It's the Unauthorized Biographer versus the Star, and the fight is getting uglier by the day. In the near corner, Shaun Considine, author of the recently released "Barbra Streisand: The Woman, the Myth, the Music." The Delacorte book charts Streisand's ascension to megastardom, and Considine, the jacket claims, "has gotten to the people who were there -- those who worked with her, helped her, watched her, hurt her, loved her, hated her -- and they have talked."
In the far corner, Streisand and her longtime press agent, Lee Solters, who has sent form letters to everyone quoted in Considine's book asking if the quotes are accurate. In some cases, the answer has been no.
"This is just another one of those paste-up biographers trying to latch on to the coattails of someone in the limelight hoping for instant notoriety and instant wealth," raged Streisand (who rarely talks to the press and declined to be interviewed for this story) in a statement released by Solters. "Without any conscience, this writer fills this book with outrageous gossip deceptively presented as fact, conversations that are invented between people never spoken to and statements maliciously taken out of context."
"It's terrific publicity," said Considine, who denies Streisand's charges. The first printing has already sold out, and a second edition is being rushed into bookstores.
Shaun Considine is a well-traveled journalist whose articles have appeared in People and The New York Times. His book was three years in the making. Published in November, it depicts Streisand as a woman and artist loved by millions but "despised" by others for being "cool and aloof, a woman admittedly with talent but with no sincerity and little integrity." It further casts the temperamental star as a control freak who has claimed sole credit for songs she didn't write alone (her alleged collaborators have said she deserves sole credit), and who has deceived her fans about the creative process behind several albums; a penny pincher who used to stiff New York cab drivers and recycle her Christmas cards; an egocentric actress who had affairs with leading men Ryan O'Neal and Omar Sharif while married to Elliott Gould.
There is also much reporting about Streisand's business dealings, particularly with her record company, Columbia. Through it all, the Streisand portrayed by Considine is definitely not a Funny Lady.
Streisand refused to be interviewed for the biography, despite 15 months of requests made through Lee Solters. "I was told she was going to talk," says Considine. "I told Lee there were quite a few provocative things in the book. I tried to make it fair and balanced, even delayed it trying to get her cooperation. Nothing ever happened and then the book came out and Barbra hit the roof."
In December, Solters sent form letters to every one of the several hundred people quoted in the book (even those quoted favorably), with photocopied, marked passages attached. The letters asked whether Considine had actually talked to them, whether they were quoted correctly and whether the quotes attributed to them had been extracted from other interviews without crediting the sources.
"People called me and told me about the letters," Considine reports. "Barbra personally called a lot of these people, who in turn called me. She's furious that I got to so many people. She's annoyed that I found out the details of her affairs, annoyed about the stories about her being so frugal, annoyed that I spoke about the deception on certain albums like 'Classical Barbra,' where I said it took six months of secret editing to splice it together . . . a lot of things. Solters is under the gun from Barbra, that's for sure."
Solters denies that, saying the letter campaign was his idea. Streisand, he insists, didn't even know about it. "I've been her publicist for 25 years," says Solters, who also handles Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton, among others. "Any time I read or hear something that I doubt or question about a client, I always check the veracity so that in the interest of accuracy, I can make a statement or correct a false statement."
"I don't know what [Solters] is planning to do with the letters," Considine says, though such information-gathering is often a prelude to a lawsuit. "He's also violating my copyright by Xeroxing passages from the book, if I wanted to get picky . . .
"When this book was started, it was just going to be a chronicle of the music years. But so many things came up. One person would say, why don't you call so and so, and one thing led to another." Considine also placed an ad in The New York Times Book Review "for anyone who had ever worked with her. Well, the mail I got. Everybody's got a Barbra Streisand story."
Solters, who accuses Considine of a "paste and scissors" job, says many of those stories have been told elsewhere to other interviewers. Solters says he's been swamped with letters from celebrities who said they never spoke with Considine, including Jane Fonda, Harold Arlen, Sydney Pollack, Barry Gibb, Ray Stark, Jule Stein, Carol Burnett and Ryan O'Neal (who, according to Solters, wrote that "this guy is hokum, I've never spoken to him . . . none of those words are mine").
While Solters marshals his letters, Considine marshals his responses. Many of those quotes, he points out, are from other sources and most of the people named by Solters are not listed in his acknowledgments."Anyone that's in the acknowledgments, I spoke to, I interviewed. I have the names, dates, notes, letters, tapes.
"The quotes from Jane Fonda were taken from a tape honoring Barbra that I have. How could she deny it? Then Bella Abzug denied her quote and it was in her autobiography! There's nothing out of context, and I tried to list everybody that I took quotes from.""
Says Solters: "Of course, there's some semblance [of reality], but when I went through that book -- and I've been with her for 25 years -- there were facts that kept popping out of the page that flashed TILT. "My own personal, professional opinion? TRASH." Evergreen
The star's opinion? "This book," Streisand's statement reads, "is overwhelmingly filled with inaccuracies and blatant distortions from its front cover where the photograph is used without permission, down to the last page where he quotes a supposed friend of mine speaking about my current finances -- the 'friend' being someone I have not seen or spoken to in 25 years."
Streisand seems to have been particularly upset by Considine's suggestion that she did not write "Evergreen" -- her Oscar-winning song -- alone, but with the uncredited help of singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes.
"In his desperate need to create sensationalism for publicity," she writes, Considine "even stoops as low as to suggest that I only wrote part of the melody for 'Evergreen,' which is as ludicrous as saying I didn't sing in 'Funny Girl,' but he never asked Rupert Holmes, whom he alludes to having written the melody with me."
Considine says he heard the story from Bruce Lundvall, who was at the time the president of CBS Records, and tried to get it confirmed by Holmes. Considine says he set up an interview, but that Holmes canceled at the last minute and thereafter failed to return his phone calls. "The information came from Normand Kurtz, his attorney, who said there was collaboration on 'Evergreen.' "
Lundvall, now president of Manhattan Records, says he told Considine "that I had heard that Rupert Holmes had written or cowritten the song. I don't remember who told me this and I don't know to this day whether he had anything to do with the song. It was rumor, not fact, and I never told him that I had inside knowledge that she did not write it."
Kurtz was unavailable to answer questions, but Holmes has provided Solters with a statement: "I, Rupert Holmes, am not in any way, shape or form the composer of the popular song, 'Evergreen.' I did not create any part of its melody or lyrics. I have never sought credit for the writing of the song, for the very simple reason that I did not write it."
Lee Phillips of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg, Tunney and Phillips, Streisand's law firm, says he also has a signed statement from Ettore Stratta saying he had nothing to do with cowriting another disputed song, "Ma Premiere Chanson."
According to Considine, after the book came out, Streisand's lawyers "wanted corrections on that and I refused . . . She called up Ettore Stratta, who told me about it, and he denied ever saying it. But I have the whole thing on tape." People are trying to cover themselves, he says. "This is a very strong lady." Christopher Goff, Delacorte's lawyer, would only says that "the matter has been under discussion by attorneys for Delacorte and attorneys for Barbra Streisand."
Says Considine's editor, Chuck Adams: "All nonfiction books, especially about living people, are put through very close scrutiny and are looked at by our lawyers . . . Everything that was possibly controversial, and I mean everything, was carefully looked at and documented." Considine remembers that there were about 300 points of discussion with Delacorte. Memories
In December, the book was serialized in the New York Daily News -- but not before some conversations with Solters. "The thrust of what he said was 'You should be very careful running this book because Barbra has her lawyers on," says Anthea Disney, the Daily News' assistant features editor. "He said there were several things she was concerned about. We assumed they would be things like her personality being revealed through the way she treated her ex-husband, things like that."
But it was the authorship questions that arose, Disney says. "It was suggested to us by Solters that litigation would follow if we brought up the fact that there was a question that she's written these songs." Solters says he never mentioned lawyers.
The unusual thing, Disney says, is that top-level press agents like Solters "don't return calls under normal circumstances . . . but he was on the phone damn quick about those two songs. Suddenly he's calling us back like crazy, leaving urgent messages. I nearly fell off my chair." The Daily News ended up not running the section in question, though Disney says "it wasn't a decision made on Lee Solters' say-so. We were looking for Barbra the Woman, and whether she wrote the songs was neither here nor there."
Meanwhile, Streisand's record company has been trying to distance itself from the book.
"CBS did not help, assist or cooperate in any way," says Bob Altshuler, vice president for press and public affairs for CBS Group. "We're doing our best to ignore it." In fact, CBS wrote a letter to Delacorte protesting Considine's acknowledgments to several CBS employes including Altshuler, who says he has "no memory whatsoever" of having talked to Considine. The author says he has the conversation on tape.
"From what I have read, a lot of the information he collected is just wrong, pure speculation," says Altshuler. "If individuals talked to him on their own, they were not representing CBS Records or Columbia in any way."
Two of the CBS employes quoted in the book by name, art directors Bob Berg and Virginia Team, lost their jobs in December, in part of an early-retirement and job reclassification austerity program involving 38 employes. "Absolutely no connection whatseover," says Altshuler. "It was completely coincidental."
"I got upset when I heard about that and called them," Considine says, "and they said they didn't think it had anything to do with that BUT . . ."
"I thought about it," Team says from Nashville, adding that she wasn't sure she knew what Considine was writing when she talked to him. "I wish to hell I'd kept my mouth shut, but whether there's any connection, I don't know."
Berg, a 24-year CBS employe, confirms it was "a general layoff. I was quoted correctly," he adds. "I can't speak to the stuff I don't know about, but certainly the stuff that I do know about is accurate." On a Clear Day, You Can Sue Forever
"I don't know what he's planning," Considine says of Solters and his letter campaign.
"We have virtually found inaccuracies on every page, if not every paragraph," says Streisand's attorney, Lee Phillips. "Obviously, since I'm a lawyer and am involved, we're considering what should or shouldn't be done, but no decision has been reached. There are various possible rights and remedies and they are all being investigated."
There's no word yet on whether New York cab drivers are considering a class action suit over Streisand's alleged past penny pinching.
Meanwhile, both sides continue to muster their facts and forces, getting testimonials to the accuracy or inaccuracy of quotations, appraisals of whether contexts are correct or misleading.
"As for me, I refuse to be intimidated," says Considine, who says he has two file cabinets stuffed with documentation.
Streisand, he added -- getting in a late, but certainly not the last, shot -- "should see what I've left out. If Lee Solters doesn't let up, she's going to have it in the paperback."