Liz Smith: She’s Still Here

beach-2“WELL, IN my limited experience, I’d have to say  — that was the best-girl-on-girl action of my life!”

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THIS WAS actress Amy Irving, referring to her “love scene,” kissing Barbra Streisand in ”Yentl” — you know, the one where Barbra is forced to masquerade as a male Yeshiva student, so as to further the education denied to women of her time.

This choice bit of info came the other night onstage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, where Barbra was feted by famous colleagues and friends, before receiving (from President Clinton) The Chaplin Award for her extraordinary career on film as an actress, singer, director producer. (The latter two, one might say, she’s been in training for all her life! Even before movies came knocking.)

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I’ve been to these big events over the years and admired Anne Tannenbaum for turning them into money-makers for film history. (This year she raised over $2 million.)

I’ve seen Elizabeth Taylor, Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Claudette Colbert get this same award. I was there for the Bette Davis tribute, at which she opened the show with her classic — “What a dump!” The event is always packed with enthusiastic fans and stars, everybody onstage full of praise and admiration for the honoree.

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This year brought back many of Barbra’s leading men and some delightful female actresses (Catherine Deneuve, Blythe Danner, Liza Minnelli). Songwriter Alan Bergman sang a moving “The Way We Were” — a tribute to Barbra, his wife Marilyn, and the gone-too-soon Marvin Hamlisch.

Kris Kristofferson, Robert Redford, Ben Stiller, George Segal, Michael Douglas,
all extolled her humor, generosity, beauty (inside and out) and the perfectionism that has informed her art and informed gossips that she is hard to get along with.

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According to the folks onstage, not true! Each emphasized that the self-admitted “bossy lady” was almost always correct. Pierce Brosnan’s little ‘Tale of the Tie’ from making “The Mirror Has Two Faces” was a riot. This 007 could never please her about his choice of neckware.

He also said he’d always wanted to sing with Barbra. “But I never had the chance to sing at all until (significant pause) ‘Mamma Mia!’” This drew a huge laugh.

6SOMEHOW, though, despite the love onstage and in the audience, this particular spectacular event seemed a bit muted and ragged. I think age is taking its toll, of almost everyone except Barbra. She seems as glamourous and fabled as ever. It comes down to two things.

One, in this age of giant TV screens at home and in concert, those of us in the nosebleed seats were treated to postage-stamp-sized celebs onstage. They were all a city block away and we were dying to see the real Catherine Deneuve! Although a giant screen behind them, announced “Barbra” all night — as if we didn’t know who we’d come to see — it wasn’t used except for the movie clips. It put a distance, literally and figuratively, to what was happening onstage.

No. Two — I was terribly disappointed in the film clips. They’d cut off just as Barbra was about to burst out into thrilling song, or say something especially funny … The “Up The Sandbox” and “Prince of Tides” clips seemed randomly chosen.

As did one moment shown from the classic “What’s Up Doc,” arguably her best comedy. Only several scenes from “The Way We Were” were satisfying, though I found it hard to believe that whoever chose these, omitted Streisand’s most electric moment. (Taken to a party, after the death of FDR, her character is offended by the shallow joking. “Yes!” she shouts. “Mrs. Roosevelt went down into the mines! And she said “I am my husband’s legs. Did you tell the cripple jokes too? Is there anything that isn’t a joke to you people?!” (And that’s only the beginning of her rant.)

Also, they show a meaningless clip from “One a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” with a young barely recognizable Jack Nicholson. That movie, directed by Vincente Minnelli, contains some of the most ravishing visuals of Streisand ever committed to film. But we didn’t see them.

I might be wrong, but can’t believe what was shown, were Barbra’ choices. But … we all see ourselves differently and have our own opinions. So Barbra might well have approved or not been about to carp.

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INCIDENTALLY, my favorite scene was from her last movie, “The Guilt Trip” with Seth Rogan. Barbra sits there looking like a glowing a 35-year-old. Her character is admitting to her adult son an affair she had long before. She is young and beguiling here, impossibly attractive. I wanted to see the whole movie again!

8(This reminded me of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” where she says, “I’m still big; it’s the pictures that got small.” Barbra could paraphrase, “I’m still big and look great; it’s my contemporaries who got older!”)

Minor complaints aside, all were swept away when Barbra walked, straight and slender and agile as a girl, to the podium. She looked divine. Even from where I was sitting, it was obvious. Her speech was not short, it was discursive, sweet, and terribly amusing. She didn’t get political at all.

In fact, as she found herself drifting into the tragedies of Newtown and Boston, she stopped herself. “No, No — this is about film!” She spoke of her love of directing, and acting. (As all Barbra fans know, she had never intended to make her name and fame as a singer.)

The big laugh of the night was telling how she’d go searching for acting jobs, “But nobody wanted a 16-year-old Medea!”

The best was saved for last. President Bill Clinton had announced Hillary was in the front row  — to thunderous applause. Handing Miss Streisand the award, he seemed as star-struck with Barbra as any “regular” fan. She was girlish and complimentary in return. It was fun, and as Barbra stood onstage, sleek as a seal, her glamour and power undiminished, I was grateful real stars still do exist, and I that am still here to see them! She stands alone, literally.

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OH, A personal shout out to one Nancy Cohn, who works in accounting at the Film Center. Nancy sat with me during cocktails, knew where the right elevators were. Insisted on seeing me seated and sweetly offered me a pair of opera glasses, the better to see the far-off stage. I declined. Big mistake! But Nancy, you were a doll. Thanks!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining and it was a real privilege to be there! I owe a debt of thanks also to press reps Dick Guttman and Ken Sunshine on both coasts.

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This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 4/24/13

3 comments so far.

  1. avatar JERILYN says:

    Thank you Liz Smith for sharing this evening with the “Icon Barbra Streisand ” with us. She is truly amazing in every way! Well deserving of this honor and most of all getting this award given to her by her dear friend/fan President Clinton. With all the rumors about his bad health The President looks good to me maybe far too thin but still standing & smiling. So happy we are blessed to have you still writing about the important memories of our lives. Brava Liz Smith a real national treasure to all who cherish the true stars who are still here and those who are gone but we remember forever like Dame Elizabeth!

  2. avatar Linda says:

    One of my favorites was On A Clear Day with both singing “Come Back to Me”. That song seemed to just pull you from watching into the movie itself. :-) She is always spectacular! Deserving of all this world can give back to her, for all she has given of herself.