Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand

By William J. Mann

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 576 pages)

Who is this author?

William J. Mann is adept at writing biographies of the famous and talented. His 2006 book, “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” was a New York Times Notable Book. He’s also the author of   “How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, 1941-1981,”  “Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger.” “Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood” and “Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines.” Mann has homes in Provincetown on Cape Cod and New York City.

What is this book about?

Barbra. Babs. La Streisand. You may think you already know everything there is to know about this iconic singer with the face that launched a thousand quips and the voice that still mesmerizes, but William J. Mann’s biography will prove you wrong. He takes a deep and detailed look at her early years, showing how it contained the seeds that would blossom into one of the most successful and respected careers in American show business. Here is how he welcomes readers to the book:

“Just five years after arriving in Manhattan as a seventeen-year-old kid without money or connections, Barbra Streisand was the top-selling female recording artist in America and the star of one of Broadway’s biggest hits. Twenty-two years old, her face graced the covers of Time and Life. That was only the beginning of a career that has marched its band and beat its drum for half a century, but everything Streisand has accomplished in that time can be traced right back to this first half decade of her professional life.”

Why you’ll like it:

Mann is a meticulous researcher who writes with verve, a winning combination for any biographer. I had the pleasure of interviewing him about his Hepburn book, and I recall that his enthusiasm for his subject and respect for her achievements was contagious. According to its many positive reviews, he brings the same skills to “Hello, Gorgeous.” Streisand fan or not, you are likely to be impressed this book, which offers deep insights but is not hampered by a stuffy academic approach.

What others are saying:

Says Booklist: “Before she was Barbra, she was Barbara, a homely Brooklyn kid who had an unshakable belief that she would be a star. What she didn’t think was that fame would come through her singing voice. Streisand wanted to be an actress; she saw Shakespeare in her future, not Fanny Brice. Mann takes readers from the day Streisand took the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and ends with her as the toast of Broadway. He seems to have gotten closer than most to some friends and co-workers of the early Streisand—first love Barry Dennen, first husband Elliott Gould, manager Marty Erlichman—and he’s lucky that she left a paper trail of interviews. Mann seems to have combed through every one, looked at the old videos, and has even gone as far as to check Noël Coward’s schedule for 1960 to prove he could not have seen Streisand sing at Bon Soir. Though some of this is well-trod ground, Streisand fans will come away feeling they’ve had a ringside seat at her early career, and they will leave the show applauding.’’

“In previous biographies, William J. Mann has chronicled the lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn, two talented actresses whose riveting beauty seemed to ensure their fame. With “Hello, Gorgeous,” he turns his attention to Barbra Streisand, who has been described impolitely as an awkward ugly duckling who gate-crashed her way to fame. That image, which Barbra herself reinforced with her early choice of roles, conceals her multiple talents, her extraordinary drive, and her complexity. In this full-bodied exploration of Streisand’s early years, Mann describes the rise of the Brooklyn-born singer who began her career in “off-off-off Broadway” productions and small gay Greenwich Village nightclubs. A fascinating biography that tells us how Barbara became Barbra,” says Barnes & Noble.

“…Mann does something a little different here, focusing on Barbra Streisand’s breakout years: the early Sixties, when she vaulted from hopeful nobody to the star of “Funny Girl” on Broadway and singer with three platinum albums. …Theater lovers will swoon,” says Library Journal.

 Kirkus Reviews

“…Barbra Streisand is such a cultural institution that it sometimes seems as if she sprang fully grown from the head of the entertainment industry. Not so, argues the author in this surprisingly suspenseful and masterfully paced biography. …Mann appropriately gives credit to the agents, accompanists, directors and mentors who brought her idiosyncratic style to a generation hungry for new idols. He also delves into her paradoxical mixture of self-confidence and -doubt, disclosing that she privately felt insecure about her looks despite publicly flaunting an outlandish flair for fashion and a loopy sense of humor. …Even though we know the answers to most of the questions–Will our heroine win the coveted role of Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”? Will she live happily ever after with her Prince Charming, Elliott Gould?–this book makes getting to them a treat, says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

People who visit the Downtown Hartford Public Library are the luckiest people in the world: this book is on its new book shelf.

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