BetteBack: Divine Madness On The Set

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – The concert was 40 minutes late in starting. The star finally entered to a roaring ovation, sang a few lines, waved the band to silence and walked off the stage. The curtain fell before an astonished audience. A scene from “The Rose“?

No, this was the second of four performances of “Divine Madness,” the Bette Midler show that
was being filmed as the first venture of The Ladd Company. The audience at the Pasadena Civic
Auditorium was relieved to learn that Midler wasn’t pulling a Janis Joplin.

She reappeared before the curtain to explain she had been suffering from bronchitis for two months. “I feel very foggy – no, I’m not takin pills.” She added that she would persist and urged her fans “please be real humanitarian about  it.”

The performance resumed, and Midler reappeared in one of her super-tacky dresses, a plume of red feathers attached to her rear, a plucked rubber chicken dangling from a wrist. She slammed into “Big Noise from Winnetka” with the backup of a new trio of
Harlettes (the last group is suing her for $3 million).

“Welcome to another fowl evening,” Midler beamed, twirling the chicken.

If Midler had displayed any more energy, she might have tilted the Richter scale at nearby Caltech. She sang something old – “In The Mood” – and something new – “The Rose.” She told jokes that were borrowed – from Sophie Tucker – and much blue.

She portrayed the spectacularly untalented Delores DeLago, singing in a mermaid costume while spinning about the stage in an electric wheelchair. She discoursed on European royalty and various other targets.

The f i r st night’s f i lming, which started late and had two lengthy intermissions, concluded after 1 a.m. The second performance was t r immed to two acts but still ended at 12:20 a.m. During one monologue she interjected: “I’m just running off at the mouth up here.
We’re gonna call this film ‘Jaws III.”‘

The action was being recorded on film by 10 cameras, most of them clustered at the foot of the stage. Directing the battery was one of Hollywood’s ace cinematographers, William Fraker (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). Director of the film is Michael Ritchie, whose films (“Downhill Racer,” “The Candidate,” “Bad News Bears,” “Smile”) have focused on winning. Obviously he considers Midler a winner.

“She’s one of the great performers of our time,” the tall, bearded director said during an intermission. “I’m doing the film because I think it is important to make a record of her performance exactly as audiences see it. I’d like to see the same thing done for all the great performers of our day.”

“Divine Madness” stemmed from the relationship that began with “The Rose” between Midler and the production team of Alan Ladd Jr., Jay Kanter and Gareth Wigan. When the trio shifted from 20th Century-Fox to their own production company, Bette joined them.

A concert film seems like a strange beginning for The Ladd Company, yet it contains logic.
Instead of waiting 12 to 18 months for a movie to reach the market, the f i rm will have its first release in theaters this August. The risk is small: about $3 million or half the cost of an average movie.

“We’re doing the f i lm because Bette is such a totally unique performer,” explained Ladd.  “She’s not just a singer, but a comedienne, an actress, all kinds of things.

“‘The Rose’ has been a big moneymaker, and not only in this country. It has been big in the United Kingdom and huge in Australia. Such business will contribute to the excitement of the concert f i l m. Most people will see a side of Bette that they have never seen before. It wi ll de f ini t e ly be an R-rated concert.

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