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The Museum Has One Face

Tributes: At Hello Gorgeous!! only Barbra Streisand memorabilia are on exhibit. It's one man's honor to a living legend.

November 18, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO — In her faux leopard coat and matching pumps, the mannequin looks enough like Barbra Streisand to stop foot traffic on Castro Street.

She's sizing herself up in a mirror, feigning a pose from the opening scene of "Funny Girl," in which Fanny Brice pronounces, "Hello Gorgeous!!" It's a tip-off, folks, to what lies beyond this storefront window: a kitschy, 6-month-old museum and store dedicated to Streisand's movies, music and mystique.

Hello Gorgeous!! is the doing of Ken Joachim, a former vintage-clothing buyer who refinanced two homes in the wine country to bankroll his one-of-a-kind venue. Fans, who trickle in from as far away as Hawaii, liken Hello Gorgeous!! to Graceland, a place to pay homage to their favorite superstar. Admission is $2.50.

"This is a tribute to Barbra's career," says Joachim, 39. "We always wait for somebody to die before we pay tribute to them, and that's kind of weird. Why not honor them while they're still alive?"

At Hello Gorgeous!! it's all Streisand all the time. To fill the narrow 3,500-square-foot space, Joachim attended auctions, solicited donations and consignments, commissioned oil portraits of the diva and created several interactive displays.

At the push of a button, for example, a life-size cutout of Streisand as the cigarette girl in "Funny Lady" slides across the cigarette holder singing a snippet from "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby." Another Barbra wearing a black velvet dress--just like the one she co-designed with Donna Karan for her 1994 concert tour--croons a few bars from "I Don't Know Why I'm Frightened."

Also on view are pieces of Streisand's costumes, including a hat from "Hello Dolly!" and a white blouse from "Yentl," and such memorabilia as a set of dishes from the star's former Malibu estate and leftover champagne bottles from the 1994 tour. Visitors can peruse music (tapes, CDs, sheet music), videos, posters, and a large collection of biographies and fanzines (Just Like Buttah and Barbrabilia, to name two titles). On the way out, they can buy "I (Heart) Barbra" refrigerator magnets, among other souvenirs.

Despite these attractions, Streisand has yet to visit the museum, but she did send a short handwritten note after her manager, Marty Erlichman, reported back. " 'A Jewish shrine?' Best Wishes, Barbra."

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With a new movie in theaters, "The Mirror Has Two Faces," Streisand has been unusually accessible to the media, even appearing on "Oprah." But when the hype subsides, her most dedicated fans will get back to work planning their convention, which comes to Los Angeles next year, says Allison Waldman, author of "The Barbra Streisand Scrapbook" (Citadel, 1995) and editor of the monthly newsletter Barbra File.

Streisand's audience continues to build, fans say, particularly in the gay community.

"Many gay men are told, don't be gay, don't be yourself, don't be creative," Joachim explains. "Barbra takes risks and remakes herself, and she overcame tremendous odds to get where she is. There are a lot of people in the community who relate to that. Besides, she is tremendously talented."

A longtime civil rights advocate, Streisand has also endeared herself to gays by championing their causes. Last year, she produced the Emmy-winning TV movie "Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story," starring Glenn Close as a lesbian military officer. And in 1992 AIDS Project Los Angeles honored her with its Commitment to Life Award.

But the attachment to Streisand has deeper roots for many fans. Gay men's fascination with divas can be traced to the origins of opera in early modern Europe, says Walter Williams, a USC professor of gay and lesbian studies who has written eight books on homosexuality and edits the International Gay and Lesbian Review.

"Gay fascination and interest in Barbra Streisand is only a continuation of many generations of close connections that gay men have felt with divas," he says. "They have been extremely interested in these kinds of celebrities."

Tom Gaylean, editor and publisher of Just Like Buttah, the Streisand fanzine based in Arlington, Texas, says the singer's unconventional looks make her easy for male performers to impersonate. He says the older gay fans of such nightclub acts want to see Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland, while the younger crowds like Madonna impersonators.

"What gay men are attracted to is the way in which [Streisand] is excessive," says Stacy Wolf, a theater professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "What lesbians are attracted to are the ways in which she is different."

Wolf is working on a book titled "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?: Lesbian Spectators and Musicals," in which Streisand is a main focus. Through her research, she has learned that lesbians often identify with Streisand because both she and her characters refuse to buy into stereotypical definitions of beauty or femininity.

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