BetteBack: Two Bettes In One – Beaches

December 16, 1988
New York Times
At the Movies
By Lawrence Van Gelder
The 2 Bette Midlers

”In this case, I would have to say the producer in me nailed the actor in me to the wall.”

Bette Midler was talking out of both sides of her talent.

On Wednesday, her new film, ”Beaches,” opens. Not only does it star Ms. Midler opposite Barbara Hershey in an odd-couple tale of lifelong and sometimes bumpy friendship between two women who meet in Atlantic City as children; ”Beaches,” based on a novel by Iris Rainer Dart, directed by Garry Marshall and released under Disney’s Touchstone banner, is the first movie from Ms. Midler’s All Girl Productions.

The company, formed in 1985, is a partnership of Ms. Midler, Bonnie Bruckheimer-Martell, a longtime associate, and Margaret Jennings South, who joined the organization at its inception as director of development, partner and producer.

”All three of us had been on pictures,” Ms. Midler noted, ”but had never actually made a picture.” So while they were thrilled when the Walt Disney Studios gave the project a green light, they were also frightened, she said. ”You hang around town, you hear horror stories. You think you’re going to be part of it.”

In ”Beaches,” Ms. Midler plays C C Bloom, a brash child performer who struggles to success as a singer; and Ms. Hershey plays Hillary Whitney, a product of a far more genteel upbringing who becomes a lawyer.

”I didn’t think it was going to be as much work as it was,” Ms. Midler said of her dual stint as producer and co-star. ”Eighteen-hour days, 19-hour days. Singing, dancing, editing, soundtrack.”

To counterbalance the novelty of producing, Ms. Midler, who has spent the past four years in comedy roles in films like ”Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” ”Ruthless People” and ”Outrageous Fortune,” had the comfort of familiarity with C C – her first dramatic role since the 1979 film ”The Rose” won her an Academy Award nomination.

”I knew that character,” she said of C C. ”Those singer types are people I’ve known: cabaret singer, rock-and-roll, been-on-the-road. I know singers inside and out – background singers, opera singers, lieder singers, Broadway singers. I can play any kind of singer you throw at me. I knew what kind of material that character would sing and what kind of clothes she would wear. It really wasn’t what you would call a stretch. The real stretch was the emotion between the two characters – a big range of emotions, a lot of laughter and confrontation with the fact that one of them is going to die.”

While Bette Midler the producer takes a breather and ponders whether she wants to do it again, Bette Midler the actress knows exactly what’s next: ”Stella Dallas,” an updated version of the tearjerker about a woman who sacrifices everything for her daughter.

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