November 15, 2018

Candid Icon: Streisand Talks About Her TV Career

Barbra Streisand has 10 Grammy Awards, two Academy Awards, eight Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards and a Special Tony Award for her work as a singer, actress, director and producer. Now, she’s added another honor to her collection: the Paley Center for Media’s Icon Award for her contribution to television.

Kicking off the 35th annual PaleyFest at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 16, the “Icon Tribute to Barbra Streisand” included video montages of her performances from TV specials, programs she produced, and a wide-ranging conversation with television producer Ryan Murphy about her work for the small screen.

Armed with detailed notes, Murphy asked Streisand about performances, duet partners, colleagues, awards and reviews, including questions about things she couldn’t recall saying or doing. Noting that she’s working on her autobiography, “I have to look up everything about myself,” Streisand said. “I don’t remember. I don’t remember the bad [reviews]. You have to understand this kind of meshugas.”

But Streisand clearly remembered that “60 Minutes” interviewer Mike Wallace made her cry. “He brought up something about my past that was so mean,” she said, suggesting that Wallace must have had a strong Jewish mother that he didn’t like.

When asked about her 1968 TV special “A Happening in Central Park,” Streisand candidly spoke about the stage fright that has plagued her throughout her career.

“In the middle of a song, I went blank,” she recalled. “I still have that fear today. I never performed for 27 years, unless it was for a political event or a fundraiser.”

“We’re in a strange time now in terms of men and women and the pendulum swinging this way and that way, but it’s going to have to come to the center.” — Barbra Streisand

But she learned to manage her fear. “I used to play a tape before I went on, called ‘Excellence,’ ” she said. “It was very calming to me. And I don’t like to talk before I go on. I also got a little pill called Inderal.” The drug, a beta-blocker, “took away the pounding heart,” she said.

Reflecting on her breakout years in the 1960s, Streisand admitted she battled with insecurities. “I didn’t think I was charming enough. I was awkward, shy — still am…. I just had a vision of what I wanted to do.”

She gave credit to the “great men” she worked with, including “Funny Girl” director William Wyler, who “appreciated my ideas.”

Streisand said she never had a #MeToo moment. “I wasn’t like those pretty girls with pretty little noses — maybe that’s why,” she said. “We’re in a strange time now in terms of men and women and the pendulum swinging this way and that way, but it’s going to have to come to the center.”

Answering questions from the audience, Streisand said that directing gave her the most joy. “It’s such a complete experience. It involves every sense you have,” she said. “As an actress, I serve the director’s vision. But to be in control and not have to feel frustrated — ‘They shot it like that?’ — it’s so wonderful. I feel humbled by the power.”

She revealed that she would like to play Mama Rose in the musical “Gypsy” and do “something about French actress Sarah Bernhardt. I feel a connection to her in some way.”

When asked about her TV viewing habits, Streisand said she watches the news on MSNBC and CNN; Animal Planet; the show, “How the Universe Works”; her husband James Brolin’s sitcom, “Life in Pieces”; and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” while she exercises. She liked Season One of “The Crown,” was disappointed in “Homeland’ this season, and found Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” “very scary.”

In response to Murphy’s suggestion that she watch the cooking show “Chef’s Table,” Streisand quipped, “It would just make me fatter. I love food. I’ve dieted for a couple of days, because I know I’m going to eat after this show.”