PACIFIC STARS AND STRIPES
Midler TV special is long overdue
by Tom Shales
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27,1983
What television needs is – well, there are so many things.Â How about another Bette Midler special? Midler reallyÂ is overdue. She has a two-special contract with NBC * the first
one was seen in 1977, and she hasn’t started work on theÂ second one even yet.
“It was a contract for two specials, but at my whim, youÂ know, at my leisure,” says Midler, “so I never got around toÂ 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 sheÂ is not between records (her new one is called “No Frills”) andÂ certainly not between books, since she is currently on a ten city tour to trumpet “The Saga of Baby Divine,” anÂ ingenuous verse fable she wrote over the past two years. AndÂ so Â Midler is appearing on local talk shows around theÂ country, and the “Today” show, too, but she’s just talking,Â not singing and dancing.
TELEVISION NEEDS SOME singing and dancing, someÂ momentary relief from the screaming tires and the cacklingÂ laugh tracks. Midler’s first special was a hoot, a howl, and aÂ delight, and it won an Emmy. She opened the show emergingÂ from a giant clam and singing “Oklahoma!” with a troupe ofÂ Polynesians, remember?
She remembers. “I was chubby,” she says.Â The special was called “Ql’ Red Hair is Back.” Now, Ol RedÂ ir is blonde, but otherwise unchanged – at 37, stillÂ charming, disarming, sassy, brassy, and happily crazy afterÂ all these years. During a visit here, she kept jumping up fromÂ the sofa in her hotel suite to runinto the bathroom and try onÂ one of her new hats. “I think every lady author should wear aÂ hat,” she lectures. “It’s a mark of distinction.”
Most of the hats look teleported in from the ’40s or ’50s andÂ most have veils. “I’m dying to start a trend,” she says. “DeepÂ Â veiling.”
THERE’S NO KEEPING this game gal in one place for veryÂ long. Her TV appearances are always full of surprises. On aÂ local Washington talk show, she advised against taking; Â vitamins on an empty stomach because when she does that,!Â she said, “I get the runs.” And she sparkled brightly a coupleÂ of years ago when Barbara Walters came to call with herÂ shopping bag full of nosy questions. :Â At one point Midler told Walters, “Get out of my house,”:Â but she was only kidding.
“I enjoyed doing her show,” says Midler. “She leans in,!Â you know. She’s always leaning in. It was fun. I kinda likeÂ her. At least she doesn’t intimidate me. I think she’s prettyÂ kind. She doesn’t really go for the throat. And she never madeÂ me cry, which some of them have. Rona Barrett always usedÂ 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 toÂ talk about my home life and I always used to break intoÂ tears.”
Midler has not had a happy time of it in Hollywood beingÂ Little Miss Movie Star. Though “The Rose” was a hit, herÂ films “Divine Madness,” a filmed concert, and “Jinxed,” now
showing on HBO, did not do well, and she is not pleased withÂ them. But this year’s Midler concert tour was also recordedÂ on film, and it could eventually be sold to cable television or toÂ a network, once the NBC obligation is fulfilled.
“I HAVEN’T DONE MUCH television,” she says. “It’s kind ofÂ a cold atmosphere in TV. It doesn’t have the magic of film.”
But Midler’s magic comes through on television, as it did aÂ year ago when she was one of the few bright spots at the 1982Â Oscar show. She described “Endless Love” as “Endless
Although Midler has to be homogenized a little forÂ television, as most things do, her earthy brashness isÂ unmistakable. The musical-variety special on TV, meanwhile,Â has fallen into terrible times in recent years; what few stillÂ exist are usually the result of some sharpy agent’s cleverÂ contract arrangements with a network. Though she can’t singÂ or dance, Cheryl Ladd gets a musical special becauseÂ somebody made a smart deal for her. Midler says she hopes toÂ leave Hollywood and move back to New York because theÂ heavy smog from the deal-makers’ cigars is beginning toÂ choke her.
“They don’t have what it takes any more, and they’re all in,Â you know, the deal-making business,” she groans. “It hasÂ 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,Â the better.