West Palm artist looks like Bette Midler, and wants to meet her
By Ivette M. Yee
February 23, 2004
It’s almost as if they’re cosmically connected, local artist Deborah Bigeleisen and the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler.
Not only do they share the same birthday — Dec. 1 — but the show diva and the West Palm Beach painter could be twins in a jailhouse lineup.
Shed Midler’s newly blond tresses and bring her back as a redhead, and you could be staring at Bigeleisen. On Sunday , when Midler takes the stage at Office Depot Center in Sunrise, Bigeleisen, a former New York City textile designer, will try to get backstage to give the singer one of her paintings.
What kind of painting? A rose, of course.
“Flowers were the cornerstone of my success for 30 years, when I was a textile designer,” Bigeleisen, 54, said. “Regardless of what was in style, flowers out sold everything else. I felt that would carry over in the world of art, so I focused on roses, and it just so happened that Bette’s hit song was The Rose.”
A nature lover, Bigeleisen paints roses from her own photos taken at places such as the Buchardt Gardens in Victoria, British Colombia, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. The flowers, which stand out for their layers of glazing and luminosity, have been picked up by several local galleries, including the Embler Art Gallery on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and Dawnlyn Fine Art gallery in Palm Beach Gardens.
Last year, Bigeleisen was accepted into the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s All Florida Juried competition and the Inspiration 2003 show at the Cornell Museum of Art at Old School Square in Delray Beach.
It was way before the 1979 song and film The Rose that Bigeleisen and Midler comparisons were made. Strolling the streets of Broadway in the mid-1970s, Bigeleisen and her husband would encounter many low whispers and stares. At the time, Midler had appeared in Clams on the Half Shell and Fiddler on the Roof.
“Especially when Bette was first coming on to the scene, whenever we were in the theater district six out of 10 people would come up to us or say something,” said her husband, Marv. “One time, a man came up to me and said “Is that Bette Midler?” and all I said was, `Please don’t disturb her, she’s tired.’ Well, he went off being star-struck.”
Bigeleisen also has the same rich voice of importance and spews a diva-like sass when she’s reminding husband “Mauve” where to park for a recent show at the Palm Street Art Studios in West Palm Beach.
“It’s always been an inside family joke, how our cousin is Bette Midler,” said Bigeleisen’s cousin Rebecca Numberg, who lives in New York City. “When I was working at Tri-star Pictures and went to the premiere of Bette’s movie, The Rose, I saw her and the resemblance was just uncanny.”
Bigeleisen said she’s flattered to be confused for Midler, whose career she’s followed from the beginning.
“I would pay any amount of money to see her,” Bigeleisen said. “It’s her presence, her energy and her voice. She’s a real entertainer. When she’s on stage she gives 110 percent. I don’t think there’s anyone else out there that puts that kind of energy into a show.”
But can Bigeleisen carry a tune as well?
“Let’s just say, thank God I can paint,” she said.