Despite her film success, Bette Midler prefers the stage to movies.(Originated from The Orange County Register)
Article from:Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service Article date:April 3, 1997 Author: Koltnow, Barry
There is only one thing that Bette Midler truly regrets about her movie career _ her movie career.
Midler, fresh off the biggest movie triumph of her career with “The First Wives Club” and starring in a film comedy called “That Old Feeling,” dropped the bombshell at the end of a long day of interviews for the new film, which opens Friday.
Dwarfed by a long, high-backed sofa in her luxury suite at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, the petite performer spoke quietly and with an apparent sense of relief, finally admitting what she says she has suspected for years.
The Divine Miss M said she never should have gone into movies and instead should have remained a live stage performer, where her talents could be fully realized.
“When I watched my HBO special (taped in Las Vegas and shown in February on the cable network), I realized I’ve been a fool,” she said.
“I realized that I should have been doing my own stage work all these years; I never should have bought into this movie business. I realized that I have been doing work that didn’t require me to use any of my skills. They (the movie business) never knew what to do with me. And I couldn’t help them because they didn’t want my help.
“When I tried to put my own spin on `Jinxed!’ I was completely trashed as someone who didn’t know what she was doing. That was a terrible lesson to learn. I totally disintegrated. I didn’t want to get involved anymore. I just wanted to do the job, get paid and go home.
“I really screwed myself. I did it to myself. It must have been something deep inside me that wanted this so badly that I was willing to put up with all that. I guess I wanted it so badly I was willing to tow the party line. I was constantly filled with this terror and fear. I feared they would take it all away if I spoke up.”
Midler, whose own production company produced the new film, in which she and Dennis Farina play ex-spouses who hate each other so much they can’t keep their hands off each other at their daughter’s wedding, said it wasn’t necessarily a burning childhood desire to be a movie star but rather a career strategy that got her started in the film business.
She was partnered with manager Aaron Russo at the time, and the pair decided that film was the next logical step in a celebrated career that began at one end of the New York City entertainment experience _ the gay bathhouses, where Midler first found an appreciative audience _ to the other: Broadway, where the rest of the world discovered her and made her a superstar.
“When Aaron and I made up our grand plan, movies seemed the natural place to go next. Movies were the top of the line; it was as far as someone could go,” she said.
“But I was naive. The kind of movies I wanted to make, the kind of movies I loved as a child, were no longer being made. Claudette Colbert was long gone, and she wasn’t coming back.
“Looking back, I probably should never have left Aaron because he was the only person who knew me well enough to know how to use me in movies. He wanted to use everything I had in the movies. He was the only one who understood that. But he was so crazy, I had to leave. If I had stayed, it would have been too hard a life.”
Midler, 51, was with Russo when she made “The Rose,” for which she won an Oscar nomination. But then came “Jinxed!” and a string of films that clearly did not showcase her talents. Her career was resurrected in 1986 with the Disney hit “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”
That began a new phase of her movie career that included some modest hits _ “Ruthless People,” “Outrageous Fortune” and “Beaches” _ and some duds _ “Scenes From a Mall,” “For the Boys” and “Hocus Pocus.”
But she was working steadily, and her film career had another resurrection last year when she teamed with Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton to make “The First Wives Club,” which struck a chord among women and took in more than $100 million in this country alone.
“It was completely unexpected,” she said of that film’s success. “I never had a feeling while making it that it was going to be a hit. Nobody expected it to go through the roof. Now I’m the poster girl for divorce.
“As for what that success meant to me, it was very nice. It was a blast. But it meant nothing in the long run. The good scripts still don’t come, and I still have a hard time finding a director.”
As down as she is about her movie career, however, that’s how upbeat she is about her revitalized stage career.
It began anew four years ago with a tour that included a sold-out, 30-night engagement at Radio City Music Hall and peaked in the HBO special, which drew raves from critics. More important, it drew raves from the diva herself.
“I was watching that show and saying to myself, “Hey, that girl’s good. She hasn’t lost it; it’s all still there.” It was then I realized how much I gave up when I went into the movies. I suppose it’s because I got cut down so early that it took me all these years to get back on my feet.
“My take on the world is so peculiar and so odd that Hollywood writers and directors didn’t know what to do with me. And there were too many of them to bang all their heads together to try and change them.
“But, on stage, I don’t have to bang heads together,” she added. “Up there, it’s a complete expression of who I am. Every nut and bolt on that stage is mine. Every costume, every hairdo, every song, every note of music is mine. It is an exact expression of what I want.”
Twelve years ago, in the middle of her film career’s first resurrection, Midler married Martin Von Haselberg, a former commodities trader and performance artist who recently attended film school and has written and directed his first feature, “Blind Geronimo & His Brother.”
They married eight weeks after their first date and have a 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, named after the late comic Sophie Tucker, a longtime favorite of the Divine One.
Midler said she credits her survival in show business to her working-class upbringing in Hawaii and wants to instill the same kind of discipline and order in her daughter’s life.
“A mother wants to be remembered, and I want my daughter to remember me,” she said. “I read to her and play with her every chance I get. She doesn’t like me to sing to her, but she loves it when I do pratfalls. She adores the `Hocus Pocus’ character, and I do it for her at least once a day.
“She is such a source of joy for me. Having a child was the best thing I ever did.”
If this sounds so unlike the brassy, trashy, outrageous Bette who struts the stage in outlandish costumes, or even the bug-eyed, over-the-top, slapstick Bette of the movies, there is an explanation.
Those Bettes are part of the illusion, and Bette believes that you “never live the illusion.”
“People are always surprised or disappointed to find out that I’m not that person,” she said with a smile. “But I could never be that crazy. I wasn’t brought up that way. No one could survive a life like that. Besides, I couldn’t handle the hangovers.
“No, this is the real me. I am a very shy person. Despite what you’ve heard, I do not like to impose myself on people. I don’t like to elbow my way through a crowd. I would rather stand back than fight. I am a timid soul, and that’s probably part of my problem in Hollywood.”
(c) 1997, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
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