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Barbra Streisand Wanted Her Memoir to Be Shorter — But She’s Grateful It Helped Bring Back Her Favorite Ice Cream

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It took Barbra Streisand 15 years to get Yentl into the world, but that journey seems almost brisk in comparison to the time her memoir spent in gestation. She wrote the first chapter by hand back in the ‘90s, lost it, and waited nearly another decade before starting up again. But on Nov. 7, her autobiography finally said “hello gorgeous” to shelves — and the New York Times Best Seller list.

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My Name Is Barbra (which shares its name with a TV special and album she did in 1965) is more than just another book where a famous person puts their life story to paper. It’s the work of an incisive mind dissecting an EGOT-collecting career that started out in cramped Greenwich Village clubs in the early ’60s and soon exploded across Broadways stages, TV screens, movie palaces and the Billboard charts. (Billboard warrants several mentions in this book, though Streisand writes, “I was happy if a song went to number 1, but that was not my motivation” – not too bad for someone with five Hot 100 No. 1s and a dozen top 10s.)

Like any good celebrity memoir, smack is talked. Former co-stars such as Walter Matthau and Sydney Chaplin do not emerge unscathed, nor does ex-partner Jon Peters come out looking particularly good. And naturally, Streisand doesn’t hold back when it comes to assessing the good ole boys’ clubs that women in Hollywood – especially women who dare to direct – still face today. But the singer-actor-director reserves the lion’s share of dissection for herself, whether she’s bemoaning her early career interviews (“When I look at these articles today, I cringe. Did I really say that?”) or inviting us into her thought process as she agonizes over creative decisions made on decades-old projects.

Over the course of 970 pages (which, believe it or not, breeze by thanks to her clear, direct language and conversational tone), the book reveals a singular icon who is as concerned with creative control as she is self-examination.

Following the tome’s release, Streisand hopped on the phone with Billboard to share a few details that didn’t make the book and reveal one deliciously unexpected benefit of publishing her memoir.

Hello!

So, Joe, what do you wanna know?

In your book you talk about how you rarely relisten to your recordings or rewatch your movies. Once you finished this book, you had to record the audiobook – was that some form of torture?

I thought that was easier, of course, because I already wrote the book and now I could just read it and add what I want to here and there [the audiobook features various songs as well]. Half the time I was eating and I had to stop eating. I’m now eating blueberries while I’m talking, in case you hear it.

No worries. That’s healthy, certainly more than the coffee ice cream you write about in your book. Which, incidentally, is also my favorite flavor.

They stopped making my coffee ice cream, (McConnell’s) Brazilian coffee, and after they read — I guess it was in the New York Times — they said, “What can we do? How many can we send you? We’ll make a batch for you.” So I got 24 pints of my favorite ice cream. I’m gonna give some to my friends, too.

Thank you to @mccsicecream – they made me a batch of discontinued ice cream called Brazilian Coffee. It’s the best! P.S. If you all ask for it – maybe they’ll bring it back permanently! pic.twitter.com/GuLk3Ms4AA

— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) December 1, 2023

That’s amazing. In one chapter, you float the idea that this book might be seen as a work in progress. Well, some folks update their memoirs every few years – Stephen King has added postscript updates to his On Writing book a few times since it came out more than 20 years ago.

Really? Hmm. That’s an interesting idea. At the moment, I’m so tired of myself. I’m so tired of writing a book I can’t think that way. But I bet you if we’re all around five years from now I might want to do that, update the book. That could be interesting. I have a lot of thoughts as I’m getting up in the morning — I grab a tape recorder or grab my pad, because my mind is fresh in the morning.

In the book, you talk about attempting to record your debut album at the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village but being uphappy with the results and shelving it. That album finally came out last year.

That was my easiest album – it was what it was. All I had to do was work on the album cover.

It sounded jaw-droppingly good to me. I know the audio was cleaned up thanks to modern technology —

My audio performance was not touched. Nothing was cleaned up. I sang a couple of weird notes, but it is what it is and I’m a purist in that sense. My A&R man of 25-30 years, Jay Landers, and my great engineer, he was able to separate the instruments. We could never do that (back then). He’s kind of a genius.

Right, the new technology helped make a better mix. Had that technology existed back then, might you have released this album back in the ‘60s?

No, I didn’t like the sound of it. Jay showed me a picture of what the speakers were like in the Bon Soir — they were like little boxes of tissues basically. It wasn’t to my liking. I was always thinking of my work as a whole at a very young age — at 19.

When writing about A Star Is Born, you share that Kris Kristofferson wrote some lyrics for “Evergreen” around the time of the film but he didn’t show them to you until years later because he wasn’t happy with them. When you finally saw those lyrics, could you have seen incorporating any of his words into the song, had he shared them back in 1976?

No, no. It was not memorable. I loved the idea that he and I would have written that song together. But the lyric was not memorable. I love that he tried, but it wasn’t quite right for me.

Well, you can’t argue with the results – it won an Oscar, a Grammy and topped the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s that amazing about my manager, Marty Erlichman? When I played it for a couple of my musician friends, they thought it was okay. I played it over the phone with my lousy guitar playing, and they thought it was nice. But when I played it for Marty Erlichman, he said, “That’s gonna be a hit.” I said, “How do you know, Marty?” He says, “If I can remember a melody, I know it’s gonna be a hit.” Isn’t that funny? He was a week off from when it became No. 1 (with his guess).

Did you ever have the sense of what songs of yours would go No. 1?

Like “Woman in Love”? Not at all. It wasn’t my philosophy. “I’m a woman in love and I’ll do anything”? I couldn’t relate to that. What would I do, trick him? All those years it was No. 1, I never sang it in concert until the last time I did a concert. (Barry Gibb) was amazing. I just did a little film clip because he’s entering the Kennedy Center Honors, I filmed a little piece for him. That timing was perfect. I was writing Yentl, I didn’t have the time to make that album. It worked out perfectly when he said, “I’ll mix everything, sing the other parts — whatever it is, I’ll do it. You just have to sing the songs 10 times.” So while they were working on the arrangements, I was sitting there writing.

In the book, you mention that certain numbers are lucky for you. Did writing chapters that coincided with a lucky number feel different?

No. I’ve always known the numbers two and four seem to be lucky for me. When they first counted the pages I wrote, it was 1,024.

So they ended up cutting 50-60 pages?

I wanted them to cut more of it because I was aching to have two separate books and one cover, like a package. How are people going to hold a book that’s 970 pages? I wouldn’t want to hold a fat book like that.

Were any of the cuts hard? Did it sting to lose anything?

No, nothing I cared that much about. I thought more should be cut. I was so sick of writing a book already. During the pandemic it was fine, everybody was at home, but then I wanted to travel and could not. Had to stay on track.

A lot of people you write about in the book are still in your life. Did you ever show them what you were writing as you wrote it? Like Marty, for example?

No, I didn’t have time. I didn’t show it to anybody. I had no idea how it would be received. I mean, a couple people that had to do with my music — maybe to get certain things exactly right they would read a little bit of it. But I didn’t want anybody’s opinions, except my editor. It would have been too confusing to me to get opinions too early. It just felt wrong to ask anybody.

So you get the final cut, as always.

They expected me to write it in two years. In two years I was still thinking about it. I told you that I started writing this book by longhand in 1999. I kept many journals, like 35 of them. But I hate going backwards. I hate having to look myself up. Look at my journals again? I gave the journals to my editor in the process over the years who would say, “You said this in that journal in 2006 or whatever.” And I said, “Really? I said that?” I like to be — as I work as an actress — I like to be in the moment and present now. I wish it was something else I was talking about other than myself.

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