For over 50 years, Barbra Streisand has been one of the most iconic performers in film and music. After early appearances in nightclubs and on television, she burst onto the public conscience with her blazing performance in the Broadway and then movie versions of Funny Girl. As the Ziegfeld headliner Fanny Brice, she sang “I’m the Greatest Star.” Truer words were never warbled. Since then her silver voice, comic sensibilities, and dramatic skills have inspired passionate devotion among her legion of fans. Or to quote Linda Richman, Mike Myers’ character, she’s “like buttah.” To celebrate her 73rd birthday, here are 11 things we love about Barbra:
1. The Golden Voice
That silky smooth voice is what made all of us first fall in love with Barbra. From her earliest recordings to her Broadway and movie soundtracks, Barbra displayed her technical and emotional depth. She could create characters for each individual number and take them through conflict and resolution. Her extraordinary range allows her to play comedy (“Second Hand Rose,” “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long”), heartbreak (“Cry Me a River”), or defiance (“Don’t Rain on My Parade”). She transformed the peppy Depression-era uptune “Happy Days Are Here Again” into a wistful, bittersweet reflection. She even gave her personal stamp to novelty numbers like “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” During her formative years, she was influenced by such past stars as Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and Mabel Mercer, but she soon developed a distinctive style of her own.
2. A Zany Sense of Humor
In her first film role as legendary entertainer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, Barbra combined those out-of-this-world pipes with her unmistakable comic gifts. Who could forget “His Love Makes You Beautiful” where she gave a new twist to a Ziegfeld Follies celebration of conventional attractiveness by appearing to be pregnant? She was equally riotous as the brazen call girl in The Owl and the Pussycat, the fantasizing housewife in Up the Sandbox, and Ben Stiller’s eccentric therapist mother in the Focker films.
3. Her Dramatic Skills
Not only is Barbra a gifted comedienne, she’s also an insightful dramatic actress. She endows a serious role with as much tension and emotion as she does a song. As Claudia Draper, the high-priced prostitute accused of murder in Nuts, she seductively details the tricks of the trade on the witness stand and then makes a devastating plea for her freedom and sanity. In Yentl, she conveys both the male and female sides of a cross-dressing yeshiva student. As the psychiatrist in The Prince of Tides, she soothes a distraught Nick Nolte and gives full vent to the doctor’s own personal traumas. In The Way We Were, she charted the journey of Katie from impulsive campus radical to passionate activist and showed a woman can be the sexual aggressor as she made the moves on a sleeping Robert Redford.
4. Her Talents Behind the Camera
Barbra has broken barriers for women directors and producers by helming and producing her own projects such as Yentl, The Prince of Tides, and The Mirror Has Two Faces. In 1969, along with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, and Steve McQueen, she formed First Artists Production Company so that actors could develop their own projects without relying on the studios.
5. She's a Rebel With a Cause
She puts her voice behind worthy political causes as well as beautiful music. Since its founding in 1986, The Streisand Foundation has made contributions totaling over $18 million to organizations fighting for environmentalism, women’s issues, race relations and civil rights, AIDS research, and children and youth-related issues. She’s given numerous concerts to support candidates and causes, personally raising $25 million.
6. Her Unconventional Beauty
When she was growing up, no one would have suspected Barbra would have become a movie star. Prominent film actresses were conventionally gorgeous. But she refused to alter her quirky, unique appearance or that famous magnificent nose. She paved the way for those who didn’t fit the Hollywood notion of beauty to fulfill their show business dreams. She was even photographed for the cover of Vogue by the legendary Richard Avedon.
7. She’s Not Afraid of Anything
Barbra has never been known to be intimidated by anyone. When presented to Queen Elizabeth II at a formal movie premiere, she broke protocol and asked the monarch why the women in the receiving line had to wear long gloves.
8. Her Meeting with Linda Richman
Barbra is not above making the occasional bizarre cameo including surprising Mike Myers as Linda Richman on the “Coffee Talk” segment on Saturday Night Live with guests Madonna and Roseanne. She happened to be performing at Radio City Music Hall when she heard they were filming the sketch at nearby Rockefeller Center and decided to drop in. (Myers repeated his Richman character as part of Barbra’s New Year’s Eve Concert in Las Vegas.)
9. Those Duets
Throughout her recording career, Barbra has collaborated with some of the greatest artists in the industry to create memorable dual experiences. She tackled disco with Donna Summer on “Enough Is Enough,” crooned of broken romance with Neil Diamond on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and warbled over her “Guilty” feelings with Barry Gibb. These classic collaborations and others with such stars as Judy Garland, Barry Manilow, Josh Groban, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra, are collected on the Duets and Partners albums.
10. The TV Specials
Her video programs set the standard for musical variety entertainment including such Emmy-winning hours as My Name Is Barbra, Color Me Barbra, A Happening in Central Park, Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments, and Barbra: The Concert.
11. Her Passion for Design
In 2010, Barbra added author and photographer to her list of accomplishment. My Passion for Design documented the architecture and construction of her New England-style farmhouse. The coffee-table volume includes her photos of gardens, furniture, and collections of memorabilia.