Bette Midler Talks At SmartTalk Women’s Series

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Bette Midler at SmartTalk
January 18, 2011
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
By Andrea Swensson, Wed., Jan. 19 2011

“I’m so excited to be in the land of 10,000 Petersons!” Bette Midler joked at the beginning of her appearance last night, warming instantly to the appreciative crowd.

Midler came to Minneapolis last night as part of the inspirational lecture series SmartTalk, which just moved its events to the Orpheum this year. For her appearance (which was repeatedly and persistently billed as a “SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT ONLY”), she delivered a bubbly, hour-long overview of her “65 years on this planet” before a sea of mostly middle-aged, upper-class women before taking a few questions from the crowd.

Organized like a TED conference for the myTalk 107.1 crowd, the SmartTalk series aims to inspire women through engaging lectures — other presenters in this season include Isabella Rossellini, White House reporter Ann Compton, and Sigourney Weaver.

Midler geared much of her talk around the philanthropic work, including the park conservation organization she founded in New York, but some of the most insightful moments came from her meandering and often hilarious recountings of her earliest artistic memories.

“When I saw my first musical, I felt like I was struck by lightning — or should I say struck by lighting,” she recalled. “It was like a Technicolor movie come to life; like a sunset you could climb into.”

Other early memories included performing at the Continental Baths, where she first asserted herself as a musician, with fellow newcomer Barry Manilow back in the late-’60s, and her hazy fondness toward the skyrocketing success she experienced in the late-’70s following her breakout performance in The Rose.

After her speech, most of which she spent shuffling a stack of notes and pawing at her misbehaving microphone, Midler sat down with host Colleen Kruse and breathed a sigh of relief.

“That was my first time doing anything like that, I was horrified!” she admitted.

Midler really shined during the Q&A portion of the evening, feeding off the randomness of the audience-submitted questions to veer into topics like her least favorite role (Jinxed!), her advice to young women starting out in the business (“Don’t do it. Try civil engineering.”), and her thoughts on the inherent sexism in the film industry.

“The male perspective toward women, as far as the film industry goes, is ‘I’d fuck her.’ That’s pretty much it.”

When asked about her favorite new artists, Midler wandered into an in-depth description of the “Bed Intruder Song,” including how it originated, its context, and its use of “This thing called Auto-Tune, which they use a lot in rap music.” It was a surreal moment, watching Midler explain such a grotesque cultural phenomenon to the crowd of prim attendees, and one I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon.

There were no cameras allowed in the event, but I’d do just about anything for a video clip of Midler demonstrating the “Hide your kids, hide your wife” vocal melody to the crowd. And here I thought there wasn’t going to be any singing.

Critics’ bias: Beaches is still, to this day, one of my all-time favorite movies.
The crowd: Well-dressed, polite suburban women.
Overheard in the crowd: Nothing. Like I said, they were polite.
Random notebook dump: I also enjoyed Bette’s mini-rant on consumerism: “Don’t buy so much shit. Do you really need that crap? I loathe knick knacks. It’s harder for people to be who they are when they are surrounded by so much stuff that’s not them.”

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