BetteBack: A Rose Is A Rose

Midler reshaped for Rose
Winnipeg Free Press,
Saturday, November 17,1979

NEW YORK-Waking up may be the hardest act of Bette Midler‘s day. On a morning that preceded a busy afternoon of Interviews on behalf of her film debut in The Rose, the doorbell of her Hotel Pierre suite in Manhattan roused her out of
bed at 9:40 am, which for her is the middle of the night. “I stagger to the door, and it’s the waiter with coffee,” she recalled. “I can’t unglue my eyes beyond a squint, and my hair is this high (she holds her hand 18 Inches over her head). But the waiter’s a gentleman. He never lets on I look like the Bride of Frankenstein.”

Midler gave her harlequin grin, patted her frizzy hair. “Yes,” she volunteered, ” bleached it blonde. It was red.” (She won an Emmy for her 1977 NBC-TV special, 0l’ Red Hair Is Back.) She was clad in red velvet trench heels, black stockings, clinging orange velour slacks and a dark blouse, showing off a slimmed-down Midler. The face, angular yet oval, is surprisingly frail, framed by the kinked, but (by the time of the interview) neat, coils of cropped blonde hair. This Midler – as opposed to the Midler who dazzled Broadway in the 1975 Tony award winning revue, Clams on the Half-Shell – was shaped by and for the image she projects of a rhythm-and-blues singer in The Rose, a debut that makes her a certifiable movie star.

She is understandably pleased with herself. She and her manager of six years, Aaron Russo, split up last February. “Who’s running my career now? Me!”

Her long-awaited movie debut is winning her raves. Even critics who have mixed feelings about the abrasive language, plot problems and depresslngly fatalistic mood of much of The Rose are proclaiming Midler’s brav u ra p e r f o rma n ce as a
burnt-out, self-destructive rock ‘n’ roll singer a personal triumph.

Director Mark Rydell took four years to persuade a studio and Midler to make The Rose. Like Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross before her, Midler’s first screen vehicle is a biography of a tormented singer. (Streisand played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Ross played Billie Holiday in L a dy S i n gs t he Blues.) The role is an obvious way to let a singer do what she is most famous for in front of an audience (actual concerts staged for The Rose), Thus, Midler gives her robust voice a dynamic workout in more than a half-dozen production numbers (’60s and songs). She also displays the impeccable comic timing, which had always been evident in her stage shows, plus sex appeal in the passionate love scenes and an unexpected dramatic range.

Midler contends that the self-destructiveness of the character she plays – who somewhat resembles the late Janis Joplin – doesn’t have to go with the territory of being an overworked star who’s always on the road and has no time for a personal life.

“It goes along with the martyrs,” Midler said. “All the martyrs – from Billie Holiday to Judy Garland to Janis Joplin – have pretty much the same story. People never get tired of them. I don’t know if it’s something a w f ul in the public consciousnest or just that people enjoy a good cry. People are fascinated by the rise and fall of these public personalities. But their story is not my story. I try to be relentlessly jolly. 1 want to survive. There are so many things to do in this business. I want to be able to do them all.”

How did Midler locate herself inside the character’s head?

“There’s a lot of me in that character. I found myself and brought myself. I try not to dig into that self-pitying place. I’ve spent years there. It’s all destructive. You can’t produce a n y t h i ng when you’re in that place. Sometimes I still go there. It’s like an old habit. I must say that I’ve never had that much sorrow. I’ve never been in that much pain. The little bits I’ve been through leave scars, memories that I was able to call on. I don’t overindulge. (The Rose is drunk from start to finish and in the flnale also shoots up with heroin.) 1 have been known to take a drink now and then. But I’m an ugly drunk. It’s really embarrassing when people see me and I’m looped. I bite people.”

Friendly bites?

“Not friendly. Rabies time. Once I bit a guy’s glasses. A good friend, I tried to eat them. I’m a disgusting drunk. Drugs? I have a paranoid thing about them. I go to that black place when I’m high. I’m OK on the hallucinogens. Not acid. I had a real bad time on acid. Once. I had a boy-friend leave me. I had spent eight weeks on the road. And I was madly In love with this guy. All the time I was away he used to call me and tell me how much he adored me. And then the day I came back he told me be was moving in with another girt. So I decided I would take acid. I had a terrible experience.

“What kind of stimulants do I use? I drink coffee. I can’t do cocaine any more. I think I’m allergic to it. I have a deviated septum and I sneeze and sneeze.”

Was there a conscious effort to make the character Midler plays resemble Janis Joplin?

“No. We wanted to avoid comparisons with Jopltn. But it seemed like people were going to say it no matter what.”

Midler identifies With the role, short of its tragic implications. The movie and the role gave her the impetus to alter her singing style into what she has long wished to be but felt too “timid” to try.

“Yes, I sing differently in The Rose. I had always” loved that kind of music. What kind? It’s called rhythm and blues if it’s black, and nofrills rock ‘n’ roll if it’s white. It’s very emotional music. I’ve always sung some. I never thought people would buy street music from a chick like me. You know, theatrical background, musical comedy. Musical comedy is sneered at by people who are rock ‘n’ roll. But most of them, if you scratch them, their parents used to play Oklahoma.

“But I was never one who sneered. I found it fairly intelligent popular music, I’ve always wanted to sing it. This film, this character, gave me the chance to do that. I wanted, it to be, authentic. Now 1 feel like 1 can and people Will say, ‘Well, she’s all right. She’s a-happening, chick.'”

Midler’s seventh record album, due out soon, is the sound track for The Rose.

Despi te t he a c c l a i m, Midler isn’t ready to make another movie yet. She seems genuinely surprised to be told that the most emotionally rewarding scenes in The Rose are her romantic comedy scenes with Frederic Forrest.

“Isn’t he fabulous? You know, I’d like to do a comedy. I don’t know about the romance part. I’m kinda chicken. I don’t want to do the second movie too fast. Jack Rose and Mel Frank wrote a script for me. It’s amu s i n g. B ut I ‘m cautious.”

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