In 1969, the Friars Club presented its Entertainer of the Year Award to Barbra Streisand, then already a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer and the Tony Award-nominated star of Funny Girl on the New York and London stage. She was also fresh from winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar as Best Actress for the filmed version of the musical. And she was only 27 years old.
Streisand’s career has spanned such a variety of great performances in so many entertainment genres that she is today one of only 14 individuals to have won a Grammy, an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She has also earned more than 50 Gold and multiple Platinum records.
Back on May 16, 1969, Streisand accepted the Friars Club award at an event held at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. More than 1,200 attendees were present, a record for the organization. She was only the second female recipient of the honor, the first being Lucille Ball.
The Barbra Streisand Room Debuts
Liza Minnelli was the first woman to actually become a member of the Friars Club. However, the group actually named an entire performance space and bar after Streisand, in honor of her many achievements. In 2016, she was present for the ribbon-cutting of The Barbra Streisand Room (a space previously named for Lucille Ball) at the club’s “Monastery” on East 55th Street in New York. Dame Helen Mirren, Larry King, and others among the famous were also in attendance.
Since 2016, a whole range of great performances have graced the space named in Streisand’s honor. Outside of its closure at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the room has hosted live musical concerts, comedy acts, and parties both pre- and after New York City premieres.
Barbara (she would later drop the “a” in her name to stand out more) Streisand was born in Brooklyn to a struggling Jewish family. Her father, a high school English teacher, died when she was a toddler. Her mother raised Barbra and her brother on the meager salary of a public school secretary. After her mother remarried, a younger sister joined the family.
Young Barbra was painfully shy. This stemmed from her distinctive looks and from what she has described as emotional abuse at home. She escaped her situation by singing in the school choir and studying acting while still a high school student.
In the early 1960s, she was trying to make it as a performer in Manhattan. She married actor Elliot Gould and gave birth to a son, Jason. The couple would divorce after eight years.
One night, she entered a talent night event, although she had never had any formal training in singing. She wowed the audience and quickly built up a local following, performing as a cabaret singer.
Early Professional Life
Streisand debuted on Broadway in 1962, performing in I Can Get It for You Wholesale. She garnered a Tony nomination, and fame followed.
Columbia Records offered her a contract, and in 1963 her first solo album, The Barbra Streisand Album, appeared. It would become her first Gold record, and she became the youngest artist up to that time to receive a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Additional successful albums followed, as well as her starring role in Funny Girl on Broadway. Streisand, on stage and in the 1968 movie, seemed to embody the spirit of the great Ziegfeld girl and comedienne Fanny Brice in an emotionally and musically rich performance.
Streisand was increasingly in demand, and increasingly earned wider control of her own productions, starting with the 1965 TV special My Name Is Barbra. She racked up five Emmys for the show, as well as a decade-long contract with CBS.
Actress, Director, Producer, Philanthropist, Icon
The ‘60s and ‘70s saw Streisand continuing to star in popular movies, including Hello, Dolly! (1969), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), and The Way We Were (1973). The latter film earned her another Oscar nomination.
In 1976, she produced and starred in A Star Is Born. Streisand and Kris Kristofferson portrayed modern-day incarnations of an up-and-coming young woman performer and the down-on-his-luck star she falls in love with. Judy Garland and James Mason were cast in the earlier versions of the roles in the 1954 film of the same title. Streisand, who typically provided the vocal accompaniment to songs in her movies, took the title song “Evergreen” to No. 1 on the charts.
This was the time Streisand developed her skills as a producer and director. She debuted as a director in 1983 with Yentl, based on the story by the great Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. The film received five Oscar nominations, and won Streisand two Golden Globes, as Best Director and as producer of that year’s Best Picture in the musical or comedy category.
All this time, Streisand continued to fill the charts with hit songs and albums, both on her own and in duets with the likes of Neil Diamond (an old high school friend), Barry Gibb, and Donna Summer. In 1991, she directed The Prince of Tides, based on the Pat Conroy bestseller, and in 1996 directed The Mirror Has Two Faces.
In the mid-1990s, Streisand returned to live concert performances after a three decade-long absence due to her anxieties about the format. Married since 1998 to actor James Brolin, she puts much of her energy today into her Streisand Foundation. Through her concerts, she has been able to channel millions of dollars into this charitable foundation and its civic, environmental, and educational causes.
In 2021, the Friars Club reopened after the pandemic, sporting renovations throughout its historic early 20th century English Renaissance Revival-style townhouse. One of the spaces to receive a thorough makeover was the Streisand Room, which enew seating with sumptuous leather banquettes, and a stunning view from a set of large antique mirrors installed in back of the bar.