Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hello, Gorgeous - the Barbra Streisand story - an excerpt

In today's delanceyplace selection -- the death of her father when she was not yet two, and the addition at age eight of a stepfather who was verbally abusive to her and physically abusive and openly unfaithful to her mother, left Barbra Streisand with a unyielding determination to succeed:
"Every step [that Barbara -- later Barbra -- Streisand] took, every word she uttered, reflected the facts of [her] short life, and all of it could ultimately be traced back to that day in August 1943 when Emanuel Streisand -- scholar, poet, profes­sor -- had died of respiratory failure brought on by a morphine injec­tion intended to alleviate an epileptic seizure.

  "It was a source of both pride and comfort for Barbara that she had inherited her father's ambition and intellectual curiosity. Emanuel had received his bachelor's and master's degrees in English and edu­cation from City College in upper Manhattan, and at the time of his death, he had been working on his doctorate. He'd taught elementary and junior high school English, then got a job tutoring juvenile offenders at a Brooklyn trade school. During the summers, he coun­seled kids at upstate camps. He was a good, decent man who wanted to make a difference in the world while also making something of himself. A pedestrian existence in Brooklyn would never have been enough for Emanuel Streisand, Barbara was certain. All of their lives would have been different if only her father had lived. It was clear she was her father's child. Her mother had simply borne her.     
"And while Barbara hadn't gone on to college like her father, she could have. She'd done well in school, even though she'd hated it. ... Barbara had never fit into the routine of school. She'd been a loner at Erasmus Hall, and even when the girls stopped ganging up on her, she still kept largely to herself. She was an odd duck who, to allevi­ate boredom one day, dyed her hair platinum blond. Sometimes she wore purple lipstick to boot. She fit into no clique. The other smart kids shunned her because she looked like a beatnik while the 'actual beatniks' avoided her because she had 'brains.'

"Barbara's mother [Diana] despaired over such antics. She simply didn't understand her. What her sophisticated father had seen in her pedes­trian mother Barbara could not understand. Her mother wanted her to be just another cog in the wheel. She told Barbara she should be a school secretary, just like she was. 'You'll get paid vacations and sum­mers off,' she argued. 'It's a steady job.' ... Never had her mother said, 'You're smart, you're pretty, you're anything, you can do what you want.' ...
"Affection wasn't forthcoming from her grandparents either. Bar­bara's maternal grandfather, with whom she lived during the first years other life, was a strict taskmaster who resented the intrusion of his daughter's family into his household. Her paternal grandmother, blaming Emanuel's widow for not taking good care of him, would ac­tually look the other way when she saw Barbara on the street, dressed all in black and wearing purple lipstick. From nearly every adult in Barbara's early life had come the same message. She wasn't any good. She did not matter. ...

"[And Diana], like her daughter, needed a break from ... her new husband, who had come into their lives when Barbara was eight -- the same year, not coincidentally, that [Barbara's] tinnitus began. Louis Kind was a coarse man, nothing like the image Barbara carried around of her noble father. Kind, already divorced and the father of three, moved with his new family into a cramped apartment on Newkirk Avenue, where he could usually be found hunkered down in front of the television set watching pro wrestling with a beer and a bag of pretzels. Her mother warned her that Kind was 'allergic to kids,' and no doubt especially to 'obnoxious' ones, as Barbara admitted she could be. With her flair for melodrama, she'd tell of slithering on her belly under the TV instead of walking in front of it and risk getting yelled at by her stepfather.

"Yet no melodramatic tricks were needed to elicit sympathy for the worst of Kind's behavior. More than once he had called Barbara ugly to her face. He was truly cruel enough to call an adolescent girl ugly. And though friends insisted that Barbara's mother had tried to shield her from her stepfather's foul moods, Barbara could never remember her mother defending her."

Author: William J. Mann  
Title: Hello, Gorgeous
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: Copyright 2012 by William J. Mann
Pages: 24-27
About Us

Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.  

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