You’ve probably heard by now that Barbra Streisand’s new memoir, My Name is Barbra, is 992 pages long, and that the audiobook version clocks in at 48 hours. As the Hollywood legend told The New York Times this week, “I wanted two volumes. Who wants to hold a heavy book like that in their hands?” So, yes, it’s a beast of a book, but let’s be clear: If there’s anyone whose life warrants that kind of exhaustive chronicle, it’s Babs.
Where else would you be able to find such thrilling tales of on-set drama and love affairs spanning six decades of fame as an EGOT-winning singer, actress, and director? Or read someone’s anecdotes about brushing shoulders with everyone from Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana to Bob Dylan and Beyoncé?
Indeed, Streisand’s Bible-sized memoir is a treasure trove of stories and secrets that’s well worth the multi-day read. But if the curiosity is too much for you to bear, see some of the book’s best bits below.
She denies dating actor Barry Dennen, despite his claims otherwise
In his 1997 book My Life With Barbra: A Love Story, Barry Dennen (Jesus Christ Superstar) alleged that he and Streisand were romantic while they shared an apartment in Greenwich Village early in her singing career. However, Streisand writes that they were always platonic because she assumed he was gay. She added that she was “so hurt” she couldn’t read the book.
“Barry and I were never lovers,” she writes. “We were close friends. I thought he was probably gay, but then he told me he had a son, so I figured he was bisexual. At moments, there might have been some sort of sexual tension between us. But it was all very confusing. I was still so inexperienced that I didn’t know what was going on.”
She had a “flirtation” with her Funny Girl co-star Sydney Chaplin while she was married to Elliott Gould
While performing in the 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl, Streisand began to develop feelings for her co-star, Charlie Chaplin’s son, Sydney. The Oscar winner was married to actor Elliott Gould at the time, while Chaplin was married to French actress Noelle Adam.
“When you’re playing a character who falls in love with another character onstage or on-screen, you have to find all the ways you could really love that person,” she writes. “And in that process, sometimes the two people actually do fall in love, for a while at least… or maybe I should say, fall in attraction.”
Streisand eventually told Gould about their emotional affair and ended things with Chaplin.
Chaplin became verbally abusive toward her on stage
Soon after, Chaplin became resentful about their “breakup” and started making derogatory comments to Streisand in the middle of their performances, according to the actress.
“One night onstage, in the middle of a scene, he started to mumble under his breath,” Streisand writes. “At first I thought I was hearing things. After all, I do have noises in my ears. Then I realized, No, he’s actually talking. [...] Did I hear right? No, that couldn’t be right. He couldn’t possibly be saying these mean, hostile things, words like ‘shit’ and ‘crap’ and ‘damn.’ But he was. He was cursing me out. He’d taunt me, calling me a bitch, or worse… the most vicious names.”
Streisand says his verbal attacks were so repetitive that she dreaded going on stage and became “physically ill.” Eventually, she reported Chaplin to the stage manager, who couldn’t convince him to stop. Then, the show’s producer Ray Stark “brought him up on charges” before the Actors’ Equity Association. However, Chaplin charmed the all-male panel and kept his membership. Luckily for Streisand, Chaplin eventually quit the production, but she says that the incident “scarred [her] for life.”
There was no rivalry between Streisand and Judy Garland
Streisand said she was vexed by the rumors that she and Judy Garland didn’t get along. She also confirmed that a controversial joke she made during her famous appearance on The Judy Garland Show about wanting to replace her was entirely scripted.
“People were looking for some sort of rivalry between us,” Streisand writes. “And when they couldn’t find anything, they made it up. I found Judy to be completely generous. We sang a medley of songs, taking turns, and she wasn’t just focused on herself. She watched me and responded to me. She would reach out and brush back a strand of my hair, like a mother.”
Years later, Garland had a rather dark piece of advice for Streisand before her early death from a drug overdose.
“Judy and I became friends. We spoke on the phone, and she came to one of the rare parties I gave at my New York apartment,” Streisand recalls. “I think she arrived late. And I remember her saying something I never quite understood: ‘Don’t let them do to you what they did to me.’ I should have asked her what she meant, but I didn’t want to appear too nosy.”
Walter Matthau screamed at her on the set of Hello Dolly!
Unfortunately, Streisand had to deal with verbal abuse on another set—again, thanks to Chaplin. While filming the 1969 film Hello Dolly!, her screen partner Walter Matthau screamed at her for improvising a scene.
“He looked at me with the purest venom and said, ‘You may be the singer in this picture, but I’m the actor! I have more talent in my farts than you have in your whole body!’’’ she writes.
Streisand says Matthau continued to taunt her by fumbling his lines during her big scenes. When she finally asked him why he was being so hostile, he responded that she hurt “his friend,” Chaplin. Streisand tried to explain her side of their rift. Unfortunately, it only made things worse, as Matthau complained to Richard Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, about her.
Marlon Brando wanted to sleep with her
Streisand makes her longtime crush on Marlon Brando known several times throughout her memoir. And it turns out that she almost had her chance with the Hollywood heartthrob, but ultimately declined the offer. In a chapter titled “Brando,” the actress writes that he introduced himself to her at a benefit for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) by kissing her back.
During their second encounter, at a party hosted by Warren Beatty, Streisand says that Brando told her that he “wanted to fuck” her. He also predicted that she would divorce Gould.
Streisand ultimately declined his advances, but the two maintained a friendship and would “stay on the phone for hours” to discuss their personal lives, acting processes, and misgivings about their career paths. Brando told her that he didn’t actually enjoy acting, stating that the profession was “for girls” and that he only “did it for the money.”
On her cantankerous relationship with Sue Mengers
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between Streisand and her former agent/friend Sue Mengers, whose breakup has been thoroughly documented. In her book, Streisand notes that Mengers became the kind of agent who would speak on her behalf on matters she didn’t quite find appropriate: “This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. It happens when an artist’s representative starts to think they are the artist, and can speak for the artist, and have the same power as the artist.”
Streisand adds that she’s not even sure how Mengers came to represent her, noting that she’d started out as her ex Elliott Gould’s rep—and that back then, “it was clear to both of us that Sue was using him in an effort to get close to me.” As Streisand recalls, “Sue was very entertaining and could turn anything into a great story… but I could never quite trust her.”
Streisand claims that it was Mengers who tipped the gossip press off that she’d briefly begun seeing someone else during her relationship with hairdresser Jon Peters (with his knowledge, she writes)—and that Mengers admitted as much after denying it for years, saying, “I’ve always hated Jon.”
Ultimately, Streisand recalls that their relationship became too “symbiotic” for her liking and that she was “furious to find out that she had turned down projects without even showing me the scripts.” When she told Mengers that they had different tastes and that she wanted to end their professional relationship but stay friends, Streisand writes, Mengers replied, “If I’m not your agent, I won’t be your friend.”
The studio cut an interracial kiss from Up the Sandbox
Looking back on the 1972 drama, Streisand writes that she would do a few things differently.
“I would fight harder to keep the moment where Margaret and her Black revolutionary boyfriend kiss,” the actress writes. “That was in a fantasy sequence where they’re blowing up the Statue of Liberty. (In Margaret’s mind it was a false symbol, since she felt there was no liberty for her, as a woman.) The studio made us cut the kiss but they kept the explosion, which says a lot about our world.”
Robert Redford initially turned down The Way We Were
Sydney Pollack’s 1973 romance might be considered a foundational Hollywood love story, but Streisand recalls that her co-star, Robert Redford, was initially not interested in playing Hubbell because he thought that the role was (in her words) “underdeveloped.” (She agrees.)
“Bob asked Sydney, ‘Who is this guy? He’s just an object . . . He doesn’t want anything. What does this guy want?’” Streisand recalls. “In Bob’s opinion, he was shallow and one-dimensional. Not very real. ‘A pin-up girl in reverse,’ as Sydney put it.”
And so, Streisand says she instructed Pollack to deepen the character and make the roles “equal”—and to pay Redford “whatever he wanted.”
Even then, Redford declined, but after one more week of begging, he thought better of it and came aboard. “The courtship had been tough, but Bob’s reluctance had a big influence on the script and ultimately resulted in a richer, more interesting character,” Streisand writes.
Columbia Records’s art department tried to remove the bump from her nose for The Way We Were album cover
Streisand recalls shooting the cover for her 15th studio album on her balcony in Carolwood—a smooth process that quickly hit a snag when she got the finished product back from her label.
“I gave the shot to the art department at Columbia, and when they sent the finished cover back to me, I took one look and asked, ‘What happened here? Something’s strange,’” Streisand writes. “Well, it turned out that someone had taken off the bump on my nose! I guess they thought I’d be pleased, but I actually like that bump. That bump and I have been through a lot together. It’s mine, and I said to the art director, ‘If I wanted a nose job, I would have gone to a doctor. Please put the bump back.’”
Jon Peters pushed her to test her limits—but his temper “scared” her
Streisand writes that throughout their relationship, film producer Jon Peters pushed her to do things she hadn’t necessarily believed she could do. At the same time, she writes, he could be a little delusional about his own abilities.
The former hairdresser allegedly lobbied to produce her album ButterFly just after they’d begun living together, despite having no production experience; Streisand writes that he wanted to maintain his production credit even after she’d bailed him out. She also writes that he pushed to have a sole producer credit on A Star Is Born, relegating her to executive producer—which, she later learned, is not an awards-eligible title.
“And he could be so volatile,” Streisand writes later. “His temper scared me.”
Streisand recalls a moment when Mengers told her that Peters had been telling people she wouldn’t work without him—which prompted an argument after she urged him to stop “lying.”
So he was already in fighting mode when we arrived at the house, and a truck was parked right in front of it, blocking the entrance. I thought we could still squeeze around it to get in the gate, but Jon was enraged. He kept honking the horn until finally this big, hulking guy appeared.”
Peters yelled at the man to move his “fucking truck,” Streisand recalls, and when the man did not acquiesce, “Well, that’s all Jon needed to hear. He’s only five foot nine, and yet he picked a fight with this guy who was at least six foot three.”
Partway through the fight, Streisand recalls, the two men began biting one another. “So I bopped the guy over the head with my pocketbook. As Jon said, ‘You saved me again. He bit my finger and it’s practically down to the bone!’ Being with him was getting exhausting. I’d prefer to have all this drama in my movies, not in my life.”
Frank Pierson “blackmailed” his way into directing A Star Is Born
Pierson came aboard the project as a screenwriter, Streisand writes, and she was shocked when he “blackmailed” the production.
“After giving me a first draft that still hadn’t captured the love story, he said, ‘By the way, I also want to direct this. And I’m not going to do another draft unless I get to direct it as well,’” Streisand recalls. “I didn’t want him to direct . . . he had only directed one unsuccessful film and didn’t know anything about musicals . . . but I was under tremendous pressure.”
Although the two agreed that they would co-direct, with Streisand forgoing a credit, she writes that it didn’t take long before Pierson reneged on that agreement and became a nightmare collaborator. He even went so far as to write a “deliberately cruel” article disparaging her, Peters, and her co-star Kris Kristofferson. When Pierson claimed that the article was not for publication, Streisand writes that she “made the mistake of believing him” because she “still didn’t realize that I was dealing with a pathological liar. And as I’ve said, I cannot deal with people who lie.”
When the article ultimately came out, Streisand writes that it “sent me straight to the doctor. My heart was beating so fast I thought I was having a heart attack.” Regarding Pierson, she writes, “All I know is that his behavior was unethical, unprofessional, and immoral.”
Mandy Patinkin misbehaved on Yentl because he thought he and Streisand would have an affair
Just a couple weeks into the production of Yentl, Streisand recalls that only one person seemed to be throwing things off—Mandy Patinkin, the “character actor” whom she wanted to make a star as her leading man, Avigdor.
Patinkin hadn’t been making eye contact, Streisand writes; he wasn’t giving her or co-star Amy Irving much to work with. When she asked him what was wrong, she recalls, he had an interesting response: “Tough titty.”
When Streisand took Patinkin aside, “His face crumpled and he said, ‘I thought we were going to have a more personal relationship.’ ‘What?’ I had no idea what he was talking about. ‘I thought we were going to have an affair.’” After she turned Patinkin down, Streisand writes, “Tears rolled down his cheeks. And I suddenly realized what this was really about. I wasn’t paying enough attention to him as a man . . . or at least not the kind of attention he wanted.”
She’ll “always regret” not making The Normal Heart
Streisand dedicates an entire chapter to her years-long attempt to adapt Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart for the screen, which ultimately failed because of her constant tussles with the playwright. She details, for instance, how they butted heads over him wanting “sexuality to be front and center,” which she thought was too brazen.
She even once sent a fax to Kramer in which she told him, “You are so self-destructive,” after he “insulted” her in the press and “demean[ed]” all the work she had done.
“When he said things like I rewrote the script in order to make the woman doctor the star, I was appalled. He knew that wasn’t true. He was rewriting history. And it was unfair to blame me for the movie not getting made. After all, he had had the rights for the past fifteen years and he couldn’t get it made either… until 2014.”
The Normal Heart did eventually make its way to the screen that year—via a film written by Kramer and directed by Ryan Murphy—and while Streisand admits she’s “glad Larry finally got it made,” losing that project clearly still stings: “I’ll always regret that I never got to make The Normal Heart. … This was a very hard chapter to write…very painful. I don’t like reliving it. It will always break my heart.”
Her relationship with Don Johnson was a blast—until they crashed and burned
Streisand writes of meeting Don Johnson—then the reigning heartthrob of TV, thanks to Miami Vice—at a party in Aspen, and likens their relationship to “adolescent excitement.”
“I felt like a high school girl, going out with the captain of the football team,” she writes, adding that she liked that he got as much attention as she did because, “For years I had always been apologizing to the men I was with . . . I didn’t want them to feel overshadowed. But now, I could actually relax.”
Things turned sour, however, after she asked him to make a song with her called “Till I Loved You.” “It was Don’s attitude afterward… singing with me apparently made him feel very insecure,” she writes. “And instead of talking about it honestly, he just became very cold, and mistrustful, and angry.”
One day, she called him in Miami and his ex-wife Melanie Griffith answered the phone at Johnson’s house.
“I had no problem with him talking to her, but I did have a problem with him not having the courtesy to tell me the truth about their current relationship. I can’t be with a man who is not straight with me emotionally. So that was it. The romance was over, and it was fun while it lasted. I have no regrets.”
She and Ralph Fiennes had a very flirty relationship
After a concert in Anaheim in the late 1990s, Fiennes—who was in the crowd that night—hitched a ride back to Los Angeles with Streisand, where she talked to him about wanting to direct him in The Normal Heart. After that initial meeting, he came to her house for dinner, where things turned quite flirtatious.
“I liked talking to Ralph, because he’s interested in so many things, and by the time we went down to the screening room, I felt very comfortable. And then there was a subtle shift in the atmosphere. The look in his eyes as he gently touched my face and then my hair became almost too intimate, and I thought, Oh no. This guy is so attractive. But because I was hoping to direct him, I couldn’t allow myself to succumb to his charms. Believe me, it was tempting.”
A few years ago, Streisand recalls, they crossed paths again at a Christmas party in L.A.
“He said, ‘Do you remember sitting in your projection room at Carolwood? Do you remember… our bare feet were touching.’ We just looked at each other. It was one of those moments when we were both thinking the same thing… and I finally told him why I couldn’t respond that night. ‘I wanted to direct you, so I had to keep my objectivity.’”
She never meant to diss Celine Dion at the Oscars
In 1997, Streisand went to the Academy Awards for her film The Mirror Has Two Faces, but told producers she didn’t want to sing her nominated song, “I Finally Found Someone,” during the show. Originally, Natalie Cole was going to perform, but when she got sick at the last minute, Celine Dion stepped in. Afterward, much was made of the fact that Streisand was not in her seat during Dion’s performance—leading some to speculate that she was unhappy with or jealous of Dion.
In her memoir though, Streisand sets the record straight.
“I was sitting in the audience watching the show … when I suddenly started hemorrhaging. (I was having more problems with endometriosis.) I quickly got up and rushed to the bathroom,” she writes. “And by the time I could emerge, Celine had already sung the song. I didn’t know that she was about to go on, and I was mortified to have missed her. But of course some of the papers tried to turn it into a scandal, as if I had deliberately dissed her.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she continues. “Who wouldn’t want to hear Celine sing a song that you cowrote? I found her afterward and apologized profusely. She completely understood.”
She was “hurt” by the pay discrepancy between her and Dustin Hoffman for Meet the Fockers
Despite initially turning down her role in the 2004 comedy Meet the Fockers, Streisand seems to have positive memories from the experience. She’d always wanted to work with Dustin Hoffman—who she’d known since before either of them were famous—and had always liked Robert De Niro, who still sends her flowers every year on her birthday.
But she was peeved when she found out about the pay discrepancy between her and Hoffman.
“This was the first time I felt the effect of Hollywood’s unequal pay scale for men and women,” she writes. “I didn’t ask what the other actors were making, but I was definitely hurt when I found out that Dustin was getting three times as much as me, plus a tiny percentage, which is significant on a movie that made $520 million. I was given some excuse about how I had been the last to sign, but the only thing that made me feel better was when my dear friend Ron Meyer, who was the head of Universal, gave me a bonus… the first and only time I ever got one. I guess he, too, thought it was unfair.”
She details her treatment of a sequel to The Way We Were—and explains why it’s never happened
Streisand started writing a treatment for a sequel to The Way We Were back in the 1980s. And she spoke to Redford about the idea one day in 2015, when he came to her house for lunch.
“I knew these characters so well, and I always thought they had more to say to each other. In the first movie, principle won out over passion… Katie let Hubbell go, which was the rational thing to do under the circumstances. But in the sequel, passion wins out,” she writes.
Streisand then details the plot of her dream sequel: Katie and Hubbell meet again in 1968 when their daughter gets arrested during a Vietnam War protest. Streisand describes it as “kind of a three-way love story” between Katie, Hubbell, and their daughter, and “everything comes to a climax when they’re at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where all hell breaks loose with riots in the street.”
Various scripts were commissioned over the years, according to Streisand, but none worked out and she eventually wrote a treatment herself.
“But we were fighting a losing battle because Bob isn’t a fan of sequels,” she writes. “Still, as he and I talked this time, there was a moment of ‘Could this really happen?’ … Anyway, I gave him a copy of my treatment so he could read it at home. And then I never heard back from him.”
“I didn’t want to pressure Bob, so I never called him either,” she continues. “Frankly, I think age was a big concern for him. It didn’t bother me as much. After all, we were both too old to be in college in the original. When the acting is good, I think the audience suspends disbelief. But I had to face the fact that the moment had passed, and the sequel will live only in my mind.”
She was “appalled” to learn about “the Streisand effect”
“I’d like to set the record straight about the so-called ‘Streisand effect.’ When I first heard the term, I naïvely thought, Is that about the effect of my music? Little did I know. Then my assistant showed me all the references to it on the internet, and I was appalled,” Streisand writes about the phenomenon, which refers to how efforts made to censor information or minimize a story can backfire, instead causing it to be more widely publicized.
The term was popularized after Streisand filed a lawsuit in an attempt to “suppress” the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her home in Malibu.
“Let me say this loud and clear,” she writes in her memoir. “Contrary to the explanation on Wikipedia, I did not attempt to ‘suppress’ a photograph of my house. ... All I asked was that this man please just treat me like everyone else and remove my name, for security reasons. But he refused.”
In filing the lawsuit, she writes, she felt that she was “standing up for a principle, but in retrospect, it was a mistake.”