Barbra Streisand's memoirs reveal that she wasn't born a leading lady—she became one herself

The season of celebrity memoirs is upon us. In just the past few months, Britney Spears, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, and many others have inundated us with revelations and insights into their origin stories and personal lives. Despite these formidable contenders and the crowded field they occupy, the celebrity memoir I'm most eagerly anticipating is that of the one and only Barbra Streisand. Thanks to the opportunity to speak with her for this week's episode of "It's Been a Minute," I was able to get a copy.

For me, the iconography of Streisand begins with her nails. Her elegant claws (all natural, by the way) serve as a tangible symbol of the Streisand brand, distinct from her trademark voluminous hairstyle with its deep part, characteristic of her early fame, or the smooth cut she adopted in the '90s, or even the smoky chevrons of her signature feline gaze.

As the old story goes, when Streisand was a struggling actress, her mother suggested she take typing lessons to become a secretary in the New York City school system. In defiance, Streisand grew her nails, dedicating herself entirely to show business, and the rest is history—though Streisand now acknowledges that knowing how to type might have made writing her book a bit easier.

Streisand's memoir, "My Name Is Barbra," is nearly 1,000 pages of this savvy, her rhythmic Brooklyn cadence conveyed through countless ellipses and plenty of enjoyable digressions about her favorite kind of jelly roll or particularly successful antique store raid. There's the time Streisand stepped in and suggested a blocking line for Robert Redford on the set of "The Way We Were." And, of course, her recounting of how she made her Broadway debut at the tender age of 20, replete with tales of nerves and self-discovery.

Years later, when everyone from her agent to dozens of producers thought "Yentl" was "too Jewish" to connect with a mainstream audience, she persisted, ultimately earning five Oscar nominations and one win for the film. It took more than 15 years to bring the project to fruition, but Streisand's determination prevailed. "I became who I wanted to become... I don't want someone to tell me who I can't be," she told me.

Throughout the 59 chapters of her book and over the course of many decades, Streisand seeks to elevate the names of those who have inspired, impressed, or even challenged her. Her detractors are generally tossed aside or dismissed. She tells her life story as a series of odysseys, and she always emerges victorious.

Honestly, she has earned it. Her résumé speaks for itself: over 50 albums, box office titan, and a full EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony for the uninitiated). She was told to change her features and her name, but she didn't, reshaping Hollywood's notions of beauty and allure. Yet even I, a devoted fan, don't think I fully grasped the depth of Streisand's mastery until I recently saw a video of her that had been circulating on social media. It's a behind-the-scenes clip of an explosive scene from "Yentl." Streisand, in a pixie-cut wig topped with a yarmulke, deftly switches gears between directing a frenzied Mandy Patinkin, instructing the cameraman, and performing a key emotional moment of the character. We don't see the diva; we see genius.

Streisand's legacy still lingers across our cultural landscape like a constellation; Jane Campion's Oscar win, Lady Gaga's transformation into a screen goddess, Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment. But such artistic forces, like them, like Barbra, don't spring forth fully formed. They're honed over years: one late-night shoot, one "let's take it from the top" more, and one long nail at a time. And in a society that tends to value female passivity while simultaneously praising their achievements, it's particularly satisfying to look back on "My Name Is Barbra" and marvel at how she truly became a star.

Barbra Streisand in March 1966. Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images

To be honest, she's earned it. Her resume speaks for itself: over 50 albums, a box office powerhouse, and a complete EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony for those unfamiliar). She was told to change her looks and her name, but she didn't, reshaping Hollywood's notions of beauty and attractiveness. Yet even I, a devoted fan, don't think I fully grasped the depth of Streisand's mastery until I recently saw a video of her that had been circulating on social media. It's a behind-the-scenes clip of an explosive scene from "Yentl." Streisand, in a pixie-cut wig crowned with a yarmulke, effortlessly transitions between directing an impassioned Mandy Patinkin, instructing the cameraman, and delivering a crucial emotional moment of her character. We don't see the diva; we see genius.

Streisand's legacy still looms large in our cultural landscape, like a constellation; Jane Campion's Oscar win, Lady Gaga's transformation into a screen goddess, Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment. But such artistic forces, like them, like Barbra, don't emerge fully formed. They are honed over years: one late-night shoot, one "let's take it from the top" more, and one long nail at a time. And in a society that tends to value female passivity while simultaneously celebrating their achievements, it's particularly satisfying to look back at "My Name Is Barbra" and marvel at how she truly became a star.

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