BetteBack: Outrageously Fortunate

Outrageously fortunate // Divine Miss Midler mellows, still a good box-office Bette
Article from:Chicago Sun-Times Article date:February 1, 1987 Author: Bob Strauss

LOS ANGELES Bette Midler‘s been a lot things to a lot of people, but nobody’s ever accused her of being mellow. A few years ago, such a suggestion would bring the risk of being brained with a blunt object flung by the Divine Miss M herself.
“In my younger days, I was much angrier, and I did have a tendency to throw things,” Midler said. “But now, I mean, I’m a mom; I’ve mellowed. When that word – `mellow’ – first came into general use, I thought, `That’s jive! Who would ever use that word?’ And now I know what it means. It’s a general relaxation, which is very hard to achieve when you’re young because you’re going so fast and trying to make a name for yourself. But once you do get ahead, you can stop and go, `Ahh, it’s very nice. Oh! The sun’s shining.’ ”

In movie star terms, Midler’s not just ahead, but way out in front of the pack these days. After last year’s back-to-back successes with “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Ruthless People,” she’s going for the box-office triple crown with “Outrageous Fortune,” a female buddy adventure-comedy.

The new film, which opened Friday in local theaters, co-stars Midler and Shelley Long as two feuding New York actresses who find themselves in the arms of the same mysterious man (played by Peter Coyote). And Midler’s Sandy Brozinsky is no Ms. Mellow; she’s more like Brazen Bette. Appearing in such epics as “Ninja Vixens,” Sandy barrels her way through life with quick lies, an acid tongue, and, more often than probably necessary, a clenched fist.

Midler was immediately captivated by the role of Sandy when she read Leslie Dixon’s original script. A novice screenwriter who claimed she didn’t have any particular actress in mind when she wrote the part, Dixon nonetheless did an uncanny job of distilling the gist of Midler’s Divine Miss M persona into Sandy.

“I thought it was the first time anybody ever captured the sound of my voice,” said Midler. “Although the script wasn’t written for me, it has that snappish quality, that very sharp wit. I thought it was great. Everything I say in the film was there on the page, I didn’t add a word. There are some lines I’m still laughing at. I can’t repeat them because they’re all fairly low.”

Midler also said she loved the plot, in which the two women start out brokenhearted, self-centered and jealously antagonistic toward each other, then gradually become close friends. “The relationship between them was one of contrasts, of opposites,” Midler said. (Long’s Lauren Ames is the Yale-educated daddy’s girl foil to Midler’s street-tough Brooklyn tart.) “Here are two people from opposite ends of the social spectrum, having to work together to achieve an end. That is something that you don’t often see, women working together in a film toward one goal. It’s either two guys, or it’s a woman and a man.”

Midler’s unequalled sense of sarcasm prevents her from viewing Lauren and Sandy as shining examples of feminine intelligence, however. “We were both dumb blonds,” she said, and apparently she and Long had a blast playing it that way. “It was great fun. We were hiding behind rocks and hitting people on the head. When we got water thrown on us, or were out running under helicopters, we thought we were Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.”

Many of the exhausting chase and fight sequences in “Outrageous Fortune” were filmed at mountainous desert locations in New Mexico, strenuous and potentially dangerous stuff, especially for the then-pregnant Midler. “I was tempted not to take the role because of that,” she said. “But I talked to the doctor at length, and he said I would be OK. It was very early on in my pregnancy, and there was some double work. I mean, I hope you don’t think I fell off that mountain myself!”

Now the mother of an infant daughter, Midler said career satisfaction and her family are the main reasons for her serene mood. Her husband, commodities trader Harry Kipper, also is a performance artist, which allows for mutual understanding and creative encouragement. “He’s very creative, and he keeps me on my toes,” she said. “He’s constantly photographing something, drawing something, listening to something, going somewhere to look at someone else’s work. It’s inspiring to be with someone who keeps his eyes open like that. If I had my way, I’d just lie on a beach and get fat and go snorkeling. That’s my idea of heaven. But he keeps me going and keeps my mind alive.”

Not that anyone familiar with the Bette Midler story would begrudge the performer – who has been working nearly nonstop for more than 20 years – at least a few hours of beach time. Leaving her hometown of Honolulu in the mid-1960s, Midler made the Broadway rounds (she was a natural for Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel in “Fiddler on the Roof”) for a few years. She then began developing her song-and-sass talents doing cabaret-style turns at the Improvisation and Manhattan’s early ’70s gay hot spot, the Continental Baths.

Her campy but heartfelt mix of novelty songs, standards and ear-sizzling stage patter eventually led to Grammy-winning albums, sold-out arena concerts and her own Broadway show, “Divine Madness,” as well as the well-received literary efforts A View from a Broad and The Saga of Baby Divine. Her 1978 acting debut as a Janis Joplin-styled rock singer in “The Rose” won her two Golden Globe Awards and an Oscar nomination, although mediocre film projects stalled her film career until “Down and Out” turned things around.

Still ready to take every opportunity to live up to her Queen of Raunch reputation, Midler said she relishes the irony of being the brightest star in the fast-rising, Disney-affiliated Touchstone Films stable. (Although no exclusive agreement exists between actress and studio, Midler’s last three pictures were all Touchstone productions.) “This is a big shock to me, as I’m sure it must be to the public,” she said, and laughed. “Me, Walt Disney’s darling. Before, they wouldn’t even let me on the lot.”

Figuring that nothing succeeds like success, Midler plans to concentrate on movies in the immediate future. “I’m on what’s called a roll,” she said. “I would like to stay on it for a while and see what happens. I like making films, and I like the people that I meet doing it. The part I have to play in the process isn’t what I thought it would be, and I’m happy about that. I can just act and be perfectly, completely contented.”

But does this new sense of contentment take the edge off the outrageous Miss M? “It takes the edge off almost everything, and I don’t think it’s good for the creative process,” Midler said. “But it’s the way things are, so there’s not very much I can do about it.

“I figure you spend half your career getting there, trying to make it, and if you arrive, I think you’ll spend the other half enjoying it. There are people who can’t enjoy it, who have to keep going. The only way you should keep going, though, is in a creative way. That’s the only thing that counts.

“It’s making beautiful things. Making art. Trying to spread a little joy. That’s the only thing that counts in the long run. When you get to a certain position, it’s your duty to put that into the world.”

Walt himself couldn’t have said it better.

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