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Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand…

Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand (2012)

by William J. Mann

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What does it take to become a celebrity? First and foremost, an iron-clad narcissism, a ruthless way with friendships, a keen and constant sense of where one finds oneself on the ladder, and an iconoclastic lack of discipline (when imposed by others). Those are the main requirements. If, on top of that, you have a talent, you are on your way to stardom. That's what I remember from this biography of Barbra's early career (having two friends who made it to national stardom in Europe, I couldn't help comparing; Barbra trumps them all). The author paints a coherent picture of Barbra chiseling away at the established order, not willing to take anything but the fast lane. Singing in nightclubs and concert halls, were unpleasant stepping stones in order to make it as a dramatic actress.
The author is a bit of an armchair psychologist ("narcissism" is his word), and Barbra's complex feelings about her father and mother are amply detailed, as constant motives for her overachieving.
He may have relied heavily on a select few witnesses among Barbra's discarded friends of the early years, and every section is rather repetitively built up with a cliffhanger ("would Barbra get the lead in "Funny Girl"? She didn't know, but was determined to go for it"). The book reaches its climax with the opening night of "Funny Girl", and it peters out a bit after that. Still, for anyone who likes Barbra Streisand's early work, you will enjoy the insights provided by these sources (who, uncannily, seem to have total recall memory more than 50 years after the facts), and - like me- finish this page turner in a few days. Just don't expect to like Barbra as much anymore. ( )
  fist | Nov 4, 2013 |
This was a page turner for me as I am a Life long Streisand fan. It tells the story of a shy, young girl with big dreams. This is the first five years of her 'career". It's chock full of details about how a young girl emerged from her cocoon and became a young superstar.
I loved the story about the making of the Broadway show 'Funny Girl" and how it all came together. And all the "gossip' I didn't know.
The author, whom I have admired from his novels,really doesn't take sides when telling this story. He tells it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. Excellent writing and highly recommend.
It's like 'Buttah".... ( )
  silversurfer | Jan 30, 2013 |
Before Madonna, before Lady Gaga, before Nicki Minaj or any other performer of the past 50 years, there was Barbra. Hello Gorgeous is a well-structured look at how a quirky teenager who desperately wanted to become an actress became one, but not before becoming the toast of Broadway and a woman who didn't even realize the power of her gift -- that voice. That glorious voice.

William J. Mann, whose previous books include biographies of Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn and John Schlesinger, as well as novels, has put together bits and pieces of not only the legend, but also stories from people who knew her when. The result is a coherent and cohesive narrative of how Streisand became an overnight sensation after only four years.

Mann recounts Streisand's early acting classes and compares the myth to what he can document. He takes the same approach through her tutelage under her first boyfriend, actor Barry Dennen, who encouraged her to sing and who introduced her to music she later incorporated in early nightclub appearances. Two other friends helped Streisand with her distinctive makeup and fashion sense to cultivate the thriftshop look that became an early trademark.

Throughout, there is a consistent sense that Streisand wanted to be the best and do her best, although doing the same performance night after night after night soon grew tiresome in her first Broadway show, I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Streisand made a splash in that show and captured the heart of leading man Elliot Gould in her small role. Mann recounts the lack of warmth and support from her mother without making her a monster.

Between the show and her nightclub appearances, comparisons soon began between her and Fanny Brice. The convoluted path that led to her getting the role of a lifetime in Funny Girl is described chronologically and thoroughly. Even knowing the outcome and the bare bones of the myth, Mann's account makes for compelling reading.

Mann is careful about noting his sources, but part of his writing style does grate. When he refers to how Streisand or others must be feeling or how if something didn't happen on one night it happened on a night like this, the reader can be forgiven for pausing to question, well, how does he know? Because so much of this comprehensive look at Streisand's path to stardom is documented here with credit to primary sources, these narrative tics take away from the scholarship that was plainly involved.

Even so, Hello Gorgeous is an engaging look at a star and the era when she first blossomed. ( )
  Perednia | Nov 17, 2012 |
This biography of Barbra Streisand is a timely release, marking her fiftieth anniversary in show business. While the singer/actress giant is still actively performing (sold out for her tour at age seventy), Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand covers only the first four years of her career in show business. It is a detailed account of how this petite-sized young woman and her “out-sized” personality” took the entertainment industry by storm.

“In these early formative years, Streisand learned how to dazzle, how to connect, and how to get what she wanted.” The sixteen-year-old who wrote book reports only on Stanislavsky and acting knew her only ambition was to act. Lest we think she was merely an attention grabber, the book explores in depth her yearning to be loved, her craving for artistic affirmation, and the depths of her vulnerability. She thrived during a time when talent and artistry mattered rather than infamy, and she brilliantly marketed herself as a performer. She strove for excellence and made people admire her quirkiness. She had great instincts in her choices of friends, fashion, songs and roles. Getting to the heart of her character was an ever-present goal.

Here are some tidbits of Streisand’s early years to whet your interest:

• Streisand battled tinnitus.
• She answered the phone in different accents to keep her acting alive.
• Adding her own razzmatazz to a song was a great challenge and delight to her.
• At age eighteen, she had never had a singing lesson in her life.
• Singing became a vehicle for acting, her first love.
• She used belligerence as a protective shield in the entertainment industry.
• Elliot Gould felt his wife, Barbra, was the more talented of the two.

Kudos go to William J. Mann for researching the truth and debunking damaging myths. Twenty percent of the book is devoted to archival sources supporting the truth about one of the greatest performers of the twentieth century. Mann doesn’t come across as a blind fan, but rather an observer apart who is fondly respectful and in awe of his subject. His writing is honest and to the point. The book is a meaty tome, full of details. For those aspiring to “make it”, Hello Gorgeous is first an instruction manual, but more importantly it is an honest assessment of Streisand’s unconquerable strength and artistic gifts.

Netgalley graciously provided the advance release copy for my unbiased opinion.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont. ( )
  hollysing | Oct 8, 2012 |
In only 4 years Barbra Streisand grew from a rebellious teenager to an icon in the making. In Hello, Gorgeous, William Mann takes you back to Streisand's formative years. From a 17 year-old Brooklyn girl, uncertain about her nose and profiling her Jewish background, talent yet unknown, but ambitious. Four years later, after learning to sing in night clubs and bars, playing roles in musicals and slowly seeing her salary rise from $150 a week to $100,000+ yearly, she is Broadway stage star in Funny Girl. By then already three platinum albums are in her discography. Mann drew from countless interviews, newspapers, (online) archives to tell about relationship with her mother, her early lovers, and her husband Elliott Gould. With lots of details, much of them unyielded so far, since some archived were sealed, Mann was able to create a storyline that not only shows how Streisand develops, but also the American film and theater history as well. Becoming Barbra Streisand concentrates on the first 5 years of her unveiling stardom. At the end of the book only a short review of the rest of her musical and pivate life is given. Her music, directed movies like Yentl, all of it is possible thanks to Barbra's talent and ambition and the ones facilitating her with songs and stages. ( )
  hjvanderklis | Sep 5, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547368925, Hardcover)

The best-selling biographer of Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor tells the electrifying story of how Barbra Streisand transformed herself into the greatest star of her era, etching “an indelible portrait of the artist as a young woman” (Publishers Weekly).

In 1960, she was a seventeen-year-old Brooklyn kid with plenty of talent but no connections and certainly no money; her mother brought her soup to make sure she stayed fed as she took acting classes and scraped out a living. Just four years later, Barbra Streisand was the top-selling female recording artist in America and the star of one of Broadway’s biggest hits. Now the acclaimed Hollywood biographer William Mann chronicles that dizzying ascent, telling the riveting behind-the-scenes story of how Streisand and her team transformed her from an unknown dreamer into a worldwide superstar.

Drawing on the private papers of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, and interviewing scores of the friends and lovers who knew Barbara before she became Barbra, Mann recreates the vanished world of 1960s New York City and uncovers the truth behind the myths of her formative years. He shows us how Funny Girl was slowly altered, by Fosse and Robbins among others, from a Fanny Brice bio into a star-making vehicle for Streisand; takes us into the clubs and onto the set for her early nightclub and television appearances, including her torch-handing turn with Judy Garland; and introduces the canny marketing team whose strategies made her stardom seem inevitable. The Streisand who emerges is a revelation: a young woman who, for all her tough-skinned ambition, was surprisingly vulnerable in love.

Everyone who has felt outside the gate, as she once did, remembers a time when the newness and difference of Barbra Streisand changed everything and rewrote all the rules. In Hello, Gorgeous, Mann incisively illuminates the woman before she became the icon and pays tribute to one of the world’s most beloved performers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

In this intimate portrait, Mann incisively illuminates Streisand's climb to fame before she became the icon.

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