Barbra. Streisand. Biopic.
Did I get your attention?
Yes, there is a Barbra Streisand movie in the early stages of development that would detail an important period in Babs’ life just as she was becoming a megastar.
The project, based on William J. Mann’s 2012 unauthorized biography, Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand, is in the hands of writer/producer team David A. Lee and Daniel Vaillancourt, who recently optioned the motion picture rights to the book.
Lee and Vaillancourt, spouses who are also co-vice chairs of the Gay & Lesbian Committee of the Writers Guild of America West, filled me in on the details of the project, the closeted man who was vital to her success and casting thoughts on who could step into Barbra’s shoes.
TheBacklot: There are lots of biographies out there on Barbra. What made Mann’s stand out?
Daniel Vaillancourt: As opposed to the biographies that have tried to encapsulate all of Streisand’s life, this one – thanks to the genius of author William J. Mann – chooses to focus only on the first few years of her career. It begins in 1960, shortly after she came to Manhattan from Brooklyn as a total unknown 17-year-old with no showbiz connections but loads of talent. It ends in the spring of 1964, by which time Streisand had become the star of Funny Girl on Broadway and the best-selling female recording artist in America.
David A. Lee: In terms of a screenplay and envisioning a movie, we loved that bookended format.
TBL: Why is this era so important in the Barbra we’ve always known and loved?
DL: This is Barbra at her roots. Formulating her style, her persona…defining how she would defy the beauty conventions of the day. For those who may not know or may not remember, Barbra wanted to be an actress–not a singer. She stumbled onto the ways her voice could take her where she wanted to go.
Sydney Chaplin and Barbra Streisand on Broadway in Funny Girl.
TBL: How important was Barry Dennen in this time of her life?
DV: Barry was supremely important. Barbra knew she had a good voice, but he’s the first person who made her see that that voice could lead to great things. He taught her that all the great female vocalists of the day were actresses who sang. He’s the one who suggested – and then convinced Barbra – that she should enter the weekly contest at The Lion, a gay club in Greenwich Village. She did, she wowed the crowds, and she won many weeks in a row. Her career as a singer had been launched. Barry exposed her to some tremendous voices and songs and styles, and he helped fashion her early cabaret act. In my humble opinion, Streisand would not be Streisand without Dennen. Although she’ll probably hate reading that I said that.
DL: And let’s not forget that Barry was grappling with his own sexuality at the time. He ended up coming out of the closet a few years after he met Barbra, so there’s that whole gay sensibility thing going on at the burgeoning of her singing career. Barry and Barbra did have an affair, he was perhaps Barbra’s first true deep love, and then she found him in bed with another man, which broke her heart.
TBL: How romantic was this relationship? Would you say that Barbra was a beard?
DV: You’d have to ask Barry, whom we’ve befriended during the last decade, ironically. Long before being involved in this project. But no, I don’t think she was his beard. They had so much in common, they were both young, and they were in love. As I said, Barry was struggling with his sexuality. Maybe his admiration for Barbra and her talent made him think he could really be straight. They had sex. Bill writes that Barry took Barbra’s virginity. But in the end, the need for him to be gay won out.
Lea Michele sang “Don’t Rain On My Parade”at the 2010 Tonys.
TBL: Will the project address why Barbra has always been such a gay icon?
DL: Not specifically. It’s really about Barbra and how she created her persona – her entire career – by combining talent, sheer will, and a certain strategy employed to make her differentness appealing to the masses. Her first adoring public was the gay community…but she quickly brought them along and established herself thoroughly in the mainstream.
TBL: It’s early but dream casting? Would you want Barbra to weigh in? Maybe be a consultant? (The book is unauthorized so…)
DV: When we sell this project -or even when Barbra hears about the fact that we intend to set up this project – she won’t be happy. I think everyone knows that. So no, we don’t expect her to consult or weigh-in. More likely she’ll try to sue!
DL: Obviously, casting the starring role is crucial–and difficult. We went to Lea Michele first, because it’s such an obvious and commercial choice to us. She turned us and Bill Mann down because she wasn’t interested in doing it as a TV movie, which was the original plan. Finding a captivating unknown would be fantastic. Daniel, Bill, and I also think Lana Del Rey would kick some serious Babs butt.
Daniel Vaillancourt (l) and David A. Lee (r)
TBL: Where does the project stand at this point? Is there a script? Pitching to networks?
DL: We were so excited about this project that soon after we optioned Bill’s best-selling book, we wrote a spec script. It’s ready! And it’s good, if we say so ourselves.
DV: We flirted with a successful producer who brought it to a cable network as a TV movie. Said network wanted Lea Michele. So…no go there.
DL: We’re hoping to spread the word that this project is out there and available. We have so much passion for it. So does Bill. We all three want it to happen. The actress who plays Barbra will be nominated for awards. It could be real event television. Could HBO be interested in the wake of the Liberace biopic? We hope so.
DV: But it could also be a great feature. Maybe we could interest Lea Michele in that. Brought to you by a gaggle of gay men. David and I are gay, Bill’s gay. What if we could interest an openly gay director who really is a Streisand fan, someone like Adam Shankman, to take it on? Adam Shankman directing Lea Michele or Lana Del Rey. And the movie produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. There’s a dream for you.
Would you watch a Barbra Streisand Biopic? Who do you see playing the role of Babs?