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With the release of her latest rarities compilation album, Release Me 2, Legend of music and film, Barbra Streisand, is once again the name of everyone’s lips and the sound of their Spotify. Oliver Hall catches up with NZ’s original Hollywood reporter David Hartnell to discuss her enduring legacy. 

David Hartnell MNZM, wrote his first Hollywood gossip column in 1970, reporting on the scandals of rich and famous stars. It took him 30 years to come face to face with Barbra Streisand for the first time when he accompanied Phyllis Diller to the 2001 American Film Institute Awards, where Streisand was receiving the Lifetime Achievement award.

“Phyllis and Barbra have been friends for years, in fact when Barbara was a 19-year-old she opened for Phyllis Diller in her nightclub act in Greenwich Village New York,” David tells us.

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“That night, Barbara was in full movie star mode, air kisses and, ‘darling, you are wonderful’s as she worked the room. Our second meeting, four years later and was very different. Phyllis had just written her autobiography Like a Lampshade on a Whorehouse and had a dinner party at her house in Brentwood, California to celebrate. Among the twenty-two dinner guests were Barbra and her husband, James Brolin, who is an extremely nice down-to-earth man. Barbra was far more relaxed. She was among friends and didn’t have to impress anyone. She asked me about New Zealand and told me, she and James always wanted to visit.”

A few years later in 2008, it was rumoured the couple holidayed here but were never spotted.

David tells us that behind the scenes it hasn’t always been easy for the first woman to have won an Oscar for Best Director. “Over decades she has put up with a lot of crap and put-downs from males in a male-dominated world of movie-making) and recording studios, he says.

“I’m sorry to say even today if a female star says ‘I want the lighting changed’ or wants to be photographed from her best side they say, ‘what a bitch’ she is to work with. If a male star has the same requests, they say, ‘he’s such a professional!’” 

Barbra, David divulges, always likes to be shot from her left side. “When she appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres’s chat show, it was the first time Ellen sat in the guest’s chair, to ensure Barbra got left-hand profile shot! She knows what works best for her and insists on it, which is something I really admire about her.” 

Like many other gay men, Barbra’s enduring appeal has always had a special place in David’s heart. “She like Lady Gaga knows they have a huge gay following,” he tells us.

“They have both catered to the gay market, never in a condescending way, but in a way that embraces us and sweeps us up in the moment!”

In terms of a must-see Barbra moment, David encourages anyone who hasn’t seen to check out her 1967 concert, A Happening in Central Park, with an outdoor audience of 130,000 fans. “Even at that early age she had star quality,” he assures. “She was born to entertain and had charisma in abundance.  The energy she gives out when performing could light up the Sky Tower for a month!”

The success of Release Me 2 has made Barbra the first woman in history to have new entries on the US Billboard charts for six consecutive decades, over a record-setting 58 albums, but David is not the least bit surprised.

“It’s hard to believe that Barbra turned 79 this pasted April, her voice is still crystal clear and my bet she will be around performing and recording for many years to come!”

Barbra Streisand’s Release Me 2 is out now on all streaming platforms.

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