One of the world's most popular singers, an award-winning, versatile actress of stage, feature film, and television, a distinguished filmmaker, and a major producer, Barbra Streisand reigns as the grande dame of American entertainment. Raised in a middle-class Brooklyn household, the daughter of a high school teacher father who died when Streisand was a baby, and a mother who dreamed of the stage, she graduated from high school two years ahead of her classmates. As a young woman, Streisand attended acting classes and worked various odd jobs and in nightclubs, until she won a Greenwich Village talent contest. She landed her first major acting job in the 1962 Broadway musical I Can Get It for Your Wholesale and stole the show with her portrayal of frowsy secretary Miss Marmelstein. The 21-year-old subsequently debuted on Judy Garland's television show, opposite Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli and Broadway institution Ethel Merman. Streisand's powerful, clear soprano, charisma, and unusual looks made her the perfect choice in Jule Styne's and Bob Merrill's musical Funny Girl in 1964. Essaying the life of another great performer, comedienne/singer/actress Fanny Brice, the young performer became the hottest actress on the Great White Way and a bona fide star, after a highly rated television special, My Name Is Barbra (1965), for which she received two Emmy awards.
Streisand's Oscar-winning performance in the film version of Funny Girl assured her a prominent place in the Hollywood heavens. As previously mentioned, the plain-looking Streisand seemed an unlikely candidate for movie stardom, but as her character Fanny blossomed onscreen from an awkward girl from a poor Jewish neighborhood to a self-assured national star, so did Streisand successfully grow to possess a certain womanly loveliness, although hers has always been an interesting rather than a classical beauty. In 1969, she played the irrepressible Dolly Levi in the film version of Jerry Herman's smash hit musical Hello Dolly! (1969). Superficially, Streisand was too young to play the middle-aged matchmaker, but with her strong comedic abilities and powerful voice, she carried the role off with aplomb. Unfortunately, the film didn't click with audiences and neither did her third film, the romantic musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). In film, she had greater success when she starred opposite George Segal in the romantic comedy The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) and Ryan O'Neal in Peter Bogdonavich's classic screwball comedy What's Up Doc? (1972). The latter was a huge success and led to a far less successful re-pairing with O'Neal in The Main Event (1979). In 1972, Streisand showed her dramatic side in the complex story of a troubled housewife, Up the Sandbox, following it with the smash hit romantic melodrama, The Way We Were (1973), in which Streisand starred opposite another 1970s icon, Robert Redford. The film was named one of the year's top ten by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and the title song, written by Marvin Hamlisch, provided Streisand with a major hit and earned Hamlisch an Oscar for Best Song. In 1975, Streisand reprised the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Lady, an uneven chronicle of Brice's later years that had far fewer sparkling moments than the original, but still produced a memorable soundtrack, filled with classic Billy Rose songs.