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Barbra Streisand, Jimmy Fallon sing medley duet on 'Tonight Show'

Barbra Streisand and Jimmy Fallon sing a duet

Barbra Streisand and Jimmy Fallon sing a duet on "The Tonight Show" on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. Credit: NBC / Douglas Gorenstein

After a 50 year absence -- or specifically, 51 year absence -- from "The Tonight Show," Barbra Streisand returned Monday night in a way that would only be logical for the current host, Jimmy Fallon: to sing a medley duet with him.

And it worked for the most part.

The interview itself? Both disappointing and fascinating. Fascinating, as a unique thing in an of itself, which is to say: Streisand on a late night talk show talking about being Streisand just doesn't happen. In fact, that hasn't happened in 50 years (OK, 51) and so "fascinating" is a guarantee.

For example, Jack Paar didn't like her. (I didn't know that, did you?) So instead she appeared on some early "Tonight" editions when Orson Bean was guest host. (Bean was a "Tonight" guest host many times in the early days during Paar absences.)

Fallon let her sit at the host desk while he sat in the guest chair -- a mistake because it confused the dynamic of these encounters, as in "who's asking the questions here anyway?" (Some suspect there were other reasons for this role reversal).

But Streisand was a good sport about it, and addressed quickly that old elephant still lurking in the studio -- her long absence. "The terrible thing is, I don't remember the show I was on -- I hear I was on the Johnny Carson show seven times. I was 18 and going, oh my God, the cameras, isn't this exciting." (The Bean show, she said, was in fact, her first time on television.)

He joked with her about being a "diva": "What have you done with Barbra Streisand? You're allowed to be the divas of all divas."

"That's why I wrote a song with John Mellencamp, don't believe what you read," she insisted, while adding that she is going to write a book to set the record straight. "I'm quite ordinary."

She addressed that other famous absence -- on the stage, after forgetting some lyrics during an appearance in Central Park. She attributed that to a swirl of international fame and pressure that had suddenly enveloped her, coinciding with a visit to New York by Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin. "I was doing a concert in Central Park in front of a 150,000 people sitting on the grass. I was making 'Funny Girl' at the time, and it was during a war, and Omar Sharif's movies were banned because he was kissing me."

Then, she said, Kosygin came to town. "We were supposed to have 300 guys [NYPD uniformed cops at the concert] and they took away 270 cops and we had 30 cops. It was scary, put it that way. I forgot words to three of my songs and I was not cute about it. I totally spaced out. It's show business. You are supposed to be cute. Hum or something. Nothing. So I didn't sing again for 27 years."

Alas, no follow-up (in fact, no question) from Jimmy about the long absence on late night, although maybe there is no good story to match. (Her longtime spokesman, Ken Sunshine, told me last week that she's long had a less-is-more approach to publicity, and that late night TV was just one of those areas where she happened to do a lot less.)

The disappointment? The usual -- that Jimmy was starstruck and never really got around to asking anything of substance. Streisand is on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. We'll see what comes out of that. Meanwhile, here's Fallon's duet with Streisand.

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