Bette Midler-the divine gay icon once known as the “Queen of Trash”-charges along with her mission to clean up New York City.
And now us gays can help!
By: John Polly
Back in the mid 1980s, the primetime CBS news show 48 Hours dedicated an episode to the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood. Backstage at an awards show, the camera crew snagged a moment with Bette Midler. In a split-second interraction, the reporter thrust a microphone in front of the vampy diva and volleyed off a quick query: “How did you make it? How did you get to where you are today?” Without missing a beat, Midler’s answer came with the frank, wry sass that the star is known for: “Honey, I worked like a dog. I worked like a dog.”
That may have been well over a decade ago, but Midler is still at it. The singer/act-ress/comedian/gay icon is one of showbiz’s most tireless performers. As this article goes to press Midler is currently applying the finishing touches to a new album that she’s putting together with the help of her old friend (and Continental Baths pianist), Barry Manilow. The disc‹a collection of tunes made famous by the late Rosemary Clooney- will also launch a tour which is tentatively titled “Kiss My Brass” (classic Midler bawdiness and attitude). Expect a big gorgeous media blitz later this year. At the same time, Midler’s also currently back at work in movieland, filming The Stepford Wives, a remake of the 1975 cult classic. She’ll costar with a fab cast which includes Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken and country music star Faith Hill. Her pal, openly gay and openly hilarious scribe Paul Rudnick (who penned Midler’s Jacqueline Susann bio-pic Isn’t She Great? as well as Addams Family Values) has updated the screenplay and Frank Oz (Bowfinger, In & Out) is directing. In the flick, Midler plays Bobbie‹a boozy, caustic sassy pal to new wife in town Kidman, and the pair begin to try and figure out why all of the other “perfect” Stepford wives are so eerily perfect. (In a fun homo-related slant, The Producers’ Roger Bart plays a gay friend of Kidman’s who ends up getting, er, “straightened out.”)
And now, Midler-the raucous rebel who got her start singing bawdy songs for gay men in towels way back when-has taken her act out the bathhouse and, well, into the bushes of New York’s public parks. Unless you’ve been lost in The Rambles for the past decade, you’d know that in addition to all of her award-winning musical and cinematic accomplishments, Midler is an inexhaustible champion for New York City’s parks and green spaces. Over the last eight years, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP)-a non-profit beautification organization founded by Midler-has salvaged neighborhood gardens and community spaces all around the city, focusing specifically on neglected areas in Upper Manhattan. So far, Midler’s green-thumbed minions have cleaned and made safe more than 375 acres of New York City parkland, removing more than 75,000 tons of garbage and debris from project sites. One ambitious NYRP project scheduled to reach fruition this summer is the Swindler Cove Park (named after NYRP staffer Billy Swindler, who died of AIDS at age 39), which will result in the renovation of five acres of waterfront in East Harlem.
And fabulously, Fort Tyron Park, home to The Cloisters-and an area that was formerly a trashy wasteland of beer and liquor bottles, crack vials, and used condoms-has now become an exquisitely managed park largely due to the NYRP’s diligent intervention. In fact, the NYRP opened a smart little eatery, the New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tyron which funnels restaurant proceeds back into the park while at the same time providing income for the City of New York and creating jobs. So far, the cafe has snagged rave reviews in Time Out New York and The New York Times. (And goodness knows we gays love a cute café.)
Of course, we also love a sassy Pride-week benefit party. Knowing our penchant to support a cause associated with a divine diva, the folks at Heaven have put together a bash to raise dollars for the NYRP. “Bette performed at the first Gay Pride Celebration‹back when it was a ‘Gay Liberation Rally’ in Washington Square,” explains Tim Hunter, one of Heaven’s owners and promoters. “She has always been there unconditionally for us and now she is extending that embrace to New York City.” Hunter was also inspired to organize a benefit due to his own concerns about New York’s current appearance. “I’ve lived in New York for 29 years and the city has never disappointed me in its energy and excitement,” says Hunter. “However, lately I’ve thought it could use a little sprucing up. And what better way to do it than to help the New York Restoration Project-founded by one of our favorite entertainers? I think all New Yorkers, gay or straight, prefer a beautiful and clean environment.”
Thusly, on Monday, June 23rd, Heaven will play host to the Summerhouse Party, a bash which will help usher in Pride week and raise money to help keep our city green. On the bill for this big wing-ding is the legendary DJ Johnny Dynell (a veteran of Jackie 60, The Mudd Club, Area, Danceteria and other landmark NYC clubs-not to mention the current Wednesday-night soiree Cabaret Magique at the East Village’s Chez Es Saada), with appearances promised by Hairspray’s Tony-winning music men Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, actress Parker Posey, club maven Chi Chi Valenti, John “Lypsinka” Epperson, Marilyn Sokol, John Kelly and Miss Brenda Bergman. And, of course, Hunter is also hoping that Midler will manage to pop by the Summerhouse Party to blow a kiss to her devoted gay fans. After all, this is the woman who told The Advocate, “If it hadn’t been for certain gay friends of mine, I wouldn’t know nothing from nothing.” And as we all know, Midler-the self-proclaimed “Bathhouse Betty”-is nothing if not unpredictable.