Transcript: The 7:30 Report

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 30/03/2005
Music keeps Midler entertained
Reporter: Kerry O’Brien

KERRY O’BRIEN: It’s been a long time between gigs in Australia – a quarter of a century in fact – but the divine Miss M is back for a series of concerts here. In the meantime, Bette Midler has chalked up Grammies, Emmies, Golden Globes, and an Oscar nomination, but in her 60th year, this formidable entertainer seems a long way from packing it in. Launched in a New York bath house, it’s been an amazing career, encompassing outrageous stage comedy, an endless array of music, and Hollywood hits like The Rose and First Wives Club. I spoke with Bette Midler in Sydney today.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Bette Midler, one way or another you’ve been treading the boards for more than 35 years, most of it apparently at break-neck speed.

BETTE MIDLER: In high heels.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve had the fame and the money for a long time. What keeps you going?

BETTE MIDLER: You know, I really like music and I really like performing. I always have. I don’t relish it as much as I did when I was young, but I still get a kick out of it. I love the people around me, and the creative people around me and the audiences. I really enjoy them. They are different from the way they were when I started, but they are very generous and they, you know what, in a funny I think I make them happy.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve always talked about loving your music, no-one can be in any doubt about that, but you seem to have had a love-hate relationship with Hollywood and the world of movie making. Is that why you still go on the road, despite the enormous effort, because no-one can take that from you, no-one can get between you and your audience?

BETTE MIDLER: I think so. And also the fact that it’s my creation that I made it, I’m the director, the producer, the ideas are generally generated by me. I pick the people that I work with. I cast it. I hire the musicians and I don’t have to answer to anyone.

(Sings) * I want some … Stuff like that there … I want some stuff like that there! *

BETTE MIDLER: In Hollywood when you make a picture, it’s such a collaborative effort. You hit a snag at any point in the process and ruin your whole effort.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Are you still unhappy with Hollywood? In ’91 after the success of the film Beaches, your business partner, Bonnie Brookheimer, said, “A person’s degree of power in Hollywood is usually measured by their ability to get movies made. Everyone wants to make a movie with Bette. Nine years later Brookheimer said they don’t write movies for Bette anymore.” And you said yourself, that they only offer you cameo roles. Do you have any idea what that happened?

BETTE MIDLER: No, I really don’t. I think people do what they want to do and if you’re not on their wavelength and you don’t fit the project then they pass you by. It’s difficult to have worked that long and hard and to be passed over, but, you know, I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I can do my own shows. I can make my own music. I can pick myself up with my little suitcase and go wherever in the world I want to and be welcomed as an artist. A lot of the actors my age can’t say that. I feel like I’m blessed.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Let me quote again from the New York Times in October 2000, “Even though I was their favourite girl at Disney, I was never a comic lead in one of their movies, I was always the support girl, or co-girl. I was at the time the highest paid female in town at the time, and I never said anything because I think that would be in poor taste. Now I’m ticked off that I didn’t say anything. These days, everyone tells their damn salaries. And I never said a word – that’s what comes with being a lady.” There’s a certain amount of bitterness.

BETTE MIDLER: Did I say that?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, they said you did. It sounds like a certain amount of bitterness.

BETTE MIDLER: Yes, I think I was a little bit bitter. I think the business changed so radically that there’s no point in being bitter. Once blockbuster pictures came in, once Jaws set the tone for what was to come after, and once the studio realised how much money could be made with enormous pictures and things that you could sell, the ancillary things you could sell, the toys and the videos and all that stuff, they pretty much put the smaller pictures on hold.

KERRY O’BRIEN: In that time that you’re talking about, when, for you, things went off the rails there was still the First Wives Club.

BETTE MIDLER: I know that.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Even then you subsequently said when they tried to make a second one they thought the first one must have been luck.

BETTE MIDLER: It’s always that. That’s always what they would say. It’s just a fluke. I’m made so many fluke hits. The Rose was a fluke. The First Wives Club was a fluke.Beaches was a fluke. You know, actually, Beaches wasn’t a fluke because they tried to do something that was in what they call women’s pictures. I think they made a mistake in that. In putting Beaches into that niche.Beaches wasn’t really a woman’s picture. It had so much going on. First of all, it was hilariously funny. It had a wonderful little girl… Miembiolic. It had music and it had a really good soundtrack. Although it did have at the heart of it a relationship between two women, there were lots of men coming and going. It had a lot going on for it. I remember distinctly at the time that the director thought it was a woman’s picture and we should get on that bandwagon and make women’s pictures. The next picture we chose was Stella, which was definitely a women’s picture but it was a picture that nobody wanted to see .

KERRY O’BRIEN: The Rose was your first staring role in film and probably still your most powerful role. There were people at the time who said, and you said yourself, that there were some similarities between Janice Joplin and you.

(Sings) * Don’t you just stay with me baby…Why don’t you just stay with me baby? *

KERRY O’BRIEN: She of course went off the rails in a big way. It seems you’ve stayed on the rails all these years?

BETTE MIDLER: I really was very conscious of staying on the rails. Because I wanted to have a long career and that meant more to me than the party. I mean, I did my share of drugs and I drank my share, but I was so ill from it, I just didn’t have the tolerance for it. I saw what it did to my instrument – I would lose my voice. I would be sick and angry at everyone. I couldn’t bear the feeling of being hungover. I simply couldn’t bear it. My work meant more to me. I knew it was one or the other. I couldn’t do both.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You say your parents, who were children of the Depression advised you that you can only count on yourself. Have you really found that to be true after all these years you haven’t been able to trust others?

BETTE MIDLER: I have been very lucky in my choice of a husband. I met and married the man I was supposed to marry. He has been a real boom to me. He has guided me in his way – because he’s a very odd guy – in his way he has really led me to do the right thing. He has. He has really kept me on the rails for the last few years, so to speak.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Much more recently you quoted Hemmingway to explain yourself.


KERRY O’BRIEN: “The best you can do is last and get your work done.” You said, “Well, I’ve lasted and now I would like to get my work done.” The question is, how will you know when your work is done?

BETTE MIDLER: I think you do. I think it comes on you. I think you say, “You know what, that’s enough.” There are so many kinds of work to do on the planet. There’s not just one kind. The thing that you chose when you were a child is not necessarily the thing that’s going to see you to the end of your days. I think the wisest person is the one that says, “I’m going to put that aside and see what else there is.” I think I will know. So far, I can still run in high heels…

KERRY O’BRIEN: It’s a famous run, actually. It’s a very distinctive run in high heels!

BETTE MIDLER: I am so fascinated by music. Music is like science. For the first few years of my life I didn’t study it. I started studying it maybe 20 years ago. It’s infinite. You can always be fascinated by music.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Looking back through the cuts, I did see some contradictions in what you’ve said over the years.

BETTE MIDLER: I never know what I’m going to say.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You said you don’t want to die on stage and be left clinging to the shards of fame and glory. At the same time you said other countries – in other countries you are allowed to sing and play music until you die and you don’t have to look good doing it.

KERRY O’BRIEN: That’s right. I think my small room with my small combo is coming. I’m learning the piano and I’m also learning the ukulele. And if push comes to shove, I will be out there with that ukulele all by myself and the hell with the rest of them.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Bette Midler, thanks for talking with us.

BETTE MIDLER: You’re welcome.

KERRY O’BRIEN: And ‘Kiss my Brass’ plays in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. That’s the program for tonight. Join us again tomorrow. But for now, good night.

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