From The Post: Bette On The Road To New York

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Photo: Barbara Sussman

January 2, 2004 — ONSTAGE, she’s the Divine Miss M – gaudy, outrageous and tasteless. But after talking with her, it’s clear that a more fitting description of Bette Midler has to include words like commanding, tenacious and feisty.
For starters, she’s annoyed with The Post. “I wish you guys would lay off my school,” she said the other day, with a Miss Crabtree-like reprimand.

What school?

“Washington Irving High [in Gramercy Park]. I wish The Post would stop calling it ‘Hell High’ in the paper.

“I do a lot of work with the kids there, and that school has really pulled itself up by its bootstraps, and it should get a big hand. It shouldn’t get slapped around by you guys.”

Midler attributes her passion to her incurable but endearing malady: obsessive compulsive disorder.

“I’m trying to use it to do some good things,” she explained.

And she has. Besides saving schools and New York City’s urban gardens, Midler – who lives in New York, Hawaii and Los Angeles with her husband, Martin von Hasselberg, and their 17-year-old daughter, Sophie – soon will play a less-than-perfect Stepford wife in the coming remake of the 1975 film.

Starring with her will be Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close and Jon Lovitz, as Midler’s husband.

Although she snagged the Paula Prentiss role, Midler was reluctant to give away any more, saying only, “It’s a fabulous movie, and I got to work with great actors. And it’s funny.”

Her self-professed compulsiveness was rewarded early last month with a Grammy nomination for “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.” The album, released this summer, offers a Miss M spin on songs Clooney made famous, like “Mambo Italiano” and “Come On-A My House.”

It also reunited her with Barry Manilow, who produced and arranged the album – a collaboration that ended their nearly 30-year estrangement.

Midler shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike Cher, who announced her farewell to show business a couple of years ago, Midler claims, “I’m not retiring, and you can’t make me.”

Her current Kiss My Brass tour takes her to Nassau Coliseum tomorrow and on to Madison Square Garden for shows on Jan. 17 and 18. Expect to hear the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy blow a few bars – and see the return of Midler’s mermaid alter ego, Delores Delago.

And more than likely, Midler won’t be able to resist telling a few truly tasteless jokes. Ever hear the one about how many Hawaiians it takes to fill Carnegie Hall?

Just one – but it has to be Bette Midler.

Post: Because of your sometimes brash, in-your-face style, a lot of people think you’re a New Yorker.

Midler: I consider myself a New Yorker. I’ve had a lot of good times in New York, and I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve put a lot of effort into the city, and I really love it, but I was born and brought up in Hawaii. I go there at least a couple of times a year, and I still feel like a Hawaiian. You know, you’re always happiest in your childhood home. My heart is there. That’s where I’m comfortable.

Post: Do you still love New York after the pothole tried to eat you this spring? How’s your foot?

Midler: You heard. Yeah, I fell into a pothole and broke my foot. I wasn’t the only one – there were numerous New Yorkers who fell into potholes. When I saw Iris (Weinshall), she’s the head of the DOT, I said, “I fell into one of your potholes.” She got a worried look and asked if I was going to sue. I said no, but told her to get it fixed. I mean it was Madison Avenue. It looked like hell.

Post: How about a better New York moment?

Midler: Playing Carnegie Hall. It was the early ’70s, the sound was impeccable and I remember I wore my “baked potato” dress that Norma Kamali made for me. Norma and I were really good friends, and she used to deck me out from time to time. That was an extravagant dress. I’d never had anything as fancy. The set was a beach that had a couple of palm trees. I was like, “Oh, my goodness. I have palm trees.” It was lovely.

Post: Your stage shows have gotten slightly more lavish than a couple of palm trees. What’s the new tour like?

Midler: It’s called Kiss My Brass because I have a horn section with me for the first time. It’s extravagant and beautiful. The lights, the sets and the girls are all sensational. There’s new material that I’ve never done in concert before, and a couple of songs from my Rosemary Clooney album.

Post: What does the set look like?

Midler: It’s loosely inspired by Luna Park in Coney Island at the turn of the century, when they used to light all the architecture with light bulbs. Someone showed me footage of Luna Park and I thought it was so beautiful. Parts of Coney Island are decrepit now, but it could be beautiful again, but people aren’t taking an interest.

Post: Would you get behind revitalizing Coney Island?

Midler: I did speak to Mike Eisner about it when he had all the Disney Worlds going up. I thought it would be so great if they took over Coney Island, but he wasn’t interested. It’s a shame because it’s world famous.

Post: What do you like about amusement parks?

Midler: They are places of light and dark, so they make for a great metaphor of life. I think this is the kind of show that’ll really cheer people up. The last couple of years have been pretty hard on us all, and I think it’s time we all could use some light – and a little giggle.

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