Barbra Streisand has been such a force on the entertainment scene for so long (her 1963 debut album, recorded when she was just 20, won an Album of the Year Grammy) that a glimpse back at her first years in show business offers fascinating insights into her evolution as a performer, and a person.
In 1966, LIFE published a cover story on the then-23 year old Brooklyn native that portrayed the young star as a “fear-ridden girl” terrified that her early success “could suddenly all fall apart.” Of course, creative people who have enjoyed (or endured) fame right out of the gate almost invariably, at one point or another, suffer lacerating self-doubts; Streisand, however, appears to have examined her own talents and achievements with the same tenacity that she brought to, say, mastering the nuances of a new tune or the timing of a comedic line.
“Why Barbara Streisand has to know what people think of her every time she performs is an astounding, and wrenching, phenomenon,” wrote Diana Lurie in the March 18, 1966, issue of LIFE. “At 23, she is an undisputed queen of musical comedy, television and records. Every one of the seven records she has made sold a million copies. She gets $50,000 per concert appearance. For nearly two years she pulled in standing room-only audiences for an otherwise undistinguished musical, Funny Girl… Everybody knows Streisand is on top. So does she. And the more she is hailed, the more scared and unsure she feels. ‘I win awards and everything but one of these days something is going to bomb. It’s a scary thing.’”
Here, a collection of some of fascinating photos that offers a window into the intense, emotionally fraught world Streisand inhabited and, in a sense, created for herself with her own outsized insecurities and perfectionism early in her career.
Photos by Bill Eppridge—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images