BetteBack: Rydell – “I think Hollywood failed Bette Midler.”

Article from:Albany Times Union (Albany, NY) Article date:November 28, 1991
Byline: Martin Moynihan Staff writer

Between the times he has directed her – between “The Rose” in 1979 and the just-released “For the Boys” – Mark Rydell says, “I think Hollywood failed Bette Midler.”

Rydell has a healthy opinion of his abilities, to be sure.

But there’s no denying that the multi-talented Midler, who won an Oscar nomination for portraying a Janis Joplin-like pop singer in “The Rose,” has been on an erratic career course ever since. After several years of virtual obscurity, she made some respectable comedies for Disney, but but has been bombing since in such films as “Stella” and “Scenes from a Mall.”

This is because, says Rydell, nobody recognises that Midler, the erstwhile Divine Miss M, “is a national treasure of sorts.” At what she does, best – singing and comedy “there’s nobody, nobody

who can do what she can do. The last performer with her kind of magic was Sammy Davis Jr.”

However, nobody, nobody

wanted to take Midler up on a script idea she had been working on for years, which would again cast her as a performer, as she was in “The Rose,” a backstage drama with plenty of songs.

Her idea for the story of a song- and-dance team entertaining U.S. troops at USO functions through three wars had been kicking around for a long time.

But, said Rydell, who also was nominated for an Oscar for “On Golden Pond,” which won best picture, the “For the Boys” screenplay by Neal Jimenez and Lindy Laub was “unsuccessful.”

Twentieth Century-Fox was interested in the idea and invited Rydell in to go over the script. As the director described it in a telephone interview, it grew, instead of spanning 25 years, to the point where “we had a chance to examine a changing America over 50 years. That began to attract me.”

With the idea of giving Midler’s character a son, who affects her relationship with her on-stage partner (James Caan), “then the picture began to take some moment for me.”

Rydell brought in longtime Wooday Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman and they went to work. It took a year and half and 15 draft scripts, but Rydell said he had a lot on his mind.

“I intended to address the romantic nature of World War II, and the fracturing of our nation in the 1950s by McCarthyism and the undeclared Korean conflict… and the lunacy of th Vietnam War. If they didn’t want to do that, then I didn’t want to touch the project.”

They did, and got in songs from every war, too. The film runs 135 minutes.

For the role of Midler’s son, Rydell cast his own son Christopher Rydell. The younger man has had numerous film roles and was nominated for an Emmy for a televison afternoon special, “which got him this role.” Others auditioned, but Rydell says he told the studio “if you get me a better actor, I’ll be glad to see him.”

He said he was “extremely proud” of Christopher’s work in the film, in which he plays the commander of a beleagured fire base in Vietnam.

Caan plays a stand-up comedian, who is reminiscent of Bob Hope. Like Midler, Caan sang every note in the film. Rydell has been friends with Caan even before he directed him in the song-and-dance movie “Harry and Walter Go to New York.”

Rydell’s other directorial credits are “Cinderella Liberty,” “The River,” and “The Cowboys.” As an actor, he has performed in “The Long Goodbye,” “Punchline” and “Havana.”

Although World War II is romantically recalled in a upbeat USO stop at an Allied air base in England, Rydell said, “I’m sure the bloodshed in World War II was equally terrifying” to the battle and post-battle scenes depicted later in the film.

He said, however, “the idea was to gradually expose both (the characters) and the audience to the horrors of war.”

Although backstage musicals, especially big ones like this, are seldom made any more, Rydell said “My instinct says ‘For the Boys’ will cross a lot of boundaries,” in reaching audiences.

When he was trying to make “On Golden Pond,” he was turned down by every studio after being told “nobody wanted to see a movie about older people, nobody wanted to see a movie about death.”

In “For the Boys,” there are deaths, and the characters are aged 50 years (in makeup designed by Troy native John Caglione Jr.). However, the director says that, like “On Golden Pond,” its events are “life affirming.”

The main theme, he asserts, is “forgiveness.”

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