BetteBack: Divinely Mellow?

Chronicle Telegram
“Sleaze with ease” queen mellows
October 20, 1980

NEW YORK – The carpeting leading to Bette Midler‘s suite on the ninth floor of the Drake Hotel was splashed with an outrageous pattern of daisies, and the walls of the corridor were covered with pale green, vertically-striped wallpaper.

Together, the two designs somehow attacked your equilibrium. It was almost as if some interior decorator had become unhinged and created – out of sheer divine madness – a special palace for the divine Midler herself.

OF COURSE it was all mere coincidence, but somehow apropos. And there, inside the suite, was the “Divine Miss M,” seated lotus-fashion in an armchair, holding court. Which on this particular day, was an interview.

Her reddish-blonde-colored hair was swept up on the sides and the loose curls dangled over the back of her purple cowl-neck sweater. She recalled a scene in her latest movie, “Divine Madness“, in which a rather staid theater manager lectures the ushers on their duties and proper attitudes concerning some rather outlandish situations.

“I think it’s hysterical,” she said in animated Midler style, referring to that particular scene.

But then, of course, this film is something quite special to Midler. She really loves it beyond almost any stretch of the imagination. It is to her, something of a labor of love.

“This is a film I did for no other reason than I like my show and I felt it would make a good film. And,” she added, “I’m very glad that I did it.”

“Divine Madness” is Midler’s film-concert of her Broadway success, filmed in Pasadena during a three-night run at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and the primary initiative for making it was all Midler’s.

“NO ONE EVER nagged me to do a concert film,” she said. “It was my own idea. “Divine Madness” has been in my head for two years.”

Midler not only loves “Divine Madness”, she truly enjoys it and is almost consumed by excitement for it.

“I’ve seen it 20 times,” she said with that brightly devilish smile, “and I still love it.”

But does she think there is the possibility that a concert film starling the “queen of trash and flash” might be a bit ribald for the average movie-goer?

“I think it might be rough,” she admitted, “but not as rough as it could have been.”

“If something offends me I know it is going to offend everyone,” said the lady who some years ago crowned herself with the denigrating title of “sleeze with ease.”

“Divine Madness” is not Midler’s first venture into the celluloid world. She had won an Oscar nomination for her screen debut as a burned-out rock star in “The Rose,” a venture that she said completely changed her audience.

“People see me now and say ‘Hey Rose’ … ‘Ain’t you the Rose?’… It’s amazing, just like in the movie.”

Films could be called phase two of Midler’s career, and she’s simply crazy about it all.

“I LOVE .making films,” she said, shifting in her chair. “They pamper you, they powder you, they feed you.

Doing a concert you have to really kick ass for three hours or an audience drifts. It’s a real physical effort to do a live show.”

Well, if film acting is phase two, what will phase three be?

“I don’t have a clue,” she answered. “I’m just waiting for it to strike.” Midler is quite sure, though, that it won’t be theater.

“Theater is a grind,” she grimaced, “doing six nights a week of someone else’s material. Though I would like to do classical theater.

Can you see a short, blonde, chubby £ady Macbeth? Boy, that w o u ld explain all her misery.”

But wherever it is she goes from here, Midler doesn’t see herself as a great jazz singer.

“I think I’m j u st going to sing rock’n’roll,” she said. “I don’t think I’m a particularly great countrywestern singer or soft rock’n roll singer.”

Midler also confesses that she enjoys writing. But right now it’s the “spur of the moment” type of writing. She would, however, like to write children’s stories.

Bette Midler writing stories for kids? You feel that perhaps much of what she says could be a put on. It’s sometimes difficult to take her seriously, such as at her concerts, when the impact of some of her serious numbers becomes almost lost when woven in with the overall burlesque of her performance.

“I have this idea of a children’s story called ‘Baby Divine’,” she said.

What is Baby Divine like? “Oh,” Midler replied, “She has a full bead of hair and high heels. She LOVES shoes.”

THERE ARE TIMES, however, that you know for certain Midler is a r a ther serious-minded individual.

Beneath that raunchy facade of the concert star who clutters tradition with all sorts of lascivious litter, is a sensitive, concerned creature. A person who can be as warmly unders t a n d i ng as she can be grossly shocking.

In f a c t, Midler’s outrageousness apparently is honed to razor-like sharpness by her deep perception of life. And she does feel that in her own way she has been able to effect the social consciousness.

“I’ve done some things for ERA (Equal R i g h ts Amendment). I’ve given it some backing. I h a v e n ‘t marched, but there are some passive things t h at I do. Like my lack of intimidation and lack of fear. Women like that.”

If Midler seems to be a bit different these days, it is probably because she has, over the years, mellowed a bit.

“I didn’t say I’ve mellowed,” she cautioned. “I’ve evolved. There were times when I was much meaner. My tastes have changed. What I thought was funny at 24 is not funny at 34. And what I didn’t think was funny at 24 is funny now.”

But nevertheless, residing in phase two of her life, she admitted, has given her a different perspective of success.

“There was a time in my life when it never occurred to me that I would fail. Now it does. As far as success, the limousine doe sn’t me an t h at m u ch anymore. Now I understand the underbelly of success – the wheeling, dealing, keeping your wits about you and being an artist at the same time.

“You can’t let others do things for you,” she said, summing it all up, “or everything can go right d own the tube.”

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