Her early life is a writer’s feast. It involves childhood tragedy the death of her kindly father when Streisand was an infant, emotional neglect from her mother, Diana, a frustrated singer who rarely gave her a warm word of approval and outright abuse by a stepfather who called her ugly. Erasmus Hall High School’s “odd duck” pursued acting with a vengeance, but met mostly snubs.
Singing was her second choice. In the cabarets of Manhattan, which embraced talented weirdos, Streisand found a home. Supportive friends, many of them gay, helped transform her into a Brooklyn Cinderella. Bob Schulenberg, an illustrator, did her makeup in the style of a ’30s movie star, and suggested retro-glam clothes. Dennen, a fledgling actor-comic, went further, schooling her in the great singers and steering her toward several of her best-known songs. He urged her to enter a talent contest at the Lion, a local gay bar — she won — and groomed her for her debut at the Bon Soir, the fabled basement cabaret on West Eighth Street. Romance bloomed: Streisand moved into his Village apartment, where they conducted an unlikely love affair.