to suppress the photo. But unfortunately for her, her threats had the opposite effect: Whenever the story of the lawsuit was reported, the photo of her home became widely circulated. Such an occurence—when legal action to prevent circulation of information only leads to more publicity—is now known as "The Streisand Effect."
Barbra Is Like Butter
Streisand has been famous for most of her life and has always been worshipped by her fans. For many, the sound of her voice is heavenly and no other singer can possibly compare. Saturday Night Live's Mike Myers' "Coffee Talk" sketch focused on her devoted fan base. In 1992, Barbra made a surprise appearance on the show, resulting in one of the most memorable moments in SNL history.
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