“It was a joy every goddamn day to direct her!”

The Liz Smith Column
Liz Smith: Mark Rydell Recalls His Blooming ‘Rose’ With Bette Midler and Challenging Kate Hepburn
Also from Our Gossip Girl ”“ Liz and Richard forever and dachshunds on YouTube.
By Liz Smith

“It was a joy every goddamn day to direct her!”

That’s Mark Rydell talking up his experience guiding Bette Midler through the star’s first movie back in 1979.

This was “The Rose,” a riveting take on the Janis Joplin saga/persona. Bette, who was Oscar nominated, didn’t actually portray Joplin, but captured her engaging, desperate essence. Midler’s brilliance was such that there has been no other film since to touch on Joplin’s life. Why bother?

“The Rose” celebrates its 30th anniversary with a special Academy of Arts and Sciences screening of the movie at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Hollywood this Friday, September 25. Rydell ”“ who has also directed such films as “Cinderella Liberty,” “The River,” “On Golden Pond” and “For the Boys” (his second go-round with Bette) ”“ is to be feted. Midler was set to appear, but had to cancel for “personal reasons.” She filmed a special tribute instead.

Now, folks, I’ve talked to many directors who have praised their actors. But honestly I don’t think I have ever heard anybody rave so about a star. Rydell’s enthusiasm was such you’d think he just finished the movie last week. It was an almost stream-of-consciousness flow of worship:

“This was her very first movie and she was terrified. But that brought out my better skills as a director. I was amazed to find her so responsive, so delicious ”¦ I wanted her for the movie from the get-go, but nobody in Hollywood knew who she was and said ”˜no way,’ so I backed out. But then she began to make a name and they came back and said, ”˜OK, you can have her.’ This turned into 80 of the most beautiful days of my career, of my life. And the entire cast and crew felt the same way. They would gather every day to see what would happen with her; where would she go with the character ”¦ she had a monster gift, there was nothing she couldn’t do, no emotion was beyond her ”¦ it was exhilarating, almost shocking how accomplished she was ”¦ all I ever had to do was whisper in her ear, and she understood and would go where I wanted ”“ and much further.”

I mentioned the famous, grueling phone booth scene, where The Rose calls her parents ”“ and then gives herself what would be a final killer shot of heroin. Rydell says: “I was stunned that she could go that deeply into that scene of family pain. But I came to think of her as a Stradivarius.”

Of her career after “The Rose,” Rydell says, “Well, she had many successes, a lot of those Disney comedies. But I believe Hollywood misguided her career, perhaps because of her unconventional looks. She has a special, deep and profound acting talent, which I think has been badly handled in some ways.”

Was there any difference directing her years later in “For the Boys,” for which she received her second Oscar nod? “It was wonderful to be with her, of course,” says Rydell. “But she was ”˜Bette Midler’ by then, and perhaps less open, artistically, though she was great in the movie.”

***

What is Rydell up to now? “I’m doing what all directors do; I’m developing a screenplay. But who the hell knows what will happen. Nobody wants to finance a script with any human depth. It’s all explosions and sparse dialog and CGI. It’s an unpleasant period, really a little sad. But we live in hope, here in Hollywood ”“ happy endings are not impossible!”

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