Oprah: Why not?
Barbra: Good question. When I was 7 or 8, my mother sent me away to a camp where I couldn't stand the food. I was throwing potatoes down to the other end of the table. She came to visit, and I said, "You're not leaving without me." I was a very powerful kid. I had no reins on me. I said, "I'm packing my bags and going home with you." Little did I know, the guy with her in the car was my new stepfather. My mother never actually told me she had remarried. And later, she didn't tell me she was pregnant, either. I'm convinced this is why I cannot stand to be lied to. I can take any truth; just don't lie to me.
Oprah: Who did you think he was?
Barbra: I didn't know. At the time, my mother, brother, and I were living with my grandparents. My grandmother and grandfather slept in one room, and my mother and I slept in another with my brother sleeping next to us on a cot. We didn't have a living room, so we didn't have a couch, which is probably why I love couches now. When we drove back from that camp, we pulled up to a new apartment in a project.
I remember once riding in my stepfather's Pontiac with him and my friend Roslyn Arenstein. My mother had told me he was color-blind, so I was saying things like "Oh, what a pretty red light that is," thinking he doesn't see the red and the green, thinking I'm helping. My stepfather said to me, "Why don't you be more like your friend—quiet?"
Oprah: Your stepfather really did a number on you, but what about your mom?
Barbra: I remember one Christmas when I was doing Funny Girl, she went nuts. With tears running down her face, she closed her eyes and said, "Why is Barbra getting all the presents? Where are my presents?" That's when I realized she wanted to be famous, too. She had a beautiful coloratura, a soprano voice.
Oprah: Is she still living?
Barbra: No, she died a couple of years ago.
Oprah: Did you make peace with her?
Barbra: Yes. Because I realized she never had her dreams come true.
Oprah: Do you believe your mother loved you?
Barbra: I'm sure she loved me in the way she knew how. For her, love was food. When I graduated early from high school and moved out of the house at 16 to study acting, she would schlep to my place to bring me half a cantaloupe and some chicken soup. She didn't encourage me to become an actress—maybe she didn't want me to experience rejection. She never thought I would make it.
Oprah: Did she actually say those words?
Barbra: She would say it in other ways. When she first saw me act, her comment was, "Your arms are too skinny." She wanted me to forget acting and become a school secretary like she was.
Oprah: Barbra Streisand working as a secretary? What a great tragedy that would have been!
Barbra: "You'll get paid vacations and summers off," my mother would tell me. "It's a steady job." But I knew I had some other destiny. I have a picture of myself singing at P.S. 25—skinny legs, pigeon-toed. I remember people saying I had a good voice.
We Hear You!