Barbra Streisand, famously private, had suggested we meet at her home in Malibu. As we walk around the main house, with its beautiful decor and glorious view of the Pacific, I realize that some of the paintings and furniture could easily be in a museum. But the atmosphere Streisand creates is warm and comfortable.
And so, amazingly, is she.
By the end of our afternoon together, I feel like she’s my best girlfriend. I want to move next door so I can stop in now and then to get a low-calorie snack and some cozy conversation.
“I sometimes think women really understand each other,” she tells me at one point, as we discuss marriage. “Don’t you think it’s easier to be with your girlfriends, your women friends? You have to be more sensitive with men. You don’t have to go through all that with women.”
We walk outside and her hair blows, but she doesn’t mind. “Unless I’m performing, I don’t sit there and straighten my hair and smooth it,” she says. “I don’t want to bother and use the iron, so I just crunch it.”
Married for 11 years to actor James Brolin, Streisand is now enjoying her extended family, including her stepson, actor Josh Brolin. And if it’s possible to think of her this way—Streisand is now a grandmother.
“Oh, I love it, I love it,” she says. “Our granddaughter came over the other day, Josh’s daughter. She’s 16 years old and it was the sweetest thing—she just wanted to spend time with us. I cancelled all my appointments. I had a lawyer’s appointment and a business appointment and I said, ‘ I can’t make it today.’ It’s so much fun to be with her. That’s more important now. More important than business.”
Streisand succeeded at a time when strong, independent, determined women weren’t always encouraged. “I don’t know where the drive came from,” she says. “Maybe it was in the DNA. I’d take the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan to take classes. I went away to summer stock when I was 15. I tried to make myself older. I just had that nerve.”
She didn’t mind being distinctive in looks and style. Told to take a stage name, she didn’t bite. “I said, ‘I don’t want to change my name.’ I can’t be false and become, you know, Joni Sands. But I took the A out so I’d be more of an individual. Barbra. That’s what I wanted—to be an individual.”
I ask Streisand what perspective she has for young women now. And she surprises me.
“In many ways, I think it was easier for us,” she says. “Now kids grow up in a world of Cialis commercials. I’m kind of shocked myself. I may be really prudish but it seems to me every other commercial is something to do with sex. It bothers me. It’s harder now. We live in a time of nuclear weapons and governments that are so volatile and so much distrust in the world.”
Fighting back, she is both extraordinarily charitable and highly political. Her foundation gives millions to important causes from environment to education.
“What you could do with money is great,” she says. “You know, after-school programs for kids. Giving them the music and art that is being eliminated from schools. I just took a class called arts therapy expression. If kids coming from dysfunctional families, poor families, could have this form of expression—a way to express the anger and confusion—it would be so helpful to society. Maybe they wouldn’t have to go out and become violent. Express the pain through art or music.”
Streisand always expressed herself in her music. Her new CD Love Is The Answercomes out September 29. “It’s like coming back to my roots, because I started in these little clubs with trios or quartets,” she says. “When I used to sing with friends, we’d sit around the piano with those old-time Sony tape recorders. I loved the sound of that, what, $59 tape recorder. Not the fancy stuff. Just very simple. And this CD was able to give me that sound—very unembellished.”
Since the CD hasn’t yet been released, I’d gone over to the office of Marty Erhlichman, her manager since the 60s, to listen to it.
“It’s wonderful,” I tell her. “He played me six songs. Really terrific.”
“Six songs?” she asks, suddenly on alert. “There are 13. Why did he play you only six?”
“I don’t think he dislikes the others,” I joke. “We didn’t have time.”
Barbra’s anxious, controlling side kicks in and she wants to know which songs I heard. I give her the list.
“He didn’t play you ‘Make Someone Happy?’” she asks. “That’s an important one. It’s what I almost named the whole CD.”
We go on to another subject. But Streisand has become one of the world’s most famous singers for a reason. She cares. She doesn’t forget. She is driven to make everything right.
The next day, a CD of “Make Someone Happy” is on my desk.
She’s right. Good song.