BetteBack: How To Stage A Movie Party

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1978 Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune
Staging Bette Midler‘s film debut

HOLLYWOOD (NBA) – Parties are parties, even parties staged for movies. They have a tendency to become infectious, to Imbue even the actors and crew members with a sense of fun and games.

That may be the explanation for what was h a p p e n i ng at 20th Century,-Fox, where director Mark Rydell was putting his company through a party for his new film, “The Rose.” That’s the picture that is a l r e ady famous because It is the vehicle for Bctte Midler’s movie debut.

The scene is St. Louis. Miss Midler,- as The Rose, a big-time rock singer of the late ’60s, who has. just knocked them dead in a concert. Now, backstage, there is a party.

Alan Bates, as The Rose’s manager, is shepherding VIP guests – the police chief, the Midwestern sales’rep – through and Frederic Forrest, as The Rose’s boy-friend is solicitously worried that she is overtired. The two men clash. So the party scene is important And Rydell is staging It carefully, choreographing every move.

These are musicians, so they are (supposed l y) s m o k i ng m a r i j u a na a nd sniffing cocaine. And Rydell nterpolates bits of that kind of business for the camera to pick up, as it moves through the crowd.

He calls for more grass. The prop man has a plastic sack of joints he passes out. I leaned over to have a closer look at the sack, and he let me smell. Tobacco.

And yet, as the day wore on, there was a smell In the air that was definitely not nicotine. It was the real thing, and the party-goers, or some of them, were having an Increasingly high old time.

Rydell opened the scene with the camera In close on a cake on the table, a big cake that was decorated with sugar roses and sugar words: ROSE WELCOMES ST. LOUIS. At first, the cake was whole, but then he suggested the prop men cut a
wedge out of it.

And, later, he had another idea. As the camera looked at the cake, he wanted to se an extra’s hand grab a big h u nk of cake and then have the extra stuff it in his mouth The scene was shot, perhaps, a dozen times and the poor extra had
to eat a big mouthful of cake each take.

There were bits of the gooey cake all over the floor, and Rydell stepped in some as he moved around The icing got on his shoes and he bent down to brush it off.

“Can you believe this?” he said.

“Seven hundred dollar shoes full of cake!”

Each time the cameras rolled, the director made sure that each of the extras knew what he was doing that each was supplied with whatever prop he needed, whether it was a drink or a plate of food or a joint or a pinch of coke.

Bette Midler, in a frizzy yellow hairstyle and a f u n ky l a v e n d er dress, looked l i ke a late ’60s rock star. She and the rest of the prod u c t i on t e am a re m a k i n g a b ig point t h at she is not – repeat, not – playing Janis
Joplin, a l though there are defintie similarities between Joplin and The Rose.

“The Rose is a c o m p o s i te of many ’60s performers,” says Marvin Worth, the co-producer (with Aaron Russo). But Worth also says that he has been working on this project for four and a half years and that it was Joplin who inspired it.

F or B e t te M i d l e r , s i n g i ng t he h a r d, d r i v i n g r o ck n u m b e rs is something of a wrench. She has
never been a rock singer. But she is an adaptable singer and a born singer, and so she is flexible enough to sing
a n y t h i n g. Everybody conn e c t ed w i th “The Rose” h i g h ly praises her.

As an actress, says Rydell, Bette Midler is “incredible.” He says that his mouth is dropping open every day at what she can do. He calls her a natura l, a virtuoso, a Heifetz. And her so-star, Bates, is equally ecstatic. He says she has a n a t u r al
gift, t h at she is a spontaneous actress.

For Rydell, “The Rose” marks a departure, too. He has never done a n y t h i ng with music before. But he says he is “having a ball,” and reminds everybody that he was a musician, a j a zz pi ani s t, be fore he was an actor before he was a director.

As the scene wore on, and the smell of ma r i j u a na grew stronger on the Fox soundstage, everybody seemed to be
h a v i ng a good time. The extra eating, the cake wiped his lips on’his sleeve and got ready for another take. Midler and Forrest and Bates and some extras started s inging between shots.

Does she l ike ma k i ng movies? Midler laughed.

“I’m better than it,” she said, cryptically. Then she patted my arm and said, “Just a little joke.”

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