One of the best aspects of William J. Mann's fine new book Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand [Kindle] is his detailed account of how three gay men shaped her look, sound, and persona at the start of her career. Yesterday, Mann posted an essay on that aspect of the biography, writing:
Read the full essay, in which Mann notes similar queer guidance for Mae West, Judy Garland, Kate Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Cher, Bette Midler, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.
"As I document in my book, the young Streisand was surrounded by a triumvirate of gay men who contributed enormously to how she was first presented to the world. Her boyfriend Barry Dennen (who would later come out as gay) was one of the first to recognize the gift of Barbra's voice and encourage her to pursue work as a singer. Dennen introduced Barbra to the music of all the legendary chanteuses, from Helen Kane to Mabel Mercer to Billie Holliday to Judy Garland, while helping her develop her singing style and stage banter. Barbra's pal Terry Leong taught her about fashion, creating her whimsical, thrift-shop, avant-garde clothing sense. Another pal, Bob Schulenberg, polished her look, aiming for a more "goddess-like" style and creating Barbra's signature eye makeup and early hairstyles.
"So it was this heavily gay-influenced creature who walked onto the stage at the Lion, a gay bar, and wowed everybody present. Word spread quickly through New York's gay communities that this Streisand kid was special. Soon she was dazzling at other nightclubs with large lavender followings, including the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel. Among those in the audience who recognized something magical about Barbra was Arthur Laurents, one of the least disguised gay men to ever work in the theater. Laurents cast Streisand in I Can Get It for You Wholesale and refined her persona even more. This was the show that launched Barbra on her swift rise to the top."