From Liz Smith’s Column — Let’s Here it for our Girl

Liz Smith

October 27, 2002

‘Pretty legs, great big knockers, that’s what keeps ’em coming back for more!” So go the lyrics to a song Bette Midler has often sung, for four obvious reasons.

THIS SEASON, the charity benefit ballroom du nuit and du jour seems to be the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. Why is this so? I figure it’s a bargain for hard-pressed fund- raisers and I have been to event after event there lately. The ballroom is not too big either, and that’s a plus in a time when tickets are hard to sell.

Bette Midler’s annual “Hulaween” bash held there last week was the highlight. If only the hotel would improve its inaudible sound system, I’d give the MM a blue ribbon for being adaptable, transformable and convenient.

When guests meandered into the ballroom space, most people were already wearing Hawaiian leis as a tribute to Bette’s island background. A lot of guys wore sailor hats. The most spectacular couple in the bunch was Atlantic Records tycoon Ahmet Ertegun and his new passion, Kid Rock. These two wore identical dark suits, red ties and red fedora hats. They fit perfectly into a room that was a psychedelic nightmare of flashing lights and palm trees and other artifacts dreamed up by the Martin Izquierdo Studios.

Tap-dancing on the stage at one end of the ballroom and also on the dance floor at the other end were two sets of black-clad kids from the David Sanders school of tap. These young talents were so marvelous that nobody could stop watching them to sit down for dinner.

I WANT to give high marks to Katie Couric and Caroline Rhea who stood, elevated in the center of the room, handling the tremendously funny auction duties. Katie looked svelte, and Caroline is a winner. Clad in poofy red, she noted that Katie was glamorous “while I am dressed like the Devil!” In the middle of the auction, Rosie O’Donnell joined them to harangue the crowd into bigger and bigger bids. Rosie trounced the laggards with lashings of profanity, and while some people said they didn’t like it, I thought it was quite funny. She managed to jolt the bidding upward. She herself made the top offer for two weeks at Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Vail ski lodge. Bad boy John McEnroe also appeared pushing his own offering of tennis lessons. I couldn’t hear how well that went over.

Impromptu, Kid Rock stood at his table and offered to sing a lot of “dirty sex songs if the kids will leave the room.” He wanted $10,000 for Bette’s New York Restoration Project to do this. A business guy nearby, who wants to remain anonymous, said he’d offer $15,000 if Kid Rock wouldn’t sing at all. To this the Kid pouted, “How about $30,000?” Mr. Anonymous said, “Done,” and that’s how Bette got more than even she had hoped for. A lunch at Le Cirque with Bette, Ann Richards, Ruth Westheimer, Phyllis George and yours truly was bought by some foolhardy soul for $30,000.

THE AUCTION alone raised $409,000 to improve our parks and public places; altogether the night dragged in a total of $1.4 million. Then, the Divine Miss M. herself sashayed out, looking slim and swaggery, wisecracking to beat the band about how she was an out-of-work actor with no Broadway show, no TV series and no movie roles, adding “Hey, I opened the door for mediocre singers with big — !” The audience went mad. Bette can do no wrong.

Bette’s air of camp fatalism is in a class by itself. Everything about her performance is so “real” while at the same time outrageously unlike the actual woman who is so loved by so many. She is irresistible, offering herself up as if she were still an amateur just starting out. She is one of the greatest pros of all time.

And in a world where service, sacrifice and dedication seem in short supply, let’s hear it for one of New York City’s most adorable and generous citizens who is making the Big Apple a better place. Give to the New York Restoration Project, 1290 Avenue of Americas, New York, NY 10104.

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