Oprah Talks to Barbra Streisand
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.
Oprah: There's not another one like it. When did you know that?
Barbra: I don't know.
Oprah: You still don't know it! Do you listen to your own music?
Barbra: Never. Lately, I've had to play my old records because I'm preparing a show. For a few of the songs, I thought, This girl's good.
Oprah: Which songs?
Barbra: Seventies songs like "Since I Fell for You" and "Kind of Man a Woman Needs", which I may try to sing again.
Oprah: Let me ask you this: When did you know who you were?
Barbra: Very early. I was kind of a wild child, like an animal. I could never sit still at a table—not that my family ever sat down and ate a meal together. I used to stand over the stove and eat out of a pot. There was no mealtime. I have no idea when my brother and sister ate, because I came in whenever I wanted. I also taught my mother how to smoke when I was 10.
Oprah: She let you smoke?
Barbra: Actually, I went up on the roof and smoked Pall Malls.
Oprah: When did you stop?
Barbra: When I was 12.
Oprah: What a childhood! Did you have any refuge?
Barbra: Well, I didn't have my own room. I slept in the living room till I was 13. My brother had this tiny room, and one day when my stepfather was being mean, I went in there to get away. I was lying on my brother's bed and I had an out-of-body experience. I actually saw myself down on the bed from the ceiling. It scared the hell out of me.
Oprah: I heard that you once tried to contact your father's spirit with a medium.
Barbra: I did. My brother is a very meat-and-potatoes guy, no woo-woo. But he told me about a woman, a regular housewife, who had a spiritual guide who could call up "Daddy's spirit." My brother said he'd seen the table move across the room when he'd met her. I was very skeptical, and I said, "I've gotta see this for myself." For 39 years, I hadn't even visited my father's grave. So first, I went there and took a picture with my arm around his tombstone. It's the only picture I have with him. Then we met with the woman, and let me tell you, the table moved.
Oprah: Were there cards on the table?
Barbra: No. You start listing letters—A-B-C-D-E-F-G—and the table leg lifts when you get to the right one. It spelled M-A-N. So we asked, "Is it Manny?" That was my father's nickname. If the leg stomps yes, which it did, then you don't have to spell the rest of the letters. Then it spelled B-A-R—you know, a message for Barbra. I was totally freaked out. And that message was the simplest word: Sorry.
I'm sure he was sorry. He didn't see my life. I couldn't talk to him about intellectual things. My father was a teacher and a scholar. He taught high school and juvenile delinquents at a reformatory.
On the plane home from that experience, I read one of my father's two doctoral theses. It was about how to teach English to prisoners. It was all about Ibsen and Shakespeare and Chekhov. When I was 16, I had devoured Chekhov and Ibsen—all the plays I wanted to act in. By the way, a week after I got home, my brother sent me the picture from the cemetery. On the tombstone next to my father was the name Anchel, which I hadn't seen when I was there. That happens to be the name of the character I played in the movie Yentl. I hadn't yet decided whether to direct the film or not. This made my decision.
Oprah: So you felt connected to your father.
Barbra: Totally connected. Just like my father, I've always loved education. In school I was a member of the honor society. My teachers called in my mother and said, "Why isn't this kid going to college?" But my book reports were on Stanislavsky—I'd always wanted to be an actress. I don't know why—I went to very few movies when I was a girl. For my family, going to a 25-cent movie was a big deal.
Oprah: Some people become actresses because they don't like being themselves.
Barbra: That was probably true for me.
Oprah: Is part of the reason you became so famous that you never altered the way you look? You never changed your name or got a nose job?
Barbra: People told me to change my last name. But I thought, That's not real. So instead, I decided to take an "a" out of my first name and shorten it to Barbra. I did that when I was 18. As for my nose, I was afraid of the pain. And how could I trust a doctor's aesthetic sense? How would I know he wouldn't take too much off?
Oprah: If you hadn't been afraid, would you have changed your nose?
Barbra: From certain angles, I liked my nose—still do. Some people would tell me, "You could take the bump off." And I would say, "But I like the bump."
Oprah: I'm glad you didn't. Aren't you glad?
Oprah: Would you consider other kinds of plastic surgery?
Barbra: Yes, but it's scary. I don't even have pierced ears.
Oprah: I just pierced mine recently. It was major. And now one has closed up. Yesterday I had to stick a needle through to open it.
Barbra: Each ear is a different length, so how could you possibly put a hole in exactly the same place on different ears?
Oprah: You do know you're a perfectionist, right?
Barbra: Yes, but much less now. I really don't like being called a "perfectionist" as if it's a crime. I strive for excellence.
Oprah: And you like that.
Barbra: I have no choice over it. I'm less of a perfectionist than people think. When I'm directing a movie, I'm pretty forgiving. There's a moment in the novel The Prince of Tides that I tried to capture on film. In the scene, the sun and moon are out at the same time. That only happens once a month, so we waited for the right time of the right day with the right camera. But it was impossible to get the shot because that day turned out to be cloudy in South Carolina. For some reason, I could accept that easily because that is what the universe was presenting. Compromising while being conscious is very satisfying.
Oprah: Do you live a conscious life?
Barbra: I try to, but I make terrible mistakes. Every day I try to be a better human being. Many days I don't succeed.
Oprah: People use the word "diva" to describe you. That word is thrown around so much that I don't even know what it means anymore.
Barbra: It means they think you're demanding.
Oprah: Are you?
Barbra: Mostly of myself. I find that the myth of the "diva" is much bigger than me. If you look at the ad for my concert, the shadow is much bigger than the person.