When the Oscar nominees were announced, leaving Barbra Streisand all but skunked for her film Yentl, she asked a friend: “Do you think they didn’t see it? Or did they see it and hate it? Or is it me?”
Streisand and her Talmudic Tootsie in reverse lost in all the major categories. They didn’t get tapped for best picture. She didn’t get picked for best actress or best director. The film didn’t get noticed for cinematography or costume design or screenplay. Except for Amy Irving’s best supporting actress bid, all the film got was four minor nominations: for art direction, for score and for two songs.
“She was very disappointed,” understates Marilyn Bergman, who wrote Yentl’s lyrics with husband Alan (they got three Oscar nominations). “She’s only human.” Streisand is trying to stay out of the fray, evidently fearing that her grapes of wrath could look like sour ones.
It’s not as if she needs Oscars on her mantle. Streisand won one for Funny Girl and another for her song Evergreen in A Starts Born. But Yentl is special. It is Streisand’s directorial debut, a dream she has been trying to fulfill for 16 years, since she read Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story about a girl who wanted to study the Talmud, a privilege then held for males; she posed as a boy and studied her heart out. Streisand’s $14.5-million film garnered good reviews from most of the country’s critics and is doing well at the box office—grossing $35.6 million so far. The public is recognizing her efforts. Her colleagues are not.
“I am saddened that the picture and all the people who worked on it didn’t get the recognition they deserved,” says Frank Yablans, head of MGM-UA. He’s also saddened, no doubt, that there’ll be no best picture Oscar to earn an extra $5 to $12 million.
Some of Streisand’s peers are mad for her. “I don’t think she should give a rat’s ass about what they think,” says Allan (Grease) Carr, who voted for her. Says James L. Brooks, director of Oscar favorite Terms of Endearment: “Barbra Streisand has had an extraordinary year. I just hope she can see that.” And Martin Bregman, producer of Scarface (also not a best picture nominee), says simply: “Not nominating her was unconscionable.”
Some Streisand friends are simply bewildered. “I just don’t know what goes through people’s minds when they fill out a ballot,” says Marilyn Bergman. “I mean, they elected Reagan too.” There are many theories going around about Streisand’s defeats. Among them:
THEORY NO. 1: Hollywood hates her.
No one ever nominated Streisand for filmdom’s Miss Congeniality. “Barbra is not exactly everybody’s sweetheart,” says sympathetic but frank director John (Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman) Korty. Adds Mona Skager, a Francis Coppola protégée and associate producer of his Apocalypse Now: “Apparently the general mood is that Barbra Streisand is a very difficult person. From my understanding, they feel she is just too aggressive.”
Fellow actress-director Lee Grant says too many in Hollywood were hoping that Streisand would fail. “You kept hearing at every lunch how she was spending too much, how she was an egomaniac, how it was all falling apart,” Grant recalls. “And then, of course, when she came back, all the stories were the exact opposite…. She’s a bigger-than-life person. I think there’s a resistance to giving her her due.” Carr guesses that “this town would have voted for her if she’d fallen on her face.”
THEORY NO. 2: Hollywood is jealous.
This explanation, closely akin to Theory No. 1 but more flattering to Streisand, says that Streisand, 41, is too big for Hollywood. “They were saying, ‘Where does she get off playing a 14-year-old boy?’ ” says a loyal paid employee of Streisand’s. “And then, when she actually went and made the picture and had it come out so well, it was like she was thumbing her nose at them. By voting for her, they’d be saying they were wrong in the first place. So instead, they behave like ostriches with their heads in the sand.” A flattering theory, to say the least.
THEORY NO. 3: Hollywood is sexist.
Of the 224 Academy directors eligible to vote for best director nominations, only a couple are women.
Of the men, Lee Grant says: “You want to know what I really feel? Screw ’em. So what? It’s not the only game in town. What’s important is that she keeps making films.” Grant says that Streisand should take pride in paving the way for more women who want to make big pictures. “She really kicked in the door for women with this one,” Grant says, “not just opened it.”
There are lots of subscribers to this theory. “The male directors want her to stay in her place,” says Estelle Parsons. “Maybe they would have nominated her if she had done a little film, one that cost two cents like that Secaucus guy made [John Sayles, director of The Return of the Secaucus Seven], but not for something big like Yentl. I think she’s got a lot of guts.”
One Hollywood man agrees. “We’re still very primitive male chauvinists,” says Nehemiah Persoff, who played Streisand’s papa in Yentl. “If Warren Beatty had done this movie, they would have worshipped him again.”
THEORY NO. 4: Hollywood is sick of actors-turned-directors.
In 1980 actor Robert Redford was declared best director for Ordinary People; in 1981 actor Warren Beatty was for Reds and last year actor Sir Richard Attenborough was for Gandhi. This year directors were determined to have one of their own win. Or so says this theory. “The whole thing is a regrettably misguided backlash against the power of actors,” says screenwriter-producer Barry Sandler (writer of Making Love).
Streisand did show some humility on the subject. While she was filming Yentl, she told a visitor to the set: “I’m absolutely terrified about being a director. I have no moment alone. I’m getting paid back for all the times I thought I knew the answers.”
THEORY NO. 5: Hollywood thinks Streisand didn’t do it alone.
While she made Yentl, rumors had it that Streisand was forever calling in superstar directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Sydney Pollack to rescue her.
“Everyone thinks I worked with her, but I didn’t,” says Spielberg. “I looked at rough cuts with her because she is a friend. We all do things like that in this industry.”
THEORY NO. 6: It was the numbers that did it, the luck of the draw.
Bob Fosse knows what it’s like to be left out. He didn’t get nominated for Star 80. “You tell people that you make movies not to win prizes, and now I’m stuck with this speech,” he says. “Not being nominated hurts most when you go to the grocery store and your grocer says, ‘You didn’t get nominated?’ That makes me lose my appetite and walk out.”
Fosse’s theory on Streisand’s shutout: “I have a hunch if you saw the voting, she’d come in sixth. In fact, I’d bet money on it.” One studio executive agrees. “I don’t think it’s because they didn’t like her or because she’s a woman or Jewish. That’s total hooey. She just came in sixth and sixth is no cigar.”
THEORY NO. 7: Yentl wasn’t good enough.
Lots of critics slathered praise on Streisand’s film. But some powerful New Yorkers did not: Vincent Canby and Janet Maslin, film critics of the New York Times. “Her musical talents—in fact, all of her talents—have been far better used elsewhere,” said Maslin. “Yentl just sits up there on the screen,” wrote Canby, “screaming its head off much of the time, singing one long, dreadful song.”
Isaac Singer was equally uncharitable. “I did not find artistic merit, neither in the adaptation nor in the directing,” he has said.
Pick a theory, any theory. No matter how you cut it, Streisand was simply cut out.
While Hollywood is giving awards, Streisand will be in Europe, promoting her movie, then in Israel to do something Yentl herself would have been proud of. Yentl is a story about a woman who loved her father and who loved education. In Israel, Streisand will dedicate a $1.7-million building in her father’s name at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Streisand could take solace in her Golden Globes acceptance speech (for best musical and best director). Awards are nice, she said, but “making the movie was its own reward.”