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Becoming Barbra

Becoming Barbra

by KATHRYN BOUGHTON

Life behind a camera lens allowed the late Bill Eppridge, famed Life and People’s magazines photographer, access to some of the most famous people in the world. It also took him on assignments to cover emerging stars on the cusp of enormous fame. That was the case when Life sent him on a two-week shoot with an as-yet-little-known Barbra Streisand.

Now Eppridge’s wife, Adrienne Aurichio, has completed and published Becoming Barbra, a book the couple started in 1994 based on photographs Eppridge took on that early shoot and others taken later during a 1966 assignment when she was at the peak of her success.

When Eppridge first met her, Streisand was still living over a shop in New York City, in an apartment so minimalist that the bathtub was in the kitchen, according to Aurichio. Despite the humble surroundings, she was a performer on the very edge of stardom.

“She had just been in a play, I Can Get it for You Wholesale,” recounted Aurichio, “and she had one album out. But she was relatively new.”

But not so new that she hadn’t attracted the attention of Life which dispatched Eppridge on the photo shoot.

Streisand, who would later develop a reputation for being difficult, had yet to develop that trait, Auricho said. “Bill didn’t say she was difficult—he said she was a perfectionist and she liked an audience. But ‘diva’ would not have been the right word for her then. He just said that she was very intent on her career and the ultimate perfectionist.”

She was also savvy enough to let him photograph her in seemingly unguarded moments—shopping in a thrift store, trying on outfits in her apartment, even washing her clothes in the bathtub. He caught her in an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and documented Streisand meeting with producer David Merrick, who wanted her for the starring role in Broadway's Funny Girl which catapulted her to celebrity status.

“Bill’s way of working was to be a fly on the wall,” said Aurichio.

He did not photographer her again until 1966, when she was a household name. “By 1966 she was a huge success,” said Aurichio. Funny Girl had just wrapped, CBS had signed her to star in three television specials, five of her albums had gone gold and one platinum and she had received three Grammys and an Emmy. Clearly, she was not living in the little flat over a store anymore.

Eppridge photographed Streisand throughout her CBS rehearsals and recording sessions, then went to Paris where he covered her at fashion shows with Marlene Dietrich and Coco Chanel and captured a Richard Avedon shoot of her for French Vogue.

Streisand was a much bigger deal by that time but Aurichio said the photographer still had full artistic freedom. She said Streisand’s sponsor, Chemstrand, had arranged for her trip, but Life paid Eppridge’s expenses. “Life would not have done anything where it didn’t have complete access,” Aurichio said. “That was before publications gave control to PR managers. There were no strings attached, no previews of the pictures before publication … .”

Still, Eppridge had to almost stalk his subject. “Bill said he had to bribe her waiter to call him when he served her breakfast to ensure the access he was promised,” Aurichio said. “He had to know so she would not sneak out. Bill needed to be there to tell the story visually.”

It was like a rollercoaster, 24 hours a day, Eppridge said in a 1966 account of the three weeks he spent in New York, Paris and Rome with Streisand.

After he finished his assignments, Eppridge’s negatives were archived and rarely revisited. As one of the most accomplished photojournalists of the 20th century, he photographed some of the most important moments in 20th-century history including the Beatles first six days in the United States, heroin addicts in New York’s Needle Park, the Woodstock Music Festival and Apollo 13. He captured the poignant image of Senator Robert F. Kennedy moments after he was shot in the Ambassador Hotel. His work has been exhibited at museums around the world.

He was so busy with his photography that the thought of mining his iconic images never occurred to him until Aurichio, who now lives in New Milford, was doing research for another project for Life. She came across some of Eppridge’s early photos, recognizing their quality, but not their author until she looked at the back of the prints.

She was inspired and sold him on the idea of creating photographic books based on his past work. “That’s how the Beatles’ project was started,” she said. Together they produced five books but Streisand was the hardest to sell.

The couple started the book in 1994 and there was immediate interest from publishing houses. “We did the entire layout,” she said, “every page. I went to a lot of publishers when we had it put together and got to some high-up people at major publishers. Everyone would love it. Then it would go to marketing or the legal office and they say, ‘No, no, you don’t want to do this.’ They wanted her approval. We said that would be a problem for us because no prior approval was needed. Bill, as a photojournalist, never permitted prior approval.”

Over the years Aurichio would take the book out, dust it off and present it to still more publishers. Finally she found Rizzoli which published the Beatles book as well. “It was going to be the 50th anniversary of when the Beatles came to America so we did that one first,” Aurichio said. Bill saw the proofs of the Beatles book, but he didn’t live to see Barbra.

Fortunately. Eppridge had written his recollections of the two shoots for the introduction and Aurchio was able to write the acknowledgement. “Other than that, it was just pictures and captions,” she said. She verified her information through extensive research.

Some photos were culled from the original mock-up and Rizzoli opted to make the book larger than first planned. “The pictures are larger and you can really see her unique beauty,” Aurichio said.

Aurichio will discuss and sign the book at an event planned by Hickory Stick Bookshop on Sunday, June 24th, from 2-4PM in the lounge at the Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington CT. Tickets can be purchased at The Hickory Stick Bookshop for $50, which includes a signed copy of the book and light refreshments. RSVP by June 15th.

For further information about this event call The Hickory Stick Bookshop at 860-868-0525, email books@hickorystickbookshop.com or click on the link below.



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