Barbra! Scratch the Nails

Director Barbra Streisand allowed actress Barbra Streisand to be a bit heavy-handed in "The Prince of Tides." That's not a complaint about her acting--it's about those fingernails. Those very long nails with the very French-tipped manicure.

For every person talking about Nick Nolte's superb performance or the film's sensitive story line, there's someone else talking about the nail gaffe. At a time when short, tailored nails painted red or buffed to a natural shine are the trend, Streisand's old-fashioned talons stuck out.

"Her nails upstaged her entire performance," said screenwriter Ellen Shepard. "It's hard to believe no one suggested that she take the focus off her hands." A press agent, who asked not to be identified, called the hand scenes "narcissism, pure narcissism." And at least one viewer walked out of a recent screening after Streisand, portraying a serious psychiatrist, let out a ditzy "Oh, no, my nails!" when Nolte threw a football to her.

The director-actress-singer has worn her fingernails very long since the late '60s, when polished claws were fashionable. On her "The Way We Were" album cover, circa 1974, her nails appear straight on and in silhouette. And in every Streisand film except "Yentl," in which her character tries to look like a young boy, her trademark nails are never far from view.

So what? Psychologists--amateur and professional--are having a field day with interpretation.

"She wants us to understand her power and control," said Beverly Hills manicurist Rando Celli, who tends the nails of Faye Dunaway, Diana Ross and Rickie Lee Jones. "Those long, strong nails say, 'Keep your distance.' "

"She has beautiful hands and wants them to be noticed--and look, everyone's talking about them," said skin-care specialist Ole Henrikson.

"Women who aren't comfortable with their appearance often fixate on one feature that they like and take special care to call attention to it," said Glendale psychotherapist Christine Maginn.

Brentwood psychologist Fanya Carter agreed: "Streisand's hands are her one special feature; if she calls attention to them, she distracts audiences from her nose. But this time . . . too much attention to her best feature made her insecurities show."

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