Ottawa was dazzled when Barbra Streisand appeared with Pierre Trudeau in January of 1970. She said he made her feel like Jackie Kennedy. But could America's superstar ever have become queen of Canada's Camelot?
The news rippled across the National Arts Centre audience like wind through a wheatfield.
"Barbra is here—with Pierre! Barbra Streisand, of course! She's dating Trudeau, didn't you know?"
Heads turned as the couple entered the auditorium and there was applause as they rather shyly took their seats. Prime Minister Trudeau had pinned a characteristic red rose to his tuxedo and also a button with the slogan Manitoba IS. The evening was a gala in honour of the centennial of Manitoba's entry into Confederation, and, as the Ottawa Citizen noted, "the sombre stone walls almost bulged with Prairie people and emblems."
Yet all eyes were on Streisand. In her white wool Arnold Scaasi evening suit with its plunging neckline, white mink collar and matching hat and muff—pictured above—she looked positively regal, a Queen Nefertiti of the Snows. As the lights dimmed and the chattering ceased, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet took the stage to perform Five Over Thirteen, a new ballet by Canadian choreographer Brian Macdonald.
Trudeau had first met Streisand at another gala a year before. In mid-January of 1969, they had both been seated at Princess Margaret's table for a swank party at Claridge's following the British film premiere of Funny Girl. Trudeau was in London for his first Commonwealth Conference and the English press was mobbing him—they had never seen a Canadian prime minister like him before. He obliged them by sliding down a polished banister at Marlborough House to a lightning storm of camera flashes.
A few months before, Streisand had spotted photos of Canada's sexy and single new prime minister in Life magazine and had commented to her best friend Cis Corman that he was the kind of man she would like to meet. With her marriage to actor Elliott Gould in the deep freeze, Streisand was ready for a new kind of romance. At the Claridge's dinner, she discovered that Trudeau, as she later wrote, "was everything my imagination promised and more." He asked her to dance, but she said she didn't like to do so in public and suggested he ask Cis Corman instead. The next day, the tabloids featured photos of Trudeau dancing with his unknown new "flame." Corman, in fact, was the wife of a Manhattan psychiatrist and a mother of four. She had met the teenaged Streisand at an acting class in 1958 and been a kind of big sister to her ever since.
Fashion designer Arnold Scaasi recalled being at Streisand's Central Park West apartment when Trudeau first telephoned her after his return from London. The star was in a bathrobe with her head wrapped in a towel when her maid announced that Pierre Trudeau was on the phone. The designer overheard a giggling Barbra ask, "So how did you get my number?" which he thought "a pretty naive question to ask the head of a major country." Scaasi was a Canadian himself, born Arnold Isaacs in Montreal in 1930. He had inverted the spelling of his last name for stylish effect, rather as Streisand had dropped an "a" from "Barbara." Scaasi remembered that after Streisand put down the phone, "her beautiful hands flew up in the air, and she said, 'Just call me Madame Prime Minister!'" at which they both laughed.
For they seemed an improbable couple—the quirky Jewish girl from the mean streets of Brooklyn and the erudite, Jesuit-educated, rich man's son from Montreal. Just nine years earlier, as the '60s dawned, no one could have predicted them ever connecting. In July of 1960 the 18-year-old Streisand was singing at a Greenwich Village gay club called The Lion and auditioning for parts in off-Broadway plays. She wore thrift shop clothes and carried a large ring with keys to Manhattan apartments where she could crash for the night. People commented on her remarkable voice, but some thought her ugly duckling looks would hold her back.
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