Bette And The Raccoon

BL!NK: Bette Midler leaves diva on the stage
South Coast Today
June 25, 2010 12:00 AM

“I met Bette Midler during a memorable downpour in Los Angeles.

“It was Feb. 13, 1987, and the New York Times Magazine had sent me to do a shoot of the Divine Miss M. They sent her my portfolio and she responded by asking if she could have her personal photographer do it instead. I didn’t take offense. Celebrities always have their own photographers, people they trust. I understand that.

“But the Times said no, they were sending me, and Bette obliged.

“I remember very clearly how hard the rains were that day. Having grown up in Massachusetts, I was used to a little rain, but I’d never seen anything like this. It was torrential.

“Bette’s house was modest, nothing too fancy, but she had a very spacious living room, bigger than my studio. When I arrived with my assistant, I noticed that the house was full of busy people. There were maids walking around and people working on the floors. All sorts of people doing different things.

“Bette invited me upstairs, where she met me in her room. We were trying to figure out what outfits she would wear, so she showed me into her walk-in closet. It was huge. She could’ve opened a boutique, with all those clothes and shoes. But I figured that since she’s a performer, she would probably need that much to wear.

“I was struck by how different her personality was from the crazy person you’d see in the movies. She was very gracious and calm, very sweet – like a neighbor.

“Eventually, Bette took me to see her garden in the back yard. As soon as we got to the door, she began screaming. I looked out and there was a raccoon tearing up the garden. In the middle of the day. The raccoon didn’t seem too intimidated by her. He just looked back at her while she was screaming and screaming. For the first time, I saw the Bette Midler I knew. It was suddenly like being in one of her movies, she was so excited.

“The raccoon took his time, but eventually scampered out of the yard. He was probably rabid.

“We agreed to start the shooting in the living room because it was so big. It was a nice space. My assistant and I began setting up the lights and Bette continued to be very accommodating. She’s a lovely lady. As the shoot began someone appeared at the door – her personal photographer. He said that he was just stopping by to check on how things were going and how we were doing. I was nice to him and he soon left, so we were able to get started.

“We were there for most of the day. At one point, one of the maids came in with a baby girl. So I took a Polaroid of Bette and her daughter, Sophie, who was just three months old. Bette said, ‘My husband doesn’t want any photos taken of the baby, but I’d like to show this one to him.’ So I ended up giving her the picture and she kept it.

“Bette did a change of clothes and we continued to shoot some more in the living room, and after a few hours I noticed that the rains had stopped. It was different from the Northeast where it can rain all day. This only lasted for a few hours, but it came down incredibly hard.

“I soon sent the photos to the New York Times Magazine and I waited to hear back. Usually, when I worked with the staff, they would run the photos a month or so after I did the shoot, but this was taking longer. As it turned out, they scrapped the entire project. They weren’t going to use the photos at all. Bette failed to tell them that she had done something else for another magazine and the Times didn’t want to run something at the same time as another publication. They told me they weren’t going to use the photos, but they still paid me for the shoot – $250.

“Not long after that I heard from the Walt Disney Company that they wanted to pay me $5,000 for the copies of the shoot I did that day with Bette. I think she wanted to keep them for her records. They bought all of the shots.”

New Bedford native Anthony Barboza began his career in 1964 at the age of 20. His photographs have appeared in such publications as National Geographic, Vogue, Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy and Fortune, and belong in permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Cornell University and more. He’s been a lecturer, curator, co-director of a TV commercial featuring his close friend Miles Davis and a grantee of the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives on Long Island with his wife, Laura Carrington, and the three youngest of his five children.

BL!NK: A Photogragher’s experience between exposures

Bette Midler was 42 in 1987 when New Bedford native Anthony Barboza arrived at her L.A. home to do a shoot. Midler was hitting her stride as a comedic actress in movies such as “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), “Ruthless People” (1986) and “Outrageous Fortune” (1987), solidifying a screen image as uproarious as the “Divine Madness” of her musical career. That’s the personality Barboza was expecting that rainy day in Los Angeles. But that’s not who he found.

Next month: Tony has a romantic dinner with A.W.

Check out Barboza’s celebrity photos and commentary at!NK.

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