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BARBRA STREISAND -- TWO SECONDHAND PORTRAITS

STREISAND:
The Pictorial Biography
By Diana Karanikas Harvey
and Jackson Harvey
Courage Books
120 pages, $19.95
STREISAND:
A Biography
By Anne Edwards
Little, Brown
600 pages, $24.95

Barbra, we know ye all too well.
How can we not, with the proliferation of unauthorized biographies that have been popping up like ragweed the past few years?

For a woman so intent on controlling every aspect of her public life, the publication of these tell-all books (remember the gossipy "Streisand: Her Life" by James Spada that came out in 1995?) must cause her a great deal of angst.

But face it, these books, including the latest two, are not designed to please Streisand. They are written to make money off her legion of fans who can't absorb enough facts about her life and loves, her successes and failures. Whether what they are reading in these books is true or not.

And until Streisand decides to write her own book, which I bet she will eventually to set the record straight, these will have to do. Imperfections and all.

When last officially heard from, Streisand was ducking all the rumors about when and where -- and if -- she and James Brolin would be married. She was licking her wounds at yet another snub by the Academy Awards for her latest film, "The Mirror Has Two Faces," and according to gossip columnist Liz Smith, she was recording her next CD -- an album of inspirational songs (with a duet with Celine Dion, no less).

Oh, and one more thing -- she and Rosie O'Donnell have quite a mutual admiration society going.

That's the update. If you wish to delve into the past, take a look at these two books. But not too deeply, please.

Unfortunately, the pictorial biography lacks any juice. The anecdotes are old, and the pictures -- there are more than 80 color and black-and-white shots -- are mostly movie stills and news shots. Many of them have been printed many times in other media.

If you've followed Streisand's career, there's not much new here, though the picture the authors choose to open the book with shows a decidedly aging diva in some very unflattering light. Something she would never allow as a director.

This is a beautifully put together book, but terribly superficial bringing up all the old themes: Streisand's unhappy childhood, her drive to feel beautiful, her need to be in total control of all her projects, and her relationships with the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Andre Agassi, Don Johnson and, believe it or not, Dodi Fayed.

Ho-hum. Old news.

Anne Edwards digs a lot deeper, and even has some more interesting pictures in her overwhelmingly long 600-page tell-all.

The author, who also has written the life stories of Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn, got into quite a tit-for-tat exchange with Streisand that was played out in the gossip columns. Did Edwards claim to have helped write the "Funny Girl" screenplay? Did Streisand authorize this biography?

The answer to both questions is no, not really, but it gave Edwards quite a publicity boost at a time when she wanted to sell books. And it proved once again that nothing connected to Streisand, authorized or not, is simple.

While much of Edwards' book also is structured around Streisand's music and movie projects, there are some fascinating glimpses into the private Barbra: Stories of productive and satisfying meetings with songwriters who are asked to adapt their lyrics for her recordings. Anecdotes of stormy meetings with screenwriters who cannot get a movie script perfect enough to suit her high standards -- and are often fired.

What emerges is a woman who is complex, yet insecure. Bright and inquisitive, yet coldly narrow-minded when she doesn't get her way. And a lonely woman who is easily hurt when she and her men, especially the controversial Jon Peters, break up.

A lot in the Edwards book is also old stuff. Streisand's uneasy relationship with her mother is rehashed. Her tentative relationship with her stepsister is mentioned. But her relationship with her brother Sheldon is curiously dropped midstream.

So is her relationship with the man who has been at Streisand's side longer than anyone -- her manager, Marty Erlichman. He, obviously, wouldn't talk to Edwards, but it's hard to believe she couldn't piece more of that puzzle together through her other interviews.

While Streisand's relationship with President Clinton is strangely glossed over, her ties to her goddaughter Caleigh (Jon Peters' adopted daughter) merits a lot of attention.

Streisand is clearly attached to the young girl, and the relationship seems to give her a lot of love and satisfaction. The cynics say it also gives her a continuing connection to her former lover. Her friends counter by pointing out that it's an indication of a softer Streisand, a woman whose priorities are changing.

In this biography, Anne Edwards does not go for the jugular. In fact, she too often acts as an apologist or psychologist.

But in her hands, Barbra Streisand is a flesh-and-bones human being with many impressive strengths and some frightening flaws. (She has had people who work for her, even members of an orchestra, sign agreements of confidentiality barring them from talking to the press. Quite an unusual action for someone who claims to be a liberal.)

If you make it through the 600 pages, you are left with respect for Streisand's awesome talents. But her star is definitely tarnished.

Barbra would not be amused.

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