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Barbra Streisand Is, as Ever, Firmly in Control

Hollywood was another, altogether tougher industry, where women had long been at the mercy of powerful male studio heads and directors, and where even Streisand, already a major star, struggled to make herself heard. “Don’t let them do to you what they did to me,” Garland famously advised Streisand in the 1960s. Women were typically paid less than their male co-stars and strictly relegated to acting. “Actresses did not direct,” Streisand recalls. But for “Funny Girl,” her first film, she watched the dailies with its Oscar-winning director, William Wyler, offering her opinions along the way and learning the craft from one of its masters.

Later, for “The Way We Were,” Streisand’s co-star, Robert Redford, got $750,000 plus a share of the profits, while Streisand also got profit-sharing but was paid $400,000 less. She wanted to star in and direct a sequel, but requested a $400,000 director’s fee to make up the pay difference. Her producer, Ray Stark, flatly refused. No sequel was made. In those years, male stars negotiated for a percentage of a film’s gross revenue, rather than the often nonexistent net profit. Streisand joined their ranks with 1976’s “A Star Is Born,” and helped begin the still-ongoing fight for gender pay equity in Hollywood. “It wasn’t easy,” recalls Michael Ovitz, the former Hollywood agent who represented her during the ’80s and ’90s. “The business didn’t value women as much as men. Barbra could be tough as nails. She stood up for what she believed in, with enormous integrity.”

It wasn’t until 1983, with “Yentl,” that she finally got the chance to direct. She’d bought the rights to the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” in 1970. Her original vision was for a nonmusical, black-and-white art film, but “the only way I could get ‘Yentl’ made was to sing in it,” she says. The movie eventually emerged as a lavish full-color musical. Streisand starred as a young woman in a Jewish shtetl who poses as a man to pursue an education. She also directed, co-wrote the screenplay and produced it.

“Yentl” grossed over $40 million and won Streisand a Golden Globe for best director, but not even a nomination from the male-dominated Directors Guild of America. “Maybe in the next few years, with more women directing, they’ll get used to us,” Streisand said at that year’s Globes ceremony. Since then, only one woman has won the Oscar for best director — Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 (and only five women have been nominated). “It’s a disgrace more women haven’t,” Streisand says. She hasn’t directed a film since 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” a romantic comedy in which Streisand — finally — wins and keeps her handsome leading man, played by Jeff Bridges. It proved to be a case of life imitating art: The year the movie was released, Streisand met Brolin.

STREISAND’S INSISTENCE on control and obsession with detail have been criticized for much of her life: She is “difficult,” “demanding,” a “perfectionist,” all of which she readily acknowledges. It’s hard to imagine a comparable male star or director being subjected to the same criticism. In any event, it’s impossible to fault the results. “So she’s a perfectionist,” says Kosarin. “Most geniuses are perfectionists. Look at Steve Jobs.”

While Streisand insists that money is secondary to her, financial security is another form of control. She’s brought the same determination and self-education to stocks as to art, antiques and real estate. Jim Cramer, who discussed the market with her as a hedge fund manager before he became a popular CNBC host, told me she knew more about initial public offerings than most traders. “And she hated to lose,” he adds.

Streisand says she’s earned millions trading stocks — several million between 1998 and 2000 alone. (“I’d be up at 6:30, light a fire, have a hot chocolate and trade until 1 p.m.”) She admits she’s not the most disciplined investor: She panicked during the crash in 1987 (“I lost a fortune”), and again in March when the market plunged because of pandemic fears. But her instincts have been sound: She bought Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google shares when her then-financial adviser said they were too speculative. Her adviser steered her into Disney stock in 2011, and she likes to give shares as presents to children in her life. She can get the Apple chief executive, Tim Cook, on the phone and recently asked him to correct Siri’s pronunciation of her name from Strei-zand to Strei-sand. He agreed. “People mispronounce my name no matter how famous I am,” she laments.

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