Barbra Streisand has had her favourite dog Samantha cloned. The curly-haired Coton de Tulear accompanied her to every interview, concert and recording session for 14 years, and around Barbra’s neck today – setting off her outfit of slinky black flares, black fluffy jumper and black suede boots – is a beautiful miniature of her now departed pet.
Barbra identified with Sammie intensely. She had such an ‘oddball personality’ that Barbra says she mourned her death 18 months ago ‘as if it were a child’.
So much so that two of her new dogs, Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet, are genetic copies of Samantha, while a third, Miss Fanny, is a distant cousin.
‘Two of the dogs are made from Sammie,’ she tells me when we meet in a studio across the road from her house in Malibu.
‘They’re her DNA. They took a cell from the inside of Sammie’s cheek and another from the outside of her tummy right before she died. You don’t know if you’re going to get five dogs or none – I ended up with two.’
Barbra Streisand, pictured in 2016, has written her first album of original songs for over a decade
The staunch Democrat actively supported Hillary’s presidential bid and the album features protest songs against Donald Trump
Presumably she loved Sammie so much she wanted to replicate her – so are the puppies like her? ‘Not in personality but they look just like her. They’re curly-haired.
‘If these dogs are bred for shows they have straight hair. It’s such a rarity to get a curly-haired one, so in order to have another curly-haired dog I had to clone her. It’s unconditional love, love in sickness and health, curly or straight.’
Barbra brought Samantha along with her the last time we met, but she hasn’t brought her new dogs today. ‘Because there are three of them they’d take over,’ she says.
They’re over the road in Barbra’s magnificent home, which stands on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific where you can see whales and dolphins swimming. There are white picket fences and a rose garden with 800 of the world’s most sought-after hybrid bushes.
In a garage are her dolls’ houses, which she’s accumulated she says because she never had them as a child and likes decorating the rooms. She loves her home so much she rarely wants to leave and it reflects the masculine and feminine in her.
‘I like that combination of masculinity and femininity,’ she says. ‘I like the feminisation of masculinity. I’m fascinated even in furniture, I like strong architectural lines covered in pink velvet.
‘I like men who are masculine but have a feminine side, who cry at movies and like soft things. It makes them complex, and that’s interesting.’
She thinks it may be part of the legacy of losing her father Emanuel early. She was only 15 months old when he died from an accidental morphine overdose when in hospital after a seizure, leaving Barbra with a chasm that she’s struggled to fill all her life, either by looking for him in her men or looking for him in herself.
It didn’t help that her mother Diana, who died in 2002, was critical and unloving. Barbra rarely speaks about her, but told me, ‘I think there are parents who don’t really like themselves. They don’t like their offspring either. My mother meant well.
‘She loved me as best she could. She had dreams of her own and she wanted to be a singer. She was jealous, and that was staggering for me to learn.
‘She never praised me to my face but I have a feeling she praised me to other people. And she never hugged me or said, “I love you”. I’m more of a toucher than my mother.
‘Now I’m older I can do it, but for a long time touching felt alien. I always felt, “Why are you hugging me, what is this about?” I didn’t understand it and it felt uncomfortable.
She had her favourite dog, Samantha, cloned after her death 18 months ago. She mourned the pooch’s passing like it was a child, and said she replicated her for the dog’s curly hair
‘But I owe her my career. It was painful on the way up. I was always trying to prove to her that I was worthy of being somebody. She’d say, “Your voice needs strengthening. Put an egg in milk and whip it up.”
‘She called it a “guggle muggle”. It was disgusting. Other people praised my voice but my mother would say, “It’s not good enough, it’s not strong.”’
On a tour in 2012, as if Barbra wanted to close a chapter, she played a record her mother had made to the audience. ‘She had a beautiful voice. When I was young we had a week’s vacation every year in the Catskill Mountains in New York state, and that’s when my mother hired a pianist so she could make this record.
‘And we played it on stage so I could say, “Ma, you finally made it. You’re singing in front of thousands of people.” She always said she was too shy.
‘I had a good voice too. On the block I was known as the girl with the good voice and no father. I suppose you have to go through these turbulent times. She motivated me to prove I was worth it.’
Somehow, despite the lack of hugging, the young Barbra found self-belief and drive. Every time I meet her I think it’s going to be the last tour, the last album, but each time she confounds me.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, she’s won an array of awards, including Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes. She’s always come across as a woman of power, and that power manifests itself in her new record Walls.
It’s her first album of original songs for over a decade, written as a protest against President Trump. Barbra’s a staunch Democrat. She’s never hidden her political devotion to her friends the Clintons, and actively supported Hillary’s presidential bid.
The songs work on two levels, love songs that can also be interpreted as protest songs. Barbra has written or co-written seven of the tracks, including Walls, about physical and emotional walls that keep you in as well as out, and Don’t Lie To Me, which has the lyric, ‘How do you win if we all lose?’.
The album ends with Happy Days Are Here Again, which she sang at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration gala – and sings now with deep irony.
She’s 76 but her voice sounds fresh and fierce. I tell her the record is raw, and joke that I felt relieved I wasn’t on Prozac when I heard it because I was able to feel the full experience.
‘Raw,’ she nods. ‘I’ve never thought of that word for it. But you’re right. Prozac dulls your senses. When my mother was on it she forgot to be angry. She had dementia as well and she forgot that she was always very angry, but that pill really helped.’
Maybe it was because of the dementia she forgot to be angry? ‘No, it was those pills.’
Barbra’s 1976 movie A Star Is Born, pictured, focused on acting rather than music, to reflect the changing times. This meant her character Esther Hoffman could write her own songs
The issues of control and criticism that have dominated her life surfaced again recently with the acclaimed remake of A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga (pictured with Barbra in 2015) and Bradley Cooper
I wonder why she’s never taken her political beliefs further. Surely there’s a situation vacant in the Democratic party that she may want to fill?
‘No. I don’t want to go into politics. I don’t think I’m articulate enough and it’s too late for me. I like my garden too much. I like staying home. I like privacy. I like writing my book… sort of.’
She’s talking about her autobiography, which has been in the pipeline for four years. ‘I’m trying to convince the publisher to do it in two volumes now.’
Last time we met, in New York, I brought Barbra a cake – a mocha cake with shaved almonds made to a recipe from her favourite childhood bakery in Brooklyn, which closed in 1974.
She said it took her right back to being 14 years old, when going for a cake was the highlight of her day. ‘Last time you brought me cake,’ she says today.
‘This time I get nothing. But that’s good. I’m on a diet.’ Barbra loves eating. ‘I hate exercise and I love to eat,’ she says.
‘I love food too much. I eat when I’m sad, I eat when I’m happy. This president made me anxious and hungry for pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes. I had to put butter on them and maple syrup to ease the pain.
‘People don’t realise what food does for you. It makes you feel good. Jason [her son with actor Elliott Gould] brought me pancakes recently from a great place. They’re made of oatmeal but obviously they have sugar in them and that’s why they taste so good. They’re very soothing to the brain.’
I tell her there’s a lot of anger in the album. ‘Oh yes,’ she says. ‘I believe in truth and that if I’m truthful in what I’m singing about that comes across as being passionately upset with what is happening to my country.
In Walls, the songs work on two levels, love songs that can also be interpreted as protest songs. Tracks include Don’t Lie To Me, which has the lyric, ‘How do you win if we all lose?’, and the titular track Walls, about physical and emotional walls that keep you in as well as out
‘I love my country and it’s painful to see democracy being assaulted, institutions being assaulted and women being assaulted.’ We digress to the topic of women’s abortion rights and the possibility that they could come under threat following the appointment of Trump-nominated judge Brett Kavanaugh – a Catholic – to the Supreme Court.
‘Can you imagine?’ she says darkly. ‘There’s a war between people who want to live in the future and look forward to the future, and people who want to live in the past. Imagine, women who for 40-something years have had the right to choose now perhaps won’t.’
Obviously, some women cast their ballots for Trump in the presidential election, but why would they vote for a man who doesn’t let them control their own bodies? ‘It’s a terribly complex thing,’ says Barbra.
‘A lot of women vote the way their husbands vote; they don’t believe enough in their own thoughts. Maybe that woman who’s so articulate, so experienced and so fit for the presidency [Hillary] was too intimidating.
‘Perhaps she made women feel unsuccessful. All of this was so devastating to me and I was heartbroken, so I wanted to write about it, sing about it and deliver an album. It was perfect timing, so I just did it.’
For much of her career, Barbra has attracted as much criticism as she has glory. She won acclaim for her acting roles in films such as 1973 romantic drama The Way We Were, with Robert Redford, but two of the three movies she both directed and starred in, The Prince Of Tides in 1991 and The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996, weren’t critically well received.
And the reaction to the other, 1983’s Yentl, was hostile, although it garnered her a Golden Globe for best director, the first time a woman had won the award.
In the film, set in 1904, she played Polish girl Yentl, who dressed as a male and took the name of her late brother to allow her to attend a Jewish religious school, from which girls were barred. Again she was embracing those extremes of masculine and feminine she sees in herself.
She thinks it helped her find her father. ‘I did find him, during Yentl, I created him. I was the director, I was the one in control. I was the male figure. All of that was very cathartic.’
Perhaps she’s come to expect criticism, particularly from women, as she grew up believing she could do no right. She nods. ‘When people write about me and it’s not the truth it upsets me. Especially women writers.’ It’s true that the reviews of Yentl by women writers were particularly bitchy.
Barbra started out as a singer as a teenager but always dreamed of becoming an actress. When she achieved that ambition, she decided she also wanted to write, produce and direct, only to find that the idea of a woman in control intimidated both men and women.
The issues of control and criticism that have dominated her life surfaced again recently with the acclaimed remake of Barbra’s 1976 movie A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
In the 1976 version, which Barbra produced as well as starred in, she played struggling singer Esther Hoffman, with Kris Kristofferson as her mentor John Norman Howard. It won five Golden Globes as well as an Oscar for Barbra for co-writing the song Evergreen.
Because she was producing the film for First Artists – a company set up in 1969 by Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and Barbra to enable them to launch more personal projects as well as exert creative control over them – Barbra had absolute veto over the final cut. Yet she edited out some of her own scenes because she didn’t want to be criticised for giving herself too much screen time.
She updated the film from the 1954 Judy Garland version, which focused on acting rather than music, to reflect the changing times. ‘I wanted Esther to write her own songs,’ she says.
Barbra has been married to her husband James Brolin, pictured together in June, for 20 years now. They met at a dinner party, where Barbra told him he had a bad haircut – and he has said he fell in love with her instantly because she was right
‘I wanted the character played by a liberated woman, yet I cut out certain scenes so I’d have less screen time.’ Why? ‘I love constructive criticism, it helps me learn something, but I didn’t want to be… just criticised.’
In the mid-70s, of course, Hollywood wasn’t used to a woman being in control, and instead of being praised for cutting her own scenes, Barbra was vilified. ‘I was put on a magazine cover bald and the headline was A Star Is Shorn.
‘They made me bald. Why? Because I was a woman in control and they wanted me to look horrible. So I got scared and I gave them power.
‘When I’m directing I give power away to make people feel needed. I want everybody to feel needed on set. That’s why I enjoy working in Britain.
‘I think you’re less intimidated by a woman with power, perhaps because you have a Queen and women prime ministers. I like manners. People in Britain have manners. They’re always very nice to me.’
The 1976 A Star Is Born made reference to Barbra’s nose, the defining feature of her unique beauty. It’s never been seen as a movie star nose, yet she’s always refused to have a nose job and she’s had to fight to keep it untouched in films and on record covers.
In this year’s A Star Is Born Lady Gaga’s nose is also a focus of attention. ‘I haven’t seen the whole movie but I know they used the nose thing,’ she shrugs. ‘But I saw the beginning and it looked like my movie. Bradley [Cooper] showed it to me and it started with the same concert and then singing in a little club.’
Oddly, both versions of the film have as a producer Jon Peters, Barbra’s former hairdresser who became her boyfriend and thereafter a big-shot producer – with Barbra’s help. Perhaps that’s why there are some of the same nuances.
‘Well, he was the one I gave the credit to,’ she says. Does she mean gave her power away to? ‘That’s right.’
Because he was her boyfriend? ‘Because I wanted him to have respect on the set. He had good ideas.
‘The first time I walked into his house he had crude burnt wood frames paired with lace curtains at the windows. He understood masculinity and femininity. I liked that.’
She likes strong, charismatic men – her lovers have included Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, Don Johnson and Andre Agassi – but not bowing down to them. She has the right balance with her actor husband of 20 years James Brolin.
They met at a dinner party when she was making The Mirror Has Two Faces. She told him he had a bad haircut, and he has said he fell in love with her instantly because she was right.
‘My husband has the perfect forehead, the perfect jaw, the perfect teeth,’ she says. ‘Even when he makes me angry I still get a kick out of his symmetry.’
It always seems to me unfair that she was never acknowledged as a beauty herself. Today she has a mesmerising presence and her skin glows.
She’s been branded a perfectionist in the past, a control freak, and she’s despaired when people have criticised her or her work. She surprises me, then, when before we finish she reveals that she’s going to direct another film.
‘But I won’t give power away in the way I did earlier,’ she says. ‘I can’t really talk about it yet. We’ve signed contracts but until I know more… I can tell you I’m not acting, though. I don’t like acting. I don’t like make-believe. I like real life.’
That’s a shame, I tell her. She’s so good at it. ‘I’m c**p at it,’ she says, the shadow of the mother who shaped her almost tangible over her shoulder.
The album Walls is available now.