Sunday, November 12, 2023

Media: MY NAME IS BARBRA, my game is pity party

MY NAME IS BARBRA was released last week, the autobiography Barbra's spent years writing. It's entertaining, occasionally illuminating and completely dishonest and unfair.



As two who think THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES is a solid and entertaining film worthy of praise, we were especially interested in that section of the book and it's filled with trivia and details.  For example, she was looking for "a Pierce Brosnan type" and mentioned that in a conversation with "Dick Guttman, my press rep" who also represented Pierce and took the idea to Pierce who happily agreed. That was interesting as was the fact that designer Donna Karan wanted to play the role Brenda Vaccaro ended up cast in.  Barbra wanted Gena Rowlands to play her mother but Gena turned the role down because she was doing another film.  Lauren Bacall ended up cast in the role instead.

As she continues describing the casting and filming, people may admire her honesty -- or what passes for honesty.  Repeatedly, she tricks Lauren Bacall to get what she wants from her on camera.  She manipulates her and doesn't let her know the camera's rolling.  

Now there are directors who work that way.  They're usually the type who quote Alfred Hitchcock on actors ("All actors should be treated like cattle").  You don't usually get that kind of manipulation from someone who is supposedly committed to art.  They might try something like that with a child but with an actor in their fifth decade of a professional career?

It was underhanded and sneaky.  But Barbra can't be honest -- not on the set and not in the book.  So she uses the anecdote to present herself as wonderful and smart and the best and, of course, the kindest.

She's nothing of the sort.  As a director that was a cheap move and it goes to the fact that she's actually not that good at her job on the set since she's unable to convey what she wants and instead wants to trick the performer.

It's not a minor point.

She writes, "And then George Segal, my old pal from THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, took over the role of Gregory's best friend when Dudley Moore sadly couldn't continue because of health reasons."

Do people know this story?  If they do, they know she's lying.  Dudley was hired for that role.  And George did play it in the film.

But there's a whole world of information between those two facts.

In 1995, for example, he was fired from THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES. A few years later, he would receive a diagnosis that explained why he was having problems remembering lines.

But there's also the period where he was fired and he was fired by Barbra for being drunk.  That's why he couldn't remember his lines, she insisted.  But he wasn't drunk.  

That didn't stop the word in the industry from being that Dudley was such a drunk he could no longer remember his lines.  Barbra was the star of THE MIRROR HAS TWO and a producer and a director.  Barbra denies spreading the rumor (we don't believe her) but she could have stepped up and stopped the rumor.  She didn't.  And Dudley couldn't get cast in a feature film again.  He played himself in a mockumentary and he did voice work.  But that was it for feature films.  (CRAPAPEDIA wrongly bills the TV movie A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY as a feature film.)

Again, she denies it but most people (including us) believe she did put that negative word out on Dudley.  But even if she didn't, when it became the rumor and made it impossible for him to be cast in feature films, she could have stepped up and clarified.

She didn't.

This is the woman who got the crew of YENTL to sign a letter to the editor of a newspaper over their report that she was difficult on the set.  For that, she demanded the crew sign off on the letter (they did not write the letter, though it was presented as though they had) because she thought the press report made her look bad.  But when Dudley's career was destroyed, she was too busy to do a damn thing.

We know Jackson Browne and the singer-songwriter loves to talk about how, as a songwriter, he sometimes has an unfair advantage because he gets to write the story, he gets to record it and say what it is.  Jackson will discuss this and wonder about the fairness of it and reflect on it, even struggle with it.  

Barbra has no such compulsion.  

And she's unfair and not at all about a free press.  Please, Liz Smith would run the most innocuous item on Barbra and the singer-actress would be on the phone insisting Liz tell her where she got the story (Liz would never tell her).

What does that have to do with the book?

A whole hell of a lot.

Howard Zieff.  

He's in the book.  He shouldn't be mentioned in the book.  

Where's Will Smith to slap Barbra and tell her to keep Howard's name out of her damn mouth?

Howard directed a lot of films including THE MAIN EVENT starring Barbra and Ryan O'Neal, PRIVATE BENJAMIN starring Goldie Hawn, MY GIRL, HOUSE CALLS . . . 

In MY NAME IS BARBRA, she writes about THE MAIN EVENT:

So I liked the cast, and I loved the cinematographer, Mario Tosi.  But I never developed much of a rapport with the director, Howard Zieff, who was oddly detached. He didn't get that involved with the script, while I was usually working with the writers, Gail Parent and Andrew Smth, trying to punch up the dialogue, often right up to the moment we filmed it.

More than halfway through the shoot, we still didn't have an ending.  I spoke to my friends on the set and asked them to share any ideas with me.  The first person who responded was the sound man, who gave me an interesting suggestion.  When I mentioned this to Howard, he said, "The sound man?  You want me to listen to the sound man?"

"Yeah," I said.  "Why not?"

I've always felt you shouldn't be dismissive of anyone, because you never know where an idea is going to come from.  Even my driver wrote up a four-page treatment, but I got nothing from Howard.

I guess he and I were not fated to connect.

First off, the supposed work she did on the script?  People laugh at Barbra for saying things like that.  And the ending?

It's the same ending.

That was always in the script?


Well, yeah, but we're not talking about that.  We're talking about the same ending that was always in the 1936 film CAIN AND MABEL starring Marion Davies and Clark Gable.


Barbra never acknowledges that film despite the fact that THE MAIN EVENT ripped it off.  (Laird Doyle wrote the screenplay for CAIN AND MABEL -- and it's all there including Marion throwing the towel into the ring just like Barbra does at the end of THE MAIN EVENT but let's all pretend it was an original screenplay and that Barbra added new and novel elements to it as they filmed it.)

As for Howard?


People who worked with Howard praised him.

Barbra's not bound by any rule to praise him if she didn't like him, we're not arguing that.

We're saying that she was obligated to keep her damn mouth shut.


Howard couldn't talk about Barbra to the press.  He was legally bound to stay silent.  She demanded an NDA from whomever directed the film.  It was her follow up to 1976's A STAR IS BORN and that director, Frank Pierson, right before the film was released, published a lengthy article detailing what a nightmare working on that film was.  

So Barbra refused to allow Howard to ever speak to the press about the film but now that he's dead, she's talking and it's not kind about him.  Doesn't seem fair.  If she wouldn't let him talk about it while he was alive, she shouldn't be able to write about it now.

Fair really isn't a word that features in the day-to-day life of Barbra Streisand; however, victim must pop up at least every hour.

If the above hasn't made it clear to you, maybe these two sentence will, "And then I got a call from Sue Mengers.  She wanted me to take over Lisa Eichhorn's role in the film Sue's husband, Jean-Claude Tramount was making, ALL NIGHT LONG."  Isn't Babs addicted to the comma, by the way.  We're accused of being addicted to the double-dash -- accused frequently.  And we'll gladly cop to it but does Barbra know any other punctuation than the comma.  Semi-colon even?  It doesn't appear that she does.

ALL THE NIGHT LONG is rarely seen today which is too bad because it's a good movie.  Barbra didn't make a lot of good movies.  THE MAIN EVENT is a good popcorn movie.  It's not a great film and it's not even one of her top ten films.

Her top ten?











And here's a little secret, it's not that difficult to come up with the top ten.  The non-stop homophobia of THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT renders it unwatchable.  HELLO DOLLY is a hideous film.  MEET THE FOCKERS and LITTLE FOCKERS?  The woman who constantly insisted she wanted to play Shakespeare and do films about Sarah Bernhardt  is playing a Focker -- granted Barbra's the best thing about both movies but those are pretty awful movies. FUNNY LADY is really lousy.  NUTS needed Debra Winger and not 45-year-old Barbra playing a call girl making $500 an hour.  The aging hooker doesn't get paid more with each year of tricking.  No one's stupid enough to believe that.  And A STAR IS BORN is the worst film of its year and of its decade.  (We've left out FOR PETE'S SAKE which has its pluses and minuses and would require more than a single sentence to analyze.) 

But back to ALL NIGHT LONG.  She writes about it, about turning down ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE years prior but this time she thought she could play an untalented singer-songwriter.  She thought Gene Hackman was a great actor and was attracted to him.  Sue failed her as a friend and agent -- the rewrites she had told would be done never came through and she hated the sexist poster of her sliding down a fire pole as her skirt flew up and the men stood around looking at her.  As her agent, Sue should have protected her but the rewrites weren't done and the studio told her she had no say in the poster for the film.  Sue had made her mad before (she told Peter Bogdanovich that Barbra objected to him giving her line readings) but this time she had failed her.  But she was happy that Sue stood by the promise to get her "a deal that was more lucrative than any actor, male or female, had ever had" -- four million dollars.  We'll tell you it was four million because Barbra never manages to.  Why be coy over the figure when you're the one bringing up money and talking about doing a movie just for the money?

She goes on and on about this and that.  But let's go back to those two sentences we quoted earlier.  "And then I got a call from Sue Mengers.  She wanted me to take over Lisa Eichhorn's role in the film Sue's husband, Jean-Claude Tramount was making, ALL NIGHT LONG."


She insists that the money only mattered because she "liked the idea of achieving that milestone for women."  The sisterhood, you understand.  But where was the sisterhood in her taking part in the firing of Lisa Eichhorn?


The studio wasn't planning on stopping the shoot.  Not until Sue said she could get Barbra to take the role.  So a movie that had already started filming was now losing its leading lady because Barbra wanted four million dollars.  Lisa's career never recovered from that setback. 

She could have written a biography about sisterhood.  If she wanted to, she could have.  She might even have been able to be honest with that as the theme.

GYPSY is not going to happen with Barbra.  She poured years and years into that project but Stephen Sondheim finally told her that she could star in the film or she could direct it but he didn't think she could do both jobs and do justice to them.


That's a story to tell.

Not in the way she tells it.  She read the short story "Yentl: The Yeshiva Boy" and got the rights to it in 1969.  It took pushing and working and bartering and bargaining to get the 1983 film made.  In 1972, Jane Fonda purchased the rights to Harriette Arnow's THE DOLLMAKER.  No one wanted to make it.  In 1977, she -- like most of the nation -- watched the TV mini-series ROOTS on ABC and began seeing a TV movie as a possibility for THE DOLLMAKER.  In 1978, the day after she won her second Academy Award for Best Actress (for the film COMING HOME), she met with ABC and they agreed to it.  Script issues and filming commitments added six more years to the clock but it was a critical success, a ratings hit and she won an Emmy for her performance.


Sally Field rightly gives -- and has always given -- Jane credit for leading the role for actresses in producing their own films (with IPC and FONDA FILMS, Jane's company made COMING HOME, ON GOLDEN POND, 9 TO 5, ROLLOVER, THE DOLLMAKER, THE MORNING AFTER and OLD GRINGO and IPC also co-produced THE CHINA SYNDROME).   Sally went on to become a producer of her films as well.  In fact, the 70s and 80s saw a revitalized era of women onscreen due to Jane, Sally, Barbra and other women such as Goldie Hawn.  Goldie produced PRIVATE BENJAMIN, SWING SHIFT, PROTOCOL, WILDCATS, OVERBOARD, MY BLUE HEAVEN, DECEIVED, CRISSCROSS, HOPE (she also directed HOPE), WHEN BILLIE MET BOBBY, THE MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY and SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT.  

Did Sally, Goldie, Jane and Barbra make it look too easy? In 1986, the four actress-producers were featured on the cover of LIFE with Jessica Lange who had recently gotten into production as well with COUNTRY.  

Other actresses would decide to become producers as well -- Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Ross, Cher, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock and Bette Midler are just a few.  But the bulk of them would not produce many films.  To be sure, Meg's continued to produce and also started directing -- and is currently on the screens in WHAT HAPPENS NEXT which she also directed.  But the other women?


Michelle left production because it was too much work.  She was spending all this time developing properties and few ever got filmed.  DANGEROUS MINDS, ONE FINE DAY and A THOUSAND ACRES were filmed.  Jessica Lange and Michelle teamed to produce A THOUSAND ACRES.  There are many things wrong with that film -- but Michelle's performance isn't one of them.  Both Jessica and Michelle loathed (and still loathe) the finished film.  But it's a good film and Michelle is amazing in it and probably gave the best performance by any actress that year.  


Cher struggled with producing as well.  You have a bad experience with a director and/or you aren't offered scripts you're interested in and you start thinking maybe you should go the producer route.  But Cher really couldn't get any projects going beyond the talking stage.  She and Michelle were supposed to act in a film -- a comedy -- that Cher was developing about a star and a tabloid reporter.  The script wasn't the problem -- and, in fact, there have been two other actress pairings since Cher walked away from it that almost saw the film produced.  Cher had several films that she was trying to develop including the one closest to her heart, a remake of 1945's THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE.  Now during this, Cher also had Epstein-Barr virus which depleted her.  Then came the infomercial and the mockery of it that cooled off her film career.  That makes it much harder to for an actress to get a film produced.

But if anyone thought it was easy to produce and act, they were kidding themselves.  

Diana Ross tried for years to get her dream movie produced (she'd star as Josephine Baker) and when film wasn't working out, she moved to television.  Despite interest from HBO, there wasn't enough  interest to result in filming it.  (And to be sure, Diana being African-American impacted that reluctance for cable or broadcast TV to get behind it.)  So the fact that she produced her TV film OUT OF DARKNESS -- and delivered an amazing performance -- should be considered a success, a very huge success. Bette Midler had plans for so many films that she and her company were going to produce but, in the end, it was just BEACHES and FOR THE BOYS.  That is worthy of applause.


Because the odds are always against you.  


Goldie Hawn and Barbra Streisand tried to produce and star in SISTERS (with script by Patricia Resnick) and that never got a greenlight.  It later was reworked into BIG BUSINESS starring Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler. Bette tried to develop a film for herself and Barbra based on the play DIARY OF A MAD PLAYWRIGHT: PERILOUS ADVENTURES ON THE ROAD WITH MARY MARTIN AND CAROL CHANNING.  Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand tried for years to interest the studios in a film produced by and starring them about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  Jane and Sally Field worked on developing a film about a wife who learns her husband is cheating on her and befriends the mistress.  Jane tried to develop a film about Vaclav Havel.  Jane worked on developing a remake of ALL ABOUT EVE (with her niece Bridget Fonda in the Eve role).  She worked forever on developing A BRIGHT AND SHINING LIE (she later let her former film partner Lois Bonfiglio develop it into an HBO mini-series).  She also worked forever trying to get a film about Karen Silkwood made and the problem there revolved around the rights to portray the various people in the film.  COLUMBIA had given it a green light but as legal issues piled up, they instead asked Jane to merge the production with one Michael Douglas was developing -- the film then became THE CHINA SYNDROME.  And let's talk about the first film Jane ever tried to develop -- it was about a young socialite/heiress, named Jane, who gets kidnapped by an armed activist group and becomes radicalized.  Studios took a pass -- wasn't realistic.  They'd feel differently after Patty Hearst was kidnapped.  

The films she did get produced?  INTRODUCTION TO THE ENEMY was a documentary and no problem.  COMING HOME took a bit longer.  THE CHINA SYNDROME took a long time.  9 TO 5, ON GOLDEN POND, and THE MORNING AFTER were fairly quick to get a greenlight and begin filming. But, as noted, THE DOLLMAKER took 12 years.  Almost as long to get developed and filmed would be OLD GRINGO which Jane became interested in before Carlos Fuentes had even written the novel published in 1985.  In 1980, she became interested in it after a conversation with Fuente and she would be among the first to read it -- in manuscript form, before the book was published.  

Actresses producing films was never going to be easy.  Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn found that out years before.  And it remains true.  And, it is hard to get any film produced but it is even harder to get a film with a female lead produced.


The actresses who produced films in the 70s on through today deserve applause and recognition -- Jane, Sally, Goldie, Barbra, Diana, Bette, Meg, Sandra, Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway,  Whitney Houston and many more.  But it was never going to be easy.

Jane Fonda knew that better than anyone before she ever got a film produced.  While married to director Roger Vadim, she witnesses his  interaction with studios and was there by his side in developing BARBARELLA -- which probably had the easiest path from idea to development to filming (easy because the character was well known internationally and because Jane would be starring in it).  She was also there when he tried to develop THE BLUE GUITAR -- even pursuing Edna O'Brien to write the screenplay.  That film never got made.  (It would have starred Jane and her brother Peter Fonda.)

In her autobiography, Barbra notes the trouble developing GYPSY and also details some of the trouble she had trying to develop THE NORMAL HEART.  But a better book would have been her focusing on producing films -- focusing on what she got to the screen as well as what she didn't and providing a historical context since so many people -- not just actresses, even film historians -- have little idea of the difficulty that this involves -- even when, as these women did, you have a production deal with a studio.

She could have really celebrated sisterhood with that book and maybe she wouldn't have left everyone with the impression that she's lived a miserable life.  She confesses she's never really been happy.  Maybe that's what happens when all you focus on is yourself -- and maybe when all you focus on is yourself, you tend to 'revise' actual events to make you out to be the good person even when you weren't even close to being a kind person.

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