How Streisand turned looking ‘too Jewish’ into stardom
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How Streisand turned looking ‘too Jewish’ into stardom

New biography says iconic performer transformed her keen awareness of being an outsider into a message of hope for the marginalized

Barbra Streisand will sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. (Photo credit: CC BY/JCT(Loves)Streisand via Flickr.com)
Barbra Streisand will sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. (Photo credit: CC BY/JCT(Loves)Streisand via Flickr.com)

When she decided to go into show business, iconic Jewish-American performer Barbra Streisand had to overcome tremendous odds, not the least of which was what some viewed as her distinctively Jewish appearance, according to an upcoming biography of the singer and actress.

Long before she became a cultural icon, the Brooklyn-born Streisand was mocked, derided and dismissed for acting and looking “too Jewish,” Neal Gabler writes in Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power.

Bullied for her looks and tormented for her “big beak” nose, Streisand was told she had no hope of succeeding in Hollywood unless she had a nose job.

“I always knew I hadda be famous and rich – the best. Beautiful I’m not and never will be,” she is quoted as saying.

Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power, by Neal Gabler (Courtesy)
Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power, by Neal Gabler (Courtesy)

Streisand skillfully turned the stigma of her awkward looks and “Jewish” appearance into a powerful message of acceptance, making her a voice for the marginalized that defined her career that has spanned six decades, Gabler writes in the boo, which will be published in the US on April 26.

Streisand was born in 1942 in Brooklyn to Emmanuel Streisand and Diana Rosen, both children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

When she was a little over a year old, her father died of complications after a summer hiking accident.

Her mother Diana soon married Louis Kind, a divorcee with three children of his own, and her stepsister Rosalind was born shortly after.

Streisand recalled Kind as verbally abusive, calling her “the beast” and his own daughter Rosalind “beauty.”

When she asked him for spending money to buy ice cream, he told her “You’re not pretty enough.”

“I groveled at his f**king feet and called him Dad and brought him his slippers for two days. There was no change. He didn’t treat me any better. He didn’t talk to me. He didn’t see me. He didn’t like me,” Streisand remembered.

Her mother Diana was no better, she recalled, a selfish, cold and unsupportive woman.

“Subconsciously I was always trying to please my mother,” she said.

Streisand attributed her mother’s coldness to her failed ambitions to be a singer. Diana had yearned to become famous for her voice, but never left Brooklyn or pursued a career in music.

In this Jan. 15, 1969 file photo, Britain's Princess Margaret, right, talks with American singer Barbra Streisand, left, and actor Omar Sharif, center, at the premiere of the film 'Funny Girl,' at the Odeon Cinema, London. (AP Photo, File)
In this Jan. 15, 1969 file photo, Britain’s Princess Margaret, right, talks with American singer Barbra Streisand, left, and actor Omar Sharif, center, at the premiere of the film ‘Funny Girl,’ at the Odeon Cinema, London. (AP Photo, File)

Streisand also recalled her early school years as tough, saying classmates relentlessly teased her for her “big beak” nose. “I was a real ugly kid,” awkwardly skinny with a face full of acne.

Yet that tough upbringing only fueled her desire to leave the borough and make it big in Hollywood, she said.

After launching a successful singing career in the 1960s, Streisand ventured into film by the end of that decade. She starred in the critically acclaimed Funny Girl, for which she won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.

Her hugely successful career wouldn’t have been possible without her Jewish roots, Gabler writes. Without it, Streisand would have never faced hostility towards her overly “Jewish” appearance or perceived lack of femininity, and would have lacked the keen understanding of what it means to be an outsider that drove so much of her appeal.

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