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Parade Magazine: Miss M Says May Retire After Vegas Gig….

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Mother Of All Divas
By James Kaplan
Published: January 20, 2008

Photo: Firooz Zahedi

I’m a big personality, but I’m a little person,” Bette Midler says.

It’s a double understatement. At 62, this entertainer extraordinaire—she acts! she sings! she dances! she tells raunchy jokes!—is not just a personality. With two Oscar nominations, four Golden Globes and three Emmys as a movie and TV star, plus four Grammy Awards and 15 million albums sold as a recording artist, Midler’s a certifiable icon. Yet at a scant 5 feet 1, she’s so petite, so unassuming in her jeans, tan jacket and tinted glasses, that not a single head turns when she enters a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But then she sits across from me and removes the glasses to reveal that familiar, big-featured face, with arched eyes merry over apple cheeks—a face that makes you feel something quite improper could be said at any moment.

“You look great,” I tell her.

“Thank you,” she says. “I will give you a list of all the people who look after me.”

She’s going to need every one of them for her next gig, which will be a very tall order for a lady of a certain age: On Feb. 20, Midler will replace Céline Dion as the headliner at the 4100-seat Colosseum theater at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, beginning a two-year, 100-shows-a-year stand.

She calls her new production Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On, “because the truth is that I’ve been around a long time. By the time I get out of this, I will be close to 65 years old. That really does bring you up short.

“But I’m very excited about it,” Midler adds. “I’m also a little bit trepidatious, because it’s the biggest stage I’ve ever been on—it’s 120 feet across!—and the video screen is enormous. So the challenge was not to let the enormity of it intimidate you to such a degree that you say, ‘My God, I’ve got to get an elephant. I’ve got to get a dog act. I have to have hordes of people on point.’”

At this point in her career, Bette has earned whatever caprice she desires. She arrived in New York in 1965, an innocent 20-year-old from Hawaii, where her father, Fred, was a housepainter and her mother, Ruth, a seamstress. But her innocence didn’t last long. In 1967, she won a role in the smash Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof and made important friendships in the theater.

“I have a real weakness,” Midler says. “I love to laugh. If I can’t laugh, I feel like I’m dead.” And her theater friends, she found, “always had a really odd take on things. They were always way, way ahead of the curve.” Soon, so was she. Her love for old Hollywood musicals quickly endeared her to her young pianist, Barry Manilow. He in turn produced her acclaimed first album, The Divine Miss M. Next came a special Tony Award in 1974 and a starring role in The Rose. In the years since, there were unsuccessful movies and records that didn’t sell, but there also were hits and a second Oscar nomination for For the Boys (1991).

So why, at an age when many stars might be tempted to hang it up, is she putting herself through this?

Midler’s last stage show, Kiss My Brass, played to sold-out audiences in the U.S. and Australia between 2003 and 2005. “I had a tremendous tour,” she says. “And I was 60 when I came back. I thought, ‘What’s there to do?’ I really had to settle on the fact that I wasn’t going to be making movies anymore. I made peace with that. And the record business has been shaky for a long time, so the door wasn’t exactly closing, but it wasn’t what it had been. But if you’re a live entertainer, if you’re someone who still works and people still want to see, you can go on forever.” Or almost.

“This is my 40th year,” she tells me. And it brings her, she confides, to a point where she’s nearly ready to say, “That’s goodbye. Gotta go!”

As in “retire”?

“I think so,” Midler sighs. “I think so. I must say, my high kick is just as high as it ever was, thanks to tai chi. But everything is a bit slower. The mind—things don’t stick the way they used to. I feel like I’m going out with a bang. It’s something my husband and I have talked about. I certainly don’t want to die in harness. I’m not one of those people.”

What she is, deep down, is a devoted wife and mother. “In a funny way, I’m quite civilized,” she says. “After all that moaning and cussing and working blue, it turned out that I was really a lady.” She and performance artist Martin von Haselberg met in the mid-’80s, at a low ebb in both their lives. Midler had just broken up with her longtime manager/boyfriend, and von Haselberg was working unhappily as a commodities trader. After they married in 1984, he told her he wanted to quit his job and go back to performing. Midler bridled at being the sole earner. “It was very, very hard,” she says. “All of a sudden, it was going to be all on me, and I wanted it to be more of a team effort.”

Then she got pregnant.

After their daughter, Sophie, was born in 1986, Martin found a new role. “He basically picked up all the slack,” Midler says. “He did a fantastic job. He taught her German. He taught her to cook. Taught her martial arts, encouraged dancing. When I was out of town, he was there with the homework, watching over her. He’s a fantastic father.”

These days, with Sophie about to graduate from Yale, Martin spends his time painting and advising Bette on her career. “He was always very calm,” she tells me. “He has to be, because I’m not. I’m a nervous wreck. Especially when I’m putting new shows together and I have a lot riding on me. I get a little panicky. He’s a real nurturer.”

Midler sips her iced tea. “I like to work,” she says. “I’m not done yet. I have plenty of charities that are looking for help. My legacy…” She makes a face. “I hate to say this, but I do think in these terms. I’ve been thinking in these terms since I was 11. What kind of 11-year-old thinks about their damn legacy? Me.”

Midler’s grin fades. “Because I am a live performer, my legacy is really ephemeral,” she says. “People don’t really remember. I mean, I’ve made some good movies, I’ve made some bad movies. They will last. But the rest of it, what I did live, that’s only memory. That’s not really a legacy. My real legacy is this group that I’ve established here in New York, called New York Restoration Project.”

Midler founded the nonprofit organization, dedicated to revitalizing the city’s neglected parks and gardens, in 1995. Last fall, she and the NYRP, in conjunction with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Parks Department, announced a plan to plant a million trees in the city. “This could be and should be one of the most beautiful places in the world,” Midler says. “There’s no reason why it has to be dirty. That’s really what I spend my time thinking about—I mean, that and dresses and high-heeled shoes.”

Not to mention Vegas. “I’d like to have nudes,” she says about her show, with a mischievous grin. “Not nude nudes, but a new kind of Vegas nude. A showgirl who can do a lot of things. A little bit naughty, but pretty nice all around.”

In the end, of course, all Bette really needs—and what the people will be there to see—is the all-around megawattage she gives off solo, when the spotlight is on.

How will she keep it fresh night after night, 100 nights a year? “Oh, well,” Midler says. “There’s a little bit of improvisation built in. You never know when a zipper is going to break, when you’re going to sprain your ankle. Every day is a crapshoot. Lots of half-naked girls running around.” She smiles. “Everybody loves them. Stand in front of me, girls. Come on. Stand right in front, right here. Gotta go.”

MISS M’S MOVIES

THE ROSE
1979
Bette’s lead role as a troubled rock star (modeled after the late Janis Joplin) on her last tour earned her an Oscar nomination.

BEACHES
1988
In a tender story about a lifelong friendship, Bette flexed her range.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB
1996
With Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn, she spoofed as a bitter divorcée.

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12 thoughts on “Parade Magazine: Miss M Says May Retire After Vegas Gig….

  1. Bette will have a greater legacy than she thinks as far as movies and music are concerned. (so release all the songs you’ve recorded…give us that, too. Bette fans are selfish and we want it all…and talk about word of mouth…we sell you, baby….we’re recruiters!)

    She definitely will have a legacy as far as philanthropy and her devotion to NYRP and it’s objectives. And that is womderful and there is much to be admired in that. Bringing and keeping beauty alive on this poor little planet.

    She says her best is her stage shows but they are ephermeral, just moments in time…yes that can be true…but you can capture a lot of that magic on tape which also lasts forever. So release what you have that hasn’t been released, like Kiss MY Brass and DMM…maybe they won’t be perfect quality, but they will damn sure show future generations what a true magical performer you are (in every decade you performed…sheer genious)….

    Don’t underestimate…

    Love, Mister D

  2. This was a great article. Very informative.

    Whatever happened to “I’m not retiring and you can’t make me!”

    I too wish Bette would think that there is so much more to her legacy than her stage shows (which she should be remembered for) and NYRP. She needs to remember how many lives she touched by being a bright spot in many darkened lives.

    I also wish they would mention more about her movies. I understand The Rose, Beaches and The First Wives Club are her most successful/recognizable… but man I love For the Boys, Big Business and Stella.

  3. I agree with you about the movies, too. She brought in almost half a billion dollars to Disney/Touchstone with her movies. A string of hits…Down and Out In Beverly Hills, Ruthless People, Big Business, and Outrageous Fortune…all huge hits. And I loved Stella and Scenes From A Mall, too.

    She says there are no more movies for her…well, what about “Then She Found Me” and “The Women” There’s a demand Ms. Midler and you know that….

    Every body has to retire at some point…but I still think Miss M has some more high kicks in her even after the Vegas shows….

    But if she wants to retire…thanks for brightening my
    lifetime….

    Love, Mister D

    PS: Hey cutie Stephen !!!!

  4. all I know is that I will go to see her in Vegas more than once….and save money so that I can afford tickets to one of the FINAL shows…if not THE final show…THAT will be a special one!

    thanks so much for posting this!!

  5. the day bette officially retires, a piece of me will die. i can’t even imagine my life without something bette-worthy to look forward to in the future. she’s been a constant in my life since i was 8… it’s like i don’t know life without her in it. no one, ever, will manage to come even remotely close to comparing with her. mmmkay?? 😉 at least there’s always hulaween and spring picnic (hopefully!!). vegas or bust… anyone wanna buy a kidney???

  6. Well, after 40 years nobody can blame her if she wants to retire..but then, we’ve been listening to this for, what, the last 10 years…LOL! I liked the Tai Chi stuff…LOL! She now can REALLY kick some ass!

  7. Don, if someone has room for you in their luggage, be prepared to cuddle up close, because im coming with you! lol
    I remember listening to my Mom’s 45 of The Rose when i was a child. that seed was planted and when i saw BEACHES, that admiration and love for her talent and personality bloomed. I believe there is years of work left in her. Films to be made. Oscars to be won. And I totally agree, RELEASE HER CATALOG!!!! give us that. If retirement looms large, the only thing that can be done to appease us, her most loyal of fans, would be to release whatever they have that may have been kept because it was deemed unworthy or not up to par. WE DONT CARE! we would love it no matter what. and for the love of Pete, RECORD THE CONCERT!!! The Vegas show would sell HUGE on dvd. Show it on HBO, get those Emmy’s again!
    and ok, I will stop, LOL. Im sorry Don, just anted to get a little bit out there. Thank you for posting this 🙂
    love ya

  8. Ok,well this article was kind of a downer for me. All I can think about is, SHE’S RETIRING!!? WHAT! I understand why,but I just cant believe it. Bette is a huge part of my life,and if she retires, well it will just suck,lol! I hope to go to Vegas to see her,that would be freackin awesome! If she would retire all I can do is wish her the best,and hope that maybe someday she would do a few things here and there. Ya know like a “Cher like retirement” LOL…Bette is the Best and there will NEVER be anyone like her!!

    BetteFan4Life,
    Megan

    P.S. Those pictures they did were amazing! She still looks like a million bucks!

  9. ok i’m sitting here balling my eyes out after reading this article! i know that everyone has to retire at some point, but i’m just not ready for that yet!!! i am such a huge fan and she inspires me more than anyone else! even more than Wynonna Judd, who i have loved since i was about 11 years old! and i have seen live many times and met twice! i am 24 now. i have never seen Bette live and never met her!!!! but i will see her in Vegas if it’s the last thing i do!! she is so awesome and she really has helped me have more confidence in myself by not being afraid to be herself.even when Bette is (god forbid) long gone i will still be watching her movies and listening to her. i will never forget her and the impact she has had on my life! and i’m so glad to have people like you guys who i can talk about her with! your guy freaking rock!!
    amanda
    greeneville, tn

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