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BetteBack: 12 Years Into A Dream

MELLOWED MIDLER THINKS “FOR THE BOYS” IS THE ONE.(Preview)
Article from:Albany Times Union (Albany, NY) Article date:November 28, 1991
Byline: Joyce J. Persico Newhouse News Service

She has been a go-go dancer, a hat- check girl, a folksinger, a typist, a saleswoman and a chanteuse in a gay bathhouse. As an actress, the role that has always suited Bette Midler best is playing herself.

A brassy, unconventionally attractive talent with an image that transcends her material, Midler has just realized a 12-year dream in the form of her new movie musical, “For the Boys.”

“I wanted to make a movie about two (show business) partners who go through three wars, a child and a death,” Midler says of the movie she stars in and produced. “I wanted to show what it would be like for a woman to lose everything she has to wear.”

Co-starring James Caan, the lavish “For the Boys” is a $40 million gamble that has survived four studio chiefs, 41 drafts and a rejection by Disney, the studio that revitalized Midler’s sagging career seven years ago and signed her to a contract.

“Six years ago, the three of us sat down and asked ourselves what’s important to us and what we’d like to spend our life doing,” explains Bonnie Bruckheimer who, along with Margaret South and Midler, form Midler’s All Girl Productions. “Bette wanted to do this kind of a movie for a long time. That’s where we got the general idea for this movie. We met with writers and, six years later, we had a draft.”

Midler is much smaller and more dignified than her ribald public image suggests. In fact, she is positively narrow-eyed until she warms up to her interviewer and lets down the protective shield that 26 years in show business have helped build.

“I can’t get over how the world has changed in 25 years,” Midler says the afternoon after her film’s Los Angeles unveiling for industry bigwigs.

“I started in the business in 1965 and I’m the same person who got off the bus in New York. I am what I pretty much am on stage. My work is pretty revealing.”

For a while – especially in her go-go dancing days, not to mention her “Clams on the Half Shell” revue – so was her clothing. But the Hawaii-born Midler who went from the chorus of Broadway‘s “Fiddler on the Roof” to a well-publicized standing gig at Greenwich Village’s Continental Baths with an unknown pianist named Barry Manilow seems to have mellowed with the years.

She is 45 now, seven years a wife and five years a mother. While she can still trade foul barbs with the best of them, the woman who once appeared at Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall wearing only a diaper and a sash has become downright conservative when it comes to raising her child.

The Midler who sits down and barks, “Mind if I smoke? I don’t care if you burn,” seems to be a softie underneath the armor. She ages from her 30s to her 80s in “For the Boys” and admits there is a part of her that thinks “I could go on forever.”

The other half assumes that when she reaches old age, “I’d just like to lie down and read a book.”

“For the Boys” director Mark Rydell, who shepherded Midler through “The Rose,” the 1979 movie that made her a star and an Oscar nominee, remembers a different performer from the one who now is squeaky clean enough to fit the Disney image.

“After we did ‘The Rose’ together, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her, this unconventional-looking person with an atomic talent,” Rydell notes. “She languished for a while and then Disney regenerated her. …

“Her marriage and motherhood have given her a solidity and a warmth and a reliability that weren’t there. Before, she was tempestuous and rather tortured.”

“I wasn’t tortured,” Midler complains after being told what Rydell said. “But now I know how studios work. I know you have to give people their creative heads. I know I did some movies just to make money.”

Married to performance artist and former commodities broker Martin von Haselberg, Midler has enjoyed a cascade of movies thanks largely to her contract with Disney.

Paul Mazursky’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” is usually credited with her resurrection, and she followed it with “Ruthless People,” “Outrageous Fortune,” “Big Business,” “Beaches,” “Stella” and “Scenes From a Mall.” The scorecard on the lot is almost evenly divided between hits and failures.

But nothing has come remotely close to the failure of “Jinxed,” the 1982 black comedy with Ken Wahl that led to a near-breakdown on Midler’s part. These days, her press biography refers to the film as “the biggest bomb of her life.”

Midler gives the impression that once she starts spilling the beans on herself, she can’t stop. Years ago, it would have been easy to box and label her as an eccentric shopping for super-stardom. The years have revealed her complexity and unraveled some of her dreams.

Reminded how, 12 years earlier, she had begged a table filled with journalists for a good script to follow “The Rose” with, the Divine Miss M smiles broadly and says of “For the Boys”: “I found it.”

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