BootLeg Betty

Beaches: 20 Years Ago This Week

The bosom buddies of `Beaches’ // Bette Midler swims ashore to wade on the serious side
Article from: Chicago Sun-Times
Article date: January 8, 1989
Author: Bob Strauss

LOS ANGELES Look out, world. Bette Midler is getting serious.

Not only is she playing a dramatic role in “Beaches,” her first since her Oscar-nominated movie debut 10 years ago as “The Rose.” She also co-produced the new film (opening Friday at Chicago area theaters) through her All Girl Productions company.

Of course, Miss M’s version of serious can be pretty hilarious. Like her “Beaches” character CC Bloom, Midler can hardly refrain from cracking jokes at even the gravest of moments.

The resemblance between Bette and CC doesn’t end there. Both are brassy chanteuse/ actresses who first made names for themselves with outrageous cabaret reviews in New York in the early ’70s. Both went on to become major recording and film stars. And both have trouble being taken seriously – Midler as an actress, Bloom as a person capable of caring for anyone but herself. Midler has wanted to play CC for years, ever since novelist Iris Rainer Dart showed her an eight-page draft before Beaches was published.

Once All Girl secured film rights to the novel, screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue was commissioned to tone down CC’s vulgarity and general hysteria. When the script was shown to Disney/Touchstone production chief Jeffrey Katzenberg – who has engineered Midler’s rise to screen superstardom in the wacky comedies “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), “Ruthless People” (1986), “Outrageous Fortune” (1987) and “Big Business” (1988) – he surprised Bette and her girls by pledging Disney’s full support.

“The best thing about `Beaches’ is that it’s based on reality, it’s not a cartoon,” said Midler. “I love cartoons, too, but I want to have a life career where I’m not typecast, I just don’t play one thing. It was nice to bring the whole thing down and be a real person again, which I haven’t really done in 10 years. It was a big relief to not have to bug my eyes out and not to have a little walk.”

What prevents CC Bloom from turning into a show-biz ego-monster is Hillary Whitney Essex, the beautiful daughter of a San Francisco society lawyer whose demure breeding and quiet elegance is the polar opposite of CC’s gauche Brooklyn ethnicity. After meeting on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk as children (the 11-year-old CC is played by the astonishingly convincing Bette-impersonator Mayim Bialik), Hillary and CC keep up a cross-country correspondence, briefly live together in hippie-era Greenwich Village, comfort each other through romantic travails, have horrendous arguments and generally fill the gaps in each other’s personalities. When, after 30 years of friendship, one of those incurable movie diseases strikes Hillary, CC realizes that her skyrocketing career takes a backseat to her life’s deepest relationship.

Barbara Hershey won the role of Hillary over strong competition. “We tested some very, very talented women that we liked, but there was something about Barbara that nobody else seemed to have,” Midler said. “A kind of humanity and vulnerability. Some of her tests were overwhelming in that they were very, very true, and I don’t think she has a dishonest moment in this picture. But she had no dishonest moments in `A World Apart,’ either. I guess she’s just a class act.”

Class is a subject that “Beaches” both explores and calls into question. In the movie, Hillary has a lot of it and CC has none. But the movie itself is receiving widely varying critical response; some feel it’s a good, old-fashioned “women’s picture,” others that it’s a shameless and rather hokey grab for cheap emotionalism. It’s not hard to guess which angle Midler sees it from.

“I never thought of it as schmaltzy,” she said. “I felt it was a pretty straightforward relationship picture. I, personally, have always been moved by it because I’ve had friends who I’ve lost. Girlfriends, boyfriends; you’d be amazed at how many dead people I know.”

Suddenly, Midler turned serious. Real serious. “I think sentiment definitely has a place in our world,” she said. “Over the last 15 or 20 years, the pictures that they’ve made have been anti-sentiment. That’s not necessarily right. Sentiment allows us to see other human beings as human beings, not just as machines. It tempers our survival instinct. It makes us care for one another. It’s actually something to be embraced.

“The trend these days is definitely toward anti-human pictures. I mean, the ugliness of much of the product is frightening. In the early days of Hollywood, when the moguls were in power, they felt an obligation to show human beings in their best possible light. Now it’s as though we feel obliged to show human beings in their worst possible light, without any of the ameliorating emotional factors that really make us human.”

Noble statements, said with conviction. But, Bette, it also can be argued that your hit comedies, delightful as they are, don’t actively exalt human virtues over the mechanistic imperative of churning out laughs.

Why the switch to drama? “Jeffrey said, `That’s enough already,’ ” Midler quoted Katzenberg. “I tended to agree with him because I wasn’t really looking forward to getting into another fat suit and squawking and waddling, you know? The one thing the guy has is a sense of timing. He said that it was time to do something closer to home.”

Midler’s next Touchstone film will be “Stella” (an update of the Barbara Stanwyck weepie “Stella Dallas”) about a self-sacrificing mother’s relationship with her daughter. And All Girl Productions is developing two musical dramas that may or may not feature Midler: a film based on the life of female big bandleader Ina Ray Hutton and “For Our Boys,” a decades-spanning history of two USO performers.

Midler also dreams of doing a flat-out romance. “In my pictures, I don’t seem to get the guy too often,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to be important for the characters I play. I would like to play a part that has a strong relationship with a man. I have relationships with men. I know about men. I like men.”

Although she has been accused of trying to “take over” some of her movies (most notoriously, her disastrous second feature, “Jinxed”), Midler found her new producer’s power a mixed blessing. “I had a certain amount of creative control (over `Beaches’),” she said. “I won’t say I had the most; that belongs to the director. (For the record, `Beaches’ director Garry Marshall found Midler to be a cooperative and respectful collaborator.) But I did have much more say than in any previous projects.”

Perhaps the most heartfelt scene in “Beaches” occurs when rising star CC visits her never totally enthusiastic stage mother (played by Lainie Kazan), who long ago retired to a Florida beach. In it, CC’s mother tells her that even she couldn’t stand CC’s constant need for attention and moral support. One wonders if the multitalented, driven, perfectionist Midler also shares this trait.

“Not at all,” she said blithely. “I don’t bother people. I stay out of people’s way. Basically, I’m quite retiring.

“I read the New York Times’ list of what makes you a good narcissist or a bad narcissist. Well, I’m sort of a narcissist. But I’m not a crazy one. I mean, I have a certain amount of self-confidence, but I’m not a bulldozer. I don’t need all that.”

Copyright (null) Chicago Sun-Times.

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