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When Barbra Streisand moved to Beaufort

Story by Tommy Baysden and Illustration by Megan Goheen

In 1991, Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand took up residence in Beaufort for five months to film “The Prince of Tides.” To welcome the stars, doors were flung open and red carpets rolled out all over the little town. Nolte ate it up. Queen Barbra, not so much.

Nick rode all over town on his rickety bicycle, dressed in green surgical scrubs. He chatted up shrimpers and downtown merchants, sat down with people in cafes and became close friends with Matt Williams, another recovering alcoholic. “His charm could melt the polar ice cap,” one local woman said. Nolte himself said, “I’m really into this place. I want to know every street, every place to get a good burger. You’ll be sick of me by the time I have to leave!”

But Barbra didn’t charm much of anybody. On the contrary, everything she did seemed calculated to irritate the locals. “Loved him, hated her,” the Chicago Tribune quoted one as saying. “She was a very uppity lady, and that’s not just the female point of view!”

Her first initiative was leasing a large historic home on Prince Street with a gym and pool surrounded by a high fence (the owners decamped to their beach house on Fripp Island) which she proceeded to repaint, room by room. (In fairness, the original colors were restored upon her departure.)

Her residency overlapped the town’s annual Water Festival, and she was asked to sing the national anthem at the opening ceremony, backed by the Marine Corps Band, said to be one of the world’s best. Nothing doing. The Renaissance Weekend, with perennial guests Bill and Hillary Clinton, was being held on Hilton Head, and one of the founders later remarked to me that Streisand strode into the room and struck up a conversation with the Clintons at a noise level that drowned out the presentation being made. “She was a total disruption,” the host told me.

And then there were the fighter jets. She didn’t much care for “The Sound of Freedom,” so she called the CO at the Marine Corps Air Station and told him to stop flying over her house. She wanted the base shut down. This was obviously not possible, but to appease her at least a little, the CO agreed to alter the schedule a bit.

It is told that she yearned for ice cream three times a day and dispatched her minions to Plums, a local cafe, (and still popular) to pick up orders. Soon, she tired of the flavors they offered and sent her personal chef to teach them a new recipe that included coffee, fudge and almonds. It’s still on the menu.

Someone had arranged for her to tour a richly historic mansion on Bay Street, and when the entourage arrived, ridiculously late, the owner extended her hand to shake Barbra’s. Never making eye contact, the distinguished guest merely touched a finger to it, like a reenactment of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. She asked a few questions, always whispering them to one of her keepers who repeated the question to their hostess. In that encounter, anyway, she didn’t even deign to talk to the commoners.

A final episode sort of summed it all up. Streisand was sequestered in her Winnebago, parked just outside a local home, awaiting a scene. A crowd had gathered in the July heat, hoping for autographs, when the star emerged. An hour passed. A policeman approached, saying “Miss Streisand will be out in a moment. No autographs, please.” Then he moved the whole crowd fifty yards up the street.

Another hour passed. Suddenly, the trailer’s door flew open and the diva emerged. She hurried across the yard about twenty feet and disappeared into the house. A local reporter commented: “A glimpse. That’s all that Streisand was willing to grant that day.” It may have finally dawned on the Beaufort folks in the crowd that they, along with the rest of the world, would have to wait for the movie to open before they could get a good, long look at the celebrity in their midst.

Many locals, seeing the movie months later, remarked that it bore only a passing resemblance to the book. To which Pat Conroy famously said: “When Hollywood acquired the film rights to ‘The Prince of Tides,’ they could have turned the Wingos into a family of Eskimos! That’s just the way the business works.”

Finally, it is said that on the day of her departure, the Air Station staged a five-plane, low-altitude flyover of Barbra’s house.