BetteBack: The Divine Mister M: Hate At First Sight!

Salina Journal
Sunday, March 17,1974

He has become known as the “Divine Mr. M” because of his association with Bette Midler, the “Divine Miss M”. But now he’s hoping, if the label sticks, that the “Mr. M” reference will be because his name isn’t Manilow and he’s made a name for himself as a solo performer.

“I won’t even mind if they call me “Mr. Q”, Barry Manilow said, contemplating his future without Bette. They have been a team since Bette,was discovered singing at the Continental Baths in New York, and Barry was her accompanist.

“It was hate at first sight,” Manilow recalled. “We didn’t trust each other, but we recognized each other’s talents and that kept us together. I remember when we were working on ‘Leader of the Pack’, we screamed at each other all the time.”

It was towards the end of their 3-year working relationship that they discovered they really loved each other, he said, but went on immediately to explain that they love each other as friends, not as lovers. And now that they have established their mutual adoration, Manilow says he does things for her out of love, “not because I’m her conductor”.

Manilow has been more than a conductor to Miss M. He’s been her arranger, accompanist, and record producer. He’s been her alter ego and now each of them is going to go it alone.

On tour

He was not certain what Bette was planning other than a vacation in Hawaii where she grew up. As for him, he’s going on tour and will be headlining at such places as the Troubador in Los Angeles, the Cellar Door in Washington, the Bitter End in New York, and Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago.

“I’m going to be the headliner,” he explained. “I don’t know if you know what that means. It means that I’m not going to fight the knives and forks as the opening act. I’ve done that. I’ve paid my dues.”

Curiously, his new status as “starring” act will mean less money for the lanky, blond-haired musician, who has made a veritable fortune writing television commercials and producing Miss M. His voice is heard frequently singing, “You deserve a break today” for McDonalds.

He also wrote the State Farm commercial and the “uh-oh, Spaghetti-o’s”. His earnings not only go beyond his imagination, but he has no interest in them. He buys what he needs and says he has no idea of what he has.

“Can I afford it?”

“I .hired a business manager to handle my money for me. I’m not good at handling it. Now, if I see something I like, like a sweater which costs $35, for example, I’ll call my (business) manager on the phone to see if I can afford it. I can’t get used to having money.”

Manilow grew up in Brooklyn and went to Eastern District High School, which was not a reform school he is quick to add, despite the institutional sounding name.

“But it was a tough neighborhood. I was the kid who used to get beaten up on his way home everyday.”

During his high school years he earned more than spending money playing the accordion at weddings and bar mitzvahs, but did not aspire to become a professional musician. “It just wasn’t secure enough, my parents thought.”

On his way to the Continental Baths, Bette Midler, and his own record contract with Bell, he studied advertising at CCNY, worked in the mailroom at CBS, and was promoted little by little until he became a film editor. He married at 20 and was divorced a year later and has remained single since.

Producer’s peril

He went on to produce a television show for CBS called, “Call Back”, which was a showcase for young performers, all of whom wanted him to write special material for them and to coach them.

“One day I staged a minor revolution. I quit my job and went back to school to study music theory and orchestration at
Juilliard. Meanwhile, I was accompanying people and coaching them in my apartment. It was like Grand Central Station, with people constantly coming and going. I couldn’t stand all those people around the house.”

Did the neighbors complain?

“No. They used to knock on the door and I would think it was because they were disturbed and they would ask me to coach them.”

This was at a time when he was about ready to throw in the towel, when one of his students asked him to go with her for
an audition at the Continental Baths.

“She wasn’t hired, but I was. They needed someone to accompany acts on Saturday nights and they offered me $125 per night. It meant I was freed. I didn’ t have to take in coaching and I could write at home.”

Miss M walks in

Then 2 weeks later Bette Midler came in to work out – and Manilow was back in the coaching business.

“I wanted to leave after we put the act together. I wanted to make my own career. But she kept pushing me to do one
more gig. She would say, ‘Stay with me until I do the show at the Upstairs’ (where she was discovered by Johnny Carson), or ‘Stay with me until I go to Las Vegas’.”

It was that way until a few weeks ago. But what started out as “hate at first sight”, turned out to be “love at the final parting”.

Barry Manilow is on his own now. And he’s starting at the top.

Share A little Divinity

2 thoughts on “BetteBack: The Divine Mister M: Hate At First Sight!

  1. Kinda glad the Mr. M thing didn’t stick. LOL
    Bette and Barry were a hell of a team back in the day, and even more recently. It’s also nice to see that the friendship and mutual respect has lasted all these years.

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