The Paley Center for Media said “Hello, Gorgeous” to their latest “Icon”: the legendary Barbra Streisand.
Streisand was on hand for a conversation with Ryan Murphy as part of a special PaleyFest Icon Tribute, marking the first time the multihyphenate star has been honored for her overall body of work in television. The event also served as the opening night of The Paley Center for Media’s annual PaleyFest at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
The evening kicked off with a speech from Ryan Murphy about his own personal connection with Streisand and why he believes her to be the greatest star of all time. Then, PaleyFest shared a montage featuring some of Streisand’s best television moments, including her numerous Emmy-winning television specials and concerts, several memorable interviews, and the iconic moment from early in her career when she sang “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” with Judy Garland. After showcasing her impressive body of television work, Murphy sat down with Streisand to walk through her history on the small screen.
Here are some of the best moments from Streisand’s parade through her television hits (though, sadly, given the spring weather, it was, in fact, rained on).
In 1963, when she was just 21, Streisand appeared on The Judy Garland Show and created an unforgettable cultural moment when the pair duetted on “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Streisand previously recounted how Garland’s hands were cold and shaking during taping, so Murphy wanted to know how that made Streisand feel at the time. “Was this how it’s going to be?” Streisand said she wondered. Then, she added, “I adored her. I loved her. She was so wonderful to me. That was interesting to observe. That drinking or trying to ease the tension and the fear, but I know what she feels now. I know what she feels now because she was a legend already, and it gets harder I think as you get older.”
Clearing up a discrepancy from a Variety cover story earlier this month, Streisand explained her reservations behind her casting as Dolly Levi in the film adaptation of Hello, Dolly! “I thought ‘Don’t you want an older person?'” she said. “‘Why don’t you hire Carol Channing?’ Because I thought I was too young for it, especially with Walter Matthau. I thought it was bad casting.”
Streisand notoriously has stage fright and even took a hiatus from performing live for 27 years because it was so crippling. The fear stemmed from an incident during her record-breaking 1967 concert in Central Park, which became a 1968 television special. “I actually forgot the words,” she explained of the moment that traumatized her. “I was having some other kind of problems, and stage fright had set in, and in the middle of one of my songs, I just absolutely went blank. I still have that fear today, so I never performed for 27 years unless it was for a political event or something.” Streisand said it was the invention of teleprompters that finally brought her back to live performance because she felt she had a safety net if she forgot the words. She shared a story of her first live show back, the One Voice Concert in 1986. However, there was one small glitch — she was singing “America the Beautiful” and the teleprompters were on the ground. When the audience stood out of respect for the song, she could no longer see the words. The special ended up using footage from the dress rehearsal.
Why She Became a Star
You might think Streisand wanted to become a star because of her sterling voice, her love of performing, or some combination of talent and drive. Those things are all true, but she also joked that the real reason for her pursuit of stardom was her complete inability to make her own bed. “I moved to New York with a girl who also wanted to be an actress. We had this little apartment and I remember not being able to have my bed made,” she recalled. “I hate to make my bed. Even when I was sent away to health camp, I didn’t know how to make my bed. We didn’t have maids or anything, my mother made my bed or my grandmother. So when I stood in the doorway, this is what I mean by perception creates reality, I stood in the doorway and I said, ‘I have to make it because I have to afford somebody else to make the bed.’ I can’t make the bed — I just never knew how to do those corners. They taught us at camp; I couldn’t figure it out.”
Streisand created an unforgettable television moment when she appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1992 on the Coffee Talk sketch where Mike Myers stars as Linda Richmond, discussing her love of Streisand with her friend Liz Rosenberg (Madonna) and Liz’s mom (Roseanne Barr). “I was very flattered,” Streisand said of Myers’ creation of a character who was obsessed with her. Lorne Michaels invited her on the show and she popped into the sketch to surprise the ladies of Coffee Talk. Streisand revealed that no one in the sketch knew she was going to make the cameo, so those looks of shock on their faces are all genuine.
“We’re in a strange time now, in terms of men and women, and the pendulum swinging this way and that way, and it’s going to have to come to the center,” Streisand said of the #MeToo movement and the upheaval in Hollywood. Murphy asked her if she ever had her own #MeToo moment at any point in her career. “No. I mean, never,” she responded. “I wasn’t like those pretty girls with those nice little noses. Maybe that’s why. I have no idea, I don’t know.”
Her love of directing
Streisand has been an outspoken proponent of women behind the camera for decades, so it should come as no surprise that she declared her directing career to be the thing that brought her the most joy in her career (despite one audience member’s gleeful suggestion of Robert Redford as a response). “That is such a complete experience. It just involves every sense you have, every nerve end. Your taste or your vision qualities. And trying to get the best out of the actors,” she said. “Those were the most wonderful experiences. When you’re just an actress, you’re sitting on a raft let’s say in Yentl going across a river, but when you’re the director, you can say, ‘Turn the cameras off me, get the birds flying in the sky.'” Streisand explained that the sense of control she has as a director is extremely rewarding. “To be in control and not have to feel frustrated, it’s just so wonderful. You feel so humbled by it. Humbled by that power,” she said.
On television today
Streisand may have a prolific body of work on television, but that doesn’t mean she’s not also an avid consumer of the medium. One fan wanted to know what she likes to watch nowadays and Streisand’s response spanned the gamut from news on MSNBC to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (“You can learn something”) to her husband James Brolin’s show Life in Pieces. Like so many of its fans, she’s “disappointed” in this season of Homeland — “I don’t know what happened to it.” But perhaps most entertaining was her exchange with Ryan Murphy after informing him she’d recently binge-watched American Crime Story: The Assassination of Giani Versace. “It’s very scary to me,” she told Murphy. “I had to go fast. I like the parts with Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez, but I don’t like him [Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan]. He [Criss] was so good but he [Cunanan] was so awful. It’s like ‘Oh this poor individual.’ This is true stuff about him?” A question to which Murphy incredulously replied “Yes,” and then told Streisand, “Barbra, why’d you watch that? That’s not for you. Go and see Glee.”
A Star Is Born
Streisand previously told Variety that she visited the set of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s upcoming remake of her 1976 film A Star Is Born (which was itself the third iteration of a film with that title). But when asked by an audience member what she thought about it, she added a few more thoughts on the film. “I can’t say too much,” she said. “I haven’t seen it totally finished, but it’s very good. It’s very, very good.”