Thursday, March 25, 2021

Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl

My uncle's painting of Barbra Streisand

 My grandmother took my siblings and I to see the film "Funny Girl" when we were young children. The film was first shown in 1968, so it must have been a reshowing of it a couple of years later because I doubt that grandma took 8, 6, 4, and a 2 year old to the movies to see an adult. Or maybe she did?  It was a treat to go to the movies. But the effect of listening to that voice, Barbra Streisand, in a dark movie theater is what really was transcendent for me. 

After an early Easter dinner with my sister this week, we decided to watch "Funny Girl." It classifies as a holiday movie to us- good for Christmas or Easter. It doesn't matter how many times that I've seen it and that I know that I know all the songs by heart, it never gets old. In this viewing, I was particularly struck with how Fanny,  the character Streisand plays, pushes back when Mr. Keeney, the first theater manager, fires her when she can't keep up with the chorus girl routines she's hired to perform. She does not take no for an answer and pushes until she hears the yes that she desperately wants it to be. I had to wonder if seeing this as a girl when the movie made such an incredible impact on me that I didn't become who I am because of it. My sister gave me a look during the scene that said to me, oh! she's not the only one who doesn't take no for an answer. I've 'but, but, but-ed' to plenty of men. And if I believe in it, I don't let it go until I hear, 'go ahead.'

Then there's Nick Arnstein. Oh! I know that man. And I have been known to 'do too much' when I believe that I'm in love. I think that I'm doing the right thing- in Fanny's case, she tries to find her down and out husband a job by going behind his back to set it up thinking that she's helping when the last thing that he wants is her interference. I may not have ever done that, but I have been in a relationship where the man just has had enough of me doing too much. Fanny does it because she can't let go of  the one man who has seen her beauty. For me, it's the curse of the pleaser. I tear up every time that Fanny steps onto the stage after Nick walks away to sing the finale of the show: 'My Man.' She starts slowly, but soon builds to the crescendo of what her feelings for him are through the song. But that voice is hers, not his. As a girl I saw that, must have. 

The portrait above depicts the last scene of the movie when she sings 'My Man.' My uncle painted it in college, and it hung in my grandfather's house from the time that I was the girl who was so taken by Barbra that it was my favorite thing to visit. I forever thought about it. When I got older, I asked my Dad whether he thought grandpa would give it up so that I could have it. Oh, I was that bold. And every year, I became more and more bold. At a great-aunt's funeral, I asked my uncle, 'so, did you paint more than one of the Barbra paintings?' I knew that he hadn't, but I wanted to open up the conversation. In the end, he told me that it was his father's and not his to give. Hmph! My dad promised me that he would talk to his father about the painting, but I'm sure that it got lost in one of the many Manhattans being consumed. My grandfather lived to his mid 90's and when he passed, my father wasn't alive. And apparently it wasn't left to me in a will because I didn't get it.

You may think that I'm tacky for being so fixated on a material object. Oh yes, I've read many stories of how treasured items just happen to come to those wait. But in this case, I don't think that any one that had the ability to gift it to me realized how much I loved it. Growing up with my Dad's father and his half brothers (4 of them), they were the typical patriarchal, Irish men. Men did and often apart from women. And women? Well, they were someone else, not with them. I may be a little harsh, but it isn't far from the truth. 

Grandfather's house sat empty for more than a couple of years out of a sense of nostalgia. When it finally came time to sell and empty the house, I became nearly frantic. What would happen to Barbra? And then a light bulb lit. At a family Fourth of July party, I decided to enquire about the painting not from one of my uncles, but one of their wives. That would be an ear that would listen to me. One uncle was in charge as he lived near to the house. All it took was one question to his wife: Does anyone want the Barbara painting? And can I have it by any chance? Uncle's wife looked at me, smiled, and said, 'sure. You're welcome to it!' I made a special trip to pick it up. Taking it wasn't entirely without resistance. Another uncle said, 'hey, what are you doing with that?' I grabbed it and walked to the door shouting over my shoulder, 'she said I could take it.' Or something like that.

Tacky. Oh, don't I know it. But she's mine now. And she's beloved. I had her framed. And when I got it back from the framers, I threw a party. I placed a dozen yellow roses, like the ones that Nick Arstein always sent to Fanny on her opening nights, on either side. We drank champagne and listened to Barbra. If I could save only one item from a burning house, aside from my cat, it would be the portrait. It gives me an indescribable joy. It is Streisand, but it's Fanny too. No one could stop her. And I try not to let anyone stop me either.