In the celebrity and showbiz minutiae that understandably populate full-length Streisand bios, what may get lost is how Streisand turned her liabilities as a woman at the time — her middle-class, Brooklyn-Jewish mannerisms, speech, and looks; her kooky and sometimes volatile temperament; her brazen cultural and business ambitions — into assets through sheer talent and force of will. That and a sense of how Streisand’s career trajectory was foreshadowed even in her earliest Village gigs are the value added in Gabler’s clever decoding...In this Streisand study, Gabler as biographer and as cultural analyst complement each other in describing how a life and a society catalyzed each other in astonishing ways.
There’s not much new information here: Ms. Streisand is an exhaustively covered subject, not least by herself, and Mr. Gabler offers little biographical detail that can’t be found in the exhaustive liner notes of her mid-career compendium collection Just for the Record or her 2010 coffee-table book My Passion for Design, about the building of her vast Malibu estate, complete with an underground mall...Mr. Gabler is above all a fastidious historian, and his chief purpose is to describe and analyze Ms. Streisand’s meteoric rise. In his view, her trajectory applies to the evolution of American Jews themselves.
Gabler’s organizing principle is that Streisand’s outsider roots — as a Jewish-looking, Jewish-sounding, Brooklyn-toughened woman who pushed past rejection and (gentile) Hollywood standards of female beauty and desirability to brilliant stardom — are the defining, revolutionary characteristic of her life. The observation isn’t itself revolutionary; who would disagree? But the author does a neat job of weaving every thread he can pull into the cloth...Gabler squeezes a lot of best-yeshiva-student scholarly references and citations into his assignment. And the editorial decision to title each chapter with a Yiddishism goes a shtick too far. But at least this brief biography looks at a well-documented star in a new way.