October 28, 1991
The Talk Of Hollywood; High-Stakes Battle: Midler and Streisand Go Screen to Screen
The New York Times
By BERNARD WEINRAUB,
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27â€” There’s the Streisand team at Columbia, and the Midlerites at 20th Century Fox.
With the highly competitive film industry in an economic torpor, two of the biggest studios in town have, in not so subtle ways, taken on the public persona of their competing stars: Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand.
At Fox, which is soon to release the Bette Midler film “For the Boys,” the brash, aggressive, even unpredictable mood is plainly a reflection of their star, who is planning a truly mammoth publicity campaign. But at Columbia Pictures, which is releasing Ms. Streisand’s “Prince of Tides,” based on the Pat Conroy novel, the tone is more secure, confident and a little disdainful of the upstart Midlerites. So Far, So Good
Intensifying the competition is the fact that preview screenings have been strong for both films, which are vying for the same adult audience. Both are expensive, too, costing at least $30 million each. And in typical Hollywood style, each studio professes nothing but the best for its rival, while wishing a little ill will, too. (Also in typical Hollywood style, executives at the two studios would not let their names be used, because the studio they criticize today might be one they want to work at tomorrow.)
” ‘Prince of Tides’ is a beloved book,” said one Columbia executive. “It’s timeless. This picture will leave you feeling good. On the other hand, ‘For the Boys’ is a period piece. Nostalgia may be in but it’s depressing.”
Although they have never acknowledged it publicly, Barbra and Bette, as they are called here, have been rivals for years, in part because of the similarities and contrasts in their styles, backgrounds and talents. Both actresses are powerful singers who began on the New York stage. Ms. Streisand is a megastar, a diva, a performer who selects her roles slowly. Ms. Midler is also a star, but with a more turbulent career, a singer who enjoys performing onstage in contrast to the reclusive Ms. Streisand. They could play each other’s roles. Stars, Studios and Money
Now, with these new movies, the two are colliding almost head-on, and in the current bleak mood seizing the film industry the competition carries financial implications not only for the actresses, but for Fox and Columbia as well.
Ms. Midler’s movie, with James Caan, is a musical drama directed by Mark Rydell about 2 U.S.O. performers over nearly 50 years. “For the Boys” is, perhaps, Fox’s major entry in the Thanksgiving-Christmas competition, when moviegoing around the nation reaches its peak.
Ms. Streisand produced, directed and co-stars, with Nick Nolte, in “Prince of Tides,” an adaptation of Mr. Conroy’s best seller about a Southern teacher who comes to New York to pick up the pieces of his life.
Although there are half a dozen other major holiday movies — including Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” Oliver Stone’s “J.F.K.,” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” — the Streisand and Midler films are vying for the same grown-up, largely female audience whose failure to show up at the box office in big numbers over the summer and fall has shaken the industry.
“Everyone’s watching this because it’s so competitive — for the same adult audience, for sound tracks, for advertising, for publicity and possibly for an Academy Award,” said one film executive at a rival studio. He added, “It’s shoot-out time between these two movies.”
“For the Boys,” opens in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco on Nov. 22, and around the country five days later. “Prince of Tides,” opens in New York on Dec. 18, and in the rest of the country on Christmas Day.
Even in this time of relative austerity, Fox has already taken out a series of expensive three-page ads in major newspapers to herald “For the Boys,” which Joe Roth, the head of the studio, calls “an event film.” The studio also pushed the opening of the film forward to gain a beat on its competitor.
“They got frightened of ‘Prince of Tides,’ ” said one Columbia executive. “They were supposed to open Christmas. They moved away.”
A Fox executive said: “Originally, ‘Prince of Tides’ was to be released in September. In fact they had a Vanity Fair cover of Streisand timed to the release of the film. They couldn’t pull the cover. So a little bit of their campaign broke early.”
Columbia executives insisted they were not concerned about the Midler movie.
“These films are going to be released six weeks apart,” said one Columbia executive. “If ‘For the Boys’ holds up well, and plays like ‘Dances With Wolves,’ until next summer, then Columbia has something to be concerned about. But failing that, and quite likely we won’t have that, then chances are good that ‘Prince of Tides’ will be out in 1,200 theaters and ‘For the Boys’ will have a lot of its theaters gone.”
“As for competition between Barbra and Bette, well, maybe Bette is concerned about Barbra,” said the executive, “but Barbra is certainly not concerned about Bette.”