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Barbra Streisand kicks off New York's Book Expo

May 26, 2010 |  5:29 am

Barbrastreisand_2010 Commanding singer, actress, producer and activist Barbra Streisand kicked off Book Expo 2010 in New York on Tuesday night with an extensive and candid conversation with Oprah confidante Gayle King. Streisand's book "My Passion for Design," out in November from Viking/Penguin, details her meticulous home decor and includes some of her (strong) likes and dislikes.

Streisand said she enjoyed the writing process, which she began in longhand. "I started writing my autobiography," the notoriously private star admitted. "And I thought, this is hard. I better write a book about design."

King, wearing in a white dress with blue accents, started by talking about picking out a dress for the evening; at first she'd chosen yellow. But, she admitted to Streisand, "I read in the book that you don't care for yellow."

"Certain kinds of yellow." Streisand agreed.

"My second choice was orange," King offered.

"Oh no no no," Streisand interrupted, holding up a hand. She raised her eyebrows and looked over her shoulder toward the wings of the stage, indicating she couldn't possibly understand how anyone might even consider wearing orange. King laughed, explaining that she'd even repainted her toenails to please Streisand.

It was a cute way to begin, and the two soon settled into an amicable conversation. Wearing all black, Streisand answered questions about the energy she puts into her home, about what kind of wood is masculine and a small hill -- a "berm" -- on her property. She spoke about her family not owning much furniture when she was a girl in Brooklyn. But she and King kept coming back to color.

"When you're planting a garden, you have to be very specific," Streisand said. "What color is that flower? Is it a pink red? Is it an orange red? Why do we like certain things -- probably from experiences in our childhood." At 6 years old, anemic, Streisand explained, she was sent to a health camp. Everyone was disinfected and dressed in identical, starched, royal blue uniforms. "The only thing that separated us was the color of our sweater. And I had a burgundy sweater, and it gave me...." Streisand paused. "Myself." She paused again. "I'm not saying it is the reason I love the color burgundy -- ."

"Oh it is, it is," King filled in.

Later, Streisand again returned to family, childhood and loss.

"Maybe this was too intense for the book," Streisand said, answering a question about her pursuit of items she'd once owned but no longer had. "The fact that I didn't have a father I think has to do with this need to find something that you're looking for," she explained quietly. "You can never get a parent back, but you can get an object back. It was the satisfaction of getting an object back after losing it." Then she paused. "It's partially satisfying."

Serious moments like that were offset by moments of levity. King asked about why Streisand liked Tiffany lamps, known for their colored class.

"When I think of Tiffany lamps, I think of bright color," King said.

"You're thinking of fake Tiffany lamps," said Streisand.

As King asked questions, Streisand's attention to detail became clear. She shops for  antiques, customizes her paint colors, and works hand in hand with her architects and stone masons. She's not hesitant to dismiss someone when their care and attention don't match her own.

"I'm very concerned with symmetry and proportion," Streisand admitted. "When something's off its mark, it disturbs me viscerally." If this came across as the obsession of a perfectionist, Streisand knew as much. "It's not a good thing," she exclaimed, the old New York accent reaping into her voice.

That perfectionism, of course, is what brought Barbra Streisand into the limelight, first as a singer with "The Barbra Streisand Album" in 1963. King asked Streisand what her favorite song was of all those that she's recorded.

"Please don't ask me that. That is a terrible thing to ask," Streisand said. She looked into the crowd. "I don't want to offend the songs." The audience burst into applause.

-- Carolyn Kellogg in New York

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Photo: Evan Agostini / Associated Press


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