What do we think about that new title for these reviews? Honestly, I can’t think of anything better so I’m gonna stick with it for a while if no one minds. Today’s book wouldn’t necessarily fit the bill of other books I’ve reviewed, but I didn’t know that when I went to read it. Hello, Gorgeous details the early life of actress/director/all around awesome Barbra Streisand from 1961-1964. That’s a fairly small window that doesn’t detail any of her film work, and in 500 pages it doesn’t seem to have much else. It’s becomes a fairly rote detailing of Streisand’s life singing in nightclubs, entertaining on television, and working her way up to playing Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. I can only recommend this to die-hard Streisand fans, or fans of Broadway.
Author William J. Mann introduces Streisand by stating “Streisand came out of a time when talent still mattered” (2). It’s a blessing and a curse throughout Hello, Gorgeous as Barbra’s talent ends up costing her friends and loved ones while at the same time helping her rise through the ranks to legendary status. The book explores Streisand’s early life, only giving a passing glance to her home life. Mann mentions that Streisand’s father died when she was very young, causing the girl to idolize him. Her stepfather was cruel, and she couldn’t find a loving relationship with her mother or younger sister. Mann alleges that Barbra’s tempestuous relationship with her mother arose out of jealousy, as her mother dreamed of being a singer but gave it up to have a family. Throughout the book details moments of Streisand with her mother, finding both unable to be loving to each other.
For all Streisand’s confidence, the book details a woman horribly self-conscious and reliant on humor to lessen the impact. Streisand has become an icon for the quirky girls who don’t fall into classic beauty ideals, yet throughout the 500 pages it’s shown how vulnerable Streisand was about her image and her looks. Numerous times the young star would ask people if they felt she should fix her nose; the right answer could give Barbra an additional friend. Mann succinctly writes she “had to believe she was special because no one else did” (18). For all Streisand’s faults, she comes off as incredibly tenacious which allowed her to eventually take command of the production of Funny Girl itself!
Unfortunately, this does make the reader feel Streisand is a fairly selfish person, at least as a young woman. She’s aloof, keeping old friends away from her as she becomes famous. Big stars like Judy Garland are considered “unknown” to Streisand as she didn’t have any idols other than herself (that’s a quote). One story has her missing a friend’s opening night on Broadway because her appearance wasn’t perfect. Friends were only seen on a one-on-one basis. It does become fairly repetitive, and by the end I was unsure if I liked Streisand at all.
That’s the biggest issue with Hello, Gorgeous; it feels like you’re reading the same thing over and over. Mann definitely puts a lot of detailing in describing Manhattan, Broadway, the various supper and nightclubs of the early 60s, but Streisand feels like a stagnant character throughout. Whenever Streisand becomes the focus the book follows a formula of “performance, effect, performance, effect.” In all of these moments the book cites the songs sung, and even includes extraneous lyrics. It all adds up to a great Playbill of all Streisand’s early performances, but little about her as a person.
The picture section is fantastic, composed of personal photos and publicity photos of Streisand. The book also goes in-depth in the idea of publicity, and the making of celebrity. By the time Streisand finally played Fanny Brice, her people had turned the persona of Brice into that of Streisand herself. Both characters become inextricably connected. In the end, I wouldn’t consider Hello, Gorgeous a biography. It sets out to do a lot from being a history of New York in the 1960s to being a non-fiction detailing of Broadway stardom with Streisand as the focal point. I would recommend this to fans of Streisand as it does give an interesting assessment of her life during this brief time frame, and it’s also an interesting read for Broadway aficionados.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.