Barbra Streisand Receives SAG Life Achievement Award: ‘It’s Really a Privilege to Be Part of This Profession’ 

Barbra Streisand accepted the Life Achievement Award at the 2024 Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday (Feb. 24) with a warm and personal speech in which she talked about her 70-year love affair with movies – a passion which began as a way to escape a drab upbringing in Brooklyn.

The award was a highlight of the 30th annual SAG Awards, which were presented at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles – where, presenter Jennifer Aniston told us, Streisand performed her first major concert in 1963. Unmentioned was the fact that Streisand won three Grammy Awards at the Shrine in the 1970s and 1980s. Bradley Cooper also helped present the award.

“I remember dreaming of being an actress as a teenager sitting in my bed in Brooklyn with a pint of coffee ice cream and a movie magazine,” Streisand said. “Sometimes after school, I’d go to the Astor Theater next door to Erasmus High School where they showed foreign films in black-and-white.

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“And then one Saturday, I vividly remember going to the Loew’s theater and buying a 25-cent ticket and walking into the middle of Guys and Dolls and oh my God – everything was so beautiful up on that screen – the colors, the sets, unlike our apartment where my mother covered everything with plastic. And then I saw the most beautiful actor, Marlon Brando. It was my first  crush. He was so real, so believable and I wanted to be the one he fell in love with, not Jean Simmons. That make-believe world was much more pleasant than anything I was experiencing.”

Streisand was 13 when Guys and Dolls premiered in November 1955 and had such a powerful effect on her dreams and imagination. There was just one problem, as Streisand explained in her speech.

“I wanted to be in the movies even though I knew I didn’t look like the other women on screen. My mother said you better learn to type, but I didn’t listen, and somehow, some way – thank God, it all came true.”

Indeed, many have credited Streisand with expanding the idea of what a movie star could look like.

Streisand gave much credit to William Wyler, who directed her first film, Funny Girl, and Harry Stradling, who was Wyler’s cinematographer. Wyler was 65 when Funny Girl was filmed in 1967. Stradling was 66. They were at an age, and in an era, where many men in their positions would have resented a 25-year-old newcomer to film who was brimming with ideas. But, according to Streisand, they were open to her input in a way that she appreciates now more than ever.

“These two men were extraordinary,” she said. “They had no problem with a young woman who had opinions. I could suggest ideas for a scene to Willi and try various lighting effects with Harry and they never ever put me down. Looking back, they were really ahead of their time and that was fantastic and it set the tone for my whole career.”

Streisand also spoke about how acting, and researching roles and preparing for films, has been her education.

“I never went to college,” she said. “I always thought acting was my education. In trying to understand the character, to have to do research, immerse yourself in the period. The whole process was fascinating to me. How do you tell the story? How does the camera serve the actors in telling that story?”

Streisand understands the appeal of movies: “For a couple of hours, people can sit in a theater and escape their own troubles.”

She also is a student of film history. “I can’t help but think back to the people who built this industry. Ironically, they were also escaping their own troubles.”

She mentioned Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and the Warner Brothers, all of whom had changed their names to be less ethnic-sounding. “They were all fleeing the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe simply because of their religion. And they were dreamers too, like all of us here tonight. And now I dream of a world where such prejudice is thing of the past.” The last line, amid a troubling rise in antisemitic rhetoric, drew sustained applause.

Near the end of her speech, Streisand spoke of a 2022 French film she had recently seen, Une Belle Course (Driving Madeleine), which moved her deeply. The film stars an actress in her 90s, Line Renaud (“so there’s still hope for us girls,” she said). “It was so moving and insightful,” she said. “…It reminded me over again of how much I love film.”

Streisand has said that she became a singer because she couldn’t get a job as an actress. For all the success she has had as a singer, acting seems to be her first love. “It’s really a privilege to be part of this profession,” she said at one point.

She concluded her remarks by noting: “I’d like to thank SAG-AFTRA for this fabulous honor and say to my fellow actors and directors, I’ve loved working with you and inhabiting that magical world of the movies with you. And most of all, I want to thank you for giving me so much joy – just watching all of you on the screen. Thank you for that.”

 A film package preceded Streisand’s arrival on stage that showed many of her top film moments – as well as a memorable surprise cameo in a “Coffee Talk” sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1992. The highlight reel included many great musical moments, such as “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl, “The Way We Were” from that film and “Evergreen” from the 1976 version of A Star Is Born.

Cooper, who directed the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born, was generous to help introduce Streisand. In 2021, Streisand threw some shade at his remake, saying it was too close to the rock’n’roll update in which she starred to be considered a fresh and original take on the perennial property.

 A fair number of Streisand’s co-stars and colleagues had previously received the SAG Life Achievement Award, which underscores how far and wide her reach extends. Walter Pidgeon, who played Flo Ziegfeld in Funny Girl, was honored in 1975. Gene Kelly, the legendary song-and-dance man who directed her second film, Hello, Dolly!, was feted in 1989. Robert Redford, her co-star in the classic romantic drama The Way We Were, was honored in 1996. Robert DeNiro, her co-star in the best-forgotten Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, received the salute in 2020.

This year’s SAG Awards streamed live on Netflix starting at 8 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT. Here’s a complete list of winners.

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