Miss M Speaks Her Mind…

Wives Tale Mirrors Reality, Midler Frets
By ian caddell
Publish Date: 10-Jun-2004

NEW YORK–It is divas’ day at the Essex Hotel. Attending a news conference at the downtown Manhattan caravansary are famed actors Glenn Close, Bette Midler, and Nicole Kidman, and country-music star Faith Hill. They’ve come to promote The Stepford Wives, which starts Friday (June 11) in Vancouver.

Although Close, Hill, and Kidman have achieved international success, there is only one “Divine Miss M”, and it shows. Midler seems to own every question. While her colleagues appear intent on saying the right thing, Midler just wants to have fun and speak her mind. When asked if she and fellow vocalist Hill took time out to sing together, Midler briefly chastises her costar for “stealing” the tune “I’m Not Lisa”, which they performed on the set, for Hill’s latest CD, and then proceeds to join her in warbling a few bars from the Jessi Colter number.

In the film, Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, a well-known broadcasting executive who has a nervous breakdown after being fired. Her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick), decides they need to move out of Manhattan and buys a house in the Connecticut town of Stepford. When Joanna recovers from her breakdown, she notices that most of the other Stepford wives look perfect and are obedient to their nerdy husbands. Eventually, she forms an alliance with two other outsiders, Bobbie Markowitz (Midler) and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), and they begin a private investigation of the men of Stepford.

Midler says the movie world that writer Paul Rudnick has created from the 1972 Ira Levin novel of the same name (a 1975 film version starred Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss) is relevant to modern men and women. “There is definitely pressure on everyone to think that if they look better they will be happier,” she argues. “I feel it is very intense, and while it is not a conspiracy, it certainly feels like one. It is as though manufacturers and medical people have discovered that people have serious insecurities, and they are playing on them to get them to want to look a certain way so that they can make money. I have never seen anything like this wave of dissatisfaction that women are feeling.

“Reality shows are playing a part as well. People sit and watch these shows as though they are serious shows, but they are not. They are fantasy shows. They are all [like the 1950s and ’60s game show] Queen for a Day. Someone who has nothing is going to have something for a day. But there is a cheesiness about it. They make you feel that you are going to be happy, and you will for a while, but eventually gravity will take its toll and you will have to go under the knife. I think it’s best for you to make some sort of peace [with yourself] at some point.”

Midler has been a star for more than 30 years. She started out in the early 1970s singing in New York’s famous Continental Baths gay club before turning out a string of hits. She made her first film, The Rose, in 1979 and by the mid-1980s had become a movie star. In 1986 she had a daughter, Sophie, and she says that she has slowed her pace a little in recent years to spend more time with her family.

“I work when I feel like working,” she explains. “I have a great husband and a beautiful daughter, so I would like to live a little bit more. But when I don’t work I feel like I am getting rusty. I feel that if you don’t sing you lose your voice, so I like to keep working to keep my machine oiled.”

Although Midler enjoys her current life, she says she yearns for the more activist days of her youth and worries that the kids of her daughter’s generation are missing out on their childhoods. “People are sheep. They used to march and scream and they don’t do it any more. I guess they are so busy trying to pay off their credit cards that they don’t take an active part in it, or maybe they think, ‘I am one person; what difference can I make?’

“But I think it is offensive and unfair to the children. They are sexualized at eight. You see these little girls bumping and grinding in their beds. It’s appalling, because childhood is the best part of your life. It’s the part that you remember the best, and if you are grown up at eight, what do you have to look forward to? There is a lax and careless quality to the way we deal with our children. It’s distressing. I feel like it is bad for my country because I want someone to inherit my country. I want whoever inherits it, when we are dead and gone, to have a sense of responsibility, but you don’t get that any more.”

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