New photo book captures early days of Barbra Streisand’s career
Imagine Barbra Streisand doing her own laundry in a bathtub or wearing used clothes she picked up in a thrift shop.
Streisand has been famous for so many years that many fans have forgotten her early days when she was a New York cabaret singer making waves in the recording industry, but not yet the star of “Funny Girl” on Broadway or the CBS TV special, “My Name is Barbra,” which would make her into a household name.
A new book by the late Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge, “Becoming Barbra” (Rizzoli), starts by taking us into Streisand’s world in 1963, a year before “Funny Girl” opened, when the buzz was building about her gifts as a singer and her zany down-to-earth personality.
“I think the book shows the meeting of two perfectionists,” Eppridge’s widow, and longtime photo editor, Adrienne Aurichio says. The pictures are drawn from two assignments — the first one in 1963 and then a follow-up in 1966, after Streisand conquered Broadway and was about to make the movie version of “Funny Girl” (her film debut).
Even in the earliest stages of her career, Streisand was famous for demanding the best of herself — and driving some of her collaborators a little bit crazy — but she had nothing on Eppridge when it came to focusing on the work at hand.
“He was the ultimate perfectionist,” says Aurichio, who lives in New Milford. “He always composed (his photos) full framed and 99 percent of them were never cropped (by editors). He composed as he was looking for the content.”
Eppridge was one of the stars of Life in the days when that mass circulation magazine had tremendous clout. A Life feature on a star in the making was a big deal in 1963, so Streisand gave the photographer full access that included personal moments in her small apartment (over a fish restaurant) as well as meetings with record executives and the Broadway producer David Merrick.
Even three years later, after Streisand had triumphed in “Funny Girl” on Broadway and London’s West End, and was moving in fancier circles that included people like legendary designer Coco Chanel, Eppridge was able to spend weeks shooting the star in New York and Europe.
The fun and enlightenment in “Becoming Barbra” is in the contrast between a zany girl in 1963 and a much more polished woman in 1966. Since Life only used a handful of Eppridge’s pictures, fans will be thrilled to see dozens of images of the star that have never been published before.
Eppridge was no mere entertainment photographer — he shot hard news as well as Hollywood for Life. The photographer traveled through the South in the early 1960s covering the Civil Rights movement and was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 (Eppridge’s picture of a member of the kitchen staff cradling the wounded senator became the most famous image from that terrible night.)
Pictures were as powerful as the text in magazines like Life. In putting the photographs together for the Streisand book, Aurichio was struck by a running theme in her late husband’s shots: “In so many of the photographs she is surrounded by powerful and accomplished men, but you can see that she is controlling the situations.”
Eppridge and Aurichio worked on an earlier version of the Streisand book in the 1990s that was never published. Since his death in 2013, the photographer’s widow has been editing a series of books that included one published in 2014 on The Beatles’ first six days in the U.S. in 1964. She has also been pulling together images for a possible 50th anniversary volume of Eppridge pictures taken at the 1969 Woodstock musical festival.
The couple met at Sports Illustrated where Aurichio was a photo editor and where Eppridge landed after Life folded in 1972. She left SI in 2003 to work full time as her husband’s archivist. Together they produced a book about Robert Kennedy in 2008 with a forward by Bill Clinton.
The Eppridge archive is vast and diverse, so Aurichio anticipates putting together another 10 to 12 books honoring the legacy of her husband.
In his forays into Hollywood, the photographer’s assignments included spending three weeks shooting Mia Farrow on the set of “A Dandy in Aspic” and covering Clint Eastwood during the making of “Dirty Harry.” Aurichio isn’t sure if either of those collections of pictures would bear the weight of a whole book.
“For a really good book, you need a story and ‘Becoming Barbra’ has a beginning, a middle and an end,” she says.
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