BetteBack: We Need A New Bette Special!

Midler TV special is long overdue
by Tom Shales

What television needs is – well, there are so many things. How about another Bette Midler special? Midler really is overdue. She has a two-special contract with NBC * the first
one was seen in 1977, and she hasn’t started work on the second one even yet.
“It was a contract for two specials, but at my whim, you know, at my leisure,” says Midler, “so I never got around to doing that second show. I’d like to do one before the year is
out. I’d like to do SOMETHING before the year is out.”
Midler is between TV specials and between movies, but she is not between records (her new one is called “No Frills”) and certainly not between books, since she is currently on a ten city tour to trumpet “The Saga of Baby Divine,” an ingenuous verse fable she wrote over the past two years. And so  Midler is appearing on local talk shows around the country, and the “Today” show, too, but she’s just talking, not singing and dancing.
TELEVISION NEEDS SOME singing and dancing, some momentary relief from the screaming tires and the cackling laugh tracks. Midler’s first special was a hoot, a howl, and a delight, and it won an Emmy. She opened the show emerging from a giant clam and singing “Oklahoma!” with a troupe of Polynesians, remember?

She remembers. “I was chubby,” she says. The special was called “Ql’ Red Hair is Back.” Now, Ol Red ir is blonde, but otherwise unchanged – at 37, still charming, disarming, sassy, brassy, and happily crazy after all these years. During a visit here, she kept jumping up from the sofa in her hotel suite to runinto the bathroom and try on one of her new hats. “I think every lady author should wear a hat,” she lectures. “It’s a mark of distinction.”
Most of the hats look teleported in from the ’40s or ’50s and most have veils. “I’m dying to start a trend,” she says. “Deep  veiling.”
THERE’S NO KEEPING this game gal in one place for very long. Her TV appearances are always full of surprises. On a local Washington talk show, she advised against taking;  vitamins on an empty stomach because when she does that,! she said, “I get the runs.” And she sparkled brightly a couple of years ago when Barbara Walters came to call with her shopping bag full of nosy questions. : At one point Midler told Walters, “Get out of my house,”: but she was only kidding.

“I enjoyed doing her show,” says Midler. “She leans in,! you know. She’s always leaning in. It was fun. I kinda like her. At least she doesn’t intimidate me. I think she’s pretty kind. She doesn’t really go for the throat. And she never made me cry, which some of them have. Rona Barrett always used to love to watch me mess up. I miss Rona – sort of. I don’t
think she realized how funny she was. But she always used to talk about my home life and I always used to break into tears.”
Midler has not had a happy time of it in Hollywood being Little Miss Movie Star. Though “The Rose” was a hit, her films “Divine Madness,” a filmed concert, and “Jinxed,” now
showing on HBO, did not do well, and she is not pleased with them. But this year’s Midler concert tour was also recorded on film, and it could eventually be sold to cable television or to a network, once the NBC obligation is fulfilled.
“I HAVEN’T DONE MUCH television,” she says. “It’s kind of a cold atmosphere in TV. It doesn’t have the magic of film.”
But Midler’s magic comes through on television, as it did a year ago when she was one of the few bright spots at the 1982 Oscar show. She described “Endless Love” as “Endless

Although Midler has to be homogenized a little for television, as most things do, her earthy brashness is unmistakable. The musical-variety special on TV, meanwhile, has fallen into terrible times in recent years; what few still exist are usually the result of some sharpy agent’s clever contract arrangements with a network. Though she can’t sing or dance, Cheryl Ladd gets a musical special because somebody made a smart deal for her. Midler says she hopes to leave Hollywood and move back to New York because the heavy smog from the deal-makers’ cigars is beginning to choke her.
“They don’t have what it takes any more, and they’re all in, you know, the deal-making business,” she groans. “It has othing to do with the product itself. They throw that stuff
out in the marketplace, most of them, and just pray.”
The sooner Bette Midler comes bouncing back to television, the better.

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